Questions and Answers


Story Summary:
What happens when the past collides with the present and threatens to cast the Potters' and Weasleys' lives into disarray...

Chapter 97 - Forging New Pathways


Eric pelted into the kitchen, Sarah hot on his heels. He held Sarah's ragdoll in one hand by its hair, the dark brown yarn wound through his pudgy fingers. 'Give her back!' Sarah shrieked.

Eric giggled manically. 'Have to catch me first!' he taunted, darting around the table to hide behind Neville's chair.

Sarah flung herself into Aaron's arms. 'Abba, make him give Pippa back!' she wailed in distressed fury, angry tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. Before anyone could say another word, the teacup at Aaron's elbow shattered, sending shards of china and a wave of tea over the kitchen table. In the flurry of activity that followed - Neville handed Sarah's doll to Dudley, then all but dragged Eric to the sitting room; Ginny repaired the teacup, while Hannah swiftly siphoned away the spilled tea with her wand - Harry noted that out of all the witches and wizards at the table, Hermione was the least surprised. In fact, she didn't seem surprised at all. Compared to the twin expressions of shock on Dudley and Aaron's faces at the idea of china that could seemingly explode at will, she seemed to have expected this.

Harry peered at Aaron. 'Are you injured?' he asked.

Aaron ran a hand over his face and the arm that had been nearest the teacup. 'No,' he said in an astonished voice, pinching a fold of his shirtsleeve between his fingers. 'Not even so much as a drop of tea on my shirt.'

Ginny gathered Sarah from Aaron's arms, murmuring soothing words to the little girl. 'Would you like to have a tea party with Pippa?' Sarah snuffled and nodded. A quick flick of Ginny's wand made a child's tea set appear on a small table that had been Lily's when she was Sarah's age that sat in the corner of the kitchen. Two ginger biscuits sat on a plate with a small cup of milk next to it.

When Sarah was settled and fresh tea doled out to the adults, Dudley gazed at his cup with more than a little suspicion. 'This isn't going to explode in my face, is it? China just shouldn't do that...' He prodded the handle with a wary forefinger.

'It shouldn't,' Hermione assured him, with a tiniest bit of a smug grin playing on her lips.

'Out with it, Hermione,' Harry sighed. 'You know something, don't you?'

Hermione glanced at Sarah in the corner, happily nattering away to her doll. 'She's down for Hogwarts,' she said simply.

Dudley blinked. 'My daughter's a...' He looked wildly around the table. -'Witch?' he mouthed.

'She is,' Hermione said, sipping her tea, as if this was the sort of conversation one normally had on a wintery Saturday afternoon.

'But how?' Aaron asked in stunned disbelief.

'Well, she was born one,' Harry said carefully. 'But I think there's more to the story.' He turned to Hermione and fixed her with a steely glare. 'Isn't there, Hermione?'

Hermione picked up a biscuit and nibbled the edge. 'MLE,' she began, but added in an aside to Dudley and Aaron, 'Magical Law Enforcement - I'm the Head of the department.' She continued, 'We have witches and wizards who work with the social services agencies that handle adoptions in the U.K. and Ireland. When a child is put down for Hogwarts, the Hogwarts headmaster or headmistress sends their name to MLE, which sends the information to our agents, as it were, in social services. If the child is older, and has already displayed concrete signs of magical ability, like Sarah just did, they'll try to place the child with a couple where at least one of the pair is a witch or wizard, like we did with Neville and Hannah.'

'But Eric was only a year old,' Neville interjected. 'Most kids don't show signs of magic until they're at least five.'

Hermione nodded. 'Generally, most children put down for Hogwarts aren't put down in the Book of Admittance until then. Sometimes, a child will display unmistakable signs of magic as an infant. It doesn't happen often.'

'Who -' Ron began, but Hermione cut him off.

'I'm sworn to secrecy,' she told him sternly. 'Besides, it has no bearing on how powerful a witch or wizard becomes as an adult,' she huffed. 'Furthermore, ninety-nine percent of the time, the Book doesn't even bother with infants.'

'But Eric?' Hannah asked softly.

Hermione rubbed her temples. 'I told you his birth parents were in a car accident. They were a witch and wizard, but no one would have survived the accident.' She turned to Harry. 'It was just a normal accident. Nothing nefarious.'

Harry snorted. 'You do remember I'm the Auror Head and would have investigated it had there even been the slightest whiff of anything untoward?'

'Oh honestly,' Hermione tutted. 'That was for everyone else's benefit, not just yours.' She exhaled strongly and turned back to Hannah. 'Eric was thrown from the car. He didn't have a single scratch or anything. That's the moment the Book deemed him worth of entrance to Hogwarts.' She took a sip of her tea. 'But back to Sarah.' She gave her full focus to Dudley and Aaron. 'Sarah was put down for Hogwarts at the end of her last term in nursery school. There was an incident with another little boy. Rather like what just happened.'

