Many thanks to my beta, Ara Kane.
THE FIRST OF NOVEMBER
It was still quite dark when Mack Robertson awoke in the Hufflepuff first year boys’ dormitory. He pushed open the golden velvet bed hangings far enough to see his bedside clock. It was 6:15 AM - still too early to get up, yet too late to go back to sleep.
He laid back down and stared at the ceiling of his four-poster, thinking about the Halloween feast the night before. Although there had been plenty of food and even some entertainment from the resident ghosts, an atmosphere of gloom had pervaded the Great Hall. Mack wasn’t old enough to remember a time before You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters had begun terrorizing the wizarding world, but even he could tell that everyone’s morale had declined rapidly in the last few months. Even though she tried to hide it, Mack could sense the worry laced through his mother’s letters. The headlines in the Daily Prophet were even worse.
He had to remind himself that he was fortunate to even be at Hogwarts at all…
During the last week in July, Mack had been awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of a large explosion. The building shook and the windows rattled as he jumped out of bed. He opened his door to see both parents pulling on their dressing gowns and rushing down the stairs, wands drawn.
Mack ran back to grab his own wand although, deep down, he knew it was a futile gesture. Mum had taken him across the street to purchase it only the afternoon before; he had seen his family perform spells but had never had the opportunity to try them himself.
Still barefoot, he crept silently down the stairs to the back office of his parents’ apothecary shop. As he turned the corner, he heard his mother’s voice in the front room of the shop. “Not again!”
His father answered, “It looks like they tried to break into Ollivander’s. I’d better check with the neighbors to make sure no one’s hurt.” Broken glass crunched on the floor as he walked to the front door.
Mack poked his head through the door into the main room where disaster reigned. Both of the front windows were completely blown out, and most of the containers holding potion ingredients were broken or overturned. Sinister greenish smoke drifted in from Diagon Alley outside. His mother stood next to the counter, gripping it as she struggled not to break down and cry.
Mack started walking towards her but had not gone far when his left foot landed on shards of glass. “OW!”
His mum whirled around, wand outstretched. She managed a shaky laugh when she realized who had been standing behind her. “Just what do you think you’re doing down here, young man? Let me have a look at that foot.” After casting a quick antiseptic charm and cracking a small smile to soften her words, she ordered, “Stay upstairs until I tell you otherwise. Now get going!”
Knowing better than to argue, Mack gingerly climbed up to the living room and sat down on the sofa to wait. He was still there the next morning when he woke to find a blanket pulled over him. Now that the sun had risen, he could look out the windows to see a large crater in the middle of the street. All of the store fronts in the vicinity showed varying degrees of damage, even heavily protected Ollivander’s. (One window pane was cracked, and the display wand had rolled off its dusty cushion.)
Mack’s mum reappeared and set him to work immediately after breakfast. It was while he was sitting on the floor trying to sort the spilled dried beetle wings from the dragon scales that he overheard a conversation that twisted his stomach in knots.
“I don’t think we should send Mack to Hogwarts this year,” began his mother abruptly.
“Why do you say that, Belinda?” his father asked after a short pause.
“It’s - it’s too dangerous. I want to keep an eye on him. My cousin Ariadne is keeping Cassandra at home.” Ariadne’s husband had been missing since March.
“And it’s not dangerous here? Please remind me not to hex our estate agent the next time she gushes about the advantages of our ‘prime location.’ I honestly think he‘d be safer at school.”
“Then he could stay with your parents in Salisbury. Your mother has the house well protected, and it wouldn’t hurt him to go to Muggle school for a year. Hogwarts is such an obvious target.”
Since his acceptance letter had arrived the week before, Mack had been counting the days until he would be allowed to start at Hogwarts. Now he thought his prospects looked bleak.
However, his hope returned at his father’s words. “Maybe it is a target, but I can’t think of any place that isn’t. I think he should go…”
Mack’s alarm clock rang, rousing him from his reverie. He got up and aimed a pillow at the only other bed in a room obviously built to hold more. “Hey Rob! Get up! We’ve got to review our Tranfiguration essays before nine o’clock.” The only response from behind the curtains was a muffled groan. Robert Martin was not a morning person.
