An envelope flew out of the adjacent room and hovered over Neville for a few seconds before descending. Over time, the professor was quite familiar with howlers often carrying screeching reminders from his grandmother. As he grew older, the messages grew longer, and louder. Neville flinched and ducked behind his worn-out briefcase fearing the worst.
Surprisingly, there was no booming voice. The envelope was charmed to find its addressee and did a very accurate job of reaching its destination. The magic must have been very simple, but Neville knew it required the precise spell and finesse to ensure it did not end up in the wrong hands. Clarke had a fledging career as an author of books specializing in quick and handy household spells. In fact, a number of his spells got so popular that he was forced to detail their workability and technique in a set of elaborate guidebooks for the ministry. He later published them as well, before various departments from the government were seeking to recruit him as a spell-breaker. He declined all, but one. His popularity had left his wanting a quiet middle-aged life, and the Department of Mysteries appealed to his incognito lifestyle. It was no surprise to Neville that the envelope precisely landed in front of him. Inside was a card or rather a tag bearing a name Neville had grown very familiar with. Scribbled across the face was Harry James Potter. It was from the Hall of Prophecy, Neville recognized. The same card he had seen placed below a glass orb many summers ago.
The receptionist interrupted his thoughts. Clarke was ready to see him now. She showed him inside the adjoining room. Its walls were missing the usual chain of portraits. Shelves heaped with books filled the room instead. At the end, towards the window opposite the door, stood the now rapidly aging Gregory Clarke. The window behind him was actually a wall. It was jinxed to show a vast meadow, lit up according to the time and weather. Right now, it was gloomy with dark clouds, much like it was outside. Clarke’s desk was splattered with ink and parchment. Several seals were thrown on top of the many documents. Neville walked towards the desk and reached out his hand, which Clarke accepted with a big bushy grin.
‘Professor Longbottom, what a pleasure,’ Clarke’s voice echoed throughout the room. ‘I hope the weather is not bothering you that much, my dear chap. You look rather glum.’
Neville was frankly tired. He was preparing for his lecture for the next day, when the owl summoning him to the ministry reached. He had to make it to London and back, and finish his notes – all before tomorrow.
‘Not to sound hasty, Mr Clarke, but I was hoping we could get down to business straightaway,’ Neville pleaded. ‘You see, I was caught unaware of the meeting and have a long night of work planned in front of me.’
‘Absolutely! I would not have called you had it not been this urgent,’ Clarke replied a little agitated. He seemed to have lost the upper hand on the conversation, but did not mind. ‘Did you get my wizzy?’
‘I am sorry, sir. Your…?’
‘My wizzy. The envelop that flew to you? I have been trying a few different names, but nothing seems to catch on.’
Oh, yes. Yes, I did. Here it is,’ Neville reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the now crumbled envelop.
‘So? What do you make if it? Surely you must be curious now,’ Clarke said easing into his chair. He was much larger than his portrait. The desk job adding a few extra pounds over the years.
Neville had a comical look on his face, as if he was supposed to know something, but missed the entire prologue leading to the story. ‘Is this anything to do with Arthur Weasley’s plants and the weird trees sprouting all over the country?’
‘No, my dear lad! Most certainly not,’ the old wizard snapped back instantly. ‘We caught that fellow last week. Turns out, he was hiding with his aunt in Southampton. We kept you on the case just because the herbology department at St Mungo’s needed to figure out the antidote. You were their best option, and the cheapest too I might add.’
Neville looked at the card again. ‘This was there when Harry broke all those orbs at the Hall of Prophecy. I remember seeing it.’
‘Very good, very good. Now we are getting somewhere,’ Clarke encouraged him. ‘And why do you think I requested to see you after all these years and thrusted that into your hands on our very first meeting?’
‘I am guessing you had something to do with this?’
Clarke was now rummaging through the pile of papers on his desk and pulled out a long pipe. He lit it with his wand and inhaled deeply. Smoke rings were floating out of his ears towards the chandelier above them.
‘What do you know about prophecies, Neville?’ Clarke slowly spoke.
Hermione Granger’s voice floated at the back of Neville’s head and he replied, ‘Only the ones for whom the prophecy is made, is allowed to listen to it. The person who made the prophecy, the one who it relates to and the year are recorded along with.’
‘Good, good,’ Clarke had a bright glitter in his eyes. ‘Turn the card over, and might I say, sit down dear lad. Your long legs will need some much needed support after what I am about to say.’
Neville dragged the chair in front and sat down. He turned the card and saw Sybill P. Trelawney written, along with the year ‘1981.’
‘Professor Trelawney made the prophecy. Harry had told us all about it and how Voldemort had tried to get this after he rose back to power.’
Clarke coughed out a large cloud of smoke from his nose and shifted with a little unease at the mention of the name. He let it pass and continued.
‘Did Dumbledore ever mention this prophecy to you in person? Anything about how, er, Voldemort got to know about it?’
‘No he did not, but Harry told us that Snape had carried the information to him.’
‘Very true, very true. And you did not find that strange? Nothing rang a bell?’
‘Well, I did not know the contents of it all. Wasn’t it that Harry was the Chosen One and Voldemort only could be killed by him.’
Clarke stood up so suddenly that Neville was taken aback. He spilled some parchment on the floor and his pipe was spewing out more smoke than ever before.
‘Is that all you know? You did not bother to know the exact details? Were you not interested? You were there, for crying out loud,’ Clarke pleaded.
‘Yeah, I was, and I believed Harry and the others and stood beside them. I knew Voldemort had to be stopped or we would die trying. That was all I needed to know,’ Neville was at the edge of his seat now. His hands clenched the armchair so tight that it led out a few creaks. The wounded Gryffindor from the Battle of Hogwarts was moments away from taking shape.
‘My boy, I had no intentions of hurting your sentiments,’ Clarke spoke, sitting back in his chair. ‘You were marvelously brave that night. We all know that,’ he added nodding his head sideways.
He looked outside the window. It was now spotted with rain drops. He let out a deep sigh. ‘Every prophecy has a date after which its magic ceases to be. In most cases, the orb containing the words lose their glow and we get to know that the spell encasing it has died. We replace its contents with a fresh one.’
Clarke turned towards Neville. ‘In Harry’s case, the orb had been destroyed. The physical encasing of the magic ceased to exist, but it endured until the day Voldemort was killed. I am sure you knew that either Harry or Voldemort had to die at the other’s hands.’
Neville had calmed himself down and nodded back. ‘So, Harry’s prophecy could have been read by anyone who had the orb, if it had still been around?’
‘Yes, precisely,’ Clarke inhaled deeply from the pipe. ‘But no orb, no prophecy. Here is where I come into play.’ He was up now, walking towards the bookshelf across his desk.
‘You see, as the department head, I am allowed exclusive access to a series of memories relating to such matters,’ he snorted out another large cloud. ‘These memories are either shared by the witnesses to a prophecy, or when the ministry is forced to extract it in extreme cases, mostly when someone’s life is in question.’
Neville was sitting upright in his chair now. Clarke continued, ‘Albus Dumbledore had shared some of his memories with the ministry, more accurately with the Department of Mysteries. He mentioned they could be accessed only in cases of dire necessity or if its purpose had become obsolete. ‘