Aaron's brow rose. 'I don't recall receiving a telephone call or letter from Sarah's teacher. Do you, Dudley?'

A line appeared between Dudley's brows, as he stared at Sarah. 'No.'

'Well, you wouldn't have,' Ginny said gently. 'When something like that happens, especially if there are a lot of Muggles around, the Ministry sends an Obliviator to modify their memories slightly.' She smiled wryly. 'It happened quite a bit with Lily when she was in nursery and primary school. She has a bit of a temper.'

Dudley worried his lower lip between his teeth. Harry lightly touched his shoulder. 'Dudley? Are you all right with this?' he asked, unable to forget Dudley's early experiences with magic.

'How will it work?' Dudley asked slowly.

'How will what work?' Harry retorted.

'The letters. Remember when you got yours?' he shot back at Harry.

Hermione smothered a giggle. Harry had told them all about how number four Privet Drive had been pelted with hundreds of letters when Vernon and Petunia refused to allow Harry to read his Hogwarts letter. Neville quickly replied, 'We try not to let it get that bad anymore. If we don't receive a reply in a day or so, someone from Hogwarts will pay the family a visit and explain everything.'

'I would assume there's a uniform and other supplies?' Aaron asked.

'Uniform, books, wand, supplies for Potions class,' Ron said.

Hermione took pity on Dudley and Aaron. 'My parents were Muggles. Someone from Hogwarts came to our house with the letter and explained the process to my parents. We met them a couple of weeks later in London so they could take us through Diagon Alley to buy my things for school. The first time going there is a little overwhelming, to be honest. We have a bank there, and they will exchange Muggle currency for wizarding.'

'Oh, of course,' Aaron said faintly.

'You could go to Diagon Alley with the Hogwarts teacher or, if you prefer, one of us,' Neville added.

Dudley's hand rose to his mouth, and he gnawed his thumbnail as he studied Sarah, who had grown bored of the tea party and clambered into Aaron's lap. Aaron absently played pattycake with Sarah. 'What do we have to do differently as parents?'

Harry opened his mouth, but closed it with a snap. His children had grown up knowing they were going to Hogwarts, with the confident knowledge that the children of Harry and Ginny Potter couldn't possibly be Squibs. Besides, his own upbringing wouldn't have been helpful to Dudley or Aaron in the slightest. Harry glanced at Ron, who shrugged and nudged Neville. Neville shook his head slightly and cleared his throat. 'Erm...' he coughed, turning to Hermione. 'You're the one who had Muggle parents,' he stated.

'Just raise Sarah to be a good person,' Hermione said firmly. She could see her parents, slightly bewildered by the random manifestations of her magic when she was a child, but their attitude was one of only love. 'And when she does inadvertently use magic, don't do anything that would make her think she's a freak,' she added. 'In all likelihood, she doesn't realize she's doing anything.'

'I don't think my daughter is a freak,' Dudley blurted, more than a little stung.

'Of course you don't,' Harry interjected quickly, giving Hermione a beady glare. 'You wouldn't be here if you thought we were freaks,' he told his cousin with what he hoped was a soothing tone.

'My apologies,' Hermione murmured, not really sorry at all. Dudley's response spoke volumes about how much his feelings had changed. It was exactly the reaction Hermione had wanted to see. 'I spoke without thinking. I merely meant to say that you and Aaron shouldn't make a fuss about it.' She met Aaron's pensive gaze. 'You're in a much better position than my parents were. You at least know what's happening. My parents spent years trying to explain the inexplicable. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I had episodes of uncontrolled magic, I honestly didn't realize it was something I was doing. It was all unconsciously done. When I did connect something odd happening back to myself, I usually thought it was because I was over tired and my mind was playing tricks on me.'

Harry reached for the teapot to refill his cup. 'Most of mine didn't directly affect other people. They were just weird moments, like making my hair grow back overnight after Vernon all but shaved my head. It doesn't pop up randomly. It generally has to be a stressful situation.'

Aaron blanched slightly. 'So any time Sarah has a temper tantrum something odd will happen?'

'Not really,' Ginny assured him. 'It's usually in response to a situation where self-preservation is paramount. Rarely - very rarely - it happens because the child has been pushed to their limits. They've reached their tipping point, if you will.'

'So this afternoon was a tipping point?' Aaron drawled. 'Since I highly doubt Sarah felt her life was in danger.'

'Probably,' Ginny agreed.

Sarah tugged the sleeve of Aaron's jumper. 'Abba? Can I go play with Eric?

