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Ignite by Slide
Chapter 23 : Burn Through
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 16

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'I know it's possible,' Albus said. 'Mum did it once.'

'All right,' said Rose. 'How?'

The two of them sat cross-legged on the floor of the Library, surrounded by piles of paperwork Albus had gathered over the last few months of his supervision of the school wards. Extensive research had been done into the type of wards which protected the school, not just against magic but also physical threats. They were some of the most remarkable protections in the wizarding world, not just for their resilience but also for their flexibility and subtlety. But it was those nuances which made them less useful under the circumstances; under normal circumstances it suited the castle to not block out the magical denizens of the Forbidden Forest entirely, for that would also block out legitimate migration by Beasts, Beings, and Wizards, but rather to drive them away. For years they simply made it uncomfortable for any who would do harm to approach.

But, so agitated as the Forest had been by Thane's magics, 'discouragement' was no longer sufficient. The rampaging dangers came anyway. It was hypothetically possible, they both knew, to change the wards to physically repel anyone or anything trying to approach the castle, but the means to alter the wards so was within the Headmaster's Office. Worse, they weren't even sure how to do such a thing; many would study Hogwarts' protections for academic fascination, but the school's leaders had not been so witless as to leave the control methods of their great security a matter of the reasonably public record of the school's Library.

'You know,' said Albus after a long moment's consideration. 'I'm not sure.'

'Maybe you should ask her. It sounds topical.'

'It's possible that she sprouted wings and flew up to the window.'

'Good, let's do that.'

'She broke through the window with the mystical hammer of the god Thor, of course.' Albus looked at her sideways.

'A wise plan.'

'So all we really need to do is find the resting place of Mjolnir.'

'Let's get to it.'

Albus sighed. 'Rose.'


'Are you even listening to me?'

'Of course I am.'

'Only you just agreed to break into the Headmaster's Office using a magic hammer of a thunder god.'

Rose guiltily tore her attention away from the wireless she had been fiddling with while they went through the paperwork. 'I was...' Any excuse, a joke or otherwise, faded as she saw the reproachful look on Albus' face, and she sighed. 'How the hell has he been running a whole radio show without either of us knowing?'

He sighed again. 'Are we going to focus on the break-in?'

'I didn't even know Ravenclaw House had their own wireless transmitter -'

'It's short-range, he'll have had to have adapted it to a wider broadcast.'

Rose stared at him as if he'd grown another head. 'How did you know about that while I didn't, and how the hell did Malfoy manage to adapt a wireless transmitter?

'While I'll argue he's more competent than you give him credit for, I suspect Jones had a hand in this,' said Albus, rather unhappy he was being prompted to defend Scorpius while it was Rose who had been fixated upon whatever he was up to. 'And the Ravenclaw radio was never a secret.'

'I didn't know about it.'

'That's because Saxby doesn't like you very much,' said Albus before he could stop himself. He was punished immediately with the look of surprised hurt that flashed across Rose's face, and he hurried to amend himself. 'I mean, it's against school rules. It's a sort of underground thing. Saxby was in charge of it; he thought you'd tell.' A more petty man than Albus would have relished at the turnabout of Rose being excluded because people assumed she would work against them. But he was not petty, and so he only felt a surge of sympathy for Rose and her plight.

Even if Saxby had likely been right.

'Yes, well.' Rose brushed a lock of hair behind an ear, obviously trying to disguise her hurt. 'I didn't know Malfoy was using it.'

'Neither did I,' said Albus, trying to read the section of Hogwarts, A History on the Headmaster's Office. Unhelpfully it was giving him very few clues as to how enterprising students might break in.

'I mean, he acts like even more of an arse than normal, skulks around and avoids people, keeps peculiar hours. And then he's doing things like, like this, like writing letters for sick children and still bringing me breakfast! Even though he does leave it for me to find when I get downstairs instead of bringing it to me so sometimes it's cold, and I'm pretty sure he's only doing it to make me feel guilty anyway...'

Truth be told, Albus didn't want to talk about Scorpius. He'd known when the fight had been picked, a week ago now, that Scorpius was hurt, upset, and lashing out. It wasn't the first time it had happened, though normally Albus himself was not the recipient of such ire. Now that he was, after years of defending his best friend, standing by him, and weeks upon weeks of his own hardship and stress, it had been too much. He'd stormed off to cut the row short, wanting to neither continue nor escalate the situation. But when he'd calmed down he'd also reasoned that leaving as he had normally prompted Scorpius to realise he'd gone too far, and apologise.

