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Smoke still rose from Hogsmeade although many days had passed since the attack that had nearly destroyed the village.  The dead and injured had been removed from the scene and many of the buildings were already showing signs of repair as shopkeepers, elves and volunteers began to set the village right once again.

The feared attack on the school had not taken place and the very crowded castle had come back to a type of normalcy as students resumed their studies.  On the fourth day since the attack all were back in classes, all but one.  Elizabeth sat in the office of Professor Leeds with Alexis Malfoy sitting in a chair next to her.  But this day was much different from others that had preceded it.

“Elizabeth, let me be in complete understanding of what you are asking,” Professor Leeds said quietly.  “You wish for Miss Malfoy to be allowed to return to Hogwarts, the very school that she was expelled from for threatening to kill you.”

“Professor, I would be dead right now had Alexis not warned me.  I didn’t see the wizard that was going to kill me and she warned me.  She didn’t have to, but she did and I think that she deserves another chance here at Hogwarts.”

Alexis turned to look at Elizabeth as the older girl vouched for her.  She was stunned, she had wondered why she had been summoned to the office of the Headmaster and had nearly refused to attend the meeting that Elizabeth had requested.  Why, she had thought, should I want to go to the castle to listen to them gush about what Elizabeth had done in the village.  But now that very same Elizabeth was asking that Alexis be allowed to return to school in the castle.

“Elizabeth, Alexis was expelled for threatening to kill you; I don’t know if I can allow her to return.”

“Then,” Elizabeth responded, “I have no choice but to leave Hogwarts.”

“Leave Hogwarts?  I don’t understand.”

“I will quit school here and train elsewhere.  Hogwarts was founded on the belief that all deserve another chance and now you are refusing her that chance.  If we decide arbitrarily whether or not to help someone then I have no wish to be here.”

The others in the room gasped as the pretty blonde rose from the chair that she had been sitting in and then walked towards the door.

“I’ll be in the dorm packing my things, Professor Leeds.”

“Elizabeth, wait!”

The girl stopped but didn’t turn around as Professor Leeds rose from his seat.

“I shall allow her to return, but only because of the deep respect that I have for you.”

Elizabeth turned to face the wizard and smiled broadly before turning to Alexis.

“I won’t come to your defense again if you ever do anything like this in the future, do you understand me?”

Alexis nodded her head furiously and then watched as the older girl turned and then left the office.  She would have to be extremely careful from now on, because Elizabeth wasn’t likely to help her again.

Tobias Leeds watched as the gathered witches and wizards left his office and then opened a desk drawer to withdraw a parchment that had Elizabeth’s name written at the top.  Professor Minerva McGonagall had sent him it only days before the attack and now he read it once again.  The letter sought his endorsement for the child to be offered the post of Prefect and he thought about the girl that had just left his office after taking a stand for someone who had wronged her.  The professor was right, the selfless attitude and willingness for self-sacrifice was just the thing that guaranteed Elizabeth his endorsement for the post.  Moments later the ink was drying on his signature and he was nodding his head as he spoke quietly to himself.

“Elizabeth Michelle Blackwell, I am quite certain that you shall not disappoint us.”

He placed the parchment in an envelope which he sealed with his stamp and then handed the package to the owl which waited for it.  The great owl opened his wings and then took flight as it sped towards the Ministry of Magic and the Department of Magical Studies.  The die had been cast by the girl and now many would wait to see what the future held for her.

The long corridors of the school seemed to crawl by as Elizabeth made her way to the Hospital Wing and the treatment for the injury to her shoulder that she hoped would ease her discomfort.  The attack by the wizard would have killed her had Alexis not warned her in time.  That wizard was now in the custody of the Aurors facing a life sentence in Azkaban Prison, his capture insured by Peeves and the rain of stones that the poltergeist had hurled at the man.  Finally, the girl turned to corner to see the doors of the Hospital Wing before her.   She pushed the door open and stepped into the room to find one of Madam Pomfrey’s nurses waiting for he

“I was wondering what was keeping you, Elizabeth.”

The girl smiled as she sat down on the bed that had been prepared for her and then laid back to wait for the treatment.  She looked up as the nurse opened a container filled with a cream colored ointment and relaxed as her shoulder was bared to receive the medication.  The curtain swung shut around the bed to preserve the modesty of the girl and Elizabeth felt the soothing ointment begin to lull her to sleep as it always did.

“You were a very lucky girl,” the nurse said although Elizabeth was too far asleep to respond.  “If your friend hadn’t warned you when she did you would have been killed.  The Dark Master would have been highly pleased and the rewards would have been great.”