Aaron glanced at Hannah and jerked his head toward the sitting room with a brow raised in inquiry. Hannah checked her watch and nodded, so Aaron said, 'Go on.' He leaned back in his chair as the sound of Sarah's shoes on the hardwood floor faded. 'Can she still be Jewish?' he asked hesitantly.

Neville grinned. 'Of course she can. There's a young man in Al's year that had a bar mitzvah. We made arrangements for him to go home for a few hours on Sunday afternoons for lessons. We can make the same accommodations for Sarah.'

Ron selected a biscuit from the plate in the middle of the table. 'A lot of us aren't religious. The old wizarding families usually aren't. All those times we were burned at the stake, you know.'

'But some are,' Hannah said. 'It really depends on how they were raised.'

'A child's religion does not factor into whether or not they're put down for Hogwarts,' Neville told Aaron.

'I see.' Aaron picked up his cup and took a long sip. Aaron looked at Dudley over the rim of his cup. He was pale, shoulders unnaturally squared. Dudley licked his dry lips and suddenly pushed his chair away.

'Excuse me,' he choked. 'Need some air...' Dudley blundered his way to the door and tripped into the icy back garden.

Harry saw Aaron start to rise and said, 'I'll go.' He paused long enough to snatch his coat and Dudley's from the scullery before following his cousin into the garden. Dudley stood by the broomshed, arms tightly crossed over his chest. 'Dudley?'

Dudley drew in a shuddering breath. 'You felt like your life was threatened.' It was telling that he hadn't said it in the form of a question.

Harry handed Dudley his jacket. He didn't reply until he had donned his own coat. 'Just once or twice,' he said evenly. 'It was a long time ago, though. It doesn't define either one of us anymore, yeah?' He rubbed his forehead, fingers grazing over the faded scar. Harry snorted in sudden ironic mirth. 'Christ, I don't know why I didn't think of this before.'


Harry sighed. 'It's hard to explain, but I'll try. You remember my parents were killed, yeah?' Dudley nodded. 'The wanker that killed them used magic, of course, but he also murdered them in cold blood. It wasn't his first time. He'd been systematically murdering people for decades so he could put bits of his soul into objects in an attempt to be immortal. If you were in close physical contact with one of those things, it could do awful, terrible things to your emotional state.' Harry glanced into the kitchen through the windows, seeing Ron and Ginny's bright heads glimmering in the clear winter sunshine. He remembered with searing clarity Ginny lying in the Chamber, so still she might have been dead; or Ron's gaunt face in the shadows of the tent. He scuffed the toe of his boot in the frost blasted grass. 'The thing is, when he killed my mum, she had used her body to shield me from him. Part of his soul attached it self to me. And nobody knew. Not for years.' He paused to allow Dudley to absorb this information. 'So -'

'Hang on,' Dudley interrupted. 'Give me a minute, all right?'

Silence spooled between them. Harry turned up the collar of his coat against the frigid curls of wind that brushed over the back of his neck.

Dudley stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. 'You're saying that we - my parents and I - were nasty people because you were one of those... things?'

'I'm saying it's possible it was a contributing factor. More for you than your parents. They hated everything about me before I was even born, so I doubt it would have taken much for them to despise me.'

'Possible...' Dudley mused, drumming his fingers against his thigh. He remembered going to Smeltings, being away from Harry for the first time he could remember in his life to that point. 'Most of the time I was at Smeltings, I was still a bullying git,' he said quietly. 'But, there was something different. It didn't feel like I was chewing aluminum foil in my head.'

Harry chuckled a little. 'That could have been anything. Being away from your parents' influence. Being away from the bit of Dark magic hiding in me.' He clapped a hand on Dudley's broad back. 'I honestly don't know if it ever affected anyone. I don't recall anyone behaving particularly odd around me, but not around others. At this point, it's just a theory that just occurred to me.'

'Yeah.' Dudley drew in a deep breath. 'So,' he began on a slow exhale. 'My daughter is a witch.' His mouth twisted, and a bark of laughter escaped him. 'I hope you appreciate the irony of this.'

Harry began to chortle. 'Oh, I do.'


Lily poked morosely at a slice of toast. Breakfast at Hogwarts was ordinarily excellent, but the toast felt like nothing more than a wad of sawdust in her mouth. James stared at her while he shoveled cereal into his mouth. She normally had a healthy appetite. 'Are you sick?' he asked, swallowing a bite of cereal. Lily nibbled the edge of the toast, shaking her head. The last thing she wanted was to have James frog-march her to the hospital wing, and then write to Ginny.

'She's got Career Advice with Neville after breakfast,' Alex piped up from his place down the table.

'Shhh!' Nicky hissed, sharply elbowing his twin in the ribs. 'We ought not to call Professor Longbottom by his given name in school,' he admonished.