Not outright, of course. They were still blokes. But Albus had hoped that he'd come down to the front steps the next morning, bring him some tea, punch him on the arm, and then they could carry on like nothing had happened.

Scorpius had not. And Albus had realised this situation was far worse than he'd originally thought. He just had no clue how worse, had no clue how Rose fit into it, and so he had no idea where to start helping even if he wanted to. That he'd been so systematically kept unaware of something that was obviously tormenting his best friend had left him both blind, and unusually bitter. They didn't keep secrets from one another. Except, apparently, Scorpius now did all the time.

'If you manage to get that working and tune into Scorpius' transmission you're only going to irritate yourself with it,' Albus snapped at last. 'And I don't want to sit here and listen to you complaining about him. So are we going to break into Stubbs' office, or what?'

Rose stared at him like he'd grown a second head, and Albus felt a wave of shame sweep over him as the surge of bitterness that had sparked such words ebbed away. He cleared his throat. '...Mum said they went in through the window.'

'Except that won't work any more,' sighed Rose, obviously choosing to join him in focusing on the problem at hand, the one they could fix, instead of the impossible problem of Scorpius Malfoy. 'I remember reading it - when they rebuilt the castle after the war, they made all sorts of things our parents did impossible to again. Which is Mum's fault, really, since she helped redesign the security and specifically made sure things she and Dad and Harry did could never be done again.'

Albus made a noise of frustration. 'Why did they have to fight in a war? Our parents were bloody brilliant and causing havoc around Hogwarts but everything they did is so well recorded nobody can pull it off again!'

'True,' said Rose, 'but if it was just school hijinks they'd gotten away with I bet they wouldn't have let us find out about them at all. I wonder if...'

But Albus wasn't listening. An idea had wormed into his head at her words, a glimmer of possibility, and he reached into his back pocket to yank out the folded paper of the Marauder's Map. 'Their exploits are too well-documented...'

Rose peered at it. '...but a map's adventures are unknown?'

'But my granddad's adventures are unknown.' He unfolded the map and tapped his wand against the parchment, though for once he didn't utter the key phrase to bring the layout of Hogwarts itself up.

'Albus.' She winced. 'That's not - I mean, it's nothing more than a magical recording. It's not a means of talking to them, not really.'

'I know how it works,' said Albus staunchly. 'It's an imprint. An impression of a moment, a thought, a feeling.'

'It doesn't have any memories, it doesn't have any knowledge.'

'But it does,' Albus said slowly, 'have just the tiniest spark of some of the most ingenious students who ever found Hogwarts' secrets.' He prodded the parchment. 'Prongs, c'mon. Wake up.'

'This is ridiculous,' Rose muttered.

Albus ignored her as writing began to sprawl across the surface of the Marauders' Map. Mister Prongs was not sleeping. Mister Prongs was completely paying attention all the time.

Mister Moony is sure this is a complete lie.

Mister Prongs is happy to point out that Mister Prongs slept through three years of Divination classes and still got an 'O', while Mister Moony was too afraid of lunar cycles to pay attention.

Mister Moony considers this an unnecessarily low blow, and -

'Guys, guys.' Albus raised his voice as if the map could hear him. 'I need your help.'

Mister Wormtail wonders if you are particularly slow if you need the help of an enchanted map.

'If you were breaking into the Headmaster's Office,' Albus said slowly. 'How would you do it?'

Mister Moony wouldn't.

Mister Padfoot thinks Mister Moony is a pansy.

Mister Moony points out that Headmaster Dumbledore's enchantments have befuddled Mister Padfoot time and time again. Mister Moony also knows where the line is and would rather not be expelled.

Mister Padfoot suggests Mister Moony might be happier if he lived a little more recklessly.

'Oh, Merlin, this is the most unhelpful piece of paper I have ever seen,' Rose groaned.

Mister Prongs does concede that Dumbledore's enchantments have outwitted the Marauders before, and suggests Albus picks an easier target.

