Chapter 14 - Beyond the Veil


Inside the Fortress Eremos, dozens of guard wizards and witches walked across an empty plain, wands held at ready. Powerful enchantments made the entire interior of the prison transparent, thereby ensuring that no prisoner could escape unnoticed. Security had been greatly recently due to the threat by the Great Elves against the residents of Eremos – the twenty-odd surviving members of the inner circle of the fallen Dark Lord. What good the magical defenses of Eremos would do against the unprecedented powers of the new enemy, however, was a topic of much unhappy conversation.

Marius Festerine and Thelan Slickwick were standing at the entrance gate, talking quietly. Normally conversation was of a subdued nature here, but today their chatter was even more circumscribed, although no less charged.

"I'm telling you, it's true; they stopped the Elves," Festerine insisted again. "Tried to break into Hogwarts, but they couldn't!"

"How? Magic doesn't work against them, we all know it, we've seen it," Slickwick replied, her voice expressing both frustration and an ill-concealed desire that it be true.

Festerine frowned. "You don't think it's that Muggle mischief, 'techology', they're using instead?"

"Of course not, it's gotta be magic," Slickwick snorted, "what else could it be?"

Festerine replied: "The point is, somehow we did stop them, so why don't they share the secret?"

"I'm sure—" Slickwick never finished the sentence, as there was a tremendous crashing noise. Beyond the Distortion Gate, jaws fell in astonishment as the great black wall at the entrance crumbled to dust!

Along with Festerine and Slickwick, wizards and witches leaped to attention, wands held ready. Without warning a wizard burst through the distortion of the entrance gate, running at top speed. "They destroyed the Gate!" he shouted wildly. "Magic is useless against them!"

Shouts of protest rose, but the wizard did not respond; he continued running. "Too late as usual," Slickwick muttered. "Now it's us poor blokes who'll get killed… or worse."

"Stand fast!" Festerine said resolutely, not betraying the creeping fear inside. Making a circular motion with his wand, the shimmering space inside the gate became a black wall, cutting off the magical passageway and making it impossible for anyone on the outside of the prison to enter the interior.

Except that the gate presently exploded into dust. Nihila and Nihilo strode forward.

"Avada Kedavra!" Slickwick cried. A green light shot towards Nihilo, and vanished. Slickwick just stared, stepping back.

"Witches, wizards," the gravely voice of Nihila spoke. "Leave now, or you will share the fate-to-be of those you foolishly protect from my wrath."

Without comment a wizard Disapparated. Then another one, and two more. Festerine was the last to leave, but before doing so said: "We will stop you!"

Nihilo and Nihila stood alone. "Remember," Nihila said, "do not kill. The longer they live, the longer they suffer."

He grinned, bearing sharklike teeth. "Of course."

Nihila pointed. "Work from the north, I will start in the south. When you finish with the others, meet me in front of his cell." She grinned, flashing equally sharp teeth. "The sweetest revenge we shall sip last."


Besides the distant thundering noise of falling rock, Lucius Malfoy could not clearly discern what was going on. There was a brief, faint echo of spell exchanges, then an ominous silence. Wearily rising to his feet, he brushed aside his long thin white hair and cupped his hand over his ear, leaning directly against the invisible barrier in front of his cell.

At first he heard nothing, but minutes later he heard it: a strange, twisting noise, unlike anything he'd ever encountered. The noise grew steadily louder, stronger, then suddenly he staggered back in shock as in front of him, the empty halls of the Wall-less Prison were increasingly filled with walls and corridors. The magical charms of the prison have been neutralized. That can only mean…

Sure enough, two figures turned the corner and approached his cell—apparitions from the darkest of nightmares. They were shorter than he was, slenderer than a normal human, but considerably taller and more muscular than a House Elf. Up close, their brownish leathery skin appeared to be made up of fine scales. Except for their toga-style purple sashes, they wore no other clothing.