Sophie blinked bemusedly at her cousin. 'Do you really think there are people at this table who don't know we see Professor Longbottom socially outside of school?'

Scorpius snorted into his tea. 'Table? Try the school.' He gazed around the table. 'If you lot stay in Britain and Ireland, Professor Longbottom will probably end up teaching your children. If not your grandchildren,' he mused. 'Of course by then, half the school will be descended from Molly and Arthur Weasley in some fashion.'

'That's assuming we all have children,' Nicky pointed out. 'And Parker's probably going stay in America. So...' His eyes unfocused and he stared vaguely at some point on the other side of the Great Hall.

Alex studied his twin with a sardonic grin. 'You're thinking about it, aren't you? Calculating how many of us will be here in a generation or two?'

'Don't hurt yourself,' Sophie chortled. 'I reckon we're going to be one of those wizarding families that are related to almost everyone.'

'Do you think Granddad and Grandmum ever considered that when they had seven -" Peyton coughed. 'Six children,' he corrected himself.

'I imagine it might have run through Granddad's mind,' Sophie smiled.

Peyton toyed with his porridge, running his spoon through it. 'My dad says they were poor,' he stated.

One of James' brows rose. 'And?'

Peyton squirmed. James had a knack for making people feel the utter ridiculousness of what they had just said. Especially if it was thoughtless or careless. 'I just mean that it must have been difficult,' he muttered, face slowly turning a bright shade of pink.

Sophie reached for the teapot in the middle of the table and refilled her mug. 'It was,' she told Peyton quietly, thinking of how hard her father had driven himself to maintain the joke shop. Her earliest childhood memories involved George falling asleep in his armchair after dinner, listening to a Quidditch match on the wireless. Sophie could recall complaining at the amount of time her father spent in the shop, informing him that all the other dads in her primary school class didn't work nearly every day of the week. George had pulled her into his lap and brushed her fringe from her eyes. It's so you never know what it means to wear secondhand robes or use someone else's beaten-up textbook at school, or have to scrimp for every last Knut to ensure that you have even those secondhand robes.' George had kissed her forehead, given her a longer than usual hug, and then tucked her into bed. Sophie could recall the odd sound of George's voice that she now knew meant it was heavy with emotion. Not too many years after that, the meaning of George's words suddenly made sense. The photographs on the walls of the Burrow showed Bill, Charlie, Percy, George, Fred, Ron, and Ginny - as well as Arthur and Molly - in carefully patched and mended clothes. Clothes that had appeared first on Bill, made their way down to Ron. Ginny's clothes were let out in the seams and hems until there was nothing left to accommodate her growth spurts. The slightly faded color of their school uniforms, where their cloaks were nearly charcoal grey and not black. It appeared to Sophie's observant gaze that they only every got something new was at Christmas when Molly knitted them new jumpers.

James leaned forward and tapped the back of Lily's hand. 'Are you really all right?' he asked softly.

Lily nodded and gulped. 'Just nervous.'

'You know, they don't write to everyone's parents, letting them know what you've stated in Career Advice,' James told her.

'They certainly do not,' Scorpius murmured, pushing another slice of toast into Lily's limp hand. 'Eat that,' he said before continuing. 'If they did, I'm quite sure my father would have had a lecture ready about how working in MLE with your aunt Hermione to rewrite wizarding laws that adversely affect other beings is beneath me as a Malfoy.'

Lily grinned weakly. 'Oh, huzzah. That means I've got two years to work up the nerve to tell Dad myself.'

Scoprius glanced at her. 'Not three?'

Lily shook her head vigorously, making strands of hair flutter from her plait. 'No. Starting seventh year, someone from the Aurors comes up a handful of times to work with the students who want to join their training program. Sort of like simulations in using defensive spells and the like. Dad usually comes to do some sort of obstacle course before Easter. That way, if someone gets an Acceptable in a required N.E.W.T., they have another way to evaluate the student.'

James glanced down the table at Al, sitting on the periphery. 'When you do tell Dad, be confident, but humble, yeah? Don't be cocky. Tell him you don't expect any sort of special treatment, that if you make it into the Auror training program, you fully anticipate being treated like every other trainee that's come before you. Maybe even say you imagine you'll be pushed a bit harder than the others. Because you will be.'

Lily's eyes were wide, dark pools in her pale face. 'I know,' she told James steadily. 'Why do you think I study and practice so much?' She looked at her watch and gasped. 'Is that the time?' Her mouth felt dry and sticky, so she hastily gulped the rest of her orange juice and clambered over the bench, swinging her bag onto a shoulder. 'See you at lunch,' she said over her shoulder as she hurried from the castle and out into the cold January morning.

