22nd July 1991
"Mr Smith, I presume? I am Professor Minerva McGonagall, the deputy headmistress at Hogwarts School. I am here to talk to you about your son. May I come in?"
John surveyed the tall middle-aged woman in front of him. She was dressed smartly, although her fashion style was out of date by around thirty years. A thin face and sharp nose, a set of square spectacles were resting on the bridge, and a set of thin lips gave her an appearance of someone not to cross.
"Yes, please come in," John answered, his trained eye completing it assessment—Not a threat. He swept his hand towards the living room, gesturing his welcome. The woman nodded and followed him in.
As she walked in, John wondered why this lady was here. They certainly hadn't applied to any school. Once she seated herself on the couch, he voiced his question.
"You say you're from a school? Are you here to offer Mark a position there?" John asked before remembering, "Oh, how rude of me. Would you like some tea or coffee?"
"No, thank you," came the polite reply, followed by a muttered, "Perhaps that would be a good demonstration."
John nodded and sat himself on the armchair. This lady, professor, he reminded himself, was one of the most intriguing figures he had ever met. And as a former SAS captain, that list was not easy for someone to get on to.
Now that he observed closely, she was clearly older than sixty, but her movements held the spryness of someone much younger. Although she was not a threat, everything about her was contradictory.
Her mannerisms were that of a teacher, but behind them were reflexes of a fighter. Her eyes held the experience of an academic, yet they had scanned the room for danger the moment she entered through the door. She had definitely seen combat action but was not in that role today. After all, female soldiers weren't unfamiliar to him; he had seen his fair share.
The way she carried herself, John would've guessed that she was armed with a weapon if he hadn't known better. Perhaps it was an old instinct she hadn't gotten rid of completely.
"Is your son at home today, Mr Smith?" asked the lady in front of him, bringing John's attention back into focus. Before he could answer, however, a voice carried in through the hallway.
John turned to look at Mark, who gave him a grin as he walked in the room towards him.
"Ah, young Mr Smith. As I mentioned to your father, I am Professor Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts school in Scotland." Once both father and son had her full attention, she continued,
"Before I proceed any further, I must ask a few questions if you don't mind." She removed a small piece of paper from the small bag she was carrying. It was yellowed and thick, and John would've guessed it to be some sort of parchment.
After seeing affirming nods, she proceeded, "Now, you are Mark John Smith, born Thirtieth of November Nineteen Seventy-Nine, correct?"
"Yes," Mark replied. The professor tucked the parchment back in and looked at them again.
"Now Mr Smith," she said, her voice delicate, "has Mark ever done something odd, something unusual? Something you couldn't explain, perhaps?" Her eyes were watching the two of them for any hint of reaction. She must have found some, for her face assumed a brief sense of triumph.
John wondered just what exactly was going on. Who was this lady? He glanced sideways and saw Mark's eyes peering at her. Moments later, however, his son smiled.
Okay. It can't be that bad then. Still, John needed answers. Deciding not to let her off so easily, he gave his reply.
"Yes." The professor smiled and gave him a slight nod.
"Mr Smith, this might be a little difficult to believe at first, but your son Mark is what we call a Wizard." She took a brief pause, waiting for the words to sink in. She must have been expecting an angry retort but was pleased when none came.
"You're not joking," John observed.
"No Mr Smith, I am not. Your son is a wizard, just as I am a Witch. I am the Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and I am here to offer Mark a place at our school."
John observed the professor silently, trying to see any sign of dishonesty. Finding none, he surreptitiously glanced at Mark. Seeing that his son wasn't giving him any signal to the contrary, John continued the conversation.
"Can you show us some proof of this? This—uh—witchcraft?"
"Magic. That's what we call it," she clarified. "Certainly. Since earlier we discussed having tea, let me conjure a pot of tea right now."
She drew a long wooden stick from her dress, a few inches smaller than a foot. Holding it in her hand she began her explanation.
"This here is a wand. Witches and wizards use wands in order to channel their magic," She spoke as she simultaneously performed a complicated wave of her wand and pointed it at the table in front of her. John watched dumbstruck as a beautiful porcelain teapot and three matching cups and saucers appeared out of thin air. The pot was likely full of tea, for he could make out wisps of steam escaping through the spout.
While Mark was watching all this with a scientific fascination, John's earlier instincts were confirmed; this wand had been the dangerous weapon he thought she had been carrying.
