The End of the Beginning

By Marina

Chapter 10

July 31, 1981

Harry Potter's first birthday party was apparently the social event of the year. Giles hadn't seen so many wizards and witches in one place since the day he'd given his first "Muggle magic" lecture at Dumbledore's safe house seven weeks earlier. All the people he had met then were at James and Lily's house now, along with Dumbledore, Moody, and a crowd of Aurors and Ministry wizards Giles hadn't met before. And children. A vast mob of children. Thousands of children, it seemed like, though when Giles tried to actually count them he couldn't come up with more than about a dozen.

The back garden had been transformed into a miniature playground, complete with swings, slides, a paddling pool, an obstacle course and a trampoline. A matched pair of carrot-haired toddlers bounced on the trampoline, shrieking happily at the top of their lungs. A smaller, younger version of the twins was splashing in the pool along with Harry and a varied assortment of other babies, while James, Sirius and Remus took turns at lifeguard duty. Giles, glad not to be responsible for anything except his own drink, escaped to the porch, where a group of childless adults had made a little refuge for themselves.

Moody grunted something that might have been a greeting, and handed Giles a bottle of butterbeer from a case at his feet. Giles uncapped it and took a swig, then coughed violently at the unexpected burn of alcohol down his throat.

"That's not butterbeer," he wheezed.

"Shh." Anita held one finger to her lips, smiling. "Alastor's turned the whole case into gin. We won't tell Lily if you won't."

"My lips are sealed." Giles took another, more cautious swallow and leaned on the railing. "Just don't let any of the kids get their hands on it."

Anita giggled and leaned against her husband's shoulder in a manner that suggested she'd already consumed at least one of the faux butterbeers. "Children don't need drink. They act drunk by nature."

Giles looked down into the playground, where one of the carrot-haired twins had bounced off the trampoline and was now staggering dizzily around the lawn, occasionally toppling over and picking himself up again. "I see your point," he said.

"I think babies are sweet," Tobias said. Anita wrinkled her nose.

"Yeah, as long as they're somebody else's. Cute to look at, fun to play with, but changing nappies and singing lullabies? No, thanks."

"I don't know," said Giles. "I think I could get used to it."

Moody watched him with undisguised amusement. "I think you've been hanging around with the Potters too long, Giles. Feeling domestic, are you? Looking for a nice witch to settle down with? I know lots of single lady Aurors."

"I can vouch for lady Aurors," said Tobias. "They're hot." Anita elbowed him in the ribs.

A chorus of shrieks rose from the paddling pool, where a number of children were apparently contesting the possession of a toy sailboat. James and Sirius were rapidly conjuring identical boats and trying to hand them out, but the combatants refused to be distracted by substitutes. The sea of guests began to ripple as various parents rushed to sort out the mess.

Giles gulped more gin. "I think I'll keep on with my glamorous bachelor lifestyle for the time being."

The pool commotion was interrupted by the arrival of the birthday cake: a humongous three-tiered tower of rainbow-colored icing with a sparkler on top. Dumbledore floated it out to a folding table in the middle of the garden, and Lily cut it into neat, identically-sized pieces while James and Sirius herded the adults and older children together for a rousing performance of "Happy Birthday." Harry seemed a bit confused by it all, but he clapped at the singing happily enough, scoffed down his piece of cake, and smeared the rainbow icing all over his face, which was all anyone expected of him. Giles waited until all the children and most of the adults had received their share of the cake before venturing off the porch.

"Giles." Lily smiled as she handed him a plate and a fork. "Thank you for coming. And thank you for the alphabet blocks, I'm sure Harry will have great fun with them."

"I'm sorry I couldn't find anything more magical at Hamleys," Giles said ruefully. "But then, I thought you and James might be grateful for a toy that doesn't fly, talk or explode."

