WARNING: This story is a continuation of Reflections in the Silver Mist and Elementary, My Dear Potter Part 1. If you have not read those stories, you will not understand what is happening. For those who have been following the posting of those stories, this one will go up more slowly as it is in the process of being written.


STORY NUMBER FIVE: E Pluribus Unum – Part 1

Wednesday, September 22, 1999

The worst casualty of the Wizengamot hearings over the status of Weetsmoor was Russ. He had quietly but heroically maintained his self control through all of the investigation and subsequent questioning, and then the moment he was able to relax, he splinched. The first time was the morning after the final decision on Reasonable Sanctuary status.

Poor Mrs. Hanson, still half asleep and groping her way in the kitchen at six in the morning, stumbled across Russ's body where he had collapsed while making a cup of coffee. Mrs. Hanson flipped up the light switch (she hated bright lights early in the morning), noted the puddle of mist next to Russ's head, and hurried out the door into the garden calling for Nelson. Hugh Latimer was there by bicycle within fifteen minutes, got Severus back into Russ's body, and then sat with them as they tried to come to terms with what had happened. 'Them' was the best way Hugh could express the encounter with the reintegrated Russ when he recounted the event to Gillian later on, because Russ was decidedly… schizophrenic?

"It's about time you got here," Severus snapped as Mrs. Hanson poured tea (tea, for Mrs. Hanson, was always better in a crisis than coffee). "I was lying there for hours."

"Really?" said Hugh. "Do you often get up at two in the morning for coffee?"

"Don't be silly. I rise at a respectable hour. It just took you ages to get here."

"You're forcing me to point out that it's only six-thirty."

"He has a point," ventured Russ. "We can't have been on the floor all that long."

The fact that two of the disputants in this argument were speaking out of the same mouth flummoxed Hugh for all of ten seconds. Then he got used to it. "When did you get out of bed?" he asked Severus.

"You're assuming I ever went to bed. A person could fret himself into an apoplexy, pacing all night from insomnia, without another soul caring…"

"You should've called me, dear," exclaimed Mrs. Hanson. "I could've held your hand…"

"Right. Like I need my hand held…"

"Speak for yourself," interrupted Russ. It was the tone of his voice that alerted Hugh to the fact that there'd been a change of speaker. "I could do with some hand holding from time to time."

"All of us could," Hugh agreed. "Do you have any idea what caused the separation?"

"If I did, would I need you...?"

"I seem to recall we were thinking about school back in the..."

"One of the stellar moments of our existence..."

"It wasn't all that bad..."

"No? Tell me one good thing."

"Is this," Hugh asked calmly, "about the memories in the green bottle?"

"I do not," replied Severus with some dignity, "remember allowing you access to any of my more private moments."

"You don't have to be so snooty," countered Russ. "He knows about them. It doesn't mean he's looked at them."

"It's none of his business."

"I beg to differ," Hugh shot back. "Anything that makes you drag me out of my house at six in the morning is my business. Otherwise I can just leave you lying there."

"Ignore him," Russ advised Hugh. "He needs someone to take his frustrations out on, and he can't use Mrs. Hanson because he cares for her too much…"

"I don't care for anyone!"

"…and he can't use me because then we'll separate. You've been a tremendous help, but you have your own life."

Hugh was released to go back to Gillian, but not for long. Severus and Russ separated again on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. On Saturday, Mrs. Hanson sent Nelson north to get Hagrid.


Saturday, September 25, 1999

"Them there's mighty nice looking peas 'n tomatoes,"

Neither the 'pop' of apparation nor Hagrid's voice behind him caused Severus to glance backwards from his position, kneeling on the ground weeding. Instead, he focused even more intently on the wood sorrel that was invading his lettuce. "I don't need you," he said crossly. "I don't know why she sent for you."

"Ya can eat that, y' know," Hagrid commented. "'S long as y're pulling it up, ya might as well put it into a salad."

"I am not going to dine on oxalis. Say what you have to say and then leave."

"I hear ya got a problem breaking apart."

