[This is a work of ‘fanfiction’, essentially a tribute to the world created by JK Rowling. No infringement of copyright is intended, and neither is any commercial exploitation.]
Rose shrunk into her cloak as the last remark caused uproar at the table. She saw several people stand and a cacophony of voices protesting, her mother's the most strident.
“This is utterly nonsensical, Harry! He's just trying to spread his Anti-Muggle propaganda. I haven't heard anything more far-fetched than this! The idea of a there being a Muggle group out to – what is it? - take revenge on the Wizarding world is beyond ridiculous.”
The others were speaking on the same lines. Harry appeared to be trying to pacify them – Rose thought she heard the words “I trust Professor Snape” said several times. The man in question continued to remain seated in his chair and looked at the others with a calm, supercilious expression on his face. The situation seemed to be at an impasse, with tempers beginning to flare, when a small voice broke in on the gathering.
“I think he's right. I've heard about them too.”
The gathering stopped short and turned to look at Katie Strang, the stringy brunette who had spoken for the first time.
“It's Paul who told me about them,” she said, speaking hurriedly. “He said he'd read about them in some Muggle newspapers. They're largely dismissed as a bunch of crackpot weirdos who believe in the existence of magic by the world at large, but they do seem to take themselves very seriously. We thought it a little laughable at the time, but in the context of what Professor Snape here is saying, it seems to be a little more serious than that.”
“Katie, are you saying there may be a solid basis to this...this fable?”
“What I've been trying to tell you, Hermione, for the last five minutes,” said Harry in a firm tone, “is that it is NOT a fable. It's true and if you'll give an opportunity to explain everything, it will be just as clear to all of you.”
The furore had definitely died down. Hermione resumed her seat, as did the others who had been arguing.
“Fine. Let's hear the whole story then, from Professor Snape, with no sarcasm and no snide remarks – if he's capable of it, that is.” Hermione pursed her lips and sat with her arms crossed. Ron, too had a disbelieving look on his face, but he also sat, ready to listen.
“For your sake, Mrs. Weasley, I will try,” said the old man, not without a sneer, “difficult as it will be. Let me take you through the last twenty-five years, then, since the death of Sirius Black. Mr. Potter here would already have told you some part of that story with varying degrees of accuracy. Let me try and fill in the gaps. You all know that I was a spy for the Order of the Phoenix at the time of the Dark Lord's second coming. One of his less intelligent plans was to order Draco Malfoy to kill Professor Dumbledore. What you don't know is that Narcissa Malfoy, whose love for her son greatly exceeded her commitment to Lord Voldemort, made me promise to protect her son from harm. Since nothing but harm was likely to ensue from a plan to kill the most powerful wizard in the world, she made me swear an Unbreakable Vow to protect her son and to do the task entrusted to him if it should appear likely that he should fail. I had already promised to kill Albus when the time arose – that part of the story you know very well. When I was on that tower, wand pointed at the man I respected – and loved – the man who had saved me from myself, the last thing I was thinking about was my own life. I had to do it – I had to kill him because he told me I must. If I didn't do it, it was young Malfoy's life at stake. Mine I had no concern for. I fully intended to follow him down that tower – to commit suicide and let Draco take the credit. What had I to live for any more? I have only cared for three people in my life – my mother died before I was out of Hogwarts. My - ” his voice seemed to be breaking but with an effort he seemed to recover “ - Lily died the day I made the biggest mistake of my life. And Albus I was to kill with my own hands.
“It was then that Albus opened his mind to me and I saw through his plans – all his plans. About the Horcruxes, about his plans for Harry Potter, about the Elder Wand and most of all about how thin the thread was on which his hopes hung. It was clear in a flash that he intended me to live. To be close to the Dark Lord when the time came, to be the master of the Elder Wand – so that if he was wrong about Harry being able to survive the killing curse a second time, there would still be another man true to Dumbledore alive and willing to finish the job. That man was to be me, and the way to ensure it was to divide my own soul. I did it – had I not always followed his orders without question? It wasn't a new experience for me. A year later when I found myself dying in the Shrieking Shack I knew it was essential that Potter believe I was dead. In fact, I suppose I was for all practical purposes, until the Malfoys arrived at the Shack. Draco was fully aware he was my Horcrux and I suppose he wanted to get rid of that piece of soul as soon as possible...”
