Visiting Hogwarts was always an experience. The castle itself was a bizarre construction that could never have stayed upright without the physics-defying power of magic but it was the magic that made it what it was. Rachel could feel the first touch from the wards upon her skin from over a mile away from the castle as she approached it and it only grew stronger the closer she got. Such power those wards had within them and it was a clean sort of power and so unlike the other great places of power on Earth that she had visited.
It was a welcoming sort of power too. Oh, she could feel some wariness in it, stemming from her not being a wizard she presumed, but still mostly welcoming after so many visits that hadn't ended badly at all. It wasn't difficult for her to understand why Harry would view Hogwarts as home; it was just that sort of place. Welcoming, comforting, permanent. You just knew that it wasn't going anywhere any time soon so you could make a home out of it without fear.
Of course, the fact that it was essentially a giant fortress didn't hurt in that impression. Bricks and mortar were a poor defence against the sort of weapons deployed in a modern-day war but they still lent an impression of strength when you say them deployed in the way they had been used in the building of Hogwarts. You could look at it and see that it had survived seiges, that it was designed to do so, and you saw strength. The fact that it wasn't a real sort of strength didn't come into it.
Hogwarts had done well since the integration of wizarding society too. It had changed, of course, now that wizards were required to get a proper education including things like maths and science like everyone else but then Hogwarts had simply repositioned itself to provide a different sort of education and to a much wider audience to boot. It provided summer classes, evening classes, certificates, diplomas, and even degrees in an astonishingly wide variety of supernatural fields of study.
Wizarding magic was, of course, the most prominent of those fields. It had offered education in those areas for a thousand years and simply continued to do so in various permutations, maintaining its place as the premier school of wizarding magic in all the world. But it had expanded. It expanded into wicca, into sorcery, into alchemy, into providing classes to werewolves on how to control their transformation, into the study of demonkind, into the intersection of magical and mundane history, and so on and so forth. And that had left it as the place to go for supernatural education.
As she approached the castle gates a young wizard in red robes, the uniform of an auror, stirred himself form the guardhouse and placed himself between her and the gates.
"Master Giles," he said in a squeaky voice. "You aren't scheduled to visit Hogwarts today."
Rachel stopped and stared. It wasn't every day that an acne-stricken teenager who was probably still in his first year of training tried to challenge her. Force, they must have been short on manpower for that to be the guard assigned to Hogwarts. A pimply teenager. Not a great deterrent, that.
"I wasn't aware that I needed permission," replied Rachel. "I've always been welcome in the past."
"It's, uh, it's not that," he said, his voice cracking. "It's security. We can't know you're you. Uh, not who you like. It's dangerous."
Rachel held her arms out to her side. "So test me," she said. "I'm sure I can choke down another one of your foul potions if needs be. Or some charms? I won't resist."
"I, uh, we don't have the stuff."
"The government's been using it all for the senate and stuff," said the teenager. "And I, uh, well, I don't know we'd set up spells to do it. Guess it's really difficult though or it'd be done."
Rachel closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose in a very Giles-like gesture. What had she done to deserve this? "Look, I'm going to see Harry Potter," she said finally. "Do you think some imposter could get away with causing trouble around him?"
"Well . . . "
"Look, just let me past," she said. "I'm not going to do anything stupid. Christ, kid, I'm a Jedi Master, doesn't that count for anything?"
He looked absolutely horrified by the idea. "It's more than my job's worth," he said. "And if I get sacked, I'll never get another as a wizard."
Oh wonderful. She just loved small communities. What could she say to something like that? "The hell with your career, kid. I'm too busy for this shit," just didn't seem like the thing to do as tempting as it was. "This is ridiculous," she said finally. "Hmm, have you had occlumency classes?"
"Uh, no. Well, sort of. I've got a book."
But before she could work her mojo, someone else showed up. Another person in red robes, except that this one was older, female, and had bubblegum-pink hair.
"Rachel?" she asked. "What're you doing here? Naughty of you to turn up without prior authorisation."
"It's a school," she said. "I didn't really expect to have to deal with this."
Tonks shrugged. "They're paranoid," she said. "Think the new guy's gonna pop up from under a rock and start avada kedavraing people left, right, and centre or something. Harry's in a right snit about it."
The kid looked like his knees were about to give out.
"I think we can rest assured that I am not Malitia," said Rachel. "And certainly not one of his servants."
"Could be polyjuice," said Tonks. "Or a metamorph. Or a parasitic demon. Or a glamour. Or even self-transfiguration."
"You're just being awkward."
"Yeah," said Tonks. "The lightsabre kinda makes it unlikely that you're a fake and no parasite I've ever heard of can control someone with any sort of mental defences nevermind the stuff you can do."
