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The previous autumn, during a series of break-ins among the buildings in
her neighborhood, Isabel spent solitary moments imagining how she might respond
if confronted by armed intruders. In some of her varied musings, she came
face-to-face with burly ruffians who forced their way though her front door
while she attempted to beat them back with whatever cudgel she found handy.
In others, oily rogues pried open the window adjacent to her fire escape
and accosted her while she lay sleeping. She hadn't pictured herself staring
across her sitting room at a pair of fresh-faced young men who'd appeared
from nowhere and who were scrutinizing her every bit as nervously as she
was scrutinizing them.
Isabel took a deep breath and let it out. There was a logical explanation
for everything. She just needed to pull herself together and think. Pressing
her fingertips to her eyelids, she moved her hands deliberately up her nose
and across her temples. The stick was still clutched in her right hand, and
she tried to focus on the warmth and smoothness of the wood as it brushed
gently over her skin. It had a calming influence, and she slowly opened her
eyes, peering cautiously toward the rug, expecting to find the odd apparitions
had vanished into the depths of her imagination. The two men were still there,
staring anxiously back at her, and she studied them with renewed composure.
Both of the burglars were tall and, as far as she could discern given their
shapeless attire, slightly built. One looked like an overgrown schoolboy,
alarmed at his own temerity in following a more daring classmate into a perilous
escapade. He had disheveled blonde hair which fell almost to his shoulders,
round cheeks highlighted by twin spots of pink, and wide eyes which darted
around Isabel's flat as though he expected to see his secondary school's
headmaster lurking in the shadows. The other man had flaming red hair, trimmed
so short as to give him a military air, an impression heightened by his stiff
posture and tightlipped frown. From the critical way he began surveying her,
after a few more agitated glances around the room, Isabel had the ridiculous
notion that he was about to read her a lecture when he should have been begging
her pardon for his trespass into her home.
Although television had never held much appeal for Isabel, she was an avid
reader. Stereotypical villains and miscreants flitted rapidly through her
mind, but not one of them bore the least resemblance to the characters facing
her. It struck her that neither of the men appeared to have any experience
in criminal endeavors. Surely a criminal would make his intent known . .
. demand money and jewelry . . . make a move toward her . . . . something.
These two were acting as though they were the ones in danger, and they didn't
seem to have the slightest idea how to proceed now that they had somehow
gained entry into her flat.
Isabel was gathering her courage to insist that they leave the premises,
when the blonde one leaned toward his companion and said, in an exaggerated
stage whisper, "We need fudge."
"Why fudge?" asked the red-haired one, looking even more disapproving as
he gave voice to Isabel's growing confusion. Their sudden appearance was
baffling enough. Now it seemed that one of them was seeking, not cash or
valuables, but . . . chocolate?
"He's still advising the Ministry on problems with muggles, isn't he?" As
he hissed this question to his cohort, the blonde man kept shooting terrified
glances at Isabel. Although the idea was both preposterous and insulting,
his words clearly implied that she was the one causing problems.
Isabel's initial shock and alarm were rapidly giving way to an entirely different
mixture of emotions. Although she knew it was irrational, she couldn't resist
a covert glance into the gilded mirror on the opposite wall, a pointless
attempt to discern something frightening in her slight form, pale face and
damp curls. Far from looking dangerous or deranged, her reflected image was
only a bit bedraggled. Somehow, though, the fact that she didn't look insane
wasn't especially comforting, because it suddenly occurred to her that she
might be suffering delusions. Hadn't she read somewhere that mixing bleach
and detergent could create noxious fumes? Was she having a delayed reaction
to the vapors she had breathed while scrubbing her parents' storeroom? Would
someone who was suffering hallucinations even realize the world had suddenly
turned upside down? Common sense told her that hallucinations must seem real
to the person suffering them . . . but Isabel was perfectly aware that the
events of the past few minutes were impossible.
She was silently debating the wisdom of approaching close enough to pinch
one of the men to see if he was flesh and blood when the red-haired one folded
his arms across his chest and gave gave a prim sniff. The mannerism reminded
Isabel so forcefully of her Aunt Gertrude that she almost missed his response
as she fought to repress a giggle. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she
wondered whether she was bordering on hysterics.