The female—the one that the guards called Nihila—had a short but thick silvery mane flowing from the back of her head, while the male, Nihilo's, was black. Two pairs of catlike yellow eyes stared at him, mouths grinning lasciviously, bearing sharpened teeth. He could not easily read their expressions, but it was clear they were equal-parts fury and anticipation. Of what they're going to do to me.

Nihila raised her hand and reached towards Lucius as she reached the barrier to his cell; there was a vibrating noise, and they stepped through. Before he could turn to run Nihilo raised his hand towards him, and he was thrown across the room into the wall of his cell. Grunting with pain as he fell to the floor, he barely recovered his senses when he was suddenly lifted into the air and spun about. His arms and legs splayed spread-eagled against the wall—he could not move an inch.

Nihilo and Nihila stood before him, less than a foot away. "Lucius Malfoy," Nihila hissed, a cold reptilian voice that seemed strangely familiar in tone. "Purest of the pure blood."

"Why do you persecute us, Great Elf?" Lucius said, terrified yet also genuinely confused. "We serve Magic by upholding the purity of magical blood—"

Upon saying the word 'blood' Lucius was blinded by an invisible slap to the face. Soon he tasted the very same in his throat.

"The Pureblood are Cursedblood!" Nihila shrieked. "The blood of countless creatures, wizards and witches has been spilled by your kind! We take back the full measure of what was lost!"

Lucius could not believe what he was hearing. "You would kill all Wizards?"

Both Nihilo and Nihila laughed. "No, Lucius Malfoy," Nihilo said, "your fate will be far worse."

Again an invisible slap smashed into his face; bright lights filled his vision as he shook his head to recover. "All of your partners in crime here in the prison, your beloved Death Eaters and supporters—Macnair, Doholov, Umbridge, Yaxley—have been punished by me. I have stripped the magic from their blood. They now cry out, feebly, as Magicless. The very thing you hate and fear most of all, they have become."

Lucius stared in open astonishment, unable to process her terrible words. She continued: "This will be the fate of all wizardkind, but for you and your colleagues, I had to do it myself, to see the Magic fade from their eyes. Like from your great-grandson Herpo."

Lucius screamed, unbidden, stoked by horror and rage. "Yes, Malfoy, your bloodline is now cut. He went to bed a Wizard, and awoke a Squib. There are no more purebloods left, and before the moon next changes her face, wizardkind will fall."

It is all lost. We are destroyed. From the fog of despair, one final fragment of dignity and honor emerged. "We stand condemned before you. Please show me mercy, and in your judgment return me to Magic."

Nihila did not speak; her clawed hands shot out to hover menacingly over his face, trembling wildly. Nihilo merely stared at her. "Kill you… I must… so want… to kill you…" she said in a low, shivering voice that suddenly sounded very old and weak.

Abruptly her hands pulled away. "I grant you in full the mercy granted me." There was a puff of red smoke all around him; Lucius coughed as he fell to the ground.

A piece of wood clanked down in front of him; it was a wand.

"Behold your fallen state, Squib," Nihila said contemptuously.

Instinctively Lucius grabbed the wand and sent a Killing Curse at Nihila. Only nothing happened. "No!" Lucius dropped the wand and sank to the ground, covering his head in shame as he began uncontrollably to cry.

Nihila turned to Nihilo, who nodded. They both vanished.


As soon as Lily stepped through the veil, she was enveloped by grayness: a complete and all-encompassing neutrality between black and white, brightness and darkness, something and nothing. As she walked, it didn't feel like she was standing on anything, yet her balance was perfectly fine. She stopped as something pulled her back.

"Lily, are you okay?" her father asked urgently, and she was suddenly aware of how tightly he gripped her hand. She patted it and smiled.

"I'm fine, Dad." Some of the tension in his expression leaked away, replaced by a more inquisitive look as he lifted his head and peered about. "So… where are we?"

"What do you see?"

"Erm, it's all just a big, gray… thing."

"Exactly what I see. Most reassuring!"

"Really? How so?"

To her surprise, he cracked a mischievous grin. "It means that this is not all in my head, or yours. So it's all real. We're really here."

"Which is, where?"