"That's none of your business."

"It's my business," a new voice stated calmly. It was the ghost of Professor Snape who, not needing apparation to travel, had not announced his presence with a 'pop.' "You're me. If you're having problems, I'm having problems."

"I don't believe you," said Severus, though his voice betrayed his doubts.

"No? Your first splinch was at 5:58 Wednesday morning. You splinched again at 7:22 on Thursday, at 6:27 on Friday, and at 4:29 this morning, though what you were doing up at 4:29 is beyond me. How do I know? I felt it. It's a ripping sort of sensation. Either you stop splinching, or you and I are going to be getting to know each other a lot more intimately. That would be worse for you than for me."

"You're a ghost," Severus snorted. "You don't matter."

"No?" said the ghost.

There was a moment of silence, and then the Snape on the ground yelped and leapt to his feet. "What do you think you're doing?" he shrieked. "That's cold! I don't want to feel that!"

"No?" repeated the ghost contentedly. "I don't want to feel you either. Where's Russ?"

"I'm Russ." Physical Snape sounded decidedly defensive.

"Wrong," said the ghost. "Go back three spaces. Do not pass 'Go.' Do not collect $200. Do not get out of jail free."

"What're ya talking about?" Hagrid demanded.

"A muggle game," said the ghost. "He understands. If he doesn't, we're going to need a security guard here to escort him from the grounds." He contemplated his solid counterpart for a moment. "You were two quite separate personalities, you know, back at the end of the summer when we 'renewed' our acquaintance. In the body you were rather pleasant. A little insipid at times, but pleasant. Dangling over fog in a bowl you were a 'slight' irritation. The irritant seems to be dominant now."

"I dunno about that," observed Hagrid. "He sounded just about like this in July."

"Ah," the ghost responded with a clinical air and a wise nod. "Regressing. That could be psychologically significant."

"What's psychologically significant?" asked Hugh Latimer, who'd come in from the road a moment earlier, unnoticed by the others. "I'd call Gillian to come join the conversation, but she's in London."

"Why would she be interested?" the ghost inquired, as Severus turned his back and tried to focus on weeding.

"It's 'cause she's studying t' be a…" Hagrid furrowed his brow and recited from memory, "…mental health assistant for the health center at Colne. So this'd be right up her alley."

"How do you know that?" Severus demanded, his weeding forgotten.

"She told me. The first time I went into the village, back in July."

"That's part of why she's in London," Hugh sighed. "She's taking two correspondence courses now, but she wants to enroll at the University of London for the spring term. She's got friends in London and she'll be there for another week and a half."

"Then she's coming back…" Hagrid sounded hopeful.

Hugh grinned ruefully. "No such luck. As long as she's down there, she plans to visit cousins in Wiltshire."

"So then you," said Severus snidely, "are a bachelor for a couple of weeks."

"Don't gloat," Hugh warned him. "I hate being without her."

"Ah, the joys of conjugal life…" Severus continued. "What do you do when she wants to watch ballet on the telly, and you need to watch Manchester United?"

"Never comes up," Hugh informed him smugly. "Gill isn't partial to ballet, and I'm more of a cricket fanatic, though I got to liking American football while they were still coming over here for preseason games. Went to Wembley the first time when I was eleven, and every year after up through '93, and then they stopped coming. Pity."

"Traitor," muttered Severus.

"When were you ever interested in sports?" demanded the Professor. "Dad listened to his games at the pub, and the only thing you ever got from Manchester United was a belt strap when they lost."

Severus opened his mouth, then closed it again. It was clear that arguing with the ghost was not going to get him anywhere, since they shared these particular memories and fibbing was out of the question.

Hugh changed the subject, storing the comment about the belt strap to give to Gillian later. "The worst part is that she'll be away for my birthday, and us married a little over a year."

"When's the big day, lad?" Hagrid cried, slapping Hugh on the back and nearly knocking him down.

"Wednesday," gasped Hugh when he got his breath back. "The twenty-ninth."

