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Chapter 8 : The Once and Future King
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Sometimes the most vivid memories of all are of ordinary things.. brief moments of unexpected joy that spread their rosy tinge to otherwise beige days and nights.
And of course, try and we might, there are memories that we cannot forget.. turning points which signaled the end, if only we had the wit or foresight to recognize them as such………..
The old year was dying. In a few moments it would slip away entirely, be forever beyond her reach. She wondered if the weight of the most trying experience she had gone through in the year that stole her mother, borrowed her father and tested her sanity, would be lifted when the year 1943 was replaced with 1944.
Athough she had taken comfort in their sympathy that painful Christmas night her dear friends had forced themselves into her home, she had come out here to seek space from them now. Amelia and Juliet had dragged her to the Bones family house and then made it their mission to ensure one of them was with her at all times. She appreciated their company, but it was a shackle as well as an embrace. She could not bear their pity, well meaning as it was, and there were times she needed to break free, to roam unfettered. Something deep within her stirred from its slumber and thrilled to the bitter cold of the night, and had prompted her to climb up to the ancient tree house loved by generations of Bones children to hold a frosty vigil with the old year.
The tree house, like magical tents, was a far cry from its Muggle counterpart. On the outside, it appeared to be a roughly hewn, miniature log cabin perched precariously on the boughs of a great oak tree a short distance from the main house. Inside however, it was a large, circular room filled with hammocks, sofas squished against the walls. One wall was stacked with classics like Babbity Rabbity, records were tossed a careless heap near the gramophone. Minerva had lit a fire in the rusty grate, and it warmed her as she huddled by a window, looking out into the night.
She wondered how long it would be before one of two snapped and came to find her. Amelia would be engrossed in Orion, so it would probably be Juliet. Both girls had gotten over their hurt at being excluded from her secret, but she had her own suspicions why they had been so quick to forgive. She knew they worried over her – no one had ever accused her of being blind – but the year of 1943 had been one of change, and secrets.
Minerva was not quite so absorbed in her own problems that she had not noticed the sadness that was seemed permanently present in Juliet’s wistful eyes, or that she never mentioned her family any more. Amelia, on the other hand, could be caught staring dreamily out of windows with a silly smile pulling at her cheeks, would blush rosily for no apparent reason, and Minerva was sure she had caught a split second gleam of cold metal on Amelia’s left hand, though when she blinked, it was gone.
For the first time, they were keeping secrets. They were plunging deeper into love affairs, distancing themselves irrevocably from their origins. Juliet had always preferred fictional loves, finding no Hogwarts boy any comparison to Laurie, Darcy, or Gilbert, but Min wondered if this would always last. Amelia, with her pretty face, infectious laugh and wealthy family, had always had strings of suitors, but had found them tiresome, if flattering bores, till she fell for Orion. Minerva herself had spent her school career holding everyone at a certain distance; she threw her heart into her studies, reasoning that it was highly unlikely she would find lifelong happiness in a teenage beau. Between balancing her student organizations, maintaining her near perfect grade scores, and juggling both Quidditch and prefect duties she had no time to regret, or wonder.
Deepest affection was never as uncomplicated as books made out, anyway. She was alone.. and perhaps would be as her friends married and had children and grandchildren. Not everybody gets their happy ending, or there would be no charm in fairytales. It fell to the lot of some to guard and protect, so that others could live. She did not know what life held for her. It was as yet unknown, vistas of unexplored wildernesses opening up before her. But she would face it with all the spirit she had forgotten recently. She was a Gryffindor, and even despair can be battled. She lifted her head and smiled as the new year was born and fireworks sizzled through the night sky in celebration.
In the end, the start of the new year proved therapeutic. Minerva still had no word on her father, but on her return to school she was constantly busy every moment of the day with study, Quidditch and had no energy to worry, no time to allow herself to give way to the depression which threatened to engulf her if she ever stopped. Juliet or Amelia kept a watchful vigilance over her, but the greatest difference in her life was the re emergence of Cad. She had expected a sort of awkward avoidance would arise after their spat, but it seemed instead to have broken down all boundaries between them. They had come to an unspoken agreement not to mention that night, and if their brief, carefully neutral conversations in the library or their mutual acknowledgement in the corridors was not lacking in charged tension, it was still more markedly civil than their relations had been in years.
And that, Minerva told herself, must suffice. She had no idea whether he was engaged – she left the room every time he was mentioned in common gossip, but little things – his sardonic smile flashed across the room; a sharing of a private joke when their classmates were foolish, the way his brittle court mask slipped when she smiled at him, or the way his hand flew to his hair whenever she bumped into him unexpectedly – had her grinning as foolishly.
Smiles were rare these days. A hush had fallen over the castle, and for once the rumour mills churned with tales of war, and loss, as news of the war spread. Aurors and Hit Wizards were enlisting in regiments to cross the Channel, casualties were increasing worringly, and tensions among the students were running high. This was all too evident in stress creasingly the faces of the prefects, charged with maintaining the calm, but also privy to the increasingly bad news from abroad.
“There us no need to panic, but this is a precaution we think necessary,” Minerva told the prefects firmly one January evening. Beside her, Alex nodded his agreement, straightening behind their desk. The prefects were scattered around their study; today was an only informal meet, and on every face was varying levels of discontent. Some hid it better – seventh year Ravenclaw prefect Sylvia Boot looked only mildly outraged at this imposition to her study time, similarly sixth year Hufflepuff Griselda Marchbanks appeared coolly indifferent, tugging on her long red hair absently. Others were openly rebellious.
“But Quidditch practice-” started seventh year prefect Gryffindor Ignatius Wood at the same time as sixth year Ravenclaw Percival Rookwood. They eyed each other suspiciously as Min tsked.
“Practice will be rescheduled. This is more important.”
“Double patrols are possible. But triple patrols? The idea is absurd!,” argued Altair McMillan, pushing his red hair out of his eyes in frustration. The seventh year Hufflepuff prefect was used to getting his own way. "The war isn't even in Britain!."
“I know everybody is busy, and worried, but we are the heart of the school,” Alex backed her up smoothly. “If we do not show that we are taking the war seriously, but calmly, we will have either dangerous disbelief or a full panic on our hands.”
“So triple patrols will continue in place for now, at least until we discover who killed the roosters,” Minerva completed.
“The spiders are disappearing also,” piped up fifth year Ravenclaw Gaea Lovegood dreamily. Minerva was not quite sure what Dippet had been thinking to make her a prefect, her feet generally hovered far above the ground. But then, Dippet had very little faith in the efficacy of any female prefect, so perhaps he had not really cared. At the snickers coming from the Slytherin prefects, Minerva frowned and raised her voice.
“The issue of bullying has come up yet again,” she said, moving her gaze from openly derisive Orion Black to the more unreadable sixth year Tom Riddle. He smiled at her, the merest quirk of lips, and she felt suddenly dizzy, almost swaying in her seat.
“Some of my Ravenclaws – particularly Myrtle Henderson have been victimized, but none of them come to me directly,” continued Alex, apparently not noticing her lapse. He surveyed the gathered prefects sternly, but she sourly noticed that at least three of the females; some of them, like Indira Patil, old enough to know better, still preened under his glance. He wasn’t that attractive. “I want your year mates to feel comfortable around you. No pulling rank unnecessarily, I’d rather they came to us with their problems early so we can nip them in the bud..”
Alex continued talking, wrapping up the meeting with his usual warm charm and seeing the prefects out of the study. He returned to find her gazing absently into space.
“Are you alright?” he asked diffidently. “You look tired. Don’t stay up too late on that Arithmancy essay now.”
“I’ve finished it.. I think I just have a headache coming on.”
“Go to Madam Bones in the infirmary. I’ll walk you now?” Alex offered, looking up from the paperwork he had been neatly stacking.
“No, I’m fine,” Minerva assured him. “I just need to clear my head.”
Acting on an impulse, she dropped her folders of patrols and petitions and escaped to the Quidditch pitch. It was empty for once, a rare occurrence. Slipping into the ancient robes, worn soft by years of wear that she kept in the change rooms, she kicked off her Silver Arrow 15 and left the world behind her. The wind teased her hair, whipping colour into her normally pale face, but it remained mercifully dry. There was no one else in the world but her; nothing else existed except for the feel of wood beneath her fingers, the exhilaration pumping through her blood.
And then her heart began to race for a different reason.
She was no longer alone. He met her gaze and had the audacity to wink. Flying closer, he leaned over to her and whispered
“Tip, you’re it,” before racing away.
She stared at him for a long incredulous moment before abandoning sense and dignity and following after. He had always been a first rate flier; she had never quite understood why he was not on the Quidditch team, but remained grateful for it. In the end, after a particularly spirited chase that involved her weaving in and out between stands, she lost him. She looked around, scanning the pitch, the barest frown creasing her brow.
At last she spotted him, not in the pitch itself just beyond it, hovering a few feet below the ground, his dull brown sweater blending in with the bark of the trees framing him. Muttering a silencing charm – no one could afford to leave their wand behind anytime, these days – she snuck up behind him and grabbed his shoulder.
“Tip,” she said victoriously, but even as she smiled, it changed to a horrified gasp as he slipped through her fingers, tumbled headlong off his broom to fall into a tangled heap of limbs. She sped downwards, dropped her broom to the frozen floor and knelt over him.
“Cad, are you alright?” she asked urgently. When he made no response, she pulled him over onto his back – to find him suppressing a smile that gave way to outright laughter.
“Min, I had no idea you cared – OW! What was that for?”
“You idiot, I thought you were dead!”
“I’m insulted you think a three foot tumble would finish me off,” he pouted, brown eyes twinkling mischievously.
“I’ll finish you off myself if you try that again,” she said primly. “The name ‘Cad’ is just perfect for you, you scoundrel.”
Caradoc sat up abruptly, which brought his head far too close to her and Minerva flushed, memories of Christmas worming their way back. He did not comment on it, perhaps writing it off as the wind, but he neither moved away from or closer to her.
“I need your help,” he said seriously, all traces of teasing gone from his tone.
“What have you done?” she asked, instantly suspicious.
He scrubbed one hand through his hair and fixed his gaze on the just visible Forbidden Forest.
“I – um, well, did you know there’s a ball in a few weeks?”
Despite the tension of the moment, she was forced to quell a slightly hysterical bubble of mirth; the smooth urbane Slytherin was never this inarticulate. She realized he was waiting for a reply – or perhaps trying to string together a coherent sentence, and took pity on him.
“I am in charge of organizing it, Caradoc,” she said, not unkindly.
“Ah. Well, I was hoping you would grace me with your company at it.”
Minerva hesitated, unsure of how to refuse sensitively.
“Dearborn, I don’t think -”
“I’m not asking you as a date,” he said quickly, and she closed her mouth. He rushed on, the words tripping over each other. She wondered why he was so nervous; it wasn’t as if he hadn’t done this many times before.
“I’m begging you actually. You’re the one who always wanted to be publically friends – and look, Min I need a friend right now. Every girl in Slytherin, oh and half the Ravenclaws as well, heard that my parents want me to contract a betrothal, and well, you see how it is, don’t you?” he asked beseechingly.
“Poor, poor Caradoc,” she said sarcastically, but she noticed he did have a slightly hunted look about him.
“You’re the only one I can trust, and who won’t get the wrong idea”. Minerva stiffened at this, but for once Caradoc didn’t notice.
“Please, Min. I’ve had to Disillusion myself in the corridors to escape some of the more feisty Hufflepuffs”.
She suddenly felt the January cold. So she would be the best friend, would she? At least, until a suitable bride came along to replace her. “I’m already going with Prewett,” she said flatly.
“He already told me he doesn’t mind, it was out of convenience since you are both planning it.”
“You asked him first?” she snapped, springing to her feet and suppressing her amusement at such a scenario.
He followed, and seized her chapped hands in his.
“I had to know whether I should transfer to Durmstrang,” he said unrepentantly. He looked down at her frosty glare, one of the few boys at Hogwarts taller than her and then did the unimaginable. Dropping to one knee, he brushed his lips over her knuckle.
“Minerva Medea McGonagall, will you be my knight in shining armour?” he asked earnestly. She shivered, but not from the cold. She liked his position far too much.
“Get up, you lout,” she laughed, forcing a smile.
“Not ‘til you a-gree,” he said in a singsong voice.
“We’ll be sitting with Amy and Black. Is that going to be a problem?"
He got up and seized her in a bear hug. She broke free and patted her hair, suddenly realizing she was wearing her oldest, most unbecoming robes.
“I shared a dorm with him for five years, I’ll manage,” he said cheerfully.
“Shared?” she pounced, eyes narrowing.
“Ah Salazar.. you really will be the death of me. It’s a house secret, but…. Slytherin gives NEWT students their own rooms. Ravenclaw does also actually.”
Trying not to think of how he had come across that bit of information -Sylvia Boot? Or maybe Indira Patil…- she summoned a sneer.
“Anyway, I hope your dancing has improved since the last time,” he teased, ruffling her hair patronizingly and walking her back to the castle. They bickered good naturedly until they reached the Great Hall, and then he did something that surprised her. In full view of the dozen or so students scattered about, he leaned over and kissed her cheek, before whistling his merry way to the dungeons.
She stood still as if pole axed for a moment, and then donning her most impassive face, she went in search of Gryffindor tower, and her friends.
Caradoc Dearborn woke up in a cold sweat. To any onlooker, his long lean limbs were still sprawled out heedlessly in sleep, his breathing even, but behind closed lids his mind was working furiously. Something was wrong. He meticulously set up wards and trip jinxes around his bed before sleeping, but all remained in place, or the room would be flooded in light and ringing with noise. He reached out with his senses – and found nothing. Not malfunctioning wards, but a lack of them. It shouldn’t be possible, but…
“Good evening gentlemen,” he drawled, cracking open an eyelid. The three men standing before his bed exchanged looks of consternation he glimpsed briefly as they lit their wands. The two Black brothers seated themselves unasked on the foot of his bed, while Avery remained standing behind them. Caradoc’s eyes narrowed.
“How did you slip through my wards?” he asked, unable to help himself. He was not playing the game well tonight, but then, he had tired of it long ago. A smug smile flickered past Avery’s face, but the Blacks remained expressionless. Orion Black was the pattern scion of the Black family, with his aristocratic profile, cool grey eyes, currently obscured by his elegant fall of dark hair. His younger brother Alphard resembled him only slightly, his round chubby face lacking the refinement of his brother’s chiseled features, his eyes a less interesting blue, his hair a dull brown. When they were side by side, as they were now, it was if Alphard has served as a rough draft, or was an amateur reproduction of the sculpted masterpiece that was Orion Black. Despite this – or because of it – Caradoc had always liked Alphard better.
The silence stretched out for some time until Caradoc yawned ostentatiously.
“Look chaps, should I just go back to sleep, or do you want something?”. Definitely not playing the game well tonight.
“You haven’t spent any time with the Brethren recently,” Orion said coolly.
“The last time I did, it was an excuse for Tom Riddle to lord it over everyone,” he said contemptuously. Another look passed between the three, at the word ‘lord’ Alphard actually snickered. He quieted at glare of his brother, who appeared to be spokesman.
“Dearborn, you have taken no part in the initiation of first years, have rarely been in the common room and never in Brethren’s chambers. You are in grave danger of losing you rank," Orion said seriously. 'More is expected from a triumvir, you know that!"
“You also haven’t had a woman since – wait, when was the last time you had a woman,?” queried Avery.
“Shut up, Avery,” Orion and Caradoc said simultaneously. Avery merely smiled.
“You may be getting leg shackled to that pretty Bones dish, but Dearborn and I-” he broke off as he found Orion’s wand at his neck.
“I don’t want to hear another word about my girl from you,” he ordered, eyes darkening dangerously.
Caradoc cleared his throat. “If you are quite done, gentleman? Consider me warned and leave my chamber,” he requested.
The three Slytherins’ faces cracked into identical grins.
“Oh, this isn’t a warning,” Avery said gleefully. “This is a summons.”
Caradoc forced his face into an impassive mask.
“Lead on,” he said, dangerously quiet. They did not touch him – he had not fallen that far yet, but they waited as he donned his Brethren robes and stepped out into the torch lit corridor. The Black fell in place beside him, and Avery brought up the rear, and as they walked silently through the winding passages, he was reminded forcibly of the Muggle WWI talking pictures Min was so fond of. He quickly turned his mind away from that topic – Min was a subject that might well kill him where he was going.
At last they were there, in the unlit cavern miles below Hogwarts proper. The moment he squelched ankle deep into the phosphorous water lining the cavern floor, it caught fire, flamed into a maelstrom that surrounded him.
“Who dares go here?” boomed a deep voice, echoing throughout the cavern.
“I am a true son of Salazar, and I seek counsel with my brethren,” Caradoc intoned unenthusiastically. Awed as he had been in fourth, and even fifth year, the melodrama of the Brethren had begun to grate. He rolled his eyes as the maelstrom spun impressively before clearing to reveal the familiar den of anarchy. Lavishly hung with green silk banners, the tooled furniture was of far better quality than that of the common room. A handful of young men were scattered around the long room, drinking, gambling and smoking. One half dressed youth was passed out on a hammock with a similarly attired young lady, her identity, if little else, hidden by her dark mane.
Caradoc’s lip curled in disgust and even Orion sneered.
“He does realize he’ll have to modify her memory?” he queried.
“Naturally,” drawled a silky voice from behind them. Caradoc turned to see Tom Riddle leaning carelessly against the mantelpiece, twirling a dented scepter, its shine long dulled, in one hand. A fire blazed behind him; green of course. Salazar did like tradition.
“Mulciber does know the rules,” Riddle continued. “Sit down, Caradoc.”
Caradoc remained standing, meeting Riddle’s eyes impassively. Riddle straightened and smiled contemptuously, and Caradoc felt a hand clamp on either shoulder and forcibly seat him in a chair before Riddle. He spared a quick glance of betrayal for Orion, whose mouth tightened in response. On his other side, Alphard’s face was carefully neutral.
“Do you think Slytherin got along with his old man?” Caradoc asked randomly, noting with interest the whitening of Riddles knuckles as he gripped the scepter more tightly at his words.
“What?” asked Alphard blankly.
“Well look around,” Caradoc waved his hand expansively, encompassing the opulent room with its carved wooden panels and jade inlaid tables. “And then there’s the fancy entrance, the rumored existence of a filthy great Chamber, the whole secret order of Brethren. Either Salazar had daddy issues, or he was seriously compensating for something”.
“I tire of this,” Riddle intoned, his mouth thinning.
“Or maybe he secretly wanted to be a playwright!” Caradoc continued recklessly. “I mean- ” he found himself gagged with a flick of Riddle’s long fingers, and had to content himself with glaring furiously at the sixth year.
“Yes, you might have seniority,” agreed Riddle uncannily, his eyes boring into Caradoc’s. He smiled unpleasantly as Caradoc's eyes widened in surprise. Riddle couldn't possibly see into his mind. Could he? Did he dare? No sixth year should have the audacity, he was Caradoc Dearborn, one of the three highest ranking brothers in the entire continent! He was a triumvir!
“But you haven’t been acting the part, have you?" continued Riddle. "Neglecting your brothers..no hazing of the lowerclassmen.. spending time with bloodtraitors…one would think you had no pride in your House, my dear Caradoc.”
Caradoc was muttering garbled curses under the gag and Riddle smiled unpleasantly. He waved an imperious hand and Caradoc noticed a truly hideous gold ring he had never seen Riddle wear before. He heard rather than saw the room empty from his position before Riddle and wondered idly what they would do with Mulciber and his friend. Only Riddle, Caradoc and the two Blacks remained.
“Your thoughts betray you, Caradoc,” Riddle said ominously. Despite his level best, Caradoc could not suppress the image of Minerva that flashed before his eyes. She was scowling in thought, her green eyes narrowed and her dark hair flying loose of its braid. She had been unaware of him watching her as she bent over her Transfiguration essay, and her face had none of the brittle hardness it assumed whenever they met.
Riddle laughed, a long low sound. “I will never understand it,” he said incredulously. “In the prime of life, the scions of the oldest families, and you throw away centuries of pride to pant over some chit. Even you, Orion, are not immune. Do not think I have not noticed the decline in your dedication of late.”
