Author's Note: There's a lot of dialogue in this chapter and much information is being imparted. It might not seem relevant now, but it will for later chapters, so please accept I know what I'm doing. If you see where the story might be going, by all means, please speculate. I probably won't tell you if you're on the right track, though. ;)
Susan was trying very hard to keep a lid on her excitement. It was the weekend and, for once, her aunt didn't have work. Aunt Amelia did her best to leave the weekends open, but inevitably there was always some crisis that demanded her attention. Today, however, Aunt Amelia had staunchly declared that her Head Auror, Susan's Uncle Rufus, was perfectly capable of handling things in her stead.
There were times in which Susan wasn't sure how much she actually liked her honorary relation. Uncle Rufus had never been anything less than kind to her, treating her as a member of his own family, but he was also ambitious and had his eye on Aunt Amelia's job. Of course, it was fairly well accepted that once Minister Fudge was drummed out of office – because everyone with higher brain function assumed he eventually would be – Aunt Amelia was the next in line for the top spot.
Susan wasn't sure how she felt about that, either. She hardly got to spend any time with her aunt now; she couldn't imagine how difficult it would be if Aunt Amelia were to become Minister. Still, there were expectations and Aunt Amelia felt compelled to live up to them. Susan had decided long ago that she herself would never work for the Ministry. It seemed to be a thankless job no matter the role, and she would have enough to concern herself with the running of House Bones.
The idea of quality time with her aunt, though welcome, wasn't the only reason Susan felt as though she were walking on air, however. Not only was Kurt Hummel going to attend Hogwarts with her, but today she was going to meet Harry Potter! It was as though all of her dreams were coming true!
She had listened to all of Aunt Amelia's admonishments with a keen ear. She wasn't so immature and selfish that she thought she knew better and she certainly didn't want to embarrass herself. Kurt's arrival at Hogwarts was need-to-know; the only reason Aunt Amelia had clued her in was, first, because of Kurt's letter and, second, because she wanted at least one peer present at Hogwarts who wouldn't gawk and titter at him like a ninny.
Susan was very proud her aunt had that much confidence in her and was determined to live up to it.
In approximately two hours, Aunt Amelia would be escorting her to Longbottom Hall, where she would meet Neville and Harry. Susan knew to be on her best behavior; this wasn't merely the meeting of children, but of Scions of three of the Ancient and Most Noble Houses. She, Neville, and Harry would eventually helm the Arcana and she would make a good impression.
She also knew that Lady Longbottom would have her eye on her. The woman already liked her well enough, Susan supposed, but nevertheless she would conduct herself with dignity and decorum.
She didn't know precisely why Harry was staying with Neville, but she assumed it was because they were godbrothers and thus family of a sort. Aunt Amelia had hinted that Harry's prior home life wasn't what is should have been, but didn't offer any specifics, and Susan knew better than to ask.
Aunt Amelia was holding a brief conference over the Floo with Uncle Rufus, so Susan decided to go up to her bedroom, tidy her hair, and pick out suitable robes.
Diana Diggory sat regally in a Queen Anne chair in her parlor, the only clue to her upset her fingers digging into the armrests like claws. Her knuckles had turned white as she wrestled with her anger.
Amos and Cedric merely sat there staring, jaws agape, as they tried to process what Professor Sprout had just imparted.
Pomona, for her part, was rather pleased by how this was going. Initially she had toyed with the idea of demanding Vows, but Cedric was too young and the request would make Amos too suspicious. She had settled for oaths of secrecy.
"Who is responsible for this?" Diana seethed.
Cedric shuddered at the rancor evident in his mother's tone. It was unlike anything he had ever heard from her.
"There is only one man who could be," Pomona said softly, averting her eyes.
Diana's flared in response. She didn't say the name; it wasn't necessary.
"Dumbledore," hissed an unsurprised Amos.
He had been part of the Ministry long enough to understand who, or rather, what Dumbledore was. The man wasn't the Minister; he had too much power for that. Everyone knew that while Cornelius might have the title, it was Dumbledore who ran things. Amos had clued in a while ago that, despite Dumbledore's espoused progressive views, little had changed in the past ten years. In the past century, even.
He was Pureblood, yes, and took great pride in his lineage and familial history, but he was no ostrich. He knew how critical the Muggleborn were to the propagation of their world.
Cedric gave an owlish blink. But it was Professor Dumbledore! Surely the man couldn't be responsible for putting poor little Harry in such a situation. And Harry! He was a hero! His parents were heroes! How could anyone, Muggle or no, have treated him so deplorably?
"Dad?" he whispered. "I don't understand. How could … why? He's just a little boy."
Amos sighed and closed his eyes, placing a strong hand on his son's shoulder. He was angry he had to explain this to Cedric; angrier still an explanation was required. When he opened his eyes, he was unsurprised to see his son's guileless eyes staring back at him in confusion.
Cedric was still so very sheltered. He and Diana had tried hard to protect their only son, especially after it became obvious there would be no other children. Cedric was their world, their shining light. Just the idea of his son in young Harry's place caused his blood to boil.
"This is entirely unacceptable," Diana said crisply. "I was a witness to the Potter will and Lily made it quite clear Harry was never to go to her sister."
Pomona's eyes widened. "You saw the will?"
Diana frowned. "Of course. Lily was one of my dearest friends."
Cedric gaped. "She was? You knew Lily Potter?"
Diana nodded. "And you knew Harry, darling. You probably don't remember; you weren't even three. Before the Potters went into hiding, you and Harry played together frequently, along with Neville Longbottom. The boys saw you as something akin to a big brother."
Cedric flushed, feeling absurdly proud that the hero of the wizarding world had once considered him such, mad because he couldn't remember, and furious that Harry had been given to animals. He also felt bad because he hadn't taken a greater interest in Neville, with whom he was at least familiar due to various Ministry functions.
"Do you remember who the named guardians were?" Pomona asked.
Again, Diana nodded. "Sirius Black and Alice Longbottom were given joint custody, but Alice would be considered the primary caregiver and Sirius was to have unlimited visitation. James and Lily wanted Harry to grow up with Neville, with a family, and Sirius never expressed any interest in settling down."
"And neither one of them can serve," Pomona said, "for obvious reasons."
Cedric couldn't believe his ears. The most notorious mass-murderer of the wizarding world was named godfather to its savior?
He then frowned.
How could Sirius Black have betrayed the Potters and still be alive? His vows to Harry would have seen him fall dead the moment he had given You Know Who the location of the Potters.
One quick look at his mother confirmed she thought that same.
