Disclaimer: Anything you recognize isn't mine and I make no profit from this, it's just for fun!
A/N: Here it is - be still my heart! The next chapter of this story is done at long last! Bet you'd given up on it, huh?
A brief recap: Leia is Harry in Hermione's body, Sky is Hermione in Harry's body; they botched up a time travelling ritual around Christmas of their year on the run and have subsequently been living each other's lives since the summer of Harry's 11th birthday. They have done their best to adapt to the situation, dealing with various problems, including but not limited to: their magic throwing tantrums, how hard it is meeting people they saw die, facing puberty of the wrong gender, Sirius on the run and a Bloody Baron who enjoys being cryptic. They are working to further their main goal of defeating Voldemort, along with other goals like getting their generation ready to survive the war, promoting inter-house solidarity, locating the Horcruxes and surviving the Unspeakables' meddling, which has landed Sky in a coma for nearly six weeks.
A/N 2: Many, many thanks to The Dain, who has taken the time to nitpick the workings of the EMA (Esoteric Magical Artefact, Merlin I love this definition :D) I've decided to employ and given me a bunch of good ideas for the second part of this chapter as cherry on top!
A… Switched Chance
13. As if in the eye of the storm
If Harry was to choose the worst period of his entire life – both lives actually – it'd be the six weeks after that Christmas.
No amount of time in a dark cupboard or being berated for being born could compare. No horrid detention full of slimy ingredients and Snape's particular brand of vitriol, no lengthy days of ostracism from his peers, not even the pain-filled nightmarish vision-episodes, nor the frightening confrontations with the Death Munchers and their charming boss, could top the agony of this.
And nothing, not even the moment he'd seen Cedric's lifeless eyes stare up at him, his first witnessed cold-blooded murder, had been worse than the moment they'd told him that Sky – Hermione! – was in St. Mungo's, grievously cursed. That she/he was dying.
Watching Sirius disappear beyond the veil, hearing the Prophecy that condemned him, paled in comparison.
"We are terribly sorry, but at the moment we are unsure whether Mr. Potter will regain consciousness at all…"
A knife stab to his guts would have had less impact.
It wasn't – couldn't – be true – it couldn't! Not Hermione, not his rock, his safety blanket, his one constant. He couldn't be losing her!
Leia's panic and terrified denial were so evident that the adults forgot their own horror and worry in their concern for the distraught girl.
Lavender's Grandmother popped over to the Browns and returned with her granddaughter, in the hope that a friendly face could help, but Leia was not exactly in the mood for Lavender's typically superficial comments on how much she was grieved, how shocking a thing it all was and how excessively she herself disliked when someone was ill that she cared so much about.
All she could think of was that Hermione was dying, and she wasn't even there with her, and there was nothing she could do, and it was probably all her fault, because after all, they'd been after Harry, and she was practically killing her best friend...
She was soon hyperventilating and Julia ended up force-feeding her a chamomile infusion, and if the elderly lady who had become a close friend over the past months slipped a clear blue liquid into the cup, the worried mother wasn't inclined to begrudge her the helpful hint of witchcraft.
A frantic Minister, terrified of the all-too-likely public outcry that would ensue were it to be made known that a Ministry Department – albeit an independent one – had caused life-threatening injuries to Britain's darling boy-hero, instantly dispatched tight security to protect the Boy-Who-Lived, hoping to corroborate the tall tale of an attack by the most convenient scape-goat, one Sirius Black.
Despite this, the Grangers were allowed to visit, mainly because Harry Potter had temporarily been their charge when it happened.
Seeing his own small, scrawny body laying so still on a too big hospital bed, skin as white as the sheets and breathing too light to be perceived, was too much for Leia and she was panting back sobs and trembling so hard Julia steered her firmly out of the room, where Lavender and her Grandmother awaited.
Running into Neville on the hospital staircase was only vaguely surprising. She knew that he always came to visit his parents on Christmas Day. She wasn't up to mannerly conversation with his imposing Grandmother, but Julia and Dahlia took over the duties politeness required and once the situation was explained, the elderly dowager and her dismayed grandson were nothing but sympathetic towards her distress.
Neville even patted her awkwardly on the back, saying that Harry would be okay, that everything would be alright, and Leia wished she could have forced at least a teary-eyed smile out for him.
The remaining days of holiday were a grey-scale nightmare. Lavender's Grandma was around a lot, helping Julia. Lavender too, came around pretty often, and most of the others from the Club visited at least once, but their efforts to cheer her up weren't successful, because she wasn't particularly in the mood to pay attention to their silly games. Not when the Healer's words resounded in her ears like pounding hammers.
Unsure whether he will regain consciousness at all...
It was so frightening a concept that Harry's brain simply refused to contemplate it.
Then something happened that just about gave Leia a heart attack.
The Daily Prophet that was regularly delivered to her on behalf of the Sky Club, one morning bore a shocking title in block capitals letters: Black kidnaps the Boy-Who-Lived!
Frantically, she scanned the front page, almost tearing the paper apart in her rush to read the article.
Yesterday the infamous Sirius Black, the murderous Death Eater that nearly two months ago escaped the supposedly inescapable Azkaban fortress, where he'd been held prisoner for his crimes for a decade, once again plunged the wizarding world into panic when he stormed St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
What the bloody hell was he thinking!
We must be thankful that no casualties resulted by this madman's actions, but unfortunately, Black's target was our very own Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter, age 11, who was recovered following a previous attempt on his life on the part of rogue Death Eaters.
Yeah, right... Leia felt cold dread plunge into her stomach, heavier and heavier with every printed word.
"We think it likely that the Death Eaters have rallied around Black as their new leader," commented Minister Fudge last night. "Possibly he's trying to set himself up as the next Dark Lord."
The result of this terrible assault on the top medical facility in wizarding Britain is that Harry Potter was kidnapped.
And how the hell did Sirius get past all the supposed security? There were Aurors on every floor of the damn hospital! Were they all incompetent idiots?
"The fact that Black didn't kill him on the spot gives us some hope," is the opinion of Madam Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. "It gives us time to find him, if nothing else, though I shudder to think what the poor boy must be going through."
Well, that, at least, was not a concern for Leia. Small mercy, though, very small.
The Ministry is, naturally, doing everything in their power to save Mr Potter and return him to the care of the Healers, but so far there is no trace of Black and no hint as to what his purpose in kidnapping the Boy-Who-Lived might be...
Of all the bloody, stupid, reckless, senseless, things to do! Moronic idiotic rash fool! What was he thinking! What was she saying! He wasn't thinking! He never did! Reckless moron!
Leia raged, terror rising in her for so many reasons.
She might lose Sirius, she might lose Hermione, she might lose both! What was her damn godfather thinking! Clearly, the world at large was conspiring with fate to plot the complete demise of her poor nerves.
At least she, unlike the rest of the wizarding world, knew that she needn't fear that Sirius might harm 'Harry' deliberately. The man loved his godson, she was positive on this. In the condition Hermione was in, however, dragging her weakened, unconscious body in a mad flight from half of the British Auror forces was nothing short of madness!
What if she got worse when there wasn't a Healer around! What if the Aurors caught up with them and she got caught in the crossfire! What if Fudge sent Dementors after them – the man was stupid enough for something like this – Sirius was weak against them and Hermione wouldn't be able to defend them and, and...
Stupid, stupid man!
And that wasn't even counting what this stunt would do to the man's record. The hopes of clearing his names were dwindling...
It was a very tense three days as Leia warred within herself about whether she should or shouldn't reveal Sirius' Animagus ability. Sky needed to be found. There was no imagining what consequences on his cursed state a mad flight around the country could have...
And mad it was.
The Daily Prophet reports might be untrustworthy, but the wizarding wireless network Susan had thoughtfully taught her to tune in from David's old radio kept a constant flow of news coming about the 'dreadful kidnapping' and Leia couldn't doubt the small battles reported breaking out here and there were real. It seemed Sirius was apparating randomly around England and the Aurors had been stationed in little groups all over in the hopes of catching him. Moreover, the public outrage was such that every average wand-wielder was instantly ready to fire off Stunners the moment they caught sight of the 'dangerous criminal', in the hopes of 'saving their saviour'.
Leia spent the nights in the company of vivid nightmares where some idiot got the genius idea of choosing a more lethal spell...
And right when Leia's worry reached the snapping point and she decided to confess Sirius' secret form, because she couldn't bear to risk Hermione harm like this anymore, the man was caught.
It felt like a punch in the guts – the order was to Kiss him on sight – but luckily, the resourceful man slipped through the Aurors' fingers, flabbergasting everybody. Once a Marauder, always a Marauder! Although he was forced to leave his unconscious godson behind, for the Aurors to hurry to St. Mungo's once more.
