In Speculo

Wed. 26 June

“Good Morning, Harry.”

Amelia greeted Harry as he arrived in the Bones household. She sat at the kitchen counter eating cereal and reading the Prophet.

“You don’t need breakfast do you?”

“No, I ate with Augusta and Hannah before I came. They’re visiting Neville this morning.”

Amelia nodded thoughtfully.

“Susan’s in her bedroom just down the hall. And Harry...”

Amelia paused and must have thought better of what she wanted to say.

“Never mind. Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Harry had some difficulty reconciling the casual, familial Amelia with the stern powerhouse director of the DMLE. Harry proceeded down the narrow hall that adjoined the various bedrooms and bathrooms of the home. He saw a light in the room at the very end of the hall. The door was slightly ajar. Harry knocked twice gently.

“Susan?”

“Harry? Come on in.”

Harry opened the door. Susan’s room was neat but not immaculate. It had a small dresser and vanity. Susan was sitting on her twin bed wearing a t-shirt and denim shorts reading a book titled ‘Who am I?’ by an author Harry couldn’t make out.

“Hi, Harry.”

Susan closed her book and scooted off the bed and onto the floor sitting cross-legged with her back to the bed. She indicated for Harry to sit across from her which Harry obliged with his back now against her dresser.

“So, what are we doing today?”

“I think we have to continue with the centring exercise that we tried on Monday. Hopefully this time I won’t fall over. Do you have a timer we can set?”

“Oh don’t worry; Auntie Em will come get us when it’s time to go.”

“Okay, ‘Occlumency’ suggests working with a partner. And if you are, you should work on sensing each other while centring. The idea is that one is always in tangential mental contact with those around them. The strength of that contact lessens with distance and increases with familiarity. Since we are a few feet apart and new at this, we should only really be able to detect each other if at all.”

Susan nodded with interest.

“So, we follow the exercises we did before to clear our mind and then look for each other. What do we look for?”

Harry had the same question when he read that section, so he was prepared for this question.

“According to ‘Occlumency’, it could have a few different manifestations. Some people hear a tone. Some people perceive it as a motion: rotating, oscillating, vibrating. Sometimes it’s patterns of hot and cold. Some people see colours. We’ll just have to try and see.”

Harry went to get out his wand and light Lumos, but Susan reached out and stopped him by placing her hand on his.

“Actually, Harry, I have candles. I was thinking those might work better.”

Susan reached over to her vanity and opened the lower drawer. She retrieved a small votive candle and set it between them simultaneously retrieving her own wand.

“Incendio.”

A small flame burst forth and settled into a small flickering glow.

Harry again settled back into concentration. Clearing his mind was slightly easier now. He had practised each night prior to bed both as a sleep aid and as practice in centring his mind. Harry now gently swept the thoughts away.

He found himself distracted by the beauty of the flame, by uncertainty over Susan’s aunt, and by wondering why girls’ rooms were always clean.

He couldn’t see how he could notice Susan in his mind without thinking. Noticing was a form of thinking.

Susan smelled nice. Really nice.

So it wasn’t going easy and Harry began to question the wisdom of working with a partner of the opposite sex—and an attractive one at that—but that really wasn’t fair since this was a problem in Harry’s own head. He shouldn’t assume that she had any interest in him... that way. Finally, Harry’s mind submitted and settled into the gentle black and then into the colourless void.

Harry sat like this for several minutes of ‘mind time’ and waited for something to happen. Then Harry begin ‘looking’ around. Each time Harry’s focus changed his mind would burst with thoughts and then resettle. This went on for many actual minutes. Harry was frustrated.

He was on the verge of giving up for the day when he felt it. It wasn’t a colour or a sound. It could maybe be described as motion. This thought occurred coincident with a sharp intake of breath from Susan. And together these two stimuli shattered Harry’s concentration.

When he opened his eyes, Susan had the largest smile on her face.

“I think I did it! You were like a wave rippling out from a point of otherwise stillness. I mean not a wave, really, but more like a distortion.”

Harry returned Susan’s smile.

“Yeah, I think I got it too. I can’t really describe it. It was like seeing an image through hot air. Waving and distorted. But it wasn’t really ‘seeing’ at all.”

Harry‘s mouth grasped for the words and failed.

“I don’t know. How long did that take?”

Susan checked her clock.

“Thirty-five minutes, give or take.”

“Then we have time to try again.”

Harry looked to Susan and she nodded eagerly.