The professor then gave her wand a small flick and the cups began filling themselves before floating towards John and Mark, who was slack-jawed at the incredible sight.
"The existence of magic has been kept a secret from non-magical people by the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, in effect since 1692." She took a sip from her cup before continuing in a manner that indicated that she had given this speech many times before.
"Hogwarts is the oldest magical school in Europe and it has trained young wizards and witches for more than a millennium. I myself am the Professor of Transfiguration, and Mark would be studying in the company and under the tutelage of some of the finest minds of Magical Britain."
She took another sip from her cup, then set it down on the table.
Before I proceed further, here is the Hogwarts acceptance letter that I'm here to deliver," she said, fishing out a yellowed envelope made out of thick parchment and handing it over to Mark.
Mr M. Smith,
24, Beauchamp Road,
Mark studied the emerald green lettering on the thick envelope, all the while digesting everything that he had learnt. He could make out his father asking some questions about the curriculum, fees, and such; His dad was nervous, and he could sense his apparent relief at the explanations provided by the elderly witch about Mark's abilities. The answers that professor McGonagall provided his father were of little interest to him since he had already gleaned them out of her head.
That's not to say he'd invaded her privacy; on the contrary, he had just plucked out the information she had held in front of her mind as she must have prepared to explain to his Dad and him. He used the same technique in class at school and managed to learn much quicker than his peers.
The mind worked in a vastly different manner than most people thought. Mark had gone through enough books on brains and neuroscience, and even though he didn't understand them fully, he got the gist that no-one really understood the mind either.
Mark broke the red seal on the envelope and drew out the heavy parchment inside. As his fingers brushed the heavy parchment, his thoughts drifted to his father.
He couldn't leave him here, could he? What about the treatments? Not that his dad couldn't take care of himself. And Edwin would be there to help. But could he just leave?
The guilt slowly began to gnaw at him, and he glanced at the seated figure of his father. He hadn't seen his father this enthusiastic about something for a long time. His father turned to look at him that very moment, and he must have sensed Mark's apprehension.
"I'll be fine, champ," he reassured, giving Mark a definite nod. Mark smiled in reply, then turned his attention to the now unfolded letter in his hand.
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
Headmaster: ALBUS DUMBLEDORE
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,
Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)
Dear Mr. Smith,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.
'Albus Dumbledore.' Mark recalled the image of the bearded man he had seen in the professor's mind. His thought tapered off as he turned to the second piece of parchment, a list of supplies he was expected to bring.
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
First-year students will require:
1. Three sets of plain ...
... NOT ALLOWED THEIR OWN BROOMSTICKS
It was possibly the most bizarre list of things Mark had ever thought he would read. Now finished with them, Mark passed both the pieces of parchments to his dad. He turned to Professor McGonagall.
"Where will we find this stuff, Ma'am?" he asked, even though he already knew the answer.
"Here in London, Mr Smith. In Diagon Alley"
"London?" John looked up in surprise from the parchment in his hand. "You're saying there's a wizarding market here in London?" he asked in amazement.
John was already sold on the idea of his son being a wizard, given that he had seen proof enough of magic. He had not detected any dishonesty in the Professor over the course of their conversation, and most likely neither had Mark.
John was no fool; he knew Mark must have read the professor's mind the minute he entered the room, and frankly, he did not mind his son's vigilance.
"Indeed Mr Smith," the Professor answered with a kind smile. "If I have your agreement, I would like to escort you to Diagon Alley on your first trip as a guide and to assist in the shopping of the school supplies."
"Splendid," John answered immediately, squashing any errant objections that Mark may have had on the grounds of his Illness. He was feeling great. After all, his son was a Wizard.
"So Albus, how have you been?"
The man in question was seated on the plush Indian style diwan, adorning the luxurious sitting room of his host, sipping on a cup of earl grey. Lifting his twinkling blue eyes, he answered with a smile.
"As good as can be expected, my friend. Overseeing Hogwarts is one of the few responsibilities I enjoy shouldering." Pausing to take a sip, he continued, "Cornelius insists on owling me asking for opinions on outlandish proposals. I do manage to persuade him to divert the funds to something useful, but he seems stuck on reviving the Triwizard Championship."