"So you're going to let me through?"
"Well . . . maybe."
"Tonks . . . "
"Okay, okay," she said. "Keep your knickers on. It's not like the world's at stake or anything." A moment's pause. "It isn't, is it?"
"Not right at this moment," replied Rachel. "But I'd still like to get past."
Tonks rolled her eyes. "Had me going there for a minute," she said. "Give me a second and I'll get these doors opened for you. "
Actually entering Hogwarts always set Rachel's skin to crawling. While she liked the feel of the castle's magic, she did not like the fact that there were portraits watching your every move wherever you went in the castle. It would feel a bit Big Brother to any sensible person but to someone who could tell with absolute certainty when they were being watched? It really wasn't much fun at all. Kept her in a constant state of semi-paranoia as she felt the gazes on her but no action from it.
Other than that, Hogwarts was as much of a sight inside as it was outside. There were the obvious things like the moving staircases and the ghosts and all the other wonderful magical gizmos that were laying around, but for someone who could see magic it was even more spectacular. The school had been powerfully warded for so long that magic had sank into the very stones of the place; every part of it radiated power.
Of course, it wasn't all good. There was no shortage of students shuffling through the entrance hall on their way to classes when Rachel entered and many of the looks she received from them were far from friendly. Very far. Several of the students were giving her looks which suggested they would like nothing more than to curse her into oblivion while fingering their wands in a way that could be taken as distinctly Freudian.
Not that it bothered Rachel. In all honesty, she found it all quite amusing. It was just so, well, pitiful. She was a Jedi Master of over a decade's standing and they were silly little children posturing for the benefit of their classmates by pretending to pick a fight with someone far, far beyond their level. Quite ridiculous. And of course, Slytherin. They weren't the only ones giving her disdainful looks but they were the ones who took it that far. Some things never changed apparently.
Within a few moments, a short, dark-haired girl with a Ravenclaw badge on her school robes next to her prefect's badge detached herself from the crowd and approached Rachel, who was sending a sunny smile the way of the Slytherins which appeared to be setting their blood to boiling. "You're here to see the headmaster?" she asked in a crisp voice. Rachel nodded in reply. "Follow me, then. I have the password."
Rachel did so. The corridors were packed with students for much of the journey and the glares continued along the way. It was rather depressing in a way. Force only knew what the parents were teaching their kids to have eleven year olds glaring at her as if she was some sort of repugnant monster. Eventually they stopped in front of a particularly ugly stone gargoyle that Rachel recognised as being the guardian for the headmaster's office.
"Fizzing Whizbees," snapped the prefect at the gargoyle. A moment later, almost reluctantly, it moved aside.
"Thank you," said Rachel with a nod.
And then she stepped onto the staircase that led up to the office and waited as they carried her upwards in a grinding of stone steps that were never meant to actually move.
The headmaster's office of Hogwarts was an immensely large circular room dominated by a large desk in the centre and the massive bay windows that lay behind it. Along with that there were the moving, semi-sentient portraits of former headmasters that filled much of the space on the walls right from the school's founders, except for Salazar whose space on the wall was blank, as it was for all headmasters who disgraced themselves, to the latest incumbents, Dumbledore and McGonagall who had a blank space between them that would have been for Severus Snape were it not for the circumstances on which he came to the place and then left it.
Those were the main features, the most eye-catching, but there was also the vast number of magical gizmos that laid around the room in various tables along with the multitude of bookcases filled with rare, expensive texts on the workings of magic of various stripes.
And behind the table in the centre sat Harry. Tall and lanky with dark hair that stuck out in all sorts of crazy directions, he really didn't look the part of what he was: the most hated, feared, and loved man in the wizarding world depending on who you were speaking to at the time. The thick-framed glasses he wore didn't help there either. She wasn't even sure why he wore them; a wizard of his power could easily bypass minor infirmities like poor eyesight if he so chose. Habit, perhaps? Or perhaps a simple deception to make his enemies believe he was possessed of a weakness that did not in truth exist.
"Rachel," he said, standing to greet her when she entered. "This is a surprise. I wasn't expecting you today."
"It was all a bit spur of the moment," said Rachel. "How are Luna and the kids?"
"They're fine," replied Harry. "The kids have got it into their heads that they're going to be Jedi, which is a little strange, but Luna seems to think it's all highly amusing so what can I say?"
"Well as long as they don't neglect their other education," said Rachel. "Let them have their fantasies. All children have them. When I was that age I wanted to be a comic book superhero. Wolverine, I think. It all seems so distant now. Yeah, I wanted to be Wolverine and Willow wanted to be Jean Grey and Jesse wanted to be Spiderman. Good times."