* * *

Amelia was troubled, and she couldn’t quite tell why. It definitely had something to do with Susan being alone in her room with a boy. But really, she trusted Susan and Harry did seem innocent to a fault. But Amelia also remembered her own Occlumency instruction. That kind of training was rather vulnerable and intimate. It involved potentially exposing one’s thoughts and feelings to another—though neither Harry nor Susan were trained in Legilimency, so it was perhaps not the same. But Amelia knew Susan had a crush on the boy-who-lived. Really, most girls of her generation did at one age or another. That really isn’t the same thing as touching each others minds. And what if it did turn into more than a crush or a summer romance. Susan had responsibilities to her house.

Amelia was troubled.

* * *

“Noble and honourable friends, a grave matter has been brewing in the belly of our homes for far too long and it is high-time we root it out. For we more venerable members of this chamber, it is taken as a fact incontrovertible that magic is fading from this world.”

Susan was trying to listen to Lord Malfoy’s statement, but was still concerned about Harry. He was sitting calmly next to her, but she was worried about what might be going on beneath his current cool exterior.

“Magic is waning from our blood with every generation and the reason is self-apparent. The breakneck pace at which this society is accepting muggle-born and wizards of unverified descent is diluting the literal life’s blood of magical society.”

Auntie Em had warned them that this bill was being presented today.

“Of course, we dare not stumble blindly on this issue. We must study this effect in depth before accepting any dubious conclusions. Some friends of this chamber suggest that the abatement of magic might not relate to the surging influx of non-magical blood. In fact some have gone so far as to suggest that magic is not carried by blood-descent at all.”

Lucius’s slick tone made this conclusion seem absurd but Susan could not help but believe that if magic were passed by genetics then the pure-blood families would produce offspring of much greater power and talent, but this did not seem to be the case.

“Regardless of such misconceptions, we must act now to stem the tide and only then evaluate the opportunities to allow proper integration into magical society without causing the detrimental effects that we see so clearly today.

“I lay before the honourable members of this chamber the Magical Immigration Reform Act or MIR act. This proposal is co-authored by 17 members of this chamber and numerous experts within the Ministry. It contains common sense reforms to limit and measure the influx of unknown blood-descent into society.”

Lucius paused dramatically.

“Friends... an open road between non-magical and magical society will only lead to the loss of our heritage. Thank you. I request that the proposal be considered read and that further discussion be held for a period of one day so that members may inform themselves fully on the measures described within. I yield the floor.”

As Lucius sat down Augusta Longbottom stood up and Acting Chief Warlock Elphias Doge recognized her.

“Lady Augusta Longbottom”

Augusta was in full form and her presence demanded the attention of all present.

“Would the honourable member representing the house of Malfoy stand for a single question?”

Lucius stood up.

“Lord Lucius Malfoy”

“As I said, I ask for one day’s consideration prior to responding to any questions.”

Augusta smiled.

“Surely such ‘venerable’ members as have already read and considered the drafts of your proposal might ask questions presently. Or does my noble colleague imply that he needs time to prepare answers for the proposal he himself co-wrote?”

“I would refer the noble Lady of house Longbottom to my earlier statement. It would not do to get ahead of ourselves. Noble speaker, the lady has asked and I have answered a question. Now, might we move on.”

As Lucius sat down, the chamber echoed with a few here-here’s and the speaker intervened.

“Order. Order. We will consider the proposal in depth and allow full discussion... tomorrow. The chair must respect the time allotted for arguments especially considering the approaching end of session on Friday and the need to provide candidates for the position of Chief Warlock time to speak to their qualifications on the floor. Today, I must give such time to three of the six candidates for questions and answers and that will take much of the remaining time.”

* * *

“I’m Just saying it’s codswallop. That’s all.”

Susan watched as Harry finished his abuse of the MIR act provisions and went back to eating. They were all seated along Lady Longbottom’s dining room table. All—in this case—meant Augusta, Amelia, Harry, and Susan herself. Greny had come along from home and had made an excellent dinner.

“Lord Malfoy may be a racist prick, but several studies are showing a general reduction in the power of magic. That much is true.”

Susan grinned inside at the image of Auntie Em saying ‘racist prick’, but Harry wasn’t smiling.

“Lady Amelia, that can’t be from muggleborns and half-bloods. Muggleborn students at Hogwarts are some of the strongest. If anything, magic seems to be waning among pure-bloods more than anywhere.”

“Perhaps, but the studies included in the drafts of the bill don’t show that.”

Augusta stopped Amelia at this point.

“Don’t dismiss Harry’s idea too quickly, Amelia. The pure-blood families of the sacred twenty-eight are some of the most inbred in magical Britain. Doesn’t it seem plausible that some defect is slowly leeching away their magic? Isn’t it possible that the studies have a bias?”

“Yes, and I agree with both of you, but it is politically infeasible to even suggest that in an official capacity.”

Susan interjected.

“Surely we can point out that there is no evidence that the deleterious effect comes from muggleborns though. How can we restrict the movements of citizens that have nothing to do with the problem?”