Elizabeth looked up into the eyes of the nurse to find them filled not with compassion, but with malice.  The formerly kind eyes were now almost feral in appearance as the woman looked down at her as she lay helpless on the bed.  Fear crowded into the mind of the girl as she watched the nurse draw her wand and the child attempted to move away from the woman only to find herself unable to stir.  It was almost as if she had been placed in a full body bind and now was at the mercy of the other witch. 

“I’m going to kill you now, Elizabeth Blackwell!  I’m going to kill you and there is nothing that you or anyone else can do to save you.”

Elizabeth watched in horror as the nurse pointed the wand at the center of her chest and began to cast a killing curse.  She felt the energy envelop her and then her life ebbing away as her eyesight faded and she could see no more. 

“Elizabeth! Elizabeth, are you okay?”

Her eyes flew open to see the nurse looking down at her with concern apparent on her face.  The woman watched with alarm as the girl squirmed on the bed in an apparent attempt to flee before the child reached the side of the bed and then fell off to land on the floor with a crash.  She hurried around the bed to find the girl attempting to back away from her as she advanced.

“Stay away from me!”

“Elizabeth, are you okay?”

“Please don’t hurt me!  Just stay away from me!”

The girl cowered against the wall as the nurse and then Madam Pomfrey approached her.  Elizabeth felt tears run down her face as she realized that she was helpless before them and that there was very little that she could do to save herself.  Then realization hit her and she extended her hand as she prepared to defend herself.

Madam Pomfrey understood what was happening and swiftly drew her own wand to strike before the girl could.

Petrificus Totalis!

Elizabeth sat petrified as the nurses hurried to get her up onto the bed that she had fallen from and then began to tend to the wounds that she had received in the fall.

Minutes later, Professor McGonagall entered the room and hurried to the bedside of her charge.  She looked down at the child on the bed with concern as Madam Pomfrey continued to tend to Elizabeth’s injuries.

“What in the name of Merlin happened?”

“We aren’t certain, but she acted as though she was terrified of us.  She was preparing to strike when I petrified her.”

“She drew her wand to attack you?”

“No, she extended her hand and prepared to curse us!  I had forgotten that she was one of those who do not have to use a wand.  She appeared as if she didn’t recognize either of us.  I could have sworn that she thought that we meant to harm her and was preparing to defend herself.”

Minerva McGonagall looked down at the child on the bed once again before drawing her wand and countering the bind that Elizabeth was under.  The girl looked up at her helplessly with eyes that were filled with terror.  The elderly witch reached down to place her hand on the forehead of the girl and murmured a spell.  Almost instantly she felt Elizabeth relax and she looked down to see the girl looking up at her with puzzled eyes.

“Professor McGonagall, what are you doing here?  I didn’t see you come in.”

“Do you remember anything, Elizabeth?”

“Only lying down for my treatment and now you being here,” Elizabeth responded as she shifted on the bed and then winced in pain.  “What happened?  I hurt everywhere.”

“You fell out of bed,” Madam Pomfrey interjected.

“I fell out of bed?”

“You really don’t remember anything, do you?”

“What should I remember?”

“Elizabeth, according to Madam Pomfrey and her nurse, you appeared to be frightened of them.”

“You pled with us not to hurt you.”

“I did that?”

“You had us very concerned.  Are you certain that you don’t remember what you were thinking?”

“I only remember coming in here for treatment and then waking up with all of you standing around me.”

“Well, you frightened us all, young lady!  You have frightened and concerned me enough that I think that you need to spend a night here.  Don’t bother arguing, because it will not do any good.  You’re staying and that’s all that there is to it.”

Elizabeth sank back onto the bed with a groan and stared up at the trio of adults that continued to surround her.  She was concerned herself because a ghost of a memory did exist around the edges of her mind and she wasn’t certain what it meant.  She had been concerned that someone wanted to harm her, but she wasn’t sure who.  The girl looked up again as a pill and a glass of water appeared on the table next to her bed and she knew that she would be swallowing the medication.  Sure enough, Madam Pomfrey swept the items up to hand them to her.

“You need to take this, Elizabeth; it will help you get some real sleep.  You haven’t been getting enough and it is beginning to affect you.  You won’t be leaving this hospital until I am sure that you are fully recovered.”

Elizabeth looked for a moment with distaste at the large yellow pill that she was being handed.  She had experienced these before and they tasted terrible, almost as bad as the liver that her parents made her eat at dinner sometimes.  She took the pill and, after taking a deep breath, popped it into her mouth and followed it with a drink from the glass before swallowing it.  Grimacing from the aftertaste of the medicine she finished the glass of water and then gratefully accepted the peppermint that she was offered.  She looked into the eyes of the professor as she popped the contraband candy into her mouth and grinned when the older woman held one finger up in front of her lips.

“Shh!”

