The next morning was horrid.
Dumbledore called the Hogwarts faculty and Madame Maxime to an early-morning meeting to explain what had happened. Karkaroff was nowhere to be found, and Snape was conspicuous by his absence.
I was quite surprised that my presence was requested.
"Harry Potter is not responsible for Diggory's death," he stated without preamble. "The Cup was charmed to act as a Portkey by Barty Crouch, Jr. --"
Here he had to pause for the murmur that the name occasioned. Other than a relation to the deceased Ministry official, I didn't understand the significance of it.
"-- who was posing as Alastor Moody. When the boys touched the Cup, they were Portkeyed to a cemetery near Little Hangleton. Diggory was killed by Death Eaters --"
He had to raise his voice over the sudden hubbub in the room.
"-- under the direction," he continued, "of Voldemort."
The mention of That Name quelled them -- briefly -- and then a sudden chorus of disbelief was thrown at him. He raised his hand with authority, and everyone abruptly shut up.
"I believe the boy," he said quietly, "and the news is being confirmed as we speak. Voldemort has not only returned, he has performed a ritual that has restored him to physical form.
"Diggory was killed immediately the boys had arrived; Potter was tortured and then forced to duel with Voldemort. He escaped, and returned to us via the Portkey, bringing Diggory's body with him. I have performed Priori Incantatem on his wand, and the result bears out everything the boy has said.
"I must ask all of you to refrain from asking Potter about the events of last night, and I shall shortly request the same of the student body. As you can imagine, Harry has been badly traumatised, and feels a great deal of guilt over Diggory's death, though it was not his fault. If you observe any of your students pressing him, I ask that you stop them immediately.
"Minister Fudge," he continued heavily, "has chosen to to ignore all the signs, but I'm afraid we cannot afford to. We shall have to be on our guard from now on: please inform Professor McGonagall or myself, should you see anything untoward or unusual. That is all."
I don't know what his other teachers decided to do, but I gave him a Pass. I wondered if he could bear to return to Hogwarts next term.
I wasn't at all certain that I could. The next years' contract had arrived by owl a few days before the third task, and it was still sitting, unsigned, on my desk.
I sat at my place as Dumbledore addressed the students, and I watched their faces as he spoke to them of Diggory and Voldemort. So many beautiful, shining faces that should be happy and carefree; so many children who should go home confident that all was well, and instead faced the fact that their world was on the brink of war.
Because there was no doubt: the Wizarding World was facing an imminent war.
There, at the table nearest me, sat Potter himself, grave and withdrawn; his friend Granger, tense, sharp; Longbottom, like many of the others, puzzled and frightened. I noted that at the Slytherin table even Malfoy had managed to wipe his usual supercilious smirk off his face...
... and at Hufflepuff sat Ian, solemn and resolute. I fancied could see a faint impression, a foreshadowing, of the man he would become.
That decided me, even as my heart went out to the other children. We would not be coming back in the autumn.
After Dumbledore dismissed us from the Feast, I returned to my rooms and donned my robes -- not the wizarding dress robes, but my postgraduate robes. I'd worked hard for my degree, and I was proud to wear the colours that announced my school and status, and I wasn't going to let any awkwardness deter me. (After all, the other teachers must have degrees or certification from somewhere: they were simply Wizarding, rather than Muggle, institutions.)
Sprout collected me at my door at quarter to twelve, and we made our way to the chamber. Everyone but the real Alastor Moody (justifiably paranoid and barricaded in his rooms) and McGonagall, who was collecting the Sevenths, had assembled at the head of the room (or whatever passed for the head in a circular chamber). They looked like nothing so much as a flock of exotic butterflies; Wizarding Mastery robes were far more brilliant than all but the most flamboyant Muggle doctoral robes. They were quite similar in style, in fact -- except instead of the mortarboard or cap, one evidently wore the pointed wizarding hat, as McGonagall did constantly.
Surprisingly, one other faculty member besides myself wore black Muggle robes. Snape.
He was currently fussing with his hood, which had managed to twist into a most unbecoming snarl behind his back. For someone so fastidious and comfortable with his everyday clothing and teaching robes, he seemed ill at ease with the more formal dress.
"Hold still," I murmured, and straightened the red and blue silk into the proper folds. "Oxford or Cam?"
