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In the days since the funeral for Emma Barker, much had been learned from the wizards who, through the efforts of the girls, had been captured. Only one had escaped and he was now in hiding within the walls of the great castle. Harry Potter, now filled with a terrible determination to bring the Dark Lord to justice, had strengthened the defenses around the school. The wands of those captured had revealed much and now those captives feared for their lives. It was not the Aurors that they were afraid of, although they made no serious plans to escape; it was the wrath of their leader and what he had promised to do to those who were captured.

Elizabeth and her friends had their own plans for those who called Marcus Beales-Armstrong master. They had reluctantly returned to classes and had yet to return to the Isolation Tower library to resume what they had conspired to do with their lost friend. The damage to the room and its contents had been healed, with all traces of the battle consigned to obscurity. This action had angered the girls, as they felt that a reminder of their friend’s existence had been expunged from the history of Hogwarts, and that she wasn’t worth remembering. But something else had angered them more.

Emma’s death had created a rift within the castle as Houses exchanged accusations of blame and, as a result, old rivalries between the Houses had reignited and the castle had become divided as never before as members of Houses did all that they could to make other Houses look bad. Friends turned against friends and refused to speak to each other while fights became very common, sometimes even involving Prefects.

Elizabeth sat at the spot reserved for the Head Girl during a meeting of the Prefects. Two boys, one a Gryffindor and the other a Hufflepuff, sat quietly across the table from one another with the bruises and black eyes resulting from a fight still very apparent. Elizabeth looked with disapproving eyes at them for a moment before speaking.

“Please tell me why I shouldn’t recommend that you be removed from the post that you have been given. Fighting among students is bad enough, but you two are Prefects, students who are supposed to be above such behavior! Yet there you were, fighting on the ground like Muggle ruffians, and doing it in front of a group of first years. What are they supposed to think? That it is okay to brawl in the corridors of the school?”

“I agree with Elizabeth, this behavior is unacceptable for Prefects and I will stand behind her should she decide to petition with Professor Leeds for your removal as Prefects,” Head Boy Benjamin Randolph added.

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth, I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing,” Toby Carlley, the Gryffindor Prefect answered softly.

The apology didn’t have the desired effect as the girl normally given to charity rose from her seat as her fist slammed down onto the surface of the table.

“Damn your apology! If you think that by speaking a few words that I know you do not mean that I shall reconsider my decision you are quite mistaken. I am going to give you both twenty-four hours in which to tender your resignation from your posts. If either of you have not done so by that time I shall recommend your removal and appropriate discipline.”

The girl turned and walked out of the room leaving the unfinished business on her agenda behind. Lily stepped forward to claim the agenda and continue the meeting while Beatrice hurried to leave the room and find her friend. She didn’t have to go far before she reached the balcony that the girl often retreated to for reflection when she needed to think. A quick glance out onto the balcony revealed the missing Head Girl, who sat quietly on the floor with her face in her hands.

“Elizabeth?”

“I don’t know if I can do this, Beatrice,” Elizabeth said without raising her head. “Everything was running so smoothly and now it’s all wrong. Emma is dead, the Houses are feuding worse than ever and now even my Prefects are fighting each other.”

“You still have Lily and I at your side,” Beatrice offered as she knelt by her friend.

“I still don’t know,” the girl stated as she finally lifted her face out of her hands to reveal that she had been crying.

Beatrice leaned forward to put her arm around the shoulders of her friend and wasn’t surprised when Elizabeth leaned against her to cry into her robes. The last few days since the funeral had been extremely hard on the girl, and those who knew her best feared that Elizabeth was beginning to break under the strain. The assault in the library that had resulted in a death and the near constant attempts at intrusion into her thoughts had brought the girl to near exhaustion and thus, constant supervision by staff and friends.

She watched as Elizabeth looked up at the sky above Hogwarts castle with eyes that appeared to be haunted and lifeless. The sparkle in them had not been seen since before the funeral and many feared that the girl would finally succumb and become a casualty of the war that was raging between the followers of the Dark Lord and the Aurors. While it had not been as bloody as the war fought during the time of Voldemort, there had been a number of deaths and disappearances.

“Elizabeth, let’s go to the dorm, you need to rest. You really do.”

Elizabeth nodded and then allowed her friend to help her to rise. The drain of the last few days had left her nearly helpless and this worried those who knew her. If she was assaulted again by a Legilimens she might crack, and then be subject to a hellish attack that had the potential to kill her. She walked quietly beside Beatrice and barely noticed the sudden presence of Lily, who had finally managed to catch up with her.

“Are you okay?”