Albus sighed. 'Couldn't you-'

'I don't think you could break in,' Rose interjected suddenly, leaning over.

It was as if the parchment had grown tense in Albus' hands. Mister Padfoot would like to invite the nosy redhead, as he has invited many nosy redheads before, to mind their own business and to not make assumptions about his brilliance.

Mister Prongs points out this brilliance is collective.

Mister Wormtail notes this brilliance has still not answered the question.

Mister Moony has also made note of this and suggests focusing on the problem instead of puffing up like a peacock for a pretty girl.

'Was this supposed to help?' Albus muttered to Rose.

'It's not like you were making progress before,' Rose said haughtily. 'But I think they just bicker and snipe -'

Mister Prongs is quite capable of puffing up for a pretty girl and figuring out an answer. Mister Prongs suggests coming at the problem not sideways, but underneath.

Mister Wormtail suspects this is empty gesturing with no actual plan.

Mister Prongs assures Mister Wormtail his suggestion is entirely literal.

Albus and Rose looked sharply at each other as the Marauders' Map continued its scrawling bickering. 'Underneath,' he breathed.

'We can break through the masonry of the stairway,' said Rose, already reaching for the plans and maps of Hogwarts - design schematics Hermione had sent them which, when it came to official construction of the school, barring its many secret corners and passageways, were more detailed then the Marauders' Map. 'There's just empty space for a whole floor underneath, we can come up inside if we clear one of the flagstones out of the way.'

Albus grinned, but he looked quickly at the Map. 'Thanks, guys!' he said, before putting it away.

Mister Padfoot is entirely smug at Mister Prongs' success and knows that his detractors will live to rue the day they -

From there the plan was quickly devised and promised to be worryingly simple. But their luck had been foul, so very foul for so very long that they were due a dash of hope. Or so Rose allowed herself to dare to believe. But Albus left soon enough to scout out the area and she remained, she said, to go through the reading for the spells they would need.

And the moment he was gone she turned back to the wretched wireless. This time, as she turned the knob on the front this way and that, listened her way through the cantankerous, previously non-functioning device's crackling, she eventually caught a snippet of sound to make her pause.

A guitar chord.

'Oh, bloody hell, Malfoy,' she muttered as if the wireless would carry her voice back through the other way. 'Trust you to use this as an excuse to show off...'

But the words were weak, even to her own ears; her usual habit of finding some fault, some flaw with him, otherwise she might have to admit that he was doing a splendid sort of thing for the suffering students, that it was more thoughtful than anything any of them had even considered.

So, as if she didn't even care, she set about doing the reading she'd promised Albus, going through the spells she knew their ridiculous undertaking would need. And still, she listened.

He'd taken to doing it a House a day, now. With responses coming from students, parents were writing more, more than they even would when school was running, desperate for the reassurance of hearing from their children. No wonder Scorpius had struggled to keep up the burden of writing back for each pupil, no wonder he'd had to change his methods.

It was Ravenclaw today, and less and less did she pay attention to her reading, and more and more did she listen in rapt attention. The guitar was a reasonably new addition, she learned - he'd played it for some friends in Slytherin days ago, and now the conscious students, desperate for distraction, had urged him to play so much he apparently dragged the instrument with him along with the post bags. Then it was the letters.

Intimacy and privacy had to be sacrificed, she realised. If parents wanted their children to be able to respond, they had to be talking about things they were happy for someone to read out, happy to have their child's response given on open airwaves. Some students were healthy enough to just take the letters, with thanks, and write in private, but many of those who were still talked aloud. Being a part of this together stopped the horrors and fears of every student and every parent from being nothing more than a private, isolated hell. It was a hell they shared.

And Scorpius was judicious. He obviously skipped some lines in letters as he read them to students, slurring on words perhaps as he changed course, but keeping anything he deemed too delicate away from public ears. Some letters, he said, the family had asked he skip parts, or the whole thing, and he would just give the parchment over and leave the reader to it. He knew when to sit in silence as they read, he knew when to make some reassuring comment if the student faltered. He knew, above all, when to joke - and when to not.

The whole process took a little over three hours. And when Scorpius gave his farewell to the wireless, the sounds of his footsteps as he walked down the stairs away from Ravenclaw Tower audible, she could easily imagine the suffering students and their worrying families out there feeling that little bit less alone and separated.