"Oxford, of course: D. Phil, Chemistry," he retorted.
Of course. I was University of London, myself.
"Ah, is your hat supposed to, uh, droop --?" I asked delicately. (Most didn't seem to except those which were exceptionally old, like Flitwick's and Headmaster's.)
Snape rolled his eyes upward, wearily removed it, pulled out his wand, and charmed it straight again -- though I think he added a disgusted expletive to the spell -- and shoved it back on.
"Would that be M. Sci?" he queried as he flicked the embroidered fronts of his robe back into order, eyeing the distinctly Gryffindor-ish maroon and gold hood that hung from my own shoulders with distaste.
"M. Phil, actually. I couldn't stomach the statistics on the other," I admitted.
"No, you're a humanist, not a scientist. Understandable." He managed through some miracle not to make it an insult. "The neckband is acceptable, at least," he added lightly, and moved away from me to take his seat.
My neckband was a deep, nearly Slytherin green.
Bloody hell, I think Snape just teased me....
Noooooooooo. I see no wingéd swine amongst the rafters.
My bemusement must have shown on my face: Hooch elbowed me when I took my place next to her.
"Oxford?" I murmured.
"I heard he finished the Advanced Potions programme in record time -- got his Mastery in that right off; I suppose he was bored and decided to tackle it from the Muggle angle as well, the bloody show-off," she sniffed disapprovingly.
I mentally translated bored into driven and show-off into intensely curious/lover of knowledge and let the matter drop, ignoring the annoying questions that leapt to mind of credentials and transcripts and proving ones' qualifications in the Muggle World. It was mere curiosity, and a moot point by now: my study of this culture was done.
But I hadn't fibbed to Lucy about expertise in Chemistry, after all.
McGonagall threw open the doors and led the Sevenths in. There were perhaps sixty of them -- few of whom I knew, as Muggle Studies wasn't required for them -- and they filed in silently. No fanfares or processionals here, whether from tradition or in respect for Diggory, I didn't know. Finally the last student took their place: Dumbledore rose, and with a motion gave them leave to be seated.
"Well. You have reached the end of your time at Hogwarts. Note, please, that I do not say the end of your education: if there is one thing that I hope you take with you, it is the realisation that your education never ends. We have prepared you as best we know how to continue the process on your own, whether you move on to other institutions or not.
"I think you are aware from the events of the past week that momentous things are happening in our world. It is my hope that you will acquit yourselves with honour; that you will make us proud of each and every one of you, no matter the outcome.
"Some of you have already embarked on your new lives; some of you," he paused, and glanced searchingly at the sober faces staring at him, "have already made decisions that will have far-reaching consequences for yourselves, and for others."
It was a portentious statement, and there was something behind it I couldn't quite decipher.
"Regardless, know this: whatever your choice has been, or the choices you make in future, that you are welcome here. Hogwarts has been your home for seven long years, and it shall continue to be so. As long as Hogwarts stands it remains ready to accept and shelter you.
"And now, enough babbling from an old man," he said with more his usual animation. "Let us begin the awarding of the certificates."
The students rose from their seats: the Heads of Houses rose to stand beside Headmaster, and I moved to the podium. As I was not a Head and there were no honours given for Muggle Studies, I'd been elected to announce the name of each leaver. (It was considered arduous by the tenured faculty, and they'd decided my vocal training made me the best possible victim among the juniors, this year.)
Ben Ackerley -- he of Muggle-Wizarding Comparative Politics -- approached Dumbledore, gravely accepted his ticket-of-leave with a shake of the old wizard's hand, and shook Flitwick's as well before returning to his seat.
"Aslan, Gregor: Dippet Award, Transfigurations.
I still hadn't given Dumbledore notice. I was a coward.
He hadn't pushed the issue, even obliquely, and even when I'd stopped by at his request and left a packet of student work for his perusal. He'd been busy, and I'd simply left it on the corner of his desk and fled.
I think he knew damned well I was wavering and was giving me breathing space.
Ian and I had taken a lunch out to the grounds, and were lying back on a blanket, playing our old game of Spot-the-Cloud. (He was much more imaginative than I, though now he tended to cheat and call the less obvious ones boggarts, which covered a miscellany of shapes and sizes.) He hadn't wanted to talk about Diggory or the Tournament, and that had me worried. I could only hope he'd come to some kind of peace about it.
