By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Even by Hogwarts standards, Hillary Potter was no ordinary Senator. Whether or not they'd heard about the Prophecy, new acquaintances couldn't help staring at the red mark on her forehead. It was the indentation left there by a headband she'd once worn, and something only Hillary's best friends knew was that it throbbed when she sensed danger. But why was it pulsing now?
Looking up from her bowl of Bertie Botts' navy bean soup, she couldn't suppress a flash of annoyance as she saw the vaporous figure drifting through the Senate cafeteria. Its shoes floating above the floor, it was trying to greet the busy wizards and their staffers, who often strode right through its outstretched hand.
Who let him in here? Hillary thought, knowing she should be more tolerant. But in her third year of whooshing around Hogwarts in elevators marked "Senators Only," she just got so angry every time he appeared. Maybe she should leave her meal unfinished and get in one, where the visitor couldn't follow. But he was already wafting toward her, a familiar twinkle in his see-through eyes.
"Hello, Nearly Headless Bill," Hillary said coldly.
"I wish you wouldn't call me that," he complained. "Back when I was teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, I'd have been plain old Headless Bill if it had been up to you. And you wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me."
"You wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for me, either," Hillary reminded him sharply, as her old headband indentation throbbed again. "And everyone else who ever stood by you got expelled from Hogwarts as soon as you left, remember? Or hit with a Gibberish Charm. It's why I'm a legend," she said bitterly. " 'That's Hillary PotterThe FONHB Who Lived!' " *
Even as she spoke, two different owls dropped envelopes on the table. Tearing themselves open, both envelopes began spouting gibberishone in a scream, and the other in more of a bleat.
"Is it true?" Nearly Headless Bill asked almost, but not quite, guiltily. "I mean, what happens once they get turned into unaddressed Howlers?"
"It's true. Unless they can find a recipient, nothing they say will ever make sense again. Carvala! Begville. Please go away now," Hillary said. "Go bother Bloated Teddy for a while."
Resealing themselves, the envelopes flew off to the cafeteria's dessert line. But Nearly Headless Bill still lingered. "I want to tell you something," he said. "I know the Defense Against the Dark Arts job is open again next year. And everywhere I go, I float through Believers all saying you should try."
She had known all along this was coming. Like his body, Nearly Headless Bill's motives were always transparent.
"You know I can't run," she told him. "I'm only a third-year Hogwarts Senatornot even a prefect yet. I haven't even learned the Immunization Spell. And I can't go against the Prophecy."
"But what if Eleanor was wrong about the year?" he urged her. "Hagridlock says that in the Forbidden Forest, the ashcrofts are growing wild. Anyway, if you do decide to run, I wanted you to know I'm with you."
"That's my problem," Hillary very nearly shouted, her headband indentation going scarlet. "Oh, leave me alone, Nearly Headless Bill! I need to think. Go talk to Dumbledole."
After a moment, he dutifully floated toward the Hogwarts Senate's former headmaster, who had just materialized in a puff of Sixty Minute Dustheralded, as always now, by Viagra, his pet phoenix. Watching their conversation through Nearly Headless Bill's back, Hillary felt a surge of affection for her husband's old antagonist. Since his retirement, she had, like everyone else, grown fond of Dumbledole. Viagra's presence and the Britney Charm made him more genial.
It was just that his wife was a Death Eater. And the former Liddy Malfoy wasn't even the worst of them, Hillary knew.
Just thinking of the Death Eaters made her old headband indentation ache. How they used Fox Dementors to suck the hearts and brains out of their prey, replacing one with a vial of Fear Potion and the other with a sprinkle of the red-white-and-blue powder that induced a Solipsism Trance. Hillary and her friends, who believed that magic should be used to improve people's lives, had never understood how such menacing creatures fooled the Gopplesthe trusting souls beyond Hogwarts' walls who simply refused to believe that wizards like Liddy Malfoy, Santorum Snape, and Mitch McGonnagle could be up to no good.
What the Prophecy of Eleanor had said, as all Believers knew, was that only Hillary Potter could stop them. That was the meaning of the red mark on her forehead.
I never asked for it, she thought resentfully, as the first bell rang announcing the next session of the Senate Chamber of Secrets. The truth was that sometimes Hillary hated being the one and only Hillary Potter. For years, she'd tried to hide her headband indentation with one hairdo or another, while insisting on calling herself Hillary Dursley Potter to keep her destiny at bay.
Deep down, she wasn't even sure she was a Believer. She remembered one secret gathering when they'd all been enraged at Nearly Headless Bill for giving in to the Death Eaters by changing the rules of Hogwarts' house sport. Since Chappaquidditch had been named in his honor, Bloated Teddy was naturally the angriest: "Am I to understand that from now on, any players who lose the power of flight will just crash?" he demanded. Everybody knew he hadn't been on a broom in years, but then Almost Invisible Jesse rose. "I refuse to play Chappaquidditch when only the other team gets the Golden Snitch," he bellowed.
Producing his wand, Nearly Headless Bill had thundered, "Invocatus Adlai." The Idealism Spell! Looking around, Hillary saw that she was the only person whose heart hadn't immediately appeared on the sleeve of her robes. What if the rumors were true, and the Golden Water Elixir she'd drunk in her youth made her and Liddy Malfoy sisters under the skin?