"I've an idea," Severus volunteered. "Why don't we help the good constable celebrate his… which one is it, anyway?"

"Twenty-fifth," said Hugh.

"You're joking. You are joking? Our constable on the beat is still a babe in arms."

"Look who's talking," Hugh shot back at him. "You're just…"


"Seven months. If we're talking about physical age."

The bleak look that came over Severus's face said that this had been the wrong comment to make. Hagrid, ever sensitive to such things, jumped in instantly. "I know! We can take him down t' London for a night with his missus!"

Severus rounded on him, the bad moment gone. "He needs to escape the apron strings, Lummox. Besides, you can't apparate with a muggle. You'd be breaking about seventeen laws."

"I can do magic here," Hagrid reminded him. "This here's a Reasonable Sanctuary."

A smile crossed the younger wizard's face. "London isn't. The minute you head for London, you're a felon."

"Are they really that strict?" Hugh asked. "I mean, it's not like I don't know."

"It's the trouble with all laws," the ghost pointed out. "Once you start allowing exceptions, the problem becomes where to draw the line. Better to have an absolute prohibition rather than every wizard in Britain insisting he should be on the good side of the line."

"I guess you're right," said Hugh.

The upshot of the conversation was that Hagrid and the two Snapes were going to help Constable Latimer celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday in the absence of said Constable's wife. They could not use magic outside of Weetsmoor, and they had to make it memorable.

One of the advantages to this scheming was that Severus and Russ did not splinch again for the duration of the planning. In fact, Russ began to resurface.

By Monday, the trio had not come up with a single good idea they could all agree on. "I still think Manchester," Hagrid insisted. "There's a lot ya can do in Manchester."

"Blackpool," said Russ. "There's always lots in Blackpool. I enjoyed it."

"You were a child wandering around while your parents enjoyed some private moments in a hotel," the ghost shot back at him. "We need to take Latimer somewhere he could never go as a muggle or with a muggle."

The other two just stared at him.

"Well," the ghost continued, "what about Hogsmeade? You could even apparate him there."


Wednesday, September 29, 1999

There was some discussion, but as no one had a better suggestion, Hogsmeade was the consensus choice. It was still more than four weeks before the first Hogsmeade excursion of the Hogwarts student body, so the merchants would be glad of any custom. They did not inform McGonagall because she had no authority in Hogsmeade, but might be reluctant to admit it. On the morning of the outing, Hugh telephoned Gillian at her friend's house.

"Hello there," he said. "How's my favorite lady."

"You rat," was Gillian's tender response. "Here I was, planning a surprise call and a long chat to wish you a happy birthday, and you preempt me. What kind of husband would do that to his wife?"

"A husband with magical friends, my dear. They're taking me out for my birthday party, and I didn't want you ringing up and no answer. Confess – that would've bothered you more."

Gillian had to confess that it indeed would have, and the two indulged in intimate and playful chat, interspersed with serious talk during which Hugh divulged the information about the belt strap.

"That's interesting," said his wife. "It would certainly support what we already suspect."

"He's been all right lately, though."

"It may be that your birthday party has kept him busy. Having someone and something outside yourself to focus on can help combat depression."

"Good for me then," Hugh laughed.

"Where are they taking you?"

"This village near their school. It's all magical they tell me. I'll be the only outsider, but since I can make green light on the end of a stick, no one will notice."

"So you're going to pretend to be a wizard."

"Wasn't that always in the cards?"

"What a fake you are, Hugh David Latimer!" Gillian crowed. "You are never going to live this down. Just wait until I tell Tom and Nick!"

Hugh was chuckling, too. "You do, and I won't bring you any souvenirs."

"Extortionist!" laughed Gillian. She turned serious. "You have a wonderful birthday, love. I'll be thinking of you."

"And I of you," said Hugh. "When do you go to Wiltshire?"

"Tuesday. I'll call you the night before."

They rang off, each filled with the physical presence of the other, despite the distance that separated them.