Neville technically had an office in the castle, but he preferred to have a space in the greenhouses. He felt that students should be able to locate him easily. If he wasn't in one of the greenhouses, he was in the staffroom. The actual location of his office changed however, depending on which greenhouse was relatively unused for the term. To make things easier on students coming for Career Advice, Neville had hung a small banner with the Hogwarts crest over the door of Greenhouse Four. Lily pushed the door open, inhaling the scents of herbs on the warm, humid air. Neville sat at a desk in one corner of the greenhouse, a mug of tea steaming at his elbow. 'Good morning, Professor,' she said tightly, pulling her cloak off and draping it over the back of the chair in front of the desk.

Neville grinned. 'Good morning, Lily. Right on time.' He looked down at an open folder. 'Shall we begin?' Lily nodded mutely. Neville noted the sweat beading in the girl's hairline and the unnaturally pale complexion. 'We can reschedule this if you're feeling unwell,' he told her.

Lily heaved a sigh. 'No. Let's just get this over with, all right?'

Neville turned a few pages. 'Your marks are excellent across the board. Your teachers say you're determined to do well, you work hard. At this point, you could have your pick of careers.'

Lily swallowed hard. 'I want to be an Auror!' she blurted. Her eyes widened in horror. 'But you can't tell Dad! Please, Uncle Neville! Don't tell him!' she begged.

Neville smiled wryly at Lily. 'I won't breathe a word,' he promised. 'But can I ask you something?'

'I suppose.'

'Why don't you want Harry to know about your ambitions?' He leaned forward conspiratorially. 'We - your other teachers and me - have had an inkling for some time that you might want to be an Auror, you know.'

'How did you know?' Lily asked nervously.

Neville chuckled. 'The self-defense lessons, for one. All your marks are excellent, but your Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, and Defense marks are stellar, especially Defense. Learning Muggle escape tricks. I wouldn't be surprised if you had it in your head to become an Animagus.' Lily started in surprise, mouth falling open. It had actually occurred to her a couple of months ago that becoming an Animagus could be useful to an Auror. 'Here.' Neville reached behind him and grasped a mug by feel from a shelf, filling it with tea from the steaming teapot at his elbow. He added a few lumps of sugar and pushed the mug of sweet tea across the desk to Lily. 'Why don't you want Harry to know?' he repeated gently.

Lily sagged back into the chair, with the mug cradled between her hands. 'Look at what happened with Albus,' she said soberly. 'Dad has this barmy idea that if it wasn't something he wanted to do, then we must not want to do it, either. Take Quidditch. Dad didn't want to play professionally, so why on earth would Al want to? Or fighting to make this world a better place. It's loads better than when you were my age, but there are still Dark wizards out there. There's nothing to say that there will never be another power-hungry plonker with who doesn't want to live within the rules we've set for ourselves,' she argued.

'You're quite right,' Nevillie murmured. 'Your dad wanted to be an Auror, though. When he was about your age, too.'

'I overheard Dad once, talking to Uncle Ron a few years ago after Sunday lunch,' Lily admitted. 'Right before James' fifth year. It was the first time one of us... out of James, Al, Hugo, Rosie, and me, I mean... would have to discuss what we wanted to do after school. He said he hoped none of us wanted to become an Auror. He said that it's a difficult life, especially for people just starting out. He said it can eat up your personal life to the point where you almost don't have one.' Lily took a sip of her tea. Her lips pursed as she recalled seeing the state her father came home in every January and July without fail. Ginny generally made sure that she, James, Al, and Lily ate dinner at the Burrow those days. They gave Harry a wide berth the next day. He could be touchy for a few days afterward. 'I know he wants to protect us, but it's my life. I could do something in Gringotts, if it came down to it, but I want to be an Auror.'

Neville exhaled slowly. 'You've got until the end of your sixth year to tell Harry on your own terms,' he said. 'After your final exams in June, we send an owl to the Auror who oversees the trainees to let them know if one, any students are interested in becoming an Auror; and two, who they are.'

'Right,' Lily said wearily.

'You're a Gryffindor, Lily Potter,' Neville said sternly, but with a smile. 'Bravery comes in many shapes and sizes. It doesn't always mean direct confrontation, I might add.'

'What do you mean?'

'You have an owl, don't you?'

'Yeah. I mean, yes, Professor.'

'Sending a letter to your dad might seem like the coward's way out, but bravery is an act of faith, knowing your choice was the best one at that particular moment. Writing will give your dad time to process all this by the time you go home for Easter hols, if you were to write him in the next few days. Might be best to get it over with quickly. Like pulling off a plaster, you know.'

'Is that what you think I should do?' Lily asked nervously.

