XVI - Castle Anthrax
“…and that’s what things are like in there,” said Harry.
“It sounds like Castle Anthrax,” Hermione joked. “You know, in the Python film; a castle full of young women, all throwing themselves at you.”
“Not exactly.” Harry gestured towards Kennedy, talking on her cell phone again nearly three hours after they’d left the castle. “She’s gay, so is their most powerful witch, and most of them are scarily strong, especially the demon god or whatever she really is. And all of them looked at me like I was pond slime because they thought I was trying to steal the body. About the closest I came to women throwing themselves at me was when they were trying to capture me the second time we escaped.”
“That’s all right then,” said Ginny. “Wouldn’t want to get the idea you’d been enjoying yourself.”
“Not much chance of that. If I’d realised how much trouble moving one body would cause…”
“Anyway,” said Hermione, “What about the Slayer Curse?”
“They all say that there isn’t one,” said Percy, “and I ran some diagnostic spells as soon as I got my wand back. We’d need someone like Bill to be absolutely sure, but so far if she is cursed it’s undetectable. And everything they told us about the original line of Slayers and the activation of multiple Slayers sounded consistent. They gave us some facts we can check; for example, they claim that there were a large number of demon attacks on Muggle girls four to five years ago. I’ve put some people onto it, but it does sound like a text-book case of Mystic Destiny.”
“Blast. I was hoping to get my post-graduate thesis out of it if it was a curse. Mystic Destiny is almost impossible to prove, and so vague that it’s really hard to get papers peer reviewed properly.”
“Not this time,” said Percy, “not much doubt about someone that strong.”
“That’s true.” Hermione brightened.
“What I can’t figure out,” said Harry, “is how the American wizarding schools missed their witch. She’s Muggle-born, as far as I can tell, but pretty powerful.”
“Did you ever wonder why Muggle-born witches and wizards are so rare?” asked Hermione.
“Not really, but I’m sure you’re planning to… Oi!” Ginny had dug her elbow into Harry’s ribs, and it hurt.
“Most pure-blood and half-blood wizards and witches are exposed to magic in the first few years of life; it tends to trigger the development of their talent. Muggle-borns rarely have that early exposure; without it their magic tends to appear later in life, or doesn’t appear at all. I was lucky, there was a wizarding family in one of the other flats, and I can remember a few odd things happening when I was a kid.”
“The same thing happened to my mother,” said Harry. “She knew Snape when they were children.”
“There you go then. The late starters are easily overlooked by our detection spells, and unless they do something really obvious they never come to our attention, because most of our ways of spotting illegal use of magic actually respond to wand use. It’s different once people are in the system, but outsiders without wands would have to be really blatant before they got noticed, even if they wanted to be. And that essentially locks them out of our community.”
A Ministry messenger appeared with a ‘crack’ a few yards away, and gave a scroll to Percy. He read it and looked a little confused. “Okay. The Minister had another word with the Muggle Prime Minister, apparently he does know about this Watcher’s Council. He thought that we did too.”
“He’s only been in office a few months,” said Hermione, “and from the sound of things this mess started a lot earlier.”
“You got that part right,” said Kennedy, snapping her phone closed.
“You’ve found something?”
“A lot of our files were destroyed a few years ago, but there’s a reference to a treaty and the Ministry of Magic in some stuff from the nineteenth century. Our guy is following it up now, says he thinks he knows where the treaty would have been kept. But it’ll take at least a day to retrieve it.”
“So what do we do while we’re waiting?” asked Harry.
“I don’t know about you,” said Kennedy, “but I’m going back to the castle. And no, I’m not handing out invitations until this thing gets settled.”
“That sounds reasonable,” said Percy.
“And it means you don’t have to keep your guys watching me, I’m sure they’ve got better things to do.”
“How will we know when you get the documents?” asked Hermione.
“Our guy says he’ll make the arrangements with the Prime Minister, he can talk to your Minister.”
As Kennedy ran back through the wards she was not alone. Clinging to her back, a large beetle with spectacle-like markings was determined to be the first reporter to get the real story on the Curse of the Slayer. She flew off once she was sure she was safely inside, buzzing around the castle for a while and looking for signs of unusual activity. There were young women everywhere, and most of them seemed to be armed with Muggle weapons. She listened in on their conversations, noting down a few names; Boyonce, Avril Lavigne, Justin Timberlake… No doubt they were agents of whatever conspiracy was responsible for cursing so many women. Occasionally someone mentioned the situation, and “those weird guys with the wands and broomsticks,” but she still wasn’t getting a clear picture. Everyone seemed to think that someone called Willow would handle things.
She found a quiet corner of the castle, resumed her human form for a moment to make some notes and cast a Point Me spell, then returned to her beetle form. For now the wand was part of one of her legs, and was pointing her towards the nearest person named Willow. It took her along one corridor, then another, up a flight of stairs, then under a door and through a study to another door, which was open just a crack. Into a bedroom, and a bed where Kennedy was making love to another woman, a redhead who for once didn’t look anything like a Weasley. “All right!” she thought “Great headline, ‘Castle of the Cursed Lesbians’!” She watched for a couple of minutes, but there wasn’t a lot of talking going on, and she had the impression that there wasn’t going to be for some time. Out again, time to do more exploring. She could find Willow again later.
