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To begin with there was a man in a ploughed field. A man of humble garment, and kind face. The sort of man you would feel terrible for hurting.

Before him stood a tall young woman, hair done up neatly, dress plain and proper.  Yet for all she looked like the sort of person who could stand before a classroom and have them fall to silence immediately, she did not look stern here. Her head was bowed, and she stood as if she had a physical weight on her shoulders.

Neither was saying anything, but one looked confused and deeply hurt, and the other…the other had her back to Sparrow, and perhaps, if she did not wish to look into the man’s eyes, she would not wish Sparrow to see her face at all.

“Never mind this memory,” said McGonagall.  “Skipping ahead now.”

The scene dissolved.

2045,” said Cormac. “The year of the Great Storm, right?”

“Correct,” said McGonagall.

Two adults and six children stood on the shore of the Thames estuary, upon the tidal sands, at a far distance from the outskirts of the city proper. On this day the clouds hung low and dark, like the clouds of the rainy season.

Above the city rose curious structures, monolithic and menacing in the gloom. It took Sparrow a moment to realize that they were the old towers as her mother had described them. How on earth anyone besides Wizards managed to procure that much metal and glass for one tower – it was difficult to contemplate. It seemed like a terrible waste. And there were at least five of them.  

Midway between them and the city stood a tall, slender structure, from whose top rose a stream of a dark cloud, as if the structure was trying to add to the ones already overhead.

 

“Some manner of infernal muggle device,” said Jocasta. “What exactly is the point of making all that smoke?”

“It generates electricity,” said Sparrow.

“You speak!” said Jocasta. “Perhaps it is permissible within a memory. But what do you mean, the smoke generates electricity?”

Long story,” said Sparrow. “But why are they using these things at all? I thought they stopped after 2040.”

That’s the official account,” said Violet. “But do not trust everything you learn in Muggle Studies class.”

“Please,” said Cormac. “I don’t want to hear your opinion of Professor Shipton again.”

“Oh, if it were only him! No, the history textbook is unfortunately a historical distortion as well. It only picks the more optimistic muggle news reports to create its narrative. Talking of which, Headmistress – ”

McGonagall gave Violet a look that indicated she would not be accepting any requests from anyone today.

 “Never mind,” said Violet. Her posture shrank as if she wished to disappear.

“So what’s here?” said Jill. “Besides a flat lot of sand. What’s the point of being here?”

“The sand is the point,” said McGonagall. “I wanted you children to see this tidal flat in the last few minutes before it was lost beneath the water.”

Storm’s coming on fast,” said Cormac.

“Perilous place to stand,” said Miranda.

“For anyone solid,” said Jocasta. “Thank goodness we aren’t getting wet sand all over our shoes.”

The rain began to fall.

“Now,” said McGgonagall, “As the rainfall gets heavier, I would like you to direct your attention to the marshes.”

The rain began to pelt, then to sheet. Sparrow turned to the shore, peering through the blinding rain at the shore, where the mud and marsh grass was still barely visible. She was not sure what she ought to be looking for. Some birds, perhaps? And yet they would have been invisible in this downpour –

So what, exactly, were those voids in the rain? And why were they coming closer?

Sparrow realized with a start that they were shaped like humans. And yet they were not ghosts – quite the opposite, it seemed. Coporeal and invisible, rather than visible and incorporeal. What on earth were they?

“You will notice,” said McGonagall, “that one of the shapes there looks a fair bit taller than the others. That is me. I refused to give up my favorite hat for the occasion.”

The figures passed by and then took off running straight over the open water.

“Seems less efficient than a broom,” said Cormac

“And safer,” said Violet. “Invisibility charms were still experimental at this point. Wouldn’t want to mix that with broom enchantments. So where are they going, then?”

“I don’t know,” said Cormac, “but we ought to follow. The water is rising.”

Indeed, it was already well above their knees, and beginning to roil with wind-driven waves.

