Arthur Weasley was settled comfortably in Professor McGonagall’s overstuffed armchair, but while his body was at ease, his mind was not. He slowly and carefully polished his glasses with the edge of his robe, thinking not of the lenses, but of his conversations the night before with Ron, Bill, and George, none of which had gone well.
Ron was upset with Bill for warning him away from Seamus’ beach party. “The idea that Seamus hangs out with demons — it’s mental! I’ve met him three times already this summer, and he’s entirely normal! A bunch of us met up at Puddings in Diagon Alley, and then me and Harry met him and Dean at the Cannons – Falcons match, and just yesterday he was there at Quality Quidditch when Harry and I helped Dean pick out a new broom. And you know that Serpentia is normal; she’s been ‘round to visit Ginny often enough. I don’t like her, but she’s not dangerous.”
Ron’s complaints added to Arthur’s worries. Bill had been claiming that it was impossible to speak with any of the Finnegans and Serpentias, but Ron was having no trouble contacting Seamus, and Adjoua Serpentia had been advertising her potions camp in every Sunday edition of the Daily Prophet.
Most puzzling of all was that Bill had no interest in speaking with Serena directly. Arthur was beginning to wonder if Bill were confunded. When Bill and Fleur paid a visit, Arthur confronted him, and Bill was very offended that Arthur would question his professional abilities. As Bill stormed off, Arthur noticed George lurking in the hallway, looking troubled.
“Don’t fret about it, Georgie — just a little disagreement. It’ll all work out in the end. No need for such a long face.”
And then George dropped the bombshell.
“Dad…. there’s something you should know.”
Arthur’s thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice. “You look troubled, Arthur.”
“Dumbledore!” Arthur leapt to his feet and scanned the room, certain for just a moment that the old Headmaster would be standing there. Then he realized his error, and, feeling foolish, he turned to Dumbledore’s portrait, which was smiling genially.
“I didn’t mean to startle you, Arthur.”
“You… you didn’t,” said Arthur, still flustered. “It was just… for a moment… I mean, your portrait sounds so real….”
“I quite understand,” said Dumbledore. “It takes a bit of getting used to, being greeted by the artwork.”
“How… how are you, old friend?” asked Arthur, hoping that after everything, Albus was having a pleasant afterlife.
“Couldn’t be better!” replied Dumbledore. “I’m having a grand time watching the school get rebuilt. You needn’t worry about me.” He peered intently at Arthur’s face. “It’s you who seem to be unsettled.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” said Arthur dismissively. “Just a few things on my mind to discuss with Minerva….”
A thought struck Arthur. There was one question that Dumbledore could definitely answer.
“Well, now that you mention it, Albus, I do have something that I’d like to discuss with you.” Arthur walked closer to Dumbledore’s portrait. “Is there a way that one might one determine exactly whom has confunded someone?”
Dumbledore frowned. “Someone you know has been confunded?”
“Yes, and in a most unusual way. This person is behaving almost entirely as expected, but he just seems… incapable, I would say, of finishing a task, although he believes he is finishing it.”
“What sort of task is this?”
“It’s… well… it’s an investigation.”
“No….” Oh, why not, thought Arthur. It’s not as though the portraits weren’t going to hear everything he told Minerva, anyway. “Well, actually, it’s Bill.”
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “Indeed?”
“There’s a matter he’s been investigating — for McGonagall, I think, although he’s rather vague about that — but he claims he’s never able to contact anyone involved. I absolutely know that these people can be reached, but he gets angry when I point this out to him. He insists he’s working very hard. We’ve just had quite a row, and… I say! What’s so funny?” Arthur couldn’t understand why Dumbledore looked amused.
“I happen to be familiar with the matter to which you’re referring,” said Dumbledore. “I do spend quite a bit of time in this office, after all.”
“You… you are? Well, of course you are!” said Arthur, feeling simultaneously silly and relieved. “Bill must have met McGonagall here more than once.”
“Yes,” continued Dumbledore serenely, “and I can assure you that you have nothing to worry about. Bill has not been confunded. His investigation is going nowhere because there is nothing to find.”
The shout came from Snape’s portrait, which looked angry.
“I beg your pardon?” replied Dumbledore.
