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Dodging Prison and Stealing Witches - Revenge is Best Served Raw

Chapter Text

A pile of rags sat in the far corner of a high security Azkaban prison cell. The moon shifted a fraction through the window bars and the pile slowly showed itself to be the curled up, skin and bones form of Harry James Potter, the True-Boy-Who-Lived.

Things had gotten a bit better since the Dark Lord had taken over Magical Britain, but not by much. On the plus side, there were fewer dementors around, but on the negative side, Voldemort was now devoting more and more time to torturing him through the mental link they shared. The raids on muggles were increasing, and the viciousness of the treatment of the victims would've made him heave, if he'd had any food to speak of in him. The muggle raids were increasing because all the muggleborns had already been exterminated.

He'd been in here for just over ten years now. This year marked the point when his stay in this prison would overtake his stay in the last one, those miserable excuses for human beings that called themselves the Dursleys.

It made no sense. Why had his parents dumped him there? The official reason was that he'd been mistaken for a squib, but that didn't explain why they refused to speak to him after he came to Hogwarts.

His brother, John Potter, was believed by all to be The-Boy-Who-Lived, but Harry knew that wasn't true. He also knew the Headmaster knew it wasn't true.

For some reason, the headmaster really didn't like him. When the chamber of secrets had been opened in his second year, and a girl killed, Dumbledore had convinced the world that he was the culprit.

Everyone in the wizarding world, even his fellow Slytherins, blamed him, and they'd never liked him much to begin with. In fact, no one much liked him. In his two years at Hogwarts he'd never made a single friend. The Slytherins all hated that he was a Potter, everyone else hated him because he was a Slytherin, the teachers hated him for some unknown reason, and his parents hated him because… he didn't know.

He'd been shipped off to Azkaban screaming for someone, anyone, to believe him.

No one did.

The look of disgust and revulsion on his parents faces, fueled his dementor nightmares for years, until he stopped caring what the dicks thought of him, and Azkaban merely became an edited highlights reel of Durskaban.

And then Voldemort had risen again, and started sending him those thrice-damned visions.

He'd made as much use of the connection as he could, sifting through the Dark Lord's head and grabbing all the knowledge he'd accumulated over his long life. Harry couldn't hope that he'd be able to escape from here to use it—such a happy thought would've been stripped away—but it was the only thing to do and, as messed up as it sounded, spending time in the Dark Lord's head was preferable to his own when the dementors were on the prowl.

Voldemort seemed to find his rummagings amusing, as though he were an over-eager student. The bastard would grab his consciousness, show him a fortified building the Death Eaters were about to storm, explain the attack plan to him at great length, gloat a bit that he, Harry, was the only one who could warn the defenders, then force him to watch his followers torture, rape, and kill the helpless victims, once they'd broken through.

Years ago, he'd even seen his own brother killed in this way. The arrogant tosser had just walked right up to Voldemort and invited him to kill him.

The Dark Lord would do this with everything, all his political games, all his strategy sessions, each and everyone of his recruitment and training drives.

It was getting to be more than he could take, and the darkness of his cell seemed to be getting darker every day.

The sounds of someone clinking and moving penetrated the fog of Harry's mind. Someone was here. That wasn't normal.

"Oi. Potter. Get up. You've been requested."

There were boots where before there was just floor. That also wasn't normal.

"Oh, for crying out loud. He's out of it. Let's get him up."

Pain shot through his shoulders as two pairs of hands grabbed his arms and lifted him from the floor. It was the first time someone had touched him in ten years.

"Can you walk or are we going to have to drag you?"

He tried to put one foot forward, towards the cell door, and every muscle in his atrophied lower body screamed in protest. Eventually, with the support of the men, he managed to get a rhythm going, and Harry Potter, The-True-Boy-Who-Lived, walked out of Azkaban, and into a world ruled by the Dark Lord.

— DP & SW: RiBSR —

"Prisoner number 6785," a bored sounding voice called out.

Harry's world was still dark. Tiny beams of light shone through the holes in the carrying box he'd been shoved into for transport to wherever the hell he now was.

"Experiment number 0034," the voice continued.

Light flooded Harry's world. The front of the box had been opened and harry stepped out onto a wooden platform. Two men, perhaps the same two men from the prison, attached him to the platform with chains. In front of him, was a sight that made his underused eyes widen in shock.

"Modified version of the confundus charm, woven into the arch using Hypthorn's static enchantment protocol; dated the Third of September, 2002, approved by the Chief Unspeakable."

It was the veil of death.

"Begin the transfer."

Without making a sound, the platform started moving towards the veil leaving Harry no possibility of escape… not that he wanted it.

'For neither can live while the other survives,' he mused, grinning manically. He was about to die, but he knew that what was going on here was something Voldemort certainly didn't know about, or authorize.

He was halfway to the veil now and suddenly terror flooded his mind, but the raw primal emotion wasn't his.

A loud crack sounded behind him and Voldemort's voice screamed "Accio Potter!" but the chains held him fast to the platform and before another word could be uttered he'd plunged through the archway and darkness took him.

— DP & SW: RiBSR —

"Good morning, Mister Potter." A four word sentence, male, in a voice of stone, empty caves, and deep gulps of fresh mountain air, conquered his head, and forced his focus.

"Ah, good morning?" Harry replied. He couldn't see his interlocutor. Darkness surrounded him. But his voice… speaking was amazingly easy, not what he'd expected after a decade of non-use. And his thinking… he could think! His mind was clear and fresh, thoughts flowing through it, crisp, like a mountain stream.

"Yes, it's amazing what having no body will do for you."

A pebble of a thought dropped into his consciousness. He'd just been pushed through the veil. He was dead.

"Yes," the voice said, "you are."

And this person?… thing?… could read minds, despite his near impenetrable occulumency shields, mindscape, and decoy memories.

"You may as well start speaking. Talking to myself still makes me feel a bit of a berk, even if I can read your thoughts. And we're not alone."

Harry finally replied again, "Err… who are 'we' exactly? And where are we? Are you Death?"

The darkness lifted to be replaced with a round room, lined with furs from floor to ceiling. An open fire crackled in the middle of the room, shields and weapons lined the walls, and, asleep in a corner, a mess of large wolves were piled on top of one another. On the opposite side of the small room to him, comfortable and relaxed in large wooden thrones, sat two people, a man and a woman.

The woman, clothed in an elegant white-laced dress, held a book.

The man, clothed in dark robes of the blackest black, held a scythe.

"I guess you are," he continued. These people seemed to really like their theatrics.

"Yes, I am," said the man, "and this lovely lady to my right is Fate," he motioned to the woman who inclined her head to Harry, "we have a bone to pick with you."

Harry was nonplused. "Um… okay," he hesitated before continuing, but Death seemed personable enough, "does this bone have anything to do with the fact that I just died not at the hands of Voldemort despite what the prophecy says?" He tried to think ahead in the conversation. Why was he here?

Death smiled a smile made of solid oak. "No, that was merely a bit of conniving on our part to get you to us. If we hadn't have done that, you and Voldemort would have continued to live for another thousand years."

He blinked. "What?"

"I don't like things that are owed me being withheld, Mister Potter."

Harry's looked nonplussed. "But… It's not my fault if I was a damn horcrux!"

The lady, who'd up to this point been silent, now spoke in a voice as smooth and soft as the blond hair flowing down her shoulders.

"We know that, Mister Potter. We don't blame you for it. It is Riddle we hold responsible."

Harry settled down a bit.

She continued, "The prophecy wasn't carried out as intended. You were supposed to kill Riddle, and I don't mean in a thousand years."

Harry's shoulders slumped. "Pretty hard to do that when you've got daemons from hell sucking out your thoughts every minute of the day," he mumbled.

"Yes," Fate stared down at the man standing before him, still all bones and rags, "you were never meant to go to that infernal place."

"So, where did it go wrong then? When I was sent to Azkaban?"

"No. That useless sack of wizard that called himself The-Boy-Who-Lived failed to do the job he took on."

"My brother?"

"Yes. Dumbledore declared him the Boy-Who-Lived when he was a baby, and the child made no effort to disavow others of that impression, even when it became apparent to him that it was you the prophecy referred to."

"He what? He knew!" Harry was shocked; his brother had never given any indication with his interactions with Voldemort that he knew.

"He did."

"When?"

"He first knew shortly before first coming to Hogwarts, when Dumbledore told him."

Harry stayed silent, anger and resentment boiling just under the surface. So, Dumbledore told John… That made sense. In the end, it always came back to Dumbledore. The games that man played with the lives of his followers sickened him. It says a lot about a man when someone like Voldemort enjoyed playing against him.