An hour later, Hagrid was at the Prince cottage to apparate with both Russ and Hugh to Hogsmeade, since Russ could not do serious magic.

You see, Hugh had not been exactly honest with Gillian, for he was not the one who had to pretend to anything. The Wizengamot decision regarding Weetsmoor was a public ruling, and the proceedings had been covered by The Daily Prophet. Hogsmeade had known about the new ghost-professor since the beginning of the month, and had learned through the reports of the hearing of his semi-muggle nephew and the partially magical constable. It was Russ who had to pretend to be non-magical. Hagrid apparated into Hogsmeade with two side-along companions, neither of whom was supposed to be a wizard, but both of whom were supposed to be affected by the charm of Weetsmoor. They were greeted by the inhabitants of the village as if they were heroes, and quickly found themselves in the Three Broomsticks plied with rounds of well-meaning drinks, of which Hugh much preferred the mead.

Then the Hogsmeade residents requested a show. Hagrid tried to explain that insofar as anyone was aware, Hugh could only use a wand in Weetsmoor itself, but the others were not about to be put off by logic. Hogsmeade ought to be just as good as Weetsmoor, if not better. It turned out they were right.

Hugh carried with him Russ's applewood wand, with which he commenced producing an infinite chain of Lumos spells, his ability not even slightly dampened in the all-magical environment of Hogsmeade. There was nothing at all interesting about these spells, but they provided equally infinite amusement to the local wizards and witches, none of whom had ever hoped to see a magic-producing muggle in their lifetime.

On the other hand, Hugh had a wonderful time. He tried the candy at Honeydukes, checked out the pranks at Zonkos, sipped more mead at The Three Broomsticks (where he fielded advances from Madam Rosmerta), contemplated robes at Gladrags, bought self-sealing stationary at Scrivenshaft's, and survived the firewhisky at the Hog's Head.

Hagrid survived even more firewhisky at the Hog's Head, after which he prevailed upon the equally affected Russ and Hugh to explore the grounds of Hogwarts itself, an action the ghost would have cautioned against had he not been occupied at that precise moment by a classroom full of fifth years.

"So this is the famous school," said Constable Latimer upon entering the gate. It was fortunate he did not have the duty that evening, since his blood alcohol level was well above accepted norms.

"Nice, ain't it?" said Hagrid, pausing to look around the immaculate grounds.

"I s'pose, if that's the way… your tastes run," Hugh replied, imitating Hagrid's movement, but with a slightly different expression on his face. "Me, I'd fire the decorator."

"Ya don' like it?" Hagrid's voice was a touch plaintive. "I thou' it look' nice." He belched.

"Early modern… post-Coventry Blitz… was never my favorite style." Hugh stared intently at the emptiness in front of him. "Is it really dangerous, or is that part… of the mood you're trying to evoke?" Due to his more than slight inebriation, he was pronouncing his words deliberately and carefully.

"Dangerous?" Hagrid said. "Ar' you awright?" He had long passed the deliberate, careful stage.

Russ had reached a state of garrulousness the other teachers would have recognized immediately. "Don't pay him no never-mind. He's just trying t' be funny; it's a laugh a line with our Hugh. It's an hour 'til supper time, so most everybody'll be inna common rooms… doing assignments. Would y' like to watch Quidditch practice?"

"What's Quidditch?" Hugh burst out laughing for no particular reason.

"American football, dodge ball, and basketball, all scram'led together and played while flying onna broomstick. You'll love it." Russ glanced around him. "Love it," he repeated, in case the others hadn't heard him the first time.

They led Hugh over to the Quidditch pitch with him behaving in a most peculiar manner all the way. He was constantly skirting bits of grass as if trying to avoid walking on them. Hagrid glanced at Russ and tapped the side of his head in a significant manner. About halfway to the pitch, Hugh suddenly yelped, "Watch where y're going!"

"Wha'? Wha'? cried Hagrid, spinning around as if expecting to be attacked from behind.

"Don't walk inna it!" Hugh exclaimed.

"Walk inna wha'?"

"That!" Hugh waved backhand at the grass Hagrid had been about to cross. "D' ya wanna kill y'self? I should arrest ye for public intoxi-cation."

"Oh good!" snickered Russ, rubbing his hands together. "I've always wanted t' make a citizen's arrest." His own speech was as much of a struggle to be deliberate and precise as Hugh's.

"It's not… a citizen's arrest if I do it!"

"'Tis if I arrest you!" Russ advanced on the constable with wand drawn. "Public intoxication works two ways."

Hugh stood up for himself with admirable fortitude. "I am not. Intoxicated."

"HA!" replied Russ. "Say th' alphabet… backwards."

"Piece o' cake," Hugh informed him. "A - B - C - D..."

"Backwards!" Russ cried. "I cou' do it, and I'm a bit full." He blinked several times, then smiled at Hugh.

"All right, then," stated the constable with aplomb. "Z… eh, Y… X… U-V-W… no, wait… W… V… U… then there's T, and S…, and… R…, then there's P, no, wait, it's Q first, then P…"

"Ahem!" Russ coughed. "It's Z-Y-X-W-V-U-T… S-R-Q-P-O-N-M… L-K…"

"What're ya talkin' about?" Hagrid demanded.

"I'm sayin' th' alphabet," Russ informed him.

"Ya got 't all wrong, then. Backwards." Hagrid started to say the alphabet forwards, but Russ stopped him.

"He don' see th' school."

"'At's impossible," said Hagrid, then he thought a moment. "Boats!" he exclaimed. "'E's gotta come in onna boat."

The next bit was tricky, and not just because both Hugh and Russ were officially muggles. Indeed, Hagrid was in for considerable trouble if he were discovered smuggling the two onto the grounds. The tricky part was getting Hugh to walk up the hill to the castle-side entrance of the tunnel going down to the boat grotto. Though the path upwards was broad and gentle for Hagrid and Russ, it was littered with dangers and warnings of dangers for Hugh. To make matters worse, neither of the other two could see what Hugh saw, and could therefore not anticipate it.

After Hugh exclaimed for perhaps the third time, "I'm not goin' there! Tha's a bleeding hole inna ground," Russ got his moment of inspiration.

"Stand still," he commanded, an order Hugh was only too happy to obey. Turning to Hagrid, Russ snapped his fingers and demanded, "Handkerchief."

"Wha' for?" asked the bewildered giant, fishing in his cavernous pocket and extracting a large, but relatively clean one.

"Blindfold," Russ explained, spinning Hugh around and lowering the cloth over his eyes, then tying it snuggly from behind. "There," he announced. "If y' can't see it, it can't get in y' way."

"That doesn' half make sense," protested Hugh, but he let himself be led by the other two until they stopped at the top of the hill.

"Now," said Hagrid, "w're goin' inna this tunnel 'n it's dark."

"Earth to Hagrid, He's blindfolded. He can't see nothing."

"Hold y'r peace. I ain't finished yet. It goes down, 'n the floor slopes a mite. Don' wancha t' fall. I'll go behind ya like, and hold onta yer shoulders." The wisdom of this plan was underscored by a hiccup.

"Bad idea," Russ said flatly. "Wha' if you fall? You'll squash us both like roadkill on th' Interstate. You go first, then if he falls, he falls inna you, 'n you'll catch him."

"Wassa Interstate?" asked Hugh.

"Figure o' speech." Russ pushed Hagrid towards the entrance to the tunnel, which Hagrid had to unlock. No, let us be accurate. Russ placed his hands on the lower part of Hagrid's back and tried to push Hagrid towards the entrance. Hagrid, not aware of Russ's difficulty, contemplated the entrance a moment, then sniffed and strode suddenly forward, causing Russ to stumble and nearly fall. "Y' see," Russ bragged to Hugh, forgetting that Hugh couldn't see and therefore had no clue what Russ was talking about, "all it takes is a little muscle power."