Mack was already dressed and digging for the books in his trunk when Rob finally showed his face. Mack affected a stern expression and pretended to scold; Rob responded with a rude gesture, and they both laughed. In a short two months, they had become fast friends. Mack had been able to answer most of Rob’s bewildered questions about the wizarding world, and in return, Rob was able to explain certain aspects of Muggle culture that had eluded Mack during visits to his father’s relatives.
After checking their essays, they headed down the corridors to the Great Hall for breakfast. In the entrance hall, they passed an agitated-looking Professor Flitwick heading the opposite direction at an unusually rapid pace. The boys turned around to watch him leave through the front doors of the castle but gained no clues regarding his destination. Shrugging, they resumed their quest for food.
After satisfying the worst of his hunger, Mack took the opportunity to glance at the High Table to see if Professor Flitwick had returned. He was still missing; in fact, the stern gaze of Professor McGonagall and the great bulk of Gamekeeper Hagrid were absent as well. However, what worried Mack the most was Headmaster Dumbledore’s empty seat in the center of the table. Something very bad must have happened.
Mack briefly cast his eyes to the owl entrance near the ceiling before he remembered that mail and newspapers no longer arrived at breakfast. Three weeks before, several Muggle-born students had been injured by simultaneous letter-delivered hexes. Since that time, all post had been screened outside the Hogwarts gates before being collected for lunch-time delivery.
At ten minutes to nine, Mack gave up hope of solving the mystery of the missing professors and trudged off to the Transfiguration classroom with Rob. They shared this lesson with the Gryffindors, so he wasn’t surprised to see red-haired Bill Weasley already seated near the front when they arrived. On a normal day, however, Professor McGonagall would be seated at her desk making last-minute notes as the students took their places. Where was she?
By a quarter after nine, she had still not appeared, and the class began debating whether they should wait longer or just leave. Before they had come to a decision, a breathless Professor Sprout arrived to read from a crumpled parchment. “All morning classes are cancelled. We will announce the status of afternoon classes later. Please return to your common rooms now. Thank you.” Without allowing time for questions, she turned and left, apparently to address other classes.
Puzzled, everyone followed Professor Sprout out of the room. In the corridor, Bill voiced what most of the others were thinking. “Something really bad has happened. So bad that they don’t want to tell us. I wonder who’s been attacked now… I hope Mum sent an owl.”
The members of the different Houses separated at the main staircase. Bill’s words had forcibly reminded Mack that he hadn‘t received any owls for three days. He was still thinking about the last time he had seen his family when he joined the queue in front of the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room.
The group arrived at King’s Cross station on the first of September in a car driven by Mack’s grandfather. Irritated by the fact that his mother had spent the last month hovering over him and determined to prove that he wasn’t child anymore, Mack insisted on pushing the trolley holding the heavy trunk marked “EMR” by himself. As they threaded their way through the crowds, he was aware that three of the four adults surrounding him were tightly gripping the wands hidden in their coat pockets, ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice.
They reached the area near platforms Nine and Ten without incident. As his grandfather clapped him on the shoulder, Mack remembered with a start that Granddad couldn’t pass through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three Quarters; it was time to say goodbye.
“I promise I’ll write!”
“I’m sure you will, lad. Now, I know you’ll be learning lots of new things, but don’t forget what I’ve taught you.” Daniel Robertson handed his grandson a small box.
Mack tore off the wrapping paper. “Muggle cards! Thanks!” After marrying a witch nearly forty years before, Granddad had decided to cope with the magic in his life by developing an extensive repertoire of sleight-of-hand tricks. Outfitted in robes purchased in Diagon Alley for effect, he now supplemented his pension income by performing at children’s birthday parties.
