Thursday 6 September 1979 – Saturday 7 June 1980
Hogwarts, the Grampians; Kincarden, Inverness-shire.
Rated PG for tragedy.
Children at Hogwarts were supposed to be happily passing exams without worrying about the outside world.
“That just shows what they know about children,” said Kingsley Shacklebolt.
Sometimes You-Know-Who seemed a long way off. When Richard Campion was appointed to the Gryffindor Quidditch team, or Professor Moonshine taught them the Jelly-Legs Curse, or Sarah spent a whole month’s pocket money on an adult-sized trouser for Wendy to owl home to her sister Marlene – Ariadne understood why everybody claimed that youth was the happiest time of life.
When Professor Slughorn conceded yet again, “There is nothing wrong with Miss MacDougal’s potion,” she could daydream of becoming a great apothecary – of discovering the cure for some life-shattering illness, or of inventing some brew that solved some age-old magical problem, or of using Herbology to end world famine.
Then the Daily Prophet would report the murders of the week, and she would remember that no solution to the World’s Great Problems would seriously make the world a better place unless Lord Voldemort and his loathsome Death Eaters were defeated.
Fortunately for the third-years, Professor Vablatsky never again Saw in front of them anything as horrible as her vision of mutilated hands. She did make small prophecies that came true. The lost Quaffle would be brought back to school by a centaur; Professor Sprout would receive a surprise gift from a fellow-Herbologist in Brazil; Professor Moonshine would lose a cauldron through his own carelessness on Thursday; a house-elf would break a leg and not bother reporting it to Madam Pomfrey (so one of them must volunteer); there would be a purple sunset on the twenty-seventh that Professor Pavo had never predicted.
Professor Vablatsky even told them that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would lose his powers within two years, which they all desperately hoped was true.
“First there will be sadness,” she warned. “The year’s end will be like its beginning.”
They did not understand this cryptic message. In retrospect, it was astonishing that none of them grasped it. For Wendy McKinnon – silly, giggly Wendy, who was terrified of blood yet had looked a hippogriff in the eye – went home for the weekend after Hallowe’en and never returned to Hogwarts. Her sister Marlene, as a member of the Order of the Phoenix, had openly defied Lord Voldemort, and their entire family was murdered in a Death Eater strike.
“The Death Eaters can’t enter Hogwarts,” Professor Dumbledore assured the terrified students. “The safety barriers around the school are too strong, and Professor Moonshine has been working on installing extra repellant-jinxes.”
After losing two classmates to Voldemort, none of the survivors accepted the grown-up mantra that “children shouldn’t worry about adult problems”. You-Know-Who was everybody’s problem, and they grouped themselves around Richard’s Wireless every evening for the nine o’ clock news. No matter how frightening the news became, it was more disconcerting still to be left ignorant.
As the Hogwarts Express arrived in King’s Cross Station for the Christmas holidays, Ariadne said, “Sarah, be careful.”
“I’m always careful,” said Sarah carelessly.
“You’re a Muggle-born,” said Hestia, “like David Berriman.”
“Wendy was a pure-blood,” said Sarah. “It seems to me we should all be careful.”
“Wendy’s family was very outspoken in defying You-Know-Who,” Veleta tried to explain. “But Muggle-borns don’t need to do anything to annoy him. People like you annoy him just by existing.”
“You’re a special target, Sarah,” Ariadne repeated. “Promise us you’ll be careful.”
“All right. Promise. Have good holidays!”
Yet nothing prepared Ariadne for what awaited her in the spring term. Her brother brought her back to Hogwarts on the Knight Bus. She flew up to the Gryffindor common room, and there came face to face with Sarah, perched on a table swinging her long legs and sporting a faint and highly unseasonable tan.
“Hola, amiga!” She threw out her arms for a hug, and breezily announced, “I’ve spent the whole holiday in Valencia. My parents are so terrified of Moldy-Voldy that they won’t ever again let me remain in Britain when I’m not at Hogwarts.”
Ariadne breathed a huge sigh of relief – Sarah’s family could afford to take her to the Continent for every single school holiday – and they climbed the stairs and threw open the dormitory door.
There were only three beds. And Hestia was sobbing on one of them.
It was Veleta Vablatsky who never returned to school. It was not clear why, since she had been a respectable half-blood whose family had never made any kind of anti-Death Eater stance. But the Dark Mark had appeared above the wreck of her house, and her whole family was wiped out.
Too shocked to weep, Ariadne climbed straight up to Professor Vablatsky’s tower. She found the Divination teacher swishing around her classroom, charming incense into jars, candles into boxes, teacups into crates, pulling star charts and silk scarves off walls, Transfiguring bookcases into trunks. Her movements were brisk and angry, the kind of anger people only feel when they are afraid to be sad.