"I never believed Sirius to be guilty, honey," she said to her son, "but there was little I could do. He was convicted and sent to Azkaban." She sighed. "Regardless of my thoughts on the matter, I assumed James and Lily had revoked Sirius as guardian and selected another."
She frowned. "Still …"
Amos looked askance at his wife and nodded. "Awfully convenient the boy's guardians were … incapacitated, wasn't it?"
Diana gave a short nod.
Pomona wanted to vomit. Could Albus … Merlin! He better not have been responsible for this!
"It still doesn't make sense," said a decided Diana. "If Sirius or Alice were unable to serve, there were others listed. Irrespective of that, Harry should have been given to Dame Augusta."
"Which is where he now is," Pomona admitted.
Diana wrinkled her nose. She had little use for the Longbottom Regent and it was debatable whether or not Harry would have done well in her care.
"He should have been given to Amelia," she insisted. "Houses Potter and Bones were not allied at the time, but Amelia had trained both James and Sirius for the Hit Wizard and Auror Corps, respectively. They trusted her implicitly and knew she would do well by Harry."
Pomona raised a brow. She couldn't wait to find out how Amelia Bones would react to that little tidbit.
"If Amelia didn't wish or was unable to serve," Diana concluded, "Harry was to be raised by Professors Flitwick and McGonagall at Hogwarts."
Pomona almost fainted. She knew Filius and Minerva would explode when they learned this information.
"Are you absolutely sure?" she pressed.
"Very. The will was drafted and then witnessed. None of the named guardians could themselves be witnesses, so Lily and James sought out others. James chose Dumbledore, who had already signed when Lily asked me to be her witness."
"So Albus isn't aware you were also a witness."
Diana gave a diffident shrug. "It's entirely possible he is not."
"That's why you weren't Obliviated."
Diana leaned forward. "What!"
Pomona sighed. "Filius remembers the will, but believes he was only a witness, not a named guardian. Last night, after taking Harry to Augusta, he performed a scan of his Occlumency shields and discovered he had been Obliviated. He insists the magical signature belongs to Albus. Severus and Poppy were likely Obliviated as well and will be conducting their own scans. Minerva is not an Occlumens and completely ignorant of all of this."
Diana clucked her tongue. "I don't envy you, Professor. I well remember being their student. I would not want to be in their vicinity when they learn this information."
Pomona slowly exhaled.
"I'll do it," Cedric blurted out. "I'll help Harry any way I can."
"Are you sure, son?" Amos asked.
"Of course. I can't do much, but I can look out for him, help him find his way around the castle and with his classes, introduce him to people. I can be his big brother again if he'll let me."
Amos once again felt that familiar burst of pride for his only son. Cedric really was the best of him and Diana. He was kind but not a doormat, smart but grounded.
Pomona also felt pride that this exceptional boy was a member of her House. She was not, however, blind to how naïve Cedric could be. Another year and he'd be fighting off the girls and boys with a stick, particularly older ones who thought him easy prey. He wasn't of course, he had a strong backbone, but it wouldn't take a very keen mind to take advantage of him.
She offered her thanks and promised to owl later, hopefully with an appointment for Cedric to meet Harry and, possibly, Neville. She frowned and decided to add young Miss Bones to that list as well. She knew Cedric and Susan were closer to each other than to their other peers.
"We're not just going to sit around while Santana is off at her grandmother's, are we?" Quinn demanded.
"Of course not," Kurt said easily. "I don't want to rush into anything with her input, but we can plan."
Her eyes gleamed. "You mean plot. Let's get started."
Amelia sent Susan down into the Bones ancestral vault to peruse their many artifacts, having sent word to Augusta to expect them an hour later than their scheduled meeting.
She had no idea why she was at Gringotts or what was expected of her, but one simply didn't ignore a summons from the ranking chieftain. She was intensely curious, and a not a little frightened, about what Ragnok wanted with her.
"Madam Bones," a Goblin condescended to address her, "Ragnok will see you now."
She stood and gave an abrupt nod. She didn't know the various ins and outs of properly conducting oneself with Goblins – those mysteries had never been imparted to her family – but she knew to be brusque, to the point, and respectful.
"Thank you," she said briskly.
He grunted and turned on his heel, stomping down the long and ornate hall.
She kept apace but silently marveled at an area of the Bank on which she had never laid eyes. She might have been the Regent for an Ancient and Most Noble family, but most never had reason to meet with Ragnok personally. She absently wondered how old the chieftain was. He had been in charge of Gringotts London for as long as she could remember, and her father before her.
So much of magic in general had been lost over the centuries and Goblins in particular were notorious for holding close their secrets. She couldn't blame them, not really. She had read enough of the Rebellions at Hogwarts and then in Auror training to know Goblins were and always had been resentful of the chafing yoke under which they had been placed by wizards.
She wished she knew how that had come to be. Goblins were perhaps the most powerful magical race, capable of feats most wizards could never hope to match. Why, then, had they allowed themselves to be reduced to playing bankers for the very people they hated? Of course, there was power in gold; some would argue those who controlled the gold controlled the society. Why weren't more witches and wizards aware that their entire economy laid in the hands of a race they sought to oppress?
She didn't have the power, not as Ministry official or a Regent, to be privy to the Goblin treaties with the wizarding world. They were held in utmost secrecy, so much so that it was debatable whether or not the wizarding world understood how to move within their constraints.
She was sure the Goblins knew, however, and that they were keeping track.
She shook off those thoughts and drew in a sharp breath, the ambient magic of the structure imbuing her with a sense of giddiness. She hadn't felt anything like this since her time at Hogwarts, though the magic was markedly … different.
She could never work here, she decided, even were she allowed. The halls were cavernous and unmarked; it was impossible to figure out where to go. Every door was shut, holding their secrets tightly within.
"This way, please," the Goblin said with impatience as he careened to the left.
She hurried to keep up.
Another turn and, at the end of the hallway, there stood a massive set of doors, larger even than those that admitted students to the Great Hall at Hogwarts. The mahogany was innately carved with symbols and portraits she would never understand or recognize.
The Goblin knocked in a rhythmic pattern she couldn't discern, before opening a door and beckoning her forward. She hesitantly crossed the threshold and repressed a jump when the door slammed shut behind her.
"Good morning, Madam Bones."
She nodded and stepped forward. She recognized Ragnok from the escapade with Kurt Hummel and his companions, but it was only now she noticed that he was at least a foot taller than his brethren. She wondered about this, whether his height dictated his position or if it was a result of superior power.
"Good morning, Chieftain Ragnok," she said succinctly. "How may I assist you?"