He would not have shared such potentially sensitive information with anyone, but his host was no ordinary wizard. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore had known him for almost a century now, which was but a fraction of the six-hundred-sixty-plus years that Nicolas Flamel had been alive. And knowing Nicolas, he would have to offer juicy information to make him open up. Even though it had been Nicolas who had requested this meeting.
"Has he gone mad?" Nicolas scoffed. "The Triwizard Championship was discontinued for good reasons. Why, by the last one it had turned into a poor effort at pumping national pride. I should know. I was there," he added with an air of authority
"I think Cornelius wishes it to go down as one of the few accomplishments under his term as the Minister of Magic," Dumbledore replied, absently stroking his beard.
"Then he's just a selfish fool, who doesn't care for the students who would be participating," cried Nicolas. His exclamation brought his wife into the room from the adjoining library.
"Come on dear, you're exaggerating it a bit too much," she remarked, taking a seat beside him. "I'm sure Albus would not let the children come to harm."
Albus couldn't help but beam under her praise, just like he had all those years ago. Madam Perenelle words had always held a special place for him.
"Yes indeed, Perenelle. I will try my best. The safety of the students has always been the most important thing," he took a sip of his tea, "Although I do hope that the plan falls through," he added, more to himself.
Now finished, Albus set the cup on the table in front of him and looked at the couple in front of him. To an outsider, it would seem as if he were the senior person here, with his almost white hair and beard. With a slight peppering of grey in their hair, both Nicolas and Perenelle hadn't seemed to have aged a day since the first time he had met them when he was just a boy.
Although he knew the secret of their excellent health, he chose not to comment on it. It had long been a point of debate and disagreement between them. Albus decided to get straight to the pertinent question now that the pleasantries were concluded.
"So Nicolas, Perenelle," he looked at them both, "what is the reason that you called for this meeting? What can I help you with?"
Nicolas seemed hesitant to begin, and Albus deduced that this must have been his wife's idea. He turned and looked at Perenelle, who was sitting upright and had a serious expression on her usually impassive face.
"Well Albus, it is quite simple. News has reached our ears that dark forces are after the Stone." She took a pause before continuing, "Not your ordinary thief, mind you. They have skill, whoever they are."
Albus was fully attentive now. The Stone was one of the most powerful artefacts in existence. Its safety was paramount. But why were they telling him?
"How can I help?" he asked. The Flamels had been close friends of his for many years, but they rarely made any requests of him. So, he was ready to help when they did.
"Well, we want you to protect the Stone at Hogwarts." Her tone was not that of a request but that of demand.
Albus was taken aback. Nicolas and Perenelle had never let anybody even handle the Stone without their supervision. Even during the height of the last war, they had always taken the responsibility of protecting the stone onto themselves. What had changed? Taking a stab in the dark, Albus made a guess.
"You're growing weak."
Nicolas widened his eyes, clearly disturbed at the implication. Perenelle's face, however, showed no emotion as she confirmed Albus's statement with a dispassionate nod.
"Nicolas has already moved the stone to a safe location," she took a pause, squeezing her husbands' hand beside her. "But I fear that it's not safe enough"
"Perhaps you should consider…"
"No," came the immediate response, this time from Nicolas. "It is out of the question. We are not destroying the stone. And bear in mind Albus, you will not either," he added with a hint of warning.
They had always reached the same impasse every time the topic of the Stone was brought up.
"Our need for the Elixir is not our primary motivation Albus," Perenelle interrupted, partly to quell the growing tension. "There are still many unfinished projects we are working on. You of all people should understand the importance of magical research."
Albus decided not to stoke the argument any further, and Perenelle continued.
"And as far as the Stone is concerned, it's not just protection we are after." She looked Albus directly in the eyes. "We want you to capture the one seeking it."
"You know the castle of Hogwarts is best suited for this purpose. You have complete control over those who enter its grounds." Taking another pause, she added, "And as I said earlier, I have complete faith in your ability to ensure the students don't come to harm."
Albus smiled despite himself. Perenelle knew exactly what to say. After a rather long pause, he gave a slight nod.
"Alright. I may have a few ideas on how to do this." He took a pause. "But it will take time. Months, perhaps."
"You won't have that much. No more than a week at best," Perenelle replied. Albus gave a tired sigh at this and nodded again.
"Where is it now?" he asked, already having a guess to the answer.
"In a high-security vault at the London Gringotts"
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