"What I don't understand," I told Headmaster, "is why he didn't Summon his wand immediately."
"Ah." Headmaster leant back in his chair. "I wondered that as well. He was in shock, of course, but still... have you a possible explanation?" His eyes sparkled with mischief.
"None he would appreciate," I retorted dryly. "At any rate, perhaps you'd best give him a less distracting patrol partner. One he doesn't have to worry about protecting."
Dumbledore chuckled. "No, I don't imagine he would appreciate being accused of gallantry. Very well: I shall switch Sinistra for you, and you shall patrol with Moody. How is your work with him progressing, by the way?"
The wandwork was the problem.
A package from Ollivander had arrived a few days after my first lesson, and Moody had promptly dragged me away from lunch to have a go.
I unfolded the letter enclosed with the slim box.
Assessment? Why had he assessed me?
Three words: Albus Bloody Dumbledore.
I shoved aside the unease (all right, it was rage) that I felt at the thought, and pulled the wand from its box. It was willow, 9 1/2 inches, and, like Ian's, had a dragon heart-string core.
"All right, lass," Moody growled, "let's see if he's got it right. Give it a flick."
I did. Nothing happened.
"Put some force into it, girl, you're not leading a bloody brass band!" he barked, so I closed my eyes and tried again.
A pathetic little trickle of red sparks puffed dispiritedly from the wand's end and immediately dissipated into the air.
"Hmmmph. Ollivander has you pegged, all right. Don't jump to conclusions, though, lass: we know your nevvie had wizarding blood, so there's at least a trace in you as well -- not enough to have gotten you into Hogwarts, but it's a start. Albus will be pleased."
Almost every other night afterwards Moody had put me through my paces, but nothing was happening. I couldn't even manage Lumos.
I don't think it was the wand, or even my own reservations: after a year and a half in the Wizarding World, I'd accepted that magic was a fact of life.
It was simply that, despite Headmaster's instinct, I didn't have the slightest ability.
It was embarrassing. Here was I, a 36 year-old woman, and I couldn't manage to do what the most incompetent First Year could. Even Longbottom was far better than I: at least when he cast a charm something happened, even if it resulted in unintended pyrotechnics.
Arthur had been called away on an emergency -- something about an illegally-charmed Muggle Hula-hoop, or some such idiocy -- and the Death Eaters had come for Molly. The older boys were out on their own and the younger kids still at Hogwarts, of course, so Molly was alone. Evidently it was done to teach Arthur a lesson: possibly because of his support of Headmaster, and perhaps because his illicit work within the Ministry to suss out other supporters had been discovered (or so Headmaster surmised).
Thank God they'd underestimated Molly. She was no slouch at resisting Imperio or at dueling: she'd stunned several of her attackers by bashing them with projectile pot-and-pans, and then dodged out of their anti-Apparition wards and popped to the edge of Hogwarts grounds.
"Sit still, Molly," Pomfrey groused at her, and dabbed at the cut on her forehead.
Molly was enfuriated. I'd never seen her this angry, even at the twins: her eyes were bright with rage, and her hands trembled with the urge to do damage to someone or something.
"Those -- those --" she fumed inarticulately.
"Feckers?" I offered helpfully. "God-forsaken sons-of-bitches? Rotters?"
"All of the above," she spat out, and then added a few of her own, distinctively Wizarding, epithets.
Moody and I had been patrolling when she'd staggered through the Hogwarts gates, and we'd gotten her up to the Infirmary posthaste. Moody'd gone for Headmaster and Snape and then Apparated off to track down Arthur.
"How dare they?" she fumed. "Granted, we're poor, but we're pureblood --"
"I'm afraid that doesn't count for much anymore, Molly," Headmaster said quietly as he entered the room. "Arthur's stepped on some toes, I imagine. You have my deepest apologies; I hadn't anticipated they'd move on to this just yet."
"Oh, Albus, don't." She shook her head, annoying Pomfrey even more. "It's not your fault. Bastards," she added, and started to tremble: the shock was finally hitting her, as was the implication of what she'd said earlier, and she gave me a startled, guilty look. "Miranda, I'm sorry, I didn't --"
"Of course not. D'you think I'd believe that of you, after last summer?" I soothed her. "You're upset, that's all."
"Severus has gone to the Burrow, to check on the damage," Headmaster said gently as he sat next to her and took her trembling hands in his own. "Moody's gone to check on Percy, and I've already owled Bill and Charlie to let them know you're all right. I haven't woken the children, though; I thought it best to wait until morning."
"Oh, Albus, what will we do?" she wailed, and the toughest woman in the wizarding world laid her head on Headmaster's shoulder and wept like a child. "We worked so hard --"
He put a long arm around her and gently rocked her back and forth. "Never mind, Molly," he said. "You're safe here; and I'm sure we can find something for you until you can go home."
"We were so happy there; every one of our babies was born in that house, in our bed --" she managed to choke out before she started crying afresh. Pomfrey bustled back over and forced a Soothing Potion into her hands.
"Molly?" Arthur's distraught voice filtered in through the door before he burst in and made a beeline for her bed; Headmaster hastily disentangled himself from the weeping woman and Arthur took his place.
"There, Moll, it's all right," Arthur crooned. "You and the kiddies are safe, that's all that matters...."
Headmaster and I quietly turned and left the ward, and met up with Moody outside in the corridor.
"Did you find Percy?" Headmaster asked him.
