Deceit around the Crystal Orb

Wednesday 18 April – Wednesday 5 September 1979

Kincarden Croft, Inverness-shire; Hogwarts, the Grampians.

Rated PG-13 because my Alphas tell me that this chapter was definitely not suitable for them.

My dear,

I cannot believe you were so foolish as to quarrel with your own cousins. Whatever your loyalty to your school house, blood is thicker than water, and both the Malfoys and the Macnairs have been loyal kin to us, to say nothing of the Parkinsons being very old friends. I only beg you to picture your poor mother’s fright this morning when, in the space of an hour, we received three owls complaining of your conduct.

As we understand it, your Cousin Linus subtracted house points because your friend used magic in a corridor – a minor infraction for which she received a minor penalty. When your friend over-reacted, not only did you make no attempt to restrain her, but you actually participated in a vengeance scheme that involved stealing Swelling Solution and throwing it at Linus and four uninvolved bystanders.

We trust and hope that there is some detail, some extenuating circumstance, that is missing from this account, and that you will inform us of neither more nor less than the truth. But whatever your cousins did to anger you, nothing excuses such violent hexing and certainly nothing excuses stealing. I hope to hear in your reply that you have apologised to Linus and that you have appealed to Professor Dumbledore to reinstate him as Prefect.

Above all, my dear, I’m hoping you have not forgotten that there is a war in progress, a war in which many have paid with their lives. This is no time to be paying off petty personal scores, but rather to be cultivating whatever friends we have. I’m wishing you from this time forward to make no more enemies at school.

Ariadne read her father’s letter twenty-four hours after the event, by which time she was not able to take it seriously. She was not surprised that her parents had heard a distorted version of events, so she wrote them a long letter to explain what had really happened. But, knowing the Malfoys as she did, she was only mildly surprised when her mother’s reply expressed scepticism.

We cannot believe that you would accuse your cousin Dragomira of practising the Dark Arts. Try harder, dear, to believe the best of the people around you, and accept that whatever happened to the poor frog was an accident. We are glad to hear that you only borrowed the potion to help your friend and that you paid for what you took, but we’re hoping you understand now that fighting back only increases rough play. What you should have done was to consult a teacher immediately.

“I expect that’s the end of your trusting your parents’ advice,” said Veleta.

And Ariadne realised it was.

* * * * * * *

The school gossips lost interest in the fight in May, when something far more sensational occurred. Professor Tepes suddenly vanished. Some very tall stories were in circulation – for example, that she had flown out of a window of Ravenclaw Tower without using a broomstick, or that she had been eaten by a manticore that had then spontaneously combusted – but everybody agreed that the story somehow involved that swaggering seventh-year, Regulus Black.

Regulus bragged at the next Slug Club party that Professor Tepes had tried to seduce him, but that he had fought her off valiantly, and that she had left Hogwarts in chagrin at being a woman scorned. But Ariadne never believed a word that Regulus said, and it seemed that even Professor Slughorn would not tolerate that level of self-vaunting.

“Oh, come, Black,” he chided lazily, “you doubtless fought valiantly, but you can’t expect us to believe that much. Have another madeleine. Aren’t you just feeling a little humiliated because it was Sangera Tepes who attacked you? And not romantically! But, hush, we don’t want to frighten the younger students now that the danger has passed.”

“We’ve all been stupid,” said Barty Crouch. “Tepes was a danger to the school community. If Dumbledore had only done a little research into her ancestry, he’d never have employed her.”

While the other students were speculating on Professor Tepes – and the Quidditch Cup and the forthcoming exams – Linus Malfoy continued to write angry letters to Kincarden. Ariadne’s parents could not ignore the offence to such an important person.

Darling, we do insist that you apologise to Linus. Even if the incident was half his fault, your apology now will do a great deal to preserve strong family ties in the future.

But Ariadne did not apologise. Letitia Malfoy disdainfully ignored her, but Walden Macnair’s daughters confronted Ariadne and Veleta outside the library.

“We’ll never forgive you, Ariadne,” said Dragomira. “It’s because of you that we’ve lost our pets. And no other house has teachers spying on them the way you’ve made happen in Slytherin.”

“My poor little Ophis,” sniffed Regelinda affectingly. “Mother’s not knowing a thing about snakes, so she keeps him all cooped up in a goldfish-bowl. And she cannot stand rats, so she threw Dragomira’s babies down from the turret and dashed out their poor wee brains.”