“We will stay here,” said McGonagall. “Just to illustrate something in particular.”

The water was now above their waists. Now their necks, and now their heads. Until there was nothing to see but swirling darkness – and within it, the ghostly shapes of the Wizards, glowing faintly amidst the gloom. One of them a faint white, one a golden orange, one a bright purple, one of firey red, one of icy blue, and one of a bright green, a curious green that Sparrow could not place.

“Think about how much water there must be,” said McGonagall, “to rise this high above a tidal flat. Now you see why London sits in its current position. Come on then.”

The scene dissolved, and resolved into the same rainstorm as before. Only they stood on a different shore, not a shore of mud or sand but – asphalt. And around them stood small ramshackle houses amidst a few large decrepit ones.

“Honestly,” said McGonagall, “these people should all have moved into London by now. But some things are hard to give up.”

Through the blinding rain Sparrow thought she could see low shapes in the water offshore. Flat, broad, rising gently like rooftops, but at the water’s surface. Well. That’s probably exactly what they were.

“Looks like they learned the hard way,” said Jocasta.

“They didn’t know,” said Violet. “They should have known but they couldn’t. They were used to relying on detailed weather reports, many of them, and those were gone. Didn’t know how to read the signs for a hurricane, didn’t expect it. But, here they are.”

“And there they go,” said Jocasta, jerking a thumb behind her.

Sparrow turned. There were many figures running away from the water’s edge now. Many doors opening, groups of people pouring out and making for whatever high ground they could find – not that it was much, around here. They might have to run a while.

And within the pelting rain there were the invisible figures once more, each of them outlined as voids in the rain, and yet, if Sparrow squinted at them, she thought she could see their outlines faintly glowing white. Or maybe it was a trick of the rain as it bounced off them. Whatever it was, the figures were posed in the stance of someone pushing a heavy load forward. Or holding it back, as the case might be.

“I think the water will keep rising,” said Miranda. “This ground doesn’t rise nearly high enough to stop the flood, not with this rainstorm still on.”

“Indeed not,” said McGonagall. “But we had to hold the water here as best we could, in order to give this village enough time to escape. Letting it rise just inch by inch, instead of foot by foot, hoping we could hold out.”

“You couldn’t have just held it in place and then let it go once the muggles were all safe?”

“Oh,” said McGonagall, “I think you’ll see why that was a foolish idea. Observe the invisible figures.”

The figures were retreating at a slow and steady pace. But then one of them stumbled backward, and fell, and the water pressed just a bit closer. Then another fell, and another, and the remainder were forced backward by the suddenly rising waves.

“Let us move to a different location,” said McGongagall.

The scene dissolved. When it resolved Sparrow could see no houses through the rain. Just a tidal flat where the water was creeping steadily forward. And dark figures marching away from it, perhaps hoping to get away in time. There was a low ridge in the far distance. If they could reach it, perhaps it would buy them more time, or even stop the water completely.

Suddenly the crowd was outpacing the waves, and Sparrow could see why – for there were many, many human-shaped voids in the rain, standing between the crowd and the waves, and where they stood the water could go no further. Yet the water was building, higher and higher, as against an unseen barrier, and the crowd was taking its time, now, under the impression that they were safe. Some of them even stood there, as if wishing to observe this miracle.

Then one of the invisible people stumbled and fell, and another beside them collapsed, and a third, and a fourth, and the water broke through whatever barrier held it, and swept through the invisible people, and straight towards the crowd, who, having turned to watch the spectacle, now had to turn again and run, and not a few failed to make it, and fell beneath the waves.

“Skip ahead a bit,” said McGonagall.

The scene dissolved, and reformed to show the same place, yet with a clear blue sky.

Sparrow was finally able to see the whole scene. The water stretched over the tidal flat, where they had once stood, and out to the horizon. She turned, and saw the crowd, standing atop the ridge.

