Disclaimer: Harry Potter is owned by J.K. Rowling, and various other affiliates. No profit is intended in the publication of this story.
April 23, 1998: Seven days after the final battle and the destruction of Lord Voldemort.
He stood silently in the door of his hut looking toward the Great Hall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; a faint pall of fog or smoke, he could not tell which, clung to the ground and gave the buildings a ghostlike appearance in the evening twilight. The Great Hall and other remaining buildings looked out of place and not at all like the survivors of a battle; most of the collapsed structures had fallen into the vast cavern which had once been known as the Chamber of Secrets. The gaping emptiness that had once held the east and west wings made the entire school look more like a incomplete medieval cathedral than the ruins of the finest wizarding school ever known.
This man's face bore the look of a father who had just seen his dead beloved son. However, this time he would not weep. Tonight he would retire for the day, safe in the knowledge that the magnificent devastation before him was nothing and meant nothing; he had just learned that, once again, his friend would live.
"C'mon Fang, let's go an' see what's troublin' Fluffy."
* * *
Cornelius Fudge sat at his new desk, in his new office, in a new job, and thought about old things. Now the Assistant Secretary for Muggle Relations – a position of questionable importance in a world that discouraged any contact with Muggles - Fudge had the distinct impression that this was one of those jobs that would soon have its budget cut and its employees released, including himself. What a fall it was, from Minister of Magic to Assistant Secretary, still Fudge thought he should be grateful for being alive and having a job; many of his friends could boast neither.
* * *
The new Prime Minister had seen little of the real world over the past few weeks, and little of what he saw made him think of the campaign and the slim victory he thought he had earned. In short, his world was crashing down around him and, of course, it was his fault. Well, not really his fault, more the fault of the office itself that required a shallow and rickety foundation to make it appear that he, or anyone in the office, could perform miracles. His predecessor had proven that with his totally inadequate handling of the murderous rampages over the past six months.
Prime Minister Brian Thompson knew and respected his predecessor, but God in heaven, how could he just sit there saying that it would all work out? Hundreds and hundreds dead, others…he shuddered when he remembered the pictures and stories. Absolute lunacy!
However, tonight, for the seventh consecutive day in twenty-five weeks, the countryside was silent, though not yet calm - that would have been asking too much. So for a celebration of sorts Thompson called his predecessor to thank him again for a good campaign and, again, have a go at setting up a transition meeting. With the events of the past weeks it had simply been impossible to arrange and schedule, but tonight, he would make the gesture and get on with the business of running the country.
Prime Minister Thompson placed the call himself, he usually did when making personal calls. It was one of the many little idiosyncrasies which he exhibited that endeared his aids and the public to him: that personal touch. The former Prime Minister answered the phone himself, he too appreciated the human touch and all it offered to enhance his degraded status; unfortunately no one of consequence would ever note this particular gesture.
A somber "Hello" greeted the caller.
"Yes, Anthony, hello, this is Brian. How are you this evening?"
"Mr. Prime Minister, I must speak to you immediately," he said, after a brief pause to choose the correct words and tone.
"Yes, yes, of course, Anthony, I did call you, remember?" The Prime Minister chuckled lightly. "It's high time we got together."
"May I come over now, Minister?"
He always was ready to jump in, as it were, the Prime Minister mused to himself. "Anthony, it's past my bedtime. You sound a trifle jumpy. Are you alright?"
"Yes, Minister, I'm lovely." Sarcasm edging into his already clipped tone.
The Prime Minister, a bit more wary now, continued. "Well, yes, Anthony, let's talk first thing in the morning, I'll ring you at…"
"No, Thompson, that won't do." The Prime Minister noted, curiously, that Anthony had used his surname. The only other time he had done that was when… "I must speak with you in person. I'll be there at 8am, sharp."
"Very well, Anth…" CLICK! The Prime Minister stopped; he had just been told-off, and then hung-up on.
"Bugger! And I thought things were getting better," he said absently and to no one in particular. And no one answered.
* * *
Liam and Tiernan Keane had never been particularly close as brothers, though they did get along quite well at family gatherings; weddings, funerals, and other such things. Liam looked upon these reunions as more of a duty than enjoyable family events. This may have troubled him a bit if he had given it much thought, but he seldom gave it any thought.