“Lily, you need to do something for me.”

They stopped as a fragment of the old Elizabeth resurfaced and Lily knew what her friend was going to say before the words were spoken.

“Elizabeth, no, I can’t do it.”

“You have to Lily. You’re my second in command. I’m stepping down and want you to assume the post of Head Girl.”

“But…”

“I can’t do it anymore, I’m all used up and he’s getting stronger every day. He almost got through the last time that he tried and I don’t know how much more that I can take.”

“Elizabeth, Emma’s death was not your fault, she could have withdrawn and gone for help but she stayed. We all did and we all took the risk. Don’t let him destroy you, Elizabeth. Don’t let this guilt that you feel destroy you, because if you do he has won. It would be worse than surrendering.”

“Please, Lily, for me.”

The petite red head paused for a moment before reluctantly nodding as she looked into the pained eyes of her friend. She knew, as Elizabeth did, how it would appear to the members of the other Houses, it would look like Gryffindor wanted to keep the power of the post to itself. This would mean an intensifying of the already tense situation.

“I’ll do it, but I won’t like it and since I need a deputy to replace me, you’re it.”

Elizabeth nodded slowly and they resumed their course for the Gryffindor Common Room. The trip up the many stairs seemed to be torturous for Elizabeth and she stumbled occasionally as she ascended. When they finally arrived, she wandered towards the stairs leading to the dorm before climbing them and entering the room. The door closed behind her while her friends watched in disbelief.

“She crashed really hard, Beatrice, I’ve seen her sick, I’ve seen her sad and I’ve seen her angry, but I have never seen her like this. Someone needs to be with her constantly, if only to give her a shoulder to lean on.”

“Do you think that she is really stepping down as Head Girl?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Elizabeth slipped under the covers of her bed as the next assault began and she hastily threw barriers up against the intrusion. The Legilimens that was assailing her at the moment was more talented than most and she fought back with a fury that he had never encountered before. Many had faltered under his attentions, but this girl was rallying when she should be conceding defeat.

He sat bolt upright in his chair while the struggle ensued and the Dark Lord watched him intently. They had been alternating attacks, he and this man, as a confrontation with her was more than likely going to result in a terrible headache that would last for hours. As he watched, the Legilimens seemed to relax and he wondered if the man had actually managed to get through where so many before him had failed. He was beginning to believe that they had finally succeeded when the man’s back arched, his mouth flew open and he screamed as agonizing pain ripped through him. His eyes flew open and seemed to bulge out of their sockets as the response to his attack hammered at his psyche. Blood began to stream from his nose as he began to vomit violently onto the table before him. All the while, Reginald felt his mind being shredded and heard the voice of the girl in his thoughts.

'So you’re back are you? I would have thought that the last time we met that you would have learned a valuable lesson. Evidently you didn’t because now you’re back for more schooling. I’m going to teach you something that you will probably forget after I destroy your mind and turn your brain to pudding! You’re going to spend the rest of your life drooling down the front of your robes and forgetting when you need to use the toilet. You got away last time because I let you, but there are no free passes anymore!'

Marcus Beales-Armstrong knew what was going to happen before it did and slowly drew his wand to point it at the wizard. This would be a merciful killing as the man had been far too valuable to deserve less.

“Avada Kedavra!”

Elizabeth knew what was going to happen before it did and slipped carefully out of the place that she had managed to infiltrate. The wizard regained his consciousness just as the curse struck him and he died wondering what he had done to deserve it.
Beales-Armstrong was beginning to rise when the girl struck at him long enough to leave a message.

'I should imagine that you are starting to have a hard time finding wizards who are willing to face me, Father. Why don’t you stop sacrificing them and face me yourself?'

The wizard rose and walked away from the table as the corpse and the mess that his now dead associate had left vanished.

Elizabeth, her defenses bolstered, closed her eyes and went to sleep before sending her thoughts to a place where they would be safe. She allowed herself to relax as a valued and trusted receptacle took possession of her essence and she was safe once more. Tiger hurried to jump up onto the bed to settle under his owner’s chin and then fall asleep himself.

Lily and Beatrice sat quietly in the common room while they considered what had happened with their friend. The death of Emma was weighing heavily on Elizabeth and they knew that she felt responsible for it. They resolved to help her in any way and it was in this endeavor that Kim was being an enormous help.

Elizabeth was responding to the presence of the younger girl and seemed to brighten when she entered the room. While all liked the child, Elizabeth was exhibiting something that looked more akin to love. She would often allow the girl to climb up onto the bed next to her while she explained the lesson in Transfiguration. This had been heartening to Lily and Beatrice, who feared greatly that their friend might not be able to resist much longer.