“I remember him asking me where your body was!” said Ron.
“If you will refrain from interrupting, Mr. Weasley? Yes, Draco did arrive and performed the spell to revive me by restoring my soul from the piece that rested within him. It's a difficult spell but he was always a talented student. So little time had passed since my death that a few blood-replenishment potions and about a month spent at the Malfoys' mansion was enough to get me back to my full health. I left the country before the Malfoy family were put on trial, where they were intelligent enough not to reveal anything about my still being alive. The fact that I had told them not to probably had something to do with it – I think Lucius had begun to either fear me or revere me as the next Dark Lord.
“I spent a few years travelling in Muggle Europe, and that is where I first became aware of the existence of this group that called themselves The Routers. It was in Romania, where I was living in a hostel full of Muggle students that I saw the notice posted up – a meeting to discuss Witchcraft and how to combat it. I initially thought it was some typical religious Muggle nonsense, but something made me suspicious and I Polyjuiced myself to appear younger and attended that meeting. It was fairly evident that these were people who had, some way or the other, been exposed to actual magic – our magic. Whether it was accidental or whether they were victims of some sort of Muggle-baiting, I do not know, but it was stuff of that nature. They spoke about a 'website' that they had started and the 'forums' on there where other people around the world discussed the same things that led me to venture into a library and teach myself the way around computers. This was about four years into my exile, so the community was in quite a nascent stage of formation but they were already exchanging stories about magic they had seen. Much of it was utter rubbish – but there were enough stories that bore a ring of truth to make me think. Still, at the time there didn't seem to be anything to fear about a bunch of Muggles gossiping and I would only intermittently visit a library or similar set-up to find out what I could. I returned to England for the first time about five years into my exile when I ran out of money and set up the shack from where I operated my little Potions business. I still travelled extensively when I could, so my checking on The Routers was necessarily of a cursory nature, but I was vaguely disturbed by the reach of this Internet thing – where earlier a Muggle who claimed to have seen magic would be dismissed as being crazy simply because there would be nobody else who would have seen what he had, out there on this website of theirs people from all around the world could see and corroborate these stories. Suddenly the existence of magic was not so crazy an idea for them. The tone on the discussion forums gradually changed from one of wonder to one of resentment. I realised that some of the people on there were not Muggles at all, but Squibs and those who had actually known a wizard or witch. There was a strong feeling that we were using them, manipulating them behind the scenes and that we had to be stopped.”
“I don't quite follow,” said Parvati.
“I wouldn't expect you to, but Mr. Potter probably knows exactly what I'm referring to. The feeling that there is someone more powerful than you who may be controlling your destiny is guaranteed to breed resentment and eventually anger. The fact that we do not control them is irrelevant to these people, the fact is that they perceive that we do and that makes them intent on causing us harm.”
“Do they intend to...destroy wizard-kind altogether?” asked the fake George Weasley.
“I don't pretend to know their specific intentions. Yes, they mean to free themselves from the shackles that they believe we have imposed on them. I suppose that means destroying us, yes but how exactly I do not know. But I digress - my next actual exposure to this shady group was not until about five years ago in India. Mr. Potter and I barely missed each other there, or else this discussion may have happened five years ago.”
He paused now and looked significantly at Harry. Rose thought her uncle looked a little unsure of himself.
“The Babari massacres,” said Harry, “were an unsavoury episode. Some of you know about the incidents, but I'll go over it again for those who don't. Shortly after James had started school, I got an Owl from our friend Dean Thomas. He was on a painting expedition in India -at the Taj Mahal - and asked me to come and join him urgently. He said it was an emergency and that he suspected Dark Wizard involvement. I went to New Delhi as fast as I could and from there to Agra where I found Dean living in the magical quarter of that city. He told me a tale of the most horrifying carnage. An entire train had been burned on the route from New Delhi to Agra, killing over a thousand people. Dean had been on that train and he had barely managed to escape with his life. Unfortunately, his wife Lavender and his daughter Ciara – did not make it.”