Orion coughed. “My lord, Amelia is pure of blood and proud of her lineage.”
“As she should be,” Riddle noted. He turned back to Caradoc, who was staring nonplussed at Orion.
“I will not, at this stage make you part from your lady love,” Riddle promised. “Indeed, it will be useful to me to have you pursue your courtship. She is close to that mudblood loving fool, Dumbledore, and I need a pair of eyes and ears there. You will report to me. That is all.”
Riddle raised the scepter and extended the tip to prick Caradoc’s throat. Caradoc blinked and found himself transported back to his own chamber. He landed unceremoniously on his rear and ripped the gag from his mouth. Livid beyond belief, he strode down the tunnel to Orion’s room, wand raised. He slammed shut the door and pushed the slighter man against it.
“What the hell?” he roared.
Orion twitched out of his grip, rubbing his neck. He cast a quick spell around the room as Caradoc began to pace around his room. Orion’s chamber was far neater than Caradoc’s, his books were stacked neatly on his desk, and his bed made – probably by the house elves. Orion had finished his incantation, and was rummaging around in the cabinet beside his green velvet four poster bed. He pulled out a slightly dusty silver flask and conjured two glasses, filling them with a strong smelling amber liquid. He pushed one on Caradoc, when the tawny haired boy made to refuse, he rolled his eyes disgustedly.
“Trust me, you’re going to need this,” he insisted.
“I don’t want a drink; I want to bloody kill you!” Caradoc spat.
Orion shrugged. “I don’t know where your head has been, soldier, but things have changed around here.”
“Obviously! Since when do seventh years take orders from anyone? I did not put up with all that shit for years to lose my rank now. What were you playing at, Black? Mulciber I understand, but you?”
“I’m surviving, Dearborn,” Orion snapped. “There is a war on, and the revolution we’ve been waiting for is coming. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in our lifetimes, there will be change.”
“Revolution,” Caradoc repeated flatly.
“Don't you think it's past time to cleanse our world of all the filth that we’ve accumulated? You heard it as much as I did growing up, about pruning the garden and cutting off infected limbs, but it's real now, Caradoc. People are actually doing things about it rather than sitting around talking.”
“When did Riddle become our glorious leader? What the bloody hell was that down there?”
Orion hesitated. “He - he has strange powers. Powers normal full grown wizards don't have. You saw how he Apparated us out - that shouldn't be possible even outside school. I'm guessing from what he said that you felt him in your mind as well... he's the most talented student Hogwarts has ever had, and when he goes after something, he can’t be stopped.”
Caradoc shook his head in denial but at last accepted the brandy. Orion reclined against the wall and watched him pace again.
“What was that word he used?’ Caradoc snarled. “I’ve never heard it before. Blood.. blood traitor? Is that it?”
“Riddle coined it. It’s what he calls families that are pure, but have… errant sympathies,” Orion said with a curl of his lip.
“When did all of this happen?” Caradoc asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Wake up Dearborn! See what is staring you in the face, whether or not you like it!” Orion straightened, his voice rising.
“These ideas have always been there. In your family, in mine, in every pureblood dynasty, we’ve always known the world was degenerating. Every generation, we become weaker.”
“Because we keep marrying our cousins. It’s hardly a recipe for -”
“Don’t be obtuse Caradoc. You hate groveling as much as any blue blooded male. Why should we have to spend our whole lives hiding who we are, for the sake of lower life forms? Why should we hide who we are?”
“Yes, but what has Riddle done to be crowned the heir of Slytherin?”
Caradoc spoke the words carelessly, but they lingered in the air, almost tangible, as he froze. He met Orion’s eyes, a troubled dark grey and though his lips moved to form the thought on both their minds, his tongue could not move. Orion nodded nonetheless in acknowledgement of the double bind they were caught in.
“It’s time to pick a side, Caradoc. I can only hope for your own sake you make the right decision.”
Caradoc drained his glass in a single draught.
“So do I,” he said slowly. “So do I”.
A.N So was that enough action for you? Please do drop me a line, I love hearing from you! Massive kudos are owed to WitnessToItAll, who came up with the amazingly apt nickname "Cad" for Caradoc =)
Title is from the T H White Novel, characters from JK
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