Rose cursed softly as she turned off the wireless, reached again for the book she was supposed to be studying, and started reading once she had wiped her eyes.

* *

'This feels a little bit like vandalism,' Albus said unhappily as Rose ran her wand around the edges of the huge stone set into the wall only a few metres down from the bottom of the stairway up to the Headmaster's Office.

'That's because it is. But it's vandalism for a good cause. Pass me a baton.'

Albus extended one of the magical rods they'd found down in the dungeons where Hagrid kept any of his maintenance equipment. Normally a spell would be sufficient for all purposes, but every once in a while magic went haywire, especially in the hands of powerful but untrained children, and the Groundskeeper would have to take measures to keep the castle intact until a full member of staff arrived to rectify the situation.

'This better not bring the entire roof down on me.'

'Al, this is Hogwarts. We're talking about one of the most secure and sophisticated buildings in the country, physically and magically.' Rose flicked her wand and slowly the chunk of masonry began to wriggle itself out of the wall, like a rat squeezing through a tight tunnel.

'And yet you and I are successfully taking chunks out of it to break into the Headmaster's Office. Two underaged wizards.'

'Pretty sure our parents proved that "underaged" doesn't mean what it used to in terms of competence,' said Rose with a tight, satisfied smile. But still, as the stone slab half her height wriggled free, she slammed the metal rod into the gap and thumbed the rune engraved on the side of it. It extended immediately, shooting outwards from both ends to fill and brace the gap the stone slab had left with magical strength. 'There.'

Albus walked up to the gap, peering beyond. There was a good foot of solid stone of wall, but inside, in the space behind the stairway to the Headmaster's office and under the office itself, was just a bare, stone space, no doors or windows.

'Why is this empty?' Rose wondered.

'Specifically for security,' said Albus, who had read everything the Library could give him about Hogwarts' defences. 'It's not meant to be easy to get adjacent to this office. Which is why it bugs me that this was so easy.'

'Optimist,' said Rose dryly. 'We still need to get through the floor.' She scrambled up to the gap, which started at about her waist, and slipped past the bar into the empty, plain chamber.

'Besides,' she continued as she landed and he went to follow, 'didn't you say that most of the protections of the office are about noticing people trying to get in?'

'And in keeping misbehaving students out long enough for a staff member to come alone. But, yes, bells are probably ringing in the staff room by now.'

'Which is no problem to us. If the defences are just meant to slow us down until someone they've alerted can come stop us, so much the better! We're not trying to go unnoticed.' Rose's gaze swept around the chamber, which was really nothing more than a blank space; its floor was the room below's ceiling, its ceiling the office's floor. Its sole purpose was to be nothing.

'I suppose nobody was going to get away with spending half an hour carving away at the masonry under normal circumstances. Not right outside the headmaster's office even in the middle of the night,' Albus said, gaze going upwards. He unravelled the Marauder's Map, found their two dots, and tapped on the parchment with his wand to make it go up a level while still showing them. 'Not that stone,' he said, pointing at one. 'It's right under the steps, it'll be a metre thick at least. That one's under the carpet...' He walked around, footsteps echoing in the gloomy chamber, then finally pointed upwards. 'Here. Should be clear.'

'I didn't think of that,' Rose confessed. 'I'd have just started going... up.'

'Yeah, but I couldn't have done the charm to get the masonry out,' said Albus, and flicked his wand to bring the stepladder they'd left in the corridor in through the gap and over to where he indicated.

'I think,' said Rose with a grin, 'that we call this teamwork.'

Albus gave a tight, but sincere enough smile as she ascended the ladder and got to work on the ceiling paving stone. 'You don't need to sound so surprise.'


'Some of us can keep up with you.'

Rose flinched. 'Did I ever say you couldn't?'

'No,' said Albus, trying to pour reassurance into his voice. 'But you're not used to it. No offence meant to Hestia and Cheryl.'

She was already beginning the advanced hex to begin severing the masonry while simultaneously levitating it in place, magic the like of which she'd had to go out of her way to learn - combining effects into one spell - and Albus could hear the awkward note when she said, 'I don't think they're stupid.'

'But they don't care about the same things you do.'

'Neither do you!'

'Just because we can't all be top of the class,' said Albus with a guilty smile, 'doesn't mean we don't work hard.'

