"No point on working on the Elixir until Miguel Almeida has the analyses," he said dryly, when I questioned his copious (for him) leisure. "And Minerva saw fit to assign Granger the First Year Potions class during one of my absences, so I've less marking to do."
My jaw dropped.
"And you're letting her? She's only a Sixth --"
He shrugged. "She's skilled enough -- better than any of the Sevenths. Merlin knows she's bossy enough to keep them in line. And there's a precendent -- I taught it myself for a few weeks, after Professor Burkett splinched himself coming back from a conference in Geneva. I was a Seventh at the time, though."
It was not a totally unexpected tactic on Minerva's part, either in regard to Granger particularly or the Sixths and Sevenths in general: while she was determined to keep the students' lives as normal as possible, there was a decided shift of focus away from the more academic classes toward the practical. I fully expected, any day now if not by the end of term, to be asked to release the Upper Forms to give them more time with their practical magical work -- and the thought didn't distress me nearly as you think it might.
"Yes, I know Granger's competent, but it's hard to believe you haven't pitched a fit over it," I muttered, and pulled off my glasses to rub at my eyes.
"Unlike certain masochists I might name, I have the sense to accept that I've too much to do," he retorted with a smirk, nodding at the stack of essays beside me. "Why do you insist on inflicting this on yourself? Isn't the factual information enough?"
"What does it matter how the average Muggle housewife cleans her floors?"
I stared at him. "You had Home Life and Social Habits for your text, didn't you?" I accused.
"Shite -- Wigworthy ought to be strung up by his toenails. This is precisely why Albus and I developed a new curriculum.... Knowing facts isn't the point -- especially asinine things like the names of Muggle cleaning utensils," I said wearily.
"I know you don't teach the mundane idiocies," he said patiently, "I was attempting to.... Never mind. You've apparently lost your sense of humour for once. I'm merely suggesting you push yourself too hard."
"There's a lot at stake," I said grumpily, and considered telling him to bugger off: one free afternoon did not qualify him, of all people, to lecture me on working too hard. Then I stopped and gawped at him.
"You just made a joke," I said in astonishment.
"I attempted," he corrected.
"Not sarcasm, not wit, a joke. Teasing, actually."
"As I indicated, it obviously failed."
"Has hell frozen over while I wasn't looking?"
"Hard to tell in the winter Highlands -- much of a muchness. Come here," he demanded.
I sighed, pulled myself out of the desk chair, and went to curl up on the sofa.
"Tell me why there's so much at stake."
"To whom am I having to justify myself, my husband or the deputy head?"
"Both, and it's simply an explanation."
"All right. To put it bluntly, I don't give a damn if they remember the dates and the piddly facts. Or at least I don't care that much. The factual information isn't all that important. The historical trends are."
"How could facts be unimportant?"
"Take, for example, the current unit that the Fifths are on now -- this week it's the Armistice and Treaty following World War I." I hesitated. "You know nothing at all of Twentieth-Century Muggle history, do you?"
"Very little," he admitted readily. "It wasn't required at the Oxford doctoral level."
"The First World War was a result of -- oh, bloody hell, let's not go back that far -- anyway, Germany was the aggressor, you know that at least?"
"Fine. After Germany had surrendered, the opposing nations met to discuss the treaty and the sanctions against Germany. Those nations which had been most badly injured were anxious to make Germany pay -- literally, monetarily -- for the damage. Only a few leaders advised leniency on the grounds that the German people had been victims of the war just as much as the French, Belgians, or British. The counsel wasn't taken, and Germany was forced to send vast amounts of cash and materials out of the country to pay this 'debt' at a time when its people were desperately needy themselves."
"To the victor go the spoils," Severus said with a shrug.
"Which is fine in theory -- particularly when you're sending a Roman legion against natives with little more than rocks for weaponry," I said with an exasperated glare. "It's something else again when you're dealing with a well-established modern society and government. The point is, Germany was already in dire economic straits after the war, and that was worsened by the global economic depression that hit in 1929. A promise to strengthen the economy is largely how the National Socialists came to power -- that, and national pride, which had taken a beating as well. And the leader of the National Socialists was a man names Hitler --"
He obviously had heard of him --
"-- who used his power to not only grab territory from weaker surrounding nations, but to implement his own personal beliefs. And as a result, over six million people were murdered -- coldly, scientifically -- based on the fact that they were not 'Aryan.' They were Jewish, Gypsy -- homosexual, political dissenters -- it really didn't matter, though Jews were the vast majority of the persecuted. Even if they had been integrated into the German society, they were not racially pure."
He got it. In spades.