McGonagall was gazing out over the water, a faraway look in her eyes. “That was the worst day for the Department of Catastrophes,” she said. “A total of ninety-seven Wizard casualties, three from my team and fifty from the group you saw operating here, and the remainder from teams handling other muggle villages along shore. Twenty in Canvey, as I recall. As for here…we hadn’t exactly coordinated methods with each other, or I thought we had but maybe Borodin heard something different than what I was saying. Nor was it possible to use the two-way mirrors amidst that awful rain. So, Borodin led his team using his idea of how to handle the water, and paid for it with his life, along with that of many muggles. Most of the casualties came from teams who followed Borodin’s method.”

A heroic fool,” said Jocasta.

“How many muggles died?” said Miranda.

“Casualty estimates for the Great Storm are uncertain at best,” said Violet. “Many of the birth records of such people were stored in coastal communities that flooded, as well as the flooded areas of London. And as for death records, well, there was hardly time for that when all the bodies needed burying. Low estimate is close to a million, from the Firth of Forth down to the Thames.”

“I meant among the people the Wizards were trying to save.”

“Even less certain.”

“The answer is far too many,” said McGonagall. “Although one could argue that it was because we weren’t trying. Next scene.”

The next scene was in a windowless office, where sat a fancy desk amid sumptuous wooden furniture. A fairly spacious room, compared to what Sparrow was used to, spacious enough to fit an entire conference table.

There was a middle-aged man at a desk, writing on a scroll of parchment, and there was an elderly woman standing before the desk, towering over the man in a very familiar manner.

“If we had just been allowed to pick them up and carry them,” said the slightly younger McGonagall, “we would have been able to get ourselves in place to slow the flooding in London well before so many people were drowned.”

“And then what?” said the man. “Obliviate the lot of them? You have made your opinion of that business abundantly clear to poor old Pickering.”

“There is a significant difference in letting people be confused about why they got where they were versus confusing them about why their loved ones died! And think about how many brave young Wizards died because you wanted our rescue efforts to be subtle in the middle of a natural disaster!

“I have thought about it,” said the man, putting down his quill and interlacing his fingers, looking at the younger McGonagall with a studiously polite expression. “I have, indeed, considered that matter. I have not stopped considering that matter. I do not expect I will stop within the next few decades. With that in mind, I think our discussion is over. Please leave my office.”

The younger McGonagall whirled around and marched out of the room.

The man picked up his pen and continued writing.

“I continued to aid the Department of Catastrophes when they called upon me,” said McGonagall. “But I never initiated any further contact with them.

“Hang on,” said Violet. “I thought it was called the department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes?”

“Once upon a time,” said McGonagall. “Next scene.”

The day was bright, the sky was blue, the ground was cracked and barren. The city was not London, for its outskirts stood much closer to its center. But whatever towers it had were half-dismantled by now.

“Looks like Derby,” said Cormac. “First of the dust storms?”

Nottingham,” said McGonagall. “Second of the storms. The first one, well, hard to save anyone from it when you don’t know it will happen! So we were far more strenuous about our efforts on the second round, and far more open. Watch now.”

The wind began to blow hard, and on the horizon a cloud of dust approached. Within a few minutes it had reached the gathered Wizards –

But then, from some invisible source, came the cry of  “VENTUS!”

And the dust stopped moving forward. It drifted to the left, as if caught by a different vortex of wind. As Sparrow followed its path, she could see it flow around the city, and then away, blown by the very wind that had brought it in the first place – and yet there was so much of it that it kept coming, on and on.

“I won’t bore you with the details of this one,” said McGonagall. “Let’s just say it was my idea, and young Wooster should not have been placed alone at the end of the relay, because he hadn’t the strength to handle it by himself. He got a lungful of dust and barely survived. And then we had to wipe the memories of everyone in the city. That was the point where I gave up leading the task forces. Couldn’t handle what had to be done. Next scene.”

A bright day, a blue sky, a dark tunnel into the barren hill. Two of them, in fact. Vast and perfectly circular. Three of them, in fact, though the third was offset up the hill and smaller.