"Harry…" Fate stood, walked over to him and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "Dumbledore deliberately choose John to be the Boy-Who-Lived, knowing full well it wasn't him and tried to keep you as weak as possible.

His eyes narrowed, and he looked up into Fate's ice blue eyes. "Why?"

Fate sighed. "Dumbledore saw the rise of two Dark Lords in his life, both of which he felt partly responsible for, and he was terrified to see another. When a prophecy spoke of a boy who was the Dark Lord's equal, who'd have a power the Dark Lord knew not, he tried to control events such that the prophecy child would not be a threat to the wizarding world as he saw it."

The resentment towards the twinkly-eyed headmaster seemed to double. His fists clenched and unclenched. He'd spent ten years in the worst hell on earth because some old bastard was afraid of something he might choose to do because he might have the power to do it. "So Dumbledore traded the possible rise of a Dark Lord for the certain success of an already established Dark Lord?"

Fate gave a weak smile. "It was never his plan for you to stay in Azkaban for as long as you did, but when he died before John Potter did, he was no longer able to manipulate events and your brother said nothing to anyone who might have been able to intervene, which moves us nicely onto why we are here."

Harry stood silent, seething, but expectant.

"We are now going to intervene."

Harry jerked, not daring to believe the implications of what he'd just heard. "Isn't it… isn't it a bit late now? I mean, I'm dead. The prophecy was unfulfilled."

At this point, Death took over from the beautiful woman now standing at Harry's side.

"Normally yes, however, in this situation, we're going to bend our self imposed rules. That fucker, Tom Riddle that is, not Dumbledore, needs to die."

Fate fixed Harry with a hard sapphire stare. "And I will not subordinate my will to a pathetic excuse of an old man who gets off on lemon drops and playing the puppet master, especially when he's so utterly crap at it."

Harry returned her stare, and for a fleeting second, was reminded of Daphne Greengrass, Slytherin's Ice Queen. "…So, what's the plan?"

"Well," she continued, "unlike your brother, even in the worst of situations, you made the best of it. You spent years absorbing all of Riddle's knowledge. That's a good thing."

Death jumped back in. "We're going to send your soul back in time to several years before you leave for Hogwarts. We want you to make sure Riddle dies, and we want you to make sure the prophecy is fulfilled."

"…What's to stop me being thrown in prison again?"

Fate smiled. "You must save Ginny Weasley."

Harry looked thoughtful for a moment. "I've no problem with that, but didn't you just say the headmaster manipulated events to send me to prison at the first possible excuse? I may dodge that particular bullet, but what's to stop me being sent on some other flimsy trumped up charge?"

Fate's eyes shone. "And this is exactly the reason why you're going to be our champion this time, Harry, and not John. You think things through. We already let John re-do the timeline once and he still failed."

"Wait, what?"

"Oh, sending him back required less intervention, and since he was already fighting Riddle we figured he might be able to pull it off."

"… But wouldn't that mean the non-fulfillment of the prophecy?"

"It would have been close enough for me to accept. But that's irrelevant. He failed."

"How did he die in the first time-line?"

"In the grave-yard at the end of fourth year."

"Huh… I did wonder how he got such good grades without trying, and how he seemed to instinctively attract witches to him despite his horrific personality, he had a four year lead on everyone, and already knew them."

"…"

Inside his head, the revelations were coming thick and fast. His eyes widened.

"Wait… That's why he let Voldemort kill him! He thought you would give him a third chance!

Death nodded, grimly.

"…"

"And… wait, that doesn't make sense…. He knew Ginny was going to die and let it happen anyway? I thought those two loved each other for years before they even came to Hogwarts!"

Fate looked sad. "In the first timeline the diary of Tom Riddle didn't abduct Miss Weasley until the end of the year, and your brother managed to save her. In the second timeline, John Potter's meddling caused Tom to accelerate his plans."

"Wow. He really messed that up."

"Indeed. And let this be a warning to you, Mister Potter." Her face became sterner. "Do not try to setup master plots based on foreknowledge, and do not worry about 'preserving the timeline'; acquire every advantage you can, as quickly as possible with the power you possess, while exposing yourself to as little risk as possible. Remember, even though we are sending you back, your brother has already gone back. We can't change that, so you're going to have to deal with another time traveler who also thinks they are our chosen. The life you know was in the second timeline, and when we send you back, it will be the third."

"Yes, my lady… er… if my brother saved Ginny in the first timeline, did I still go to Azkaban?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"Dumbledore pushed him to provide false evidence that it was still you that opened the chamber."

"That… utter… fucker!"

"Mmmmhmm."

"So, how am I going to stop that from happening then? It seems the old goat is desperate for me to go."

"Well, in the first instance, you now have a good solid knowledge of how the political and legal system of the wizarding world works, and for the second… I am going to grant you a gift."

A gift?

Harry looked away from Fate and towards Death who merely smiled. "No, Mister Potter, not a deathly hollows style gift. I'm never making that mistake again."

Fate laughed. "Mister Potter, how much are you aware of your lineage?"

"Umm… I'm a Potter?"

"Figures you'd know almost nothing. Riddle didn't know after all." Fate walked Harry over to her throne and motioned him to sit down, which he did so, hesitantly. The woman then started pacing in front of the two men.

"Harry," she said eventually, "you know your wizarding world has a highly stratified political and legal system."

"Yes."

"So to grant you the chance you need to fight back against Dumbledore you need to be higher up in the system."

"Makes sense."

"I'm going to grant you a lordship."

Harry's eyes bugged, "Whaa… You're going to kill my father and brother? I mean, I don't really have a problem with that, but even then I wouldn't become Lord Potter until I'm seventeen."

"No no no, Harry. I don't have the power to intervene that much, if I did, I'd have just killed Riddle, and it is as you say; you still wouldn't ascend until you reached your majority, well, in theory anyway. No, what I'm suggesting is for you to take a completely different lordship."

Harry blinked, owlishly.

"There are three possible lordships you are close enough to being able to claim for my influence to work. Peverell, Gryffindor, and Slytherin."

Fate started pacing again.

"The Peverell and Gryffindor lines are closely linked to you through blood, and it would take only a slight modification of your blood to allow you to claim them. The Slytherin line could be yours through old family magics called the right of conquest, whereby the conqueror of the last of a line can lay claim to that line's family magics, provided they didn't initiate the conflict that led to the death of the line. This includes titles since they're based on family magics."

"So because I defeated Voldemort when a child… wait, wouldn't I have that last one anyway?"

"Riddle didn't truly die."

"Ah."

"But! That's exactly the kind of minor adjustment to magic that I can get away with. The difference between dead and not alive is close enough, and the age of your soul gives me enough wiggle room in regards to you being of age to claim."

She took a deep breath before continuing.

"Now, you're only getting one of them, so you're going to have to choose. Any thoughts?"

"Well, screw Gryffindor. I'm a Slytherin, through and through. So it comes down to Slytherin or Peverell. Peverell would grant me greater overall political acceptance. I wouldn't have to worry so much about being immediately labeled a Dark Lord by a third of the wizarding political elite…"—Harry stretched his chin—"…On the other hand, Slytherin would grant me immediate kudos with the very enemy that I'm trying to fight. Any death eaters or allies of Voldemort that I can bring to my side would be a double victory, simultaneously denying the enemy resources while boosting my own. With Peverell, I'd have to play a zero sum game with Dumbledore for allies—A moment of silence passed—Slytherin would also grant me special privileges at Hogwarts… I assume?" he finished, uncertain.

"A few, yes," Fate conceded.

"And it would also give me a mission to rally people around other than just 'defeat Voldemort'. The ideals and beliefs of Slytherin house are nothing like what they should be. Ambition and cunning does not equal evil and bigotry," he mused.

Fate smiled.

"Also…, and I think this is the real kicker, by claiming the tile of Lord Slytherin through right of conquest I can easily demonstrate that I am the true child of prophecy to who ever I please, whenever it is necessary."

Fate clapped, and Death just sat there, relaxed, and looking incredibly smug.

"Well done young champion, very well thought out. Your brother never demonstrated even a hint of similar strategic insight."

He smirked. "Well he is a Gryffindor."

Fate raised a warning finger. "That's as well as maybe but remember not to let house rivalries detract you from strategic necessity. There are Gryffindors it would do you well to bring to your side.

"… … …Granger." The Dark Lord's memories of the brunette muggleborn were impressive. Hell, she practically carried his brother's team, despite being four years mentally younger than him.

