Albus felt distinctly ill at ease, as he and his friends followed Aviva down the halls of the Feather of Fawkes headquarters. It wasn't quite suspicion that he was feeling—he certainly trusted these people far more than the Stingers—but it was nevertheless disconcerting to think that he was heading to a conference in which a group of wizards and Muggles from the distant future would decide what to do with him. Then again, however, maybe it was time to stop thinking of it as the “distant future”; whether he liked it or not, Albus was now a part of this time period.
“Here we are.” said Aviva, turning towards what seemed to be an ordinary elevator. The moment she approached the sliding doors, they parted to reveal a windowed circular chamber that looked out over the cloud bands of Jupiter. The six of them piled into the elevator, and the doors slid shut once more.
“State destination.” a voice intoned.
“Conference Room Alpha.” said Aviva.
“Destination is a secure area. Verifying identity.” replied the voice. After a short pause, the voice said, “Identity verified. Proceeding to Conference Room Alpha.”
The elevator lurched, and they began to move downwards, gathering speed, as though in freefall. Lily and Hugo looked scared; Rose and James, apprehensive. Suddenly, they dropped through the topmost cloud bank, plunging into a swirling, howling maelstrom of gas. Nobody said anything as the elevator plunged deeper within Jupiter. After a few minutes, Albus felt the chamber beginning to slow down, and, moments later, they had come to a halt in front of a dark shadow. The doors slid open.
The six of them stepped out of the elevator, into a vast, high-ceilinged room containing the longest table Albus had ever seen. He suspected that if the four Hogwarts house tables in the Great Hall were laid end to end, they wouldn't be half as long as the table before him. Hundreds of identical chairs sat around the table, looking expectant. There was nothing on the table except for what seemed to be a small, crystal dome in the center. As the group passed by the dome, Albus examined it curiously. Contained inside the dome, floating in midair, was a single magnificent golden feather.
“Yes...that is a genuine feather from the tail of Fawkes.” said a deep voice. Albus jumped and spun around; it had sounded as though the voice had come from right beside him, but there was nobody there. Then, Albus noticed an old, bearded man striding towards him.
“The tale of how that feather came to be in our possession is long and tedious; I won't bore you with it.” said the man. Once again, Albus heard his voice as though he was far nearer to him than he was. “Naturally, it serves a great symbolic importance to our movement.”
Noting Albus's stunned expression, the man added, “This room has powerful enchantments placed upon it to ensure that every person's voice is heard clearly no matter where anyone is located. What good would a conference room be if people at one end could not hear the conference taking place at the other?”
“I suppose that's true.” said Albus. His own voice sounded normal to him, but he supposed that the old man was hearing it the same way Albus heard his voice. At last, the man had reached him. Though Albus had never met Professor Dumbledore, he had seen portraits of him, and this man's serene, benign expression put Albus in mind of the former Hogwarts Headmaster. “I'm Albus Potter.” he said holding out his hand.
“Nabus Rucolfix.” replied the man, shaking Albus's hand.
“The leader of the Feather of Fawkes?” said Albus.
“Hello, sir.” said Aviva, stepping forwards. “You are well, I hope?”
“Recent events have taken their toll on me.” sighed Nabus wearily. “But I am as well as can be expected. And you?”
“Rather dispirited, sir. News of last night's events have shaken me.”
With a pang, Albus remembered that the Hogwarts teacher who had been murdered, Professor Lantice, had been in the Feather of Fawkes.
“A terrible loss.” said Nabus gravely, inclining his head. “It is some consolation, however, that the Stingers failed in their primary objective.” he gestured at Albus, James, Lily, Rose, and Hugo.
“When should the others be arriving?” inquired Aviva, looking around the room. Albus followed suit and noticed for the first time that the walls were inlaid with around fifty elevator doors identical to those that they had just left.
“Any moment now.” said Nabus. “Ah, talk of the devil...”
All around the room, the doors were sliding apart, and people were pouring in. Albus had expected the noise to be deafening, but these voices did not boom out as Nabus's had done. It seemed as though the enchantments only activated at appropriate moments.
“Come with me.” said Nabus, and he set off towards the far end of the table, followed by the other six. Nabus took a seat at the end of the table, and motioned for the others to sit nearby. Albus sat down between James and Rose, and Aviva sat on the opposite side with Lily and Hugo.
Looking back down the table, Albus saw all sorts of people representing countless wizarding and Muggle professions. Some of them wore the black robes of Hogwarts staff, and a few of them looked to be on the faculties of other wizarding schools; Beauxbatons Academy of Magic in the south of France, Durmstrang Institute in the far north, Washington Sorcery College in America, and many others. And professors were by no means the only people present. There were Aurors from the Ministry of Magic, Muggle policemen from several cities, businessmen, Healers, politicians, Curse-Breakers, salesmen, Obliviators, and others whose professions were not apparent in their clothing. Rob Carter had taken a seat not too far away from Albus, and the heavyset, auburn-bearded man from the battle at Hogwarts sat a few seats beyond him.
“Welcome, brothers and sisters of the Feather of Fawkes.” said Nabus. He did not raise his voice above the din, but the enchantments carried it clearly to every ear in the room, and the chatter died away at once. “This conference is now in session.”
Everyone turned to face Nabus. Some of them darted curious looks towards Albus and his siblings and cousins.