'You're top of Defence!' she said with a mixture of indignation and bitterness.

They both knew her grudge on that matter was childish and she'd never made an issue of it, but this was the first time she'd sounded encouraging, and he smiled. 'You think I didn't have to work to get that?'

'...anyway, I'm not top of the other classes,' Rose said, more quietly. 'Jones is.'

'And everyone else thought it was silly that this bugged you, didn't they? Even Aunt Hermione, or at least she told you it was enough that it doesn't matter if she does get it. Your friends said it was.'

'Al, is now really the best time for this?'

He had to concede she had a point. He wasn't entirely sure why he was bringing this up now, this nagging awareness he'd had for a long time - for years, really, but he'd never felt it was his place to say anything about her and her life. He wasn't entirely sure what made it different now; it wasn't as if they had been spending more time together in the past few months than they ever did in the holidays.

Realisation hit him like a blow to the gut swung by burly Hector Flynn. They did spend plenty of time together, normally. But they hadn't spent time together, just the two of them, like they'd been doing for the last week or so, in over five years.

And the words he'd been about to say died on his lips before they could be uttered, and were mercifully swept to the wind as the paving slab above Rose delicately lowered down from the ceiling, to the side, and wafted down towards the floor.

'There,' she said, warning in her voice more than triumph - not of what lay ahead, but to not push the point he'd been making. 'That's it. I'm going up; follow me.'

She wriggled up in the gap, disappearing into the darkness above that was the abandoned Headmaster's office, and he followed soon after. When he first poked his head in he thought it was pitch black, but then he blinked and could see the gentle glow from the globe in the corner of the office, the magical illumination from several of the books on the shelves, and it was enough to see the outline of the furniture. He pulled himself up and through.

'We're looking for a book,' said Albus, peering at the shadowy, indistinct shapes around them. He knew the one that moved next to him was Rose, but couldn't guess more than that. 'It should have all of the incantation phrases in it to control, monitor, and alter the wards.'

'We're not going to find it like this,' Rose sighed, and lifted her wand. 'Lumos!'

Light sputtered from the tip of her wand - and then expanded, little orbs splitting off and shooting around the room to go to every sconce, every lantern, even spark up the fireplace, and soon enough the Headmaster's Office was filled with a warming glow, all of its glories and mysteries there to be seen.

Albus grinned with satisfaction at a job well done - and at his cousin's wandwork. 'I never saw you do a spell like that before.'

'That wasn't me,' she admitted. 'It must be magic in the room to make it easier to -'

Then there was a sound, and it made Albus' blood run cold. It was a deep, rumbling, scraping sound, and for a moment he thought it was enough to make the floor shudder. Then he looked down and realised the floor was shaking entirely of its own accord, because the paving stones they were stood on were growing.

'Al, the gap -'

Rose had reacted quicker, and he saw what she had only when she moved. The gap they'd crawled through was contracting as the paving stones around it expanded to fill the space. Rose had thrown herself across the room to try to get to it - but too late, and by the time she got there she only had space to put a foot in. That, too, got yanked out as she realised she couldn't fit the rest of her through, and there was a dull thunk as the stone blocks of the floor finally thudded together and realigned.

And silence.

Until a whirring sound, and Albus turned, wand in hand, to see a wooden owl sat upon the Headmaster's desk he'd always thought was just an ugly office ornament swivelled around to face them and jerkily opened its oaken wings. 'Students breaking into the office! Students breaking into the office!'

It creaked this like an alarm, as if they didn't need to be told this already, before lowering its wings. 'You have been found and detained. Hold here until a staff member releases you! Any further miscreancy will be noted!'

Then that, too, fell silent and still, leaving the only sound in the room as their shaky breathing in the face of all that had so suddenly happened. Albus lowered his wand, shoulders drooping, as Rose turned around slowly to notice the closed and locked doors, the closed and sealed windows, the floors and walls and ceilings now with absolutely no entrances or exits left.

She drew a deep breath. 'Bugger.'

* *

The letter had been as she'd expected to find it; smeared with coffee, written with a Qwik-Quotes Quill, likely done on the fly between a thousand and one other important jobs. It didn't bother her. It was how all of the notes had been. The important part was, Selena felt, that they came - long or short, insightful and affectionate or merely off-hand comments and reminders that there was an outside world. But every day. A little tether to a life outside of dealing with House Elves and sick schoolmates and the fear of impending death.