Because Grandmother didn’t want to leave Granddad alone and unprotected from any unscrupulous Death Eaters, Mack hugged both grandparents goodbye. He wanted to take the lead onto the platform to meet the Hogwarts Express, but his father insisted on passing through the barrier first in order to check the security arrangements. He returned shortly to proclaim an “all clear”.
Mack’s first view of the Hogwarts Express was both impressive and frustrating. He found himself waiting in a long queue to have his identity verified and his baggage checked for Dark items before he could actually get any closer. A quick glance around showed numerous uniformed Aurors standing guard with their wands drawn. Mack was accustomed a certain nervousness in the air, but the tension on this day was palpable.
After he found a spot for his trunk on the train, Mack rejoined his parents on the platform for a final farewell. Belinda Robertson gave him a kiss on the cheek and then proceeded to scrub off the lipstick mark with a spit-moistened handkerchief. “Mackie, now behave yourself at Hogwarts.”
“Ewww, Mum!” whined Mack, blushing to the roots of his dark hair. “It’s MACK. I’m not a baby any more.” He couldn’t understand why both parents sighed a little at that statement.
A train whistle sounded, signifying that time was nearly up. His mum tried to cram in some last minute advice. “Be sure to send us an owl in the morning to tell us that you got there safely and what House you’re in.” She and Dad had both been Ravenclaws. “Most importantly, study hard. Have fun. In that order.”
Mack’s dad gave him a wink. “What she said.”
After one last hug, Mack jumped back onto the train. Dodging more Aurors stationed in the corridor, he made his way back to his compartment. Waving to his parents through the window, his anticipation grew as the train jerked forward, signaling that they were underway. He couldn’t wait to get to Hogwarts.
Mack now sat in the common room, attempting to write a letter to his parents about the strange events of the morning. However, he only succeeded in breaking the nib of his quill and smearing ink everywhere. Glancing around, he could see that nearly everyone looked as jumpy and unsettled as he felt. After seeing several people sneak out of the room, he got Rob’s attention and followed suit.
At Rob’s suggestion, they climbed up to the Astronomy Tower and used some of the spare telescopes to scan the grounds. They didn’t notice anything unusual until they looked in the direction of Hogsmeade. Mack had lived in Diagon Alley most of his life, but he had never seen so many owls hovering in such a small area at the same time. After shifting his lens a little farther to the right, he saw that there were dozens, maybe hundreds, of other owls landing just outside the Hogwarts gates because the new security measures prevented them from coming any closer. However, before the boys had time to analyze these developments, they were discovered by Professor Hubble, docked five House points each, and sent back to their common room.
Confined once more, they bemoaned the fact that Hufflepuffs lived in the cellar. All of the windows were near the high ceiling, only accessible by ladder. Even then, one could only see into one of the castle’s courtyards, a completely useless view in the present circumstances.
“Anybody know the Gryffindor or Ravenclaw passwords? They’re in towers; they’ve got to know more than us,” grumbled Mack. “When do you think they’ll let us out of here? I think I’ll go mad if they don’t tell us what’s going on.” A couple of the older students looked at him sympathetically, but didn’t have any more information to offer.
An hour passed before Mack received some measure of relief when Professor Sprout’s amplified voice reverberated through the building with instructions to proceed to the Great Hall at half past twelve. He reasoned that the school, at least, must not be directly threatened by the as-yet unexplained happenings.
They had barely arrived in the Great Hall when an enormous number of owls bearing bundles of newspapers burst into the room. Mack and Rob exchanged questioning glances, but quickly joined in the scramble for a copy of the Prophet. The noise level in the room increased exponentially as people exclaimed over a headline so large it filled the entire top half of the page. Mack started reading aloud to his four fellow Hufflepuff first-years, occasionally inserting his own commentary.