"I'll take your word for it," said Harry dryly. "Personally, I always thought that being a wizard was quite cool enough to be getting on with. And believe me, my kids won't be slacking on their magical studies. There's too much at stake for that. But I rather doubt you came here to talk about my family, as wonderful a topic as it is, so why are you here?"
"Oh, that can't be good," he said. "Visions are second only to prophecy in how much trouble they cause in my experience. What did you have a vision of?"
"The world burning," said Rachel. "War, endless war, consuming humanity as we fought for supremacy over each other. Everything we have fought and bled for to build collapsing around our ears."
"I might just promote visions above prophecies in the hierarchy of things that cause trouble at this rate."
"And at the centre of it all I saw one man," said Rachel. "A wizard. Dark to the core, eyes glowing red, I think you know who I mean."
"Malitia," said Harry flatly. "This vision can't be right. He's good, very, very good, but he's not that good. You're talking a level of destruction that even Voldemort didn't come close to managing."
"It only takes one spark at the wrong place at the wrong time to cause a forest fire," said Rachel. "We need to shut this Dark Lord down before he does something foolish."
"You might as well take a seat," said Harry with a heartfelt sigh. "I have a feeling this won't be a short conversation."
Rachel did so. "I want to know everything," she said. "Who he is, where he comes, what makes him tick, his known associates, his strengths, his weaknesses. Everything."
"You don't ask much, do you?" said Harry. "Malcom Tiria Dail. That's his name. His real name, anyway. His family aren't very interesting. They're are an obscure pureblood family: no real wealth or power to their credit, most haven't even heard of them, but their blood is as pure as you're likely to find these days, though they take little pride in that from what I hear. The name Malcom is a modern spelling, only one l, and obviously comes from the muggle world. That probably caused him some problems in Slytherin.
"Yes, he was a Slytherin," continued Harry. "But he was one of the good ones. He didn't run around cursing muggle-borns or running off at the mouth about wizard supremacy and muggle oppression like most of the others. He wasn't exactly a big defender of them either but he didn't add to the problems which was something I appreciate, if nothing else.
"I didn't actually know him that well," he continued. "He was only here a few years, taking a diploma course after completing his muggle education elsewhere, but he was a good student. He was talented, he was polite, charming even, and he rarely caused anyone any trouble. A perfect student, I thought. I even made him head boy in his last year.
"But aren't they always?" asked Harry, his face twisting in disgust. "Always the perfect student. Riddle was the same. Everyone thought he was a perfect little angel, other than Dumbledore, and he turned out to be a monster like none other in the end. I should have known. I should have spotted it."
"If it was that easy then the Jedi Council would have stopped the Sith before they could ever become a threat," said Rachel. "There's no point beating yourself up."
"If anyone should be able to tell, it's me," said Harry. "I've seen enough and done enough that I should know a dark wizard from a normal guy. Christ, you know how I finished Voldemort off. I'm as close to being a Dark Lord as someone who isn't one will ever be. I should have known."
"You're not psychic, Harry. Well, okay, you sort of are, but you don't go around invading minds just in case. The point is that you can't blame yourself because one of your students went a little nuts. It happens sometimes and there's not a whole lot you can do about it most of the time."
"There should be something I can do about it, dammit. I'll stop him if nothing else."
"Oh, that you can do," said Rachel. "I would expect nothing less. It'd be better if another wizard stepped up, showed the world at large that were good wizards other than you, but you'll do in a pinch."
"Well don't I feel valued."
"Oh, don't whinge," replied Rachel. "Like I said, you'll do. It's not as if your skills are lacking. I'd simply rather have some other wizard do the deed to break the image that people in their minds of capricious, abusive, unpleasant wizards who use their powers for nothing more than self-aggrandisement."
"Well it would help if the tabloids would just shut up for a change."
"You'll never shut them up, Harry," said Rachel. "Best to learn how to play them. Saves an awful lot of pain."
Before Harry could say anything his fireplace roared and the flames in it turned green. A moment later a face appeared in it, one that Rachel recognised as the Secretary of Magic.
"Headmaster Potter," he said quickly, his face flushed red. "There's been an attack."
Harry was on his feet immediately, wand in hand, looking every bit the part of the powerful wizard despite his ungainly frame. "Where?" he asked.
"Ah, China," he said. "The relief camp near Central South University in Changsha. Very bad business."
Rachel frowned. That camp was distributing food to nearly a hundred thousand people last she'd heard of it. Its loss would not go down well.
"I'll be there in a moment," said Harry. "You'd best see to what needs doing, Mr. Smith."
"Yes, of course. Please hurry. Your experience would be quite valuable here."
And then he was gone.
"Well, Rachel," said Harry. "Coming?"