Harry picked up on Susan’s line of thinking.

“Exactly. Surely the studies should be completed prior to the institution of regulation... so the measure will be defeated, right?”

Amelia shook her head.

“I don’t think so, Harry. Without Dumbledore in the chair, the purists have more influence and more votes. With Lord Malfoy behind the proposal, I expect it will pass.”

“But the rules are draconian. If Hermione were to go home for the summer, she would need an official ministry document to return to Hogwarts even though she’s already enrolled and completed five years. The process involves invasive medical exams and personal interviews. And it doesn’t sound like the Ministry plans to approve many people. This proposal basically cuts any non-resident muggleborn off from either magical society or their muggle family.”

Augusta leaned in conspiratorially.

“Harry, I’m sorry to say that there are many troubling proposals being brought to the floor. It could be said that this is not the worst. You might suggest to Hermione that her parents visit her rather than—”

“Augusta!”

Auntie Em interrupted her so violently that everyone froze for several seconds. She had always deferred to her ladyship’s age and wisdom, but in this case her authority training had clearly been brought to bear.

“Augusta, you know that the rules prevent you from revealing anything more. That’s probably too much already. And you know that my position as Director puts me in an awkward situation with regard to breach of regulation. So I must stop this conversation here.”

“Of course, Amelia.”

No, that wasn’t right. If the laws were only going to get worse and hurt people more, then she needed to know. Harry needed to know. Everyone should know. The fact that the Wizengamot’s internal considerations were kept private was beyond ridiculous. She had to say something.

“Wait?! But if something is going to happen we need to know about it! These things that Lucius wants to do are wrong. The people should have a voice in this.”

Augusta extended a placating hand.

“No, Susan, your aunt is right. To continue would threaten my privileges in the Wizengamot and we need every vote we can get right now.”

“But...”

“Susan, please! No proposal is guaranteed to come before the chamber—you know that—and the chamber isn’t guaranteed to vote on it if it does. So there isn’t any issue yet. It is just a matter of caution.”

Susan noticed Lady Augusta’s use of the word ‘yet’. Perhaps there wasn’t an issue ‘yet’, but something was going to happen and somewhat soon it sounded like. This new pureblood reign in the Wizengamot weighed upon her heart. Politics were always contentious, but in years past it had always filled Susan with pride to step into the chamber. Now it was mostly anxiety. Hopefully Harry would advise Hermione. And Susan jotted down a mental note to speak with Justin about staying within the magical alcoves of Britain for the time being—though he might already be at home.

* * *

Thu. 27 June

Neville was hurting. Neville was bored, but he was hurting. Each day since that night at the ministry had been different. Some days were better and Neville could operate almost normally, but other days got worse. The overall trend line might slope towards healing, but the valleys were unbearable. Today was not a good day.

It had started with the nurse needing to replace his I.V. line shortly after midnight. It had been the smallest poke. As a young child Neville had hated needles, but he’d been able to sit politely for inoculation. Small injuries were part of life. Removing the original I.V. line had felt like fire was running through his veins but Neville had rationalized it away. Inserting the new one brought his mind crashing down. He didn’t remember anything other than the pain; he blacked out. Later he’d glanced at his chart when the nurse was away. Apparently he’d screamed and convulsed and ultimately had to be placed in a full-body bind to get the new line in.

Neville felt shame at his weakness, no matter how justified. The doctor had been by later that morning and discussed the matter with him.

“Neville I want you to understand that the pain you feel is not a result of any natural process. Recovering from the cruciatus is a long road and you are doing amazingly well. I’ve spoken with your grandmother and she has agreed to allow you to visit a psychological pain specialist. There isn’t much more we can do from a medical standpoint. We will continue to apply neuro suppression charms through the end of the week, but your brain needs access to those pathways to return them to normal activity. It will be hard and with your permission I’d like to have Dr. Soulager visit you later today.”

At the mention that the doctor was planning to remove some of his pain regimen Neville encountered a fear response. His heart rate increased and his palms began to sweat. No. He couldn’t do that again. It had threatened his sanity the first time and Neville knew that it was no idle threat.

“I don’t think I can handle it. Please, I don’t want to feel that way again. You can’t.”

“I understand what you are going through, but this is a necessary step. Yes, it’s going to be miserable, but our tests give us every confidence that you will emerge unharmed and healthier for it.”

“But you said I could go home this weekend. I can’t handle this much pain. I need more help not less.”

An unfamiliar nurse knocked on the door.

“Doctor. The patient has visitors. Shall I allow them back?”

“Thank you, nurse. Give me ten minutes.”

Neville’s doctor waited for the nurse to leave before continuing.