“That’s a lie,” said Veleta instantly. “That snake of yours is basking in the rockery, with a house-elf on hand to ward off cats. And your mother loves rats – she’s moved them into a huge cage and she’s at this moment petting the little white one – ” Veleta broke off in hideous embarrassment.

“That’s what’s seeming a more likely version to us,” Ariadne covered up, “since we could both tell, Regelinda, that you were lying.”

Dragomira almost pounced in triumph. She said nothing, but her eyes gleamed with victorious discovery before she gestured to her sister to move away.

* * * * * * *

Ariadne was still in disgrace when she arrived home for the summer holidays. Papa was grave and disappointed in her, while Mamma gazed at her with big sorrowful eyes and said, “Darling, how could you do this to your family?”

One glimpse at her mother’s face, and Ariadne could not stop crying. She was unselfishly sad to have hurt her parents, selfishly miserable that they refused to comfort her when she was needing it, and irrationally furious and rejecting towards them for their insistence that smooth social relationships were more important than truth and justice. She fled to her room to sob all evening. I will never trust them again. After a while, this extreme avowal was replaced by a more moderate recognition. I’m not their little lassie any more. I’m not ever going to think like them again…

The next morning, she put on working robes and started doing the chores around the farmyard. Her parents spoke softly to her, but they said as little as possible, and she did not volunteer a word beyond the briefest replies. The warm summer air became frosty as she tried to avoid them.

Unpredictably, it was Uncle Macnair who made peace. He strode out of the kitchen hearth, saying, “Now, Cousin Bethoc, I hear there’s been a to-do about some childish spat. We have daft, daft lasses in our family, but that’s no reason to upset the whole clan. Perhaps Ariadne is wishing to walk with me to the pig sty?”

There was nothing Ariadne was wishing less, but she followed Uncle Macnair out of the back door.

Once her parents were out of earshot, he was far less polite. “You’ve made yourself some enemies, young lady, have you not? You’re needing to mind your own business if you’re wanting to regain your lost friends. A word to the wise – Dumbledore will not be running Hogwarts for much longer. In the near, near future, a witch who can cast a Dark spell will be winning school prizes, not sitting in detention. And when the Dark Lord triumphs, you will not be wanting enemies among his friends.”

Six years ago, respectable people had denied all association with Voldemort. Now the tide was turning; people like Uncle Macnair were hinting at their affiliation, were openly admiring the Dark Arts. This proved that the war was going well for Voldemort.

“I’m not wanting to have any enemies, Uncle Macnair,” Ariadne said quietly.

“Good,” he said. “Because you would not be wanting to make trouble for your parents, would you? If my daughters resented you, they might think to take revenge on your parents as well. That would be a pity, given the MacDougals are such an ancient pure-blood family. But whether there’s trouble or not – that depends on you, lass. Will you be making friends?” He threw a pebble at the old sow and turned to look at Ariadne.

“Are you meaning, Uncle, that I have to agree with everything my cousins say or do?”

“I am indeed.”

She raised her eyes to his face. “I believe I’ll always be thinking for myself.”

His ugly mouth twisted into a snarl. “That attitude, young lady, will cause you and your parents great, great grief when the Dark Lord triumphs.”

She knew he was trying to frighten her, but she did not care at all that she was frustrating him. There was a tiny corner of her mind that occasionally felt sorry for Regelinda, but she was not feeling at all sorry for Uncle Macnair. She could not even hold in her mind the reality that he was a Death Eater and that he was threatening her parents. However, if the Dark Lord triumphed, thinking was only one luxury that would be forbidden, and his remark seemed to require an answer, so she said, “I’m thinking, Uncle Macnair, that you’re absolutely right about that.”

A little to her surprise, he accepted this without a murmur. Did he think she had agreed with him? Was he completely daft? She tested his credulity with the truthful remark, “I promise I will not start any fights at school.”

“Good.” And he marched her back into the house in satisfied silence.

“Your daughter and I understand one another,” he announced. “She’s a sensible lass, really. And her cousins have forgiven her indiscretion.”

He accepted a Butterbeer, but he did not mention Voldemort in her parents’ hearing. Evidently the Dark side was not yet quite ready to alienate respectable old families like the MacDougals and the Cornfoots, people who would not support Voldemort until they lost the last vestige of hope that he might one day be defeated.