'I think you should say something to him sooner, rather than later,' Neville advised. 'He's probably rather hear it directly from you than from one of the other Aurors.' He leaned back in his creaky swivel chair. 'Still, it's your decision.'

Lily set the empty mug on the desk. 'Thanks, Professor.' She pulled her cloak over her shoulders and waited for Neville to scribble a pass to her first class.

Neville pushed the scrap of parchment across the desk. 'Oh, and Lily? If you want some help writing a letter, just let me know. We'll put our heads together and come up with something.'

Lily pulled her wand from her bag and silently Summoned the parchment. 'Thanks, Uncle Neville,' she murmured, before retreating from the greenhouse.


Neville glanced at his watch, with only a bit of impatience. Hugo, of course, was late. Neville had anticipated it, naturally, and had planned accordingly, scheduling Hugo's time slot for Career Advice at the end of the day, knowing that Hugo sometimes operated on a wavelength unknown to the rest of them. Plus, Merlin only knew what Hugo wanted to do with his life. He certainly didn't fit in any of the usual occupations, from what Neville had observed in his Herbology classes. Neville cast a worried glance at the greenhouse windows. The snowstorm that had begun after lunch had grown heavier. He had already grabbed his cloak from a peg on the wall, so he could possibly intercept Hugo and conduct their interview inside the castle, but the door of the greenhouse blew open on a gust of wind and snow, revealing a slightly breathless Hugo Weasley. 'Only ten minutes late,' Neville chided, wondering how on earth the boy managed to make it to classes on time.

'Sorry, professor,' Hugo said with a sheepish grin as he leaned against the door to close it. 'I was reading lost track of time.'

Neville picked up the teapot on his desk and poured Hugo a mug of tea. 'What were you reading?' he asked as he handed the mug to Hugo. 'Nothing purloined from the Restricted Section, I hope?' he joked lightly, knowing Hugo's predilection for esoteric reading material.

Hugo's grin grew wider as he settled into the chair in front of Neville's desk. 'Need an invisibility cloak for that, and James won't let his dad's out of his sight.' He reached into his bag and tugged out a rather slim book. Neville's eyes widened slightly as he read the title.

'That's just a little outside the realm of magic, isn't it?'

Hugo shrugged. 'Maybe. We always talk about how magic can't solve everything and there are things that just are and can't be explained,' he stated.

Neville flipped open Hugo's file. There were very few deviations in the reports from his teachers: uncanny ability to see situations from multiple angles with little or no cognitive dissonance, bright, intelligent, excellent marks on exams, but abysmal marks when it came to homework. Hugo had ongoing problems turning in homework assignments on time. Remarks from his teachers about what profession for which he might show an aptitude were wildly inconsistent, with Professor Trentham cheerfully stating work as a Ministry maintenance worker was all that Hugo was cut out to be with his seeming penchant for daydreaming. Others were more optimistic, hoping Hugo could find motivation for one of the more advanced professions, succinctly noting that not everyone who did well in the confines of a classroom carried that success to their careers. Neville tapped a forefinger against his lips, studying the file. Once more into the breach, he mused to himself. Any definitive answers would have to come from Hugo. 'Let's just get down to it. What do you want to do?'

'Department of Mysteries.'

Neville blinked several times and shook his head as if he had water in his ears. 'I beg your pardon?'

'Department of Mysteries,' Hugo repeated. 'Unspeakables.'

'Do you know what they do?'

'Do you?' Hugo retorted genially.

'Of course I do,' Neville shot back. 'Well, only in broad terms, like everyone else,' he allowed. Neville closed Hugo's file and pointed a plant-stained finger at Hugo. 'I want to hear you tell me.'

'Considering Unspeakables don't talk about what they do precisely,' Hugo said, taking a sip of his tea, 'the best way to describe it is, they do research and try to figure out applications for their findings. Individual Unspeakables are free to research whatever interests them, but sometimes they're assigned to work in a team if another Unspeakable is working with something complementary or similar.' He smiled blandly at Neville, looking remarkably like his mother when she was his age. 'That was from a book in the Restricted Section.'

'Fair enough,' Neville murmured. 'What sort of things do they research, then? In general?'

Hugo shrugged. 'Depends on the witch or wizard. Philosophy of magic. Emotions. The ephemeral aspects of life. That's all anyone knows, really.'

Neville rubbed a blooming ache over his left eyebrow. 'You're sure about this?'


'You'll never be able to discuss your work with your spouse or significant other,' Neville reminded him. 'That's blocking them away from a large portion of your life.'

Hugo snorted. 'Maybe I'll get involved with another Unspeakable. Maybe I'll live an ascetic lifestyle. Maybe I'll meet someone who understands I can't talk about it. Those aren't the questions I'm worried about.'

