Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Staff Room
The next four days blew by in a flurry of parchment and minor disasters. Classrooms were redecorated, lesson plans finalized and turned into Nashita's beckoning hand, and the aurors settled into their daily routines. Nearly every member of the staff had argued with Alastor at one point or another over whether his team could be used for practical examples in class. Each time, he insisted that his coworkers were not toys. It was not until Armando reminded him of Galatea's demonstration with French auror Jaques Pollock, which had sparked Moody's interest in magical law enforcement, that he consented.
Each evening, everyone filed into the staff room, more often with the accompaniment of mead than not. A new pub, The Three Broomsticks, had been opened by two sisters down in Hogsmeade after the Haughty Hippogriff had closed last year, and the alcohol supplied by the younger sister, Rosmerta, became an instant hit.
River hesitantly joined the social hour at Leona's bequest, normally holding a book or half-finished paper along with her wine. DeMattos wandered in when her patrols brought her down the adjacent hallways, taking a moment to discuss Quidditch with Vigo, or else talk quietly with River about the muggle front of the war. Both were half-bloods with extensive muggle connections. Minerva and Scrimgeour were often pulled in by various members of the staff wanting to catch up on their star students, most often Horace Slughorn, who seemed to attribute most of their accomplishments to his own teaching prowess. Alastor adamantly refused any invitations to join the group until late into the night, when most everyone had retired to their chambers. Only then would he finally accept a nightcap from Armando or Albus.
The routine was a comfortable one, tinged with the strange mix of excitement and reluctance that came with waiting for the arrival of nearly two-hundred teenagers who would be thrilled to see their friends, but decidedly less so to greet their studies.
Quinn, as had become usual over the past several years, was unable to relax. His thumb traced over the fraying edge of the envelope hidden in his cloak pocket as he strode towards the library, intent on insisting Madam Minacoss order extra copies of Challenges in Charming for the scholarship students. He had loaned out his private copies last year, only to have them returned in poor condition. The chiming of a clock echoing through the empty hallways, however, changed his mind. The charms master changed direction and hurried towards the headmaster's office.
"Come in," called Armando, upon hearing the unique resonance of Quinn's knock at his door. He was sitting behind his large desk, reading glasses perched on his nose as he shifted through papers. "The governor's demands for this school year," he offered by way of explanation as Quinn shifted papers until one of the other chairs was usable. "Tea?" Armando offered as his companion sat down.
"Not right now. I got another letter."
"The one you've been reading all week?"
"What? No... No. That was a job offer. Durmstrang wants me. Seems a little odd, given that they chucked Gellert out for being a lunatic..." Quinn trailed off.
"And you're thinking of accepting," Armando said, sighing.
"What, Western Europe? That wouldn't be any better for me and you know it. No, but it got me thinking. The Americas, all that. Escape." Quinn looked out the window, grimacing at nothing.
"We need you here. You're the best source of information we have at this point," Armando replied, finally setting down his quill and papers. Quinn shook his head in response.
"Anyway. Before Moody gets back from his meeting. It came this morning." He passed the letter over the desk, revealing a bandaged finger.
"The owl bit you again?"
"Yes. I swear the damn thing has developed a taste for my blood."
"Naomi, I need you to analyze this for me," Armando called to the woman across the Hospital Wing, holding up the letter. She turned around, wiping her withered hands on her apron. Her body was as wiry as her iron-colored hair, and she was hardly taller than five feet, yet something about her presence commanded respect.
"What, your hand?" she asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
"The letter," he replied, pressing the parchment into her hands.
"What do I look like, Armando, a calligrapher? Go get Celia if you need help reading-"
"It's written in human blood," he interrupted, regretting his decision to let her work at St. Mungo's over the summer. She always came back in a heinous mood. "I need to know whose. Last time I tried to do it myself, and ended up spoiling the whole process."
"Ah, this again," she sighed, fingering the parchment carefully. "Of course you spoiled it, potions can only get you so far. I worry our Professor Grindelwald is going to start to garner even more unwanted attention if he keeps attracting such strange mail."
"I agree, which is why I'd like you to please burn it when you finish."
River found herself rehearsing her opening lessons over and over again. The first years were easy enough to impress; most of them had never seen magic performed by anyone other than their families and were eager to learn. The six and seventh years had passed their OWLs and chosen to continue studies, so they were dedicated enough. It was the middle ages that were tricky, when being fascinated was for 'children' and the girl or boy next to them was more important than the rest of their lives.
She worked through her first lesson, seventh years, three times without using notes, speaking to the two cats in front of her. Her orange tabby had befriended a fluffy grey cat that she had been told belonged to Nashita. She sighed, out of ideas for improvement, then moved on to the fifth-year lecture, which had been giving her trouble. She stumbled through the first five sentences, squeezed her eyes shut, then started over. "blah blah blah, the start of many decisions- the start of your adult life- the start of... SHIT."
"Well, that's a negative way to look at it. Not saying it isn't accurate, but very negative." Quinn was leaning on the doorframe. River hid her face in her hands and groaned.