After Uncle Macnair had Disapparated, Ariadne asked her father, “Papa, do you think Death Eaters could come to Kincarden?”

“Anybody could come, my dear, for we’ve no debarring jinxes on our gates. But do not worry, for they will not come.”

Remembering that Uncle Macnair had already come, that Cousin Severus was invited for later in the summer, and that the Malfoys might descend at any moment, Ariadne could only ask, “Papa, how can you be so sure?”

“Do not take fright, my dear. We’re pure-bloods and we’ve made no trouble for anybody. And here in the Highlands, we’re so remote. We’re the last people in the world that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would wish to harm.”

She wanted to ask what would happen if any of their old acquaintance joined the Death Eaters, but she did not know how she could phrase the question acceptably.

“Ariadne, it is a point of great wisdom to avoid ever making an enemy,” her father repeated. “Our work is to grow food and clothes; not even such misguided people as Death Eaters can object to that. Why would they remember that we exist?”

This only emphasised that it was poor taste to suggest, even without naming names, that anybody with whom they were at all acquainted could ever be so misguided.

* * * * * * *

“Professor Moonshine is quite good-looking,” giggled Wendy.

“If you like the type,” conceded Sarah. “But he doesn’t know anything.”

Their Defence teacher for third year was an apothecary. The Dark Arts against which he warned were all to do with poisons and aphrodisiacs, and his defensive strategies included how to use Polyjuice and Confundiserum and how to detect them in one’s enemies. It was clear to Ariadne that Professor Moonshine did not know much even about potions – he could not tell the difference between puffballs and amanitas, and he claimed to distinguish Hate Potion from Scintillation Solution by the smell.

Professor Slughorn invited Professor Moonshine to the Slug Club.

“Remember when I was your teacher, Reggie? And look at you now! If ever you tire of the Defence post, consider taking over my position.”

Professor Moonshine did not grasp that Professor Slughorn was only flattering him: Slughorn so obviously knew that Moonshine was incompetent.

Third year was the year they began work on their elective subjects. Ivor Jones calmly said he would ace the Arithmancy class; but Ariadne, deterred by the threat of endless numbers, had not signed up for Arithmancy. Instead, she and Veleta opted for the “endless foreign words” offered by Professor Babbling’s Ancient Runes course.

Bathsheba Babbling was an ancient, silver-haired witch who walked with a painful limp, squinted nervously over misty spectacles and spoke in a frail, reedy voice. But once she began speaking, it was clear that she knew everything about the Runes, everything that had ever been written in the Runic alphabet, and everything about the culture from which the Runes sprang.

“Rowena’s mantle, she’s a genius!” breathed Veleta.

Ariadne stopped wondering how Professor Babbling would discipline a class; it was clear that the only students who ever attended her lessons were utterly devoted to learning the subject. Ariadne and Veleta arrived at their second Ancient Runes lesson knowing the Elder Futhark alphabet perfectly, and they never looked back.

They also wondered whether they would learn anything from Professor Kettleburn, who had lost his left leg and right eye to the Magical Creatures that he reared and researched. On their first lesson, he presented them with a huge, eagle-headed, horse-haunched creature, and they wondered if they would be lucky enough to lose only an eye and a leg.

“Who will be the first to bow to the hippogriff?” Professor Kettleburn challenged.

Ariadne wondered if she should, wondered if making her way to the front of the class would be really brave or just daft. While she was weighing it up, Wendy marched out into the paddock and bowed down low. The monstrous hippogriff bowed back, and Wendy stroked its feathers.

“Magnificent beast!” she said, in much the way she had admired Sarah’s denim trouser. “Ooh, Professor, does it let humans ride on it?”

“I’d lose my job if parents heard I’d let students do that,” said Professor Kettleburn grimly. “But twenty points to Gryffindor, Miss McKinnon, for trusting that creatures do behave according to their nature.”

Ariadne’s parents had written wistfully that it would be “so nice if one member of the family had a first-rate academic record,” so she had dutifully signed up for a third elective – the optional tenth O.W.L. that distinguished Hogwarts’ best students. She did not know if she were suited to Divination, but she knew her parents would not thank her for taking Muggle Studies (which they deemed irrelevant) or for failing (which would be inevitable if she took Arithmancy).