“Muggles used to build such extraordinary things,” said Violet. “And brought us this world as a result.”

“Could have done it without doing that,” said Cormac. “But maybe they wanted quick results.”

“What exactly are we looking at?” said Jocasta.

“Chunnel,” said Cormac.

“Excuse me?”

Channel Tunnel.”

“Okay…and what exactly are we doing here?”

Suddenly all three entrances to the tunnel were blocked by a field of translucent glowing yellow. Before them stood an elderly woman in a tall pointed hat.

“Observing an experimental charm being tested in the field,” said McGonagall. “Significant improvement on the old shield charm, if it worked. And what better way to test it than now? Well, the answer is ‘in safe conditions’ but it hadn’t been field-tested yet, so that was my job. Much easier task than having to be on the English end of this thing. Not exactly worth risking the Headmistress of Hogwarts in this effort, especially at my age.”

“Hang on,” said Jocasta. “What exactly do you mean by ‘English end’? Are we not in England?”

“We’re in France,” said Cormac. “I told you. Channel Tunnel.”

“Oh,” said Jocasta. “I see. Wait, how on earth – ”

“Always been more muggles than Wizards,” said Jill. She nudged Sparrow. “Unless the madgirl here gets her way, eh?”

“I daresay we could have used more Wizards on this day,” said McGonagall. “We should have used more. We should have used everyone we could. But, we thought that having Rodolphus Carrow involved would equal twenty strong Wizards. And there’s only so many people you can fit in that tunnel anyway. And if a mistake is made…well, the strike force made a few stumbles and lost the element of surprise, so Rodolphus wound up having to hold the damn beast off mostly by himself while the survivors collapsed the tunnel behind him. We’re still not sure how he made it out of there alive.”

“Oh,” said Jocasta. “Now I know what this is about. Father brings this up whenever he has a chance to boast. But you said ‘beast’ in the singular. He says there were two.”

“Unfortunately,” said McGonagall, “He is correct. He only fought off one. The second – well, observe the slightly younger me.”

The woman in the pointed hat was now doubled over and retching. The shields had vanished.

“What’s happening to her?” said Cormac. “I don’t see anything.”

“You usually don’t,” said Jocasta. “You smell it first. If you’re lucky you survive the smell. At that point, if you’re smart, and you can still move, you run. There are not many people who actually have the chance to see the Nundu with their own eyes. In this case, the hunting party was extremely lucky that the creature was in a known and narrowly limited location, such that it was possible to prepare the assault well ahead of time.”

“Nundu,” said Jill.

“Yep.”

“Two of them?”

“We thought there was one,” said McGonagall. “But their poisonous breath doesn’t carry as far as the Channel Tunnel goes. This was the second one. I had been placed in what everyone had thought was a safe location, simply to block the tunnel entrance from a vanishing chance of escaping fumes. We learned the hard way that it was not a safe position, and that this magical shield is permeable to air. And that anyone involved in the assault, no matter how distant, should be wearing gas masks, whether Wizard or Muggle. I daresay Muggles have the advantage there, for having less opportunity to be reckless.”

Suddenly a fierce wind picked up, blowing towards the tunnel.

Sparrow turned, wondering where the wind had come from.

There on a hilltop stood a lone woman, wand aloft. And behind her rose a hundred Wizards on brooms, flying towards the tunnel. Three swooped down to pick up the one splayed on the ground, while the rest circled high overhead.

“No more scene to be had here,” said McGonagall. “They got me away in time and that was that. I like to think young Alianora Carrow saved my life, for rounding up enough Wizards on this side of the tunnel to cover the mistakes of the other strike force. And these chaps only lost a few people, versus fifty on the English side.”

“Still foolish,” said Miranda. “They should have collapsed the tunnel at both ends.”