He raised a brow, obviously surprised by her phrasing. It was obvious the woman was powerful and he had heard tell of her standoffs with the Dark Lord. Rumor had it she ran the DMLE with an iron fist, but she was fair always. She didn't tolerate nonsense and had no time or patience for foolishness. Her voting record on the Wizengamot suggested she was aware of the striations in magical society and repulsed by them.
"First, I must apologize for the scene you encountered the day previous here at Gringotts. I understand you are personally acquainted with the Ambassador?"
She gave a gruff nod, eyes burning with anger at how the child had been attacked.
"I myself was not," he admitted, "though that is no excuse. Please rest assured that those responsible for that farce have been appropriately punished."
Which meant they were dead. Well, she wasn't too bothered. She'd kill anyone under her command who had attacked children.
"Have you spoken to anyone of Quinn Fabray and her relationship with our sovereign?" he asked severely.
She stiffened. "Absolutely not."
"We appreciate your discretion, although it shan't be a secret for much longer. Her Majesty fully intends to acknowledge the girl once she arrives at Hogwarts."
Amelia frowned. "Are you anticipating she will require the protection of your Nation?"
"It is entirely possible," he demurred. "She has allied herself with Ambassador Hummel. He is already a forceful presence in the international magical community and his influence will only grow. Our Queen will not have her charge be without resources."
Amelia said nothing, working his statement over in her mind.
"Please ask your question."
She blinked. "Why? Why her and why now?"
"Why her? Truthfully, I do not know. It is none of my business and that only of Her Majesty. As to why now, that is because of the school she has chosen to attend."
"Dumbledore," she said before she could stop herself.
His eyes sparked with interest. "Indeed. What have you discovered?" He waved a hand. "Please be seated."
She did so with grace and met his gaze evenly. "I know that Albus Dumbledore went to the Magical United States to court the Ambassador to attend Hogwarts. I know he did this without the proper authorizations and without going through the appropriate channels. I know the Ambassador refused the invitation unless it was also extended to his companion, which it was. I also know Dumbledore attempted to use Legilimancy on three minor children of foreign governments and was repelled."
"This," Ragnok said roughly, "I did not know." He sighed and shook his head. "Idiocy."
"Very much so," she sharply agreed. "Given the countries of which those children are members and the state of relations between those countries and the United Kingdom, we are very fortunate they chose not to press charges."
"Indeed," he said curtly, though he wasn't overly concerned. He paused. "Might I ask how you came to be aware of these facts?"
"I was debriefed by Nadia Goodacre, the Press and Cultural Attaché to the Ambassador."
Ragnok rubbed his chin. "Ah, yes, the Elf."
Amelia hesitated and then decided to go for it. "It appeared Her Majesty was acquainted with Ms. Goodacre."
He sat back and offered a light smirk. "Are you aware, Madam Bones, of the state of relations between the Goblins and Elves?"
"I am not," she confessed.
"There is no reason you should be," he said dismissively, "and of course I am unable to discuss any particulars. Nevertheless, as you've already gleaned, Nadia Goodacre is known to us and held in high esteem."
"May I ask a question?"
"Of course, though I may choose not to answer it."
She nodded. "I was unaware that the Ambassador's purview extended beyond the wizarding world, but Her Majesty made mention he is also the YGAP's representative to the Goblin Nation?"
"Correct. Ambassador Hummel is his nation's representative to the entire global magical community. This includes the Goblin Nation, the Elven Realm, and the various other magical races. They might not choose to interact with humans, but the Ambassador is an intensely respectful boy and is respected in return. He is welcome everywhere."
"Though his government might not be."
"Very true. However, the Ambassador is quite unique in that, while he represents a government, he is not part of said government. His platform is the empowerment of children, specifically magical cooperation and global health. To that end, he desires only to learn." He cocked his head. "What do you know of affinities, Madam Bones?"
She was startled by the segue. "Magical affinities run along bloodlines," she said. "It is said that the First Families held many affinities, but they were diluted over the centuries due to violent inbreeding. Ironically, those families bred with each other to maintain the gifts, but instead they were phased out."
"Yes," Ragnok agreed. "Would you indulge me by naming some examples?"
She blew out a breath. "Occlumency and Legilimancy, along with the various other Mind Arts, most of which have been lost to time. Parseltongue and Alestongue; there are citations other animal tongues were once known to humans, but they cannot be verified. Affinities also extend to various magical disciplines such as Defense, Arithmancy, Runes, and so on."
He nodded. "Would it surprise you to know that there are many more?"
She blinked. "Yes."
"The various animal tongues fall under the umbrella of belua lingua. Those humans who have an affinity usually only possess such for one tongue, though there are humans in history who had more. Along similar line is omnilingualism, the ability to comprehend and speak any language encountered. The Ambassador has this affinity."
Her eyebrows were now hovering just beneath her hairline.
"The Mind Arts and their practice are not lost to time, Madam Bones, they are merely mostly lost to Britain. As you said, most affinities were phased out by inbreeding, but that is only here. They are well known throughout the rest of the world and across magical races."
Her monocle fell from her eye.
"The Mind Arts, as they have been so preciously termed, as well as other affinities are routinely practiced, but their users keep their secrets." He paused. "Can you guess as to why?"
"Government," she spat.
"Precisely. That is the reason your Ministry has outlawed the use of Occlumency and Legilimancy, not that there don't exist some excellent reasons for doing so. Affinities in and of themselves are nothing more than identifiable powers. There is nothing inherent in them which demands or even suggests their practitioners hold to any moral code."
That made sense. Someone well-versed in either discipline was powerful, but that didn't necessarily mean they were good. They could use their power to enforce their will on others, spy on governments, and commit any host of nefarious crimes.
"But that's not the real reason, is it?"
Ragnok smiled and it was frightening. "No. The Ministry outlawed the practices because there was no chance for oversight. Occlumens and Legilimans are, once their gifts are recognized and utilized, unable to be controlled. They are unable to be led or compelled. They cannot be deceived. Now imagine such an individual who has affinities with other branches of magic as well as a large well of power."
"The result is a Dark Lord or an Albus Dumbledore."
She pressed her lips so tightly together they all but disappeared.
"This is not to say that one without an affinity is unable to learn the Art, only that they will never truly master it. Occlumency is taught to every Heir of an Ancient, Noble, and Most Ancient and Noble Family so that they are able to safeguard the family magic. A concerted effort will result in an able practitioner, but never a master."
"And Ambassador Hummel has an affinity."
He nodded. "All three children do, but they have taken the discipline beyond that." He frowned. "Or perhaps they have rediscovered that which was long thought to be lost."
She frowned in confusion.
"Occlumency and Legilimancy are defensive and offensive techniques used to safeguard the mind," he patiently explained. "What is the logical extension of that?"