Neville stared at Hugo. The staff betting pool hadn't predicted this one. Not by a long shot. 'Your mother is going to have a little of Kneazles when you tell her.'

'Or she could think it's better than working in Maintenance,' Hugo countered smugly. Professor Trentham had, in a fit of exasperation, informed Hugo that if he didn't smarten up, the only job he could hope to have was as a Maintenance worker in the Ministry just last week.

'She could, that,' Neville agreed. 'Right. I need to write the Ministry and figure out what N.E.W.T.s the current Head prefers. We haven't had a student want to go into the Unspeakables since they new Head was appointed, and each one likes to see different N.E.W.T.s. When I get an answer, we'll meet up again and plot out your classes for the rest of your time here.' Neville stood up and grabbed his cloak. 'I'll walk back to the castle with you.' He slung the cloak over his shoulders, fastening it securely at his throat and wound his woolly scarf around his neck. He ushered Hugo to the door of the greenhouse, and paused with one mittened hand on the doorknob. 'Do let me know how your mum reacts. Between you and me, I don't think she's even figured you out for the Department of Mysteries.'

Hugo chuckled with a surprisingly deep sound for one so slender. 'You know, I don't think she has, either.'


Sophie drummed her fingers on the potting table, waiting for Neville to arrive for her Career Advice session. She was early, but it gave her some time to formulate exactly what she wanted to say to Neville. She counted herself lucky. It wasn't as if she were going out on a limb, as far as her future was concerned. Someone else had already paved a pathway. The training wasn't the issue for Sophie, nor was her ultimate career goal. Nobody in her family would begrudge her that. It didn't take an affinity for Divination to know that particular pathway would lead her elsewhere, however.

Neville walked into the greenhouse, bringing the scents of Highland mountains on the raw early spring air. Sophie sighed. She would miss it. 'All right, Sophie?' Neville asked, as he dropped his bag on his desk.

'Yes, sir,' she replied, making her way to the spindly chair in front of Neville's desk.

'Would you like some tea?'

'Yes, please. Thank you.' Sophie sat down, folding her hands on her knees, so she didn't start gnawing at her fingernails out of sheer nervousness.

Neville glanced at her while he poured tea into mugs. 'Something on your mind?'

'Just this,' she said evenly, accepting the mug Neville held out.

Neville rummaged in his bag and withdrew Sophie's file, brushing a few crumbs of potting soil off the cover. 'So, then,' he began, blowing a little on his tea. 'What do you want to do after you finish school?'

Sophie drew in a deep breath. 'I want to teach,' she said, annoyed to hear how breathy and high-pitched her voice sounded.

'Like Parker?' Neville prodded.

Sophie shook her head. 'Here,' she admitted. 'I want to teach Charms, actually.' She knotted her fingers together. 'I know it's going to be difficult.'

'Difficult is one way to put it,' Neville agreed. 'It's not impossible, by any stretch,' he added quickly. 'It's just that Professor Flitwick doesn't seem to be inclined to retire any time soon.'

'I know,' Sophie told him. 'I've already thought about that.' Neville merely nodded and waited for her to continue. 'I thought I'd apply to the school where Parker's doing his studies. I can learn how to be an effective teacher, and Salem has several campuses. I could start there. They do tend to have two teachers in each class. I'll gain the relevant experience, so when Professor Flitwick does retire, I can in good conscience apply as an experienced teacher,' Sophie explained.

'You seem to have given it a great deal of thought,' Neville commented.

'You could say that.' Sophie opened and closed her mouth a few times before she muttered, 'There's Durmstrang...' She quickly buried her nose in her tea and took an ill-advised gulp, scalding her tongue in the process.

Neville stared at her over the rim of his mug. 'I beg your pardon?' he choked.

Sophie heaved a sigh and set her mug on a corner of the desk. 'Durmstrang,' she repeated. 'I've been doing research into European magical schools, and I have a pen friend who goes to school there. She says it's an open secret that their current Charms teacher wants to retire in a few years when his wife does.' Sophie rubbed her palms over her knees. 'And go live somewhere warm,' she added impishly.

'I see.' Neville carefully set his mug down, as if it were an exquisite piece of antique crystal and not something he picked up at a church boot sale in London years ago. 'You're aware of its reputation, are you not?'

Sophie bit her lip. 'I'm well aware of Durmstrang's history and that the used to teach the Dark Arts. Several of its alumnae did became involved with the Dark Arts or became Death Eaters. So did students who had attended Hogwarts,' she challenged. 'Bloody hell, Neville,' Sophie seethed, forgetting to refer to him as professor in her exasperation. 'Voldemort attended Hogwarts! No single school has a monopoly on people who turn to the dark side.' Sophie reached for her tea. 'Besides, there's nothing that says I'm going to end up teaching at Durmstrang, anyway. Who knows? I might end up staying in America, like Parker will.'