“As most of you will be aware, we have suffered a tragedy in the early hours of this morning. Two Stingers entered the Hogwarts grounds and murdered one of our number... Professor Julia Lantice. I ask for a moment of silence.”
As one, the hundreds of people seated around the table inclined their heads. Some of them bore expressions of shock and grief. The large bearded man was trembling slightly. A few moments later, Nabus continued. “Thanks to the brave actions of other members of the Hogwarts staff, some of whom are seated here with us today, these two attackers were shortly driven away from the school. Two among the defenders' number were injured, but they will make full recoveries.
“Most significant of all, however, the alleged purpose of this attack—that they had come to Hogwarts to weed out those members of staff whose allegiances lie with us—was only a tiny part of their mission. Their true aim, which I can happily claim was not fulfilled, was the capture of these five children sitting next to me.”
Once again, the people around the table craned their necks to get a good look at Albus and his companions.
“These youngsters—James, Albus, and Lily Potter, as well as Rose and Hugo Weasley—have arrived here from the distant past. To be precise, they have arrived from the twenty-first century.”
Rose gasped, clutching at her face in horror. Albus remembered what she had said about the disastrous consequences they would face if the knowledge that they were from the past became widely known. However, the transfer of this knowledge to the hundreds of people gathered here seemed not to have had any effect, given that he had neither died nor been erased from history. He supposed that, as long as the people who knew could be trusted with the secret, the five of them would be okay.
“How the Circle came to be aware of these children and why they want them, I do not know. However, I do know that it will be our duty to ensure their safety. They have fallen into our hands, and we must protect them.”
Small murmurs of assent rippled around the table.
“The question is,” Nabus continued, “what do we do with them? I hereby open the floor to discussion and debate.”
Rob rose to his feet. “I think one good place to start will be the question of whether they should be taken back to Earth, or sent somewhere else off-planet.”
“We'll certainly have more options available if we choose to hide them on Earth.” said a gray-haired Muggle woman at the other end.
“We may wish to rule out that possibility,” said the heavyset bearded man, “given that Earth's efficient internal infrastructure will enable the Stingers to conduct a more thorough search.”
There was an outbreak of muttering at this.
“All the same...the Circle may be expecting us to operate under that logic.” said a short, wiry man wearing the scarlet robes of a Durmstrang professor.
“I'd say we should maintain a balance.” said Aviva. “Wherever we send them ought to be out of the way, but not so remote and sparsely populated that they can't blend in with the crowd if the Stingers come to call.”
There was a murmur of general agreement.
“Well, if that's our plan,” said Nabus, “our best bet will probably be to send them to one of the larger off-Earth settlements. I believe that the most sensible choices would be the dome colonies at the bottom of the Europa oceans, the Republic of Mariner Valley, or Nereid City.”
“We shouldn't send them to the Galilean satellites.” protested an Auror. “They'd be too close to headquarters; it would only be a hop, skip, and jump away if the Stingers discovered this place.”
“True, true.” said Nabus. “Well, then, we won't send them to Europa. That leaves Mariner Valley and Nereid City.”
“Both would be good choices.” said Aviva. “I think we should leave it to the kids to choose which one.”
“I agree.” said Nabus, turning towards Albus and his friends. “Well? Which settlement sounds more appealing to you?”
“What are the benefits of each?” asked Rose in a shaky voice. Evidently, she was still terrified by the knowledge that hundreds of people now knew their secret.
“Well, given that it's in the Neptune satellite system, I'd say Nereid City is a bit more concealed. However, it's not as big, so we couldn't hide you there quite as easily.” said Nabus. “Now, if we sent you to Mariner Valley, you'd be in a more heavily populated area, and we could set up an ordinary life for you. You would live with one of us, and you could attend the Mariner Valley Academy of Magic under false names. Nobody would suspect a thing. However, it might be a bit harder for you to adjust...life in Nereid City would be more low-key.”
Albus mulled it all over. Both seemed sensible choices. He glance over at Rose, who seemed equally torn. Lily and Hugo simply looked confused. James, however, seemed to have his mind made up. “Mariner Valley.” he said. “Definitely.”
“Don't you think we ought to discuss it first?” asked Rose.
“There's nothing to discuss.” said James. “In Mariner Valley, we could start a new life. We'll adjust to living here, and be able to pretend we're ordinary. That's gotta be the best thing to do, at least until we can find a way back to our own time.”
“But, James, it's not that simple.” said Rose. “There's more to consider than our own comfort. We need to think about our safety. Remember, a terrorist network is after us!”
“We'll be able to attend a magic school.” said James eagerly. “We can learn the secrets of the future. We can learn stuff from our time, too. Tell me that's not better than hanging around on Nereid.”
“I hadn't thought of it that way.” said Rose.
“What about you, Albus? You'll back me up, right?” said James.
Albus thought for a moment. On one hand, if they hadn't listened to James, Scorpius wouldn't have lured them into the Forbidden Forest in the first place. But on the other hand, James made a convincing case...and, as Nabus had said, both places were reasonably safe...
Albus looked back at James, and nodded.
“Good!” beamed James. “Lily? Hugo?”
The two of them nodded.
“Then it's settled.”
said Nabus. “Mariner Valley it is. Conference adjourned!”