"Boy's safe; he's been dossing with a friend in London. He'll be by 'soon as he can get leave from the Ministry'," Moody grimaced. "Not got his head screwed on straight, that one."
"I've owled the elder two; they'll have to watch out as well," Headmaster murmured.
"Bill can handle himself; got his mother's common sense," Moody replied. "Charlie's more like Arthur, though, and I'm worried about him."
"I might be able to find him a place here," Headmaster said slowly. "I've a mind to offer Molly something or other to keep her close. Damnation," he swore, grimly and softly.
"Not a thing left," Snape said heavily. "When they couldn't get Molly they did the next best thing. There's absolutely nothing salvageable."
That wasn't strictly true; the Weasley possessions currently comprised one badly-dented pot. (Molly had really coshed someone well.) The Twins, after the initial shock wore off, made a joke of it by awarding their mother the Honourary Order of the Sauce-Pan, First Class.
To her credit Molly managed to smile weakly at the award's presentation. Weasleys were remarkably resilient creatures.
Snape seemed to take it personally, despite Headmaster's weary protests.
"You've always objected to retaliation against purebloods, Severus; of course they wouldn't let it slip to you."
"But they didn't tell the others, either," Snape noted, "which leads me to believe someone's been careless."
"Quite possibly. Which is why," Headmaster retorted with a sly glance my way, "I think the two of you should begin to raise the stakes."
Ah. That was why I'd been called to this meeting. I looked at Snape and shrugged; we'd think of something.
"What are Arthur and Molly going to do?" I asked Headmaster, changing the subject to prevent him meddling further.
"Arthur will continue on at the Ministry; he can Apparate back and forth as needed. But Molly stays here: I've offered her a post as Poppy's assistant. We may actually need one soon, at any rate," Headmaster added somberly. "She wants to go back to Ottery-St. Catchpole, but Arthur's talking her out of it."
"They could move into the Hogsmeade house," Snape noted quietly. "My tenant is vacating by Yule."
"I'd quite forgotten about the house," Headmaster replied, pleasantly startled. "That's kind of you, Severus. Even with the children in school, Molly would be more comfortable in a house, especially at the holidays."
Snape shrugged eloquently. "It's the least I can do. And it's already well-warded; we'll know immediately if there's any attempt at further retaliation. I'll bring it up to Arthur this evening."
"Best not make the terms too generous; Molly will smell a rat," Headmaster advised. "Is he really leaving?" he added obliquely. "Tired of living in that old pile all by himself, even only at the holidays?"
Snape glared at him. "I believe it's become too inconvenient, given his responsibilities," he said pointedly, and shot an uneasy glance my way out of the corner of his eyes.
"Ah, convenience, of course." Headmaster's eyes twinkled. "Well, give him my thanks for his thoughtfulness, regardless."
Obviously I was not the only one around here that Albus Dumbledore enjoyed putting on the spot.
Next to Snape.
"Sorry," he murmured at me.
"Oh, belt up, it's not your fault," I hissed, and took my frustration out on the condiments, spattering red sauce all over my plate. "I just wish he'd be more subtle about it."
Headmaster was trying unsuccessfully to hide his glee behind a spoonful of oatmeal.
"Pixies, definitely Pixies," I muttered under my breath to Snape.
"What?" The non-sequitur puzzled him, and he paused with his teacup poised at his lips.
"Pixies. You collect them, I'll find a way to smuggle them into his office."
Snape choked on a mouthful of the black swill that he favoured, and I had to slap his back to help him clear his lungs.
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On the other hand, here's an interesting excerpt on "second sight,": "If the inheritance patterns are similar, this would suggest that second sight is related to a creative mental process and what may be hereditary is the way sensory information is processed." (Second Sight: Fact or Fiction?, by Dr Shari A. Cohn, info copyrighted (urk) by the University of Edinburgh.) So perhaps magical ability isn't passed directly through a chromosome, mutated or otherwise (at least solely), but from a peculiarity (to Muggles) in the ways Wizards' brains work. Doesn't make the Purebloods' concerns any less presssing -- you'd still want "selective breeding" to be certain your offspring had the best chance of being magical, and not like poor Filch.
So, while Miranda and Ian shared a close genetic makeup and certainly shared mitochondrial DNA (passed only through the maternal line), the difference might be that Ian's brain was somehow "wired" in a particular way which Miranda's is not. And that might be the main difference between a Wizard and a Muggle, talk of "one drop of wizard blood makes you a wizard," notwithstanding. I somehow doubt that the Wizarding World has undertaken much genetic research. (GO, HERMIONE! You go, girl! Someone needs to do it!) Fic challenge, anyone?
Sorry for the above. It's relatively fascinating to me -- I would have been a geneticist, I think, if my math and chemistry grades had been better. There are some other interesting (and maddening) sidebars to this dicussion, like the distribution of students in Hogwarts' Houses -- the percentages of purebloods in each, and the relative sizes. (One ingenious poster, probably on HPFGU, speculated that Slytherin and Gryffindor might have fewer students due to those Houses, by virtue of their characteristics, being more actively involved in fighting during the Grindelwald and early Voldemort periods; deaths resulting in fewer breeding couples, to put it bluntly, or resulting in fewer offspring than had been the historical norm.)
Sorry. I'll shut up now. It's just that there's so much in this world to explore and theorize over, above and beyond the fantasy.