There were gasps around the table. Several mouths opened as if to speak, but Harry forestalled them with a raised hand.
“Haven't any of you wondered why Dean hasn't been seen in Wizarding England for so many years? He's become a complete recluse, living in his mansion down in Dover and while he still releases his paintings in the galleries, Dean has not shown himself in public since that incident. But that was later – when I reached there I could tell he was angry and vengeful. 'It wasn't an accident, Harry,' he told me. 'There's a Dark Wizard behind this – the fire started out of nowhere and simply engulfed that train. I saved as many lives as I could, casting shielding spells as I ran through the compartments and Lavender tried to do the same, but she died anyway. There is no way a witch would be killed by an ordinary fire, and you know it, Harry. This is magical work. Evil magic.' I started my investigations from the scene of the crime itself. The Indian Ministry of Magic was clueless – in fact they refused to investigate, saying it was probably a Muggle accident. Barely a few days later, another fire broke out, this time in a temple in South India. The next week, another one, in a cinema hall in Bombay. The casualties were being numbered in the thousands in each case.”
“But...that would mean a total death count of...” It was the fake George again. Rose couldn't help feeling that he – or she – sounded truly surprised and saddened.
“Yes, almost four thousand people,” continued Harry. “The more I knew about it the more it scared me – this was wanton killing on a scale even the Dark Lord had never undertaken. The scenes of the attacks themselves were too horrifying to describe. At the third attack I was thankfully able to reach the scene of the crime in time to find the trace of a magical signature which proved Dean's theory right. With that evidence I was able to confront the local Aurors and finally get a full-scale investigation launched. We carried on for nearly a month, but had no luck. The attacks also seemed to have stopped. Then, suddenly a report of a wizard's death appeared in the Mogul Times and it was revealed that this dead wizard – Babar his name was - had been behind the attacks. Dean and I rushed to the place to find that the story appeared to be true. When we went through his belongings, it was evident that he had planned the attacks – there were calculations to show when the train ran at its most crowded, when the temple had the most visitors and when the cinema hall was at its most full.”
“But how was this monster killed if not by you?” asked Parvati.
“Hanged himself,” said Harry. “It wasn't a pretty sight, but no less than he deserved in some ways. Apparently he was a well-known bigot, with a background of attacking Muggles and having stated his intention to usher in an era of wizard domination. Dean didn't take it too well, it must be said, to know that he had been deprived by Babar's suicide of the vengeance he had wanted to take. I returned to England with Dean and tried to put the episode out of my mind – until Professor Snape reminded me of it the day before yesterday.”
“As I said, Mr. Potter and I barely missed each other on that occasion. I was in India too at the time, studying the magical arts as they are practised in that ancient culture. Some branches of their magic function very differently from our own, which Mr. Potter failed to consider in his investigations. For instance, wizards in India do not use wands.”
“What? How do they do magic, then?” asked Ron.
“Entirely wandless. Their magic is independent of wandlore and its intricacies – and has advantages and limitations. Of course, this necessarily means that their spells cannot be as powerful as our own. What I mean is, that they have practised in such a way that they can do a wandless Lumos or even a Stupefy in a much more powerful manner than you or I could without a wand, but not as powerfully as a trained British wizard could do with a wand. There probably isn't a single wizard there who could cast an Avada Kedavra simply because it is a spell requiring incredible magical power that must be focussed through a wand. What they do have is control over magical creatures. A lot of Indian magic focuses on being able to summon and master powerful creatures, both dark and light. I am told that in ancient days it was very common for every wizard to have a summoned creature of his own and as a result the need to perform wand-magic rarely arose. Over time, they simply stopped using wands altogether. And now – mastery of creature summoning too has become a lost art. Only a few licensed practitioners of the art exist, all of them prominent Ministry officials.