"You want them to understand the parallels between the societies, then," he murmured uncomfortably
"It goes a little further than that. Hogwarts students get some general history from Binns' class -- assuming they're not asleep when he imparts it. But the problem is, it's always presented from a very biased wizarding point of view -- the nasty Muggles and their Spanish Inquisition, or the witch hunts on the Continent. Muggles are set up to be the enemy -- us and them. And I think what Albus wanted me to get across to them more than anything else was, that there is no them. There's only us -- humanity in all its wonderful, messy diversity."
I pulled off my glasses and rubbed at my eyes.
"Stop that," he said sharply, and reached over to tug my hand away from my face. "No quantity of Soothing Drops will help if you insist on overdoing it to this extent and then irritate it further." He softened the harsh words by pulling me to him and settling me against his chest, in the curve of his arm. "Close your eyes." He plucked the glasses from my other hand and put them out of reach.
"So," he continued slowly, "You're really, at the core of it, trying to teach them Ethics and Humanism as well."
"Exactly. A little bit of everything, actually, just through History, Art and Literature. Albus admitted my Liberal Arts background was ideally suited for his purpose."
"I wondered," he said, "when you launched into the 'Consequences and Actions,' bit with Malfoy that first year."
"Good God, you were lurking, weren't you?"
"I try not to be that blatant," I admitted, "but... I feel, very strongly, that we're running out of time. I suppose that's why I push so much."
"That's as may be," he said firmly, "but neither Minerva or I need you on the point of collapse. Let the Deputy Head think about this a while and see what he comes up with."
"All right." I reluctantly tried to pull away -- he wasn't a cuddler, and this was a rare event -- but his arm tightened about me.
"If you're going to hold me hostage, you'd best distract me, then," I said testily -- purposely, because if he felt it would irritate me, he might keep me there longer. "You promised to tell me about the Elixir and the Prophecy -- might as well do it now."
"Very well. What did you deduce from the discussion with the South Americans?"
I lifted my head to glare at him. "I know why you do that, you know. You want to see how much you can get away with not telling."
He stared at me down his nose, and his mouth twitched upward. "Force of habit." He settled me back down against him.
"No one knows how old the Elixir is," he began. "The first useful references appear in Mayan and Incan literature, though the Greeks and Romans mentioned it. How it migrated to the Americas, I don't know. We probably never shall.
"It confers on the drinker an invulnerability to all known hexes, poisons, and physical assaults. There also appears to be considerable longevity involved, though I would hesitate to say immortality. Whether it actually involves a heightening of powers or not I also question -- it takes a skilled and powerful wizard to brew it in the first place, and it's difficult to separate the brewer's and drinker's powers from any the potion itself might confer," he noted dispassionately, glossing over the fact that this placed him squarely in the 'skilled and powerful' category -- not that I'd ever questioned it.
"So no spells, even the Unforgivables, would have any effect whatsoever against him," I murmured.
"Precisely. Even at his weakest, Voldemort is a force to be reckoned with in terms of his power; he could, in theory, come out of hiding and confront the Wizarding World directly with the Elixir under his belt."
"How did he learn of it?"
"My fault, I'm afraid. He'd set me the task of finding an equivalent to the Philosopher's Stone. I researched across Europe to locate references to similar potions -- useful references, that had some indication of the physical and chemical components. Do you know of the Dresden Codex?"
"Mayan literature -- one of the Codices that helped decode Mayan writing, wasn't it?"
"Exactly. It led me to the discovery of an Aztec Herbal. The necessary incantation and most of the ingredients were described in some depth, but I wasn't able to find enough descriptions of the brewing to ever sucessfully complete it. Obviously something's come to light recently -- Gerhardt knew what to look for."
"And the Prophecy?"
He shifted a bit uncomfortably. "How much -- I beg your pardon, but I'm not trying to evade now -- how much do you know of Harry Potter's background?"
"Before the meeting, not much. All I've picked up from the Prophet is that 'Boy Who Lived' phrase, but it's never been explained to me until this week. Albus seemed more than usually intent on protecting him, but that's all I know."
He was silent for a long time.
"I'd best start at the beginning, then," he said. "Trelawney has, to date, made no entirely accurate predictions. Short-term prediction is, however, vastly different from prophecy. Prophecy is taken very seriously, and the signs are very clear -- it's much like a possession of sorts, and the omens that confirm it is genuine tend to appear in short order. She has made only two, nearly twenty years ago, and Albus took it to heart. The Prophecy indicated, in brief, that from the union of two lions would come a phoenix that might finally defeat a great serpent. That's as much as I knew of it at the time -- Albus always kept the details of it secret to prevent Voldemort from taking any specific preemptive action.
