Chapter 145 ~ Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
Minerva reached for the morning report, but could see the hesitancy within Elgin's face. "What is in this morning's report that is causing consternation?"
"The Professor's Hermione did not returnse last night."
Minerva felt her heart plummet past her stomach as a river of ice washed down her spine, "Did she state where she was going?"
At once she stood and strode to the brass banister, the name of her husband on her lips but it took an additional moment before she forced the word from her throat; trying not to feel as if she was betraying him for asking him to go to Crete. "Albus, please go to your portrait in Crete and see if Hermione remains within the home."
"Of course." He replied while standing and then stepping away as it were.
Minerva remained along the banister, opting to read the morning report while she waited for her husband's return. Thankfully, she didn't have to wait long; as she had already re-read the first part of the report twice and would need to read it a third time if she was to retain what was written.
Albus glided back into his frame, "She is in route back to Hogwarts, having left just before my arrival."
Minerva turned back to her suite and paused at seeing Elgin, and felt a minute smile pass over her features that he had stayed in case she needed his assistance. "Would you mind going to the gates? Hermione shall be arriving momentarily, and I'd prefer to not have the children see her coming up the walk."
"At onces." He lifted his fingers, "And what'se you'se wants to do regarding suppliese?"
Minerva lowered her eyes back to the report, and felt a frown begin to pull down her face as she read and actually assimilated the information. "Ask Yuwan if she can increase…" She stopped that line at Elgin's shaking head, "What about Vincent?"
"I'se and Bonnie's has reacheded out to our usual proprietors. There'se a shortage, but they'se be able to fill orders as soon as four to five weeks."
"Four weeks?" Minerva asked in moderate disbelief, "Did they tell you why there was a shortage?"
"We'se received word end of last's week. Master Vincent, Mistress Yuwan, Lady Keel, and Master Utay all had is major suppliese problems caused by theftis and fires."
Minerva crumpled the report up in her hand, "Johannes."
"It'se would seem."
"Do they have enough to supply St. Mungos?"
"Don't they also receive a portion from Elliot?"
"I'se spokes to him too."
"Exactly how dire is the situation across the Isle?"
"Every large'se proprietor hase been affected."
"Have you sent word to St. Mungos?"
His ears fell, "No'se. Not's till you'se been informed."
"And I'm going to guess that the Ministry nor St. Charles, Invernese and the other large institutions aren't aware of the gravity of the problem."
"No'se. We'se only knows because…"
"Of the North Wing." Minerva easily deduced. With their additional residents, they were churning through twice as much food for the last half a year causing significantly higher and more frequent deliveries to maintain necessary levels. "Alright, after breakfast, do a thorough inventory and provide a listing on the minimum we need to operate for the next six weeks."
"Is that be'se all?"
She lifted her hand and looked at the crumpled parchment for a moment, eyes arching as she obviously contemplated what her next action was. She closed her hand, the paper vanishing into the fire. "I'll be gone for the whole of the day." She stated while striding forward, "Beginning with a trip to see Tom and having our grain allocated elsewhere."
"He'se not be happy with that."
"No," Minerva said as she summoned her wand and cloak, "I daresay not." She felt the wards shift, "Now, if you could assist Hermione. She's at the gates."
"Do you'se wants me to sends word out to St. Mungos and the others?"
"Not until I return," She replied as her cloak swung about her frame, and unlike the past few months where Elgin would silently witness Minerva individually fasten the buttons; he was heartened to see that she had returned to her old cloaks. Because with a wave of her hand, the seams disappeared and her cloak was sealed, as her hat sailed through the air. Minerva donned it with practiced familiarity, and to his surprise her cane appeared by her side and he felt his breath catch as he was staring at…Minerva McGonagall.
Because even though she wasn't entirely well, he was staring at a woman he hadn't seen in a long time.
Then with a tip of her head, she was gone.
A mere second later, so was he.