“When the first fire happened, my reaction was also to assume it was an accident. For a wizard to have caused that fire would have required casting Fiendfyre and that is another spell that I'm sure cannot be cast without a wand. When the next two fires happened, I still assumed it was a Muggle arsonist for the same reason. Then I read the report about the death of the wizard who was named as the perpetrator of these crimes and decided I needed to find out more. When I made enquiries, I naturally found that Potter had been meddling in the case in his usual mutton-headed way. I took care to stay out of his path, and after the case files had been closed, I broke into the dead man's house to look for evidence to prove that he had a wand. There wasn't any. Not only was there not a wand – which was understandable since if he had one it would have been confiscated – but there was not a single book on using a wand. As you can imagine, their magical curriculum is vastly different from ours, so if Babar – born and educated in India – was to have been using a wand, it could not possibly be without specific instruction. It was always possible that he had learned and not retained the books, but I found that a little far-fetched. Then I found a book of advanced summoning spells. Not your simple charms that Filius Flitwick would have taught you in Hogwarts. It was a book on summoning magical creatures, some of whom are capable of incredible feats, if the book was anything to go by. I could find at least three kinds of creatures that could have started a magical fire – one was a War-drake, a creature smaller than a dragon but possessing similar qualities, another was a type of Asura, an evil race of humanoid creatures that supposedly dwell in the underworld and the third was a kind of Fire Nymph called an Apsara. I had found the method by which the massacres had been perpetrated – obviously one of these creatures had been used to commit the massacres, though which one exactly, I did not know.”
“Did the book mention how these creatures could be summoned?” asked Hermione.
“No, it only contained descriptions of them. I vaguely recall seeing a companion book with the details on how to go about the summoning. Before I could get hold of it, however, I heard a strange noise outside the house and went to the window to see what was happening. It's a fortunate thing I did, because right about then, a group of people broke in through the back door. I concealed myself and watched as they broke, smeared and burned many of the magical artefacts and books lying around the house. I didn't wait for them to bump into me – as they eventually would have, I'm sure. I apparated back to my temporary lodgings, but not before I heard them raise a shout – 'The Routers have struck! Another magic-wielder is dead!'”
“But how would a group of Muggles defeat a wizard who apparently had a powerful magical creature at his command?” asked Luna.
“I admit I'm speculating here, since I don't know exactly how the creature-summoning magic works. My guess is that the creature was not a War-drake – since those stay by their summoner's side at all times. The Asura and the Apsara, I believe, have a great deal of free will and are not tied to the wizard at all times. If attacked in sufficient numbers even by Muggles the wizard could have been overpowered and the sham suicide set up.”
“I'm against vigilante justice, but I can't help but wonder whether the actions of this man did not justify his end. The Routers must have looked upon this as extreme provocation!” said the fake George.
“It's besides the point now. Anyway I don't have a lot more to tell. I have tried to keep a track of the doings of this group but they have apparently retreated to the shadows since the Babar murder. Their websites have become more and more popular, but there is little to go on based only on that. It seems the actual crimes against wizards are carried out by the elite group which obviously operates in secret. I have however come across at least a few wizard murders, disappearances and suicides which could possibly have been the work of these muggles. When Mr. Potter barged unceremoniously into my home and told me the facts of the Hubstein murder it was immediately obvious to me that morticentia had been used to carry out the crime. The symptoms matched perfectly and when Mr. Potter told me that the last spell performed by the dead man's wand was to cool his wine, it was evident that the drink had been poisoned.”
“So we have the murder weapon – what about the murderer? Surely it must have been the mistress if she's missing from the scene,” said Hermione. “Perhaps she's a member of the Routers.”
“I'm inclined to believe not,” said Snape, “though we cannot rule out the possibility. I have a theory, which Mr. Potter may be able to prove. I have here with me the book I had...err...retrieved from Babar's house five years ago.”
Rose saw him delve into his robes and place something on the table. She rose slowly and tiptoed a little closer to the table. It was a fairly tattered-looking tome, though leather-bound. She could make out that the script was not English but didn't dare step any closer. Snape was turning the pages towards the end of the book.
“Here we are – I tried to show this to Mr. Potter but he, naturally, did not understand. Mrs. Weasley – I think you can decipher the script?”