“Give some thought to it. Talk with Dr. Soulager.”

As the doctor left, Neville silently thanked him for the few minutes he would need to pull himself back together. The anxiety threatened to overtake him and the last thing he needed was to fall apart again in front of Gran.

* * *

Susan watched as the doctor—she hadn’t caught his name—spoke with Lady Augusta and Hannah. The look on Hannah’s face spoke volumes. The news wasn’t positive and Susan’s sympathy stretched out to her best friend.

Neville hadn’t really been on Susan’s radar until this past semester when Hannah confessed that she ‘liked’ Neville. Susan didn’t usually put much stock in Hannah’s crushes, but this had been something more. Really, they had classes together and Neville was a powerhouse in Herbology, but other than that the boy was largely unremarkable. They travelled in similar circles during the summer break and this last semester the two had been seen together between classes and even at meals.

Hannah normally shared everything with Susan, like Susan’s interest in Harry for example. But the story of Hannah and Neville was still a mystery as far as Susan could tell.

The weight of the past several days clearly was taking its toll. Hannah’s posture was sunken, her mouth slightly open, her right index finger rested against a trembling lip as she took in whatever tiding the doctor had to give. By comparison Lady Augusta appeared—as usual—a bulwark ever unchanging.

As the conversation came to a close, Hannah turned back to face Susan who was sitting next to Harry in the primary waiting room. Hannah took a large breath and slowly let it out before walking over. Susan stood up to meet her friend and Harry followed suit.

“The doctor says Neville’s not having a good day. He’s okay with being seen, but we shouldn’t touch him and he may tire quickly. I...”

Hannah broke off again raising her hand to her lips. It didn’t take Susan’s significant abilities at reading people to know that Hannah was looking for support and comfort to reduce her severe anxiety. Susan placed her arm around Hannah’s middle back and gave her a squeeze.

“It will get better in time. We’ll be right there with you.”

Hannah returned a weak smile but nodded and the three followed as Augusta led the group to Neville’s room.

* * *

Neville lay on a standard hospital bed underneath a lightweight blanket. Hannah’s joy quelled as Neville’s distressed form played upon her eyes. He looked faint of pallor with clammy skin and his breath was cautiously measured and shallow.

His expression brightened, if not his complexion, as he took notice of his visitors. He shifted slightly in bed, but then cringed in acute discomfort. As the wave of sensation peeked his eyes closed and his teeth clenched fending off the pain.

The cruciatus had blown open the pain pathways in the brain and until they closed any contact or movement would be painful when not under full neuro-charm. That’s what the doctor had said. An emptiness grew in Hannah’s heart. She was of no use to Neville at all. She could not stop or alleviate his suffering.

“Don’t move, dear. The doctors have told you that more than once,” Lady Augusta gently scolded her grandson.

As the pain subsided, Neville nodded almost imperceptibly and then opened his eyes.

“So, what’s up, Gran?”

“Well Neville dear, the doctor informs me that as of the weekend you will be ready for discharge. I have all of the details on the charm and potion regimen that you’ll need.”

She turned to Harry.

“Harry, you’ve been good company and you are of course still welcome to stay...”

And back to Neville.

“But I am ready to have my grandson back at home. How does that sound?”

Neville hesitated. The pause grew in duration as Neville appeared to be blocked in his reply. He’s scared. Hannah’s stomach caught in her throat and she held back the tears that threatened to burn through. Neville needed strength not pity. As the seconds grew towards an awkward interval, the response arrived in a tenuous tone.

“Okay.”

Hannah could see the true answer in Neville’s eyes. Lady Augusta was always pushing him. She would acknowledge him only if everything was perfect. And even then only as if such a result was expected from the start. Every failing was caught, every weakness judged. Neville’s self-worth hinged entirely upon his achievement in areas well beyond his natural ability. Hannah felt a resentment rise directed at the venerable grandmother. The ‘great’ Augusta Longbottom should at least deign to treat her grandson like a human.

“You said just a couple days ago that you wanted to get home. That you were bored.”

And there it was. Hanging in the silent question. A judgement upon Neville’s weakness. A Longbottom would be strong, would push through the pain. A Longbottom would choose insanity over submission. Neville didn’t want to appear weak, but the alternative was right in this hospital a few floors away—his parents.

“But Gran, things were getting better. It’s not getting better any more. I need the suppression charms to control the pain and they’ll only give them to me while I’m here. They keep taking the dose down and each time it gets worse. I can’t handle it.”

Neville’s eyes cast downward evincing a shame that Hannah was rapidly catalysing into anger.

“Neville, dear, as you well know I have significant experience supporting loved ones in pain. Pain is not foreign to my body either. The doctor says you’re ready and I more than agree. You brain is convincing you that it feels worse than it does, because neural suppression charms in the pain areas of the brain are strongly narcotic. Now you are well aware of that because that’s how your parents recovery ended in permanent psychiatric institutionalization.”