"Too right." Lily sighed theatrically. "Have you seen that rocking horse Sirius brought in? It neighs and stamps its hooves. And eats sugar cubes. I told him I'd better not find any horse dung on the nursery carpet. Do you want some milk to go with that cake? It's very sticky."

"Thank you." Giles took a glass. "Why don't you have some, too? Look, we can go and sit over there on the swing. You look as if you could do with a rest."

The milk was cold, and the swing was good to sit on, and the cake had marzipan and raspberry jam between the layers. Giles felt wonderfully wicked as he used his fingers to scoop the last bits of icing off his plate.

"It's a good party," he told Lily. She gave a wry little grin as she made her empty plate and glass float back to the table.

"Yes, all the parents seem to be having a wonderful time."

"The children, too."

"Well, yes. But they'll all have forgotten it a week from now. The younger ones, anyhow. All this fuss and bother -- it's really for the adults, isn't it? Especially these days. You probably haven't seen enough to notice, but… the Wizarding world has been one big party lately, except when it's one big funeral. Eat, drink and be merry..."

Giles patted his stomach. "For tomorrow, we diet."

"And tonight we clean and do dishes. And cope with an overexcited one-year-old." Lily planted her feet and pushed off, making herself swing as high as the child-sized swing would allow. "Maybe I'll get Sirius to do the dishes. Tell him it's his sacred duty as a godfather."

"Does that ever work?"

"Surprisingly often."

"Lily!" Peter was jogging across the lawn toward them, looking very pink and unhappy. "Oh, hello, Giles, didn't see you there. Lily, who the heck invited Trelawney?"

"Nobody." Lily dug her heels into the ground, stopping herself rather jarringly in mid-swing. "Why, is she here?"

"Yeah. I bet the spirits told her to come." Peter rolled his eyes. "Look, you really have to do something. She's going around reading people's palms and predicting the most horrible things! She told me I was going to get run over by the Knight Bus. She told Remus he was going to be eaten by a dragon. I don't know what she told the Longbottoms, but Lucy's crying in the bathroom and Frank is furious!"

"Wonderful." Lily closed her eyes for a moment. "Can't you get James to-- no, he'd probably just hex her or something." She stood up with visible reluctance. "Sorry to abandon you, Giles, but duty calls."

"Do you need any help?" he asked. Lily shook her head.

"Trust me, you don't want to meet Sibyll Trelawney. Peter and I will take care of it."

Peter looked a bit uneasy about it, but he obediently followed Lily back to the house. Giles rocked back and forth on his swing and tried to decide if he wanted more milk or more gin. Then James and Sirius drafted him to help referee some sort of complicated game involving water-squirting rubber wands and flying purple beach balls, and the mysterious Sibyll Trelawney slipped right out of his mind.

Refereeing a children's game turned out to be a surprisingly strenuous activity. Three times over the next hour, Giles ended up face down in the paddling pool, once with a squirming two-year-old attached to his arm. But the contest ended without anyone being drowned, which was apparently enough to qualify it as a success. James and Sirius handed packets of sweets to both the winners and the losers, while Giles escaped into the house for a wash.

He'd just opened the bathroom door when something tugged at the back of his shirt.

"You mustn't leave them!" a hollow voice boomed into his ear.

"I beg your pardon?" Giles pulled free and spun around, blinking dazedly through his mud-spattered glasses. The woman in front of him looked like an acid flashback come to life. She wore a gauzy purple caftan that swirled around her scrawny ankles, and flat-heeled rope sandals. A red, purple and yellow paisley shawl draped her shoulders, and a red satin scarf was wrapped gypsy-style around her head. She wore thick, oversized glasses with glittery purple frames, and the silvery gray eyes behind the lenses were wide and protruding.

"You mustn't leave them," she repeated, grabbing his wrist as he tried to brush past her. Her fingers looked like twigs, but her grip was surprisingly strong. She was wearing a cloying, fruity perfume that made Giles' nose itch. "They need you. The red-haired witch is a danger, she will lose her way when she loses her love. She will take the world into darkness. Only the boy can bring her back. You must keep her on the right path! You mustn't leave them!"