"Let's keep walking." Lily was slightly miffed at his nonanswer, but then again, she realized with a small sense of satisfaction that it probably meant he had no answers either.

They walked, for a period of time that Lily had no idea how long it was. "How long have we been walking?"

"I dunno. Tell me, do you feel tired? Hungry? Thirsty, uncomfortable in any way?"

Lily thought about it. "No, not at all," she said. How odd.

"Me neither. Which means that time has taken a holiday." Responding to her puzzled look, he went on: "The last time I was… in a similar situation, we were, in a sense, outside time. Meaning an eternity might pass here, while no time passes back in the real world. Or vice-versa."

The mention of those words suddenly made Lily realize that, however incredible their presence was, this was not a sightseeing tour. "We're inside the veil—"

"—No, we're dead."

"What?"

Her father turned and looked sheepish. "Sorry, Lily, I spoke without thinking. The arch we just walked through is an ancient magical gateway created—or perhaps discovered—long ago as wizards tried to understand death, which is why it is in the Department of Mysteries. Unfortunately, just about all we've learned since is that if you step through it, you never come back, so it was a means of causing death, both unintentionally and intentionally." He suddenly looked grim, but then relaxed. "Of course, just now—"

"—you walked through it without dying, and we both walked through it together, so we're not dead!"

"I don't know," he said quietly, shocking her. He turned to face her, suddenly looking very sad… and very much older. "I've had more experience with death than anyone should, and I know—I think I know—that death doesn't mean, the end. It means…" his voice trailed away.

"Means what?"

"You go on." Again he fell silent.

With a thunderbolt Lily suddenly understood the implication of her father's words: I've had more experience with death than anyone should. It wasn't just a reference to all the people he knew growing up that had died, but that, quite possibly, he himself had 'died', yet managed to come back. Mum and Dad never talked about those final days against the Dark One, but James had told me, not long after he came of age, about how Dad had somehow almost died, and spoke to the dead, but managed to come back to life, somehow. She had even agreed to his demand she take the Unbreakable Vow never to tell anyone about it in order to hear it, but he had backed down in the last moment. Still, how did he ever find out about it?

"I'll assume we're not dead for the moment," Lily said seriously, which made her father nod a little. "We're—wherever you go after you die. That Ortus-thing allowed us to come here, because," she paused, thinking it over. "Because—" she snapped her fingers. "We need to find out how to stop Nihila!"

Smiling, her father said: "You really are a clever witch."

"So who or what are we looking for?" Thinking some more, it was obvious. "Dumbledore?"

Abruptly her father frowned and turned away.

"What, what is it, Dad?"

For a while he did not answer. "I… I don't want to see Dumbledore."

Lily was utterly perplexed by that answer. "Why?"

"We left on bad terms." That was equally surprising; it was always her impression that her dad and Dumbledore were very close.

"Surely that's all in the past now, right?" He didn't answer. His sullenness sparked a childhood defiance of her own.

"I think we should talk to him," she said boldly. "Headmaster Dumbledore! Albus Dumbledore, we need you!" she called out loudly to the grey void.

Nothing happened. Her father chuckled. "As you said, the Ortus required both of us to come in order to enter. Apparently we must also be of the same mind to do anything else."

"Dad, you heard the portrait, he knew something! Normally when people die they take their secrets with them to the grave, but now we can actually learn what he knew!"

"Be careful what questions you ask, Lily," her father said softly. "You may not like the answers."

Exasperated, she said: "Okay, how about Merlin? The only wizard greater than Dumbledore?"

He shrugged. "Sure. Warlock Merlin, we require your assistance!"

Nothing happened. "That's odd," Lily said guardedly, hiding her surprise.

Her father sighed and pinched his nose between his brows, a gesture of frustration Lily knew all too well. "Alright. Dumbledore, we need to talk," he said brusquely.

"You should not be here," a loud, stern voice called from behind. Lily started; whirling about, she barely stifled a cry of terrified surprise. Behind them, Albus Dumbledore, garbed in the same clothes he was wearing in the portrait, stood with his arms folded in front of him, a cross expression on his face. Turning, Lily was surprised to see her father equally disgruntled.