What had been a smouldering resentment, a resolution to provide support where the Lady of House Longbottom would provide none, flamed into rage. It would not stand. We don’t treat those who hurt by dealing a greater burden. Hannah wouldn’t be able to convince her ladyship, but the words bubbled against her lips threatening to escape and attack Augusta and by proxy hurt Neville more.

Hannah turned and left the room without a further word.

* * *

The seat of the Wizengamot gallery was cold and hard. It was more than a bench but less than a chair. Harry hadn’t noticed so much during the first few sessions distracted as he was by the presence of a death eater in the highest chamber of magical law in Britain. But the snake of a man must have slithered to some other pit as his seat remained empty and the session was about to begin.

The morning had been interesting, too. Hannah was a Hufflepuff and except in defense of others Harry had observed that they avoided confrontation. It had been obvious to Harry that Lady Augusta’s words to Neville would raise her hackles, but Harry did not envy Hannah her position. The august Lady Longbottom could swat any of them like a fly—at least forensically—but her words were difficult to hear.

She was right unfortunately.

Aunt Marge had once described the suffering of one of her neighbours, something like Fuster. He was a retired military man and had lost a hand in battle. Marge had described the shady back-channels through which he acquired his ‘medication’ as a point against the effectiveness of the NHS, but without saying so it sounded to Harry as if Colonel Fuster, or whoever, was probably addicted to pain killers.

Still... perhaps that was better than the threat of being driven mad with pain. In either case Hannah seemed to have recovered and was sitting quietly on the other side of Susan.

Lady Augusta was already seated looking at once like a still statue reflected in a perfectly calm lake but also sizzling with energy. The Wizengamot was her natural habitat and woe be the fool who tangled with her there. Director Bones was just tapping in as the acting speaker called the floor to open session.

“Order.”

The chamber quieted quickly in response to this opening invocation.

“Noble members of the Wizengamot welcome and good afternoon. The election of our new speaker approaches with the swiftness of Mercury and the anticipation of Aphrodite. Today, the chamber will interview the three remaining candidates. However, as promised, we will open with the consideration of Lord Malfoy’s MIR act proposal. As Lord Malfoy has sent his apologies on his absence due to illness, I have been asked to recognize Lord Selwyn in his place.”

Lord Selwyn was an unremarkable man, but he did bear a scar along his left cheek. His eyes were hard, casting an almost cruel reflection upon his politic smile. When he spoke his voice was rough and shallow as though his throat was parched.

“Greetings. I won’t waste your time expounding upon the composition of the proposal. Most aspects are clear and obvious. I hope that you all can see that. But if there are questions then I am obliged to answer them.”

He was bored. He obviously didn’t care what was asked or answered. This was a hoop to be jumped through—a child’s busy work. Harry couldn’t imagine being so flippant with the responsibilities of governance, but this Selwyn clearly didn’t care.

And why wasn’t Malfoy here? Lady Augusta had called him out as a coward for not answering questions and now that appeared to be true. In his place he left a drone that could not care less whether the bill passed or not.

“Lady Arianna Greengrass.”

“Lord Selwyn, if I read the bill correctly, it would appear that the authors have placed the cart in front of the horse. Yes, if magical power is failing through the influence of a more inclusive magical society, then it must be addressed and controlled. But the language before me implements regulations upon individuals that have done nothing wrong. It commissions an arithmantical study of the effect to begin in three months, but implementation of integration limitations begin immediately. How is this appropriate? Did not the well-spoken Lord Malfoy say that we must not stumble blindly? Is this how out muggleborn children are to be treated? What say you?”

“I say that your tears for muggles who have no heritage or understanding of our society but still want to live among us and eat our food and work our jobs could drown a sea of crocodiles. I say that your tears dilute my children’s blood.”

Lady Greengrass bristled at the insult.

“If I were to weep, Lord Selwyn, it would be for us. For by turning away young witches and wizards of muggle descent we are sending them back into a non-magical world that cannot help them control their ability. How long before they expose magic to the world? What then? Does your house not record what the muggles did to witches only a few generations ago? Mine does.”

“My dear lady, if action is not taken today, there won’t be magic anywhere in Britain. Let them go their own way.”

Lady Greengrass signaled to the speaker cutting off Lord Selwyn there.

“Reclaiming my time, I will say only this. If magic isn’t welcomed here, it will show up among muggles. If you know your history, you’ll know how bad an idea that is. I yield.”

It was almost as if Lucius Malfoy didn’t care about consideration of the bill. Augusta had implied that he had the votes to pass, but is he so confident that he doesn’t feel any need to defend the bill on the floor of the chamber?