"She obviously isn't a muggle," the red-haired man stated, gesturing at the
stick in Isabel's hand and then at the pieces of tea cup scattered across
the hardwood floor. The shards of china were surrounded by splatters of brown
liquid, and a dark puddle was oozing, amoeba-like, toward the edge of the
Every other thought drained from Isabel's mind at the sight of the broken
cup. "Look what you've done," she said, annoyed almost beyond bearing when
she heard her words come out in a breathless whine. "That cup belonged to
my great-grandmother, and it's irreplaceable!"
The red-haired man stiffened even further, throwing back his shoulders and
dropping his hands to his sides. "I certainly didn't do anything so clumsy,"
he said, biting out the words through an irritable scowl, "and I would very
much appreciate it if you would lower your wand."
Isabel's fingers tightened on the stick in her hand, which was pointing in
the general direction of the two men. Even though she refused to think about
the word "wand," the slender piece of wood gave her a feeling of comfort
and protection out of proportion to its delicate weight. She couldn't help
but notice that the two men had sticks too. The red-haired man's stick was
now dangling loosely at his side, but the other one was still held in front
of its owner like an undersized sword, its pointed end twitching from side
to side in concert with the young man's frightened gaze.
"Look, I really think Fudge might be able to help sort this out." A pleading
note crept into the blonde man's voice as he spoke again.
His companion shrugged as though he had decided to wash his hands of the
entire situation. "This is your department," he said repressively. "If you
think you need Fudge, go get him."
Isabel was only beginning to assimilate that "Fudge" must be a person rather
than a sweet, when the blonde man shot a final nervous glance at her, did
a jerky pirouette, and vanished with a faint "pop."
Her knees trembling beneath her, Isabel sat down heavily onto the sofa, staring
at the spot where the blonde man had been standing. A thousand questions
rushed through her head, but her mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton
and her voice didn't seem to be working properly. After taking a few deep
breaths and flicking her tongue nervously over her dry lips, she finally
managed a raspy, "Who are you?"
For a long moment, the remaining man kept his eyes focused on a spot somewhere
over Isabel's right shoulder, as though he intended to ignore her. Then he
met her eyes and gave another sniff. "Weasley," he said. "Percy Weasley."
Almost as an afterthought, he inclined his head in the manner he might use
to acknowledge a formal introduction. "Assistant to the Minister."
The minister? Since when had the Prime Minister deployed his minions, unannounced,
into the homes of law-abiding citizens? For that matter, when had the Prime
Minister's minions developed the ability to appear and disappear out of thin
air? It was the outside of enough if the government, instead of concentrating
on the serious problems the British people had been facing over the past
year, was wasting time and resources in harassing harmless librarians. Why
wasn't it focusing on hurricane relief, unsolved murders, and bridge collapses?
"What are you doing here?" Isabel demanded, beginning to feel rather put
Percy Weasley apparently was the type who never gave a brief, succinct answer
if given a chance to expound on a subject for his own aggrandizement. "I've
been working with Finch in Magical Law Enforcement this month," he informed
Isabel, puffing himself up importantly. "I'm one of the youngest Assistants
in decades . . . technically Junior Assistant," he conceded, with a faint
twitch of his long nose, "but Minister Scrimgeour doesn't make any real distinction
between those of us trusted with access to his inner office. At any rate,
you might not think such exposure necessary to my career, but Minister Scrimgeour
believes I should be familiar with the day-to-day workings of every department
of the Ministry." (Weasley's forehead creased in a slight grimace as
he continued, leading Isabel to wonder whether it had occurred to him that
this Scrimgeour person might prefer to avoid having such a prat of an assistant
constantly underfoot.) "I must say working in law enforcement been a somewhat
disappointing experience," Weasley continued, obviously having missed the
most obvious connection, "and I have a substantial list of improvements to
recommend. The entire department has been in chaos since the unfortunate
death of --" His eyes widened for a moment, and he must have suspected
he was giving Isabel more information than Scrimgeour would approve, because
he gave himself a little shake, raised his chin several notches, and started
rapidly onto a different tangent. "At any rate, when the alert signal
came in -- the use of magic in a totally muggle section of the city -- I
obviously thought death eaters must be involved, so Finch and I Apparated
Isabel closed her eyes. Percy Weasley's matter-of-fact mention of magic had
caused a flash of yearning so strong it blocked out everything else
-- a feeling quickly extinguished by the term "death eater." For several
moments, she was torn between a burning desire to hear more about magic and
the near certainty that she didn't want to know what a death eater might
be. Longing quickly conquered revulsion, though, and she could hear the entreaty
in her voice as she asked, "Can you really do magic?"
