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Jessica Sheffield

You better keep the wolf back from the door

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Jessica Sheffield

Jess had been an Auror for months now and still she wasn't trusted. 

 

She glanced sideways at the Auror accompanying her, a more experienced member of staff, one who looked as if she'd been an Auror for longer than Jess had been alive. Rayya was nice enough in her own way (she didn't pester her, like her mentor, Shay; or bluster and brag like her old babysitter, Julian) but she was also to Jess's knowledge a by-the-book kind of person who followed the rules to the letter. The kind of person who wouldn't allow Jess to go hunting through the castle for information linked to her mother's death. 

 

The chance to revisit the scene of the crime was the only reason Jess had volunteered for this particular task; she thought the current drama in the news about werewolves was overblown scare-mongering to the point of absurdity, not something that the Auror office should be investigating. Unfortunately, she was now stuck acting as if she took the issue seriously with a serious Auror at her side. Great.

 

Arms crossed, Jess stood opposite the statue at the base of the Headmistresses' Tower and waited for Rayya to say the magic words. "Lets get this over with."

 

 

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Rayya Borage-Brown

Trepidation filled Rayy’s heart as she entered the castle. The memories of last time came crashing back to the fore and it felt like it had only happened yesterday. Clearly there hadn’t been enough time to ease either the pain or the guilt she felt. The bad part was she had to keep it all in and not fall apart on Jess who was just as likely having a bad time of it too. So Rayy wrapped herself up in her stiffest manner - the one her husband often referred to as ‘the look that mean’s I’m sleeping on the couch’. Just a pity that it seemed to be making Jess uncomfortable.

 

The journey to the Tower was silent, neither of them speaking. If only it had been silent in her head, that would have been nicer than the running commentary of exactly what she’d been doing in any particular spot. It was a relief to finally make it to the passworded staircase as last time she’d never made it this far. Jess broke the silence and whilst Rayy echoed the sentiment she got the impression that Jess’ reasoning was vastly different from hers.

 

”Right you are,” she managed, adding under her breath, “Sokoke!”

 

The staircase unfurled and Rayy stood back, “After you.” She left the whole ‘this is your baby, I’m just here to be the heavy muscle’ unspoken and dutifully followed Jess up the stairs, still wearing her ‘mess with me at your own risk’ persona firmly in place.

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Jessica Sheffield

Feeling like this was some sort of test or initiation ritual, Jess headed up the stone staircase towards the office first. With her back to Rayya she was able to scowl and show her true displeasure at the situation and the utter waste of time it was. She could be doing literally anything else right now and it would be more beneficial.

 

She had never once been to the tower when she was a student at Hogwarts, staying (mostly) out of trouble and out of the way. Weasley had been Headmaster when she was there - too bumbling and kind by half to ever want to give out detentions or tell someone off for doing something wrong. Rumour had it Flamel had been the complete opposite when she'd been brought in, shackling children who broke rules and ruling with an iron fist. She'd been the Headmistress when the Death Eaters had infiltrated and killed Jess's mother. 

 

Flamel had been replaced by Gawkrodger, who was like Weasley version 2, and now they had McGonagall who, quite frankly, Jess was surprised was even still alive. Witch was old.

 

The headmistresses' office was a large and beautiful circular room, late afternoon sunlight slanting in from open windows. A number of homemade cushions were strewn about on sofas, chairs and even what seemed to be a little cat bed. The walls were covered with portraits of old headmasters and headmistresses, all of whom were snoozing gently in their frames. There was also an enormous, claw-footed desk, and, sitting on a shelf behind it, a shabby, tainted wizard's hat — the Sorting Hat. A fire flickered in a nearby grate, warming the room despite the chilly winter temperature. 

 

Jess looked around for the headmistress and saw no one. She frowned over her shoulder at Rayya as she emerged into the tower after her. Was this part of the test? Rayya's expression didn't give anything away. With a sigh, Jess looked around again, then raised her voice to say, "Headmistress?"

 

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Headmistress McGonagall

The school year had flown by. In comparison to the Tri-Wizard Tournament the year before, the year was uneventful. Not that Minerva minded. She'd certainly had more than her share of 'eventful' years at the school, and she didn't wish to repeat any of them. Every year Harry had been at the school had brought its challenges, not to mention the years he wasn't at school--it had taken everything she had to keep students safe the year that Death Eaters had taken over the school.