“You still persist in perpetuating this fiction? For what purpose?”
“What fiction?” asked Arthur.
Dumbledore looked stern. “Do not speak any further, Severus!”
“Or what? What exactly are you going to do about it?”
“We agreed, Severus….”
“I agreed to nothing! I was a servant following the orders of an increasingly irrational master!”
There was a general rumbling of outrage from the other portraits, with the exception of the only other Slytherin headmaster, Phineas Nigellus, who asked, “Is he referring to The Dark Lord, or Dumbledore?”
Arthur asked, “You think that what Albus says is incorrect, Severus?”
Through clenched teeth, Snape growled, “It is a lie.”
Dumbledore’s portrait became very angry. “You know fully well that I made the best decision for the overall good of Hogwarts, past, present, and future!”
In contrast to Dumbledore, Snape spoke cooly. “Dumbledore, I realize that you believe yourself to have been one of history’s greatest wizards, but you were not infallible. You made mistakes. In fact, some of your actions…” and here Snape stared pointedly at Dumbledore’s withered hand, which was still black in his portrait, “…were extremely foolish.” Snape now spoke with intensity. “It’s time to stop pretending and tell the truth.”
“I must say, I have to agree with Professor Snape,” said Dilys Derwent from her portrait.
This caused a ripple of astonished whispers among the portraits, and an incredulous look from Dumbledore, who asked, “Are you serious, Dilys?”
“I am, Albus. There’s no shame in admitting that something’s got past you. No wizard is brilliant at everything.”
Arthur declared, “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m thoroughly confused! And since this concerns my son, I’d really like to get to the bottom of it. Will someone please tell me what in Merlin’s name is going on? Albus?”
When Dumbledore didn’t reply, he turned to Snape. “Severus….?”
Snape sat straighter and adjusted his cape. He looked intently at Arthur. “You realize that I do not divulge this information lightly. There is a chance that I will bring condemnation down upon some of my finest students. Nevertheless, I think we are all better off to start this new era without any secrets.”
He said this last to Dumbledore, then turned back to Arthur.
“I’m going to tell you a story, Weasley, about demons.”
Wizards and demons inhabit parallel worlds, each with their own magical traditions. Unlike wizards, demons have never formed a government, nor regulated each other in any way, a state of affairs which has baffled many a wizarding leader. Voldemort, for example, before his first rise to power, saw demon anarchy as a power vacuum that needed to be filled.
He was wrong. To his immense frustration and embarrassment, Voldemort discovered that he had no way to bribe, blackmail, or force demons to do his bidding.
They laughed in his face when he described a world in which wizards and demons would rule over Muggles, because demons had already been deeply embedded in Muggle society for millennia, and they had long ago learned that governing Muggle lives was an immense waste of their time. They already had what they wanted from Muggles: lots and lots of their cash.
Voldemort wasn’t able to threaten demons with physical harm, either. They were hard to kill with wizarding magic, and they were capable of destroying entire groups of Death Eaters with a single ball of fire.
Despite these obstacles, Voldemort was determined to add demon power to his formidable arsenal of Dark magic, so he tried a different tactic. He sought out powerful demons who were known to study xenosorcery, and offered to share with them the wonders of Dark wizarding magic.
Voldemort’s demon-recruiting campaign had three consequences for the wizarding world, none of which turned out to be beneficial to him.
First, it opened the eyes of demons to the financial benefits of consorting with wizards, and they began to blend into wizarding communities, just as they had insinuated themselves into Muggle society.
Further, once demons had established business relationships with wizards, they protected those wizarding colleagues from Death Eater destruction.
But the consequence that had an impact on Hogwarts was that Voldemort inadvertently made British demons interested in sending their children there. This was easily accomplished, due to a very ancient oversight.
Unknown to Voldemort, and even to Albus Dumbledore himself, was a wrinkle in the Hogwarts invitation process. Invitation letters were not restricted to just one kind of magical child; demons received them as well as wizards. Whether this was by design, sabotage, or accident, it had been that way for centuries.
Before Voldemort started his recruitment campaign, British demon families had ignored the Hogwarts letters. They sent their children to pan-magical institutions, like the Academy of Magic schools in the States, where all manner of magical beings were educated together. But once Voldemort got the demons thinking about how useful it might be for their children to be immersed in wizarding culture and magic, they started to accept, beginning with Octavius Flint and a few of his friends in 1979.