"We need your help again, Albus," her father said shortly. Lily was astonished by his tone of voice; he sounded like nothing less than a petulant, insubordinate adolescent. Actually, he kinda sounds like me!

Immediately Dumbledore responded: "Then help you I shall, but for your sake, Harry, you would do better to go on with the business of living, than to dwell in the shadows of the dead." The Headmaster's initially stern tone of voice had become much warmer. He turned to face her and a look of happy surprise lit up his blue eyes. "I apologize, madam, for my lack of grace in failing to introduce myself." He bowed and extended his right hand. "Albus Dumbledore, at your service."

She was about to take it when she noticed the burned and damaged flesh. Somehow, that did not stop her or even cause her to react. "Lily Potter, sir." She smiled awkwardly. "Er, I guess you know my Dad."

Dumbledore grinned, an impossibly warm smile that melted her heart. "What a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Potter!" He peered closely at her. "You bear more than a passing resemblance to a Ginevra Weasley I once knew. I take it she's your mother?"

"Yes, sir."

"Wonderful!" He then turned to approach her father, who was wearing a forced smile. Peering at him, he said: "Clearly it's been many years." He paused, scrutinizing him further. "You now wear the handsome features of a mature man of middle age. So it must be—twenty years, twenty five, since last we met?"

"Almost thirty, Professor."

Dumbledore's smile seemed to droop a bit due to her father's reserved reaction, but his words were still ebullient. "Wonderful, Harry. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to know you enjoy the blessings and responsibilities of family life."

"Glad it's so, Professor."

Dumbledore's smile faded some more. Now his voice was all-business: "I must confess, Harry—I do hope it's alright if I may refer to you in such manner?" her father nodded. "I am at a total loss to explain how you and young Lily here stand before me, when I've been dead thirty years. I've worked it out that you yourselves are not dead, but how is this possible? Are you using the Resurrection Stone?" Before they could answer, Dumbledore said: "But no, you stand clearly before me, I can feel your presence."

"We stepped through the Veil, in the Death Room," her father said, again in a clipped tone of voice that seemed irritated, and possibly even angry.

"I see, I see. Harry, before we address your problem, it is plain that you have some issue with me. I know you were justified in being angry for all I withheld, but there are no secrets between us. Why are you upset?"

"Because you didn't tell me everything," her father blurted out. He was more than exasperated, but not quite angry; still, Lily stepped back. "I've got some other issues with you, but I'll leave them be. Voldemort's gone, but he had this secret antimagic weapon, and now thirty years later the wizarding world is on the brink of annihilation because of it!" Before Dumbledore could respond, her father continued: "We spoke to your portrait, and it hinted you did know something. Why didn't you tell me, or someone else, what you knew or suspected? We could have stopped all this!"

Dumbledore's head fell. Amazing; when he was speaking to his portrait, Dad was all smiles with Dumbledore, but now that they're actually speaking—from beyond the grave!—he's furious at him! If the situation was not so serious, Lily would have laughed.

Raising his head, Dumbledore began to speak in a tired voice: "Knowing I had but months to live, I put as much of myself as I could into my portrait at Hogwarts." He chuckled grimly. "I'm sure you realized my portrait was much more, 'capable', shall we say, then what one would expect."

Her father nodded. "Surpassing any ghost, which surprised me as I know you would never have made that choice."

"Indeed I would not, but for your sake, I came as close to the line as possible, even to the point of leaving a trace of my own soul behind." Both Lily and her father gasped. Dumbledore smiled sadly. "A ghost is a prison of the soul, prevented from returning to Magic by a wish of its owner, to preserve the life it once knew rather than face the truth of Magic. When I… died, I would not leave myself behind thus, as you said, but I did put the slightest trace of myself into my portrait, to give it that extra 'knack' for initiative and problem-solving, to aid you, Harry." He raised his withered hand. "A small price to pay again, don't you think?"