The young girl entered the common room with two other first year girls and stopped at the couch where Elizabeth normally sat.

“Is she okay?”

“Yeah, Kim, she’s okay just really tired.”

“Can you help us with Transfiguration?”

“Sure, what do you need to know?”

The first years hurried to walk with Lily and Beatrice to the table where the seventh years proceeded to tutor the younger girls. From time to time, one of them would look up towards the dorm and wonder how their friend truly was.

Elizabeth had become very secretive, even to her friends, and they wondered what the reason for this behavior was. Both wondered if she was truly as wrung out as she appeared to be or if their friend was pretending in order to look weak to some unknown assailant. She had done it in the past, with terrible results for the opponents who had underestimated her. Many of these mistaken individuals were now residing in Azkaban where they had plenty of time to consider their mistakes. Others, especially those who had attempted to use Legilimency against her, were now likely dead or worse than that. Elizabeth was loath to show mercy to someone who attempted to intrude upon her thoughts and rarely did so, unless she wanted information that they had.

When the time for the evening meal came, the group walked down to the Great Hall knowing that a dinner would be provided for their friend. None of them feared her starving to death, her appetite was intact and she made certain to clean the plate, although Tiger always got a piece of chicken to enjoy. They made their way to their seats, conscious of the fact that the absence of the girl had been noticed. Professor Leeds rose from the High Table to walk to them and then pull Lily aside.

“I understand that you are now the Acting Head Girl, Miss Potter.”

“How…”

“Elizabeth is quite adept at sending messages via Legilimency.”

“I should have known. Professor Leeds, I am afraid for her, she’s not herself.”

“I am concerned as well. Her absence here is disturbing.”

“Do we need to have one of the nurses visit her?”

“It may become necessary if this behavior continues. Miss Potter, you know her far better than I do, be honest with me, how does she seem to you?”

“She’s hiding something, Professor Leeds, I don’t know what but she is hiding something.”

Professor Tobias Leeds nodded before speaking again.

“Enjoy your meal, Miss Potter. I have a visit to make.”

Lily watched as the headmaster vanished and knew that he was likely already in the Gryffindor Common Room and ascending the stairs to their dorm. She returned to her seat and then attacked the meal before her while Beatrice looked at her strangely.

“What was that all about?”

“I think that he went to speak to Elizabeth.”

“Uh, oh,” the girl answered as her hand went up to her mouth.

“Yeah, he may be walking out of the frying pan and into the fire or however that Muggle saying goes.”

“Why would a Muggle be walking in a frying pan? They can get really hot while they’re on a fire.”

“Who knows?” Lily answered with a shrug as she continued eating.

Tobias Leeds stood outside the door to the girl’s dorm and knocked politely. A short time later the door opened and he stepped into it, thankful that the defenses against boys entering this room didn’t apply to the headmaster. Elizabeth opened her eyes and turned her head to face him as he approached the bed.

“Mrs. Blackwell-Potter, I have become concerned about you.”

“I’m sorry to be causing concern, Professor Leeds.”

“I am quite certain that you are. Elizabeth, Miss Potter tells me that she thinks that you are hiding something and I concur. We both know you rather well and your recent behavior betrays as much as it conceals. You stepped aside as Head Girl, is that a temporary or permanent move on your part?”

“Professor, you know as well as I do that I am under nearly constant assault from the Legilimens that are allied to the Dark Lord. The most recent assault was just ended and most unsatisfactorily for the wizard responsible. I cannot carry out my studies, perform my duties as a Teaching Assistant, perform my duties as Head Girl and fight off these attacks all at the same time. I am nearly exhausted and the attacks are becoming more difficult to fend off. The last one nearly got through my barriers and I never know when the next one will occur. Stepping aside as the Head Girl was necessary, it frees up energy that I can use to bolster my preparations.”

“And the death of Miss Barker as well as the ensuing difficulties had nothing to do with it, is that what you are saying?”

“No, that would be a lie and we both know it. Emma dying in that attack is something that I have to carry with me now. It happened because of my father, he ordered the attack and that is something that I will make him pay for. The problems between the Houses were inevitable, Emma had friends in all of the Houses and the blame game that is going on is going to get worse before it gets any better. It is a disservice to Emma’s memory, but that’s the way that it is. Until those that want to fight realize that they are doing something that Emma would not have liked, the feuding will continue.”

“And have you stepped aside permanently or temporarily?”

“You told me at my home that Lily had stepped aside for me.”

“Yes, I did.”