“Perhaps both strike forces wanted to be heroic,” said McGonagall. “Or perhaps Rodolphus did, and his wife decided that, if he was in there, it didn’t make sense to block his escape. So, a few lives traded for her husband.” The scene grew darker. “Perhaps that is how it goes.”

Soon there was nothing around but darkness.

“No more terrible memories?” said Cormac.

“I didn’t say that.”

A grey day of misty rain, on a rooftop above the rest of a small city huddled within walls.

Ten Wizards stood and watched the sky, as if waiting.

A dragon burst out of the clouds straight towards them.

“Only lost one that day,” said McGonagall. “Next.”

A day of rain and wind, at the bottom of a muddy hill, where a shallow valley ran down to a small city. There stood two hundred Wizards, breathing heavily and leaning on each other in support. A handful of Wizards had gathered around one.

And the one they gathered around was laid out on the ground before them, face muddy, eyes open and unblinking.

Shouldn’t have let him go alone,” said McGonagall. “One of my greater regrets, along with letting Dumbledore leave young Harry Potter with people who despised him. Both times I let someone suffer for being alone. But this time it was my job to make sure that didn’t happen. Too busy stopping the floodwaters, I keep saying, as if that was an excuse. Next scene.”

A day of little wind and bright sunlight, on a nameless dock at a nameless shore.

There were a few mermaids in the water, in conversation with a few Wizards on the dock, one of whom was McGonagall. The mermaids scowled and vanished beneath the water, and did not return.

“Not quite as bad as the other memories,” said McGonagall. “But it was a terrible job of negotiation on my part, when we very much needed their support. Keep that in mind, Sparrow. And keep in mind that if you do seek the consensus of the world, that means all the world. Next scene.”

A corridor with bare pipes running along the walls, lit dimly by sunlight at one end and a glowing shield at the other.

“One of our number who went in took sick later,” said McGonagall. “Had a devil of a time treating his case of cancer. Apparently the shield spell doesn’t protect against nuclear radiation either. Keep that in mind as well. Next scene.”

A forest of blackened stumps of trees, twlilight coming on fast. At a stone table stood a hooded figure, with three skeletons standing to attention.

Suddenly there were twelve Wizards surrounding him, wands pointed at his throat.

“One of the students I couldn’t save from themselves,” said McGonagall. “Next scene.”

 

Twenty Wizards stood upon a barren hilltop beneath a full summer moon.

Were it not for the moonlight they might have missed the beings drifting down the road. The convoy far ahead of these beings had not yet noticed them, nor, indeed, could they have noticed at all, for the convoy was of muggles and the beings were of dark swirling cloaks. More than twenty. More than forty. More than sixty. Damn near as many of those things as there were muggles in the caravan.

Sparrow began to feel uneasy. As the creatures drew closer to the convoy the feeling increased into sheer dread.

How on earth could that be, if this was but a memory?

As one the Twenty Wizards drew their wands and cried, “EXPECTO PATRONUM!”

And the moonlight was rivaled by twenty patronuses charging down the hill.

The cloaks scattered and fled, disappearing over the plain into the night.

Dread vanished along with them.

“Not that I would ever expect you to seek the consensus of these particular beings,” said McGonagall. “Nor do I think they could possibly deserve to have an input, nor would such an input be anything other than the desire to remain hidden from muggles for the sake of ambushing them.”

“So why this day?” said Jocasta. “What do you regret here?”

“The existence of these creatures,” said McGonagall. “I believe they arise from despair. Certainly there are more of them than ever before.”

“Seems a shame you would have had to Obliviate all the muggles here,” said Miranda.

“What a loss for anyone who suffers such a charm,” said Cormac. “Just imagine being a child – ”

I don’t have to imagine,” said Jocasta.

“ – a muggle child, I mean. And seeing a creature made of moonlight galloping across the plain. What a pity to have such a memory stolen.”

“And that is why I have placed this memory here,” said McGonagall. “For what I was forced to do. And with that, I have shown you everything I wish. Let us return to the waking world.”

...