"The use of 'phoenix' has interesting connotations, you see. I'm sure you're aware of the mythological significance, but what you may not know is that of all the magical substances, the phoenix feather is the most prized and powerful, and its primary use is as a wand core. As Ollivander would tell you, the wand chooses the wizard: throughout history very few wizards have been chosen by a phoenix feather core, and they invariably become very powerful, whether for good or ill. As powerful as Albus was, he did not have one -- that should give you some indication of the degree. Voldemort's wand has a phoenix feather core, as does Potter's. I think that is what saved the boy two years ago -- Voldemort did not know the composition of Potter's wand, and therefore did not anticipate the interaction between the two.
"At any rate, it became obvious early on that Potter was probably the child in question, even before he received his wand -- he was an early bloomer, so to speak, and by the time he was a year old he was demonstrating as much power as most five year-olds."
He hesitated again, reflecting, and then said wryly, "You'll push me for more anyway -- I might as well tell you all now, and get it over with." He settled me a little more firmly against his side.
"James Potter and Lily Evans were in my Form, both Gryffindor. They married shortly after they left Hogwarts. You would call them activists. Far from simply refusing to support Voldemort, they actively opposed him. Potter was decent enough, I suppose, when Black wasn't egging him on," he muttered, "but he didn't deserve Evans. She was brilliant, and Merlin knows what she'd have accomplished had he not distracted her. They waited several years before producing young Potter. That's when things started to go badly wrong.
"Word of the Prophecy made it out, of course -- and Voldemort pegged the Potters as a prime target. James was almost killed in an attack, and they were forced into hiding."
The 'Secret Keeper' business?" I softly asked him.
"Yes -- it's the Fidelius Charm. One person alone knows the Hiders' whereabouts. It's as though all physical presence of the persons disappears. One remembers them, but can find no trace of them, even with the most advanced Dark Magic. I've since learned that Black was initially meant to be their Keeper, but for some reason Peter Pettigrew was substituted, either before or after the fact. It's a difficult spell to perform at best, even for someone as powerful as Albus, and to transfer Keepers is unthinkable unless the original Keeper has died. Albus wasn't involved in the original charm or the transfer -- the idiots probably tried to do it themselves. Ordinarily the Keeper is bound by very strong loyalties to the Hiders, but it evidently didn't take. That, or Voldemort had already corrupted Pettigrew, though I hadn't seen him at Death Eater meetings prior to that time. It was a moot point later. After the Potters were killed Voldemort fled and there were no more meetings until his resurrection, so I shouldn't have seen Pettigrew afterward. I only learnt of the substitution a few years ago.
"So Pettigrew betrayed them. We were instructed to meet Voldemort near Godric's Hollow -- the Potter's home -- though we weren't told who the victims were to be, or that it was anything more than an ordinary raid. It was a considerable shock to find it was the Potters."
"Yes," he admitted. "I was there. I saw it all. Voldemort, Malfoy, myself, the Lestranges, and a few others. I watched them torture James down below, and threw a few Crucios, myself. Voldemort had gone upstairs looking for the child. I followed him, and just as I reached the head of the stairs I heard Lily defy him, and then Voldemort cast Avada Kedavra at Harry. Lily blocked it with her body and died instantly. Voldemort cast it again at the child, and it rebounded. The repercussion threw me off my feet and knocked me out for a few minutes."
He shuddered. "Whatever humanity Voldemort had left, it was gone after that. He was crawling past me toward the stairs as I was coming around. He barely looked human, he was so badly burned. I managed to stay quiet and he ignored me, and left the house with the assistance of the others." He smiled grimly. "They left me there. I wasn't valuable enough to them, and Voldemort was in no position to worry about me. They set fire to the lower floor and fled. And as soon as I was certain they were gone, I pulled the child from his crib, got us out of the house, and left him in the back garden, fleeing myself. I'd no idea whether Voldemort had survived, and I wasn't about to lose the advantage by betraying myself so blatantly to the other Death Eaters. I sent an urgent message to Dumbledore telling him of the attack and that the child still lived."
"So you were already working for Albus, even then?"
"Yes. For a little less than a year, I think. I'd already determined Voldemort was mad, and regretted my allegiance to him. I was being quite truthful with you last year when I told you that, and my personal convictions about the inferiority of Muggles and Muggleborns remained for some time, although I had moderated my views well before you came to Hogwarts."
He was done: I don't think he could have continued, even had he wanted to. His fingers were clenched into my shoulder, quite painfully, and the knuckles of his other hand, resting on the arm of the sofa, were white.
"I told you I'd done terrible things," he said eventually, with a faint 'I told you so,' note in his voice.
"But you neglected to tell me you'd done some very decent things, as well," I said dryly. "You didn't have to save Harry. You didn't have to send Albus a message. You could have excused the whole thing away, said you weren't there at all, or you weren't in a position to save Harry."
He sighed, irritated.
"You and Albus -- constantly trying to find some good in my motives," he grumbled.