She knew the answer immediately but could scarcely believe it.
"Telepathy," she said faintly. "It's real?"
She felt like an idiot.
"It is, though rare. The Mind Arts once encompassed any number of magical talents, though most have bred out of existence. Interestingly enough, they appear from time to time in the non-magical population."
He forced himself not to laugh. He thought it reprehensible, albeit hysterical, that the wizarding world, even its most tolerant members, knew almost nothing about non-magicals. In fact, they took great pride in their aggressive ignorance.
"Madam Bones, what is the population of the wizarding world in the United Kingdom?"
"As of the last census, just over eighteen-thousand persons, including Muggleborn."
"But not those Muggleborn who leave Britain, or those whom you deem Squibs and their subsequent children, correct?"
"And of course that doesn't take into account the other magical races."
"And the population of non-magical Britain?"
Her flush deepened. "I can't say I know for certain, but what does this have to do …"
"Just over sixty-four million," he interrupted.
Her flush vanished and was replaced with a waxy pallor. "W-What?" she gasped.
"That is one witch or wizard for every thirty thousand humans." He leaned forward. "Tell me, Amelia, if the Statute were to collapse on a massive scale, which is indeed all too possible nowadays with the extent of non-magical technology, what chance would wizarding Britain stand?"
"Why are you telling me this?" she whispered.
"Because someone in your government needs to be aware, and you are the most reasonable and intelligent representative I have met in over six of your generations. Non-magicals have advanced to the point where it is not only possible they will discover us but, in all likelihood, probable.
"It is also imperative you understand that Britain is one of the only first world nations whose magical community is so ignorant. If you examined the bicameral legislature of the Magical Unites States and the extent of its integration with its non-magical counterpart, you would be amazed. France is a democracy but, as you know, its magical component is still monarchical. Even they are far more advanced in their relations with non-magicals than we are."
"Non-magicals have explored in detail the entire planet. They have walked on the moon. They have international space stations. They have sent mechanical probes to Mars and telescopes into deep space, one of which has ventured beyond Pluto which, you may be unaware, is no longer considered a proper planet. They have satellites which orbit the Earth and can take detailed pictures of you as you walk down the street. They have infrared sensors which can detect heat signatures, even when, to the naked eye, it appears there is no source. They have weapons of mass destruction which could annihilate a nation such as Russia or China in mere minutes."
She just shook her head.
"I'm telling you this because, as it stands, the magical United Kingdom is the current greatest risk of exposure."
She set her jaw. "That is all well and good, if not absolutely terrifying, but what does it have to do with me? What am I supposed to do? I am one person, sir, and if you think the current administration has any use for me, you are sorely mistaken."
"The Goblin Nation wishes you to place yourself in consideration for Minister during the next election."
She stared at him.
"We have already discreetly conducted preliminary ] polls which suggest you would have little difficulty securing a nomination. You would win by a landslide."
She continued to stare.
"Voldemort will return."
She swallowed heavily.
"And when he does, he will be even more insane then when he was banished. He will try to assume control of the wizarding world and then extend his power beyond it. Given even only this brief summary, what do you think the world's response will be?"
"And the Ambassador has something to do with all of this?" she asked with noticeable skepticism.
"Why do you think the Global Youth Ambassador Program was initiated? Why now?" He shook his head. "The Astronomy component of the standard Hogwarts curriculum is severely lacking."
"You read the stars?" she drawled.
"Your ignorance is bothersome and unhelpful," he snapped. "The portents are there. Yes, we read the stars, though our methods are not as refined as those of the Centaurs. Did you know that Astronomy and Divination were once a combined course?"
"You mean Astrology?"
"Indeed, but the practice fell out of favor. Humans didn't really want to know the future, that a certain amount of predestination existed, that there were forces in this world beyond your understanding or control. It made humans feel tiny, insignificant, and subjects to the whims of destiny. You need only study how your race treated its great prognosticators to understand this simple truth. The greatest malice humans have ever incurred upon this world is their insistence that they are the apex of its civilization."
She felt shamed, though she didn't understand why.
"Once, very long ago, there was no wizarding world. There was only the magical world and all of its denizens lived together, though not necessarily in peace. They were, however, unified in protecting themselves. That way of life is lost and we will most likely never experience it again. Regardless, there will come a point where only cooperation, forced if necessary, will ensure our survival.
"Fate is real, Madam Bones, and it has no master."
She couldn't absorb this, not totally, not rationally, at least not now. She felt as though she had walked into Delphi and been imparted wisdom that should not be shared, that should not be known, lest she be driven mad. She was … Cassandra.
"What can I do?" she asked in a small voice.
He nodded in satisfaction. "You start with the Ambassador. He and his companions are only a few of many key players in what is to come, though he might just be the most important."
"How would you suggest I begin?"
He stared into her eyes. "That will require Vows. Many, many Vows."
It was all Amelia could do not to collapse under the weight of her knowledge as she returned the atrium to meet her niece.
Susan naturally knew her aunt was in distress but thankfully posed no questions. She either knew she would receive no answers or that her aunt was unable to communicate the situation.
Amelia wasn't sure which, if either, she preferred. Susan was an incomparably bright girl, but having been brought up under her aunt's watchful eye and government position, knew the importance of discretion.
"Are you ready to go to the Longbottoms?" Susan asked evenly.
They left the Bank, not knowing they did so under Ragnok's watchful eye.
"What do you think?"
Ragnok turned toward his Queen. "She is not unintelligent. For a human."
"Will she be useful?"
His silence was long. "Yes," he said finally, "at least to the extent to which she is allowed."
The Queen nodded.
"Does the Ambassador know his true purpose?"
Her silence spoke for itself.
It took considerable subterfuge for Pomona to remove Poppy and the other Heads from Hogwarts, but she managed. The problem was where to meet.
Hogsmeade was out of the question. They were too well known and it would eventually get back to Albus, who had spies everywhere. He, of course, would have called them friends, but everyone knew what they truly were. Not to mention Aberforth knew everything that happened in the village.
She thought about London and Edinburgh, but ultimately decided against both. They were just too close to Hogwarts. Cardiff was likewise untenable. Best to leave the Isles altogether. Thank goodness for Apparition. Finally, she also realized they would have to go Muggle. The problem with teaching at the country's premier magical institution was that, as you had taught so many over the years, it was almost impossible not to run into someone who knew your name.
She finally settled on Calais, where there was a small wizarding neighborhood comprised of both French and English wizards. Those who had small children tended to send them to Beauxbatons if they could afford it; if not, the children were homeschooled.
"Is all of this really necessary?" Minerva demanded as she sat at the table Pomona had commandeered.