 

Six children and one adult stood around a table. 

You see what we deal with,” said McGonagall. 

◊◊ ALL ALONE? ◊◊

“Effectively,” said Violet. “That was the theme I was getting from all this. A high casualty rate due to an insistence on secrecy.” 

“And the other theme?” said McGonagall.

◊◊ THAT YOU TRY TO DEAL WITH ALL CATASTROPHES NOW. NOT JUST WIZARD ONES. ◊◊

“Precisely. We are not indolent, Miss Jones, not neglectful nor callous.

◊◊ YOU TRY TO HOLD UP THE SKY ALL ALONE. ◊◊

“And suffer for it,” said Miranda. “And die for it, and dwindle.”

“And keep at it,” said Jill, “as long as the world is in shambles.” She turned to Sparrow. “I am beginning to understand where you are coming from, my dear friend. If Wizards were willing to heal the world, they would no longer be forced to put themselves on the line for such emergencies.”

“And yet,” said Miranda, “there is the Nundu. And all manner of magical catastrophes. Can’t handle those better just for having more grass around.”

◊◊ OH, CAN WE NOT? THINK OF HOW MANY MORE WIZARDS YOU COULD DEVOTE TO AN EMERGENCY IF THERE WEREN’T FIVE HUNDRED HAPPENING AT ONCE. WE WOULD CERTAINLY HAVE MORE WIZARDS AROUND IF THEIR LIVES WEREN’T BEING SPENT ONE BY ONE ON THIS BUSINESS! ◊◊

“We could just be lazy prats,” said Jocasta. “Shut ourselves up, never help anybody at all. I’m surprised, really. I thought we were isolated.”

“Your household is isolated,” said Cormac.

“Your mother’s household is isolated,” said Jocasta.

“I though I made it clear that wasn’t the case – ”

◊◊ WE CAN’T SHUT OURSELVES UP. WE CAN’T EVEN BE AS ISOLATED AS WE HAVE BEEN. THE STATUTE OF SECRECY IS TURNING INTO A RECIPE FOR DISASTER. WE WILL HAVE TO VIOLATE IT FOR THE SAKE OF THE GREEN GRASS IF NOTHING ELSE. ◊◊

“Oh,” said McGonagall. “You’ve made your decision already, have you.”

◊◊ ONLY FOR THE GREEN GRASS. YOU SAID DEMENTORS ARISE FROM GREAT DESPAIR. IS THIS CORRECT? ◊◊

“It is possible,” said Violet. “Dementors are said to arise where there is great decay, though any certainty about such creatures would require closer study, which is a flat ‘no’ from me thank you very much.”

"And a stubborn refusal from them as well," said Cormac.

◊◊ AND THERE IS A GREAT DEAL MORE DECAY AND DESPAIR IN THE WORLD THAN BEFORE. IF ALL THAT GIVES RISE TO DEMENTORS, THEN WE’RE IN FAR MORE TROUBLE THAN I REALIZED, AND WE HAVE FAR LESS TIME.◊◊

“And you think a simple reveal of magic would help with that?” said McGonagall. “For all you know, you could invoke so much terror and despair at once that all the world is filled with Dementors.”

◊◊ THANK GOODNESS WE’RE TRYING TO DO THIS DELICATELY, EH? ◊◊

McGonagall sighed. “If you're very careful there’s a chance your efforts won’t blow up in your faces.”

◊◊ AND DEMENTORS DON'T FEED ON ANIMALS. ◊◊

“That was the shield Sirius Black held,” said Cormac.

◊◊ AND I WILL TAKE A WILD GUESS AND SAY THAT LETHIFOLDS AREN’T INTERESTED IN ANIMALS EITHER. ◊◊

“That’s a bit more of a gamble,” said Jocasta. “They’ve got to eat something when they can’t get humans. Although they certainly wouldn’t be interested in a tiny little housefly. Ah ha, I see where you’re going with this.”