Leia collapsed in relief. Of all the possible outcomes of Sirius' reckless stunt, this was the best one. 'Harry' safely in the hands of the Healers, and Sirius safely on the run – as safely as possible anyway.
She was still going to bonk him in the head first chance she got.
Bloody, reckless, idiot!
She felt so completely drained afterwards she could barely muster the energy for things like food and showers.
Returning to Hogwarts didn't change much. She wouldn't even have gone if her parents hadn't made her.
They were extremely worried because she wasn't reacting, nothing could interest her. Books were left lying around, movies would be stared at with a dull, absent gaze, the Quidditch match she'd been so excited about hadn't elicited more than a shrug, Lavender's chatter went unanswered and, most of the time, unlistened to.
Her thoughts were almost constantly in that white room in St. Mungo's. Where Hermione was fighting death on her own.
The only thing that roused her somewhat from her depressed daze was realizing that an unfamiliar witch was sitting in Quirrel's place at the High Table.
She frowned at Dumbledore's typically lacking explanation: "Professor Quirrel has been taken ill… let us welcome Auror Nuala Doherty who will fill in for him for the rest of this schoolyear…"
She sighed morosely. She really didn't feel like investigating.
Thankfully the rumour mill was as efficient as usual and with the knowledge carried over from her previous life, she could put together a fairly good idea of what happened without too much effort.
Quirrel must have made his move on the stone during the Christmas holidays. Dumbledore must have stopped him. Good riddance – there wasn't anything to be gained for them in confronting the possessed Professor.
The over-excited reports of his bloodied and mangled body being carried off to St. Mungo's – courtesy of the Weasley Twins who had, like the First Time, remained at school over the break - lent credence to this, even if Leia was inclined to think they were exaggerating a lot. Especially since Quirrel's injuries seemed to become more gory with every recounting. Oh, well. He might not have tried to kill her or Sky this time, but he still willingly let Voldemort possess him: Leia really couldn't muster too much pity for the man.
The rest of school life held absolutely no interest for her anymore.
Her grades were slipping and she couldn't even bring herself to care. She let the Club drag her to all the usual appointments – Charms Games practice and Duelling lessons and Occlumency training – but her heart wasn't in it, and most of the time, neither was her mind.
Croaker had actually started to reprimand her with the same long-suffering and contemptuous tone he used towards the more immature members of the group, Ron and Justin above all, who were utterly bored by the practice and whined about it incessantly, if in mid-voice. However, while the boys under his disapproving gaze reddened and mumbled and buckled down, she couldn't bring herself to care.
McGonagall had already taken her aside for 'a chat' twice and Oliver was at his wit's end and loudly bemoaning her loss of enthusiasm for Quidditch.
Her worried apathy couldn't go so far as to ignore Neville's struggles however. Predictably, Lavender had gossiped like there was no tomorrow about the meeting at the hospital and his parents' fate, which she'd ferreted out of her Grandmother and was too juicy a piece of gossip to leave be.
The shy boy was having a hard time coping with the mingled pity and horror, the uncomfortable glances, the sneering comments from some of the most worthless idiots in school. He was retreating into the shell he'd been in the First Time and Leia found herself attempting to fix this.
She approached him one evening while he was working on a Transfiguration assignment in a corner of the crowded common room. Despite trusting the show the Twins were putting on with finger traps, some glue, transfigured napkins and quite a lot of glitter to shield them from anyone's notice, she cast a discreet Muffliato as she took a sit across him.
"Neville… about your parents." She stopped abruptly, suddenly unsure.
Her quiet friend had an expression between panic, hurt and resignation.
She didn't know how to do this. Why had she approached the shy boy again?
She just knew that the miserable, defeated expression on Neville's face when they'd met in St. Mungo's the First Time, after Mr. Weasley had been attacked, had stayed with him through his first life as well as this one and it was wrong. The memory was a heavy leaden weight, loaded with the uncomfortable feeling that he should have said something back then already.
Now she had the chance, even if she hadn't quite figured out what to say yet.
Nev looked more and more uncomfortable under her thoughtful gaze.
What would I want to hear? She thought and very nearly winced again. At least I'm a girl, she thought resignedly. If I was a bloke, I would never live this down.
"I think your parents would be very proud of you, Nev" she said quietly and determinedly. "We are. The Sky Club, I mean. We're all happy that you're one of us."
Then she jumped up and all but ran away before it could all become too much for the boy inside her.
The effort she made for Neville shook her out of her funk a little bit. That, and stumbling upon a stack of Hermione's notes on their weirdly-behaving magic. She couldn't understand much of it at first, but it was intriguing, it was something that could actively distract her, and most of all, it was like hearing Hermione's voice prattle on this discovery or that as usual. It was comforting, no matter how odd the idea of studying being comforting was.
She was still worried out of her mind and unwilling to exert herself for most any reasons, but she put a genuine effort into understanding where Hermione's research on their situation was going and at the same time, she started forcing herself to return to some activities despite everything.
The Bloody Baron was quick to remark on this.
"It is good to see you returned to some liveliness, Miss Granger," he said one day, appearing out of nowhere next to her and scaring her half to death in the process. "The sad condition of your Mr. Potter is a terrible thing for sure, but it does never do any good to refuse life out of fear."
Leia was halfway through her grumbling response about not needing any useless platitudes when she was struck by a realization and stopped in mid-word: "Wait a moment. You're speaking English! Like, normal nowadays English!"
"So I am," agreed the Baron loftily, floating alongside her as if he hadn't a care in the world.
"How come you can?" she demanded outraged. "I thought you didn't know modern English!"
"I don't exactly have much to do with my time, besides listening to students and teachers," pointed out the Bloody Baron. "So of course I've kept abreast of every change and evolution in the English language from my time to now. In fact, I could probably talk quite properly in any form of English, from Old to contemporary…"
"Then why did you make me put up with your near-incomprehensible words!" complained Leia.
"Well, everybody expects me to talk like that, don't they? Being a ghost from the time of the Founders and everything…"
Leia glared at him.
"And, it was fun," he added, completely unrepentant.
Leia rolled her eyes. Bloody Slytherins…
"Wait. Did you say from the Founders' time?" she asked, shocked. "Ehi! Baron!" she yelled after him, but he was already down the corridor. "You bloody..."
With the litany of Horcruxes whirling in her mind for the first time in months - the locket… the cup… the snake… something of Gryffindor's or Ravenclaw's… - she tore after him, determined to get some answers.
Being able to float through walls was really an unfair advantage for a pursued, though! And Leia was reduced to cursing every Slytherin all the way back to the very first, along with her own dim-wittiness.
Six weeks... and then, at long last, Hedwig delivered the letter she'd been praying for.
Harry has awakened fully and they tell us he is, thankfully, aware at last, told her Julia's flowery cursive. The Healers seem confident now that he'll make a full recovery in time...
Before she even realized how rash and stupid it was, Leia was running, tearing through the corridors of Hogwarts, flying down the secret passage behind the humpbacked witch and out in Honeydukes' cellar.
Sudden realization slammed into her: she was in big trouble, if she was caught – and she was bound to be.
Alarmed, she hurriedly closed the trapdoor and hid as best she could. Trying to calm her heavy breathing, she forced herself to stay still and quiet crouched behind some big crates. Nothing but dust moved in the dim light, dancing in the only sunbeam that filtered from the open door atop the stairs. A few sounds came from the shop above: it didn't seem like she'd disturbed anyone or raised any alarm. Yet.
She winced as thoughts of the consequences of her escapade tried to catch her attention, but stubbornly shoved them away.
She had no time for fears and doubts.
Loud and clear, only one sentence ran over and over in her mind, a shout that drowned out any more sensible consideration.
Hermione was awake!
She needed to go to St. Mungo's. She needed to see for herself. Make sure her friend was alright!
She hesitated for a long moment. She was still in time to go back and avoid the risk of expulsion...
But, Hermione was awake!
She... she needed, needed to see her friend for herself... needed to make sure...
Before she could think twice on it, she was sneaking out to apparate to London.
The room was comfortable and quiet, the sheets cool without being cold, the smell less sickening than was common in muggle hospitals.
Hermione tossed and turned her head against the pillow, doing her best to focus.
You are in St. Mungo's...
Too busy trying to sort out her bewildering memories and catalogue the even more befuddling information her senses were feeding her, she barely noticed the Healer bustling about the room.
Everything was so confusing. Or confused, either worked.
She mindlessly complied when a goblet was pressed to her lips, too stunned to object, and very nearly choked onto the potion the woman was feeding her.
"Easy, easy, Mr. Potter. Just calm down and swallow. It's something to help you along the healing process," the Healer said soothingly.
Hermione stared up at her.
Memories crashed down on her with the strength of a waterfall – waking up in a cupboard, those three, Hedwig showing up in the sunset, watching her own body play Quidditch like a professional, being unable to transfigure a match, listening to Ron's snores in the dorm, the Sky Club...