 

There were challenges in the years that had followed too, the years when she wasn't a professor anymore. A student had died, murdered by her own brother. Death Eaters had masqueraded as students and tortured children. So much pain and destruction and death.

 

Perhaps it was foolish to think that all of that was behind them now, but the thought had come into her mind more than once. She would give everything she had to protect the young witches and wizards of Hogwarts, but there was part of her that was hoping that that wouldn't be necessary. 

 

A notice from the Auror Office that two aurors would be arriving at the school had brought the worst thoughts to mind. It wasn't often that the Ministry came calling, after all. She took another sip of tea as she flipped through a book from the second floor of her study--could the visit have been related to the recent news in the Prophet?

 

Maybe, though it was perhaps unlikely. It wasn't as though the Prophet was always the best source of news. She remembered that Rita Skeeter well, though her gossipy columns were nothing compared to the outright propaganda that had once oozed across its pages.

 

She looked down as two women entered the tower, surveying them with her quick, cat-like eyes.

 

She snapped the book shut, and smoothed out her emerald-trimmed robes as she made her way down the staircase. 

 

"I trust there is a good reason that the Ministry would send the two of you here?" She glanced at them both in turn. She'd allowed the increased auror presence the year before, but the history between the Ministry and Hogwarts wasn't always the best either, to put it lightly. "Well, out with it, then." 

 

She rested her hand against the railing for support as she waited for an answer.

 

 

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Jessica Sheffield

There was a... presence... about McGonagall. Even Jess, who was rarely in awe of anything and was usually too deep in her own darkness to even acknowledge that there were other people around, had a moment of pause, watching Headmistress McGonagall descend the stairs from the second level of her study. The old woman was a matriarch and a war hero several times over. The deep lines in her face and the grey hairs on her head spoke of many ages past, yet the look in her eye was as sharp as any Jess had ever seen. 

 

When McGonagall spoke, Jess had the distinct, uncomfortable feeling that she was facing a disapproving teacher. Old habits were hard to kick, it seemed. Jess had to force herself past the feeling of being a naughty school kid caught breaking rules and remind herself that she was a certified adulttm now who didn't back down for anyone. 

 

She cleared her throat. "As I'm sure you're aware, there have been a recent slew of articles in the Daily Prophet regarding those witches and wizards with... conditions," she said, struggling to find the correct wording. In the current heightened political landscape, even saying 'werewolves' seemed wrong, as if they were defined by their illness, "and those with mixed races. Half-giants, part-veela..." she waved her hand in the air to encompass all the other combinations that were possible, awkward. 

 

Jess glanced across at Rayya to see if she was going to help her out here with the correct way to address all of this and the terms they were supposed to use, but the other Auror seemed happy to let her struggle. Fine.

 

"It is this article in particular that we are here to see you about." Jess took a folded piece of parchment from her inside pocket and held it out to Headmistress McGonagall to read. It had been ripped out of a copy of the Daily Prophet advert section. In stark black ink, the title read: Join SNARLL's werewolf-wizard pen-pal program!

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Headmistress McGonagall

Minerva wasn’t overly fond of The Daily Prophet (she’s never be fond of a paper that smeared one of her students at a time of crisis), but she still read the paper regularly. It was one of the wizarding world’s few news sources, and she considered it vitally important to stay informed. Now that she was the headmistress, it was even more so.

 

She took the paper from the younger auror, peering down at the advertisement. Admittedly, she hadn’t thought much about the ad in particular, other than a passing thought about it being good for students to expand their perspectives. 

 

The way that her dear, departed friend Remus Lupin had been treated when he was a professor at the school came to mind for a brief moment. 

 

She frowned. 

 

“Why is the Ministry concerned with a pen pal program?” she asked, looking between the pair of aurors. She didn’t necessarily expect a straight answer, but she felt it necessary to push for one anyway. It wasn’t every day that aurors came calling, and if they were at the school, it was for a good reason. 

Edited by Headmistress McGonagall

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Rayya Borage-Brown

Rayy stood mostly silent, her arms crossed as Jess called out and announced their presence and it felt like an utter age before McGonagall came padding down from wherever she’d been hiding. A silent approach was always a good thing to foster but Rayy couldn’t help feeling that the older woman had cat skills leached into her that she couldn’t just put aside; which was probably why she had the ability to put the fear of God intoher students...and alumni.