As the eldest of seven children born to Liam (Senior) and Bridget McKennedy, Liam (Junior) had often felt burdened by the job of helping raise his siblings, and of all the children, Tiernan was not the easiest brother to bring up. Tiernan would pester him for hours at a time, sometimes begging and sometimes threatening, to stay home with the family and not "run off," as he would call it, to college. But Liam had decided to pursue engineering and architecture and once he had it in his head what he wanted to do there was nothing to change his mind.
Shortly before his departure for Cambridge, when Tiernan was 11 and Liam was 18, Tiernan was mysteriously whisked away overnight by his parents. The day after Tiernan's disappearance, the parents called a family meeting and told everyone that Tiernan would be going to a boarding school "up north" and return only at the Christmas and summer holidays.
While a couple of the children wailed their regrets, begging the parents to bring Tiernan home, the parents were resolute that this was the best thing for him. The rest of the family secretly agreed, including Liam, for their brother had become quite incorrigible and difficult in recent months. Later that same day Liam tried to pry more information about the mysterious institution that Tiernan would attend, but the parents were utterly close-mouthed about the entire situation.
With his college education, which Liam took seriously, then a job, then a family, and a fair distance now separating him from his roots, the years passed and he became something of a stranger to his old home in Dublin. Important opportunities had elevated him into an elite group of international architects and one success after another followed. Three months ago Liam had earned a well deserved commission, with his partner Michael Jason, to design a new Parliament building. Part of the old building had collapsed due to some unknown and unforeseen structural defect. Thus enjoying a successful career, family, and life in general, Liam decided to take a six month sabbatical and work on the election campaign of a friend running for local office.
For his youngest sister's wedding a few days ago, he had left his own family at home in Bath and attended the services by himself, an action that caused a good amount of discord with his parents and siblings. But all in all, everything went fine and Liam even promised to bring his family up for a visit the following summer – though only after he had been administered a healthy dose of guilt.
Tiernan had been at the wedding, too, and this was the first time the entire family had been together in many years.
When the brothers met they embraced hesitantly, but Liam was quick to notice the change in his younger brother's demeanor and saw that he had grown into a fine adult. Asking about his life, all that Liam could get out of Tiernan was that he worked for the "Ministry of Education" in London. If he pressed further, Tiernan would simply smile and charm Liam with a vague answer that left the elder brother both satisfied and feeling a bit like his pocket had been picked.
* * *
A tall, thin man in a long gray coat and an empty look on his face walked down the towpath of the Grand Union Canal in Central England, near Northampton. He carried but a small backpack and the only distinguishing feature that might draw attention to him was a striking copper-red beard and moustache. The solitary figure walked his slow cadence, never looking back and never greeting the tourists on their narrowboats. If he were followed for the day he might be seen to stop in at a pub or two where just a bowl of soup and a glass of water seemed to satisfy him. He never spoke and he never stayed in any location for more than a few hours. His exile was both self-inflicted and well deserved, he thought.
* * *
In a small clearing within a densely wooded area a mother knelt, weeping, in front of two headstones. The recently filled graves had earth piled upon them and gnawed at her like raw wounds upon her heart. Tormented, she refused all comfort. Every day she brought fresh flowers from her garden to each grave and laid them on the obscene piles of dirt, watering them with her tears. Some days, beside her, stood a man with prematurely gray hair and slumped shoulders. At times he also could be seen weeping, but more recently he just went to sit and keep his wife company in her agony.
* * *
Two Muggles read and reread the latest letter from their daughter. They had rejoiced in the news she had conveyed earlier in the week about a victory over the wizard who once had nearly ended all their lives. But the world of magic was still as much a mystery today as it was seven years ago when they received an unusual letter, delivered by an owl no less. This more recent letter spoke of death and despair, and sounded darker that they expected.
Her school's advancement ceremony was only a few weeks away and at the age of eighteen their daughter was ready to be on her own, they believed. The trip to the ceremony would be arranged, the letter also informed them, after they had arrived at King's Cross Station on such-and-such a date. A school representative in black robes would meet them and escort the friends and relatives to a special train for the journey north. They should also be prepared to be gone three nights.
Their daughter neglected to mention anything about walking through a wall.
* * *
A very short witch, wearing grubby gloves and a stained apron, turned at the sound of a door opening. The boy, a young man really, entered slowly and looked about but did not detect her. This was not much of a surprise; she was quite short and her hair could easily be mistaken for shrubbery.