The look he shot at her clearly showed he considered her question unworthy
of a verbal response. Turning away, he pointed his wand at the shattered
teacup and muttered something under his breath. In a sequence that reminded
Isabel of a home movie playing in reverse, the pieces of china rose into
the air and melded themselves together. The repaired cup then floated to
the coffee table, where it landed gently on its saucer. While Isabel stared
in fascination at the cup (which looked perfectly undamaged) and tried to
think of something to say, Percy Weasley touched the end of his wand to the
puddle of tea, which shrank as though being siphoned in an invisible container.
He then twirled the wand in fussy little circles over the area until all
of the tea stains vanished.
"If you'd like to make yourself another cup, you may as well," he said, tapping
the wand against the fingertips of his left hand in a bored fashion. "It
might take a few minutes for Finch to return with Mr. Fudge." Noticing Isabel's
eyes flitting between his wand and the teacup, he added "I could put the
spilled tea back into your cup, but I'm sure it's quite nasty by now."
Isabel shook her head. While a cup of tea, even a glass of water, would have
been a welcome relief to her dry throat, she had no intention of turning
her back on her uninvited guest. She was honest enough to admit to herself
that this was at least partially because she didn't want him to disappear.
She wanted Percy Weasley, and magic, to be real.
The silence was beginning to be uncomfortable when Finch reappeared, followed
a few seconds later by a third man. The newcomer was middle-aged, with the
deflated countenance of a person who had just recovered from a serious illness
or reverse of fortune. His face had the same defeated expression her father
always wore after a visit with the attorney who advised him on shop finances.
Instead of a flowing robe, however, he wore a pinstriped suit which would
have enabled him to blend into almost any crowd -- if not for his violently
colored bowler hat. Like the other two, he was carrying a wooden stick, which
he slid into the breast pocket of his jacket as soon as he arrived. A thick
manila folder was stuffed under one arm.
"Cornelius Fudge," he said, stepping toward her and holding out his right
hand. He flashed a jovial smile that seemed, to Isabel, to be rather forced.
"Miss . . . Miss . . . ?"
"Landers," Isabel replied automatically, before pressing her lips closed.
While she hadn't allowed herself to jump or even blink at this new arrival,
her mind rebelled at providing further information until someone told her
what was going on.
"Landers, Landers, yes . . . yes, let's see." As he paged through the folder,
Fudge began a mumbled and halting monologue that no one else in the room
bothered to interrupt. "You must have been invited to Hogwarts, but
muggle parents do sometimes refuse to allow their children to attend. In
the years before the disappearance of you-know-who, Dumbledore" (Fudge
pronounced this name in a grudging voice) "insisted on telling them about
some of the seamier . . . . Well, no need to go into all that. Quite a number
of muggle families refused to allow their children to attend, even after
. . . . " Fudge cast a wan smile in Isabel's direction and cleared his throat
before continuing. "As I said, it's certainly not unheard of . . .
. Ah, here we are." Pausing in his rifling of the pages, Fudge ran
a finger across several lines of green ink. "Landers, Isabel. Birth date,
February 15, 1976. Invited to attend the Hogwart's term beginning September,
1987. Initial contact by owl post . . . follow up by Deputy Headmistress
. . . parents refused permission . . . . Yes, yes, it's all here."
Fudge beamed at the other two men in a way that clearly invited them to share
his satisfaction in having unraveled the mystery of Isabel's existence. "Odd
business, though," he continued, apparently giving no thought to enlightening
her. "We've never had a completely uninitiated witch or wizard get their
hands on a wand before. What to do, what to do . . . ." As he repeated this
last sentence, he gave Isabel a pained look, as though expecting her to sympathize
with his incomprehensible dilemma.
"Perhaps you could start by explaining more clearly," Isabel said, deliberating
on Fudge's words as she tried to fit together the pieces of this very strange
"Why don't we just take the wand and alter her memory?" suggested Finch,
who looked as though the sooner he could leave Isabel's flat, the happier
he would be.
"Ah, there's the rub . . . there's the rub . . ." said Fudge, running a pudgy
hand slowly over his lower jaw. "We're in a tricky position here. It's
not strictly legal to alter the memory of an adult witch, you know. And taking
her wand . . . I'm not certain we'd be entirely within the law to do that,
either, without a hearing before the Wizengamot."
"Wizen-what?" asked Isabel, doing her best to stifle her annoyance at having
her request ignored.