Oblivious to the outpour of memories washing over her patient, the smiling middle-aged Healer was still patiently offering the goblet to her... no, him. She/he was Sky now. She/he'd better not forget it again... she hadn't slipped, had she? They didn't seem to know... but she – no, he – had better be careful now... couldn't make them suspicious...
Where is Harry?
"Mr. Potter?" The kind woman in lime-green robes was patiently trying to catch her/his attention, blond hair held back in a tight bun and a soothing expression on her plump face. She offered him the goblet again.
Not knowing what else to do, she/he swallowed the foul-tasting concoction.
You are in St. Mungo's...
She sank back onto the pillows, closing her eyes in both frustration and tiredness. Her head was filled with cotton. It didn't hurt, but it made it rather difficult to think straight. Or think at all.
If only Harry was here.
Six weeks, Mr. Potter. You gave us quite the scare...
She almost winced at the instinctual worry rising in her at the idea of Harry being hurt... but no... it was her the Healer was talking about!
It was perhaps the hardest part of the whole situation, keeping in mind that she was Harry now.
She remembered the ritual, the consequences, living as 'Sky' Potter for a few months... but it was like she had been reciting a part and now she was too tired to keep up the pretence. Yet she couldn't afford mistakes. Not if by some miracle their secret was still safe... as it seemed...
Everybody has been extremely worried...
She'd been out of it for six weeks! She couldn't even begin to imagine what might have happened in so much time...
She wished she could talk to Harry.
Do not try and talk yet...
Ridiculous. She needed to talk – there was no way she could sort out the muddled confusion in her head without help. She had to talk – to ask...
Questions... so many questions...
"St... Mun...go's?" Sky managed to articulate, struggling to sit up and wincing slightly at the roughness of his voice. It seemed as good a starting point as any.
The Healer gently pushed him back again: "Yes, you're in St. Mungo's, Mr. Potter – you were brought here about six weeks ago, severely cursed," she said very calmly. She had a pleasant voice – like someone's favourite Aunt. "We were starting to be seriously worried, nothing we did seemed able to wake you," she explained and smiled. "My name is Silvia Cannenta, I'm a Senior Healer here in St. Mungo's," she added.
"What happ'...n'd?" he/she whispered, desperately waiting for her mind to catch up with him/her. What could they have been doing? Something to do with Voldemort, most likely... she couldn't remember clearly...
Please let Harry be alright... whatever we were doing...
"Mr. Potter? Are you alright – do you feel any pain?" the healer asked, making him turn to face her.
"N-no, I'm fine..." He coughed a little.
"Are you up to some visitors, then, Mr. Potter? There are Ministry representatives here that are very anxious to see you. They will have all the answers to your questions."
Hermione very much doubted this, but took a deep breath and nodded firmly. Better get this out of the way. And you never knew… they might have some answers at that…
Another healer, a male this one, entered with a dark scowl. He stopped and faltered, surprised: "Oh, you're awake!"
Sky nodded mutely.
"I was just about to let the Ministry representatives know..." gushed Healer Cannenta.
The other grumbled: "He's not supposed to receive any visitors until we are absolutely certain he will have no complications!"
"Complications?" asked Sky feebly.
Healer Cannenta frowned at her colleague: "Really, Musgrove, there is no need to worry the child so..."
Healer Musgrove ignored her: "So far, you seem to be taking to the potions well enough," he told Sky briskly. "However, the curse you have been hit with is a rather obscure one. You are still under observation, and we do not want you jostled or excited."
His grim expression worried Sky.
Obscure...what in the name of blazes had they been doing?
"Will you stop that? You're scaring him!" protested Healer Cannenta, ignoring Sky completely.
"What is the point of lying to a patient?" scowled Healer Musgrove.
Sky tried clearing his throat: "Excuse me..."
"He is just a child!" Healer Cannenta crossed her arms. "I'm thinking of his health here!"
"Would you...cough...please tell me..." said Sky a little louder, despite the burn in his throat.
"You'd do better to think of his health when those Ministry fools are around!" glowered Healer Musgrove. "It'll do worse to his health to bear with them that-"
"There's the Minister out there!" Healer Cannenta nearly shrieked. "You can't possibly think of barring his way...!"
"Excus-" Sky pushed himself up to a sitting position.
"We're healers, we think of our patients, not of the bloody Minister! Or we should!"
"That's ENOUGH!" shouted Sky at the top of his lungs. "Stop this nonsense and just TELL ME- cough, cough..." He couldn't finish the sentence because his throat went up in flames, forcing him to cough up blood just to have a hope of breathing.
It worked anyway, because the quarreling healers panicked and started shouting at each other about the 'damn potions' he needed to take and who should cast the 'bubblehead charm to ease the breathing'.
Sky collapsed, exhausted by their ministrations, and grimaced when their argument restarted in full ('You see he's in no condition...!' - 'The Minister himself insisted!...'), vaguely grateful that they were at least keeping it quieter: he didn't think his headache would have improved with their shouting.
Taking a deep breath in the hope of staving off the dull pain in his temples, he grasped the sleeve of the nearest healer and tugged. Sharply.
The two turned to stare at him, kind brown eyes and irritated black ones both filled with surprise.
"Can I just know who wants to see me and why?" he managed to say, swallowing convulsively to ease the burning pain in his throat.
"Oh, you poor you!" muttered Healer Cannenta with an unhappy frown, turning to rummage in a cabinet with mumbles of 'humidifier syrup'.
Healer Musgrove, on the other hand, seemed to actually take in his patient's words: "Ah yes, that would be Minister Fudge," he said and frowned a bit. "He has been waiting outside for some time now, and he is not alone, though we have told him and all the rest firmly that he cannot see you." His tone of voice said quite clearly what he thought of their stubbornness.
"I think I can take it," said Sky hoarsely; then added reluctantly: "If I don't have to talk much, at lea-cough." The unbidden cough that cut his sentence short made him grimace again.
"You shouldn't exert yourself, and the Minister and all the rest aren't exactly pleasant company..."
"Musgrove! How dare you...!" scolded Healer Cannenta, then softening her tone: "Here, Mr. Potter, drink this..."
"Their idiotic power plays aren't what I would recommend for a convalescent child," grumbled Healer Musgrove, "and I don't want them to upset him! He needs rest!" he added in a louder voice.
"I promise I will be perfectly calm," Sky whispered quickly and then frowned. "What do you mean, all the rest? cough Who else is there?"
"Madam Amelia Bones, unless she's been called away, some half a dozen Aurors on rotation, a bunch of Unspeakables, a Mrs. Weasley, one Doctor Granger or the other, either Professor Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall depending on what time it is, a bunch of lazybones with nothing better to do, quite a few reporters, and who knows who else," Healer Musgrove said with a mighty scowl.
Sky felt a dull throbbing headache bloom behind his temple at the list.
Reporters? Please, let the healer be joking about that...
Whichever of her parents was here would be welcome and maybe Mrs. Weasley wouldn't be too bad but he wasn't sure he was up to facing the Headmaster's likely interrogation, especially since he didn't remember what they could have been doing... and it must have been serious if it was something that had involved the Aurors... and... wait!
"Unspeakables?" repeated Sky, only now registering the word: it sparked some uneasy memories in him. What had Harry and she been doing? Whatever it was... it had to do with the Unspeakables, she was sure. Had they been to the Department of Misteries? …but why...?
Suddenly Healer Musgrove's face was looming so close to his own that he recoiled. Peering deeply into his eyes, the man commented with satisfaction: "You look rather out of it, anyway. I will tell them you can't see anyone!"
"No, please, I need to-" Sky quickly injected, before the healer could do just what he intended, but he was cut off by yet another cough fit. "I have... cough cough... questions..." he wheezed, "...need to... know..." he forced out beyond what felt like flames in his throat.
"I'm sure the Minister will be careful of his state, if we warn him!" added Healer Cannenta, quietly but reproachfully. She handed Sky a vial of dark purple liquid and glared sternly until he gulped it down.
Sky sighed in relief as the oily syrup made the pain in his throat disappear in a wash of freshness. It left his mouth and throat feeling coated by a slimy substance, but at least it had a pleasant, fruity aftertaste.
Healer Musgrove scoffed at his colleague, but then meeting Sky's pleading eyes he hesitated and then scowled a bit darker. "Have it your way, then!"
He stalked off muttering about stubborn kiddies too foolish to listen to their betters and Sky turned to the kindly woman on the other side of his bed.
"There, there," she soothed, making him bristled a little inside. He wasn't five. "It'll be alright. I'll let them know they can come in and answer your questions, but only for a little bit, okay?"
She bustled off and a moment or two later Cornelius Caramel himself waddled into the room: a portly little man in a long, pinstriped cloak over a bottle-green suit.