“I’ve got something on Quentin Travers,” said Percy, poring over the old files that Ministry couriers had delivered from London. “Old pureblood family, he was their first squib in three or four generations. They disowned him, of course, made him go to a Muggle school and university, after that he lived as one of them. He wasn’t even interviewed when the Ministry was looking for Durward, they assumed that a squib wouldn’t know anything.”
Hermione muttered something about “pig-headed idiots.”
“Durward must have got him a job with the Watcher’s Council,” said Harry, “so that between them they controlled the Council’s access to the Ministry. After that Durward must have covered his tracks at the Ministry, and destroyed our records of the Council, maybe obliviated a few people’s memories. People knew that he was in the Department of Mysteries, but nobody knew what he did there. I suppose that everyone assumed that someone else knew.”
“And Quentin must have done much the same sort of thing in the Council,” said Hermione, “but without any magic he can’t have done such a good job of destroying their records. I suppose Durward helped with memories.”
“It all sounds plausible,” said Ginny. “Is there any proof that Quentin knew what Durward was up to? He might have been a dupe. Either way, why did they do it?”
“Maybe Durward thought that Voldemort could use the Slayer in some way,” said Percy, “or maybe he just wanted to keep the Council out of things. They knew about magic and demons, but they had access to Muggle resources too, they could have been a problem.”
“Spike said that they had access to Muggle military resources,” said Harry. “And there was something about helicopter gunships.” Only Hermione seemed to understand what he was talking about, so he started to explain.
Rita flew down again, and into a gymnasium where a dozen or so teenage girls were practicing some sort of ritual, which seemed to involve long periods of meditation followed by sudden explosive movements. Another red-headed woman seemed to be leading the class, demonstrating the moves by punching and kicking through heavy wooden blocks. How were they doing that? Rita couldn’t sense any magic. It must be part of the Slayer Curse. After a while it got boring.
There was an open window, and she flew out into a courtyard where an odd blue-haired woman wearing a red leathery costume was tending to what she could only assume was some sort of invisible animal. If she squinted hard… not easy for a beetle… she could see the shadowy outline of a horse... no, two horses. They must be the thestrals the undertaker had mentioned. She landed on one of the animals’ back, making sure that she was well clear of its tail, and took a look at the blue-haired woman. Not just blue hair; blue-tinged skin and crystalline blue eyes. Terrified, Rita realised it must be the demon that Percy Weasley had mentioned. Before she had time to react a black-gloved hand shot out and captured her, surprisingly gently, and brought her up to inhuman eyes for a closer inspection. The creature stared at her for a moment then opened its mouth, revealing perfect white teeth, and prepared to bite. At the last second Rita remembered to apparate out, vanishing from the demon’s hand and reappearing a few yards away, then flying off at her top speed. The demon didn’t follow; it stared at its fingers for a moment and looked around, shrugged, then went back to tending to the thestrals.
As dusk started to fall Percy went off to brief the press again; there was still a lot of interest in the story, even though there were no hostages apart from the thestrals and the body. He was surprised that Rita Skeeter wasn’t around to ask any awkward questions, but assumed that she was back in London, writing her usual tissue of lies and half-truths for the Prophet. As he answered the last question another messenger arrived, with another scroll from the Minister: “Treaty found, will arrive tomorrow noon with Muggle VIPs. Please have full security in place.”
Percy guessed that the main VIP must be the Muggle Prime Minister, and shrugged. There might be a few wizards who were actually interested in Muggle politics, but he doubted it. Nevertheless orders were orders; for all he knew one of the reporters was secretly a member of the Conservative Party, or some other extremist group, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take precautions. He wrote several scrolls and sent them off to the Ministry and the Auror offices in Glasgow.
Harry borrowed Hermione’s phone and called Dudley, got a list of four schools that matched the description he’d given him three days earlier, and pretended that the information was still really useful. There was no point telling him it had been a complete waste of time. The information might have been useful if they hadn't been steered to the school by Spike, and one day Dudley might actually know something important.
An hour later Harry and Ginny went to one of the luxurious tents Percy had provided, played with their children, then settled down for an early night. Hermione spent most of the evening poring over the papers with Percy, and sent an owl to her fiancée Ron. Bury busied himself filling out an expenses claim, running to a foot and a half of parchment.
In the castle Rita was getting hungry. She could smell something, probably some Muggle food, of course, but even to a beetle it was appetizing. She followed the scent back and around the building, and down to a kitchen where several girls were preparing a meal. It wouldn’t be easy to resume her human form and steal a portion without anyone noticing.
As she scouted the kitchen she noticed something, a beautiful violet light high on one of the walls. It was gorgeous, perhaps the most wonderful thing she’d ever seen. She felt an irresistible compulsion to fly closer, closer, until she could see nothing else. There were metal bars in the way, a tight fit for such a large beetle, but she squeezed through, and onwards until the light was everything, was all that she could see, all that mattered…
There was a loud 'crack' and a faint smell of burning. One of the Slayers on kitchen duty looked up for a moment and thought that it was really high time that someone cleaned out the bug zapper.
Comments please before I post to archives. Sorry this wasn't the last part, probably one more to go, plus epilogue.