“She has agreed to assume the duties therefore I am stepping aside permanently.”

“This behavior is becoming a habit, Elizabeth. You stepped aside as a Prefect…”

“To assume the duties as a Teaching Assistant,” Elizabeth finished. “Lily had already earned the position that she now holds and I am merely handing it to the person who should have worn it in the first place. What she elects to do with it is up to her now.”

“And if she should decide to return it to you once your recuperation ends…”

“Then I would accept it and carry forth the responsibilities of the post. Why?” Elizabeth asked as she eyed him warily.

“Elizabeth, we both know why she stepped aside in your favor. I believe that once she perceives that your difficulties have diminished she will return the post to you.”

The girl in the bed stopped as she prepared to speak with her mouth still open slightly as what he said hit her. Lily would step aside, she was like that, and that would place everything in an interesting situation, especially if the other Houses came to believe that she and her friend were playing keep away with the post. It had the potential to ignite an even larger feud than already existed.

“I hadn’t thought about that, Professor Leeds.”

“Then you are aware of the concerns that I have.”

“Yes, I am. If she hands it back to me, then the other Houses will think that Gryffindor is trying to control the power of the position. The fighting will get worse and the situation at Hogwarts unimaginable.”

“Exactly,” the headmaster responded. “Miss Potter is also aware of this problem, which is why she was hesitant to assume what she was offered.”

“She told you that?”

“Elizabeth, you aren’t the only Legilimens in the castle.”

“What do we do then?”

“The announcement has not been made yet. I propose that it be announced that, due to your health, Miss Potter is temporarily assuming the duties of Head Girl. It would be logical as she is your chief deputy that she take your place and this would stop any rumors. She has already told me that she wishes this.”

“She told you this as well?”

“Miss Potter is just as skilled as you are at sending messages directly to me. She may not be here physically, but her thoughts are reaching me just as powerfully as your words are.”

“That little skunk!”

“Skunk?” Tobias Leeds responded while as his brow furrowed. “I do not understand why you should call your friend a skunk. Is that not an animal which has the ability to spray odorous fluid at its opponents?”

Elizabeth laughed at the confusion that the headmaster clearly displayed on his face before speaking.

“It’s a Muggle term for someone who does something unexpected, but not terribly bad.”

“I see,” Leeds answered as his confusion cleared. “Then we can make the announcement that I suggested?”

“Yes, we can do that.”

“And you shall be seen in class tomorrow?”

“Unless there is another attack, I shall be there.”

“Excellent, I will make the announcement tomorrow morning. By the way, Miss Potter is already quite aware of what we are discussing at this moment and is more than pleased that you have made the decision that you have.”

“She is definitely a skunk!”

The wizard joined her in laughter and then vanished from the dorm while Elizabeth enjoyed the meal that had appeared before her. Tiger, of course, enjoyed the piece of chicken that had been sent for him. Elizabeth watched her pet eat his treat and smiled before continuing her meal. Things could only get better because there was no way that they could get worse.

In the Great Hall, he sat silently at the table while others around him ate their meals. The Dark Lord had been uncharacteristically lenient when told about the failure to kill Blackwell. He imagined that it was only the fact that he was behind the magical shield that he still lived, otherwise he would have joined the ranks of the dead. This aside, he knew that his master would only allow so many errors and that the next likely would not be as charitably forgiven. He wasn’t certain who he feared more, his master, who showed no mercy to those who failed him, or Blackwell, who was every bit her father’s daughter and was even less merciful. Given a choice in the matter if he failed again, he would rather face an angered dragon, that way his death would be swift and fairly painless.

The loss of his companions worried him; the Aurors had a number of Legilimens that would even now be working to learn all that they could about the member of the force that had escaped capture. With the death of a student in the attack, a sentence to Azkaban was certain, although if Blackwell had a chance the stay in the prison wouldn’t be long or peaceful. She would reach into his mind to shred what she wanted to after she had learned what she needed to. He would be left a mindless husk that would spend the remainder of its life in a shattered state comparable only to the victim of a Dementor.

He watched as Leeds reappeared in the Great Hall and returned to his seat after stopping to speak to Lily Potter briefly. The girl had looked happy with what she had been told and the absence of Blackwell told him reason to believe that it was about her. She had to be in Gryffindor Tower, likely in her dorm, for she had appeared nearly ill the last time that he had seen her. She could not be touched there because the magical barrier would prevent him from entering the girl’s dorm, even if he could get past the portrait that guarded the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room.

No, he would have to wait until the chance arose before striking and, when he did, the attack would have to end the life of Elizabeth Blackwell-Potter once and for all.

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