"Yes her, definitely. But also remember my warning. Any advantage, as quickly as possible, for as low a cost as possible."

"Right. Not to mention she grows up to be hot as hell."

Fate frowned.

"I'd advise against falling into he same trap as your brother and collecting too many witches of questionable usefulness around you. They could easily become a distraction."

"Right. So I'll only collect the useful ones. And distractions… I'd prefer to call them strategic team building exercises." He tried his best to look as innocent as a pile of rags and bones can.

Death grinned from ear to ear while Fate looked resigned.

"Well, I've just spent twenty years in hell, yes? I'm not holding back on this second chance. I will do everything in my power to make sure the primary objectives are achieved, which at the longest should only take five to ten years, fingers crossed. I fully intend to make sure the final hundred odd years of my life are as satisfying as possible."

Death spoke up. "Mister Potter, so long as you achieve your primary objectives, I personally don't care if you become a dark lord and destroy the whole of Britain."

"I'd be a bit miffed, but couldn't actually fault you," Fate interjected, "so long as Riddle dies and the prophecy is fulfilled, you have a free pass.

"Excellent, because I fully intend to ruin a few people's lives."

The trio continued to discuss minutia and tactical and strategic options for some time, before Fate and Death waved Harry on his way and his soul was flung back through the veil.

— DP & SW: RiBSR —

On July thirty-first in the year 1988, eight-year-old little Harry Potter sat bolt upright, banging his head on his cupboard ceiling.

'Oww', he thought, rubbing his hand on his bruised forehead. He felt a metal band on his finger. Closer inspection revealed it to be the noble head of house ring of Slytherin house. A manic grin spread across his face like the opening to the gates of hell.

"Well, hello world, I'm baaaaaack."

 

Chapter Text

Previously, on Dodging Prison and Stealing Witches:

Death spoke up. "Mister Potter, so long as you achieve your primary objectives, I personally don't care if you become a dark lord and destroy the whole of Britain."

"I'd be a bit miffed, but couldn't actually fault you," Fate interjected, "so long as Riddle dies and the prophecy is fulfilled, you have a free pass.

"Excellent, because I fully intend to ruin a few people's lives."

The trio continued to discuss minutia and tactical and strategic options for some time, before Fate and Death waved Harry on his way and his soul was flung back through the veil.

— DP&SW - RIBSR —

On July thirty-first in the year 1988, eight-year-old little Harry Potter sat bolt upright, banging his head on his cupboard ceiling.

'Oww', he thought, rubbing his hand on his bruised forehead and feeling a metal band on his finger. Closer inspection revealed it to be the head of house ring of Slytherin house. A manic grin spread across his face like the opening to the gates of hell.

"Well, hello world, I'm baaaaaack."

— DP&SW - RIBSR —

Chapter Two: Flying Under the Radar

Harry spent a few moments basking in his new old body. The cramped space of his cupboard wrapped around him like an old friend, the kind you tolerate having a once-a-year drink with, but who soon reminds you why you stopped being their friend.

'Right!' Harry thought, 'Time to fly this joint. Prison break!' and with a loud Crack! the cupboard under the stairs was empty. The Dursleys could fix their own damn breakfast.

He appeared in a park not far from Privet Drive and sat down on a bench. The sky was slowly brightening as the sun rose over the nearby trees, flooding the grass with light that refracted off the morning dew and painted a picture of peace and happiness in the back of Harry's cornea. Freedom.

Harry would never again let anyone imprison him. Not Voldemort, not Dumbledore, not the Dursleys, not his parents.

To do that he needed power, for without power you were helpless, and if you were helpless everything you have can and will be taken from you.

So, what did he have?

He could do a limited amount of wandless magic; he could summon and banish, apparate, fly, talk to snakes, cast the stinging hex, lumos charm, and incendio charm, as well as basic legilimancy and master occlumancy. Wandless magic was time consuming to learn, and Voldemort had never learnt more than the combat critical necessities.

His ring would protect him from obliviation, mind-altering potions, confundus charms, and other mind altering magics… but not the imperious, nothing could block the imperious; you just had to have the mental will to throw it, which is why it was classified as unforgivable—poor little pureblood lords couldn't defend their families against it. The ring could also become visible and invisible on command and was soul bound, meaning it couldn't be taken from him until he died.

All this was very nice, but it didn't make him the all-powerful force of nature he needed to be. Wards could easily block apparation, and his combat spells were very limited. If he got in any trouble in the magical world, he'd be at the mercy of whatever wand wielding weakling with a basic OWL in DADA stumbled on him. Worse, he had almost no sneaking abilities. Disillusionment, notice-me-nots, muggle repelling wards, key-in wards, silencing charms; as he was at the moment, he couldn't do any of them.

He needed a wand. Then his repertoire would be vast. Then he could really get on with things… but… how was he going to do that? Ollivander and his British contemporaries wouldn't sell him a wand, he was too young and the wand would have the trace on it. Other countries also wouldn't be any good; they'd still apply the trace, and it would just switch over to Magical Britain the moment he crossed the border. The ministry would be very interested in why there was an unregistered underage wand casting magic all over the place. He could get a wand without the trace if he revealed his status as Lord Slytherin, but he wasn't anywhere near ready to announce that yet. He could try stealing one, but that would be far too risky at the moment. If he were caught he'd be in BIG trouble.

No, there was really only one option. He was going to have to make one.

It wouldn't be great. It wouldn't be at the level of perfection of one produced by Ollivander, but it would work and be functional until he could buy a proper one. And since it was the wand that chose the wizard, or so Ollivander would say… well… he'd just have to think like a wand.

Yew. Yes, the wood of death and rebirth, of resurrection and immortality. Voldemort's wand was yew because of its properties associated with eternal life—although how the wand knew of his future when he was eleven was anyone's guess. His wand, by contrast, would be yew because of its properties associated with rebirth and resurrection, not to mention he was Death's champion.

And for the core… thestral tail hair, definitely. No creature was more closely associated with death than the thestral, except maybe the grim. As for the length… 15 inches, the same length as the elder wand. The wand made by Death. Yes.

Harry leapt off the bench and stretched his arms to the heavens. Shopping time!

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Sue Ruthson was a short plump woman who loved the outdoors in principle, but loved the comforts of the tearoom in practice. She flipped the sign on the door to the office from closed to open and turned to man—or in her case, woman—the reception.

"Excuse me," said a child's voice behind her. She turned and beheld a small skinny boy in baggy clothes, with a mop of unruly black hair and piercing green eyes behind sellotaped glasses. They seemed to stare straight into her soul and force her to reexamine all her hopes, dreams, and fears.

"Y-yes, dearie?" she asked, looking around for the lad's parents. They were no-where to be seen. Probably let him run ahead of them.

"Is this the Royal Forestry Society?"

"Yes, it is, where are you parents dear?"

"Oh, they're around. I'm doing a school project and they said I could ask some questions for it. I'm interested in really old trees." He smiled a smile that screamed future-heartbreaker.

"Well dear. Why don't you just take a seat here, and I'll get you something?"

The lad beamed. "Thank you Mrs…?"

"Ruthson dear."

"Thank you Mrs. Ruthson."

This was one polite kid. "Any particular types of tree you're interested in?" she asked, probing the kids knowledge, while fishing in a filing cabinet behind her desk.

"Um… Yew? They're supposed to be really old right?"

"They are. Yew trees are among some of the oldest in the country." She found what she was looking for and handed it to the kid. "Is that enough information?" she asked.

The kid flipped through the glossy paged brochure before stopping at one particular page. "Oh, yes Mrs. Ruthson. Thank you! I need to get back to my Mum and Dad now, they're waiting for me."

"Not to worry dear, happy to help."

The boy left the office and Sue smiled, 'what a nice young man,' she thought.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Alan and Jennifer stumbled into their hotel room from a night of holiday filled excitement and romance, when Jennifer noticed something was wrong.

"Alan," she said, sounding worried.

"Yeah baby?"

"I can't find my wallet."

"Seriously? Where did you last have it?"

"It was in my pocket. But its not there anymore."

"I'll check the bags."

"Oh no… oh shit! shit!", she threw up her hands, "My cards were in there!"

"Jen, don't panic, its probably in here," but his search was proving fruitless.

"What if someone uses them! Oh shit! shit!."

"Jen! Calm down! We'll just call up the company and get them to freeze them!"

"Oh shit shit, there was like a hundred pounds in there, that's like what, 150 dollars? Shit! shit! …Well!?"

Alan had stopped searching the bags.

"Yeah, it's gone."

"SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!"