The soft crack to her left caused Hermione to come to an abrupt halt, hand already delving into her robes to withdraw her wand before her eyes had time to register that Elgin was beside her. "Crickey Elgin," Hermione snapped as she took a breath, "what are you doing here?"
He merely raised his brow while snapping his fingers and the manicured lawns of Hogwarts faded from view, instantly replaced with Hermione's rooms. "Mistress asked that's I'se pick you'se up at the gates."
Hermione's gaze returned to Elgin, "How is Minerva?" She shrugged off her cloak, "I didn't have an opportunity to speak with her after the Order meeting."
"She's is the Mistress." Elgin replied, "Now, is there's anything else?"
"I don't understand your response."
"Then you'se will have to asks her you'se self."
"I…" Hermione turned towards the clock, "Alright. Does she have time before breakfast?"
"She'se has is lefts for the day."
Hermione's heart skipped a beat, "Left for the day…is everything alright?"
"The Mistress is be doing what's she'se needs be doing."
"But I thought she was not going to participate in the Order or conduct any Order business?"
Elgin narrowed his eyes, "You'se do not understands."
"She said that while she felt better, she wasn't up to being active in the Order. She didn't have it in her."
"She'se do what's she needs to regarding Hogwarts. You'se equating one with another. They'se nots the same."
The last of his statement caused Hermione to stop moving and turn to face him, "Being a part of the Order and doing her job as the Headmistress; while not entirely the same, they do have a tremendous amount of parallels."
"Perhaps, but she'se does not see it that way."
Hermione began unfastening her outer robe, "Can you at least confirm that what Minerva is doing isn't dangerous?"
"I'se wouldn't say it is entirely not dangerous, just she'se not be facing or seeking ill wizards and witches."
Hermione wanted to question further, but knew that it was a moot point. "I guess that will have to do." She gave him a nod, "Thank you, Elgin." And before she completely finished the sentiment, he was gone. Shaking her head, she moved to the loo; turned on the shower, and finished slipping from her clothes. She self-consciously went through her morning routine, mind on what would cause Minerva to have already departed Hogwarts for the day.
It wasn't the kracken issue, as Minerva had dispatched her. The Ministry was allocating teams of aurors as watchmen posted along all the main rivers and tributaries. Per Elgin's own words, it didn't deal with Johannes; as he would assuredly state that he was an ill wizard.
She skimmed through the headlines of the morning's Prophet, only to feel even more confused. As the kracken was the only coverage across the whole of the Prophet, minus advertisements and announcements.
Closing the prophet, her eyes remained on the area where the hidden trident mark remained glamored just along the inside of her palm and she couldn't stop the sigh from leaving her lips at the gravity of what transpired yesterday fully sank in.
"Member of a Council…" She muttered aloud as she flexed her hand, the trident flexing in time with her motion, "of magical creatures. Why'd they choose me? Why not Harry or Rory or…Filius?" She asked herself as her eyes moved her den, and thoughts moved more importantly to the previous questions. "Godric." She stated causing the portrait to solidify as she neared.
"Good morning, Hermione."
"What do you or the other Founders know about the council of magical creatures?"
Tom slid the sheet across the table to Minerva, "That's the current incoming supply."
"And the other distributors along the Isle will have an equivalent coming in too, correct?"
Tom didn't hesitate, "What's the matter?"
"I'm going to need you to speak with the other distributors by week's end and convince them to give up at least fifty percent of their stores and incoming supply to have it processed as bread or various forms of potatoes lest the entire Isle is plagued with a famine in a few weeks."
Tom's face blanched, "That's impossible, Yuwen…"
"It is not publicly known, but all the major distributors have been plagued by fire or theft in the last five days. As have their suppliers. Before coming to speak with you, I spoke with Yuwen."
"The distribution center was destroyed, her personal processing plant and two of her farms set ablaze."
"That's her entire estate."
"Rather, half." Minerva corrected, "As she, like I, placed a confundus charm on part of her estate during the war. The two farms set on fire were the public ones, and the smaller of the four she operates. However, she said every family who has any type of substantial farm has been waylaid including Mia."