"I wasn't talking about motives, I was speaking of actions. They're two completely different things. Why did you?"
He thought about it a while. "I've no idea -- I simply didn't think about it. Lily had always been decent to me, one of the few Gryffindors who showed me any respect. Perhaps it was that, the shock of seeing her step in front of the boy, and die for him."
"Hmmmmm." I snuggled a little closer. Yes, that would do it for him, even at that early date, I think: he cared far more for others' respect than regard or affection.
"How did Voldemort return, then? Just lying low until last year?"
"It began several years before that, actually. And that is a mystery I've been unable to unravel. I thought he was probably dead -- his physical body certainly expired. But I suspect there were some exceedingly Dark Magics used to ensure that his consciousness and soul, such as it is, survived. He was deeply involved with Salazar Slytherin's more esoteric and dark research, and I assume he found something effective in that."
"How was Pettigrew captured?" I eventually asked sleepily. (The fire was warm and so was he, his voice soothing, and I was intensely comfortable and unquestionably tired.)
"Hagrid. He was in Knockturn Alley on an errand and saw Pettigrew. He had the sense to floo for Alastor rather than going to the Ministry -- they'd have discounted him. But not Alastor, of course -- he Apparated in, disarmed Pettigrew, and Hagrid subdued him until Alastor could fetch the Ministry Aurors. Probably literally sat on him, knowing Hagrid --"
A shrill little alarm went off in his pocket: he cursed and pulled away from me.
"Emergency -- Minvera needs me --" he threw over his shoulder as he sprinted for the door.
Good Lord, what now? Damn it, he was really starting to open up, too.
Disgruntled, I stretched out on the sofa to think this through.
Harry Potter was, then, thought to be some kind of predestined hero or savior. It was funny, in a way -- he was likable enough, but not the type you'd see as heroic, Quidditch skills notwithstanding. He didn't excel at anything other than that, as far as I could tell, though Severus had told Almeida he thought Potter had the potential to be powerful -- and as I'd sensed in my classroom corridor, barely a month before.
I irritably shoved the thoughts aside; I didn't put much stock in prophecy or predictions, though the little voice in the back of my head told me it was foolish to dismiss them, given everything else that was possible in this world. I closed my eyes and waited for Severus to return, and dropped off into a doze, only rousing myself when the clock chimed five.
Severus hadn't returned, so I went back to marking, ate supper in my rooms, and eventually went to bed alone. Severus didn't come in during the night, and I didn't learn of the emergency until the next morning at breakfast, when Minerva told the students.
Back to BNW Index
'to the victor go the spoils': closest actual cite I can get to this is "When spoils by lot the victor shall obtain" from the Ninth Book of Vergil's Aeneid.
There is an Aztec Herbal (1552).
My decision to put Snape at Godric's Hollow on the night of the attack may be controversial, but it makes sense to me on this basis: Dumbledore seems to know a lot about what happened that night. Either he's somehow tapped into the Harry's infant memories of that night -- which requires some kind of memory spell or strange Spock-like mind-meld powers on his part -- or he has an informant who was there. It makes sense that it could be Snape. (Sirius Black also showed up, per Hagrid's story to Fudge and the teachers in Hogsmeade -- but only after Hagrid; you'd think Black would have taken Harry somewhere himself, not left him outside the burning house.) I think it's a case of a confused, physically wounded Snape acting by instinct, who then panicked and left the child outside -- but who then had the decency to send a message to Dumbledore. And he didn't realize at the time that Pettigrew was the one who betrayed them: the info that we hear from Sirius and Lupin in the Shrieking Shack is news to him (although it doesn't stop him from behaving like a git).
The Secret Keeper business has been, frankly, driving me nuts. Why the switch to Pettigrew? What was Sirius doing that necessitated the switch? And then I re-read the Shrieking Shack incident: Sirius claims it was a "bluff," that Voldemort would naturally think of Black -- and so Black suggested Pettigrew instead. Because Pettigrew was a "weak, talentless thing." (I kind of wish I hadn't rediscovered that -- I seem to have now lost what little respect I had for Sirius.... I think even the Sirius Apologists will have to admit that's a very nasty, callous thing to say, no matter if it's true or not -- and demonstrates that Black is still arrogant and nasty enough to deserve anything I dish out for him. :P)
I had a significant Aaaaaaaaaack moment when I started thinking about the logistics of Snape's version of Godric's Hollow and the the implications of Harry's duel with Voldemort in GoF -- namely, that Snape indicates that Voldemort did not participate in James' death directly, but went straight uptairs; I think I've figured out why it's possible, though, so if you feel there's a discrepancy too, go here. (Too long to put in a footnote.) Many of you may say "Well, duh." Congratulations for figuring it out before I did.