Wending their way down the tunnel, with the walls of the narrow passage for support, was relatively easy. The boats were equally easy, since they moved magically of their own accord. Hagrid had his own, while Russ and Hugh shared one of the student boats. The thing was meant for four eleven-year-olds, and was a bit cramped for the two adults, given their condition, but they managed.

Then came the next snag. Hagrid never went out in the boats unless he was greeting the Hogwarts Express and a herd of first years. As soon as his boat started to move, all ten of the others joined him.

"Ge' back!" Hagrid cried, standing in his boat and waving his umbrella, an action that caused Russ to search under the plank that formed his seat.

"Wha'cha lookin' for?" Hugh asked. His voice was bleary.

"Life preserver. He's gonna fall inna water, 'n I don't think he can swim."

Hagrid gave up, though. The boats were too much for him in the state he was in. His own boat leading the way, the little flotilla of coracles bobbed along on the water of the lake, heading for the Hogsmeade station on the other side. Hagrid sat erect in his boat, the captain of the minuscule fleet, but Russ and Hugh soon found they could center their weight in the boat if they leaned against each other. Hugh promptly fell asleep. Russ didn't notice.

"An' that over there onna left's th' Quidditch pitch. Stupid game, Quidditch. Th' better you are, th' more boring it is. An' that onna right's th' Whompin' Willow. Guess what it does if you get too near – it WHOMPS you. An' that's th' Forbidden Forest, though no one cares and they all go inna it alla time. Might as well be called th' Permitted Forest for alla good… Hey! Don't fall inna water! Hagrid!"

Hagrid glance around. "He'll be awright. You jes' prop 'im up. We'll be there'n ten minutes."

It may very well have been the longest ten minutes in Russ's life, and it went a long way towards sobering him up. Hugh, bless him, awoke the moment the boat touched the far shore. "What's this?" he asked. "A forest?"

"You jes' get on up them steps," Hagrid ordered, pointing to a rustic staircase of logs and rocks that twisted its way up the slope in front of them. Around them was heard the thud of nine other boats hitting the beach.

"What's this?" Hugh asked again at the top of the hill as he glanced around the Hogsmeade station.

"Whadda ya think it is?" said Hagrid. "Issa Hogsmeade train station." He led the way onto the small platform. The station was dark and empty.

"There's no train," Hugh pointed out. "And isn't Hogsmeade across the lake? What's the station doing over here?"

Russ thought for a moment. "'Cause the students have to come here first to see Hogwarts."

"Then why isn't it the Hogwarts station?" Hugh shook his head. He'd rapidly become sober himself since he hadn't actually had that much of the firewhisky. What he'd had, had had a powerful but short-lived effect. "How often do the trains come through, anyway?"

"Six times a year," said Russ. "Start of school, start of Christmas break, end of Christmas break, start of Easter break, end of Easter break, end of school."

"What about in between?"

"There's no in between."

"What about the people in Hogsmeade?"

Hagrid laughed. "They're wizards," he crowed. "They don' need a train!"

"Aren't the students wizards, too?"

"Yeah," Russ confirmed. "But they can't do magic out of school 'til they're seventeen. So they have to come up from London on the train." He leaned against a lamp post on the platform which, sensing his presence, promptly lit up.

"That's kind of cool," said Hugh, staring at the lamp post. "Where else does the train stop on the way?"

"It doesn't," said Russ. "It's an express. Straight here from King's Cross Station. They all get on at King's Cross, and they all get off here."

"What!" Hugh exclaimed. "Are all the students from the south? You got no one here from Glasgow or Aberdeen?"

"Sure we do," said Hagrid. "Loads."

"Well, they don't go to London to catch the train. They come straight here."

"No…" Hagrid was puzzling it through. "They come onna Express. It comes from London."

Now Hugh was laughing. "You mean if I live in Aberdeen, I have to go all the way to London to reach a place that's right next to Aberdeen?"

"Wait a minute…" said Hagrid, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. "How d' you know i's right nexta Aberdeen?"

"You told me!"

"I never did!"

"Yes, you did! Right before you did that spin-in-the-air thing!"