"How many head did Mia lose?"
"Close to a thousand."
"Even if we pull our stores and give half, it won't be enough to offset the type of loss you are talking about. And how in the hell have they managed to keep this out of the Prophet?"
"Most of the families have enough supply through their secondary and tertiary lines to cover and make it appear as glitch to the general public; but the problem is the large institutions."
"Hogwarts, St. Mungos, Invernese…"
"Not counting the muggle ones."
"And Yuwen believes she and the others can get their lines operational within a month?"
"Not fully, but patch-worked. If you can speak with the other alcohol distributors and have the grain, oats, barley, and potatoes allocated to whomever Yuwen directs that will be able to process it for the next few weeks that would be very assistive."
"And what of procuring fruits, vegetables, cattle?"
"I've sent word to Rory to see what the Highlanders can contribute, inclusive of his own herd."
"And the other lines?"
She reached over patting his arm as she stood, "Let's worry about the grain component, I believe Yuwen is reaching out to some friends elsewhere."
Tom stood too, "Minerva, not that I disapprove of what you are asking; you do realize that the factory will need to scale production back and lay off several of the staff."
"I do, but don't lay off the staff if we can restart by this August. Just scale production back and the additional staff…" She sighed, "Have them begin cleaning out and inventorying the factory in Edinburgh. It's time to either close it down permanently and liquidate the property or start it up again after this nonsense is over. Either way, it needs cleaned and inventoried. Also, there are several excessively aged barrels which can be poured off, tapped, and that should easily help offset our lull in production."
Tom's eyes had become the size of saucers as he breathlessly spoke, "Minerva those barrels are there because…"
"I know." She interjected, "But my parents have long since passed the veil; however, they would have been supportive in knowing that the men and women who work for us are able to keep their employ because of those barrels." She fastened her cloak as she continued on, "If you can keep me apprised of the outcome of your conversations and of course, how the project of Edinburgh unfolds, I would be appreciative."
She tipped her head and left without another word, mind on her next and far more challenging meeting of the morning.
Hermione swore the rendition of Godric didn't move or breathe, for a solid minute before he took a measured step back. "Perhaps a more pertinent question is what whispered fable or anecdote have you read since we last spoke?"
"Let's assume that you and I spent the better part of several days belaboring the point until we arrive at a mutual moment where it is apparent that I know there is a council and so do you." Hermione removed the glamor charm from her hand and lifted it to show him the trident, "Now, to my prior question, what do you know?"
His eyes were still close to his hair line, "There has only been one head of Hogwarts since its inception whom has held that honor, and it was never formally discussed with even the portraits."
"Then how do you know who held the mark?"
"Because, she still holds it."
Hermione tried to recall the dozens of faces, "I don't recall having ever seen this mark prior to yesterday afternoon when it was bestowed to me."
"It is upon the inside of Dilys lower forearm, approximately three centimeters up from her wrist. It can be seen when she reaches for an item, the mark, while faint remains. However, it is not of a trident, rather…"
"Part of a serpent, the Chimera." Hermione finished as realization sparked, "It isn't and hasn't always been the merpeople who finalized the process."
"No," Godric affirmed, "it has been various members of the Council. I don't know the whole process only that your predecessor was…"
"Edgar Bones." Godric corrected.
"A relation to Susan?"
"But that would mean that they haven't appointed anyone in over at two decades."
"Quite, though remember time and its construct work differently for each of the magical beings who belong to the Council. And they have not been in a hurry to replace their human liaison, as many have worked closely with Minerva for decades."
"And if she had been well, would they have chosen her?"
Godric shrugged, "I cannot answer, as I do not know."
"But then why not bestow their mark?"
"I'd venture it had something to do with her bond."
Hermione went to ask why being bound to Albus would make a difference in regards to being on the Council when she realized that it was not Albus...rather…
"Hogwarts." They said in unison; Godric as way of elaboration and Hermione upon realization. "And now that she isn't bound to Hogwarts?"