Several blocks away, Harry was inspecting his catch in the privacy of a public toilet. It was a rule of life as far as he was concerned. If you were a wizard and didn't charm your money pouch to be non-summonable, you were an idiot. And if you were a muggle tourist and didn't attach your wallet or purse to your person, or keep it deep in your bag, you were an idiot. Better he snagged it then some less deserving cut purse.

He smiled as he finished counting 107 Great British Pounds… Breakfast time.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry had spent a very relaxing day eating and practicing his occlumency in various hotel lobbies around London. The great thing about hotels was the staff didn't ask too many questions about kids on their own in lobbies. It was assumed the parents or guardians were around, and had dumped them there with instructions to wait for them. If they had asked inconvenient questions, plan B had been some tiny village teashop in the middle of nowhere.

The sun was going down, and it was time to hit his first target.

He paid for his final drink, left the building, turned down an alley, disappeared with a loud, Crack!, and reappeared in a field on the flood banks of the River Thames. The ground was boggy and Harry had to struggle for his footing on every step before he smacked his head in frustration, and remembered he could fly.

Hovering a half-inch from the ground, and making every attempt not to be seen doing so, he flittered from bush to bush in the rapidly failing light of the British summer.

Ahead, he spied the distinct, majestic outline of his intended. The Ankerwycke Yew.

This tree was ancient. Not the oldest in the country by any measure, but at over two thousand years old, it had been around well before the Perverell brothers played their games with Death. It was steeped in myth and legend. It was here that the Magna Carta had been signed, forever breaking the absolute right of the King to rule, which included the magical population, and included passages, now invisible to muggles, granting the magical community autonomy from the muggle government. It was said it was under this tree the muggle king, Henry VIII, started his illicit affair with his future wife, Anne Boleyn, resulting in the split between the churches of Rome and England, and the end of the witch hunts in Britain.

It was perfect.

Harry drank in its beauty, hungry for the potent combined symbol of freedom, death, resurrection, and unofficial polygamy. He could feel the magic radiating from it, even from back here.

He pushed forward and suddenly felt something sweep over him, something subtle, but very definitely noticeable to one trained to sense the flows of magic. His breath hitched. He'd just tripped a detection ward. Dammit! Too late, he realized most of the magic hadn't been coming from the tree, but from the wards around it.

He ducted behind a nearby bush and waited. Who'd go through the bother of putting wards around a tree?

Crack! A figure in a dark robe appeared around the trunk of the tree, wand out, and alert. Even at the distance he was hiding, the figure was recognizable. It was Mr. Ollivander.

Oh Shit.

"I know you're there!" Mr. Ollivander called, "I want to know why."

Harry struggled to rip his shirt off and tie it around his head to hide his face, hair, and, most importantly, scar. The eyes might give him away but there wasn't much he could do about that.

"If you don't come out, I'll just come to you," the old wand maker continued, "Homonum Revelio!"

Merlin damn homonum revelio! Screw it. There was nothing to do but make a break for it.

Crack! Harry appeared in a field some fifty miles away, and turned.

Crack! His pursuer appeared right behind him, Crack!, just as he disapparated again.

He appeared in an empty city street at a dead run.

Crack! A red stunner passed mere inches from the back of his head before he turned a corner, out of sight, and immediately shot up, towards the moon, over the edge of a rooftop, and away over the city skyline.

Crack! The silence lasted only a moment before a quickly fading and frustrated voice shouted, "Homonum Revelio!"

'Please, please, please, let me be out of range.' Harry ducked behind the massive chimney of a huge industrial building, and quickly accelerated right to the top before disapparating with a final, definite, Crack!

'There!' he thought, appearing in the graveyard of a small village in devon, 'Let the creepy bastard follow me up there!'

He stumbled over to a bench and plopped down on it with an audible, "phew".

His breath started to slow, but his pulse was still going at a mile a minute, his adrenal glands still pumping concentrated 'fight-or-flight' into his small body.

He was an utter idiot. Why hadn't he spotted the very obvious fact that the perfect candidate for a yew wand tree in the country would already be 'taken' by another wand maker? He could only hope to Merlin that the old man had neither spotted him flying, nor been alerted to his aerial presence by his last homonum revelio. He wanted to keep every advantage he had secret, and if an identifying skill became public knowledge, he couldn't use it and remain anonymous. And flying was definitely an identifying skill. Only he and Voldy could do it after all.

Harry sighed. All in all it could have gone worse. With luck, the only thing Ollivander would have learned about the wizard sneaking around was he was very short for a wizard who, by the ability to apparate, should be in his late teens, at least.

Oh… He might also have spotted him apparating without a wand… bugger. And since he could detect me with homonum revelio, he'd be forced to conclude I was a very short, and very powerful, human wizard. I suppose it might be more credible to suspect a metamorophmagus rather than a child… or possibly a half-breed like Flitwik… or someone under the effects of polyjuice… OK, so there were lots of possible ways to explain him away.

Harry stood back up and dusted himself off. The night was still young, and he still had a list of other trees he could hit. And with a Crack!, he was gone.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Angelystor was dead. She'd been dead for a long time now. She'd been in love with a local muggle noble, who'd stabbed her when she'd told him she was pregnant. She wished she could have seen it coming, but she couldn't. Seers couldn't see their own future after all.

And now all she could do was haunt this graveyard, in this tiny welsh village. There weren't any magicals around to talk to, and the only fun she had was on All Hallows Eve, when the boundaries between this world, and the world beyond the veil, were at their weakest. Then, she could shout out who in the next year was going to die, and the muggles could actually hear her. It was a small joy, but it was all she had.

She floated around the graveyard's huge yew tree, its trunk split at the base in three, giving the impression of three separate trees growing from the same spot, and stilled.

Something had changed. Her sight wasn't nearly as good since she'd died, and she couldn't do any divination, or scrying, that involved access to a wand or other foci, but something had defiantly changed in the flow of time.

Movement attracted her attention. Despite it being near midnight, the full moon made it easy to see, although why that mattered to a ghost she had never wondered about until that moment.

The figure was hesitant and very cautious. It was small and crept from tombstone to tombstone as though expecting to be attacked.

She floated over to the child, for it was surely small enough to be a child, and was shocked when the boy, and she could now see that it was surely a boy, recoiled from her. His chest was bare; the shirt he'd presumably been wearing hid his face. He made to bolt and she quickly held up a hand.

"Wait! I won't hurt you!"

The boy hesitated, and then turned.

"You can see me right?" she asked, "Only magical people can see me. You're magical aren't you?"

The boy nodded.

"Who are you? There aren't any magical children in this village, I'd know. Why are you here? Why didn't I know you were coming? Did your parents move here? Are they magical? You can't be a muggleborn or you wouldn't know you were a wizard. Why…why can't my sight see you?"

The boy stood and watched her through emerald green eyes barely visible through his makeshift mask.

"Hello," he said, his voice was guarded, his stance still coiled for flight.

"Um… hello," she said, suddenly realizing she must have sounded both silly and aggressive with her question diatribe, but she couldn't help it! She hadn't spoken to anyone in over two hundred years.

"What did you mean by 'I didn't know you were coming?' and 'your sight'… are you a seer?"

"Ahh, yes. I am, or rather, I was… I can still see a bit, but its not nearly as strong as when I was alive."

"And now you haunt this graveyard? There must be a lot of ambient magic to support a ghost like yourself."

"Ah, the magic comes from the tree. It's called the Llangernyw Yew. Its the oldest Yew in the country you know!" She visibly swelled with pride, although the slight baby bump under her ethereal dress might have helped give that impression. "It's among the oldest living things in the world you know. That's what a muggle science person said."

"Really?" The boy seemed to warming up to her, "How old is it?"

"Well, they say it might be five thousand years old, but no one really knows. It might be only three thousand."

"And how old are you, my fair lady?"

She mock gasped, "You don't ask a lady her age young man," a hint of a smile was playing across her lips.

The boy seemed to wince, "Sorry, I mean, how many years has it been since you died?"

"Over six hundred years… and I'm twenty-one, by the way," she smiled, "my name is Angelystor, and I am the ghost that calls out the names of those who will die in the next year on All Hallows Eve."

"The muggles can hear you?"

"On All Hallows Eve, yes."

The boy seemed to think for a moment.

"My name is… Harry."

Her smile was now summer and light and good friends around an open fire. "Pleased to meet you Harry. So… what exactly are you doing here in this isolated village, at midnight, wearing your shirt on your head?"

Harry hesitated again.

"There aren't any other magicals around, right?"

"You're the first one I've seen in over two hundred years."

"And you can't actually leave?"