"What a ridiculous question," Pomona sniped. "I didn't summon you here for fondue!"
Minerva's eyes widened. She bit back a sharp retort, recognizing how thoroughly unseated Pomona currently was. That was highly irregular and she was doubtful it meant anything good.
"What have you learned?" Severus asked, cutting right to the chase.
Pomona opened her mouth. "This …" she trailed off and shook her head.
"Albus again?" Flitwick whispered.
"He can never know this," Pomona hissed. She then rolled her eyes. "If he doesn't already, which is entirely possible. I know that you, Severus, and Poppy are skilled enough in Occlumency, but Minerva and I have no such defense."
"Is it really that bad?" asked an unsettled Minerva.
Pomona merely raised an eyebrow.
"We aren't that skilled," said a rueful Poppy. "I was up all night scanning my shields. He Obliviated me too."
"And me," Severus reluctantly muttered. He was both annoyed and frightened. How had Dumbledore done such a thorough job and Severus himself been completely unaware? Had it happened before? If so, what had been taken from him? Had the Dark Lord also made modifications to his mind? He couldn't rule out anything at this point.
"Oaths?" Minerva suggested.
"Insufficient," Severus said, "not if what I'm thinking is only halfway as inflammatory as I suspect."
"Vows," Pomona agreed. "Poppy should be the binder. Her medi-witch oaths will offer us some measure of protection, though not much if Albus decides to pursue this."
"What has he done?" Minerva asked faintly.
"Do you agree to the Vows?"
She did, with considerable reluctance. The others nodded.
"I suggest we start walking," Filius said. "We should not be observed by anyone. The beach is lovely this time of year."
They paid for their drinks and left.
An hour later, they were all nauseated.
"Filius and I were listed as potential guardians?" Minerva helplessly repeated.
Filius was beyond furious.
Pomona, eyes cast down, nodded. "So was Severus, even if only as a last resort."
Snape halted in his tracks. "What!"
Poppy, Filius, and Minerva gaped.
"Diana told me it was a codicil added by Lily alone," Pomona explained, "though James agreed to it."
"I don't believe you."
She sighed. "You owe a life debt to James, yes?"
His eyes darkened though he said nothing.
"Is Albus aware of it?"
He gave a curt nod.
"Has he tried to manipulate you with it?"
He set his jaw and looked away.
"He was a witness to the will, Severus," she said patiently. "He not only knows you were named, but that James abrogated the debt. That was in the main testament, not the codicil. Albus knew."
Snape drew in a sharp breath.
"I don't know what happened between the three of you and I would never ask," she continued, "but, in the end, Lily trusted you with her child, Severus, even if only obliquely, and James with her."
"Why would Albus do this?" Minerva hissed, placing a comforting hand on Snape's shoulder which, surprisingly, he did not shake off.
"To keep his spy," Filius seethed. He raised his gaze and looked at each of them in turn. "Voldemort isn't dead."
Minerva and Severus exchanged a quick glance, but it did not go unnoticed.
"You knew," Poppy murmured. "You knew and didn't tell us."
"Isn't that something you thought we should know?" Pomona shrieked. "The most dangerous Dark Lord in history is still alive, probably plotting his return, and you didn't tell us? We're tasked with keeping safe our world's children! How could you?"
"Because there's much we do not know," Severus whispered. "Albus has many secrets, Pomona, and he only shares them piecemeal and with great reluctance. I imagine that, whatever Minerva and I know, is not known to the other."
They resumed walking.
"Who else do you think knows?" Poppy asked.
Filius shrugged. "Albus has many minions, but not many confidants. I would imagine Fudge knows something, though not much. Just enough to ensure Albus can keep him under his thumb through fear. Hagrid has always been of the belief that Voldemort was merely vanquished, not destroyed. I've often thought Augusta knew more than she was telling, given that James and Lily, and Alice and Frank, all went under the Fidelius at about the same time."
"How did Crouch Junior and the LeStranges gain access to Longbottom Hall?" Poppy wondered. "As far as I'm aware, the Fidelius was never removed. I know I've been there before, but I couldn't tell you where it was, which means the charm is still active and Augusta must be the Secret Keeper."
"I don't know," Minerva said. "I'm in frequent contact with Augusta, but I haven't been to the manor in years. Her Floo is open but selective. If you're right, and the evidence suggests you are, she has never disclosed how Frank and Alice were discovered, and I know she would have rather died than lose either of them."
"If Black wasn't the Secret Keeper," Severus said, "than he has been wasting in Azkaban for a decade for absolutely no reason."
"I'm not sure of that," Pomona said. "Diana said nothing about the Fidelius, only that Sirius Black was Harry's godfather. Theoretically, if he had betrayed James and Lily to Voldemort, and thus Harry indirectly, his vows should have seen him dead. However, there's no way to know if he was originally made Secret Keeper and it was later revoked, or if he did indeed sell them out."
Minerva sighed. "There's … there's something I remembered only just now. I don't know if it was because of a Dumbledore machination or if I simply blocked it out because of grief."
"What is it, Min?" Poppy gently coaxed.
"You all remember when Sirius left – well, escaped – Walburga. He sought refuge with Charlus and Dorea." She was silent for a long moment. "They named him a Son of the House of Potter."
"Then it is highly unlikely he surrendered James and Lily," Filius grunted. "Not impossible, mind, but unlikely. That, coupled with his vows as godfather, certainly makes his alleged crimes all the more suspect."
Pomona blinked. "Do you remember him having a trial? I don't."
They stopped and looked at each other.
"The Prophet went on and on about the evils of Sirius Black, but I don't remember any coverage of a trial," said an outraged Minerva.
"We need to research," Filius said darkly.
Severus turned thoughtful as he turned and stared out at the sea. "Arcturus died at the end of the previous spring. It was thought of as a given that he had disinherited Black. Walburga certainly suggested as much, loudly and as often as possible, but what if that wasn't the case?"
"The Arcana would ensure the Fudge Administration would fall," Poppy surmised.
"Not necessarily," Pomona countered. "It would have been Bagnold who was responsible. If not her, then Crouch at the very least."
"And Barty is the kind of arrogant cretin who would sacrifice another to shift the blame away from himself for how his bastard of a son turned out," Minerva spat.
"But at the core of this is Albus," Filius said, bringing the discussion back full circle.
"Amos suggested as much," Pomona admitted. "How convenient it was that both Sirius and Alice were taken so completely off the board."
Poppy frowned. "Albus has always thought everything was a metaphor for chess."
"Then I suggest it's about time we find out exactly what game we're playing," Filius said. "I refuse to be anyone's pawn."
"We'll need help," Pomona said.