 

But one thing she had to like was the fact that McGonagall wasn’t one for idle chitchat. She got right to the point, probably more than a little peeved at their presence in her school, and Jess went bumbling over political correctness which was amusing no end. A faint smile crossed over her face before she let it fall back into her customary ‘resting witch face’. She stepped forward and spoke for the first time since poor Jess’ previous attempt at explaining why they were here hadn’t really explained much.

 

”The Ministry is concerned about the real reason why children are being asked to be pen pals to people with lycanthropy who may not be children themselves. Of course it might be quite legitimate but if it is, I’ll eat my hat and regardless of personal feelings we have a duty to see our children safe. Kids just want mail at breakfast, it makes them look cool and correspondence from a Werewolf would certainly add to the cool factor,” Rayy said darkly, her own suspicions about the program clear to be heard.

 

As a mother of four and grandmother, her own brood had been more than interested in the advert and she couldn’t say she liked it. It was one thing to write to foreign kids their own age but adults? Yeah that wan’t going to fly.

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Headmistress McGonagall

The more senior auror spoke now, and Minerva listened. She told herself that she had a responsibility to at least hear them out, even though she was always suspicious of ministry involvement. She knew that Harry always had the best of intentions, and by extension his staff should too, but old habits died hard. 

 

“I see,” Minerva said simply, wondering if perhaps there wasn’t more that she should have been told, considering her position. “And is that all you’re able to tell me?” 

 

She had a feeling the answer would be yes, but it also didn’t hurt to ask. “I suppose you’d like me to make an announcement then, about this pen pal program if it’s being investigated?”

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Jessica Sheffield

"Yeah," said Jess. "Could you just tell your kids to, like, not?"

 

You know, not be idiots. Not be stupid. Not contact a pen-pal program they knew nothing about and which had sharp teeth. Jess wasn't part of the werewolf capture unit but she'd seen the damage an adult and transformed werewolf could do to a team of Aurors. Children at Hogwarts had much less of a chance of surviving, just look what had happened to Margo (Galen had been in Jess's year. She'd been there. She'd seen - and he hadn't even been fully grown.)

 

Despite this, Jess still thought the visit to Hogwarts was overkill. Surely a letter to the Headmistress would have been enough, but Aurors did love their showy flourishes. The pen-pal advert was likely harmless, something which would have gone under the radar in years gone by if not for the current heightened political landscape. There were all sorts of rumours flying around the Ministry about werewolves - and goblins - and veelas. It didn't help, of course, that bigots were opening wizard-only banks, or crazy veela mothers were torching schools because their kids didn't get the grades they wanted. 

 

Everyone really just needed to chill out. 

 

As Rayya and McGonagall hammered out an agreement over what could - and couldn't - be said to the Hogwarts populace at large, Jess allowed herself a few moments to simply look around the Headmistress' tower. It was a place she'd never been at Hogwarts and wasn't sure she'd ever visit again. The portraits hanging on the walls were daunting, decades and centuries of witches and wizards with living-legacies longer than her lifespan. Had they ever lost someone, she wondered, like she had? Had they seen lives lost in this very tower? Portraits could go where they pleased, slipping in and out of their frames. The whole castle was their domain. Had any of them seen her mother on that fateful day? Had they seen what had happened to her in the corridor when the death eater had attacked? Had they seen her father, before he left? Had they visited his office? Did they know what Professor Sheffield was doing in the days before his disappearance?

 

Jess looked across to where Rayya and McGonagall were talking. At her sides, her hands clenched into fists. The answers she sought, the truth she yearned so desperately for, could be right here in this room and she had no way of finding it out.

 

When Rayya and McGonagall were finally done, Jess nodded to the headmistress in parting and then headed back down the stone staircase first. The palms of her hands had little red crescent moons dug into her skin. She needed to get out of this place of ghosts. 

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Rayya Borage-Brown

“Thank you for your co-operation,” Rayy said as they finished explaining and nutting out a plan of attack. The agreement of what McGonagall would do sat like a lump in her stomach and she felt faintly ill. As a former Gryff she knew only too well how such an edict could be taken by hot-headed, teen daredevils who were always on the prowl looking for ways to shorten their lifespan. The only saving grace was that it would require tedious effort with parchment, quill and ink. So most of the Gryff cohort was probably safe from any danger but the Huffs?...not so much...if it proved to be a risk in the first place.

 

But why would any agency want to get a pen pal circle going between adults and children? Even leaving out the werewolf factor, Rayy was suspicious. It was one thing for school kids to write to the elderly but this? With a heavy heart Rayy did all the polite things you did when you were leaving the Headmistress’ office and not in trouble and her mind moved onto the next issue without skipping a beat.