"Uhm... I was just going into the bathroom." Giles tried to pull his wrist out of the woman's grip, but she only held on tighter. He pulled again, and she gave a little moan and toppled over into his arms. Up close, her scent actually made him dizzy. Giles coughed and staggered back against the wall. "Miss? Are you all right? Miss?"

No response. The woman didn't weigh much, but she seemed to have sharp angles everywhere, and they were all poking Giles in tender places. He wrapped one arm around her waist and lowered her to the floor, patted her cheek, fanned one hand over her face. Her thin chest rose and fell as she breathed, but she wasn't moving.

"Giles? What happened?" It was Remus, looking concerned but perfectly calm. Giles had never been so glad to see him.

"I don't know. She was talking to me, and then she just fell over. Do you know who she is?"

"Sibyll Trelawney. I thought she'd left." Remus glanced over his shoulder toward the parlor door and pulled out his wand. "We should probably get her out of the hallway. Mobilicorpus."

Trelawney's body levitated gently off the floor, odds and ends of gaudy fabric trailing it like banners. Remus flicked his wand, and she floated down the hallway ahead of him. Giles stifled one last cough and followed.

The parlor, fortunately, was empty. Remus settled Trelawney on a settee by the window, removed the glasses from her nose and lifted one of her eyelids to peer at the pupil.

"I'm going to try and bring her around," he said. "Ener--"

Before he could complete the spell, Trelawney groaned and tossed her head from side to side. Remus knelt on the floor next to her and lightly squeezed her hand.

"Sibyll? Are you all right?"

"Hmmm... I... what?" Trelawney finally opened her eyes and lifted her head a couple of inches off the cushions. "I can't see..."

"Your glasses, Sibyll." Remus placed them in her hand. She blinked owlishly at them for a few seconds, then put them on.

"Oh. Hello, Mr. Lupin." She smiled vaguely and batted her eyelashes. Her voice sounded soft and breathy, nothing like the hollow monotone she'd spoken in earlier. "What are you doing here? Uhm... what am I doing here?"

"You were talking to Giles, and you fainted." Somehow, Remus managed to make that statement sound perfectly commonplace and reassuring. "You don't remember?"

"No." For the first time since she awoke, Trelawney's silvery eyes focused on Giles. "Hello… I don't believe we've met?"

"Not formally." Giles smiled awkwardly. He supposed that having a woman faint into his arms qualified as a meeting, but it certainly wasn't an introduction. "But you spoke to me earlier… something about the red-haired witch losing her way and… and taking the world into darkness. I don't suppose you'd care to explain that?"

"I'm sorry?" Trelawney's long, twiggy fingers toyed nervously with the fringe of her shawl. "You must have me confused with someone else. I'm sure I would've remembered if we'd spoken." She patted the scarf on her head and gave Giles a wide, dreamy smile. "You're a Pisces, of course."

Giles blinked. "Gemini, actually, but what--"

"Perhaps I could do your star chart one day." Trelawney put one hand on Remus' arm and pulled herself to her feet. "But now, my inner eye tells me that my wisdom is needed in the garden..." She took a rather unsteady step forward. Giles held out his hand, worried that she might keel over again.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

"Oh, yes." She adjusted her shawl to bare one bony shoulder and fluttered her lashes again. "It was just a momentary weakness. It is a hard fate, this constant communication with the spirit world. Sometimes the strain becomes too much for me, here in the physical plane..." She sighed loudly, pressed the back of one hand against her forehead and wobbled out of the room, leaving behind a few stray sequins and a cloud of perfume. Giles watched her go, feeling a bit like a hapless audience member who'd been pulled on stage by a particularly obscure performance artist.

"Let me guess," he said, "this is one of those wizard things that Muggles are not meant to understand, right?"