“Granny is a good teacher,” Veleta tried to reassure her. “She says you don’t have to be a Seer to pass the O.W.L.; you only need to understand the principles of Seeing.”

The first glimpse of Professor Vablatsky was reassuring. She was a large, solid woman, swathed in bright orange and purple scarves, and she had Veleta’s large brown eyes and enticing smile – she was almost too real. She broke the ice by inviting all the students to look into the crystal ball and describe whatever they saw there.

Richard said he saw Gryffindor beating Slytherin at Quidditch.

Sarah said she saw herself becoming Queen.

Joe said he saw shepherd’s pie for dinner.

Ariadne saw a grey swirling mist.

Veleta said she saw a Death Eater raid on Gringotts, but the Aurors were arriving in time, and a man who looked like Lucius Malfoy was Disapparating before they could catch him, even though no one really looked like anyone because of course they were wearing masks, and…

Professor Vablatsky stepped up behind Veleta, steered her away from the crystal ball and said, “Hush! That’s not the kind of Seeing we do here.”

Veleta jerked her head away and looked embarrassed. Her grandmother began to explain how rare it was to find anyone who could truly See anything in the crystal.

“Do not pretend, children,” she said. “The world is full of charlatans – many of them Muggles – who only pretend they can See the future. NaÔve people pay good money for their imaginary predictions. It is better to understand an Art that you cannot perform than to pretend to perform an Art that you cannot understand.”

She went on to explain the Five Principles of Crystal Ball Gazing, and Ariadne began to feel she had a useful page of notes after all.

“Let me demonstrate,” finished Professor Vablatsky. “I will Foresee your futures, beginning with Gryffindor.” She stared at the crystal ball, and announced, “I see – hands! Two hands, a left and a right. They are clasped together, two halves of one whole. They unclasp – and there is blood! The little fingers have crumbled to dust… There is a deep gash down the left middle finger… The right ring finger rips open and bleeds… The right thumb is chopped off… But the right index wears a crown… Blood pours out of every tear… The left index breaks off and is smashed to a pulp… The stump drips with blood…”

All the good work of the afternoon was undone. Wendy burst into tears, and Sarah angrily announced that it was all a fraud.

“It isn’t a fraud,” said Professor Vablatsky, “but after that gory vision, perhaps the other Houses have lost curiosity about their own futures? You may leave… all except Miss MacDougal.”

“I’ll wait for you at the bottom of the ladder,” whispered Veleta. “Don’t worry, Granny won’t tell you anything scary.”

Not much reassured, Ariadne waited quietly to be alone with the prophetess. Professor Vablatsky sat down in Veleta’s chair, a safe distance from the crystal ball.

“Miss MacDougal,” she said, “I am interested by the fact that you told the truth this afternoon. When the crystal revealed nothing to you, you made no attempt to invent a prediction.”

“I’m not thinking I could be a Seer, Professor.”

“Give me your hand.” Ariadne held it out unwillingly, and Professor Vablatsky ran her index finger down the creases. “Ah, I see. No, you cannot be a Seer. But you do have a gift, don’t you?”

“Have I, Professor?”

“Certainly. Of all the students in this class, you would be the one most capable of becoming a fraudulent fortune-teller. Because you can read people, can’t you? Veleta only hinted at this, but I understand now what she meant. You always know who is telling the truth, don’t you?”

“I do. But it’s not much good to me, Professor. Even when people are lying, I cannot tell them so to their faces, can I? My – my friends will always require me to act trustingly towards people whom I know are not trustworthy.”

Professor Vablatsky was indignant. “And will you allow those friends to dictate your life? Think again, Miss MacDougal. Your gift is a real one. I don’t say it’s a magical talent, for I’ve known Muggles who can do the same. But most people, magical or Muggle, don’t have a clue about the people in front of their faces. They simply don’t know who will fool them next. If you can discern other people’s fraud – or their malice, or their fear, or their anger – any emotion or attitude – then you are seeing more than most.”

Ariadne did not know what to say.

“Miss MacDougal, I’m telling you to trust your own judgment. Trust it even if you can’t justify it logically. And don’t worry about people who don’t believe you. You can See people as clearly as I can See the future or my granddaughter can See – never mind.”

“It’s all right, Professor. I’m already knowing about Veleta.”

“Yes, I suppose you would work it out. Anyway, that’s all I’m saying. You have a gift, and it isn’t Divination.”

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