On the other hand... his reaction might confirm my decision. I rolled over on my stomach, and absently played with a grass-stem.
"Looking forward to seeing Lucy and Paula?"
Brilliant: that was helpful. A more direct approach was called for.
"What would you think," I said carefully, "if we stayed with them for a while?"
"What do you mean?" he asked sleepily.
"I mean until we could find a new flat."
He woke up in a hurry.
"Not come back to Hogwarts?" he asked.
He rolled over and stared at me.
"I don't think," I said firmly, "that things are going to be very nice around here, for a very long time."
"You don't want to come back," he stated, his eyes darkening.
"I think it's going to be dangerous. And my first priority is to keep you safe."
He plucked at the blanket and refused to look at me.
"It's my job, Ian," I told him gently. "I love you, and it's my job to keep you safe. You've got control, now; I know you've enjoyed it here, but we can leave and you can make your way Outside just fine..."
When had I begun to think of our world as 'Outside'?
He looked back up at me, and then he softly said, "I want to come back."
It was my turn to look away.
"Even with what happened to Cedric?" I looked back up at him, and he was still staring at me calmly.
"Yes. I want to come back."
So much for an easy decision. I looked back down at the mangled grass-blade in my fingers.
"Will you make me stay away?" he asked.
He deserved honesty. "I think so. I've been worrying about this for a long time, and the only thing I'm absolutely certain of is that we're in this together; there's no way I'm staying in London and sending you back here alone." I had to stop and take a deep, steadying breath before I continued. "I know it would disappoint and hurt you, and I'm sorry; I've enjoyed this, too. But there's nothing else I can do to keep you safe."
A year ago he would have begged and pleaded, and pouted and cried, when that didn't work; eventually his frustration would have expressed itself in a massive, frightening episode.
Instead, he simply watched me for a while longer. Then, in a moment of breathtaking maturity, he leaned over, kissed me on the cheek, and flopped back down on the blanket, face-up under the sky.
I didn't mistake it for acquiesence. He'd made his feelings clear.
It was, very simply, No matter what you decide and no matter the consequences, I will still love you.
Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning I stumbled out of my sleepless bed and went into the sitting room, sat at the desk, and stared at the contract.
The problem was, this wasn't just about a job. It wasn't even just about keeping Ian safe, though that was certainly first and foremost.
The real issue involved why I'd chosen to teach in the first place, instead of pursuing a more lucrative field. It involved whether I had a right to ignore the responsibility I felt toward the other children when their community was facing difficult, possibly dangerous, times.
How could I walk away from this mess when they could not, simply because I was an outsider? And could I live with my sense of failure and the guilt, if I did?
I've never been good at living with guilt, not for long. Failure, yes: it's part of life. But even that I can live with if I know I've done my best and fulfilled my obligations and responsibilities.
I scrawled my signature on the bottom of the contract: the parchment rolled itself up with a snap and popped out of my rooms, probably straight to Dumbledore's desk.
I went back to bed and had my best nights' sleep in week.
Back to BNW Index
My apologies to UoL alumni if I've got the hood colours wrong (probably have). And I'm not at all sure that women grads wear the neckband, but when I saw the colour combo I couldn't resist.
There's a lot of debate over what kind of ceremony Hogwarts' school-leavers might go through; I've opted for simplicity, and utter unconcern over what JKR might choose to do come Book 7. Many thanks to Bethan, who kept me from some of the more egregious Americanisms in this section -- though I continued to insist on inflicting an honour on at least one student. (And, oddly enough, Bethan's dad has a Doctorate in Chemistry from Oxford, and pointed out a nasty potential error with Snape's robes -- thanks go out to him too.)
In response to Miranda's curiosity about a wizard proving their qualifications to attend a Muggle university: I suspect there may be a supposedly Muggle university which is actually a front for the wizarding world, supplying the necessary transcripts and certificates. Alternatively, as was posited by another author (whose name and fic title I have unfortunately lost), there could be a "Wizarding" Oxford existing cheek-by-jowl with Muggle Oxford (similar to the situation of Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross).