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An Improbable Fiction by Aiedail
Chapter 12 : Old Secrets
 
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BOOK II
Old Secrets



Pickwick Hornby was one human being graced by the knowledge that even the stoutest of hearts could be badgered into becoming a trifle more stout once it had downed an ounce or two of the ol’ f.w. Enter: half of the Weasley Clan and the newest addition to the Department of International Magical Cooperation, a near conga-line, into the Leaky Cauldron. Getting them to London hadn’t been easy, but luckily, in addition to having committed to memory the wonders of firewhiskey, he was also quite familiar with the Knight Bus’s function and its routes, which covered every square inch of greater Wizarding Britain and sometimes even puffed over to the chunnel. It had been a ride like any of you might imagine, when considering the combined fervor of an Apparating hunk of metal driven by someone with a questionable license, the Granger-Weasley terrors, as they were affectionately dubbed within the confines of the Ministry of Magic, and several other notable figures, including the ghost of a boy who hadn’t been slated to return as one, whose death had marked the beginning of the darkest period in recent history.

Hugo had spent his second-ever trip on the Knight Bus screeching and whooping at every lurch, drawing him interested glances from the elderly Warlocks playing Wizard’s Chess in the corner. Any prior traces of insecurity had vanished from him, replaced by the same glorious vigor that had propelled him into the Forbidden Forest two years ago. A lot of time has passed, Hugo thought to himself as the countryside passed by in flashes of sheep and greenery, but I haven’t changed much except for in good ways.

Neville and Scorpius were less sure than their younger companion. They spent the ride sitting on a four-poster which had forgotten to transform to chairs and tables as the sun rose, their backs against a rattling window through which a bit of cold air was streaming and ruffling the hair around the nape of Scorpius’s neck. He shifted and cleared his throat for a considerable time, until Longbottom clapped his hands together and said in a low voice, “how are we going to defend ourselves against things we can’t kill? How can we kill things that are already dead? How are we going to get out of the afterlife? How are we going to explain why we’re even here? How--”

The bus lurched again and Cedric began to bang his fists against the door, rattling the glass. On and off, he poked the odd limb outside of the vehicle to the aggravation of Pickwick Hornby and to the extreme delight of Ernie the driver, who would slide the divider open and lean back to cackle, often sending the Bus several miles off course as it Apparated wildly, lurching and screeching, sending the unused tables and chairs into thickets in the corners.

“I think the bus wants you to stop worrying,” Scorpius said, leaning towards Neville and raising his brows at the ceiling. Neville heaved a sigh loud enough to attract the attentions of our youngest Weasley, who came buzzing over to the two on the four-poster, his lips splattering a bit of the old you-know-what as he mimicked the noisy engines of a fighter jet hovering over the atlantic, battling the odd cloud.

“I’m an air-raid,” he said, twirling around, the picture of a ballerina, and squatting as he pretended to emit a missile from his rear end with a “PHWOOSH!”

From the front seat sitting backwards, Pickwick Hornby had a premonition of the day before him as he glanced at the faces of Marjorie Barrow and Rose Weasley, whose eyebrows were puckered and whose lips were gathered in intense discussion. When their gazes turned simultaneously to the trio sitting on the four-poster, Hugo having squeezed his way between the two and now patting and rubbing their hair in varying turns, and their eyes narrowed further, questions hovering about their furtive glances and slumped shoulders, the hands skimming recent histories of significant achievements in Wizarding Britain, Rose’s own finger probing the section titled “Weasley,” Pickwick Hornby knew he was in for a rough afternoon.

So you see why he may have been feeling a trifle clever once he’d had the idea to pump the group with f.w. Not many things about working in the Department of Mysteries are certain things, and certainly, less of them were certain about the task they were about to uptake, but without question the next few days were going to be the worst in his foreseeable future. Not only was he completely unsure as to whether or not he had been cleared by any of his superiors, he hadn’t any idea himself why Hugo Weasley, Neville Longbottom and Scorpius Malfoy had been rated as “cleared for field-work.” Certainly, everyone had heard of their stint into the Forbidden Forest back in 2022 to save a herd of baby unicorns, which now inhabited Hogwarts after imprinting on these very same “rescuers” and together with Hugo Weasley comprised the ABC chapter of the National Unicorn Guild. Surely everyone had heard of the Flight of the Licorice Wands, the momentary House unity and the celebration of the return of veritable heroes and heartthrobs, but that hardly, in Pickwick Hornby’s opinion, warranted a field rating. Things weren’t adding up, and that knowledge produced a quite unpleasant sensation in Pickwick Hornby’s gut, a bit as if they were being lit on fire and then set into lead. Though that may or may not have been the firewhiskey.

And then there was Percy Weasley, busy as ever with his stabs at international peace: how did he come into this mess? And even as he listened now, Marjorie Barrows and Rose Weasley were discussing some unpronouncable Linguistic Separatist Group. Pickwick Hornby did not like not knowing, and yet at every opportunity mystery was accosting him. It is quite a nasty thing, to be accosted by something so alluring as mystery. It is nearly like being smothered, and believe you me, Pickwick Hornby would know.

What was Flitwick doing at the school to ready it for to host the Tournament? There had been whispers of whole towers added on to host the international schools, of whole units made available to eligible participants who wanted to sharpen their skill sets. And the laugh of the Ministry, though it certainly wasn’t a laugh to Percy Weasley, was the rumour that elk would be hired out for one of the tasks as part of the peace settlement with Greenland. Who the hell knew why they were at “war” in the first place? There were no armies, there was no publicity besides a small blurb in the Daily Prophet that updated each day, and on top of it all this blurb was submitted by none other than Anonymous Source. Somehow Pickwick Hornby didn’t quite believe what the papers said. There had never been a good enough reason given for the upset: setting an elk on fire, pshaw! And with a “trinket” out of his own Department! His indignation faltered and he took another sip of firewhiskey. That was probably the truest bit of information the press had released to date.

“The more I think about it, the more suspicious everything seems,” Cedric was saying, leaning over and gazing at his Ghost Butterbeer. Hugo was watching him, his bright green eyes trying to bore holes through the transparent forehead, wondering what a ghost brain looked like actively engaged in reasoning.

“How do you mean, Sir Ghost-a-lot?” Hugo was sipping at his Butterbeer. Butterbeer always made him very suave. He supposed now he would find out how ghosts responded to suaveness. He wondered why, idly, he’d never spent more time with ghosts before. Probably because most of the time they would run through a wall when they saw me, he thought to himself, and then turned his attention back to Cedric.

“The longer I spend on Earth the more I feel human, and the more I have human interests. For example, what’s this war with Greenland you’ve got on? I don’t see any soldiers, or any sign of war at all, and you’d think you’d see it in London if you saw it anywhere, wouldn’t you?” Cedric continued to gaze into his Butterbeer as if it would tell him secrets.

“Nobody really knows,” Hugo said, looking thoughtful. “Herbert says it’s because of something I did, but she doesn’t know much. Just a unicorn, you know?”

“Something you did? What have you done?” Cedric looked aghast, and was slowly backing away, moving through various bar-goers and dousing them in the chilly ghost cold particular to that downtrodden breed. He began to zoom around the whole of the Leaky Cauldron, lighting up the dim, green interior with his luminous silver body. If Hugo was seeing things right and, he believed he was, ghost Cedric was becoming rapidly more and more silver, and more and more white, until he was all aglow and shedding rainbows of light against the eerie greenish walls. All the while he shouted “Hugo’s done a war! Hugo’s done a war!”

“What?” Hugo cried, plunging his face into his hands. A feeling of guilt slumped his shoulders over and caused sweat to bead on his forehead in the dingy atmosphere. “You don’t know anything!” he said, loudly, as the population of the Leaky Cauldron all gradually turned their attentions to the boy, none of them completely surprised that he’d been in the bar for less than an hour and had already attracted such wild accusations from a ghost who shouldn’t have been a ghost at all.

“What’s this?” said a tall, thin, dark-skinned woman, just entering in from the street, letting in a stream of yellow light. Had anyone been analysing it and guessing at the time of day, they should have ascertained that it was now early afternoon and that the sun was edging ever further into the west; but as it happens, nobody was paying attention to the light at all, and rather, those who had chanced to look in the direction of this rather common-place female voice had either gone silent, mouth agape, or sulky, a couple having gone both at once.

“He doesn’t know anything!” cried Hugo, who hadn’t turned to observe the newcomer but who had kept his eyes trained on the postal ghost, who was now buzzing up and down in corkscrew formation in the corner behind the bar, much to the annoyance of the kind-looking, blond bartender. “He’s just groping straws!”

At this moment the young boy directed his attentions to Professor Neville and Scorpius with the intention of pleading for understanding, but the very words halted on his lips when he noticed that both of them were paying very rapt attention to whomever had walked in the door. Not understanding how any singular person could possibly be more worthy of attention than the fact that a ghost had just blamed him heatedly of starting a war with a nation comprised mostly of elk, which had nothing to do with him, Hugo turned his head with a dramatic “whoosh” noise toward the door, and then promptly felt his face and neck burst into flame.

You see, it is with every intention of painting a scene directly as it happened that I refrain from commenting, but there comes a time in any story in which it becomes appropriate for the narrator to intervene. The truth--and I can summon up no other method of relaying this particular information--of the matter is, this newcomer, whose name was Irma Gourd, was hot.

And don’t imagine that it was as if nobody noticed; for it was as if an angel had descended from some heavenly seat, the trumpets and harps going in the background, and the yellow beam of light that could have divulged the time lit up a halo in tiny hairs that stood up from the perfect middle heart on her head. After a time, even ghost Cedric fell still: for you all know the saying, “cold hands, warm heart.”

“Ah,” Pickwick Hornby said after a time. It wasn’t the “ah” you may expect, but rather one of familiarity and the feeling that accompanies the relief of a certain anxiety, particularly one that has recently peaked.

“Ah,” Pickwick Hornby said once more, and then clasped his hands together around a tumbler of firewhiskey as though he hoped it was capable of diffusing into his hands and then to his veins and perhaps blacking him out, or by some other method removing him from the situation: for indeed, he looked distinctly uncomfortable. Hugo got the impression that he needed to fix a wedgie in his underclothes, and so stifled a giggle with his fist, feeling light-headed.

“Allow me to introduce Irma Gourd,” said Pickwick Hornby. To Hugo’s great surprise, the name sounded vaguely familiar, though he couldn’t imagine why. And to his greater surprise, there issued from Marjie’s corner of the bar a cacophony of chortles and snorts, something Hugo might have described had he had more wits about him as the sound of a mooncalf pulling its hoof out of a marsh.

“Irma Gourd,” Marjie said, with a sharp, nearly-rude tone to her voice. Hugo squinted at her, wondering how he’d heard the name before. “This--well, this will sound rude, but are you a Muggle-born?”

“Yes,” Irma Gourd said, rolling her eyes and pushing a sheet of deep black hair behind her ear, which was studded with spikes and diamonds. Hugo’s eyes widened instinctively--that looked dangerous! And what person with a good brain stores their diamonds on their ears? That’s hardly a good hiding spot, even if your hair is as long and thick as Irma Gourd’s. “People are always asking me that, and I can’t say I don’t know why. Still, it is a bit rude.”

“Yeah,” Scorpius chanted, and Rose cuffed him on the ear.

“Don’t mind Marjorie,” Pickwick Hornby said, and Marjie let out a dismayed squeal. He then took a moment to glance around the rest of the Leaky Cauldron, nearly all of whose inhabitants were now watching the proceedings with various amounts of interest, everyone from a hag wearing a purple veil and pounding down raw sausage to a Vampire trainer complete with Vampire in tow.

“All right,” Irma Gourd said. “As long as she doesn’t mind me.”

“Excuse me?” Marjie asked, standing up and pushing her glasses further towards her eyes, nearly stamping with fury. “If you’re in any way commenting on our varied levels of attractiveness--speaking objectively, of course--”

“Marjie,” Professor Neville said, standing up. “Don’t.”

It seemed that Marjorie Barrows was not immune, even still, to the instruction of a professor, or else she seemed to realise that Neville had the right idea, after all, for she backed down and sat again, putting her nose and mouth into her tumbler full of firewhiskey, her shoulders slumped, facing away from the door. Hugo tried to think of a moment that it might be possible to tell Marjie that he thought her every bit as attractive as this Irma Gourd figure, if less tall and less--soft and springy looking.

Pickwick Hornby was just about to gather the A team, having gauged that perhaps each had had enough of his or her share of the old f.w., when Cedric’s ghost, still glowing like a diamond in the corner behind the bar, began to shout about Hugo Weasley’s having started a war again. Noticing that the Leaky Cauldron’s population seemed more than interested in this information, and not wishing to discuss anything that might, because of this, become matter of discussion, he stood up and announced that those involved with him might step out the back with him. Grudgingly, Irma Gourd came to stand at his side, followed by the rest of his ‘A team’ congregation. Sighing, and shaking his head, and wishing Harry Potter had accompanied them on this journey instead of cheating and Apparating right into the Ministry, he walked through the length of the bar, through the stares of the crowd, and led the team into the small room with dustbins and a brick wall. Pulling out his wand, he tapped a choreography of taps onto the bricks, and with a chorus of scrapes, they shifted and allowed the crew access to the crowded Diagon Alley.

* * *


From Diagon Alley it had been easy to floo to the Ministry, and Pickwick Hornby damn well wanted to know why anyone had insisted on the Knight Bus in the first place. But nobody, alas, was able to provide him a good explanation. As the troupe boarded the lift and sank through the various departments of the Ministry of Magic, Harry Potter joined them in the Atrium, followed closely, Pickwick Hornby noticed with some degree of alarm, by Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, the latter looking very close to implosion.

“Where is he? Ronald Weasley, you locate our son this instant! And Rose! Merlin, she can handle herself, but are you seriously considering--oh.” Hermione Granger stopped short, noticing the stern look on the face of the Director of the DOM and spotting a bit of wild brown hair through the lift as it descending. There was a cry of “Mum!” from the lift as it sank beneath the floor. “Mum! I love you, come find me in the Afterlife!”

Pickwick Hornby grimaced. Hermione Granger’s nostrils flared with anger, wide enough, her husband estimated, to push a Sickle up each.

* * *


“So,” Harry Potter said, clapping his hands together. If Hugo wasn’t quite mistaken, he could have sworn on Circe’s grave that his uncle was looking nervous. And he supposed he was sorry, but he really wasn’t--if anyone should have been nervous, shouldn’t it have been him? After all, a ghost had just accused him of starting a war! And everybody knew uncle Harry had stopped one.

Sitting between his mother and his sister, Hugo bounced in his seat to diffuse the palpable tension. He wasn’t sure if this strategy had been effective, especially when he caught a glimpse of ghost Cedric’s face, which was looking stern. All faculties of the imagination employed, it’s understandable that a stern ghost who emits as much rainbow-spectrum light as if he were crusted in diamonds might raise the hackles. But Hugo simply slouched back in his seat, shielding Cedric’s monumentally pissed face from his vision with his mother’s head of hair, which was more than sufficient for the job.

Harry Potter began to pace the floor. They were sitting in a small, circular room that they had been told was like the “waiting room” to the Department of Mysteries. It had white walls with an iridescent finish, and up above their heads was what Hugo knew to be an enchanted ceiling. Instead of showing the sky outside, however, it seemed to focus in on and zoom out of studying certain constellations and other celestial phenomena, such as supernovae and the moons of Jupiter. Hugo became quiet entranced by the vibrancy of the colours and stars and nearly forgot to pay attention to his uncle. This wasn’t a true problem, however, as Harry Potter was looking more nervous than Hermione Granger could remember him looking in years, not that he didn’t have good reason to be. Still, she thought, I’ll let him finish up with this “briefing” before I hex him right through this enchanted ceiling; perhaps if she was lucky he’d end up on one of the far branches of the Milky Way.

“So,” Harry Potter said again. Scorpius Malfoy shifted in his seat, pulling at the edge of his jumper under his robes. Rose had seated herself with her father, mother, and Hugo on the other side of the room, and because it was round and the chairs were placed in a semi-circle, in the middle center of which Harry Potter was pacing, Rose was facing him full-on, but refusing to look in his direction. He thought of what was about to happen if Harry Potter was looking nervous. He reasoned that he had ample reason to be anxious, and so ceased attempting to quell his mounting anxiety. His left knee began to bounce up and down.

“So,” Harry Potter said for the third time as the door creaked open behind them and everybody turned to look at who had come in. Scorpius’s stomach dropped and he felt his face pull back from his head. He was sitting in air, and his vision was going cloudy.

“Dear god, this is a motley congregation,” Draco Malfoy whispered to his wife. Scorpius recognised the familiar sound of his mother’s open palm striking his father’s upper arm.

“Be polite,” Astoria muttered. “Hello, Scorpius, dear!” she beamed at him. He gave her a weak smile and a small nod to his father, who smiled brightly, his white teeth looking flourescent. “Hello, Rose!”

“Hi, Mrs. Malfoy,” Rose said, grudgingly, after a moment. Scorpius kicked himself--a kick of the mental variety, of course--and cursed silently in the direction of Irma Gourd, who was standing at the Northmost edge of the room with her hands behind her back, next to Pickwick Hornby, who had broken into a vigorous sweat and was dabbing at his nose and forehead every so often with a handkerchief printed with pastel-coloured chintz material. In addition to having the thought: that can't feel good, Scorpius also remarked to himself that it wasn’t hot in this room at all.

Draco and Astoria took seats behind the ones Scorpius was sitting in and he felt his heart hammering loudly in his chest. Hadn’t he just promised his parents, weeks ago, he’d stay out of trouble? How was it that in all this time he hadn’t thought of them once, not even when he’d agreed, feeling nervous and excited and ready to relive his brief bout with adventure years ago, to launch himself into completely unknown territory? He wondered if it wasn’t a new kind of low in a relationship with one’s parents, that when one considers traveling into the Afterlife in search of ghosts to mentor TriWizard Champions, one hardly thinks of the old sots at all. Scorpius scratched his chin, newly shaved, turning around to take a better look at his ancestors. His dad had had another round in the fake-tan machine, and his mother’s eyebrows looked thinner than usual, but besides these things, they looked to be the two calmest people in the room. He smiled at them when they shot him a pair of inquiring glances, and mouthed, “good to see you.”

Astoria reached forward and grabbed his hand, and his father patted him on the back.

A moment later, two people sans robes were escorted into the circular room, the woman with a particularly pointed nose and wavy, dark brown hair, and the man with a pair of wide blue eyes. Scorpius felt they looked familiar, as the house elf led them forward. Both were staring intently at the ceiling.

“That isn’t normal,” the man said, looking at his wife.

“Mum! Dad!” This was Marjie, and she leapt out of her chair and ran toward the couple, who each embraced her happily. “What are you doing here? I hadn’t expected you to even have time to respond to my letter--”

“We’ll explain in a moment!” Pickwick Hornby barked, appearing to sound a bit more intense than he had meant to. He held up his hands palms out, as if in peace offering. “If you could just take your seats, we’re anxious to get started.”

“Why is Uncle Harry here?” Hugo piped up, his robes slipping down off of his right shoulder. Ron seemed to notice and stared at them for a moment, his face turning red as he struggled not to chortle out loud.

“Division secrets,” Harry smiled, tapping his head. Neville wondered if he’d imagined the momentary bee-line for the scar before the finger redirected to a temple. “Not that they’ll be secrets for long.”

“Secrets?” ghost Cedric asked loudly, standing up and hovering in midair above his chair.

“We’ll explain everything shortly,” Irma Gourd said with a hint of sugar, spice, and everything nice.

“If you’d just take a seat, Master Cedric,” the house elf said, looking wary.

“I’d rather not, thanks.” Ghost Cedric folded his arms over his chest.

“Well I’d rather you did!” the house elf said, and then held up her right hand and snapped her fingers. Ghost Cedric was seated in his chair in an instant, struggling against invisible chains. Hugo let out a large guffaw at the same time Ron wasn’t able to keep in any longer his mirth at the sight of Hugo’s badly-clasped robe, and the laughter of father and son rang around the small, circular room, and seemed to bounce around the heavens. Ghost Cedric, helpless to house elf magic, began to shine a rainbow of colours again, this time directing them into people’s eyes, if he could.

“All right, all right, order in the court,” Harry said, seeming to share an inside joke with Ron and Hermione. Hugo felt jealous. They had a lot of inside jokes, and somehow he was always left outside of them.

“Now,” Harry said, clapping his hands together again and holding them out in front of him. “Now that everyone’s here--to begin, are there any questions?”

Scorpius heard his father’s jacket rustle as Draco raised his hand.

Harry nodded.

“For one, what’s this business about the Afterlife?”

“Well--that’s where your son is going. Along with several other capable men and women.” Harry Potter looked as though he were struggling at once not to laugh and not to get sarcastic.

“I understand that, thank you, Potter. Why are they going there in the first place?”

“Oh,” Harry said, and then stood, feet apart, putting a hand on his chin and thinking a moment. “Well, it’s mostly to be able to find mentors in the Afterlife for the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang Champions. They’ll come back to the First Realm--that’s this one--as ghosts. It was Marjie’s job to research potential candidates.” He turned to her and she stood up, addressing Draco and Astoria, who were clasping hands. Scorpius felt a mild pang of guilt at the worry on his mother’s face.

“I have researched, and I’m fairly certain that if we can schedule the portal to drop us off in the right level, there are several potential candidates all living together.”

“And how could you possibly know that?” Draco was becoming slightly testy, and Scorpius knew that it was a miracle he hadn’t walked out already. Still, he turned around and glanced at his overly-tan father a bit sternly, just to get the message across. Draco furrowed his brows at his son, and turned back to Marjie.

“Well, since you’ve asked--” Marjie said, looking uncertainly at Harry Potter, who sighed and nodded, scratching his head idly. “Since you’ve asked, it seems that people with certain interests and achievements belonging to them from the First Realm have to make their way through an obstacle course, of sorts, in the Afterlife, so it doesn’t get boring, you know. After all, you spend eternity there after death, there has to be stuff to do! And if we land on level seven-hundred, that should take us through Ghostland, from where Cedric came, into the realm of Pluto. He reigns over a small portion of level seven-hundred called ‘Innisfree,’ and I’m reasonably sure that that’s where most of the early TriWizard Tournament champions or participants would have liked to stay for a while.” Marjie finished her speech with a bright smile at her parents, who mimed applauding enthusiastically.

“And why is that?” This was the voice of the Minister for Magic, who must have slipped into the room without anyone noticing. Turning around, Scorpius saw that he had probably been dragged down by his assistant, who was looking harried and disoriented, often checking a watch she wore on her right forearm.

“Sir!” Marjie addressed Amos Diggory, standing up straight, facing him, and nearly hopping back as though giving a salute. “It’s because ‘Innisfree’ in level 700 of the Afterlife is exclusively for magical people--magical deceased, mostly--and it’s full of dangerous plants and animals specific to the region.”

Neville put his head in his hands, feeling panicky. “Great,” he muttered, while the rest of the room erupted into small whispers and gasps. Harry Potter called for silence and the room gradually quieted.

“And how, pray tell, can you possibly know all this?” It was still the skeptical voice of the Minister for Magic haranguing the eardrums of all those present.

“I allowed her access to our research.” This was Irma Gourd, much to the surprise of Hugo Weasley.

“But Marjie didn’t know your name earlier today!” he stood up, protesting. Hermione pulled him down, further upsetting his robes. Ron’s eyes began to water with the strain of staying quiet. Rose patted his arm for comfort, but it didn’t make Hugo’s slipping robes less funny.

“I did know her name,” Marjie objected, looking as though she’d rather not talk about it. “I just hadn’t heard it said aloud. She sent me the research by post,” she clarified, scratching the back of her neck and looking sheepish.

“What is so funny about it, anyway?” ghost Cedric asked. “I like gourds, they’re good for you.” He raised his eyebrows waggishly at Irma, who turned to face the wall.

“It’s just--it sounds like--”

“It’s an internet joke,” Hugo piped up, surprising everyone present, including himself. He finally remembered where he’d heard her name from, but it wasn’t a name at all! “From about two decades ago.”

“My parents,” Irma muttered. “Horrible people.”

“Can we move on, please?” this was the house elf, who then introduced herself as Dot.

“Yes, right. Right you are, Dot!” Harry said, putting his hands on his hips. “Does that answer your question, M--Mister Malfoy?”

“Unfortunately,” Draco answered loudly. Scorpius rolled his eyes.

“And just exactly what is your research?” Amos Diggory had always been known in a positive light for being unrelenting, but never had any of his voters experienced it in quite this fashion before. Irma Gourd stepped out from behind Pickwick Horby’s broad frame and addressed the minister for magic, pushing a cascade of black hair back from her shoulder as she did so.

“Well, here in the Department of Mysteries, for about the last half of a decade, we’ve been working on accessing the Second and Third Realms from the first. It took volunteers at first, because nobody was sure we’d be able to come back unchanged. And the fact is, you don’t come back unchanged.”

Scorpius looked on at her otherworldly beauty with a more knowledgeable eye. He noticed Rose perk up on her side of the room, and felt his stomach flip over.

Hugo let out an “ahhhhh!” as he finally understood. Scorpius saw Hugo’s mother look down at him approvingly, with a mild glow, knowing something of how much it meant to that boy to have that.

“We decided after nearly a year of struggling to keep the portal open that it wouldn’t remain open all the time. Of course, ghosts don’t need the portal to move out of the Second Realm to the first, but they can’t get back without finding a portal. Some exist in nature--the northern lights, for example, are really ghost trails--but we saw many coming back to the D.O.M. asking permission to utilize ours.

“Similarly, we’d all come out of the Third and Second Realms changed--the ghosts--called spirits in the Afterlife, mind that!--had also changed while in the First. And,” she continued, with a glance at Cedric, “while all of us humans who had made it back had changed in a positive manner, the ghosts who had passed through the First Realm had all acquired what we’d call ‘negative’ traits. I believe that Cedric is experiencing some anger issues as a result of having been strayed from his path for too long.”

“What does that mean?” Hugo asked, but Pickwick Hornby stepped up.

“All right,” he said, “let’s keep things moving. We’ll have time to discuss individual ‘paths’ later. Any more questions?”

“Well,” Hermione Granger said, without raising her hand. “Why have you tasked Hugo to go into the Afterlife? And why are you going to make him Secret Keeper?” Hugo could see that his mother was attempting to stay calm. He also noticed in a rare burst of lucidity that this moment, between question and answer, was very threatening to his well-being and to the well-being of the magical population as a whole--in fact, to the whole world, because if Hugo’s secret got out, then almost nothing was safe anymore, least of all his life.

“Well--”

And at that moment, Percy Weasley shuffled in through the door, closing it noisily.

“Sorry!” he whispered loudly, spraying Draco and Astoria with flecks of spit. He took a seat in the back of the room.

“Ah, not so fast! Mr Weasley, just the man we needed to see,” Harry said loudly, smiling brightly. “Come on up to the front of the room, please, I’ll be needing you shortly.”

Hugo couldn’t help but notice that both of his uncles were looking very, very nervous, though Uncle Harry was clearly trying to keep it under control. What a brave man, Hugo thought proudly. And I’m related to him!

“We’re sealing off the Afterlife officially--though there are obviously still the natural portals, they don’t let over as many ghosts at once, and we have reason to keep the First Realm safe from invasion.”

“What?” This was Draco Malfoy, sounding more than slightly alarmed. “Safe from ghost invasion? Why in the world would they want to come here?”

“Hear, hear,” Cedric chanted. Dot snapped her fingers again, casting a silencing charm on the ghost. Hugo was delighted and clapped his hands once enthusiastically.

“Our little linguistic problem has been quashed,” Percy whispered to Harry, though the room was so small and everyone was paying such close attention that everyone heard anyway. Hugo noticed Marjie and Rose exchagne confused glances, while Uncle Percy continued to look somewhat sinister.

“Well, that’s good. But, well,” said Harry Potter, looking uneasily at Percy. “Well, there’s this thing--”

“--and we haven’t quite been honest with you about it,” said Percy, now addressing the whole congregation.

“In fact,” Harry said, “we haven’t even told you about it at all.”

“What is it, already?” This was Draco, near the end of his rope with these shenanigans.

“It’s hard to know how to say this, exactly,” Harry said. Scorpius had the feeling he was trying very hard not to look at him, and incidentally, Neville Longbottom and Hugo Weasley were also experiencing this very sensation. “But there’s something you don’t know about your son. Nor, you, Hermione.”

“Notice how he’s only mentioned my name?” Hermione asked her husband, looking at him threateningly.

“Well, I didn’t ask to know!” Ron said, in the worst defence of the century.

“Who else knows?” Draco asked, sounding very concerned even though he didn’t know what it was yet.

“Only two people outside of this room,” Harry said, then reconsidered. “And five unicorns.”

“Herbert?” Hugo piped.

“Yes,” Harry said, looking relieved for the momentary distraction, but quickly pulling the smile from his face as he remembered he still had to break the worst news. In the background, Draco was muttering murder on unicorns, and Astoria was attempting to quiet him down. Scorpius clutched his hands together and looked, wide-eyed, nearly wild, to Longbottom, who was looking equally dismayed. Of course, Scorpius said to himself in a last-ditch effort to make this better for himself, this was more awkward for Neville, because he was good chums with Hugo’s parents. There wasn’t as much expectation that Scorpius would have told--

“It’s just--two years ago, in mid-december, certain people--”

“Harry! If Hugo was involved, tell me straight.”

“Okay, okay, yes, Hugo was involved! He was there! But he did good!”

“What happened?”

“Hugo and Scorpius and Neville went into the Forbidden Forest for a week and found a frozen lake full of Quidropopots.”

There was silence for a moment, while Cedric burned brighter than ever yet, sprinkling everyone in diamond-rainbow light, struggling visibly against his invisible bonds. There was a screech as Rose broke the silence.

“HUGO, YOU’RE NOT--OH, DEAR LORD HAVE MERCY--YOU’RE NOT--”

“Rose!”

“Rosie, it’s all right, he’s okay!”

“HUGO WEASLEY, YOU’RE NOT A GOD, ARE YOU?”




a/n: hi all! you'll have noticed right away two important things: one, this is the beginning of the second book, woo! two, this book is broken up into parts. there will be three parts according to current plans, that take us through training, into the afterlife, and out of the afterlife. chapters will be longer from this point out, as they're going to contain more information and movement. i realize a lot of this thus far has been dialogue and characterization, and i PROMISE i have more in store for you!

in the next chapter, i'm gracing you all with the story-telling prowess of percy weasley, and he'll summarize the discussion of the next three hours in Hugo-time, and make some connections in plot points that i'm unsure have been made clear, yet, such as how greenland and the linguistic separatists tie into the tournament and the afterlife.

ghost invasions! herbert's prophetic words! irma gourd! draco and astoria! i'd be forever indebted if you let me know what you thought of this chapter.

-lily


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