"No," her smile was slightly sad now, "I am bound to the tree where I died."

Harry nodded. "I am here for a single branch of the Llangernyw Yew, to make a single wand, with which to defeat Dark Lord Voldemort."

Angelystor's eyes widened almost comically. "I have seen the wizard you speak of with my sight. He is a terrible power in the world. How do you, a child, want to defeat him?"

"I am the child of prophecy, singled out by Fate herself, to do the job the wizarding world cannot. I will do it because I must, because only I can."

"And you have no one to aid you?" she asked, looking around as though expecting Merlin or the founders to suddenly appear.

"… … …There are… forces in the world working against me. Forces that would see me incapable of fulfilling my duty. Forces that would risk the almost certain destruction of everything in favor of a plan with a comically low probability of creating an ideal peace."

"I do not like seeing the tree harmed… but… for such a purpose, I can hardly refuse. Please Harry, take what you need."

Harry nodded, face still hidden, "Thank you Angelystor."

Together they walked and floated to the tree. And then together they floated to the very top of the tree where the freshest growth was. Angelystor was awed.

"You can fly."

"Yes, beautiful lady, I can."

Harry produced a folding miniature hacksaw from the pocket of his baggy trousers and deftly removed a six-foot branch of fresh growth.

"Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me," he whisper-sang, just before the nearby church bell sounded midnight with a single, low dong. "Well fair lady, this is where I must go."

Angelystor nodded, "Harry?"

"Yes my lady?"

"Before you go… can I see your face?"

Harry was motionless for a good many seconds before putting the branch down in the nearby growth, reaching up, and removed the shirt around his head.

Angelystor gazed into a young face that promised future strength and nobility. Black messy hair spilled over his forehead, utterly failing to conceal a fierce lightning bolt shaped scar, tinged in red.

She floated around him, inspecting him from every angle at less than a few inches distance, before finishing right in front of his face.

"Thank you, Harry," she whispered, before retreating a few feet, "and good luck."

Harry nodded his thanks, picked up the branch again, and with a single Crack!, was gone.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Two days later, Harry woke feeling great. Stage one was complete, and he'd liberated enough muggle money from people without enough common sense to move onto stage two. It was time for the thestral hair, and he had a long journey ahead of him.

There was only one thestral herd in the British isles, and it was Hagrid's on the Hogwarts grounds; a place Harry dared not tread for fear of the wards being capable of alerting Dumbledore to his presence.

So, he'd have to search further afield, and in Voldemort's memories there was only one other place with a thestral herd. It was the big one, the wild thestral herd of the Mongolian shamans.

He spent most of the rest of the morning apparating across Europe, through Russia, and down into the Mongolian heartland, arriving near

Ulaanbaatar—Mongolia's capital city—sometime around midday. Magically exhausted from his trip and still wearing his shirt around his head, he scarfed down the packed lunch he'd made, and stretched out on the luscious grass.

Grassland stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction, broken up by the occasional mountain. There was zero cover and anyone within fifty miles would be able to see him. On the other hand, there were so few people here, and the country so vast, the chance of being happened upon by someone who cared, was tiny.

Several hours of kip later and Harry moved on.

After another hour of aparating southwest, he finally arrived at his destination, the Ongiin Khiid Monastery complex, the center of the Mongolian magical community. When the communists took over the country in the 1920s, they'd destroyed most of the Buddhist temples throughout the country, and now, most of them were ruins.

While the muggle population of Ongiin Khiid had been slaughtered or forced to serve in the communist army, the magical community had hunkered down behind their powerful wards. After the initial destruction, they'd gradually taken back the complex, rebuilding and warding it until the entire area was bristling with muggle repelling and illusion wards. To any muggle walking by, it now looked just like any other ruined temple complex.

Harry walked through the gates and beheld the grandeur of the Tibetan architecture. Row after row of houses and temples, all with the same distinctive white stone wall and square, curved, sloping roofs. While Diagon alley looked like a stroll down a history timeline, Ongiin Khiid looked like a uniform shopping street designed by an architect with a fetish for old-green copper and spruce.

With the exception of one building of course.

Harry strolled down the street, and turned to face a building that looked like a melting roman temple. Gringotts.

Knowing the goblins would react unfavorably to disguises, but that they valued children highly and considered hurting a child to be the worst kind of crime, Harry unwound his shirt from his head, slipped it back over his chest—which he was very thankful for, it was a bit nippy here—and walked past the guards, up into the bank.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ten minutes later, Harry exited the bank with five galleons, exchanged from 250 pounds; the results of his morning and afternoon of summoning training on the London underground.

The goblin serving him had certainly raised his eyebrows at serving a lone, clearly western, English accented child, but hadn't asked questions. Merlin he loved goblins.

Harry continued to walk down the street until he found what he was looking for; a small shop with a thestral tied up outside it, eating out of a bucket.

The shop contained everything thestral. Cured thestral meat hung along the rafters, thestral bones aligned the walls, bottles of thestral glue stood next to bars of thestral soap. The floor along the wall was lined with thestral shell cordovan boots.

And next to the counter, pride of place was given to a wooden mannequin wearing a black, full-length, duster style thestral shell cordovan coat with a robe style hood. It was looked amazing and Harry knew he wanted it. It truly was a coat deserving of being worn by Death's champion. He sauntered up to the work of art, and nonchalantly flipped the price tag. Two hundred galleons. Ouch.

"Би эрхэм тусалж чадах уу?" a voice said.

Harry turned to see an old man standing in the doorway.

"Sorry?"

The man looked a little surprised at Harry's western features, but quickly rallied. "Can I help sir?"

"Yes, I'm looking for thestral tail hair."

The man smiled. "You cannot see it?"

Harry gave him a look. "I cannot see it because it is not on display."

"Ah, well done sir. But I am surprised to see one so young who has seen death."

'If only you knew,' thought Harry.

"How much you want?"

"Ten strands, in a wand core braid."

The shopkeeper suddenly looked cautious. "You want for wand core."

"Is that a problem?"

"Where you go after here?"

"Back home to Europe."

The man was silent few a few moments.

"OK. But you did not buy from here OK?"

"Sure, I understand."

Five minutes and two galleons later, Harry pocketed a long wrap of thestral hair cord, and a small bottle of thestral glue.

"And for another two galleons, I'd like to reserve that coat for a year," said Harry, pointing at the breathtaking black duster on the mannequin."

The shopkeeper grinned. "You like it."

"Yes, but I cannot buy it just now."

"OK. I can do that, Mister…?"

Harry scrabbled for an appropriate name, "Death." 'Dammit!'

The man raised a single eyebrow. "OK then, Mister Death. I hope to see you again for your purchase… but only for that of course."

Harry left, berating himself for his dumbass name choice, and decided to get a room to rest his core before the long-as-hell apparation trip back home.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

And now, after two whole weeks back in the past, here it was.

Harry reverently opened the wooden box, which the 'muggle war-veteran wood carver' had made to go with the wand, and, eyes shining, gazed upon a thing of beauty.

The handle was ornate and featured many little discrete motifs of Harry's own design along the hilt, which curved down in a graceful arc to the wand proper, before spiraling all the way down to the wand's point, like a wrought iron twisted fence.

Harry spied, among the hilt motifs on the side facing him, a tiny lighting bolt killing a snake, and another striking a goat. The handle itself was textured in an interlocking lightning bold pattern and the pommel was perfectly round and used the wood's swirling grain to suggest a smoke filled orb.

It was perfect.

"Yep, some of my best work that," the craftsman said, noting the look of extreme delight on Harry's face. "Still say it's a mighty weird request, and some of the materials you wanted… well, I've never seen anything like that glue ever. I'd swear there wasn't even a visible join between the middle and the tip. And that cord… my friend insisted he couldn't even see it! But in the end I figured you certainly knew what you wanted, and was willing to pay for it, eh, young man?"

"Yes…" said Harry, only half listening, distracted by his own musings, "it is strange like that."

He reached for the wand and felt the connection before his fingers even touched it. As the tips wrapped around the handle, the warmth shot through him, which quickly built into a crescendo, pulsing power down his arm and through the wand, sending emerald green sparks all over the wood shop counter.

"Bloody Hell!" shouted the man, "What was that?!"

"Magic."

The man just stared. He'd seen a lot in his long life, and his wife was always going on about horoscopes and psychic readings, wasn't she?

"Magic, huh?"

"Yep. You've really done an excellent job. This has got to be the only muggle made wand in the country, if not the world. And it looks and feels better than any I've seen or felt."

"Err… Thank you, I think?"

Harry casually fingered the wand's tip before pointing it at the master craftsman.