"By her own admittance and as you have seen, she is not entirely herself nor well. And while the Council undoubtedly still values her opinion, they are in need of a liaison and she cannot fulfill that role."
"But why me? Do you think it is because of my friendship with Minerva?"
"The Council does not bestow the mark to a human lightly. And they certainly did not give it to you based on your friendship with Minerva, but solely on your own merits."
"Why not Filius or Rory or goodness knows, any number of other witches or wizards?"
"Only they can answer that."
Hermione flexed her hand once more, eyes remaining fixed upon the trident, "Have you heard of anything else?"
"The few things I have heard are bare whispers on the wind; it would be prudent to speak with Dilys as she is the only one amongst us who can answer your questions. However, I'd suggest doing so without any others around and after showing her your trident; otherwise, she shan't speak with you regarding the topic."
"You mean others have asked?"
A rueful smile came across his face, "Of course. The whole of the headmistress and headmasters in the portrait network and several of the Heads of Hogwarts over the years, inclusive of Albus, has asked that question of the gallery."
"I thought you were bound to serve and answer the Head of Hogwarts."
"Then how is she able to not answer?"
"The same way she can answer and not answer various questions pertaining to Hogwarts or St. Mungos; and how I and the Founders have a certain amount of latitude with the Head of Hogwarts and Hogwarts. There are no absolutes Hermione."
Minerva paused upon arriving; eyes taking in the lackluster, borderline barren, vista that she knew was the antithesis of what awaited her once she passed over Philip's wards. Wards that she and Helena had helped to erect; and now, they operated as both deterrent and confinement. Shaking her head to dispel her own ruminations, she took a steadying breath and stepped forward and onto Philip's property. The wards instantly swept across her body and the barren landscape melted away as a burst of unseasonal warmth puffed against Minerva's cheek as she continued to walk up the gentle winding stone path to Philip's estate. Despite the gravity of what she was here to discuss with Philip and ask for his assistance, she couldn't help but to pause and take in the lush, rich scents saturating the air and thousands of birds happily sharing their song that encompassed Philip's estate.
Every step helped to mitigate the stressor that she was about to embark upon when she discussed the possibility of having Philip utilize his supplies and network to assist Yuwen and the conglomeration to assist the Isle. It was a conversation that she knew at best would be highlighted with bristled words and heated exchanges.
Because to do what she asked, would mean that Philip would have to interact with at least a handful of persons, exclusive of she and Helena; and that hadn't happened in a very, very long time.
Minerva rounded the last mermaid statue before the front entryway, thoughts on how long it had been since Philip had completely recused himself away from the world. Too long, she thought as she lifted her hand up to knock on the aged walnut doors.
Harold paused, feeling his eyes narrow at seeing the light shimmer around the edge of the doorway and of all persons, Wendell stride from nowhere though from his vantage point; he could easily ascertain that the cobbler was following Alicia Stormborn. He cast a quick glance back to Maxwell Eggknot and at seeing that he hadn't moved, immediately returned his gaze back to Alicia and Wendell. Or rather, just Wendell.
It was apparent that Wendell was adept at following persons, by the way he moved along Diagon Alley and how it had taken Harold, of all people, a solid thirty seconds to find Wendell when he had known that the elder wizard had been following Alicia. While concerning at how and when Wendell had not only become so adept; the more overriding question to Harold was – why was Wendell following Alicia? She was a Ministry employee working on muggle corrections. There would be no reason that Johannes would seek to recruit someone like Alicia.
But then, why was Wendell…
Harold's thoughts screeched to a halt as Wendell stopped and looked directly at him; eyes narrowing.
There's no way he can see me, Harold thought as Wendell moved away from Alicia and took a step towards him, I'm invisible…
The rest of his rumination left much like the vaporous smoke arrived around his leg as Wendell's voice softly breathed, "Eggknot is not viable. Alicia is not who you believe. Follow her with extreme caution. Do heed my advice, young friend."