Professor McGonagall looked in the eyes that were dancing with mischief but would soon be closed in sleep.  She was concerned about the pretty teenager that she was very fond of.  The eyes of the girl closed as the professor leaned down to kiss her gently on the forehead and the witch straightened to look down at the beautiful face that was framed by blonde tresses.  What lay ahead for this child, she wondered, and is she strong enough to withstand it.  After standing at the bedside for a time the professor turned and walked out of the room

Elizabeth was soon fast asleep; her mind filled with nothing but pleasant dreams of those who loved her, while another mind was filled with rage.

The cloaked figure stalked around the chamber far below the castle interrupted only by those few that brought him the reports that explained just how badly they had been beaten at Hogsmeade.  They had lost over twenty of their followers in the battle either to death or to capture while the Aurors had lost only five.  Several of the townspeople had been injured or killed and much of the village was in ruins. 

While all of this was troubling to the figure, what truly angered him was the fact that none of the high value targets had been eliminated.  Harry Potter, Artemis Trane and Elizabeth Blackwell had all survived the battle although he understood that the girl had been injured.  It had been very little return for a very high cost.  Many of their most experienced and valued members were now gone and replacing them would take time.

'How did this happen?  How were we brought low by those meddlesome Aurors, a traitor and a girl that has not yet completed her training?  The plan was flawless, all possibilities were considered and yet we were defeated.’

His thoughts were interrupted by the entrance into the room by one of the least senior members of their following. 

“You dare to interrupt me!”

“I bring news from the castle,” the young wizard announced once his courage had returned.

“What is this news?

“The girl, Elizabeth Blackwell, may have been more seriously injured than we believed.  One of the nurses in the castle tells us that the child is suffering from the effects of the curse that struck her.  She begins to fear the ones who attempt to help and love her.”

“Excellent!  Then all may not have been lost.  Go! Bring me all of the information that you can about this development.”

The young wizard hurried out of the room while the figure turned back to the roiling mist that filled the mirror before it.

“Young Miss Blackwell, the curse of Gabriel Koeppler begins to take hold of you.  It weakened you before and now it shall claim you.  But, before you die, we have work for you to do.”

The office of Harry Potter was abuzz with activity as report after report arrived.  Many of the prisoners were providing information in exchange for protection from the reprisal that was certain to come should the Dark Lord discover the assistance that they were giving the Aurors.  The thought of prison in Azkaban held fewer terrors for them than the thought of what their former leader would do to them. 

Several hours later Harry looked up as yet another report appeared in his office, although this one was in the trembling hand of Hermione Granger-Weasley.  The look on the face of his friend told him that the news was not good.

“Harry, it’s begun.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes, Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall agree, Elizabeth has been affected by the curse of that book far more than we thought she had.  She attempted to attack staff in the hospital and was only stopped by a full body bind from Madam Pomfrey.”

“Has St. Mungo’s been contacted?

Hermione nodded briskly before answering her friend.

“They have informed Professor James Luther, he is one of the foremost authorities on the removal of ancient curses.  Harry, they all tell me that it is going to be a long and treacherous road that Elizabeth is going to have to travel.  The removal of ancient curses is difficult at best and lethal at worst.”

“She’s in danger?”

“They tell me that she may not survive if the curse is strong enough.”

“But she’s as powerful as some of us, more than most in fact.”

“Her abilities may not be enough this time, Harry.”

“If the forces of the Dark Lord discover this they will move to strike as swiftly as they can.”

“We believe that they already know.  We have confirmed that the nurse who was present in the hospital is in league with the Dark Lord.  Our officers continue to track her movements and activities in the belief that she will reveal the others who also serve him.”

“If only we knew who he is!”

“You still haven’t discovered his identity?”

Harry rose from the chair that he had been seated in to stalk across the office to a series of posters that hung on the wall.  The faces of suspected dark wizards and witches glared back at the Head of the Aurors as he surveyed them before turning back to his friend.

“We’re no closer to finding out who he is than we were before the attack at Hogsmeade; he may not be any of them at all.”

“Then Elizabeth will be sacrificed to learn his identity?”

“No, I refuse to even consider that possibility.  I refuse to place that girl in the position that Dumbledore placed me in.  I cannot and will not allow her to die for the sake of this investigation.  I would sooner lay down my life than allow her to be lost.”

Harry stopped for a moment and then looked into the eyes of his friend.

“Do Albus, Lily, Rose or Hugo know about this?”

“No, Professor McGonagall made sure that she shielded them from finding out.”

“Good, they don’t need to know.”

“Harry, sooner or later they will need to know and it would be better if we told them.”

While Harry and Hermione discussed Elizabeth another mind was considering the danger that the girl was in.

‘The time has come to allow you to remember everything that you learned, Elizabeth.  You cannot be lost, for that would be a tragedy beyond measure for our world.’

These words were not spoken; in fact the only sound that anyone would have heard was the gentle lapping of waves in the darkness.

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