The demon students found they could blend in quite nicely by feigning an interest in wizarding matters and avoiding displays of demon magic. Since demons are fundamentally ambitious, conniving, and selfish, the main hallmarks of Slytherins, all of the Hogwarts demons were sorted into that House.
Demons might have attended Hogwarts in perpetuity if Severus Snape had not become somewhat of an expert on them. In 1978, Voldemort ordered Severus to accept a position as an instructor at Adjoua Serpentia’s Young Potioneers summer camp, located high in the piney forests of the Sierra Nevadas. The Dark Lord hoped to learn more about Sidney Serpentia, a demon so powerful that he had blasted Voldemort off his front doorstep and halfway around the globe.
Severus initially dreaded the assignment, and was surprised to enjoy the experience. Though Voldemort eventually decided that recruiting Sidney Serpentia was a lost cause, Severus returned to the camp each summer for thirteen years. He especially appreciated the Young Potioneers after he was compelled to teach at Hogwarts for Dumbledore. The campers were all eager to become Potion Masters, and they were far more serious and attentive in class than most of the Hogwarts students. Severus taught every sort of magical being, and became familiar with many American demon families.
Ironically, as a particularly negligent head of Slytherin, Severus didn’t notice any identifying characteristics in the many demons who were already at Hogwarts when he became their Head of House. However, he immediately recognized former Young Potioneer Asmodeus Serpentia when he transferred in as a fifth-year in 1986.
Astounded, Severus asked Dumbledore if it were really wise to accept demons into the school. Dumbledore was furious with himself for failing to realize that Asmodeus was not a wizard. Feeling that expelling Asmo would draw attention to his mistake, Dumbledore asked Severus to keep a close eye on the young demon to see if he exhibited any dangerous behaviors. That was when Snape finally identified several more demons in Slytherin house.
Severus was loathe to report his discovery to Dumbledore, because he didn’t want a mass expulsion of members from his own house — not to mention half his winning Quidditch team — but of course he couldn’t let the matter go. He told Dumbledore about the demons, adding his belief that they were not causing any trouble, and should be allowed to stay. His attitude caught Dumbledore by surprise.
“But it was you, Severus, who first came to me with fears that a single demon student was a danger to the school.”
“Yes, Dumbledore, but now we know that we have educated at least a dozen demons, and none of them have ever harmed their classmates, at least when there was no Bludger involvement. Unless you are concerned that Mr. Serpentia and his friends will knock too many Gryffindors off of their brooms….”
“I think it is you, Severus, who is putting Quidditch ahead of greater concerns.”
“I have no concerns about my students.”
“Perhaps this particular group is harmless, but we don’t know how they managed to receive invitations to Hogwarts. Do you want Hogwarts to be overrun with non-wizarding creatures, ones with a history of anarchy and violence?”
Severus had no argument for that, and he admitted it. “But let us first discover how these students obtained letters, and why, before we expel them. I remind you that, during the war, the demons sided with us against Voldemort.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say they “sided” with us, but I take your point: they had no interest in conquering our world. You have more experience with these creatures than the rest of us; please start an investigation, but quietly! Tell only those whom absolutely need to know.”
Snape’s enquiries yielded no fruit; all the demons could tell him was that they had “always” received Hogwarts letters. It was Dumbledore, finally, who discovered and closed the invitation letter loophole. He decided that the current Hogwarts demons could remain, but once the last of these graduated there would be no more. He also amended the school charter to officially exclude non-wizarding students. Several years later, however, he was persuaded to make an exception.
In the spring of 1991, Dumbledore ordered Severus to resign his position as an instructor at the Young Potioneers camp. He wanted Severus in England throughout the year, ready to respond to any threat against Harry Potter, who was about to begin his first year at Hogwarts.
Adjoua Serpentia was very unhappy to lose such a valuable member of her staff, particularly since her own daughter was showing an extraordinary talent for potion-making. She declared that if Severus were stuck in England, then Serena would go to Hogwarts.