Her father now looked abashed, ashamed even. "I'm sorry, sir, I had no idea…"

"It's all in the past; to the present we must turn." Dumbledore sat down in a chair that had appeared out of nowhere. Lily and her father also sat down in chairs. "I take it you are referring to the blood on Salazaar Slytherin's dagger? That you found his Tomb?"

Lily and her father were both astonished. "Yes, how did you know?"

"It's a long story—"

"—we have the time," Lily said. Her father looked at her with what could only be annoyance. "Didn't you say time is meaningless here?"

"She's right, Harry," Dumbledore said. Her father rolled his eyes, but nodded. "Okay, before we begin, please let me know how it is you are not deceased, yet have somehow broken the barrier between the living and dead to speak to me."

"The Ortus created the passage, and required that we both enter," her father said. Dumbledore nodded but said nothing. Her father's eyes narrowed. "I take it you know what the Ortus is."

"Truthfully, no one knows, except maybe Merlin. Merlin, however, has become one with Magic—perhaps the first wizard ever to do so—which is why he did not appear when you called to him."

"What do you mean, 'one with magic'?"

"Wizards come from Magic, and ultimately return to Magic." They looked at him blankly. "I guess I should start from the beginning. First, the Ortus may be considered a part of Magic itself—I see you are still confused by what I am saying." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "Have you ever wondered what magic is? If I were to ask you to define magic, how would you do so? Both of you."

Lily and her father looked at each other in helpless confusion. Lily turned to Dumbledore and said: "Magic is the power that we have to make things happen, which Muggles don't have?"

"Exactly wrong, but almost right," Dumbledore said brightly; Lily scowled. "You, like virtually all wizards, consider magic as an ability that witches and wizards have, something like sight, hearing, or sense of smell. It is conceived of as a force, or an ability, that resides in you, and which you can invoke with the proper training. Provided you are of wizarding blood."

They both nodded. "Well, Merlin and a few other warlocks, centuries before the founding of Hogwarts, did some investigations of the subject, and from second and third-hand copies of his writings, I learned that he put forth the idea that magic, or Magick, is somehow alive, like a spirit, filling the universe, perhaps even being the universe."

It took a while for them to digest his words. "So," her father said slowly, "are we a part of this 'Magick' too? Or are we separate, distinct?"

"A very good question, Harry! This is even more speculative, but I think the idea is that, before there were witches and wizards, before goblins and elves, before there was even a world, there was only Magic. Merlin considered Magic to be Love. It is the most powerful force in the universe, but ironically he believed that even Love could not exist in a world where there was only Magic."

"Why not?"

"Because love is the elevation of others over self, but in the beginning there was only Magic itself, and Magic could not love itself. Self-love is not love, as I'm sure you're aware. Only if something apart from Magic existed, could Magic love that something else, and thus could Love come fully into existence."

"So… wizards were made by Magic… to be loved?" Lily was confused.

Dumbledore sighed. "Beyond what I've just said, all we have is from The Legends of Merlin. Everything I'm about to talk about is just rumor piled on folklore. That being said—"

"—never doubt the power of stories. I remember reading one in the Tales of Beetle the Bard that was of relevance," her father said with a crooked smile.

"Quite true," Dumbledore replied. "Well, in the legend of The Fall, it was said that Magic first created a being almost as powerful and perfect as itself, but distinct, and thus inferior, to be the object of Magic's love. It had to be, for if it were the same as Magic, there would be no difference. Merlin called it the Carus, though of course we do not know the actual name for this entity (if it existed at all). This Carus basked in Magic's love, and loved Magic in turn, creating a perfect circle of Love. Yet it became aware that it was not perfect like Magic, and wanted Magic to make it perfect. Magic could not, it was the one thing Magic cannot do, because then it would become one with Magic, and Love would end."