Rose had no doubt whatsoever that her mother could decipher the script. Sure enough, Hermione has barely taken a proper glance at the page before she said, “Devnagari, isn't it? Let's see now...”
The room was silent for a few minutes as Hermione went through the page indicated to her. Snape kept a steady gaze on his former student. A few minutes later, she looked up at him.
“So you think that Hubstein's mistress was – one of these?”
“That particular one.”
“They are unique, then?”
“I think so, yes.”
“But that means – wouldn't that be a form of sex slavery?”
“Precisely. And disgusting for that very reason, but I don't know if she saw it that way. Anyway, as you can see, it's impossible she could have harmed her master.”
“Yes, the magic is binding. But then...now that he's dead, what becomes of her?”
“A return to where she came from. Hence the disappearance.”
“But then...she can be summoned again?”
“I don't know. Maybe the summoning cannot be carried out by Muggles. Maybe it can. Hubstein must have known. Maybe his papers will reveal something.”
Rose sensed that the whole room was a little nonplussed at the conversation. Obviously her mother and the Professor were, for all their criticism of each other, intellectual equals.
“Harry,” she said, now turning to her old friend, “what can we do?”
“I say, what's going on? Would anyone care to explain?” asked Ron.
Rose could almost feel the strain of fear that was running through her mother as she replied.
“Hubstein's mistress was not a mistress. She was a powerful magical creature – one of the Apsaras that Professor Snape just mentioned. Legend has it that they are incredibly beautiful to look at. Probably the same one who was being used by this man Babar was now being used by Hubstein who, being the libertine he was, must have found out how to summon one in his studies in the east and used her as his mistress. The Routers in the meanwhile would have managed to figure out that she was the person behind the Babari massacres and that she would be useful to them. By killing Hubstein they freed her from his grip and perhaps have figured out how to summon her by now.”
“And you think they will use her against wizardkind?” said Ron, standing up.
“It's a possibility,” said Harry, also rising. “That is why I called this meeting. The thought of the Routers having a Fire Nymph of such power at their command is frightening. We don't know whether they have the knowledge or the ability to summon her right now, but what we need to do is to find out.”
Rose stepped back towards the wall. A sense of being overwhelmed was beginning to seep into her. What have Dad and Mom been pulled into! She found herself wishing she did not know.
“Morticentia requires very specific ingredients. One of them is the water of the rivers Ganges and the Nile mixed together in an equal proportion. I suggest someone investigate these two countries for a trace of the Routers,” said Snape.
“I'll do it,” said Mr. Jordan, “Angie and I were planning to do a travel show from Egypt anyway. I shall try to get in touch with the local authorities and investigate.”
Rose listened with a growing sense of dread as responsibilities were assigned to various people. Her mother requested to borrow the book and see if she could find out more about these Apsaras that might help them. But it was when her father cheerfully offered to join Uncle Harry to Germany to revisit the crime scene and from there to India that her heart sank.
Rose was no fool. She might not be a particularly talented witch, but despite that – or maybe because of it, she was a very good thinker. In the Muggle school which she and Hugo had attended before they went to Hogwarts, she'd been at the top of her class in nearly all the subjects involving numbers. Somehow she knew that the reasoning used by the adults had a fatal flaw. That stuff about the Apsaras was all very fine, but what about the fact that, if the Routers knew so much about wizards it was inevitable that they would have infiltrated the Magical world as well. There was a person sitting right now at the table who was not Uncle George. Rose had no doubt that this imposter was somehow connected to the Routers and that every bit of information she had just heard was about to be transmitted back to their enemies. That while the D.A. groped blindly for answers and information, the Routers would have very specific information on Uncle Harry, her parents and the rest.
The door to the outside world had opened and the members were beginning to leave in ones and twos. She saw the fake George Weasley stride nonchalantly through the door even as, just behind her, Harry placed a hand on Professor Snape's shoulder and motioned him to wait. The imposter was going to relay all that she had heard back to the Routers.
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” Rose Weasley said to herself, as she gripped her wand tightly and slipped through the door.