This was worrying because that was the only reason he would not be present. Either that or he doesn’t care about the legislation, but everything Harry knew about him said that he would. This was a dream for the blood-purity movement.

“Lady Amelia Bones.”

The Director stood and put on loosly feigned concern.

“Lord Selwyn, I don’t envy you sitting for argument on a bill that you did not write. One must hope that our friend the Lord of House Malfoy is not severely ill or in distress. Have we word upon his condition?”

Lady Amelia waved the speaker down. The question was rhetorical.

“Needless to say his is a well appointed household and will care for whatever needs he may have. Lord Selwyn. What are the words that are etched above the ladies’ entrance to this chamber?”

“My good Lady I have no idea where you are going with this.”

“Ahh! Then allow me to educate you. Over that door are writ the words ‘sapientia sapienti dona data’ or ‘wisdom is a gift given to the wise’. Do you know who said those words?”

Lord Selwyn just glared with disdain at the Director.

“No I would not think so. A young muggle-born by the name Florence Farr coined those words and in part by her actions this very chamber was opened to the female sex. Not just by lordly proxy, but by personal vestments. I can stand here, in the absence of a Lord Bones, as can Lady Longbottom as can many others due, in part, to the work and sweat of a muggle-born witch who never saw what was wrought of her efforts. We should think long and hard upon the prospect of closing the doors upon new blood.

“Because it brings change. Because it brings progress. Consider this. Despite the perceived abatement of magic, is your life better or worse than your great-grandparents? Easier or harder? Lord Selwyn, I will not ask you to answer. That is a question I ask all of you to consider in your own time. I yield.”

The fix was in. It had to be.

* * *

Fri. 28 June

She had to run. He was approaching. She could sense his presence closing in. Maybe if she stayed away from the centre she could evade him. She ran for the edges slipping in and out of forms here and there. Her breath was fast—her mind focused. Each moment a clarity of determination. Yes. The edge would be best. His senses would attenuate near the edge, right?

Each unit of distance became more difficult. She slowed to a slog trudging through so much grey matter that her feet finally fell too heavy to continue. She couldn’t go any further. She’d come upon the end of her realm. This was the tip of her extent—her limit.

He was still coming. Clever. She would have to hide. No motion. Don’t breathe. Be silent. Visualize a still mountain lake with crests reflected in perfect mirror. Become the reflection. Hide among the negative space.

She knew who was after her and what he wanted. He must not catch her. She had failed her escape twice and this would be the last time. It could not be tolerated. She felt the fabric of insubstance around her fluctuate. He was near. Be still. A perfect reflection. The vibration grew. She could visualize it now. A ripple floated outward distorting the space. Her mind wavered. Her presence trembled. He reacted.

Susan was caught.

“Hah, got you.”

“Damn it.”

Susan snapped back into the awareness of her body. With her eyes opening she saw her room around her. And across from her was the invader with the most insufferable smile crossing his face.

“That was a good try. If you’d held it a little longer I would have missed you.”

Harry Potter was intolerably gracious.

“I’m going to get it one of these times. I just need to find the right part of my mind. There’s just too much distraction.”

Susan had been taking her turn as the evader in their improvised game of hide and seek. While she bristled at going zero for three at not being found. It helped that she had found Harry every single time, too. She figured that must be why occlumency was so difficult to perfect. Easy to detect, hard to conceal.

“To be fair, we’re way ahead of where Occlumency thinks we should be. It usually takes more than three practices to reliably detect another’s presence. It will be many more before we can talk about even passive occlumency blocks.”

Fine. Harry was right. They were doing well, but Susan had a competitive streak and she was not going to be one-upped even if he was the boy-who-lived.

“At least we know there is a outer limit now. I was kind of worried I’d get lost in my own mind if I didn’t run into something.”

As had become habit after each of these cerebral sessions, Susan checked her clock. Time was just different inside one’s own head.

“It’s 11:30, we should probably stop for today or we’ll end up late again.”

Harry’s face clouded. It wasn’t difficult to guess why. Susan hadn’t had too much opportunity to interact with Harry on a personal level before this week, but she could already tell that he was not one who could stand by as injustice was done. The MIR act was going to be passed. The previous day’s arguments, or perhaps more accurately lack of arguments, had proven with little doubt that Lord Malfoy had a lock on this bill.

“Harry, Auntie Em always tells me that the law moves slowly but always inexorably toward justice. It may not seem that way, but the citizenry are moving away from the Malfoy ideal of bigotry. It will take time, but support for the purists is waning. I guarantee it.”

Susan watched as Harry nodded clearly sceptical but also not wanting to pursue it.

“Let’s get going.”