"The Carus became angry, and eventually came to hate Magic, lashing out and attempting to destroy the world that Magic had created for it. In the end Magic was forced to destroy the Carus, but the blessings of love was deemed too wonderful to forego, so in time Magic raised new beings that could express love, to each other as well as Magic, although not as magically-endowed. Unfortunately, these beings would fall victim to the same negative emotions that the Carus did: jealously, pride, and above all hate. Perhaps the Carus' hate infected the world, making it impossible to be pure of feeling as before. Or perhaps it's the inevitable price of our mortality. Perhaps the great weakness of love is that when something or someone you love is harmed, one's love can be poisoned and turned into hate, that most terrible and destructive of all impulses. " Dumbledore paused, looking reflective. "In the end, maybe we are mortal because Magic made it such that we do not try to consume all of creation, like the Carus almost did in its quest for immortality—or as Voldemort would have done so had he succeeded in living forever. But in exchange for our finite lives, we return to Magic after we die, and ultimately, everything is resolved."

Trying to absorb his words, Lily and her father merely looked at each other in silence. Nodding, her father said: "An amazing story, Professor, and perhaps it is even all true. But getting back to the issue—"

"—of course, forgive me Harry, when one is dead, you do not have the luxury of commiserating with old friends." Responding to their bewildered stares, he continued: "There are secrets for the grave that can only be known when one sheds the mortal coil. I cannot speak any more of it. But to the task at hand: the Ortus was found in Merlin's possession long ago. It is not a magic talisman, as I'm sure you've experienced; it is the most mercurial of objects—indeed, it is a mistake to think of it as an object at all. It reflects the full power, capriciousness and mystery that is Magic itself. No one could divine why it is so, and attempts to bring it to heel throughout history usually ended… in disaster." Dumbledore's voice faded away; a shadow crossed his face.

He went on: "The notes in Merlin's possession said that when he touched the Ortus, he could sense a feeling of love emanating from it that was beyond anything he had ever encountered. Those few who survived the attempts to commune with it have reported the same thing. Centuries after he died, the Ortus of its own accord placed itself in the location where the Department of Mysteries is now located; indeed, the Ministry of Magic was built around this location. It suspended itself in midair and vanished behind a fountain of water. Most warlocks who have studied it agree that the Ortus represents Magic's presence in our world, and that from it, all magic flows."

"That's it!" her father cried. "Nihilo and Nihila, they intend to destroy the Ortus, which will bring an end to all magic. That's there goal." Dumbledore appeared puzzled, so her father quickly began to recount the tale of everything that had happened, up to and including Lily's most recent encounter with them outside Hogwarts.

Dumbledore nodded gravely when her father finished speaking. "Most alarming indeed. But you forget, Harry, the Ortus, so to speak, has a mind of its own. I highly doubt it will stand idly by and allow itself to be destroyed, no matter what Nihilo and Nihila intend."

Her father opened his mouth as if to say something, but then closed it; apparently he had no reply. "What about the blood of the Artisan?" Lily asked. "It has proven antimagical power. Could they not damage or destroy the Ortus with it?"

Dumbledore did not answer right away. "Unlikely, but I have no certain knowledge on this score." He sighed again. "I hope you will forgive me one more time, Harry, Lily, when I confess that it was I who first uncovered Slytherin's Tomb, and reawakened the Artisan's blood, without telling anyone else of it."

"You?" Lily and her father both exclaimed simultaneously.

"Me." Dumbledore sighed. "Not long after I defeated Grindelwald, one of my scholarly pursuits was investigating what had become of Salazaar Slytherin after he left Hogwarts. My research led me to the village where Nagaini had killed the Artisan's family, and to the ruins of Slytherin's castle. That of course is where I found his prophecy of the Squib of Fate."

"You know what it is!" Lily exclaimed. "Damath mentioned it, he was terrified by it, but we could not find it at Slytherin's Tomb. What did it say, Professor, if you may?"

"A moment, my dear Lily, my memory isn't what it once was." A moment of silence, then Dumbledore closed his eyes, and began to slowly speak:

The wrath of the Magicless has humbled Wizardkind
Heed their vengeance: though Magic has blessed you
this blessing shall not endure forever

The Artisan's blood has sunk into the earth
From the earth his blood shall arise once more
It shall flow through the veins of the Squib of Fate

They who most want wizards destroyed
Shall find the One with magic not magic
Magic will come to them and Magic will end

Magic's downfall is Magic's salvation
In the hands of the Magicless and She Who Died
Lies the fate of all wizards

When he opened his eyes, Dumbledore immediately held out a warning finger: "Remember what I told you about prophecies, Harry!"