“Professor, I’ve come to say how sorry I am.” Ariadne’s own throat was tied up with coarse strings, but she had to force the words out. “It’s – it’s such a devastating thing to happen.”
“The Ministry should have listened!” Professor Vablatsky snapped. “I told them and told them that if they let blood-prejudice affect even one Ministry decision, it would affect the next and the next. I warned that if they listened to Tom Riddle for one year, they would never be rid of him, and that he’d be invincible within seven! But did they listen? No, Divination is only relevant when they want to know whom they’ll marry and how they can find easy money. When it’s something that actually matters – such as who will live and how many will die – suddenly you can’t trust the Seers; we’re all a pack of charlatans!”
Ariadne had no idea who this Tom Riddle was, but she caught the general drift. “Infuriating!” she agreed. “Villainously thick-headed!”
“You-Know-Who will be with us for nearly two more years,” said Professor Vablatsky. “But I don’t know if Britain can survive another two years of untrammelled slaughter. Perhaps he’ll only fall after he’s taken the whole country down with him.” She threw six packs of Tarot cards into a trunk. “The Dark Lord already has plans for the whole of Europe, you know. Why else did he persuade the Muggles into this Common Market lark? Only to make conquest and carnage easier for himself! I think it’ll take him less than eighteen months to begin the inroads into France and Germany.”
“The whole world?” asked Ariadne. “Will he take over the whole world, Professor?”
“No.” Professor Vablatsky barked out a short, mirthless laugh. “That’s one thing on which the stars were quite definite – and the crystal and the cards too. You-Know-Who will never control as far as Australasia. It will always be safe in the Antipodes.” She slammed her last trunk shut; her classroom was now alarmingly bare.
“Professor, what will we study this term if we will not be needing any equipment?”
“Apollo knows! It isn’t my problem any more. I resigned my post at Hogwarts this morning.”
Ariadne stared blankly.
“Didn’t I make myself clear enough, Miss MacDougal? I shall be emigrating to New Zealand tomorrow! And as to who will teach you from now on… do you think school still matters, when we have Death all around us? Child, this is a hard blow for you, so I’m asking you frankly: did you come here this evening to comfort me, or yourself?”
Ariadne thought this an unfair question. “Both, Professor.”
“Then I’ll be honest too. Safety isn’t the only reason I’m going to New Zealand; my youngest son is already living there. And that’s my advice to you, too. If you want to keep your heart in one piece, you must keep it in more than one place. Find yourself someone else to love.”
That sounded like callous advice: where would she find another friend like Veleta?
Ariadne, Sarah and Hestia sat together numbly, all of them too exhausted to think of loving anybody. There were great gaping spaces in their dormitory, where two of the four-poster beds had been removed. They tried to fill up the spaces with Ariadne’s writing desk and spare cauldron, with Sarah’s stage-lit dressing table and make-up case, with Hestia’s gramophone and records, with the feeding bowls, litters, wicker baskets, cages and perch for Thangalaathil and the cats. Sarah stopped accusing Ariadne of being a goody-goody; Hestia never complained when Sarah left her spare clothes trailing over the floor; Ariadne never mentioned hygiene when Hestia forgot to clean up after Simba and Bast.
Perhaps they were bonding; it just did not feel like it in that lonely second term of third year.
Professor Dumbledore took only a fortnight to find a new Divination teacher, one Sybill Trelawney, the great-great-granddaughter of a gifted Seer. She mistily promised them, “We shall achieve great things this term, children. We shall penetrate the hidden depths of the orb and draw aside the veil of the future.” She then spent their first lesson inventing stories from their astrological charts, and she seemed most offended when Ariadne refused to play the pretend-game.
“Trust your intuition, Miss MacDougal! The secrets are there if you will allow yourself to receive them!”
But the only information that Ariadne intuited was that Professor Trelawney had not one iota of Cassandra Vablatsky’s talent. She had no gift and no interest in the theory; she simply liked to guess. She never once asked the class, “If you saw this portent, what would it mean?” She only ever asked, “Which portent can you see?” Since nobody in their class was a true Seer, Ariadne wondered what any of them was learning.
When Ariadne went home for Easter, there was an addition to the family at Kincarden, for Kenneth and Janet were the proud parents of a three-month-old daughter. Janet, who usually carried the baby around all day, was glad of a break and allowed Ariadne to take her niece all over the farm.