* * *

Lucius was looking smug. He wasn’t. There was still too much at stake and too much left to do. But he kept his slick veneer of confidence set upon his face. The bill would pass. It had better. After he lost Parkinson and Greengrass, Lucius had abased himself to deal with Forthright and Jorkins. And it was all because of a scheming half-blood who hadn’t the decency to disappear quietly when shown the door. The bill was asinine. It would cost resources to little effect. It was a waste, but Lucius did badly need a legislative victory. He had to demonstrate his ability to swing and hold the Wizengamot in the vacuum left by Dumbledore’s passing.

The votes rolled in as the clerk called the roll: Bulstrode, aye. Cackle, nay. Carrow, aye. Clearwater, nay. Doge, abstention. Forthright, aye. Greengrass, nay...

On and on it went like so much droning noise. Lucius reflected on the note he’d received only a few weeks ago from Vex—a ridiculous pseudonym for a troublesome person. Vex claimed to have proof that Lucius was a death eater. And presumably had proof of the retrieval operation in the Department of Mysteries. Being labelled a death eater would be annoying, but being implicated in the matter of the prophecy and ministry assault... that would be unacceptable. Even if the Dark Lord’s brief return was being kept quiet—a fact Lucius remained ever grateful for—being publicly associated with even Sirius Black would be career killing.

So he was placating Vex and fiddling with politics. It was no skin off his back and eventually Lucius would find counter leverage. Vex should have known better than to come after him.

The clerk completed the roll and was totalling the votes. Twenty-three seats in favour of his bill. Forty-nine against. Five abstentions. Lucius smiled inside. It always warmed his heart to see his power exceed his opponents. Twice as many seats opposed the MIR act as favoured it.

But seats didn’t matter. Votes mattered. And it was close, but Lucius had the votes. The clerk looked up from her parchment.

“308 in favour, 304 opposed, 165 in abstention. The bill passes.”

* * *

‘Hi Hermione.’

Hermione held the parchment in her hands. She could almost hear Harry’s voice as she read his words.

‘I am rubbish at letters but there’s something you need to know. We didn’t get much time to talk last weekend. I’ve been going with Susan and Hannah to observe the Wizengamot. Apparently my family has a seat and I’m supposed to learn how things work. We recently observed a bill passed into law that you should know about. The MIR act.’

Hermione knew about the MIR act. She had read two different amended versions, but she was disheartened to hear that it had passed. It seemed so clearly destined toward failure.

‘The terms of the law affect you. The process for entering and leaving the magical alcoves of Britain have been modified. You need to remain within the magical bounds or you may not be able to return to Hogwarts.’

Hermione had to stop for a moment. This was very troubling. She didn’t think that such restrictions would go into place immediately and while she had no intention of returning home at this time. How difficult would it be for Mum and Dad to visit the Burrow?

A weight seemed to press on Hermione’s back. Her shoulders always seemed sore these days. She thought that maybe it was just an unfamiliar bed but maybe it was the stress of everything going on around her. Or maybe it was her morning ritual, but if so then that is how it would be.

‘Malfoy’s snake of a father is still in power. How can that be? It makes my blood boil. Please write me back. I want to hear how things are progressing for you. How is Ginny? And has anything changed with Ron?

‘Oh! Neville’s being released from hospital this weekend. It’s been a rough time for him but he seems to be getting better. And Susan says hi. I’m sorry that I am so bad at writing letters.’

It was simply signed. ‘Harry.’

As Hermione finished reading Harry’s messy signature, she took a moment to close her eyes and collect herself. She breathed in slowly, filled her lungs. Just like Uncle Dan taught her. She held the breath at the apex and then let it go.

If Lord Malfoy could swing legislation like this than the magical alcoves of Britain were no longer safe for muggles and muggle-born. Could Dumbledore’s influence have been so strong? But of course it wasn’t that simple. Blocks that might have confidently voted with the former headmaster would be struggling to consolidate and in the political vacuum the larger influences—the older and richer families—would be more agile, readier to take power.

Hermione hadn’t run the numbers recently but the small houses still outnumbered the larger. If they could vote in a block and as long as the Black family seat remained frozen due to legal proceedings, they could out vote Malfoy and his friends. But that would change when Sirius’s will was executed and if his name was in the clear than the seat would either be inherited or would fall to general population.

So who was the scion of Black?

Hermione’s heart constricted as she followed the family lines in her head. Without Sirius or Regulus, the line of Orion Black was at an end. Orion had two brothers. The first Hermoine didn’t know but the second was Cygnus Black. And Cygnus had three daughters. The first son among them... Malfoy. It was Malfoy. Of course it was.