Speaking to reporters in the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic at eleven o’clock this morning, Minister Millicent Bagnold announced, “The evil menace that has terrorized our world for years has now been defeated.” She then proceeded to thank various employees of the Ministry, especially those in the Auror Division, for their hard work. She also recognized Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore who stood beside her during the address. (So that’s where he is…)
Responding to questions for specifics, the minister hesitated before replying that James and Lily Potter, both 22, had been attacked and killed in their home in Godric’s Hollow last night. However, an attempt to cast the Killing Curse on the Potters’ son Harry, aged 15 months (that’s terrible; he’s younger than my cousin Ernie), apparently backfired, causing the destruction of You-Know-Who. “The house was also destroyed, and Harry is being taken to a safe location,” continued Minister Bagnold. Asked how this unlikely turn of events was possible, she replied, “Your guess is as good as mine.” (Hmpf, that’s helpful.)
Citing “confidential sources,” she went on to assure the public that she had plenty of proof that celebrations were not premature. “We will of course continue our efforts to bring his followers to justice. We have in fact arrested one of the leaders, Sirius Black, just in the last hour.” See page 2 for the full story.
She declined to answer further questions, saying a more detailed written statement will be released later today.
We at the Daily Prophet would like express our thanks to all who worked to make this day possible. We would also like to express our condolences to the family and friends of those who have lost their lives. Most of all, we want to wish the best to young Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.
See page 3 for our interviews with the wizard on the street…
Mack didn’t bother to read anymore. He joined with everyone else in throwing the papers into the air in celebration. The teachers made no attempt to restore order, and Mack even thought he saw one of them bring out a bottle of Firewhiskey from underneath the High Table.
The chaos only grew with the arrival of the post. Like nearly all of the students with wizard relatives, Mack received multiple letters proclaiming the happy news. He couldn’t remember ever seeing the Great Hall in such a festive mood.
Seeing it for the first time at the Sorting Feast, Mack had been suitably impressed by the splendor of the Great Hall. However, he couldn’t help noticing that there were a number of vacant spaces at the four long tables. Mack counted only twenty-two others in the group of first-years waiting to be Sorted, and his distant cousin Cassandra was not among them. The emptiness made the echoes of their footsteps seem impossibly loud as they approached the venerable Hat after the end of its song.
Fifteen minutes later, Mack joined the Hufflepuff table as his new House-mates were still giggling over his first name. Again lamenting the fact that his great-great-great grandfather on Mum’s side had been Minister of Magic, he tried to head off the teasing. “I go by my middle name, Macmillan, or Mack for short. Call me Ebenezer, and I’ll hex you.”
The feast was a pleasant affair while everyone ate and introduced themselves, but no one seemed entirely at ease. Indeed, the after dinner announcements were a long list of prohibitions and cancellations. “What, no Quidditch!?”
At the time, Mack had wondered if the constant feeling of confinement would ever end.
The party celebrating You-Know-Who’s defeat continued all afternoon and well into the dinner hour. Finally Professor Sprout managed to get everyone’s attention. “I’ve just received an owl from Professor Dumbledore. In addition to reiterating the news in the paper, he thinks he has found someone new to handle the Potions lessons on a full time basis.” There was a little bit of snickering from Mack and the other students at this statement. The grandmotherly witch who had been filling the spot temporarily had a tendency to melt her cauldrons nearly as often as the most incompetent first-year. “He didn’t mention a name, but said that some of the older students might remember him.”
Her voice wobbled a bit when she continued, “Now, on a personal note, I know many of you knew them only slightly or not at all, but I want to take a moment to honor James and Lily Potter.” She raised her glass, and many of the older students looked suddenly glum as they stood and raised theirs in return.
After a long pause, Professor Sprout wiped a tear from her eye and unconsciously joined in with thousands of others throughout the wizarding world. “I want to make another toast. A happier one.” She took a deep breath. “To little Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.”
Mack gratefully joined the hundreds of voices chorusing in response, “To the Boy Who Lived!”
Thanks for reading and reviewing.
This story was partly inspired by my realization of the Stunningly Obvious fact that I was eleven in 1981. Also, the advice given by Mack’s mum right before he boards the train is included in the memory of my mother.
Those of you who have read my fic Caught Between will recognize that this is actually a prequel to that story. Please check it out if you’re interested in reading about a grown-up Mack.