“These are pigs, Morag, and these are hens. The hens give us eggs, except the one with the crest, who is a rooster.” Ariadne knew that Morag was too young to understand a word she said, but she talked to her all day long. “This is the garden, and you can smell the peppermint. But this plant is a poppy and this is heather. This is an oak tree and here is a larch and a pine…”
She did not know why she bothered with such exotic vocabulary, but soon Morag was smiling whenever Ariadne walked into the room. Without meaning to, Ariadne had after all found somebody else to love.
“Here is the gate where we leave the milk in its churns. The lorry will come up the hill, and the man who comes to take it away will be a Muggle. You can see the village on the horizon beyond the loch…”
“Your pretence that the infant can understand your asinine ramblings really is extremely irritating,” broke in a man who had just Apparated to the gate.
“Good morning, Severus. Morag, this is your Cousin Severus.”
For some reason, Morag chose that moment to begin howling.
“Oh, take her away,” snapped Severus. “There’s enough going on without being interrupted by squalling brats!”
Ariadne read in his voice, in his movements, in the lines on his face, that her cousin was a man betrayed. An old wound had been traumatically re-opened, and he reeked of a despairing self-loathing. She told him, “Papa is with the sheep, Kenneth is drying silage and Mamma is in the dairy.”
“And you, I suppose, are doing nothing at all.”
He seemed to want to enter the house, so she led the way. “Are you quite well, Severus? I can brew you a sage infusion.”
“I was never so well in my life!” he snapped back at her.
Oddly, this seemed to be the truth. He seemed very vulnerable, frightened in a way that no Death Eater had any business to be frightened; and he had been disappointed in love. The man who distrusted everybody had apparently lost trust even in himself. Nevertheless, he had never seemed less tormented; his moodiness had never felt more honest. She found herself liking him better than she had before.
In the kitchen, Ariadne secured Morag’s cradle in a far corner, then brought a jar of sage leaves out of the larder. Severus did not protest, so she began brewing it for him. He glowered at her, as if willing her to find him so unpleasant that she stopped waiting on him. And he kept silent, as if daring her to speak, so that he could find something wrong with her words. So of course she kept brewing without saying a word. Morag grizzled over the loss of attention, but Ariadne kept listening to – kept smelling – the stormy atmosphere that radiated from Severus.
“There’s been a change in your life,” she said as she finally set the cup in front of him.
“The headache is a change,” he snarled, gulping down the liquid. Mildly surprised, he added, “This is brewed correctly.”
“Ankarad Murray was my grandmother too.”
He gulped without comment.
“You’ve left the Death Eaters,” she said flatly. It must have taken enormous courage to switch allegiance like that; she trembled to think what Voldemort would do to a traitor. And surely it was only a matter of time before Voldemort found out?
“Mind your own business!”
“Dangerous,” she said. “Severus, does Professor Dumbledore know – ?”
“Shut up.” He drained the cup and slapped it back on the table. “The less you know, the less you can tell.”
“I will not tell anything to Uncle Macnair.” He had never been more receptive to love; but it yet had not crossed his mind that he might find love here, with his own family.
On the third day of Severus’s visit, Walden Macnair stepped through the kitchen fireplace. He told Mamma that he had come to call on Severus.
“I’ll go and look for him,” said Ariadne, knowing that when she found him she had to warn him to vanish. She fled from the kitchen, wondering if Uncle Macnair could see the thundering breach of promise written all over her face. She knew by now that most people did not see the cues that were in front of them; but it was so obvious that she was not going to bring Severus back with her; and Dragomira and Regelinda must have already warned their father not to trust her…
Severus had said he would follow the cows because he couldn’t stand stupid sheep. But as she raced between the paddocks, Ariadne could see that he had moved beyond the cows. She wished fleetingly that Veleta were here, to tell her exactly where her cousin had gone; but there was no Veleta any more. Ariadne assumed Severus had become bored with animals and had walked as far as the trees that marked the boundaries of their property.
He was ambling under a clump of pines, just outside their boundaries, tearing off handfuls of bark and ripping apart fallen branches. A cone nearly hit her ear before she dodged and he saw her.
“Your fault for not looking,” he growled.
She ignored his vandalism of the local ecology. “Severus, Uncle Macnair is here.”
His hand stayed in mid-throw.
“Severus, he’s asking for you. You had better Disapparate.”
“You’d better stop giving orders about what you don’t understand,” he said. “I’m not running away from Macnair.”
They walked back to the house in silence. Ariadne did not understand why Severus did not run into hiding, for one mistake in the interview with Uncle Macnair would certainly cost him his life. But for some reason he was still speaking to the Death Eaters, so evidently he was pretending to them that he was yet one of them.