"I will approach Augusta," Minerva said. "She and I have somewhat of a rapport."
"I promised to keep Diana in the loop," Pomona said. "She is absolutely furious and will ensure Amos will use every contact at the Ministry to ferret out information."
"He is the hardly the most discreet individual," Severus observed. "Clearly the child inherited his intelligence from the mother."
"Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad thing for Amos to start asking questions," Poppy said. "Even if it doesn't bear fruit, it might get people thinking."
"As long as nothing can be traced back to us, I suppose it's a viable option."
"They took oaths," Pomona reminded them. "I'm sure they, minus Cedric, would agree to Vows if necessary."
They circled back and began ambling toward the Apparition point.
"What of the Dark Lord?" Poppy fretted.
Minerva heaved a great sigh. "I know that Albus has never believed the Dark Lord was dead. I don't know what that means, really, and can only infer the Dark Lord exists in some form."
"Perhaps he was discorporated at Godric's Hollow," Filius said. "That would take a great feat of magic."
"Lily was capable," Severus said stiffly.
"Tell me something I don't know, Severus," he snapped. "Your insistence that you're the only one left alive to mourn that girl is offensive. She was my best student for seven years. She earned her Mastery in less than a year under me. I loved her like she was my own."
Snape blushed. "I apologize."
Filius waved him off. "You've been hit with a lot today, Severus, and I understand your need to lash out. I know you are unable to do so at the person responsible. I know that you have regrets about your relationship with Lily. I know you feel you've been inadequate with regard to Harry. Know that you are not alone in that."
"It's true," said a sorrowful Minerva. "James was very distant kin to me. I watched him grow from a babe to a man cut down before his life could even truly begin. I knew those Muggles were horrible people and I allowed Albus to leave Harry with them." She shook her head. "And I know that was my decision. He didn't force me. He didn't compel me. I allowed it because for too long I have blinded myself to him."
"Albus isn't malevolent, Minerva," Pomona said. "I truly believe that. I have to if I don't want to go insane. That said, he thinks his ends justify the means and he is far too willing to make sacrifices of other people to achieve those ends. They aren't his decisions to make."
"And we're just as responsible," Severus said. "We, the entire wizarding world, has allowed his legend to eclipse the simple fact that he is a man, nothing more and nothing less. We've placed our burdens on his shoulders for generations and expected him to come to our rescue over and over again. And he has. We've never questioned his methods and we should have. We've never believed he has limits. It's entirely possible he now doesn't recognize that he in fact has limits; that everyone does."
"What will we do if the Dark Lord does return?" asked a worried Pomona.
"There is little we can do," Poppy said. "None of us, not even together, has the power to defeat him. We might be able to drive him off for a time, but the bottom line is that Voldemort has always been an exceptionally powerful wizard. Only Albus can rival him."
"I don't believe that is necessarily true," said a thoughtful Filius. "Amelia Bones twice dueled him to a stalemate. Alice and Frank were relentless in hunting down the Death Eaters. Sirius was above average in power; it wouldn't surprise me if the Dark Lord spread misinformation that Sirius was one of his." He sighed. "Then, of course, we must consider Lily and James."
"Potter was very powerful," Severus admitted, "and Lily was easily the most powerful of our generation. VThe Dark Lord pursued them several times. I've always wondered why the Dark Lord sought them that night. It was very unusual for him to participate directly in assassinations. After he was defeated by Bones, he usually assigned such tasks to Bellatrix or Lucius."
He wasn't going to mention the prophecy, not until Albus did. It would cause him nothing but grief in anything he tried to do for the Potter boy. They would always suspect him of something.
"Was Malfoy truly under the Imperius when he took the Mark?" Minerva asked.
Severus hesitated for a long time. Too long.
"You're under a Vow."
His silence indicated agreement.
Minerva stared at him. "For the sake of argument, let's assume he was under the curse." She tilted her head. "Had it been cast by the Dark Lord, you would simply say so. After all, it would only affirm the story Malfoy told the Wizengamot."
Severus averted his eyes.
Filius narrowed his eyes. "So someone cast the Unforgivable on Lucius, but it wasn't Voldemort." He nodded slowly and then smirked. "Abraxas, of course. I should have seen it sooner."
"That man was a pig," Minerva spat. "It doesn't surprise me in the least he would curse his only son and heir to further ingratiate himself with whoever promised him a modicum of power. I rejoiced when he died."
"How did he die?" Pomona asked. "Was it ever disclosed?"
"Officially, he perished from a manticore bite," Poppy interjected, "but that really was so much nonsense. Had that poor excuse of a wizard ever met a manticore, he would have been eaten and then sicked up from tasting so foul."
Pomona chuckled darkly.
"I killed him," Filius said with utmost nonchalance.
"What?" Severus gasped.
Filius was silent for a long moment. "All of you know that I took Lily as my apprentice after her second year, but did you know I had another apprentice at that time?"
"No," said a shocked Minerva.
"I walked into the classroom reserved for my advanced students and found Abraxas trying to rape her."
"Dear Merlin," Poppy gasped, placing a hand over her heart.
Minerva swallowed heavily. "Who …"
"Narcissa," he snapped.
It made sad sense. Filius had always been defensive of Narcissa, though none of them knew why. They could only imagine his rage after stumbling upon such a horror.
"By then, she was engaged; her parents having already sold her off like livestock to Lucius," Filius spat, "after Abraxas failed to secure Bellatrix and Andromeda. I've always believed Voldemort sent Abraxas after those girls in an attempt to get every member of the Black family under his thumb. Bellatrix was already his, of course, but Andromeda saw the writing on the wall and thankfully ran off with Ted."
"By the gods," Severus whispered. He had never been more than barely cordial with Narcissa, but no one deserved that.
"She was a brilliant girl," Filius said roughly, lost in memory. "Charms came so naturally to her. I barely needed to do more than tell her the incantation. She wanted to be a Healer. She had already been fast-tracked at St. Mungo's."
He gnashed his teeth. "Then Abraxas came. He was a contemptible individual who only barely qualified as human. After months of negotiating – and it was done on behalf of Narcissa by Arcturus; she had removed her parents entirely from the equation – she agreed to marry Lucius because she knew other prospects were likely to be much worse. She never would have been allowed to marry the boy she truly loved."
"There was someone other than Lucius?" asked a surprised Severus. He was annoyed to be ignorant of this. Narcissa had been in Slytherin with him and he prided himself on being one of the most observant members of his House.
"Ah," Severus muttered. Now it made sense. Narcissa's parents would never have consented to her marrying into a neutral family, not even one that was Ancient and Most Noble.