Neville sighed heavily. 'Sophie, I can't fault you for wanting to teach. I'm thrilled you want to teach. You've clearly thought out how you want to go about becoming a teacher. You absolutely have options. If not here, or elsewhere in Europe, then America, Australia, or New Zealand.' Neville opened a locked drawer of his desk with a tap of his wand and pulled out a thick book. He leafed through it and scribbled down a few notes on a scrap of parchment. He replaced the book in his desk and relocked the drawer. 'You're right about Durmstrang,' he told her. 'They've changed their curriculum since Karkaroff, uh, -resigned after my fourth year here. They no longer teach the Dark Arts, as you obviously know. And their Charms teacher is slated to retire within the next seven to ten years. The Charms teacher in New Zealand is expected to retire in the next few years. Salem Institute is looking to open another branch. The San Francisco and St. Louis schools aren't bursting at the seams, but they're looking to lessen the amount of students in a single location, and want to build a school somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico. There's also talk of building another school in the Midwest or New England, possibly in northern Michigan, Vermont, or New Hampshire. They're likely to staff a new school with one of the current Charms teachers and let one of the assistants move into the position of lead teacher. If Salem does hire you, it's likely you'll spend several years as an assistant before they'll consider you for a head teacher.'

'I know all this, professor.' Sophie swirled the remaining tea in her mug. 'I know there's a high chance I'll end up abroad.' Her voice hitched slightly, and Sophie took a sip of her cooling tea. She swallowed hard to move the lump in her throat that had appeared with the idea that she'd live somewhere so far from her family, she'd only see them a few times a year, if that much. International Portkeys from America or Australia were dear, especially during the holidays.

Neville looked away, allowing Sophie a moment to collect herself. 'I'll write Salem tomorrow and ask for their advice about how to proceed from here. In the meantime, keep doing what you're doing. When I receive a reply from Salem, we'll meet again, and plan what you should do for the next couple of years.'

Sophie nodded. 'Thanks, professor,' she told him, slinging her bag over her shoulder.

As she walked out of the greenhouse, Neville leaned back in his chair, a frown crossing over his face. He was still gazing through the greenhouse windows when Gareth walked in. 'You had your last Career Advice session today, didn't you?' Gareth inquired, dropping with casual ease into the chair recently vacated by Sophie.

'Yeah,' Neville murmured. He inhaled deeply and gathered Sophie's file together.

'How did they go?'

Neville grinned slightly. 'All right mostly. Had to let a few of them down gently. Especially one poor girl who desperately wants to be a Healer, but she struggles with Transfiguration and Potions more than I did.'

Gareth drew his wand, and with a practiced flick of his wrist, conjured an oversized mug. He motioned to the teapot. 'Mind if I have some?' Neville pushed the teapot across the desk by means of a reply. Gareth poured tea into the mug and sat back. 'Talked to Callie and Zachary about tutoring her, perhaps?'

'I did. And they've been doing everything they can think of so she doesn't receive a T on her O.W.L.s next year.' Neville refilled his mug. 'She does have an aptitude for History of Magic, and she's doing very well in Muggle Studies, especially considering she's not Muggle-born. I thought she might do well as one of MLE's liaisons with a Muggle agency. Or with Arthur Weasley in the Misues of Muggle Artifacts office. He's very good at nurturing people other departments wouldn't look at twice and helping them find their footing. I keep him updated about prospective employees.'

'Anything else that's notable?' Gareth calmly sipped his tea.

Neville closed his eyes briefly. 'Oh, the Weasley and Potter sprogs are out to make names for themselves. Not taking the easy route.'

'Oh?' Gareth attempted to sound nonchalant, but Neville knew better. Gareth didn't quite have Dumbledore's preternatural ability to know everything that was going on in Hogwarts, but he did keep his fingers on the pulse.

'Lily wants to be an Auror, but hasn't come clean with Harry yet. I advised her to do so and the sooner the better. Sophie wants to teach Charms -'

'Here?' Gareth blurted.

'Not necessarily,' Neville said. 'She's got a few options abroad.' He paused. 'Durmstrang among them.' Gareth merely raised an eyebrow. 'She insists she's only keeping her options open.'

Gareth crossed one ankle over the opposite knee. 'And Hugo?'

Neville's mouth twitched. 'Unspeakable.'

Gareth coughed, spewing tea all over the front of his jumper. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and set the mug down. 'Fascinating.'

Neville twirled his wand between his fingers. Green and blue sparks floated from the tip and bobbed just under the ceiling of the greenhouse. 'They really do want things on their own merits,' he mused. 'Make a new path for themselves.'