She'd have to ask Eleanor. As the second bell rang, Hillary pushed her soup aside. Leaving the cafeteria, she passed the Window of Opportunity, where the newt expelled from Hogwarts years ago was hammering to be let back in. On her way to the elevators, she ran into her two closest allies, who couldn't contain their excitement.
"Hillary, is it true what we hear?" George Weaslopoulos blurted.
"Are you thinking of running for the Defense Against the Dark Arts job?" Hermione Feingold-Mikulski asked, at more or less the same moment.
"How many times do I have to tell everyone?" Hillary complained. "Eleanor says it's too soon. I'm not ready yet."
"But the Death Eaters aren't waiting, Hillary. And they've put a Gibberish Charm on all the other candidates. What if you're the only one who can stop" as he glanced furtively around, George Weaslopoulos's voice dropped to a whisper"He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Re-Elected?"
Exasperated, Hillary rolled her eyes. "Stop being childish, George. I've never understood why people are so frightened of saying Voldevote's name."
Instantly, her old headband indentation scorched her forehead. As if replying to her words, a sinister slithering had just grown audible through the wall. They all knew it could only be the elusive giant serpent who lived in the Hogwarts drainage pipeswhich no one had ever seen, much less been able to catch. Its voice sounded like an iceberg in a sewer.
"Ssss$$$Hillary Potter$$$sss," the serpent hissed, disclosing its location. "Sss$$$ Fear us$$$sss."
"Sss$$And you me$$sss," Hillary hissed back. The wall quivered as the serpent lumbered on.
"Gosh, Hillary," George Weaslopoulos said, still looking terrified but sounding impressed. "You're a Cheneymouth! I never knew you spoke Money."
"Of course you do, silly," Hermione said, rounding on him furiously. "Don't you remember how we all found out?" **
They had reached the "Senators Only" elevator, and George hung back. Unlike Hillary and Hermione, he wasn't a Senator himself. In fact, no one really knew what he did at Hogwarts. He seemed to think he was useful there, but the best that could be said for him was that he'd have been no more useless elsewhere.
Once the doors had closed, Hermione sighed. "I hate to sound disloyal, since I know he's a Believer," she said. "But I wish Nearly Headless Bill had never given George that Hubris Incantation."
"What could Bill do?" Hillary said. "He knew the Death Eaters were going to do the same to O'Reilly. George wouldn't have been able to protect himself at all."
Like all the "Senators Only" elevators, this one could travel not only up and down but backward, forward, and sideways. Hillary drew her wand: "Equivocatum!" she said. Obediently, the elevator moved first left, then right.
As she and Hermione exited, Hillary felt her usual momentary panic. No matter how many times she'd stepped into the anteroom, its sights were always terrifying: Rove the Poltergeist zipping around, cackling hideously; Santorum Snape showing Liddy Malfoy an ashcroft plant he'd filched from the Forbidden Forest, whose flora and fauna were supposed to be kept strictly separate from Hogwarts; the norquists shrieking in the rafters, and the three-headed Hyper Bully that an all too trusting Hagridlock had raised and christened Rummy now straining at its leash as Mitch McGonnagle fed it raw stones. Bracing herself to pass among them, her headband indentation searingly hot, Hillary stepped up to the portrait that guarded the Senate Chamber of Secrets.
Like all the portraits at Hogwarts, this one was in motion, and its subject also changed for each Senator. At Hillary's approach, a buck-toothed, elderly woman in an antiquated fur-collar coat bustled into the frame, surrounded by candles she kept relighting.
"Hello, Eleanor," Hillary said, grateful for a friendly face.
"Hello, dear! It's always lovely to see you," Eleanor cooed. "How are things going with the Believers?"
"Not too well," Hillary admitted. "All our candidates for the Defense Against the Dark Arts job have been turned into unaddressed Howlers. And if Voldevote wins again"
"Oh, good," Eleanor said. "It's nice to know my Gibberish Charm still works."
"Your Gibberish Charm?" Hillary gasped.
"Of course, dear! What Franklin never knew"she beamed"is that I was always a woman first. Idealism Spells are all well and good in their place, but in the war between wizards and witches, I always knew which side I'd be on. I wouldn't care a fig if you were Liddy Malfoy, so long as I thought you could win."
"You tried with her," Hillary said wonderingly. "You made her run, too."
"I did," Eleanor admitted, with a cheerily unrepentant smile. "Death Eaters, Shmeth EatersI want a woman teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. And what she doesn't know is that it was Dumbledole, not me, who jinxed her with the Arrogance Spell. Just watch out Nearly Headless Bill doesn't do the same to you. Now there's the third bell ringing, so tell me the magic number on your broom. You know I can't let you in without a Magic Number!"
"Erthe Nimbus Two Thousand and Four?"
"Oh, no, dear. No." Hillary wasn't sure, but she could have sworn that Eleanor had just pinched out a candle in order to relight it. "Now try again," she crooned.
"The Nimbus Two Thousand and Eight," said Hillary Potter resignedly. The door opened.
* FONHB: "Friend of Nearly Headless Bill," of course.