"Why not?" asked Finch at the same moment, his shrill tone drowning out Isabel's
Fudge gave Finch a vague shrug. "For one thing, we have no evidence she's
committed a crime. The wand could be legally hers, for all we know."
"No evidence she's committed a crime?" repeated Isabel incredulously. "I'm
not the one who broke into someone's flat --"
"How could it be hers?" Finch cut her off with an irritated growl.
"The file says her parents didn't allow her to attend Hogwarts. Does she
even know she's a witch?"
Fudge shook his head and gave a deep sigh. "No, I dare say she doesn't. As
I said, it's a very tricky business."
"We can't let her keep a wand," said Finch stubbornly. "For the love of Merlin,
she could kill someone! She doesn't know how to use a wand properly if she
hasn't been to school."
"Ah, but there's no legal requirement that witches and wizards go to school,
"Not that it's any of your business, but I graduated with top honors --"
"Well, yes, of course I know that," said Finch, continuing his argument with
Fudge as though Isabel hadn't spoken. "I've only been with the Ministry for
a year, but I do have a fair understanding of wizarding law and --."
"Rubeus Hagrid's wand was snapped when he was expelled from Hogwarts," interjected
Percy Weasley. He had been standing to one side, arms folded across his chest,
one foot tapping on the hardwood floor, and a detached expression on his
face. This new name, however, sparked his interest.
Although Weasley's tone was more puzzled than accusatory, Cornelius Fudge
looked rattled. "The destruction of Hagrid's wand wasn't due to his expulsion
from school," he said, avoiding the younger man's eyes. "That was before
your time, I know, but it was a very bad business . . . a little girl died
. . . people were panicking . . . ."
"But Hagrid didn't cause the girl's death." Weasley looked away from Fudge
long enough to cast a patronizing glance at Finch, apparently anxious to
defend his seniority or his superior position within the Ministry. "Not everyone
heard the entire story after it came out, but, of course, I know all the
details. I haven't heard that Hagrid's been reinstated, though."
It was perfectly obvious, even to someone who hadn't the slightest idea what
the men were talking about, that Fudge wanted to change the subject.
His entire being tensed, and words tumbled out so low and fast that they
were partially unintelligible. "Dumbledore did submit a request to have the
incident removed from Hagrid's record. Not that anyone at the Ministry can
be blamed. All evidence pointed at . . . and you know Hagrid's unfortunate
propensity for . . . well, what I mean is, anyone would have thought . .
. . Hagrid's always been a favorite of Dumbledore's, though, so naturally
he'd like. . . but you know how busy we are at the Ministry these days.
Hagrid's status has no bearing on this situation, at any rate, so we should
"You learned the truth nearly four years ago." Weasley was sounding almost
as frustrated as Isabel felt, although she didn't have the impression he
was trying to prove a point. He sounded more like a small boy who wanted
to a trusted adult to justify his belief in the tooth fairy.
"If someone doesn't tell me what's going on, I'm going to scream," Isabel
said in the tone that never failed to silence the most rambunctious child
at the library. She hadn't actually screamed since she was five years old,
considering it a waste of time and energy. Problems were solved through reasoning
and positive action, not histrionics. She was tired of standing on the periphery
of a discussion which she didn't understand, though, and she felt confident
that all of the men before her fell into the significant majority of males
who would cringe from the idea of dealing with a shrieking female.
"I suppose," said Fudge, looking as uncomfortable as Isabel expected, "that
the best way to explain would be to let you see for yourself what happened."
He flipped over several pages in his folder, pausing here and there to study
something more closely. "Normally, I wouldn't be so foolish as to attempt
to reverse one of Minerva McGonagall's spells, but the report states she
used a reversible memory suppression charm rather than an obliviation charm.
I imagine that's standard procedure in these cases, since there's always
the chance of a change of circumstances which would make the young witch
or wizard eligible for admittance in a later year. That's neither here nor
there, though" he added, closing the folder and tucking it back under his
arm. "The point is, it shouldn't be much of a problem to --"
As he abruptly halted this speech, he raised his wand so that it was pointed
at Isabel's forehead. Isabel shrank instinctively back into the sofa cushions,
and he reassured her in a fatherly tone. "No need to be alarmed, Miss Landers.
This might feel a bit unpleasant, but it is perfectly safe, I assure you."
Isabel was about to protest when he said something that sounded like "memorabilia."
She was dimly aware of a flash of purple light before a wave of nausea forced
her eyes closed, and she felt herself falling backward . . . .