"Ah, Harry!" he exclaimed coming towards Sky, hand outstretched, as if they were the best of friends. "Good to see you awake at last, my boy!"
He was accompanied by a tall, handsome man in the nondescript grey robes of the Unspeakables. Outside the door, Sky could barely catch sight of a pale and irritated David Granger, attempting to force his way in past two bulky red robes – Aurors, his mind supplied – backed by other indistinct silhouettes; but soon the door was closing them all out.
Fudge shook a not very impressed Sky's hand and sat down on a chair a rather starry eyed Healer Cannenta conjured for him before hurrying out, a disgruntled Healer Musgrove in tow.
"I am Cornelius Fudge, Harry. The Minister of Magic."
Sky nodded and the man looked ridiculously pleased. Sky refrained from rolling his eyes.
"Well, Harry," said Fudge, smiling benevolently in a way that irked Hermione, who'd seen him act as a frightened ostrich and slander her best friend rather than do his job properly, to no end. "You've had us all in a right flap, I don't mind telling you. Such a terrible, terrible affair! I'd started to think... but you're awake, and that's what matters. The healers here will fix you right up!"
And you won't be the Minister under whose watch the Boy-Who-Lived was killed, thought Sky cynically. Aloud, he merely asked: "What happened?"
"Not to worry, not to worry!" exclaimed Fudge hurriedly. "It was just... overzealousness, you understand... and then that little spot of trouble... not that the Ministry could have... but, well, nothing untoward happened anyway, so there's no need to concern yourself!"
He beamed, looking for all the world as if he expected Sky to just grin back and say 'Of course'. His smile grew rather fixed under the cold glare he was treated to.
"I still wish to know," retorted Sky rather rigidly.
The Minister hastily covered a grimace: "Of course, of course, my boy, but... er... well, that is... er, Harry, you... you look dead on your feet... Perhaps this is not the best of times to discuss... well, well."
That, Hermione reflected dryly while observing the fidgeting Minister, was a sure way to make her worry a lot.
"Really, my dear boy... just an unfortunate... er... let us not go into all that... this is a joyous moment – long-awaited recovery – perhaps a celebration is in order, wouldn't you say?"
Sky was almost amused by the way Fudge was sweating and fumbling with his own words, but his reticence was becoming more and more worrisome. Just what had happened?
The tall Unspeakable stepped forth, drawing attention to himself. He was dark-haired and his most noticeable features were three parallel scars on the left side of his face – Hermione instinctively thought of claws – and a dark goatee.
He cut in smoothly: "With all due respect, Minister Fudge, I believe any celebration can wait until Mr. Potter has a clearer idea of the situation."
He had a nasal, grating voice, completely at odds with his pleasant figure and strangely reassuring aura.
"Now, now, Roderick, the boy doesn't need to know all that much," Fudge tried to say. Neither the attempt at a stern look nor the forced overfamiliarity made any kind of impact on the scarred man, or on Sky: the Minister's visible nervousness towards the other wizard rather detracted from the overall effect.
"We got him back, didn't we?" tried Fudge a little desperately. "No lasting effect from the, er, incident, either, so that's that, and no harm done."
Fudge smiled at Sky rather like an uncle surveying a favourite nephew, albeit a pale uncle who kept shooting nervous glances to the Unspeakable nearby, but the green-eyed boy was too busy trying to decipher the meaning of his words to pay attention.
Got me back? Incident?
He opened his mouth to speak, couldn't think of anything to say, and closed it again.
The tall man turned to Sky rolling his eyes at the Minister ostentatiously: "Mr. Potter, allow me to introduce myself. I am Roderick Slinger, Deputy Director of the Department of Mysteries."
Sky blinked, somewhat surprised that the Unspeakables would have a Deputy anything; but then, they were a Department within the Ministry, so that probably made sense, once he thought of it. "How do you do?" he asked politely.
"I am here to offer you the most sincere apology on behalf of my Department."
Sky blinked. That... was not what he expected.
"It has come to my attention that some of my subordinates have taken actions that resulted in hurtful consequences for your person. Please believe that my Department has neither sanctioned those actions nor ever intended for any harm to come to you."
Sky could only stare at the overly formal speech.
"Of course not!" echoed Fudge. "The Ministry would never... Boy-Who-Lived... honestly!..."
Nobody paid him any mind.
"I also wish you to understand," went on Slinger, "that there was no ill-intent behind my subordinates' actions. They were merely trying to do what they thought was best for our world at large, in making you aware of the destiny we believed loomed over you."
Sky froze, sudden comprehension blooming in his mind. Destiny... he's talking about the Prophecy!
Dimly, he registered that Fudge was spluttering: "Now wait just a minute! Roderick, what nonsense is this! I thought we agreed – ludicrous lies – no, don't you dare go blabbing your idiotic ideas about... Him... returning!... I forbid it!... Don't listen to him, Harry, my boy - ludicrous nonsense-"
The Unspeakable – Slinger, was it? - didn't pay him any mind: "I can see now that it may appear as if my Department was trying to manipulate you, however..."
Fudge blubbered in the background, adding some mutterings about 'overzealousness' and 'lies' again.
Slinger went on talking, but Sky barely listened to his nasal voice: snippets of memories were flashing before his eyes, the cathedral-like Hall, the cold atmosphere, the perfectly spherical ball, and the swirling, blueish-grey mist within. And pain. Definitely a lot of pain.
Something must have gone wrong.
"...Please accept our sincerest apology, and our heartfelt wishes for a complete recovery," concluded the Unspeakable. "That said, I would very much appreciate it if you could forget this misunderstanding ever happened."
That jolted Sky back to attention. He stared at the man incredulously. Is he serious?
"And why would I?" he asked slowly, trying to feel his way through the confusing statements.
The Unspeakable looked startled and discomfited; Fudge's nervousness went up another notch: "Now, now, I'm sure you'll feel differently once you've calmed down," the Minister said in a worried tone. "I assure you, the Ministry would never deliberately harm you. We have the utmost respect for the service you rendered to our world!"
The Unspeakable shot the Minister an annoyed and partially disgusted look.
Sky frowned awkwardly, not entirely sure of what the fuss was all about, what possible repercussions the situation could have, and too weak and dizzy still to work it out himself: "All I really want is to understand what's going on," he stated, hating how young ad trembling his voice sounded.
"Understandable! Understandable!" the Minister was quick to jump on what seemed like an olive branch of sorts. "But of course, there is no need for a child to worry... just know that the Ministry is handling all issues from-"
He was cut off, however, by a raised hand from Slinger, who had a thoughtful expression. "How much, exactly, do you know of what happened to you?" the man asked, looking at Sky keenly.
The boy frowned. "Not much," he had to admit.
A pause, then the Unspeakable nodded decisively: "Well, let's hope I can shed some light into the matter. On Christmas day, six weeks ago, two of my subordinates decided it was time to escort you to the Ministry to take care of a matter that had been weighing heavily on our minds ever since you rejoined the wizarding world."
He paused artfully, though it was ruined by Fudge's whiny grumbles about 'no sanction from the Ministry'.
Sky scowled as memories of the fright those two had given him and his family came back: "I remember," he said in clipped tones.
The Minister visibly flinched and tried to interject a hasty excuse, but the Unspeakable was for all appearances unfazed and talked right over him: "The reason my subordinates wished you to follow them to the Ministry was to retrieve a Prophecy, although this is an incorrect term of course. The Prophecy Records are merely logs made whenever prophetic words are spoken by a Seer. The misconception though is so wide-spread that we now generally refer to the Records as Prophecies..."
Sky's eyes grew wide and the pedantic specifications of the Unspeakable went completely over his head. I was right, this is about the Prophecy! And I couldn't take it... like that Bode when Lucius Malfoy imperioused him... oh, no, they'll know I'm not Harry, what are we going to do!...
"...when the figure finishes its recital, it disappears forevermore. It is simply impossible to repair destroyed Prophecy Records through any magical or non-magical means, which is why when a record is listened to, an Unspeakable is always present and the memory stored once more for further safekeeping..."
Slinger droned on and on and in any other situation Hermione would have been listening avidly to every little detail.
But right now her mind was occupied by overwhelming worry: They know, they must, oh no, they've found out I'm not Harry, oh no oh no oh no, they know of the illegal time travel, we'll be locked in Azkaban before even turning of age, or worse, oh no, oh no, that's why this bloke is here, the Department of Mysteries wants to experiment upon us, oh, Merlin, we're going to be tortured until they figure out what we did and how we ended up like this and Voldemort will win and destroy the world and-
"... Prophecy that we mistakenly believed applied to you, Mr. Potter."
This is it! Mistakenly! They know! It's over!...Wait. He called me Mr Potter. Sky's mind went blank for a few long seconds. Do they know or not?
"Mistakenly...?" he asked very cautiously.
Fudge was muttering and twisting his poor bowler hat in his hands: "Preposterous... Dumbledore said... ridiculous to think otherwise... and after that Halloween... and Dumbledore confirmed..."
Slinger frowned: "Of course, an investigation is under way, on how such an error was possible... but frankly, given the circumstances, it was an easy mistake..."
"There was no mistake!" exclaimed Fudge forcefully. "You are making a big deal out of nothing – nothing, I tell you!"
"Minister," the Unspeakable rounded on him exasperatedly. "I'm well aware of your take on the situation, but-"
"I'm ordering you to stop spreading nonsensical lies!" puffed up Fudge in indignation.
Slinger went on as if he hadn't spoken: "...it would be utter madness to wait until the Dark Lord has gained enough power to push wizarding Britain into another horrible war before-"
"He's dead! Dead, I tell you!"
"Wishful thinking," said the other dismissively. "The entire point of getting Mr. Potter to hear the Prophecy was to help him be ready so that we could prevent a war early on..."
Sky felt the beginning of an headache forming. He vaguely wondered if the Unspeakables had ever tried to warn Harry the First Time. He let it go in favour of worrying some more about whether or not they knew about the botched Ritual.
"There will be no war! He can't come back, he's dead, and Potter's the one who did it!" The Minister was clearly frantic and Sky sighed, recognising the attitude that had brought Fudge to resigning - a year too late by her reckoning.
"The very circumstance that has landed him in this hospital bed is proof that our conclusions were erroneous," pointed out Slinger irritably.
Sky gulped, feeling his throat parched: "I... I'm not sure I understand," he managed.
The two men started, as if they'd forgotten he was there, but the Unspeakable recovered almost instantly: "The Prophecy specified that the requirements for the one who was capable to defeat the Dark Lord were the following:" he explained pedantically; "one, he was male. Two, he was to be born in the closing days of July, the year that the Prophecy was made. Three, his parents had to have defied Voldemort three times and lived to tell about it. And four, he would have a power that Voldemort was unable or unwilling to comprehend."
Sky blinked, surprised to realize that Harry had never shared the complete thing after all, merely the 'neither can live if the other survives' part, not that she'd noticed until now. It was just so obvious that it meant Harry, she hadn't needed to know any details.
"Dumbledore said it was him! The whole wizarding world knows what Potter did!" fumbled Fudge. "Saying any different now... the repercussions... why, I'd be voted out...!"
Slinger paid him no mind, talking only to Sky: "Albus Dumbledore, who was the one who heard the Seer, assured us that, because of the way the Prophecy was worded, if more than one person was born that met the requirements, the Dark Lord himself would choose to whom it would ultimately refer. And he chose you."
Sky's hand flew to Harry's scar on his forehead of its own accord.
"Precisely," nodded the Unspeakable with satisfaction.
"But... you said there was a mistake?"
"There was no mistake!" Fudge blurted out, offended. "The Unspeakables are going on and on about things that are utterly impossible – coming back from the dead, no less – no reason to listen to them – public would rebel – you're the Boy-Who-Lived! That's that - now, if we could move on... press wants a statement..."
Sky tuned him out. He'd heard all of Fudge's little delusions before and had no interest in helping the man's career out in any way.
The Unspeakable's words were a lot more important: "Now, you must understand, Mr. Potter... the Prophecy Records are kept in the Hall of Prophecies of the Department of Mysteries and that is a... an institution, if you will, that pre-dates the existence of the Ministry itself."
Sky's eyebrows rose with his surprise.
"You have seen yourself, I believe, that the Hall keeps hundreds upon thousands of Prophecy Records. Many have already come to pass, or were never triggered, of course, but the point is, the system is... old. Very old," went on Slinger. "The Keeper of the Hall is a bureaucratic wizard who orders and maintains the Records but neither he, nor anyone else nowadays, truly knows or understands how those Records are generated."
Sky gave him an incredulous look: "You mean to say you have no idea how Prophecies even work?"
"Now, now," the Unspeakable frowned, irritated. "Of course we have an idea. It is our goal at the Department of Mysteries precisely to investigate these kind of matters!"
Sky gave him a flat look.
The man returned an equally flat one: "We know that it is a matter of Soul Magic. We simply haven't unravelled yet, how Soul Magic works!" he sniffed, looking offended.
Sky valiantly fought the urge to roll his eyes, in favour of pinning the Unspeakable with the nastiest glower he could manage.
Slinger sighed: "I imagine you have questions," he said, at last conjuring a chair and sitting down. "Unfortunately, any and all use or even talk of Soul Magic is forbidden by law... technically... but considering the circumstances, I believe we can make a little exception."
He shot a questioning look to Fudge, who jumped like a student caught daydreaming during a lesson and quickly squeaked: "Of course! Of course! But no more nonsense!" he added grimly. "And make this quick, Roderick. I need to discuss arrangements for a press conference!"
Slinger rolled his eyes heavenwards: "Thank you, Minister. Ask away, Mr. Potter."
Sky sighed a little helplessly, not knowing where to start.
She was feeling a little irritated at herself, too. Hadn't she meant to get some good muggle books on the topic of souls? She remembered thinking of it at the zoo the previous summer. Yet here he was, still knowing next to nothing about the topic. He probably wasn't going to be able to ask sensible enough questions...
And on a subject we so desperately need, too, the Horcruxes are Soul Magic after all...
Why, oh, why hadn't she studied the philosophies of it like she'd planned to? So much to learn, so little time!
Still, here was an actual Unspeakable, willing, for some miraculous coincidence, to explain some of the subject matter; it wasn't likely he'd ever get a better chance than this. I have to try and make the most of this!
"Soul?" he asked, as a start. "You mean, the incorporeal, immortal essence of a person?"
Slinger nodded, commenting nasally: "Soul is, of course, one of the components of Magic, I expect you know this much. Your definition is, I suppose, as good as any."
"Components...?" parroted Sky, wide-eyed. What, exactly, is he talking about?
Slinger seemed surprised by his incomprehension: "The components of Magic... Blood... Soul... and Will. Or, Body, Spirit and Mind, if you prefer. Merlin, don't they teach you children anything anymore?" he muttered disgustedly.
"Aren't Spirit and Mind the same?" Sky asked, trying to make sense of things.
"Of course not!" scoffed the Unspeakable. "The Spirit, or Soul as I'd rather call it, is who you are, your individuality, the sum of your peculiar characteristics and experiences that amounts to what is you. The Mind, on the other hand, is the source of power and control for both your Body and your Soul."
"You can control the soul?" asked Sky bewildered.
"Insomuch as it is a choice of the Mind that determines if you are good or evil, light or dark, and so on. Therefore the Mind guides and shapes the Soul – and the Body as well, naturally."
"Which is why you can affect the Soul with magic, I suppose?" mused Sky, distracted by the swirling thoughts the new perspective was bringing forth. "The Mind can force enchantments and other magical effects on the Soul?"
Like tearing it apart like Voldemort did, he didn't add.
Slinger gave him a long look: "You are surprisingly mature for your age."
Hermione nearly panicked, realizing she was holding a conversation no eleven-years-old should have been able to follow. She looked up guiltily into those piercing eyes that seemed to look straight through her... what was he thinking? What did he suspect?
But the man gave her a rather sudden grin, which twisted his scars in a rather scary way if Sky was to be honest, and blithely exclaimed something inane about 'Truthseeker warning him the Potter boy was special'.
Not only did the cheer feel fake, as if the Unspeakable was concealing his suspiciousness for the time being, probably to lull him into a false sense of security; but he now had confirmation that what was likely the whole Department of Mysteries was keeping an eye on him!
"Your guess is correct," continued Slinger as if the moment hadn't happened. "That is how magic creates the Prophecy Records, tuning them to the Souls of those involved."
"How?" Sky couldn't help but ask, fascinated.
"That is still under study," the man answered almost pompously. "And a matter of unending debates," he added in mid-voice.
Seeing that Sky's interest wasn't abating, Slinger added reluctantly: "We have confirmed that Souls are, without a doubt, unique and that the magic sustaining the Hall of Prophecies has a way of... identifying them."
"Identifying, like the Ministry traces underage magic?" asked Sky, not particularly enthralled by the idea. Considering how many mistakes that system does...
"Not... quite. Although the Ministry can detect the use of magic near an underage witch or wizard, they cannot determine who performed it; this is practically the opposite. The system recognizes who is involved even if it knows nothing else – not the wheres, not the whens..."
Sky stared at him, perplexed: "What do you mean? Don't, you know, the Seers tell...?" Usually in rather cryptic ways, but still. She'd always just thought it was a matter of registering the wording of their Prophecies at the Ministry, rather like magical contracts.
"Well, no, of course not. True Seers don't actually have any control, or in many cases even awareness, of their gift," explained Slinger. "Divination is generally classed as External Magic for just that reason. It happens without actual input from the Seers, but rather independently: the Seers are merely very attuned to it - sometimes through the help of some focus like crystal balls and the like..."
Sky blinked: "External magic?"
"Ah, you haven't yet encountered the classification my Department uses, of course, you're far too young – it isn't even in the Hogwarts curriculum after all – just let it go, for now. The point is that the magic that imbues the Hall of Prophecies actually only reacts when its sensor picks up a certain kind of magic – namely, Prophetic Magic. Let's leave it at that."
"So the Divination class Hogwarts offers...?"
"...is useless, yes" admitted the Unspeakable. Sky smirked, feeling vindicated, and the man quickly added: "But traditional."
"And Prophetic Magic can be sensed?" asked Sky, letting the very... wizardly answer go.
"Correct. Or rather, any interaction between a receptive subject, what we call a Seer, and this kind of magic, is. Though the Hall of Prophecies is the only institution with the ability to do so – any attempt at recreating the effect has so far failed."
"That makes some sort of sense," said Sky, wishing his head didn't feel so dizzy still. This was interesting. "But it doesn't explain the whole 'identifying' part. I mean, I get that a Seer can be picked up, but what about the subject of the Prophecy? How can their Soul be identified?"
Slinger stroked his goatee pensively: "I suppose it's more like... 'measuring' the Souls, possibly. At least if you hold with the nonsense those who study Ancient Egyptian magic insist on. Though to be truthful, the magicians of Middle Kingdom Egypt are to this day the ones who have explored the potential of Soul Magic to the furthest extent, so perhaps..."
"Would that be measuring like in the tales of the god Anubis and the Weighing Of The Hearts, or measuring in a scientific sense, like recognizing wavelengths, for instance?"
Slinger looked almost shocked at Sky's zealous tone, but there was no stopping Hermione Granger when she was exploring a new subject: a different body didn't change that simple fact.
"Wave...lengths?" asked the Unspeakable feebly.
Sky shot him an impatient look: "Why is it that no wizard ever bothers learning a little honest physics? Wavelength is a measure of the distance over which the shape of the wave repeats itself. It can be used for all wave-like phenomena, water waves, sound waves, and of course light..."
"Ah!" realized Slinger. "You are talking of the Leavitt unit."
"The... what?" Sky was momentarily derailed.
"The measuring standard invented by Lucrecia Leavitt – marvellous witch, by all accounts, albeit rather weird; worked as a researcher for my Department for over fifteen years, though it was before my time – she created a unit to determine with some measure of precision the colour of spells and its relation to their nature and potency. Eccentric to say the least, but still. "
Sky blinked. Huh... what do you know, they do have a Science of Magic! Even if they think it's weird.
He determinedly pushed away every thought of begging to join the researchers Slinger mentioned (Get a grip, Granger! Winning the war first, becoming a scientist witch later!) and nodded sharply: "Yes, something like that."
"An interesting way of looking at the problem..." mused the Unspeakable, appearing intrigued.
A knock at the door interrupted them and a moment later Amelia Bones was making her entrance.
"A-amelia!" squeaked Fudge, jumping to his feet. Sky started: he'd practically forgot the Minister was even in the room.
"Minister," the Head of DMLE nodded coolly to the portly little man. Then she turned to Sky with a small smile: "Mr. Potter, I am so glad to see you awake at last. You had us all worried."
"It is good to see you, Madam Bones. How is Susan?"
The woman's smile widened: "Shouldn't I be the one to ask how you are? It isn't my niece who's spent six weeks in a hospital bed!"
"Mr. Slinger was just explaining how I ended up here."
Her sharp eyes zeroed on the Unspeakable. "What a fortunate coincidence. I am very interested in hearing this."
The man's grimace spoke loud and clear of how distasteful he found the idea of explaining anything to the Head of DMLE.
Sky didn't feel particularly sympathetic. "So... how did I end up in St. Mungo's?" he prodded.
Slinger gave a put-upon sigh: "As I was saying, the magic woven into the Hall of Prophecies can detect any instance of Prophetic Magic and registers it. The Records must then be correctly assorted and stored on the shelves of the Hall of Prophecies; after that my Department takes care of placing anti-theft spells upon each and every one of them. These spells root themselves in whatever trace the Soul Magic uses and then tie themselves to the unique... wavelengths, to use your terminology, of the Souls involved. Thus allowing only those to whom the Prophecies refer to, the authority to remove the physical Records from their places."
Madam Bones took a seat on a conjured chair, listening intently, while the Minister huffed in the background.
"How can you do all that if you don't know how it works?" asked Sky, genuinely curious.
"We at the Department of Mysteries are very well versed in the art of discovering the magical principles of a device, artefact or spell system through the analysis of its structure, function and operation," Slinger said grandiosely. "Our researchers are often required to deduce design decisions from end effects with little or no additional knowledge about the procedures involved in the original creation, for which information is quite commonly incorrect, incomplete or otherwise unavailable."
Reverse engineering? thought Sky amused; I don't even know why I'm surprised.
Aloud he said: "In other words, you take stuff apart to try and figure out how to do the same thing without bothering with understanding the original?"
The man scowled at him; Madam Bones stifled a chuckle.
Sky shook his head lightly: "So the spells thought I was a thief, is that what you're saying?"
"And the security attacked Mr. Potter," concluded Madam Bones accusingly. "Not that I don't appreciate the efforts of your Department to keep the Prophecies safe, Mr. Slinger, but please, do tell: how is it possible that a sanctioned listening, authorized – nay, encouraged – by members of the Department, could turn so lethal?"
"Regrettably, Madam Bones, our understanding of the magic woven into the Hall of Prophecies is not as extensive as we would like to think," said the Unspeakable with great dignity.
"Are you trying to get me to believe that the Unspeakables didn't know what would happen? Yet risked a child anyway?"
"My subordinates had no way of imagining such dire consequences would come into play," scowled the man, eyes narrowed.
"Mr. Slinger; Mr. Potter being who he is, and considering his story, past and recent, we at the DMLE have no choice but to take into consideration the possibility that it was a deliberate set-up, an attack on-"
"Come now, Amelia!" Fudge chuckled nervously. "What nonsense you're speaking! None in the Ministry would..."
"It was a mistake – merely a mistake." The Unspeakable's clenched teeth were pulling at his scars, Sky noticed, as much as his grin had.
"A mistake that nearly cost an underage wizard his life," said Madam Bones grimly.
"Amelia!" squeaked Fudge, completely overlooked. "You're putting the Ministry in a bad light...!"
"The magical security is designed to induce madness temporarily. It wasn't supposed to put him in a coma," replied Slinger irritated.
"Then what happened?" asked Sky, worried that maybe the Ritual had had an unexplainable effect.
"According to the healers, it's because you are too young," admitted the man.
"And you couldn't have known this?" grumbled Madam Bones.
"We were never in a position to discover age would have an impact..."
"You tried an unknown magic on a child!" cried out the Madam, outraged. "I should have you up on charges!"
"What do you mean, too young?" blurted out Sky, confused.
Slinger sneered at Madam Bones while answering: "A mind as young as yours couldn't cope with the implanted suggestions that should have induced a mixture of memory loss and detachment from reality: instead, it rejected the spell thoroughly and chose to shut down instead. Oh, and the security enchantment is laced with a tongue-tying curse, to avoid whatever might have been heard to be spread: that is, the healers believe, the source of the problems with your throat."
Sky looked at him uncertainly. Her mind wasn't as young as that. It seemed more and more like any explanations he was getting were mere guesswork.
"None of this justifies why it happened at all," pointed out Madam Bones sternly. "You should never have risked it!"
"As I said," replied Slinger rigidly, "it was a mistake."
"It is always a mistake, Mr Slinger, but the fact remains that this child – this child! - hasn't been in our world more than a few months and yet he has been attacked so many times already to put some of my Aurors to shame!"
As interesting as an investigation on Harry's hazardous life could be, however, Sky had a more pressing matter to settle, preferably before the worry drove him insane. Do they know or not?
"If the Prophecy thought that I was a thief, does that mean that it wasn't me after all?" he said, voice trembling because he was skirting very dangerous territory now. He didn't actually want to suggest there might be something amiss with his/her identity! "That... the Prophecy doesn't talk about... me?"
"Apparently," admitted Slinger.
"Yet you took it for granted and forced a child to risk madness with no way of knowing for sure what the result would be!" exclaimed Madam Bones indignantly.
"Well it gave us a lot of new data to analyse," retorted the Unspeakable sarcastically.
"Amelia, Roderick, please!" interjected a very anxious Fudge. "This isn't helping, you know! You must understand, Harry," he turned to Sky, fretting: "Dumbledore was so sure... and of course, we all thought..."
"Yes, Dumbledore was adamant that it had to be you," scowled Slinger. "He demanded you be checked for all sorts of disguises when we brought you here, claiming that if the Prophecy had rejected you, you simply couldn't be the real Harry Potter..."
Fear gripped Hermione. This was it, Dumbledore knew, they'd found out...
"I would like to ask why Albus Dumbledore's word carried more weight than that of the Unspeakables that are supposedly in charge of the Hall of Prophecies," grumbled Madam Bones, "but considering the incompetence you're displaying I can imagine while you trust him over your own judgement."
"Madam!" hissed Slinger furiously, reminding Sky strongly of a cat with his ears flattened against the skull. "I'll thank you to keep your unwarranted insults to yourself."
"Unwarranted, hah! You just admitted you have no idea how that magic works and need Albus Dumbledore to hold you hands!"
"We relied on him because he was the one who heard the Porphecy in the first place!" retorted Slinger.
"Why would that give him a better insight in the matter, though?" wondered Sky aloud. "Wouldn't anyone who listens to the Record have the same chance at understanding it?"
Slinger blinked, perplexed, then his expression cleared: "Ah, you are under the impression that the Record automatically produces the evanescent recital I described earlier. My apologies – I should have clarified the matter better. The memory contained in a Prophecy Orb is donated by the witnesses whose magical signature has been picked up in the vicinity of the Seer who triggered the creation of a Record. The Record itself merely registers the Soul or Souls the Prophecy is tied to."
"How does that work, anyway?" interjected Sky wonderingly, his agile mind unable to accept an inconsistency like that. "If the magic is able to identify Souls and tie them to names, how could it get me wrong?"
"No, no," Slinger shook his head. "It didn't get you wrong – we did."
"In the early 1820s the then Head of my Department decided that a new classification system had to be implemented for the Records. A set of spells was woven around the existing net, that activates instantly whenever the sensor spell for Prophetic Magic is triggered and registers any wand signature in the area."
Sky frowned, but Madam Bones interjected quickly: "Similarly to how the underage magic detectors pick up wand signatures around the child in question, so that the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad doesn't need to be dispatched in situations where the parents have it under control."
Sky's frown didn't disappear, the memory of Harry's difficulties with the system fresh in his mind.
"We might not know much about Soul Magic," continued Slinger, indifferent to the child's irritation, "but the detection of wand signatures is a common practice. Any wand sold by a legal storeowner is registered at the Ministry. Therefore we can compare whatever magical signature is picked up in the area and match it with the ones listed at the Ministry. That is, in fact, part of the duties of the Keeper of the Records and the reason why the orbs are labelled with the names of those present when the Prophecy is made. The witnesses are then asked to donate a memory of the Prophecy that is attached to the orb. See?"
"Wouldn't it be better to record the wording of the Prophecy directly?" asked Sky, mind flowing to Slughorn's tampering with his own memory.
"I expect most wards would actively interfere with such a violation of privacy, Mr. Potter," replied Madam Bones kindly. "Especially the old ones on Family Manors and such."
Sky nodded and Slinger nodded along: "Precisely. It would be impossible for the system to work with any kind of reliability. No... the only thing the Records save is the Soul's 'wavelength'," he dipped his head in Sky's direction, acknowledging the term, "of whomever is the subject of a Prophecy."
"Then why didn't you know whose soul it was?" asked Madam Bones crossing her arms defiantly.
"We have no way of note down Soul signatures the way we do with wand signatures! Therefore obviously we have no way of matching them with an existing database. Identification is simply beyond our means."
"Which just proves you shouldn't play with that magic!" said Madam Bones crossly.
"Amelia, be reasonable," piped up Fudge who seemed to have been jolted out of a bored daydream by the loud tones. "Clearly there was no real reason to go through with this..."
"Minister, just because you don't believe-"
"...but," Fudge raised his voice, talking over the Unspeakable, "you must recognize that it couldn't have been expected... Dumbledore said..."
"Yes, well, Albus Dumbledore is clearly less infallible than he would like us to believe," grumbled Madam Bones. "Why was he so determined that Mr. Potter could not be himself?"
Sky bristled a little. Dumbledore had never, in her experience, claimed to be infallible! The Madam's question, however, was seriously worrisome.
"Headmaster Dumbledore thinks that I'm not...?" he asked leadingly, full of dread.
It was Slinger who answered: "He seemed to be sure that you carried... but no, never mind. That isn't something a boy your age should hear. Besides it isn't relevant at all, especially since he was wrong after all, though we had to do all sorts of tests to determine as much."
Sky was lost and more and more worried: "Tests?" he gulped feebly.
"Well, Dumbledore claimed... something, that needed to be investigated thoroughly; as did your identity – these kind of matters are very serious, Mr. Potter, very serious indeed," the Unspeakable nodded sagely.
"Try and understand, Mr. Potter," intervened Madam Bones, who clearly was more used to dealing with children. Or Muggleborns. Or both. "In the wizarding world, so much depends on bloodlines: inheritances, titles, privileges, family magic... the list could go on. Identity Theft, or as the old laws indicate it, Line Theft, is a very serious crime."
Sky flinched internally. One more reason to end up in Azkaban for life, great, as if time-travelling wasn't enough!
"Any small doubt about someone's right to claim a certain relation could lead to a number of problems and difficulties. Therefore any and all accusations of this kind are immediately and thoroughly investigated."
"Normally all it would require would be for the Head of the Family in question to cast a Line Charm, the kind you'd use to create a Family Tapestry to give you an idea, and that would be that, but seeing as there isn't another Potter alive, it gets complicated," interjected Slinger, grinning ferally.
Sky shot him an unreadable look: "Well what do Muggleborns do in this cases? There should be a protocol that doesn't rely on magic for them, right? Seeing as their families wouldn't be able to cast anything."
There was a long silence.
"M-muggleborns?" squeaked Fudge, as if he'd never heard the word.
Once again, it was Madam Bones who saved the day: "Muggleborns do not have any claim on previously existing inheritances and the like, Mr. Potter, so the matter had never risen before," she explained. "Problems such as this usually arise in the case of half-bloods, or more rarely the offspring of squibs, and the magical side of the family is generally able to sort everything out."
Sky rolled his eyes and didn't bother being discreet about it.
"Yes, well," Fudge cleared his throat, still looking at Sky as if he feared the child would start speak gibberish any moment now. "The point is that you, my dear boy, are not a... a M-muggleborn," he finished almost stammering. Then he recovered his pompousness: "So it was imperative to ascertain your identity! The Ministry and Gringotts were joined in our determination to shed light on this matter as soon as feasible!"
"The problem, of course, was that we were dealing with Soul Magic, in that it was the spells tied to the Prophecy Record that cast doubt upon your identity," explained Slinger. "Being generally forbidden, not to mention rather obscure, it doesn't represent a viable option."
Sky frowned, but Madam Bones explained quickly: "On one hand, it is too dangerous." She shot a glare at the Unspeakable, wordlessly conveying what she thought of the Department of Mysteries involving a child with such a matter. "On the other hand, it is open to protestations – it would hardly stand as acceptable in a legal setting."
"Oh," was Sky's lame comment.
"It was a real problem, Harry, a real problem!" muttered Fudge, trying and failing to look sympathetic. Sky didn't answer.
"Then one of the Muggleborn Healers came up with the idea of testing your identity using bodily fluids," continued Slinger, who looked half-amused and half-disgusted by the idea. "I... don't really know how to explain this... it's a rather odd muggle procedure called, if I'm not mistaken, a DNA test and..."
"I'm familiar with the concept," nodded Sky, to the flabbergasted surprise of all presents. He rolled his eyes after a moment: "Muggle raised here, remember?" he muttered dryly. "It's pretty well-known, at least in general terms."
No need to let anyone know she'd researched it as thoroughly as she ever did anything else... though she didn't see anything wrong with that. It was an interesting idea. She was curious to hear the wizarding interpretation of the procedure, however.
"...Right," an embarrassed cough, as the Unspeakable tried to conceal his astonishment.
"Yes, well," intervened a flustered Minister. "Of course, we couldn't use such a muggle method... completely uncouth, you understand..."
Sky resisted the urge to sneer bitterly – barely. Of course...
"We did, however, come up with a suitable test – the Minister himself authorized it," said Slinger. He was back to stroking his goatee thoughtfully. "Rather experimental - it's Blood Magic after all, hardly something to be used lightly – it was an interesting challenge to manage it – luckily we could make use of the, huh, delay that-"
"Yes, yes," Fudge cut him off a little shrilly. "Forget the details, Roderick, just get on with it."
What is he talking about...? A shiver ran down Sky's back. And what have they found out...?
"The point, Mr. Potter," said Madam Bones very calmly, "is that your blood was tested against a number of artefacts that the Ministry required Gringotts to relinquish from the Potter Vault and-"
"We fine-tuned the test to tell us exactly what your relation to the family was and-" interjected Slinger, who clearly wanted to show off his Department's work.
"And," Madam Bones glared him into silence as she went on, stressing the conclusions she was coming to, "there is no longer any possible doubt. You are, indeed, Harry Potter."
Sky blinked, shocked.
"However," and here Slinger shot such a glare Fudge's way that the Minister paled and shut his mouth, terrified, before voicing his protests, "you are not the Chosen One destined by Fate to defeat the Dark Lord," he added smugly.
In the ringing silence that followed this rather dramatic proclamation, Sky's swirling mind could grasp only one comment, and he blurted it out emphatically: "Good."
It was so heartfelt, the adults gaped.
Sky shrugged slightly at the startled expressions all around him. What, did they really expect an eleven-years-old child to want to face an insanely powerful madman?
Not that he won't do it... him and Leia, they wouldn't, couldn't, possibly, not do anything, but to avoid the petty pressure of expectations from the world at large was... well. Good.
The door of his room opened once more, startling them all badly.
Professor McGonagall was there, a very anxious David Granger just a step behind, and she was glaring at Healer Musgrove with her sternest, lip-thinned scowl: "Mr. Musgrove, you have made it abundantly clear that your stubbornness has not diminished in the past two decades, but I will not repeat myself. I am Mr. Potter's de facto guardian for the duration of the school year and I will see him. Now."
She strode determinedly in the room and acknowledged the presents: "Amelia, good to see you; Mr. Slinger, it has been a while; Minister," she offered him a terse nod, then she was suddenly at Sky's side: "How are you feeling, Mr. Potter?"
Sky smiled genuinely at her, touched by the concern his Head of House wasn't trying to hide: "Confused," he summed up.
Professor McGonagall and Madam Bones shared a chuckle while Slinger harrumphed.
David Granger came up on the other side of his bed: "You had us all so worried," he smiled, but he was pale and drawn.
The relief his simple, beloved presence brought made Sky feel weak again. "Thank you for being here, Da- David," he stuttered, remembering his manners.
Her dad smiled: "No problem at all. Julia and I will be here for as long as you need us."
Sky smiled back, then it vanished in a frown: "How long will that be, though? How long will I be stuck here?" he asked, making Professor McGonagall roll her eyes and mutter something about 'like fathers, like sons'.
"At least two more weeks," snapped a disgruntled Healer Musgrove from somewhere near the door.
"That long!" was his dismayed cry.
"They want to be sure there will be no complications," explained her dad calmly. "Be patient."
"But can't I stay in the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts?" Where I can see Harry, she didn't add aloud.
"I'm afraid that's out of the question," said Madam Bones sympathetically. "There are a lot of matters that need going over, for one, and unfortunately, the Headmaster refuses to let Auror guards in the school, so..."
"Auror guards?" repeated Sky, bewildered.
"Don't want to lose you again, do we?" said Fudge with a hearty laugh. "No, no... best we know where you are... I mean..."
Unless Harry's eyes were deceiving him, Fudge was suddenly looking very awkward – and everyone was glaring at the Minister.
"What are you all talking about?" he asked warily. What else could possibly have happened?
"Amelia, my dear, I mean no offence, but Mr. Potter looks quite done in. Perhaps we could continue this some other time?" cut in Professor McGonagall.
"I don't want to be kept in the dark. I'm not a little child!" exclaimed Sky darkly.
"Be that as it may, Mr. Potter," retorted his Head of House, "nothing that is left to be discussed is so pressing that it can't wait until you're feeling better!"
"Quite right," Madam Bones chuckled openly: "I'll take that as my cue to leave, then. I'll be back in a couple days and we'll talk some more, Mr. Potter," she smiled and left.
"We'll tell you soon, but for the time being, don't worry, alright?" David Granger tried to console him, stroking his hair gently.
"Can I really not go back to Hogwarts?" Sky pleaded with McGonagall. I really, really need to see Harry.
"Absolutely not!" exploded Healer Musgrove. "Bad enough we can't keep your room quiet here, I can only dread what a bunch of overeager teenagers determined to visit you would mean!"
Sky rolled his eyes.
"I shall take my leave as well," said Slinger. His piercing eyes met Sky's one last time, keen and acute. "We'll see each other again, Mr. Potter."
Sky shivered, wishing that didn't sound so ominous.
A lengthy silence followed the man's departure. Professor McGonagall and David Granger murmured quietly with Healer Musgrove, questioning him on Sky's recovery. Fudge seemed awkward and nervous; Sky simply had too much to process.
"Just what else happened while I was out of it?" he muttered to himself, frowning.
"Nothing! Nothing of import!" Fudge squeaked. Then he cleared his throat loudly and picked up his pinstriped cloak. "It is no worth worrying about, Harry... We simply have to take into account... in the present climate... Well..."
The other three had interrupted their conversation and were staring at him.
"Well, I just... press conference to organize, you see..."
"Cornelius," McGonagall narrowed her eyes at him in her most forbidding expression. "I do hope you're not intending to drag a sick child around, against his healers' wishes, to parade him in front of the press and make yourself look better."
Confronted with her icy tone, Fudge could hardly admit that that had been precisely his idea. He mumbled something about 'needing to reassure the public', but McGonagall upped her glare a notch and he hastily changed his mutterings to well-wishes for Harry's health. Then he grabbed his pinstriped cloak: "Well, well, I'll be off, plenty to do, you know..." he said quickly, and with a last strained smile and shake of Sky's hand, Fudge left the room.
Sky stared after him. There was something extremely odd going on.
Healer Musgrove decided that he'd had enough at this point and shooed off the two adults left so that he could perform some 'checks and tests' on his patient.
David Granger promised to return as soon as he could and to bring back Julia as well. Sky smiled brilliantly at the thought of seeing his mum. Professor McGonagall squeezed his shoulder one last time and then Sky was alone with a scowling healer muttering to himself.
With a sigh, the boy fell back onto the pillows. He felt too exhausted for words. The healer left, still grumbling about 'processing the results', and there was blissful silence in the room.
Sky dozed off, for how long, he couldn't tell.
After a while he became aware of the door being slowly and carefully opened. He kept his eyes closed: his body felt lethargic, his mouth dry and his throat burned slightly again.
A mere whisper reached him: "Hermione?"
Sky's eyes flew open and he shot up from the pillows: "Harry?" he whispered back, full of hope and dread, looking around disoriented.
"Here!" Kind brown eyes met his, and the relief in them was so powerful they were filling with tears. "Oh, Merlin, Hermione, I thought... I thought...!"
"I'm fine," Sky said automatically and then winced, and laughed. How many times had she berated Harry for saying the exact same thing after a life-threatening misadventure?
Leia chuckled through her suddenly flowing tears, looking vindicated and exasperated all at once – and above all, desperately happy.
She climbed onto the bed and Sky forced himself to relax a bit and leaned back, letting out a breath.
Everything still felt rather like a dream, or maybe a nightmare about to turn bad, but her best friend was here and that was a comfort beyond words.
Soon they were discussing the unbelievable amount of information Sky had got from his visitors and how much of it could be trusted or believed. Then Leia started filling him in on everything he'd missed, including Sirius' hot-headed stunt.
"He did what?"
"Kidnapped you," repeated Leia with a rueful smile. "I know. Recklessly moronic."
"Apt description," murmured Sky, stunned. No wonder Fudge had been so nervous. And it certainly explained the need for Auror guards.
"Wait, doesn't this help him out? I mean, he didn't kill me, did he? so..."
Leia shook her head ruefully: "Madam Bones believes his insanity has degenerated into wanting to make you into the next Dark Lord."
Sky snorted. "How did she work that one out?"
"Because Sirius was going on about being his duty to raise you. That is, me. That is..."
"Yes, yes, I get it. So they thought he meant raising me as dark?"
"Pretty much, yeah. That also accounts for his not killing you," admitted Leia.
Sky sighed. "People really only believe what they want to believe, huh?"
Leia smiled sympathetically.
"All right, what else?"
"Well... Quirrelmort is out of the picture."
As Leia quickly recounted what she'd pieced together about Quirrel's demise, Sky grew more and more concerned.
"Leia... did he make his attempt at the Stone before or after the whole Am-I-the-real-Harry-Potter mess came out?"
"To be honest, this is the first I've heard of that particular problem. I think they kept it all as quiet as possible."
"That's... not good."
Leia frowned: "Why? What does it matter?"
"It matters, Harry, it matters a lot!"
"Leia," corrected the girl absently. "and I don't see why."
"Just think!" hissed Sky, alarmed. "The problem with the Prophecy isn't the thing itself, but how it's interpreted! That's what's dangerous: now Dumbledore and the Ministry will likely leave us alone – try and find the 'real' Chosen One, or something, I guess: but if Voldemort doesn't know, he will still think you are – that is, I am – the one he needs to kill..."
"Oh," sighed Leia. "It's just never over, is it?"