Her father did not respond, but Lily could not help but blurt out: "Yes, yes, but things are happening just as you said!"

"Be that as it may, let us concentrate on the facts we know. I did indeed know of the story of the Artisan, fanciful though it seemed, and awareness of that story was the one thing that saved me. When I came upon Slytherin's Tomb, his body was intact. Curious about the blood, I wanted to retrieve a sample, but through an abundance of caution I used my wand first. The moment I used magic on the Artisan's blood, the magical protection failed. Fearful of what I may have unleashed, I resealed his tomb, replaced the magical protections, and covered all traces, but of course the blood repelled all magic around it, which is why when you found him his hands had decayed away."

"So you got there before Voldemort did," her father said. "We don't know when, but somehow he found the Tomb as well, and must have taken a sample of the blood to use. I wonder how he found it," her father mused.

Dumbledore shook his head. "I don't know how he found it, but I know Voldemort could not have magically reproduced it, with a Blood Thickening Potion for example. I tried to do that, and the blood would not replicate."

Lily said: "So that means Voldemort—and Nihilo and Nihila—should not be able to create more of the Artisan's blood either, not magically. But they've used that blood on many occasions, they must have found a way?"

"A profound puzzle indeed," Dumbledore said, with a sense of finality. Lily was not satisfied with the answer, and neither apparently was her father.

"Sir, is there anything else you could tell us? That could be of use?"

Dumbledore held out his hand. "A moment, Harry." He paused, closing his eyes. Then he said: "I sense it. Magic has allowed me to."

"What?"

"I feel... it must be them. This Nihilo and Nihila. Their emotions, are resonating beyond life. Powefully." A pause. "Anger. Hatred. Grief. Like a potion curdling upon itself, strengthening over the years." He opened his eyes. "I do not know how these Great Elves could have survived to the present day. Merlin wrote of them as well, saying they had suddenly disappeared thousands of years ago, before the beginning of wizarding society, no one knows why. We have found relics and ruins supporting this hypothesis. But I know for a fact that there has not been in all written history a single confirmed sighting of them. Something is not right."

"What do you mean?"

"If I were to guess, from what you've said of Nihilo and Nihila, they are more likely to be related to House Elves, somehow. Perhaps a disgruntled Elf learned of their racial history, and decided to remold themselves. Or an elf with a grudge against wizards found an ancient spell that allowed them to do this. My point is, Harry, if and when you do confront them, they have a reason for what they're doing, and it is not an age-old hatred that motivates them. Understanding and being sympathetic to their grievances might be as effective a weapon as your wand in fighting them."

Her father frowned. "I don't see how, they clearly want to destroy wizardkind. What could we possibly offer to them in satisfaction?"

"I'm sure their actions are an understandable if regrettable overreaction to some concrete personal loss. Address that, and you may find you will not have an enemy at all."

"Very well." He sounded dubious, no less than Lily felt herself. "Then I guess this is goodbye."

Dumbledore smiled, but it was not a happy one. "Harry, I wish you did not have to face such a burden again—"

"—It's a burden I freely choose this time," her father said, his voice no longer angry but resolute.

"—and I as well," Lily said. "We will fight to save Wizardkind, or die trying!"

Both Dumbledore's and her father's eyes widened. Eventually Dumbledore said: "I hope it doesn't come to that."

"Good-bye, Professor, wish us luck." He extended his hand to Dumbledore's, and they shook.

"And to you, too, Harry. To you too."

Of her own accord Lily came over and hugged Dumbledore – he felt as real as a normal person. "Thank you, Professor Dumbledore."

When they pulled apart, Dumbledore suppressed a sniffle. "And to you, too, Lily Potter. You are as brave as your father and namesake. Be careful, and be safe."

When Dumbledore stepped away, he slowly faded back into the grayness. "Shall we go, Dad?"

"Let's."