 

She waited until they were were alone before quietly leaping into the fire. “So Jess, from the pointlessness of this, what’s bugging you? You’re not the type to be worried about getting chewed out by a teacher,” she quietly asked, “You can tell me to mind my own business if you’d like and I’ll leave you to stew over whatever it is. My door is always open if you later decide you want to offload.”

 

Bad part she was kinda hoping that the younger woman would tell her to mind her own P’s and Q’s but she couldn’t just ignore the tenseness that Jess was radiating.

 

 

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Jessica Sheffield

Jess was halfway down the stairs before she thought to check if Rayya was following her. She had been so determined to get out of the tower she hadn't thought about the senior Auror with her, someone who was trained to look for cracks in people's armour, signs that something was amiss. Jess cursed herself silently when she realised but it was too late and so she continued to stomp her way down the stairs in her leather boots. 

 

Then, right on cue, when they were alone and no one else was around to overhear, Rayya spoke. 

 

“So Jess, from the pointlessness of this, what’s bugging you? You’re not the type to be worried about getting chewed out by a teacher,” she quietly asked, “You can tell me to mind my own business if you’d like and I’ll leave you to stew over whatever it is. My door is always open if you later decide you want to offload.”

 

Jess knew she had to tread carefully with this and couldn't just blurt out that she was having an internal breakdown over the fact her mother had died in the hallways of this castle, alone, and the office just a few floors down was the last place her father had been seen alive. It was all on her records, those things were in her file. Jess was an orphan by technicality, that wasn't a secret. What she was planning on doing about it, however, was. 

 

Her back was still to Rayya. She took a moment to compose herself, to force the tension out of her shoulders, to relax hands that had once again started to creep towards forming fists. The indents in her palms were dull aches, easily hidden as she turned around to face the more senior woman. "Just annoyed at how pointless this is. If there's really something up with SNARLL, why aren't we out there doing something about it?" She was speaking the truth so Rayya wouldn't see any lies on her face. It just wasn't the main reason she was so worked up over being back here. "It's a waste of time, couldn't we have just owled the information over?" Why did Rayya have to come along also? Couldn't Jess be trusted to send a simple message herself? Apparently not. 

 

She sighed out a breath and forced herself to relax again a fraction. "Thank you for the offer." Though she had no intention of ever taking the woman up on it. Jess's secrets were her own. She turned her head. "Lets go."

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Rayya Borage-Brown

Okay so Rayy hadn’t expected much to come from her question but perhaps she had expected a bit more than the obviously-true-but-incomplete response Jess had volunteered. But could she blame the younger woman for not spilling the real issue? No, she couldn’t. These halls were tainted with bad memories for her as well. Memories that were as fresh as if they’d only happened yesterday; Stefan’s broken leg, the way she’d gotten stuck with stupid kids and wasn’t where she needed to be when...

 

Rayy slammed those thoughts down, refusing to rehash nightmares during the daylight when she had some control over her thought patterns. No, Jess wasn’t the only one with bad thoughts and feelings in this place. She’d offered and she knew full well that Jess had no trouble reading reports and was probably a lot more conversant with those reports than Rayy herself was - mainly because once filed, she had never reread them as the guilt, horror and her own ineffectiveness didn’t need any help to torture her.

 

”Aye, but I, for one, won’t be complaining about this simple mission being rather quiet. The last two times didn’t end so well and if I ever go back to Turkey, it’ll be too soon,” Rayy agreed, aiming for lighthearted, probably failing and definitely failing on the hiding of her mother’s knowledge that the explanation had been trite. You didn’t have four kids, a stepkid and a grandkid without knowing when someone young enough to be a daughter was shoving things down. Likewise, she couldn’t just let it drop without reiterating her offer, “If you decide to change your mind, you know where I am. Come on, let’s ditch this joint. These corridors aren’t doing anything for my sanity and I know a quick way down.”

 

Rayy then turned a wicked grin at the younger woman, “Follow me...if you dare...”

 

With that, Rayy turned and bolted for the nearest stair just as it cleared the landing and swinging upwards. Without looking she knew full well there was one a floor or so down that she would land on. Cushioning charms at the ready, Rayy flung herself off the shortened landing without missing a step. Portraits cried out in protest as she dropped but Rayy didn’t care - the sooner they left the castle, the better.

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