“As do I,” said McGonagall, “and now I regret the fact that I have made you all even more hasty. And yet. I haven’t shown you half of the things Wizards defend against. So much that Muggles do not know about. You are correct, Sparrow, we do hold up the sky. I have known this for too long. I have chafed against the Statute of Secrecy for most of my years alive. If I die without being able to do anything about it I will chafe against it for all the eternity I am dead.”

◊◊ DOES THAT MEAN YOU WILL HELP US? ◊◊

I was not finished speaking."

"Uh oh," muttered Cormac.

"This is where I lower the boom. I am the Headmistress of Hogwarts, children. I am the leader of one of Wizarding Britain’s key institutions, the location and source of the majority of primary magical education in this land, and in many lands. I have a duty of care to this institution, to the students within as students and as children, to the teachers within as teachers and as adults. I have a duty of fairness to all, and I cannot allow favoritism or the granting of any sort of unearned privileges. Therefore you must earn them, and suffer just punishment for your transgressions, transgressions that have taken you well beyond mere matters of house points. You are hereby suspended from your classes for the remainder of the school year.

All the children gasped.

“In place of your classes, whose curriculum you appear to be outpacing, each of you will tutor the remainder in your primary area of expertise. You will each take the O.W.L.s at the end of this year – ”

The children gasped again.

“ – and receive top marks in each subject.”

What happens if we don’t?” said Cormac.

“If you don’t,” said McGonagall, “I will not believe that you are yet capable of surviving the path you have set for yourselves. I will require you to remain at this castle until such time as you have satisfied my requirements for that level of Wizardry. But I believe this will not be necessary. Each one of you is a promising young Wizard in your own field. So, once you pass the O.W.L.s, you will then choose your courses of N.E.W.T. study – ”

“Sixth-level Wizardry in the fifth year,” said Jocasta. “Wonderful.”

“We’re already accelerating,” said Cormac. “Or did you want to pass the O.W.L.s and then spend fifth year twiddling your thumbs?”

“AHEM!”

Everyone jumped.

“You will pass your N.E.W.T.s with top marks, and then, and only then, will I believe you are ready to take on the entire world. But I imagine some of you will have little trouble with those as well. Jocasta in particular achieved a level of Transfiguration skill that most Wizards dare not attempt, at a younger age than anyone thought possible, which is, I will admit, putting a positive spin on something that I will slap Rodolphus for when I get the chance.”

 •GIVE HIM ONE FROM ME AS WELL.•

“Mind how you disrespect your elders in front of an elder. Now as for Miranda – ”

Miranda stood at attention.

“ – who appears to be attempting to accelerate past the N.E.W.T. level and straight into professional work, I will require you to work closely with Professors Longbottom and Slughorn on all of your experiments. For your N.E.W.T. course of study I recommend that you attempt this theoretical Lycanthropy cure, and begin now, in case it takes more time than you expected. If you choose that course I will grade you on effort as much as results. I do not expect a breakthrough in such a subject, especially not within the space of a mere few years.”

Miranda shot a glance at Sparrow.

°°° THANKS FOR GETTING ME INTO TROUBLE. °°°

◊◊ IS THAT A SARCASTIC THANKS? ◊◊

°°° I’LL SAY IT ANOTHER WAY. YOU GET ME INTO THE BEST KINDS OF TROUBLE. °°°

◊◊ SUCH IS THE COURSE OF MY LIFE, IT SEEMS. ◊◊

“As for me,” said McGonagall, “I will be busy, and more busy than normal, considering London’s apparent Lethifold problem. I will aid you in the business of transfiguration whenever I can, though we must only speak of it in this room. For all other issues, you will have Professor Longbottom, as you will be reporting to him on a weekly basis. I will recommend that you seek his counsel when you can, considering your griefs, and his concern for them. And Jocasta – ”

“Yes?”

“You are correct. The cat is out of the bag. I have sent a letter to Mr. Fletcher instructing him to cease his erasure of your name from the registry.”