But this time her mother's handsome owl hadn't been sat there on her windowsill when she'd come back from the morning rounds with Harley. He had only arrived much later, when she'd spoken to Methuselah, learned he intended to go on what he'd excitedly called an 'adventure' to the Library, and come back to her room to change into something that could cope with getting dusty and worn at the knees.

She didn't change her clothes, Selena reflected wryly, half so much for any other boy. Of course, Methuselah didn't notice - but then, what boy did? Which at least meant that, so long as her goal was practicality over vanity, it wasn't an exercise in complete futility.

The owl had been there this time, though, at about eleven o'clock, and she'd taken the carefully sealed envelope, fed Terpsichore a couple of treats, and cracked it open, reading as she wandered her way back to the school library.

Its condition was as she'd expected. Its contents were not.

Methuselah, of course, was up to his elbows in dusty tomes from the Restricted Section, and she suppressed a shudder to see the books he was piling through merrily - books on the Deathly Hallows, yes, but also on dark magic such as Horcruxes and the like. She knew the logic of this, that now he understood the location was a core component of the ritual he had to identify just how and why this was, but she had to admit she much preferred reading up on Mesoamerican cultures.

He waved a hand at her as she arrived around the corner of the stacks - not in welcoming, of course, but in indication. 'Reference book,' he said in his usual staccato manner. 'Here.'

He didn't say 'please', of course. He never did. But he was somehow not rude in his presumptions, either, and so she found herself grabbing the slim volume and passing it over to him.

'What're you looking for?'

'Still on basics. Dark magic rituals making use of locations steeped in dark magic themselves.'

'And the Resurrection Stone?'

'Technically, as mythical, no reliable academic sources to indicate its uses in ritual purposes.' Methuselah pursed his lips, looking vexed. 'Will have to turn to mythological sources and attempt to separate fiction, fact, and metaphor.'

'Goodness.' But she couldn't help but smile. He made what she took to be huge academic undertakings sound like a minor inconvenience he could get done in a day.

To his credit, he probably could.

He was consulting the reference book and moving to a completely different shelf when she finally twisted her hands together, and began, with uncertainty. 'My mother wrote to me today.'

'Of course.'

'She - what do you mean, of course?' Selena wrinkled her nose. She hadn't mentioned the letters before. There'd been no need to.

'She writes every day.' Methuselah twirled the tip of his quill at her, but didn't look over. 'You always have them. Put them in your left breast pocket.'

She coloured, partly touched by his attentiveness, partly embarrassed because he noticed the most particular of things and it didn't necessarily mean anything, and partly vexed because he'd just admitted that he'd looked at her chest and probably did, damn him, only notice the scrap of paper.

But then, if he didn't, he'd be like all the other boys.

'Yes, well, today's is different,' she said hotly. 'It's worrying me.'

'Why?' he said, and she paused, surprised that he would express such an interest or even possible concern. 'Nothing to be done about beyond Hogwarts. Worrying fruitless. Focus on here and now.'

Selena rolled her eyes. 'It could affect here and now. It could be to do with what's going on.'

Methuselah turned to face her at last. He tilted his head to not just look down at her, but look at her over his horn-rimmed glasses. With their height disparity this meant his chin almost touched his chest. 'Your mother,' he said, 'is the head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, an acclaimed diplomat and politician. But she has no specialisation in dark magic rituals -'

'Methuselah, more's going on than the ritual,' she reminded him gently. 'We still don't know who made it, or why.'

'Yes, we do. Prometheus Thane, and, if Malfoy's theories are correct, for money.'

'Even if we assume Scorpius Malfoy, master global strategist, is right, that doesn't answer who's hired him.'

Methuselah pulled a volume off a shelf. 'Your mother knows?'

Selena bit her lip. 'She's saying that this isn't the only case of organised dark magic activity in the world. She thinks something's happening on a global scale. There was a Dark Wizard terrorist attack in Cairo last month. And, last week, the le Fey Staff was stolen from Paris. That's a major dark magical artifact.' She said that last as if she'd known what it was before her mother's letter.