"Narcissa was the epitome of Slytherin," Filius said, with considerable pride. "Brilliant, beautiful, and cunning. She is more powerful than Andromeda and even Bellatrix, but her real skill was appearing to be nothing more than the perfect Pureblood princess."
He laughed. "She outmaneuvered Abraxas on every score during the negotiations before finally consenting to the match. Truth be told, I don't believe Lucius wanted to marry her, but he wasn't given the option. He knew then she outclassed him in every respect and he has always been a vain and prideful man. That said, I do believe he truly loves her now."
Severus jerked his head in agreement. He didn't understand it, couldn't correlate the husband of Narcissa with the Death Eater Lucius had been, but there was no doubt in his mind Lucius loved the woman with everything he was.
"Abraxas hated her," Filius continued. "He hated anyone who could get the better of him, but the idea that it had been a woman – a girl, really – vexed him to no end. He felt emasculated that Narcissa, as a Black, would maintain primacy in the marriage. In essence, he had surrendered his heir to another family, not realizing what he was doing until the contract had been signed. Being the domineering, misogynistic, arrogant fuckwit that he was, he wanted revenge."
"Bastard," Poppy seethed.
"Abraxas was no stranger to rape," Filius growled. "I've heard rumors that was how he forced Phoebe Lovegood into marriage. He knew she despised him and would never consent, so he dosed them both with a fertility potion and raped her. She fell pregnant." He turned to Minerva. "You and Phoebe were friends in school, yes?"
Minerva said nothing. She refused to discuss Phoebe and what that villain had done to her.
"But the Lovegood line is a matrilineal House!" Pomona protested. "Surely the Lady Lovegood at the time would never have allowed …"
"Artemis wasn't informed until after the fact. She may have been Lady Lovegood, but she was married to a Crabbe. It was thought then that that marriage had been coerced as well. Antinous Crabbe was a lesser member of the House and determined to better his lot in life. He didn't realize until after the marriage that House Lovegood could only be inherited by women. He resented Phoebe and blamed her for the rape, claiming she had allowed herself to be sullied and therefore bore the consequence of her indiscretion."
He sighed. "At any rate, Abraxas, being the utter reprobate that he was, felt that he should be first to sample the goods, even of his future daughter-in-law, and so snuck into Hogwarts and attacked Narcissa.
"Narcissa is very powerful, but he had the element of surprise and was on her before she even knew what was happening. Thankfully I interrupted the assault and incapacitated him."
"And how did you do so?" Poppy asked.
"I summoned his heart."
Severus blew out a breath. He was once again thankful he had never gotten on the bad side of Filius Flitwick and had accepted his warning all those years ago to leave the Ravenclaws alone. The amount of power that spell would have taken, breaking the sternum and shredding the organ in the process, was astounding.
"Narcissa and I never spoke of it. She didn't wish to report it to Albus, though I firmly believe he would have sided with her without question. Before I could even speak, her wand was out and she had taken oaths of secrecy and confidentiality. She didn't want to offer a Vow because someone would have to act as binder and she was utterly humiliated. She wanted no one to know. She then summoned her House Elf, who was bound only to her, and had Abraxas' body removed to the Forbidden Forest.
"I don't know what yarn she spun to Lucius, if she even bothered, but it wasn't much later he announced the death of his father to The Prophet. It's entirely possible Narcissa told him nothing and Lucius made up the affair with the manticore to spark outlandish gossip and derail any potential questions, as well as to take immediate control of House Malfoy. Whether or not Narcissa ever told Lucius what Abraxas tried to do to her, I don't know, but I sincerely doubt it."
"Do you think the Dark Lord was behind the match?" Pomona asked.
He nodded. "As I said, I think Voldemort wanted every Black in his crown of Purebloods, but Narcissa especially. I don't think he expected her to involve Arcturus and invoke primacy. No, I rather believe he thought she would be married off to Lucius and then under both their yokes. He was probably furious when it didn't happen."
"So that's how she was able to escape taking the Mark," Severus said.
Filius nodded again. "Even had Voldemort placed her under the Imperius, her primacy would have been invoked and her Vows to the House of Black would have superseded the curse."
"Clever, clever girl," Minerva murmured, shaking her head. She had obviously misjudged and underestimated the woman.
"I believe Voldemort recognized Narcissa's power and wanted to control her, thinking he could do so through Lucius. When he discovered he couldn't, he forced Narcissa to abandon her apprenticeship with St. Mungo's and retire to Malfoy Manor, where she would host parties to cultivate new followers. He knew she would loathe it and oppressing her was as close as he dared to punish her.
"Whatever Narcissa thought or thinks about Lucius, she would never repudiate him. Voldemort knew this and thus promoted Lucius up the ranks, just to rankle her further, to unseat her, to make her question what would happen to her if Lucius were to be killed. Her parents were still living at the time and simply would have married her off once again. Then, once she fell pregnant with Draco, Voldemort had a new weapon in his arsenal against her."
"Sick," Pomona hissed.
"I don't believe Narcissa would ever have crossed wands with Voldemort, but the thought that she might probably worried him. He knew if he killed her, the other Blacks would turn against him en masse and, let's face it, that House is darker than any other and has access to magics we could never conceive. Voldemort most likely wanted to ensure Narcissa wouldn't become a double agent, so to speak. She might not be as powerful as he was, but as cunning? Yes, I do believe she could match him on that score."
Severus easily agreed.
"It's interesting, isn't it?" Poppy observed. "Every potential vanquisher of the Dark Lord we've discussed has been a woman: Amelia, Lily, Narcissa."
"Women have always been underestimated in our society," Severus said, "much to our detriment. It could very well prove to be our undoing."
Poppy, Minerva, and Pomona gave him speculative if appreciative looks.
Filius nodded. "Amelia is the only woman other than Minerva whom Albus courted for the Order. Of course she refused him; she has always had his full measure. Alice joined at the behest of Frank, and James had to drag Lily kicking and screaming. It's no surprise to me that Albus discounts women more than even he realizes. He is too weighted down by chivalry and his peculiar moral code to dispose of Voldemort like he should have all those years ago."
He held up a hand. "I am not condoning murder. Voldemort was a tyrant who exterminated entire generations of multiple families. He committed genocide and no one wishes to discuss it. Why? Because we allowed him to do it. We didn't stand to him. We were so ensconced in our fear that we did nothing. We are all guilty."
"Why didn't you join the Order?" Minerva asked him.
"Because I didn't believe in Albus' aims," he said frankly. "Stunning and binding someone bent on murdering others is pointless. It's absolutely asinine. It solves nothing. It was war, not a child's game. The Death Eaters should have been put down like the rabid dogs they were and are. How many people died because Albus couldn't bring himself to put those criminals out of their misery?"