Harold curtailed his curiosity and wonder at Wendell's complex and adept display of magic, instead answering with an invisible patronus. "Who is she? And how can you see through the refracting spell?"
Wendell barely missed a step, attention having reverted back to Alicia. "An illusionist under an imperious curse; who is one of handful of persons in the world who can best you in duel. And I can smell you a league away, the tulip ash is distinct. Take care."
Harold's reply was moot as Wendell's vague outline vanished completely, leaving Harold to ponder if Wendell had truly left or if he too was continuing to follow Alicia.
"I knew one day you'd come in her, holier than though; asking me to sacrifice my world and comforts for the greater good espousing goodness knows what in defense of your cause." He swung back to face his eldest friend eyes ablaze, "And you didn't disappoint! You…" His hand motioned outward causing a miniature wave of brandy to slosh over his fingers, "just took longer to ask than I expected! Merlin's beard, Minerva! How can YOU, of all people ask this of me?!" His words coming out faster and more clipped, "After everything that happened, for the greater good, how can you ask me to even…"
Minerva nestled back into the chair as Philip continued his tirade. She had known that Philip would have an adverse reaction. Had braced herself for his denial and conjunctive panic as he processed the request. However, she hadn't thought it would be this tactic he would use. And it was one that sat ill with her for innumerable reasons.
"… Or have you somehow forgotten what happened to me. To Lisa. To…"
Especially after all that had recently happened to her.
And his eyes bulged out, mouth opening and closing like a fish as he gaped at Minerva; face reddening in panic and anger.
"Do relax Philip." She waved her hand, cancelling the silencing charm, "You know I'd never hurt you. Nor would I ask, if there was any other avenue." He opened his mouth to rebut and she sighed, "Please Philip, hold that thought and realize that I have lived your life with you. And while you've been sequestered away for decades; I have not and it has taken its toll."
"Minerva," he ground her name out through clenched teeth, "you ask for what I cannot give."
Hermione didn't glance up, nor act as though it was abnormal to be sitting in Minerva's living quarters as the lady in question ascended the stairs. She easily heard the halting footsteps, and could picture the corresponding face littered with questions, or more apropos the stony face with questioning eyes. And as much as she wanted to look, she forced herself to remain staring at the page.
"Good evening, my dear. How are you?" Minerva asked as she crested the stairs.
Hermione dropped the pretense, lowering the book eyes seeking and finding the resident occupant. "Thinking how wonderful it is to live at Hogwarts and not have to concern myself with meal preparation and subsequent cleanup every evening."
A gentle smile broke across her façade, "There have been many a time I have had the same thought."
Hermione eased back, "You look as though it has been a long day."
Minerva's brow quirked, "Barely a truffle's worth. Any news on the kracken situation?"
"Nothing outside of what has been printed in The Prophet. I'd have thought Dily's would have relayed news from Helena or she, herself, would have sent word."
"No," Minerva paused at the edge of the chesterfield, "and there have been no messages from Helena or St. Mungos which bodes ill on several fronts, especially if the kracken have spread to the outlying areas."
"How much more can St. Mungos handle?"
Minerva shook her head, "They cannot. They have already called in auxiliary staff and the reserves from the Highlands and lower Isles."
"What's the next step if Helena requires more assistance?"
"She'll contact the bordering countries, beginning with France and speak to Monsieur Jacques De Minot; her counterpart who is the Administrator at La Petite Chambre."
Hermione outright chuckled, "The small room? That's the name of their hospital?"
"Yes," She replied with a nod, "It's as prestigious as St. Mungos."
"Would he assist?"
"Of course. They have been colleagues for many years." Minerva stepped around the chesterfield, deciding if she wished a drink before sitting down while finishing her thought, "Medically, the international collaboration, is a testament to their commitment to the discipline. The respective Ministries of Magics should heed their example."
Hermione watched as Minerva took the final few steps to the liquor cabinet, "Then Helena will have support from other hospitals and medical professionals."