"Merlin. How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough to see the cats' reaction to your more polished spiel. Tough audience. Really though, long enough to see you're going to be fine and could use a break." He paused for a moment. "I like to go down to the dungeons. There are some underwater windows down there. Terra goes and feeds the birds in the owlery. Armando walks out by the lake... Actually, now is around the time he'd be there."
"You're right. Fresh air sounds nice," River said, resurfacing. It wasn't a complete lie, but it came close. She wasn't the outdoorsy type, she preferred the warm comfort of a crackling fire or the musty smell that hung around libraries. Right now, though, the cool air was tempting. The company was a bit more tantalizing, but there was no need to admit that. She gave each of the cats a good scratch, then followed Quinn into the hall.
"Yes?" She had given up on getting Quinn to use her first name.
"Gallatea's been about as exciting as Binns for the past twenty years. They won't be too hard to impress. Don't worry."
River skirted the edge of the lake, squinting to look for any figures hidden by the misty air. Alas, she seemed to be alone for now. She stayed well away from the choppy water, until catching a glimpse of something glimmering against the dull rocks. She edged closer, curiously, as the thing almost slithered away- but it wasn't a snake... With a small yelp, she slipped on an algae-covered stone and fell face-first into the frigid water.
She reemerged flailing and gasping, in shock from the cold. The rocks were too slick to
easily re-mount, and she found herself uselessly slipping around until an impossibly large hand grabbed the back of her robes and hoisted her up. When several quick blinks had not made the figure in front of her lessen in size, she tried to concentrate on making sure all her limbs were in order.
"Yeh wan' t be careful there, Profess'r. Yeh are a professor, ey?" River looked back at the humungous form in front of her, still having difficulty processing whether this was all real.
"Err... Yes. Yes, I am," she replied, trying to make her mind function through the damp cold. "River LaBorde. Pleased to meet you, er...?"
"Rubeus Hagrid! People 'round here jus call me Hagrid, though." She tentatively offered her hand, and was rewarded with a bone-crushing, overly enthusiastic handshake. "I see yeh were lookin' ah our kelpie. Tricky li'l bugger, he is. Don' think we'll be gettin' 'im out of there anytime soon. He's well adopted that lake- turned into a squid, 'e has, and a big 'un at that."
"Oh, that was the kelpie! I've never seen one." Never seen much of anything, she mentally added.
"River! I see you've met our junior groundskeeper," called a familiar voice. Armando was approaching from the shore, picking his way easily along the rocks. "And... er... You can't seem to come out here without getting wet can you?"
"That... That seems to be fairly accurate. He saved me from the kelpie, actually." Armando's eyebrows shot up.
"Are you okay? We should get you inside..."
"No, no no no, it was nothing, the thing was already swimming away. I only slipped, and Hagrid was kind enough to pluck me out," she explained in a rush. Armando had already cupped her elbow and was leading her back to the castle.
"I'd best ge' back to werk," said Hagrid called out after them. Armando waved distractedly over his shoulder. River tried to offer him a smile while simultaneously insisting to Armando that nothing was wrong.
"Look. Wand. Magic, remember?" She held up her dripping wand pointedly. "Exaresco." The wand fizzled a bit. "Oh, don't you start..."
"Do you mind if I...?" offered Armando.
"No, I can handle this, really..." she tried again, to a similar result.
"You really don't like accepting help from people, do you?" he sighed. "Here. You can use my wand."
"Thanks." She hesitantly tried the spell again, and her robes were instantly dry. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude," she said softly as he tucked his wand back into his clock pocket.
"Nothing to worry about. I'm used to dealing with Quinn, and he does mean to be." River laughed, slightly relieved. "Join me for a cup of tea?"
"Certainly," she agreed
"Those stones can be quite tricky, if it makes you feel any better," Armando reconciled, offering her his arm.
"Obviously not for you," she cajoled back. He had been walking as closely as possible to the water before detouring.
"I grew up on the Spanish coast. The rocks aren't quite as sharp, but they are certainly just as slick... Anyway, Quinn said you'd be down here. He said near the lake, not IN it, but I digress."
"Speak of the devil and he shall appear," called a voice from the top of the Entrance Hall staircase. "Tara says that kelpie isn't coming out of the lake anytime soon. She said you might want to consider finding a new way to bring the first-years up."
Armando frowned. "The boats have been tradition for hundreds of years. We can't break that."
"Why don't you find a way to distract it?" suggested River. "You said the dungeons have some underwater windows, right?"
"Yes, in the Slytherin dormitories... That may actually work," said Quinn thoughtfully, stroking his beard.
"Good. Have Tara join you down there and see what gets its attention."
Quinn looked at Armando as if he'd just eaten a doxy. "I cannot bring a Hufflepuff down into the Slytherin quarters!" he replied, clearly scandalized. "No one from outside our house has ever set foot in that section of the castle-"
"Quinn, I was down there last week," replied Armando, nonplussed. Quinn's scowl deepened. "Well, I refuse.