Adjoua was perplexed when Serena didn’t receive a Hogwarts invitation, because the Serpentias owned a home in Wiltshire and spent a fair amount of time there. She owled the school, and the Serpentias were angry when they read Dumbledore’s reply explaining Hogwarts’ wizards-only policy. They demanded a meeting with the headmaster. Dumbledore agreed, but only because he’d always wanted to meet a demon. He asked Severus to attend as well.
Dumbledore sat across the desk from a slender, dark-skinned, green-robed witch and her husband, a pale, greying, paunchy, bespectacled demon whom Dumbledore, to his great surprise, found indistinguishable from any wealthy Muggle. The headmaster was calm as he responded to Dr. Serpentia’s arguments for Serena’s admission, which included his nephew’s academic achievements at the school.
“I’m sorry, Dr. and Mrs. Serpentia, but recent mistaken admissions notwithstanding, the Hogwarts charter is exclusively for the magical education of witches and wizards.”
“I am a witch!” declared Mrs. Serpentia. “The Kouassi’s are a very old wizarding family. And look at this!”
Adjoua waved her hand, and in it appeared a scroll of parchment, which she thrust at Dumbledore.
“This is the letter I received from Hogwarts when I was eleven. I received invitations from wizarding schools in every country where my family resides. My parents sent me to Beauxbatons, but I could have been a student here.”
“I do realize you’re a witch, Madam,” said Dumbledore gravely, “but your daughter is half demon, and is therefore ineligible to attend.”
“That’s bullshit!” exclaimed Dr. Serpentia.
“I beg your pardon?” said Dumbledore sharply.
“It’s total hypocrisy! There’s plenty of non-wizards here! You can’t pretend that thestral-wrangler we saw on the way in is one hundred percent wizard!”
“And what about your tiny little charms professor?” demanded Mrs. Serpentia. “I remember him from the ’88 European invitationals. Part faerie, definitely!”
“My nephew told me your history professor is a ghost!”
“My friend Eileen says that your janitor is a Muggle!”
“And what about that werewolf student you had?”
Now Dumbledore was also angry. “I can assure you, sir, that Hogwarts has never had a….”
“Perhaps….” interrupted Severus rather loudly. All eyes turned to him. He addressed Dumbledore. “Perhaps we are losing sight of the opportunities presenting themselves here.”
Dumbledore looked resentful, but nevertheless he replied, “Opportunities, Professor Snape?”
“With Serena’s admission, we have the chance to foster international magical cooperation between Hogwarts and several communities in three countries.”
Severus hoped that Dumbledore would understand what he meant by emphasizing “communities,” and he did. So did Sidney Serpentia, who leaned back in his chair and suddenly looked far less like a mild-mannered Muggle as he said, “Ten years go by so fast, don’t they?”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Dumbledore warily.
Dr. Serpentia spoke airily, but there was bite behind his words. “Oh, I just happened to realize that you’re expecting a very special student this year — which means that it won’t be long before some of us start to receive some very special requests.”
He waved his hand just as his wife had, and in it appeared a parchment emblazoned with the skull and snake of the Death Eaters.
“We could share information about these requests, or we could just…” he waved his hand and the parchment disappeared in a crackle of orange flame. ”…keep it to ourselves.”
Dumbledore looked murderous, but all he said was, “I have conditions.”
“Your daughter will keep the lowest of profiles. She will not participate in any interscholastic activities or competitions. She will not be eligible for any intramural awards that would cause her name to be memorialized as a Hogwarts student. She will not remain in the castle during school vacations. She will not practice any demon magic in the school or on the grounds. Her teachers and fellow classmates will never know that she is half-demon. That secret will be kept between Professor Snape, Professor McGonagall, and myself. Is this acceptable?”
Dr. Serpentia looked as though he disagreed, but Mrs. Serpentia said, “Yes. It is acceptable.”
“Adjoua, it’s an insult!”
Adjoua faced her husband and said firmly, “Serena is going to study advanced Potions with Severus Snape, and that is final.”
After a moment, Dr. Serpentia relaxed and said, “It’s just as well. It’s time she focused on school, and not what designer she’s wearing to the next party. She’s only eleven, for chrissake!”
Dumbledore looked unsure of what Dr. Serpentia meant, but he took the chance and said, “Then we are agreed?”