"Obliviate."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry stepped outside the woodwork shop, and spent a good twenty minutes throwing up a casual detection ward to alert him if any other wizards gained entry. He felt he owed a tiny bit of protection to the man for such good work, and who knows, he may have need of him in the future. That, and it would give him early warning if someone managed to somehow trace his wand's origins.

Wow it felt good. His old holly and phoenix feather wand hadn't felt half as natural, or as powerful, as this one did. And here he was, thinking this wand was just going to be a rough and ready stopgap measure. Hah! All that 'wand chooses the wizard' dragon crap… turns out the wizard just needs to really know himself.

And now that he had a wand he could attack his next greatest vulnerability, his rather empty and nonexistent vaults.

Chapter Text

"Hello my dear, are you all alone? Where are your parents?"

"Confundo."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

"Where the hell did you come from?!"

"Obliviate."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

"Sorry kid, that information is restricted."

"Legilimens."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry luxuriated on his pool lounger, enjoying the shade cast by the huge umbrella, sipping from a glass of iced orange juice. The crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean were a stone's throw from his new rented apartment, and both the sea, and the pool a few feet away, were calling to him.

Damn, life was so much easier with a wand!

Harry returned his focus to the pad of paper he'd been making notes on, and once more went over his plans, looking for any loopholes or unthought of problems.

It was now mid September, and he'd been back in the past for six weeks. The last month had been spent continuing his opportunistic little pilferer spiel, and for the first few weeks it had been great. He was now sitting on the tidy sum of four thousand pounds, but the rates of return were now too low compared to the risk of getting caught breaking the international statute of secrecy and muggle baiting laws.

He needed something bigger.

The biggest problem was that he needed to use his magic to his advantage, but couldn't do anything that would draw attention to himself, or risk breaking the ISS.

His very brief foray into bank robbing ended in near disaster when he realized, just in time, that the bank—the bog standard normal high street muggle bank—had goblin wizard-detection, key-out, and anti-apparation wards! They even had an invisible-to-muggle, miniature thief's downfall. Gringotts, apparently, took their banking monopoly very seriously.

He'd considered stealing other high value items like artwork or jewelry, but decided it wasn't worth it… They were too difficult to get rid of, especially when compared to certain other goods.

He took another sip of orange juice and leafed through the stack of academic journal articles he'd acquired from various British universities. They all had titles like 'the organization of high-level drug markets' and 'Drug markets and law enforcement'.

Magic could be very flashy. Mcgonagall demonstrated it to new muggleborn parents by transfiguring various household times into other things… or possibly turning into a cat. Very impressive stuff. But economically valuable? Not so much. You could use it to commit fraud, and be a damn good con artist, but again, you ran the risk of breaking the ISS and getting the improper use of magic office on your tail.

But magic didn't need to be flashy to be damn valuable. The ability to move a small cargo, unseen and undetected, across a national border at low risk to the carrier… now that was damn valuable. And he was probably one of the few wizards that had both the power and skill to pass through the low powered wards governments erected around their borders.

If he were caught, wizarding border control would be looking for contraband magical artifacts. Muggle drugs weren't on the list, why would they be? Wizards routinely made potions that could do the same thing far better, with low risk of complications or addiction. Hell, they taught thirteen year-olds the cheering charm, which was an almost textbook example of an upper. It was amazing the entire wizarding world didn't run around with it cast on them all the time.

That didn't mean being caught had no cost. No, the consequence would be that he'd be back on the wizarding world's radar. Illegal apparation, underage magic, illegal possession of a wand… the list of charges would quickly pile up. True, he could get out of most of them by playing the emancipated lord card—except for illegal apparation—but, when he re-entered the magical world, he wanted it be on his terms.

He wasn't worried though. He'd already made the crossing three times now, and if this little project worked out, he'd only need to sneak over the border a few more times for quite a while.

Putting his drink down, Harry padded over to the pool's edge, and carefully slid his hot, sweaty body into the water's cool embrace.

'This is… nice,' he thought, 'Very… nice. Maybe making Cyprus my holiday base would be a really good idea…'

But he also knew he had to get on with things. Time was marching on.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry stood, disillusioned on the Turkish mountainside overlooking the poppy fields. Most of the fields he'd passed in the last few weeks were bare, the winter harvest having already been brought in months ago, sold to the muggle government as part of a UN agreed effort to crack down on the drugs trade. Those harvests were being processed into medical grade morphine to help prop up the world's very real shortage.

But not these fields, oh no. These fields—in a remote mountain province, hidden away from prying eyes—were halfway through an additional, illegal, summer harvest.

He uncorked the vial of a carefully measured out ageing potion that he'd bought in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, and swigged it in one gulp. 'Ugh,' he shook his head, 'foul tasting as always.' A second later he felt himself getting taller, while anyone who could see him would tell you he now looked to be in his mid-twenties. He'd stay looking that way for a good six hours, or until he drank an antidote.

Canceling his disillusionment, Harry walked down the mountain path towards the lone building near the fields.

He stepped inside. Concrete floors, concrete walls, with a sheet metal roof. Various machines in questionable states of repair lay around the wall edges, metal barrels were stacked in a corner, and in the middle, crouched three men hunkered down over a metal barrel, on an open fire, sieving what looked like chalky sludge over the top.

"Hello," he called out, in the little Turkish he'd picked up over the last few weeks. Voldemort had learnt many languages in his quest for obscure magical knowledge, but Turkish wasn't one of them.

"Hello friend," answered one of the men, presumably the boss; he had that older, done-everything look. He sounded uncertain. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm looking to buy"

"Buy?"

"Yes"

"The goods?"

"Yes"

"Oh, I cannot. I must sell to my buyer."

"Would you be willing for a higher price?"

"No," he shook his head and held his hands out, palms open in front of him. "I'm sorry my friend."

"Like, double your usual price."

The man paused at that and looked deep into his eyes. Harry's legilimency could feel desire, greed, and longing for what such a deal could do for his family, but also reluctance to damage the business relationship he had with the men who bought his summer crop.

"I can buy your goods every year for the next three years."

"…"

"…"

"How much do you want to buy?"

'YES!' thought Harry, and countered, "How many acres do you grow?"

"Five."

"So, you yield, what? Three to five kilos?"

"I have four kilos now. By tomorrow, I will have another one kilo."

"And your price?"

"Well, normally we would sell for 1,750 Lira per kilo, so your rate would be 3,500 Lira."

Harry could see the mental math flying through the man's head, the margins, expected bluffs, and mild hope to get an even better deal.

"Ahhh, I know what this sells for sir, I can pay you 2,500 Lira for each kilo," he pitched, knowing he'd priced below the man's true price by the exact amount the man had priced above it.

The man smiled knowingly, slipping into full-on haggling mode, and placed a big arm around Harry's shoulder. "Oh. My friend. You know I am taking a big risk selling to you. I cannot take less than 3,250."

"Well, I understand about risks… See here, I have the money, right here, for our deal," Harry brought out a wad of bills from his pocket, "2,750 and we can do the deal right now for the first four, and I'll come back tomorrow for the last one."

"Ahh, You drive a hard bargain. Tell you what," the man said while patting Harry firmly on the shoulder, "You go up, I go down, that is the way of things, Yes? We meet in the middle. Three thousand a kilo and we both have a fair deal. OK?"

"OK," he said smiling, turning around and holding out his hand.

They shook.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry was soaked. The rain poured down from the sky in torrents, giving not one wit to the precious cargo he had stored in his backpack, wrapped up in a dozen layers of plastic bags and wrapping.

The cloudy night sky made it pitch black, and he could barely see in front of his nose. The only good thing, he reflected, was that if he couldn't see anything that meant no muggle on the British coast, looking out to sea, could see him either.

He was nearing the border wards now, he knew. He could feel the slight hum of their magic against his core as he floated forwards. The buffeting of the wind was making it very difficult… Ah. There. Yes. He could just sense the first ward in the line, the wizard detection ward. He concentrated on the space, some five meters in front of him, and with a definite Crack!, felt the weight of the ward shift from his front to his back, only to be replaced with a new magical pressure in front of him, the anti-apparation ward line.

Harry continued his forward push, feeling the magic of the ward build up as he passed through and dim down as he came out the other side. The final ward, a key-in portkey ward, presumably for sanctioned international portkey travel, was similarly flown through, and Harry found himself back in good old English airspace, still soaked to the bone of course, but it was definitely English rain now.

'I hope it's a bit dryer up in Scotland', he mused, before disappearing with a Crack!