"He means apparating," Russ explained.

"I KNOW WHAT HE MEANS!" Hagrid yelled at him, causing Russ to back away and the lamp post to turn off, leaving them in the gloom of gathering dusk.

"You did!" Hugh insisted. "I asked if we were going to London, and you said no, Scotland. Then I asked if it was Edinburgh, and you said no, farther north, and then I asked 'Aberdeen?' and you said you weren't supposed to tell me that, so…"

Hagrid breathed a sigh of relief. "So I didn't actually tell ya it was Aberdeen."

"Well, no, but I'm not stupid!" It was hard to tell if it was the lingering effects of the firewhisky or not, but Hugh was getting very red about the neck and face.

"That ain't neither here nor there," Hagrid assured him, "as long's I didn't tell ya it was Aberdeen."

"Can we go back to Hogsmeade now?" Russ asked plaintively. "I think I'm going to be sick." In Christmas contrast to Hugh's red, Russ was turning green, for firewhisky has a habit of being worse coming out than it is going in.

"Sure," said Hagrid. All quarrel now forgotten, he led the other two off the platform and down the dark path towards the lake shore.

And that was when Hugh at last saw Hogwarts castle.


"It was breathtaking," Hugh told Gillian by phone later that evening, being by that time completely sober and able to express himself clearly. "That view straight across the lake, with the lights in the castle… You know those pictures of that fairy-tale castle in Bavaria? It reminded me of that."

Gillian was skeptical. "Are you sure you had to see it first from the far side of the lake? It wasn't just because you'd been drinking, was it?"

"No, it's some sort of a spell. I swear I couldn't take my eyes off the place all the way back across the lake." Hugh chuckled. "I wouldn't want to be in Hagrid's shoes, though. It seems he wasn't supposed to take me there."

"How do you know that?"

"You know that older witch… Professor McGonagall, the headmistress? She was waiting for us in the boat grotto along with the ghost. Apparently the boats are only supposed to go out once a year, when the new first year students arrive at the beginning of September. They set off an alarm that lets the teachers know the students are coming. So here're all the professors eating dinner, and suddenly the alarm sounds that new students are on their way in. Disrupted the whole meal. The students had never heard it before and thought they were being attacked by something. My impression was that pandemonium would've been an understatement."

Gillian was laughing. "Didn't Hagrid know about the alarm?"

"No," Hugh chuckled. "He was always with the boats when it sounded and never heard it. The ones who had were Russ and Professor Snape. Now Russ is in hot water with Hagrid, and the Professor thinks they're both idiots. They had a debate about whether you had to be a student to be assigned detention. Russ escaped because he doesn't live at the school, but we may not be seeing Hagrid for a while."

"You are terrible, Hugh. You sound like you're enjoying his predicament! And here I thought I'd married a nice man!"

"I am a nice man. It's just that they're all so… so comical!"

"I'm ringing off now, you wicked, perverted…"

"Can't you come home, Gill? We can always experiment with perverted if that's what you want."

"Hmmm… You make it sound so attractive…"

"Better than Wiltshire?"

"Sorry, love. That's still on for Tuesday. We'll talk before then, though. I'm glad you had a nice birthday. Bye… love you."

"Love you, too."


Tuesday, October 5, 1999

It was eight-thirty in the morning of the following Tuesday, and Russ had just gone into the garden to tend his herbs when constable Hugh Latimer, dressed for duty, arrived on his bicycle. Russ started to say 'Good morning,' but Hugh was distracted and insistent.

"London," Hugh said, fear and urgency coloring his voice. "You've got to take me to London now."

Russ stared at him. "I can't do that," he said. "It's against all the…"

"Yes you can, and you will," Hugh countered, anger beginning to surface. "Now. There's been a train crash – twenty minutes ago – just outside Paddington station. A commuter express and the train to Wiltshire…"

"I don't see how that…"

"Gillian's on that train! I got it on the police band. They're calling in every ambulance in the London area. I've got to get to London!"