She was not surprised when Uncle Macnair took no notice of anybody but Severus for the rest of that day. She saw them walking round and round the farm, their heads bowed deep in conversation. She wondered yet again how Mamma and Papa could fail to see that Uncle Macnair had a history of murder etched all over his face.
Uncle Macnair had to visit Hogwarts just before the exams. This was because yet another Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher lost his job. Professor Moonshine’s pinnacle of folly was his announcement that he had invented a potion that would neutralise manticore-venom.
“Oh, nonsense, Reggie,” said Professor Slughorn. “Even a bezoar would… well, it might work, but I wouldn’t want to try the experiment. Your sting-victim would most likely die before you could administer the bezoar.”
Two days later, a great crowd of students was gathered outside Hagrid’s hut. Pressing their way around the sides, Ariadne, Hestia and Sarah saw a barred cage, looking like something from an old-fashioned zoo and half the size of the hut. It was obvious why nobody was hurrying to the front of the crowd: the seething creature inside was bright red, the size and shape of a lion, but with a head like a gargoyle. Ariadne suddenly felt that the cage was not so large, given the strength and energy of its prisoner, and she wondered who had been so daft as to make this creature angry.
Professor Moonshine and Hagrid were standing on each side of the cage, and Professor Moonshine was advertising his captive like a fairground showman. “Professor Kettleburn doesn’t know that Hagrid and I managed to bring this fine specimen onto Hogwarts grounds. Won’t he be surprised when he sees how I’ve tamed it!”
The manticore swished around, lashing its long scorpion-tail through the bars dangerously. The students all jumped back another yard.
“Keep away! I’m breaking out!” the creature screeched.
“No, you are not,” said Professor Moonshine. “It thinks it can talk, but it has no intelligence to speak of. Anyway, let me introduce my marvellous potion.” He brought out a bottle and waved it with a flourish. “Manty, would you like a nice drink?”
“I’m not convinced that that beast lacks intelligence,” muttered Kingsley Shacklebolt from behind them. “And I wouldn’t take a drink from Moonshine. Sarah, do stand a little further back!”
The manticore was snarling, but Professor Moonshine ignored it. He Summoned a dish; when the one belonging to Fang flew out of Hagrid’s window, he unstoppered his bottle and poured out his potion. It stank of raw flesh. The manticore ceased its noise and took a long sniff.
“It tastes of sirloin steak,” Professor Moonshine promised. “Abigo!”
The dish hopped into the manticore’s cage, and the ugly gargoyle-mouth opened. It was only seconds before the manticore had lapped the dish dry.
“Now we wait one minute. Then we should find that its venom is neutralised. All right – ready? I’m going to demonstrate.”
“So am I!” screeched the manticore, rattling its bars.
“Sir, that is daft!” Ariadne protested, but her soft voice was drowned in a bellow from Hagrid.
“Reggie! Don’t annoy poor Manty!”
Professor Moonshine ignored him; he Conjured a turquoise ostrich-feather and used it to tickle the manticore’s tail through the bars.
Instantly, the scorpion-tail swung high in the air and smashed itself across Professor Moonshine’s arms.
Professor Moonshine yelped and was knocked sideways. A sickly yellow venom was dripping across his robes. The manticore lashed its tail again, but Professor Moonshine, clutching his side in agony, had just enough sense to roll away from it.
Pandemonium broke loose as students screamed for teachers, ran for Madam Pomfrey, shouted the Novem-novem-novem emergency incantation, or raced towards the castle. Hagrid strode towards Professor Moonshine, sternly warning everybody not to touch the corpse (but nobody had any such intention).
“Looks as if the potion wasn’ completely useless after all,” Hagrid said. “He’s still breathin’. But that was the wrong way to handle a sensitive creature like a manticore.”
To cut a long story short, the Mediwizards arrived in time to transport Professor Moonshine to St Mungo’s on a levitated stretcher – a stretcher that the Mediwizards were careful not to touch. Professor Moonshine would be in St Mungo’s for several months to come and he was lucky to be there at all.
Professor Kettleburn was furious that such a dangerous beast had been brought onto Hogwarts premises without his authorisation; there was no safe way to send away a manticore, so this one had to be destroyed.
Uncle Macnair arrived within an hour, carrying axes and chainsaws and an iron Ever-Bashing Boomerang, but although he laid out these weapons before the manticore’s cage, he did not use any of them. The students were awed into silence when he simply raised his wand and announced, “Avada Kedavra!”
Uncle Macnair had obviously had plenty of practice in casting the Unforgiveable Curse.