Remus scratched his head. He looked slightly gobsmacked, too, which made Giles feel a little better. "I'm not sure anyone is meant to understand Sibyll. She fancies herself a seer; goes around predicting mortal doom for anyone who'll stand still long enough. It's all nonsense, of course -- well, aside from the fact that predicting mortal doom is a pretty safe bet these days -- but she's not usually prone to fainting fits… What did she say to you?"

Giles repeated, as best he could, the cryptic words Trelawney had intoned in the hallway. Remus listened with a puzzled frown.

"'She will take the world into darkness?' Those were the exact words?"

"I think so. And then she said I mustn't leave them, but she didn't say whom. Remus… surely there are plenty of red-haired witches around?"

"I can think of three off the top of my head," Remus said thoughtfully. "And it's exactly the vague sort of thing Sibyll likes to spout. But the rest of it… I don't know. I think we should tell Albus about it." He put his wand away and walked to the door. "I think I saw him in-- oh, hello, Peter. Have you seen Albus around?"

"Over there." Peter waved one hand in the vague direction of the front door. He looked a bit wilted, as if the excitement of the party was wearing him out. "Keeping the older kids entertained." He mopped his brow with his sleeve. "Better him then me, that's all I can say."

"Then he'll appreciate a break," Remus said cheerfully. "Come on, Giles."

There were about a dozen overexcited children in the front garden, all mounted on broomsticks, passing a ball back and forth. Albus Dumbledore supervised the proceedings from a chair at the edge of the lawn. He wore royal blue robes trimmed in red and gold, and would've looked very resplendent if not for the cake crumbs in his beard and the rubber ducky perched jauntily on the brim of his hat. He beamed benevolently at Giles and Remus as they approached him, ducking the occasional flying child.

"Enjoying the party, gentlemen?"

"Yes, thank you." Remus conjured a bench for him and Giles to sit on. "Albus, Giles here has just had a run-in with Sibyll Trelawney, and it sounded a little odd to me. I thought you should hear."

"Sibyll?" Dumbledore sat up a little straighter. The rubber duck toppled off his hat into his lap. "I hope she didn't-- pardon me a moment." He waved his hand at the ground and conjured a fat red cushion just in time to catch one of the children as she toppled off her broom. "That's better. As I was saying, I hope Sibyll didn't upset you. Her prognostications can be a bit gruesome sometimes."

"This one wasn't," said Giles. "But it was rather upsetting." Once again, he recited Trelawney's words. When he finished, Dumbledore gazed into the distance for a few moments, absently stroking his beard.

"That... is unusual," he said finally. "And you say she didn't remember what she'd said, afterwards?"

"She didn't seem to," Remus said. "And I don't think she was faking it. When Sibyll puts on a show, its always to draw more attention to her predictions, not less."

"True enough." Dumbledore retrieved the ducky from his lap and stuck it on his hat again. "Thank you for telling me, Remus. I will speak with Sibyll at the first opportunity. In the meantime…" He turned to Giles, eyes twinkling brightly under his hat brim. "I assume you have no intention of leaving us any time soon?"

"Not unless going home for the night counts as leaving," Giles reassured him. Dumbledore's grin grew wider.

"Well, then I think we're safe for the time being."

"Do you really think there's something in it?" Giles asked as he and Remus walked around the house to rejoin the party in the back garden. Remus shrugged.

"I really don't know. Divination isn't my speciality. But if there is something in it, Albus will work it out. Until then… not much point in worrying James and Lily about it, is there?"

In the playground ahead of them, James was trying to coax a reluctant-looking Harry into going down a slide. Harry was having none of it, clinging to the railing on top and vigorously shaking his head, until Lily knelt at the bottom to catch him. Then he let go and zoomed down the red plastic chute, arms and legs flailing, to land with a happy squeal in his mother's arms.

She will take the world into darkness… only the boy can bring her back...

"No," Giles said. "I don't think there's much point in worrying them now."

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