If Draco came into that inheritance, then it was over. The Houses of Black and Malfoy constituted more than a fifth of all votes in the Wizengamot, and if Lord Malfoy could already swing a majority...

This was bad.

Hermione was just about to get up when she noticed that Harry’s letter continued beneath the fold.

‘P.S. Have you heard anything from Luna?’

* * *

Luna was making soup. Daddy never had learned how to fend for himself. Luna stopped for a moment and pondered: when she was at Hogwarts, how did he manage to get fed? Ehm. No matter. Luna shrugged and went back to stirring the pot.

And stirring the pot was the right phrase, too. Daddy had been angry. Still was. He scared her. Luna understood that she had been wrong to go to the Ministry, that it had been dangerous. But for the first time in years, she had friends. That didn’t seem to matter to him. After Mummy had died, she’d even stopped seeing Ginny.

And Gabrielle. Gabrielle had been away receiving an education in the Paradigm primary program for so long. Luna brightened. She had received a letter in this morning’s mail and just hadn’t had a chance to read it yet.

Luna’s heart skipped a beat as she heard the door to the house open and then close. He was home. But the table wasn’t set. Everything had to be perfect. The soup was done. If she set it out now, then maybe everything would be okay.

The pot was heavy but Luna managed it easily enough. The distance from stove to table was small and the broth though bland to her tastes would hopefully soothe the savage beast. Daddy sat down at the table his posture slumped forward and his face slack. They hadn’t spoken much since that first night when she’d returned home from St. Mungo’s. He had been so quietly disappointed then. She was afraid of what he might do. It was like living with an undetonated Erumpent horn.

“We need to talk.”

Yeah. So it was time. Luna hated when her father was upset. She would do anything to keep him happy. It was her job as the lady of the house to care for all his needs, but sometimes he just seemed so insatiable. Emotionally, that is. He often left his food barely touched.

“Yes, Daddy.”

“I’ve been thinking about what happened two weeks ago. I’m concerned for your safety. I’m glad to see you are making friends at school. Your mother was much better at managing such matters than I ever have been. I wish I could provide you the guidance in this area that you deserve.”

“No, Daddy, it’s okay. I can figure it out. We’re doing fine.”

It wasn’t his fault. No one could blame him for what happened after Mummy died.

“No. That’s exactly the problem. You can’t figure it out—not on your own. I have never met any of these ‘friends’ and yet you feel compelled to risk your life on their behalf.”

Luna opened her mouth to defend her friends. It was unfair to blame them for the actions of the death eaters, but he cut her off with a firm hand gesture.

“Luna, dear. I understand that it is easy to be taken in by people who promise companionship in exchange for an opportunity to exploit you. You must remember that only your family will truly protect your interests. A family is a circle of trust where we always take care of each other. And your friends and that school are invading into that circle in ways that I can no longer allow.”

This was bad. Ever since mummy died, her father had insisted on controlling her entire life. Hogwarts was one of the only refuges she had. It felt like living in a play. Follow the script and everything worked out, but get off it and things would go badly.

“Do you want me to stop being friends with them?”

“No Luna, dearest. That’s not it. I am perfectly happy to have your friends visit you here where I can keep you safe.”

Silence passed. Luna knew there was something coming. In fact, she knew what it was, but she wasn’t ready to face it. It came anyway.

“I’m pulling you out of Hogwarts. You’ll be educated at home.”

“Daddy, no! Please!”

She couldn’t give up Hogwarts. It might seem like people were cruel but it was the one place that she could be herself.

“Don’t argue. I’ve made up my mind. Your mother educated you all the way up to nine without the need for any outside schools. We’ll manage it now.”

“But mum wanted me to go to Hogwarts. She said so all the time.”

Luna knew she should stop, that this could only go to dark places, but the words wouldn’t stop.

“Luna...”

“You just want to keep me all to yourself. I have friends and you can’t stand that so you want to take away the only good part of my life.”

“Luna.”

His tone was much more stern this time. Stop it, Luna. Stop. But despite her mental plea the deluge continued.

“I make your soup and clean your clothes and still you want to take more. What would mum say? What would she say if she knew...”

Finally, her lips responded to her cries to halt. But it was too late. The pulsing temple at the side of Daddy’s head told the whole story.

“You mother died. She’s gone. Is her memory a weapon to you now?”

He picked up his bowl and started for the stairs. Apparently he wanted to ride out his anger alone. Luna’s keen mind worked overtime. It would be okay. She would just make his favourite dessert tonight and layout his good clothes for tomorrow. She would convince him that Hogwarts was a good thing.

At the stairs Xenophilias turned back and looked to his daughter. He picked up the mail from the small table on which it lay including Gabrielle’s letter.

“Absolution tonight.”

Luna’s wide eyes and frozen visage of anxiety was her only response.