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

It turned out that it was quite a bit nicer in Scotland. Harry arrived in the Outer Hebrides to a choppy wind, but no rain. This did mean that Harry was now getting cold, fast, and it took several warming charms to counteract the biting Scottish wind.

Flying over the islands that made up the archipelago, Harry soon found what he was looking for. A small island, steep, rugged, no sign of human inhabitants. He landed next to a cliff face and immediately got to work.

"Defodio!"

The Gouging charm ripped through the stone, creating a very definite indent in the cliff face. He kept his focus on the charm and watched as it started to hollow out a cave.

Several hours later, Harry was exhausted, but had succeeded in digging himself a passage way leading to two hollowed out rooms. 'Really,' he thought, collapsing against a corner wall, 'things would be a lot easier if I could just use Gringotts for my bank vault. But I really don't want to have to explain where I'm getting constant influxes of muggle money. Much better to deposit it all in one go when I introduce the wizarding world to Lord Slytherin. Plus it would be good to have an emergency stash in case Gringotts was unavailable for whatever reason.'

Having gotten his breath back, he picked up his wand and conjured a small camping bed, complete with sleeping bag; through up a notice-me-not on the entrance, along with a couple of temporary detection and muggle repelling wards, and lay his head down for a good long kip.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

FWHOOOOOSHHHHH!

Heat and Light filled Harry's world.

"AAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNGH!"

A roar, louder than anything Harry had ever heard shattered through whatever final remnants of sleep he'd been hanging on to. He struggled out of the sleeping bag, and snatched at his wand. He was still in the cave he'd dug last night, but something seemed to be making a good attempt at joining him.

FWHOOOOOSHHHHH!

Outside the doorway he'd carved last night, leading to the hallway that led straight to the outside world, a train of fire was crashing its way through his makeshift hideaway. The heat was incredible.

When the fire stopped, he pounced over to the doorway, cast the strongest shield charm he knew, rolled into the corridor, and aimed down his brand new, powerful as hell wand, ready to take on whatever the world had thrown at him.

Filling the space of the entrance of the passage, was a head, a head with midnight blue scales, spikes, and a few teeth visible along a closed mouth. A single dark blue eye was pressed against the passageway. It was a Dragon.

"FUCK!" Harry shouted, rolling back into the room he'd been in before, just as another train of fire thundered past where he'd been crouching just moments earlier.

"A dragon! A mother fucking dragon!" Harry screamed at the roof, "Seriously!? Why not a hydra while you're at it! Or maybe a nundu! Because, you know, I don't have enough crap to deal with already!"

His shield would've held for a while, he knew, but it would also have drained him a lot for no good reason. He glared at the doorway and tried to think snakelike thoughts before scream-hissing,"$Hey! Winged Serpent! Would you mind not toasting me? I mean you no harm!$"

There was silence for a moment, before another train of fire answered his call, forcing him further into the room, arms held protectively against his face. It roared again.

'Well, it might have worked', he thought, 'Old Voldy had always been too much of a pussy to go one-on-one with these buggers'.

Harry hit himself on the head with his wand, and felt the familiar egg dribbling over his body, signaling the sensation of being disillusioned; then disapparated with a Crack!

He appeared, floating, some fifty meters behind the dragon, which was now scrabbling at the entrance. He recognized it as a Hebridian Black. A very sarcastic part of his brain was screaming 'A Hebridian Black!? In the Hebrides?! No really?', but he shoved the git into an occlumency prison to focus better on the task at hand.

The dragon seemed to realize that he wasn't there any more, and turned to look for him.

Harry shot towards the beast, and passed just beyond its lunge range.

Seeing both the change in color of Harry's body as he moved, and picking up his smell, the dragon reared onto its hind legs and with one more deafening "AAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNGH!" leapt into the sky.

Harry didn't look back, but just sped away from his cave, trying to lure it out as far as he could.

'Come on,' he thought, 'you guys are known for being aggressive bastards, lets see just how far you'll go.'

Thirty minutes of chase later, and it was still right behind him.

'OK! That's enough of this bullshit!'

Crack!

Harry appeared back at the entrance of his cave and immediately started the complex wand movements for one of the most overpowered charms in the wizarding world's arsenal… The fidelius charm.

Ten minutes later and he'd finished the wand waving work and switched to using his wand to carve the runes at each corner of the cave. The fifteen-inch yew focus had never meant to be for carving work, and the runes were massive as a result, but they'd do for now.

Fifteen minutes after that, Harry ran to the cave's entrance, and started the visualization exercise, putting his master occlumancy to good use, imagining the cave in every minute detail with pin point accuracy. It was a good thing the cave was so basic or this would take ages.

He opened his eyes, and saw the returning dragon in the distance, surrounded by a team of wizards on broomsticks, all shooting red spells at the fearsome creature.

He smiled and brought his wand up and down in a single strong gesture, touching a single rune on the floor, and channeling all the power he could into it.

"Fidelius Occultum!"

And knowledge of the cave, and its soon to be hoard of treasure, disappeared from the world.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Curtis Lawless was frustrated. Why couldn't those Gobshites get anything right? He'd been expecting a big shipment to arrive last week, but they'd been intercepted by the plods and his stocks were starting to run dry. He had a good chunk of the city to supply and, if he ran out, there were plenty of other wholesalers who'd take advantage and move in on his turf.

Normally, he mused, if some unknown ponce had walked in off the street promising to supply, he'd have told him to fuck off, but right now? He was getting desperate.

He glared at the open door to his office in the nightclub he'd made his base of operations. Well, he'd give the wooler five minutes and if the man was fake he'd throw him out, and let the lads deal with him.

Said man now entered, being led by his chief enforcer. The would-be supplier looked… different. His hair was platinum blond, messy, and came down in a sweeping fringe, covering half his forehead. His beard was short and trimmed, and blond like his hair. But his eyes… Curtis stared. The eyes were grey and, when they met his, seemed to pierce straight into him to examine his soul.

"A-aright," he started, "What's your business then Mister? I'm a busy man."

The man nodded. "Mister Lawless. I have a way to move goods across the border safely and quickly. I supply when no one else can. I can supply all your needs without inconvenient interruptions… like shipments being seized at petrol stations."

Curtis looked the man over again. Most drug smugglers looked ordinary so as to attract the least attention possible. This man did not look in anyway ordinary, and he doubted the posh looking tosser had ever not been stopped at customs.

"Look Mister… ah, what's your name?"

"Malfoy."

"Look Mister Malfoy, I don't need to hear stories about what you think you can do. Do you have something for me right now?"

"I have five kilos stored in a safe place from my test run. Now I've sorted it, I'm doing a much larger run in the next few months. The price is ten thousand a kilo."

Curtis exhaled. Five kilos would keep him going for another two months, which would give him breathing room, at the very least, and ten grand a kilo was surprisingly fair. He doubted the man was a plod, he was too flamboyant for that. He was either the real deal or a conman.

"Fine," he said, reaching down into a desk draw, drawing out a chunky mobile phone and tossing it to the blond. "I'll call you sometime in the next few days to give you the where and when. I hope for your sake that you can deliver."

The man nodded respectfully, and left the office leaving Curtis and his chief enforcer alone.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry, deep in his makeshift, accidentally dragon-guarded vault, collapsed into a conjured armchair, and contemplated his progress. Mr. Lawless's men had been shocked when he'd just stepped out from behind one of the trees—He guessed they'd been expecting him to drive to the specified, middle-of-nowhere field—but it had all gone well, for once. He now had a small bag filled with fifty thousand pounds in fifty-pound notes.

He looked at the phone, now resting on a table. He'd had to camp out in a muggle hotel for two days to wait for the call—the phone wouldn't receive reception under the fidelius, or other high magic areas—and it had taken a lot to convince the men they wouldn't be able to contact him in future. He'd placated them by explaining he was working on a communication method that was safer and more secure than the public phone network, but it hadn't been easy.

It was now mid October and he needed to get a move on to keep things on track. He was working to a schedule, and the first deadline was getting closer… the winter solstice. On the twenty-first of December, his family magics would kick in and create a seat for him on the Wizangamot. If he didn't have a proxy ready to accept it for him, then, if a full assembly were called, he'd be legally required to turn up in person, which he still wasn't ready for. Annoyingly, the winter solstice was one of those full assemblies.

He sat up straighter, grabbed his wand, and started transfiguring his appearance again. It was time to make his first foray into the British magical community. He needed a trunk—a nice, expensive, roomy, multi compartment, shrinkable trunk—and he sure as hell wasn't going to look like either a Potter or a Malfoy as he did it.