The witch, seeking solitude and supposing the boy wished the same, exited quietly through the rear door. The visitor proceeded to walk about and touch a plant here and there as if he were comforting them, or perhaps, seeking comfort from them. As he reached the far wall he turned around and leaned back, sliding down into a sitting position. The only sound heard for the next hour was that of the young man weeping.
* * *
The celebrations and funerals had finally abated and the ministers, along with their employees started heading back to work. The empty positions were numerous and getting everyone to return before the funerals were complete was pointless. The Minister of Magic had sent messages to all ministry departments declaring a week long recess from work; he was careful not to call it a holiday. That break had now ended and heads from every department were noting vacancies and requesting replacements.
* * *
In a cavernous room far under the Ministry of Magic buildings in London, the stench of stagnant water and old books assaulted the senses of every worker. The spells to keep the hall dry continually failed so their work was all the more urgent. Cart after cart of books moved from the main hall to the document processing area where every book was recorded and indexed, with careful attention paid to those books written in runes, their most fragile treasure.
After the cataloging was complete the carts of books were transported to a new facility in Dover buried far into the chalk cliffs, here they would be safe and dry for many centuries. The urgency of this move was tempered somewhat today, the losses suffered by the staff were many, and it was a small, tightly knit team.
The facility director was a normally cheerful old wizard by the name of Keric Albemarle, but today, instead of his typically happy face and light whit, Albemarle stole through offices removing the personal effects and official documents of his dead employees. There were five offices to clear out, four of them from the Rune Translations team alone. All friends of his, all whom he had know socially and had visited his house for dinner on many occasions.
After performing that last duty, Albemarle sat at his desk and let his body heave a sad sigh of relief. Then he drafted a letter to the Minister asking for additional help, emphasizing his needs for employees with rune translation experience. He knew it was a long shot, runes were a difficult area of expertise, but maybe he would get lucky.
It had taken four years to put his last team together.
* * *
In a dirty room, filthy, actually, a dark robed figure sat unmoving. His pasty-white hands were all that could be seen from under the robes and they gripped the chair handles tightly. He had sat there for seven days, seldom moving, deep in thought and deeper still in pain. Everything was ruined, everything was gone, and his few friends were dead. Yet the seemingly despondent nature of this man's mind held a very small speck of happiness. Everything he had done for the past eighteen years had atoned for his sins and he was now free.
But where could he go to start over? Who would accept a pardoned criminal?
* * *
A red-haired adolescent lay in a private hospital room sleeping soundly, his chest, abdomen, and legs bandaged heavily, blood stains showing the pattern of many flesh wounds. Next to his bed stood three chairs occupied by two more red-haired men, twins actually, and a dirtied and scraped-up teenage girl holding her head in her hands. The twins had recently arrived but the girl had been there for a week.
The clock in the hallway chimed eleven PM and startled the girl. Trying to blink the perpetual weariness from her eyes she stood up, stretched, and walked over to the bed where she took the injured boy's hand, stroking it gently with her own. She then set it back down and leaned over, tears dripping off her eyelashes onto his face, kissed him softly on the forehead, and returned to her seat.
One twin looked at the other and winked, his counterpart returning a brief, sad smile. Then they both looked down and returned to their thoughts.
* * *
Nearby a thin, sandy-haired man sat on a sofa and held the hands of a much younger woman with jet black hair that pointed out in every direction, much like a porcupine. He had two small bandages on his right cheek and some blood stains on his worn out shirt, but the blood was not his own. The woman was silent except for an occasional comment to the man. The two could be mistaken for parents awaiting word about a critically injured child. Hardly breathing, the man would look up every so often, then stand and walk over to the observation window. After a few minutes he would return to his vigil and hold his wife's hands.
* * *
There were always exceptions to the rules, every rule, everywhere. Tonight the rule against visitors would be broken and not an attendant on duty, not a healer from the Director on down to the lowliest intern would bat an eye or raise a protest if they looked into the dimly lit ward. Tonight of all nights, nobody anywhere would make a change or think things out of place. He was breathing deeply and silently, like a child secure in its mother's arms; no one realized that his sleep was far deeper than any child's peaceful slumber.
The bandages that covered his battered body showed only traces of the wounds to his flesh, but no bandages could repair the damage to his mind and his soul and his heart, none but one. This one small dressing had appeared and placed itself where it would do the most good and perform its vital work the quickest. Overflowing with the only real cure, drawing from the most ancient magic known, it was secured around his shattered body. Only the hands of this unique healer would work and it would only work for Harry Potter.