Minerva poured a steep glass, "Quite. She is very well regarded professionally." She returned the bottle to the lower shelf, "And if the outbreak is not contained on the Isle," Minerva turned back to face Hermione, "it would have a devastating effect everywhere."
"Then why hasn't Helena reached out and asked for assistance before now?" Hermione continued on with her thought, "I'd think she'd want the help, stymie the problem before it became global."
Minerva glided to a stop opposite of Hermione, "You would think it would be a wise course of action," Minerva pulled her glasses off as she sat, "however, in doing so, there will a myriad of question inclusive of Helena's abilities as Administrator."
Hermione blanched, "You have to kidding," and at seeing Minerva's unrelenting expression she immediately amended, "you aren't." She breathed, "But that's ludicrous to even think that Helena is anything other than brilliant. She's been running St. Mungos for decades and…"
"Perhaps overstayed her welcome." Minerva interjected causing the color in Hermione's face to become a shade redder.
"That's the most ridiculous statement I've heard all day," Hermione replied, "and after fifth year Hufflepuff's and Ravenclaws that's saying something. Helena has been single-handedly, through sheer willpower at this point, keeping this from becoming a global epidemic. How in Carrow's crow would anyone be able to believe differently?"
"The International Ministries become involved," Minerva's simple statement was unfortunately answer enough, causing Hermione to shake her head in resigned disbelief because she knew Minerva's statement was all too true.
Filius Flitwick glanced back over his shoulder and with a heavy heart, forced himself onward, having ensured his beautiful wife remained asleep. With practiced ease, he opened the back passages and speed through them; torches springing to life after he passed them as he continued to the heart.
A mere two minutes later, he stood in the bowels of Hogwarts; the gentle pulsing of the bluish-white light emanating from stone resting on nook in the far wall next to an aged book that's volume of pages undoubtedly surpassed the library's however magically appeared to be mere 200 pages. Upon becoming the Deputy, he had tried to read the book; but it was not written in any language presently known. When asked, every Deputy and Head of Hogwarts since The Founders, had not been able to read it. Each of the Founders denied being able to read it, though they did confirm that the book was a historical accounting of everything done at Hogwarts.
"I've come." Filius stated as he disabled his levitation charm.
A singular pulse emitted from the stone and Hogwarts emerged beside Filius, "This appeared this evening," ethereal fingers extended a crisp envelop, "in a patronus that has not been seen or felt in these walls, but is known from its magic."
Filius' eyes narrowed as he took the letter, "Magical creatures do not use patronuses."
"Merlin did." Hogwarts corrected.
"Merlin?" Filius breathed as his eyes read Filius scrawled across the parchment.
"It was his magic," Hogwarts began to fade, "and patronus."
"How did this come to be?" Filius asked as barely an outline remained, "It looks as though this was written early today? Are you certain it was Merlin? Especially as he vanished and was presumably dead long before Hogwarts was built."
"His magic is a part of me. It and his patronus are very distinct."
Filius waited another minute before repeating the unanswered questions, however, Hogwarts didn't reply. With unsteady hands, he opened the letter, holding it to the light.
My old friend it is with mixed feelings I send this to you; for it is truly time's irony.
Five temporal infractions surrounding Minerva and a raw impediment placed before Hermione – Xavis spoke the truth.
I fear I cannot divulge the reason behind these events, lest it taint an already murky future.
Harkiss is after his own agenda, and is an unknowing pawn in another's artful game. Disabling the wards of Hogwarts and stealing the Heart will alter the future; however, it will be the past that will have changed first.
And that is what is at stake – our past.
Know my sister lives.
She is the one after The Heart.
a/n: Thank you for all of your well-wishes and wondrous notes while I've been elsewhere as it were. I cannot remotely guarantee updates with any semi-regularity; but know I have not forgotten and am in my exceedingly rare time still working on Bonding.
In the interim, all my best to each of you and yours.