"Tallyho, boys! Fighting again, are we?" called a woman from several metres away. She was Quinn's age, but already had grey hair, which she wore cut short around her chin.
"Hunter! Just the person I need. Hurry and put your bags away, we're going downstairs to relive old memories and, incidentally, stop a murderous beast from massacring the first years."
"Well, it's good to know I didn't miss all the fun." The woman shifted her luggage and held out a hand to River as she neared. "Dr. Talbott. Professor, too, but I like to use my muggle title. It takes a helluva lot more work when there's no magic to make numbers dance. You'll be River, then?"
The small, porthole-esque windows set into the stone wall granted the two Slytherin alumni a murky view into the lake. The kelpie, still in the form of a giant squid, drifted around lazily through the tall weeds.
"I don't know, it looks pretty harmless," commented Talbott, holding up a large fish she had transfigured from some unfortunate fourth year's pillow. She doubted the smell would leave, even if the shape did. She wiggled it around. The squid continued to ignore them.
"Alright, then, you can be the one to explain to grieving parents why their child was mauled and how they shouldn't sue the school..." Quinn set off a shower of brightly colored lights from his wand. The squid remained unfazed.
"Well, we're running out of options here... Do you think it's a male or a female? What if we gave it a companion?"
"Oh, you want a family of them swimming around! Great plan. Do squids even have sex? Or kelpies? I'm starting to forget what the damn thing is."
"Wait, they like pickles, right?" Talbott exclaimed, bouncing on the balls of her feet and retransfiguring the pillow. Maybe if she turned it into a potato before leaving, dreams of fish and chips would be the only result of residual magic... Quinn looked at her blankly. "You know, you throw the kelpie your name on a pickle, it won't harm you..." she trailed off.
"That's a myth, dear. Though we can borrow the class roster and throw forty-odd pickles in the lake if it makes you feel better." The sound of stone grinding against stone silenced them. "Oi!" said Quinn, outraged, as Albus appeared in the entranceway. "These are the sacred chambers of the students of Salazar Slytherin! No Gryffindors allowed!" Armando followed him in. "Oh, come on! Sacred!" Vigo followed the other two. "Vigo, tell me you didn't bring them down here-"
"Just wanted to see what the commotion was," the Quidditch Master pacified.
"You're disturbing the merpeople," Albus said calmly. "Scrimgeour had called me out for a consult and on the way I found the chief at the surface, screeching for anyone who would listen. I assured him I'd come talk to you."
"You speak mermish?" asked Talbott, wide-eyed.
"Of course he does," muttered Quinn, rolling his eyes. "We're trying to figure out how to distract this bloke," he continued, using his wand to point at the squid. It was currently rolling enthusiastically.
"So that's what this is about? The kelpie?" Vigo laughed. "Move over. I got this. Accio kelpie!"
The creature sped towards the wall and hit it with a resounding thunk, hard enough to make the room quiver. Everyone stood speechless as it slowly peeled its suction cups from the glass windows and swam away furiously, spurting a great cloud of ink after itself.
"Great. On the off chance it didn't hate people before, it certainly does now," Quinn deadpanned.
"I'll ask the merpeople to distract it for the evening," Albus said after a moment. "They owe me a favor."
"Human female. Young-definitely prepubescent. Ten would be my guess. Blood type A positive, and it shows markers for magic. Armando... Have you been following the papers?"
"You don't think it's the Fox girl?" he replied, the lines in his face deepening. "That hardly makes sense, does it?"
"You asked me to examine, I'm telling you what I found. Since you seem intent on the fact that none of this is coincidence, she's the best fit. And yes, before you say it, I know the rest were middle-aged German muggles. I'm the one who told you that, remember?" Naomi chided, cutting off a debate before it could even start.
"So you're saying Gellert is traipsing around Manchester, killing little girls?" interrupted Quinn.
"I'm not saying anything. If you'll remember, I wanted no involvement in this, and that hasn't changed. I've seen one war, and I've no interest in seeing another. Leave it to the Germans, and don't you dare say a word to the poor parents of that girl. Now off you trot, I have a Wing to sterilize." She shooed them away, frowning and shutting the door behind the duo.
A/N: Looks like we're back to update Fridays until the semester begins anew. Honestly, there's a lot I want to say about this chapter (world building! Woo! Foreshadowing! Woo!) but honestly, my cat is being put down 1500 miles away from me right now, and I'm tired and horrified and trying to cope with the fact that when I left him two days ago he was completely fine and spent our last night wrapped around my neck like a scarf purring and kissed me goodbye and he's only 11. He collapsed out of the blue only hours after I flew off. Kidney disease is a fucking bitch.
So, yeah. I will probably write a note at the beginning of the next chapter. For now, if you're curious about the Fox girl, you can google the info given (Fox girl murder 1944 Manchester) like I had to in order to remember why the hell I used her, or else Sheila Fox. For now, enjoy.