“Oh, er – I had hoped to remain ambiguous for a little while longer.”

“The Ministry doesn’t do ambiguous when it comes to Animagi. The most you can hope for is that my letter reached them before anyone at the Ministry got wind of your story, and that they seek to monitor you instead of breaking your wand. If you’re lucky you will only be required to report your activities to them on a monthly basis.”

“Which I don’t want to be doing.”

I didn’t say you had to be honest in your report.” She gave Jocasta pointed look. “That is the one concession I will make to duplicity this day.”

“Then we have our tasks set before us,” said Jill. “And we should be getting to class – no wait. Damn it. I need to get used to this.”

“Breakfast,” said Jocasta. “We need to see if there’s anything left.”

“Ahem,” said McGonagall.

“Oh! Permission to be dismissed?”

“Granted. Go to your work, children, and make me proud. Or at least don’t blow yourselves up.”

Six children scurried out of the office.

The great hall was a wide and empty expanse, for the tables had all been set aside.

“Pity,” said Jill.

“Hungry,” said Jocasta.

“Lucky I’m here,” said Professor Longbottom.

The children turned. There stood the Professor, between them and the doorway, holding a tray of bagels.

Jocasta snatched a bagel off the tray and tore into it.

“Well well well,” said Miranda. “You are also a lifesaver.” She grabbed two bagels from the tray. Violet and Jill each took one, leaving a few on the tray for Sparrow and Cormac, who took none.

“Breakfast was ending when I left the office,” said the Professor. “When I went to beg the kitchen staff for leftovers I figured I ought to get some for you kids as well. Cormac, you’re not interested in bagels?”

“Bread always turns my stomach,” said Cormac.

“Pity,” said Jocasta, through a mouthful of bagel. “You’d think a healer could fix that.”

Miranda’s eyes flashed blue.

“What? What did I say this time?”

Miranda shook her head. “Nothing. Never mind. I’ve no place to object to such a statement or make decisions for Cormac.”

“Bet you could come up with something for him.”

"Standing right here," said Cormac.

“I am not getting involved in yet another cure. I already have enough on my plate and so does Professor Longbottom – thank you by the way Professor for this particular plate – and we all have to attend to our tasks. I don’t even know where to begin. I’m tempted to just run to my greenhouse and bury myself in herbology.”

“Tempting for me as well,” said the Professor.  “Considering how sheepish I have felt over the past week. But, I am assuming that McGonagall will be having you report to me, so I can’t keep my head in the soil for too long, can I? And I can’t be spending any more time now. For now, I recommend you all take a day to recover and decide how you want to get your studies going. Good luck.” He beetled out the door.

“Great,” said Cormac. “I’m starving and I have no idea what to do.”

“I’d recommend you hit the kitchens with Sparrow,” said Jocasta. “They’re probably holding on to some porridge for her anyway.”

“No, I mean in terms of this…tutoring thing. You’re all good at specific stuff and I’m not.”

◊◊ DO NOT DOUBT YOURSELF SO QUICKLY, MY DEAR CORMAC. YOU KNOW WANDS BETTER THAN ANY OF US. ◊◊

“Yeah but…” Cormac sighed. “None of that’s on the O.W.L.s.”

“You and Violet are better at charms than I am,” said Jill. “Start there, I guess.”

“Or work backwards from the wandlore,” said Violet. “Wandlore is the intersection of charms, herbology and the care of magical creatures.”

◊◊ PERFECT WHATEVER YOU CAN, TEACH THE REST. ◊◊

“That will be something of a challenge for me,” said Miranda. “Neither plants nor animals grow so quickly that we have much chance to practice with them like we can practice charms.”

“Potions,” said Violet. “Plenty of time for that.”

◊◊ WE HAVE PLENTY OF TIME FOR EVERYTHING. LET US REST FOR TODAY. ◊◊

The children departed the great hall, thoughts of the future racing ahead of them.

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