“Agreed,” said the Serpentias together.
Arthur shook his head, bewildered and speechless. Several times he opened his mouth and raised his arms to gesture, only to let them drop uselessly by his sides when he couldn’t find the words. Finally he began to pace back and forth in front of McGonagall’s desk, trying to make sense of what he had just heard.
“There’s no need to fret, Arthur….”
“I mean, really, Dumbledore — demons at Hogwarts!” Arthur found his voice at last.
“I did ban them, you know.”
“Yes, but then you let one back in!”
“She did no harm….”
Arthur whirled to face Dumbledore. “You don’t know that! How could you possibly know that?”
“Miss Serpentia was watched closely for —“
Arthur felt a great impatience boiling up in him. He had no time to pretend to care about Dumbledore’s justifications.
“Oh, never mind her!” he shouted. “She’s not the demon I’m worried about, anyhow!”
He resumed pacing. Pacing helped him think.
“What do you mean?” asked Severus. There was a touch of suspicion in his voice. “Was she not the focus of Bill’s investigation?”
“His investigation, not mine! I already knew she’s a demon, and she doesn’t seem to be a problem; Ginny’s played with her all summer. I was going to tell Minerva about her, but apparently I’ve wasted my time — Minerva knew all along.”
He felt a great wave of betrayal wash over him, and he spat, “And McGonagall’s strung us all along, watching Bill embark on a fool’s errand, and look what it’s got him! He’s confunded, I tell you!”
Dumbledore sounded amazed. “But how did you know, Arthur?”
“Know what — that Bill’s confunded? I should think I know how to recognize a common charm when I see it!”
“How did you know Miss Serpentia is half demon?”
“I didn’t know she was half demon, I thought she was all demon, and as for how I know, George told me.”
“George?” asked Severus and Dumbledore together.
“Your son, George?” added Severus.
“Yes, my son George! And do you want to know how he knew?” Arthur stopped in front of Severus’ portrait.
“I can’t imagine —“
“Because he and Fred were in thick with a group of demons — in a business deal!”
This pronouncement was followed by a heavy silence, as each portrait waited anxiously for more information.
“Forgive me, Arthur,” said Snape’s portrait finally, “but I find it difficult to believe that demons would have any interest in the relatively meager earnings of a joke shop.”
“Not the shop — the Magical Wonder cosmetics line!”
Snape and Dumbledore looked confused, but a few of the portraits nodded their heads. From a painting of a former board of governors, a man said, “My great-granddaughter is especially fond of the Moonbeam Moisturizer” and a woman said, “My cousin’s great-niece says the Enchanting Eye Elongaters are all the rage.”
Again there was a pause, and again Severus broke it by saying, “Be that as it may, I am absolutely certain that, during the past year, Miss Serpentia was not involved in the manufacture and distribution of —“
“She’s their cousin!”
“Serena Serpentia, student at Hogwarts, is first cousin to the demons who signed a contract with Fred and George! And that’s how I know. And I am not frightened of her, and I am not frightened of them, but I AM very worried about whomever seems to have confunded Bill!”
Arthur realized he was shouting, and he realized that it felt good.
“If I may, Mr. Weasley… I have a suggestion.” The quavering voice came from the portrait of a wizened wizard with a bald crown and a fringe of long white hair, which spilled over a vibrant purple velvet robe adorned with large shiny gold stars.
Arthur turned to the portrait. “Please, Professor Dippet, anything would be helpful.”
“We have learned here today that several wizards have colluded to conceal the true nature of demon students. I think you should consider the possibility that the person who confunded your son is not a demon, but a wizard.”
Several portraits murmured in agreement, though Dumbledore remained silent. Arthur thought hard about Armando Dippet’s idea. If Bill had truly talked to many wizards and witches, the number of possible suspects could be quite large, and Arthur knew very few of them: just that lad Seamus, his mother, and Minerva…. surely not Minerva!
But ten minutes ago, if you had told Arthur that a Hogwarts headmaster had concealed the presence of demons in his school, he would have said, surely not Dumbledore!
What have we come to, thought Arthur sadly, when the only person at Hogwarts in whom I can reliably trust is the portrait of Severus Snape?