He frowned. 'Not heard anything of this in papers or from Ms Granger.'

'Apparently it's not something the Ministry want people to be paying attention to,' Selena sniffed. 'Mother's been telling them, but they think it's got nothing to do with the Hogwarts situation and have been stamping it out. She believes they've been leaning on the press to choke off the same stories.'

'News of global dark magic conspiracy would be concerning,' Methuselah agreed. 'Best to ensure accuracy before seeding widespread panic.'

'Is it sensible to ignore it when it could be at the root of all this? Us saving the school is all very well and good, but there are, well, people behind all of it. They need to be found and stopped.'

Methuselah blinked. 'But they won't be in Cairo.'

She faltered. 'No. They won't.' Selena fiddled with the folded paper. 'But it's bad enough out here knowing there are people out to get us. People we don't even understand. But what if it's -'

'We cannot say if. Or that. We don't know,' said Methuselah, turning to face her. 'Uncertainties abound. Especially on other side of world. Or even other side of Hogwarts gates. Cannot be affected, or influenced, so should not endeavour to.'

Selena flinched. 'It's not as easy as that -'

'So, focus.' He stepped over to where she was leaning against the bookshelf, close, closer than he had stood before, and she could smell the musky scent of books and parchment that hung about him, not unpleasantly. 'Not on outside. On here. On now.'

She swallowed, tilting her head up as he leant forwards.

And plucked a book off the shelf beside her. 'Fitherwick's Treatise on Reusable Ritual Components of Power,' said Methuselah Jones as he pulled back, eyes lighting up with satisfaction.

Selena pinched the bridge of her nose, despairing at them both. 'Yes, Methuselah. The ritual.'

'Something we can affect, correct,' he said, turning to one of the desks, and leaving her - not for the first time - wondering if she knew how to read him better than anyone and could see the hidden depths behind his veneer of completely batshit insane, or if she was delusional.

It didn't particularly matter, not to her everyday behaviour. He was a foot smarter than Rose Weasley, whatever the other girl liked to think. And if anyone stood a chance at deciphering the ritual, taking the time to figure out how it worked and how to do it - a feat without which any cure would be pointless, if she trusted his judgment, and she did - then it was Methuselah Jones.

And she was going to help him however she could. Even if it was just by fetching and carrying. Even if he drove her mental.

She was saved from her own embarrassment at her gaffe by footsteps from the door, and turned guiltily. Methuselah, of course, was cracking open his book, happy as a clam, and she was left oddly alone in the sensation of having been caught in the middle of something in the face of a tense teacher.

'Professor?' Lockett didn't come up to the Library much. She didn't need to - and work in the dungeons was usually more than enough to keep her busy.

Except for when she was boozing it up and the others pretended they hadn't noticed, or that it was all right.

'We have a situation,' said Lockett, looking between them. 'Where's Malfoy?'

'Entertaining the masses and bringing hope and joy to thousands,' Selena deadpanned. 'If he's still on-schedule. Why, what's he done?'

'He's not the situation -'

'That makes a change. We're still researching, Professor, why don't you go find Weasley and Potter to -'

'They're the situation.' Lockett looked irritated at her efforts to wriggle out of being involved. 'I was in the staff room.'

'Getting supplies?' Selena smiled, all innocence. Out of your stash of booze, she finished silently.

'And then the alarms went off. The internal security wardings - someone's broken into the Headmaster's office.'

She seemed more resigned than worried, but Methuselah didn't notice this, shooting upright in a second. 'Incursion? Thane? Right into the heart of -'

'It's students, the wards say so.' Lockett sighed. 'It's Potter and Weasley. They're trapped in there until a staff member comes to get them out.'

'So? Get them out.' Selena shrugged.

'The office is on lockdown. They can't get out however they got in. It takes a password to open up the door, and release them.'

Methuselah nudged his glasses up his nose. 'But. We don't have the password.'

Lockett nodded. 'Why is why they broke in there in the first place.'

'So they're stuck.' Selena looked between them. 'In the one room in Hogwarts we don't have access to. Which has so far repulsed our every single effort to get into - or, now, get out of.'

Methuselah jerked his head. 'The most secure room in the entire castle.'

'Well.' Selena pursed her lips. 'They're a bit buggered, aren't they?'

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