It was an uncomfortable truth.
"I know you, Minerva," Filius continued. "In some ways I know you better than Albus ever could, and I know you executed Trejanus Yaxley."
She said nothing.
"That bastard murdered your sons in cold blood. I'm glad you killed him. Merlin only knows how many people you saved by doing so. I only hope you haven't suffered guilt for it."
Severus, Poppy, and Pomona stared at them.
Minerva's eyes turned distant. "I've never regretted killing him. The manner in which I did so? Yes, perhaps, on occasion."
"What did you do?" Pomona asked.
Minerva met her eyes calmly. "I cut off his head and limbs, transfigured them and his trunk into logs, and burned them in my hearth."
Poppy nodded. "Good."
"Fitting," Severus agreed.
"That's why you're the Head Lioness, Minerva," Pomona said. "You never hesitate to protect the young."
Minerva sighed. "But Filius is right. I should have done more."
"We all should have," Poppy said sadly.
"So the question," Severus said, "is what do we do now?"
"We start with what we agreed upon last night," Filius said. "We keep Harry away from Albus as much as possible. Albus wants that boy for something and, until we know what it is, we need to shield him. Augusta, regardless of her personality, will be a good guardian, but it is under the eye of Albus which Harry will find himself for nine months out of the year."
Pomona nodded. "We will nudge him toward Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. Regardless of where the Hat puts him, we all agree here and now that we never allow Harry to be alone with Albus. As the Heads of House, we have the right and are expected to accompany our charges whenever a student is called before the Headmaster."
"But you can't rule out Albus attempting to contact Harry on his own," Poppy said.
"As Deputy, I will know whenever he summons a student," Minerva said. "I will inform you if it happens."
"Good," Severus said, "because it might not just be limited to him. If Albus is denied access to Harry, he will use other means to try and discover information about him. Now that Harry is under the care of the Dowager Longbottom, he will eventually turn his attention toward her grandson as well."
"And any other child Harry befriends," Pomona mused.
"If we're right," Filius began, "and Voldemort is seeking to return, then Albus has wasted these years. Oh, I'm sure he was doing something, but nothing that will be actively helpful. Harry obviously has some key role in all of this, yet Albus consigned the boy to a Muggle upbringing. There is much he could have been taught."
"So you don't believe it was just Albus trying to shield the boy from his many worshippers?" Poppy drawled.
Filius rolled his eyes. "Please. No, it's much more likely Albus wanted to keep Harry ignorant. The question, of course, is why? What would that accomplish?"
"It would make Harry entirely reliant upon him," Severus said quietly. "If he saw Albus as his savior, pulling him from the abyss he had been cast into by the Muggles, Harry would be inordinately grateful. He would listen to Albus above all others."
Severus knew all too well the games Albus played.
The others thought it was ghastly, but it made sense.
"Setting up yet another sacrifice?" Poppy wondered, eyes panning to the others. "Remember the blood wards. Remember what they did to Harry."
Filius shook his head. "I won't allow it. I failed Lily; I will not fail her child. I won't allow Harry to be laid upon the altar of Albus' ego. I won't let him lead another lamb to slaughter."
Santana Portkeyed into the room adjacent to the court which housed her grandmother's throne, surprised to find it empty. She slowly walked forward and stood before the seat of Esperanza's power which would one day be hers, in search of answers. She found nothing but the obsidian casting her own reflection back at her.
Obsidian was a very powerful magical gemstone, grounding and centering spiritual energy in the physical plane. Being a Mistress of the Mind Arts and advancing revolutions in Occlumency, it made sense Esperanza had chosen it.
It was in these quiet moments that Santana had severe doubts about her capability in leading her people. She knew she was powerful, that her power would only grow, but Esperanza was perhaps one of the strongest magical practitioners in an aeon. She not only knew but had perfected magics that were thought to be nothing more than fairytales, things only believed to be the byproducts of the fertile imaginations of non-magicals.
Telepathy. Empathy. Telekinesis. Pyrokinesis. Cryokinesis. Chronokinesis. Astral projection.
All of these Esperanza could perform and without a wand.
Those were just the tip of the iceberg. There were others, things which Esperanza either did not know or would not admit to knowing. There was a whole other world of magic beyond wands.
Witches and wizards had become so dependent on sticks they had forgotten their origins. They had forgotten what magic was and whence it came. They had convinced themselves that they alone were magical, when the truth was that Magic, like Fate and Destiny, was a force unto itself. They had forgotten to be respectful.
And the result would be coming home to roost.
She had seen snippets, Esperanza had seen more, but the final nail in their collective coffin had been shown to Brittany. That was the only reason Santana believed what was to come. It was why she was so frightened.
She didn't believe she was cut out for this, ruling an entire nation. She just wanted to be with Kurt and Quinn. She wanted to marry Brittany. She might even want children someday, if she could get in writing that they wouldn't be annoying.
At the same time, she knew she was needed: by her people, by her friends, by Brittany. They needed her to do what was best for them, even if she didn't yet know just what that was.
She closed her eyes and sighed.
"I know you're there."
"You are troubled," the rumbling voice said from behind her.
She gave a bleak nod. "Not so much by Voldemort, but what will come after. I will lose people. I might die."
"It's possible, but it's up to you to decide what you want your death to be. Do you want to stick your head in the sand and wait for it to be cut off, or do you want to go out with swords blazing? The choice isn't easy, and it shouldn't be, but it is only yours to make."
She walked toward the throne and gently caressed one of its arms. "Why am I so tethered to this life? Why are all of us? I know there is existence beyond death. I know that I will eventually be reunited with those I love. Why is this so hard?"
"Fear. You fear what you don't know, what is not in your control. There is no shame in it, but you mustn't wallow in it. You understand the existence of the soul, but you have only been able to experience the physical realities of this world, of visceral things. Once you are able to let go of the material, the ethereal will make itself known to you."
"And I shouldn't fear it?"
"Fear of the unknown is logical. Allowing yourself to be ruled by it is not."
She turned and stared. "Are you absolutely sure the bond was the way to go?"
"You doubt your compatriots?"
She shook her head. "Never. I doubt that I will be able to allow myself to care for anyone other than them. I love Brittany, I love my family. I would die for them. I would kill for them. But Kurt and Quinn? That's beyond visceral. It's a magic of its own."
"You've unlocked the first piece. Perhaps the spiritual is not as unknown to you as you believe."
"Your grandmother is approaching. Unburden yourself to her and accept her wisdom. You are not alone and, no matter how knowledgeable and powerful you are, you're still your age. You have more support than you realize."