And after that… well, if he hurried, he could dash to Afghanistan—Turkey couldn't really supply in bulk with the new regulations—load up his new trunk with farm-gate priced junk, pop it in his pocket, and be back in Britain for early to mid November.

That should net between 400 thousand to 600 thousand pounds, or around eight thousand to twelve thousand galleons, which should be sufficient for what he was planning next. Lord Slytherin was an unknown quantity after all, and if he wanted any hope of securing the allies he'd need, he needed to make quite an impression.

Chapter Text

Lord Jacob Greengrass, of the Ancient and Nobel house of Greengrass, was looking through Flourish and Blotts for the latest edition of Who's Who of Magical Britain.

"Good day Lord Greengrass," said a voice behind him. He turned, and found himself face to face with the all too familiar face of Lord James Potter.

"Good day Lord Potter," he said, his voice making it clear it had just become less so.

"I was wondering if you've given any more thought to supporting the upcoming bill on restricting dangerous artifacts?" the man smiled the smug smile that he wanted to hex off every time he saw it, "You know its something that has to be done."

"I still know nothing of the sort Lord Potter. Perhaps I'd be more willing to support such a bill if what it defined as a 'dangerous artifact' wasn't worded as to potentially include such things as quills and trunks."

"Oh come on. It's not that bad, and we have to give the ministry some room to interpret the law as needed for the situation." Lord Potter gestured to the figure of Lord Sirius Black, Chief Auror of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, who was standing chatting to his Lady Greengrass.

"Yes. That's exactly what I'm afraid of."

"I'm sorry?"

"You're asking us to ratify a bill that would give him," he nodded towards Black, "the power to confiscate any item at all on his own discretion."

"Oh nonsense, there will be safeguards."

Jacob suppressed a snort. "To be decided upon later no doubt? Preferably when Merlin returns from beyond the veil, no — I'm sorry Lord Potter. The neutrals, as we seem to be known, will not be supporting this bill; not until it includes sensible wording, safeguards, and a specific list of prohibited items."

Lord Potter's eyes narrowed. "We're going to win this you know."

"I know you're going to try."

"You think we aren't aware of how much of the Greengrass wealth comes from items of dubious legality."

"There is nothing we trade in that is not legal."

"Only because of loopholes in the law." Potter's voice lowered. "Loopholes that you are trying to stop us fixing."

He sighed, frustrated. "The so called loopholes you speak of are not loopholes, they are exemptions, put in the law for good reasons. And now, if you'll excuse me, I really have to find this book and be on my way."

Lord Potter straightened, but couldn't quite suppress a sneer. "Of course, Lord Greengrass." He left.

Jacob stared after the man, who was now fussing over his son, John Potter, the much worshiped Boy-Who-Lived. A small girl with weasley-red hair was hanging off the boy's arm.

"How was your conversation with Lord Potter dear?"

He turned and beheld the most beautiful woman in the universe. "Still a sanctimonious git," he said. "I'm really not feeling great about this bill."

"Oh?" His wife, the Lady Sunny Greengrass, took his arm, and gently led him away from the bustle, towards a quieter nook.

"Our position is worsening. In the last year we've lost Parkinson to Malfoy, and Abbott to Potter. How much more can we take until there is no one left to fight for a sane world?"

"We are doing everything we can my love."

Lord Greengrass sighed. He knew that was true. He was pulling out everything he had to shore up the rag tag alliance that was the neutral faction, no matter how distasteful.

"How did Daphne react when you told her?" he asked.

Sunny's smile faded. "She was… less than pleased."

Jacob winced. He loved his girls with all his heart, and to do what he was doing tore him up. But what choice did he have? If the alliance fell apart the Greengrass family was finished. Politically, socially, financially, and, if they chose the wrong side in any potential war, physically. Over a thousand years of history, gone. And it would all be his fault.

He desperately wanted to change the subject. "How was your conversation with Black?"

"Oh, he's his usual loud self." She smirked, looking over a nearby shelf towards the light wizards. "Although, it does seem he may be having a problem with his beloved daughter."

"Oh?"

"Apparently, she's starting to get dangerous ideas." The smirk widened. "She keeps asking questions about the morality of magic, about why some magic is classified as dark and others as light."

"Oh yes," he said, starting to smirk as well.

"Her Daddy is worried she may be going down a dark and dangerous path."

"A Black? Walking the path of dark magic? Surely not."

"Apparently his biggest worry is that she'll get sorted into Slytherin, and he'll lose his little baby girl forever." Sunny was barely holding back laughter now.

Jacob craned his neck over the nearby shelf, and spied the distinctive long, black hair of Alexandra Black. While most of the Potters, Blacks, and the Weasley hanger-on were grouped together, laughing and being loud, the Black heiress was on her own, and if his memory of Flourish and Blotts served him, was in a less than light section of the bookshop.

"I suppose it would be too much to hope that we could drag her into our camp," he said.

"Well, she is just a year below our Daphne, and a year above Astoria, so if she gets sorted into Slytherin, it's not impossible."

"I just hope we last that long."

"We will." She kissed him on the cheek.

Ten minutes later, after finding and buying the book, Lord and Lady Greengrass were walking back down Diagon Alley to the Leaky Cauldron floo connection. He'd entered the pub, and was about to reach for the floo powder after his wife, when a man approached him.

"Lord Greengrass?"

"Yes?" The man was hooded, hiding his face.

"I was wondering if I might impose upon you for a chat at some point in the not too distant future? I have something to discuss with you that will be of interest."

He was about to firmly rebuff the unknown, hooded gentleman when the man brought his empty hands to his front and very deliberately rubbed the back of his hand, drawing attention to a ring that appeared on his finger. Jacob's eyes bulged.

It was a head of house ring, but that wasn't what shocked him.

'No,' he thought, his brain struggling to make sense of what he was seeing. 'The line's lost. It's been lost for centuries.' But there was no mistaking it. Every boy and girl who'd spent seven years in the snake pit could draw that crest by memory, blindfolded.

Then his brain finally caught up with his eyes, and he remembered who the most probable candidate for heir to the Slytherin line had been. He gulped.

"No, I am not he," the man said, presumably seeing the fear that must have leaked onto his face through his occlumency barriers.

"…But, you are…?" he looked at the ring again.

"Yes."

"What do you want to talk about?"

"I know of the situation you face in the Wizangamot. I believe that I hold the answers to many, if not most of your problems."

Lord Greengrass looked at the man, properly this time. The black robes, tinted with green, and tastefully embroidered at the edges with silver, were of the finest acromantula silk, and below the robes he caught glimpses of dragon hide. What little the man displayed screamed wealth, power, and sophistication.

"I would be honored to welcome you into my home, at two o'clock tomorrow, if that suits your fancy, my lord."

"It does, Lord Greengrass." And with a short bow, he turned and walked away, before disaparating with a loud Crack!

Jacob stared into space before realizing Sunny was probably going mental on the other side of the floo. Although, now he thought about it, it was likely nothing to her reaction when she learned that they had less than twenty-four hours before they hosted Lord Frikin Slytherin.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry stood in his cave-vault, and cast a critical eye over himself in a full-length mirror.

Yesterday's time in the alley had brought mixed feelings.

One the one hand, he'd barely been able to suppress his instincts to lash out when he saw the Potters walking down the street. The bitterness fueled by ten years of dementor hell was still almost overwhelming. On the other hand, seeing how smug and content his brother was with Weasley on his arm, stayed his hand, and reminded him how good it would feel to rip the two apart and mold her to his whims.

John Potter was still a child at the moment, and wouldn't return in time from his first death at the graveyard for another few years. The knowledge that John would lose Ginny, not once, but twice, made him feel warm and fuzzy. How he hoped he could see the look on The-Fake-Boy-Who-Lived's face when he 'wakes up' on his eleventh birthday to find the girl, who'd obsessed over John since he was five, and who John had grown to love, now loved his dark, evil, future-criminal brother.

Then there had been Alexandra Black.

In the last timeline, she'd been… amazing.

She was a year below him, but had quickly made her mark in the snake pit. When she got a letter from home saying her father had purged the Black library of all the 'dark' books, she'd pitched a fit that had been etched into the mind of every student who'd seen it. It had taken the house elves days to fix all the damage, and she'd only been a first year.

Later on, she'd joined Voldemort straight out of Hogwarts, and the visions he'd received painted a picture of a younger, saner, Bellatrix Lestrange. She was smart, driven, beautiful, deadly, and—if the visions from Voldemort were any indication—trainable. In other words, she would make a perfect Lady Slytherin.

Finally, there had been Lord Greengrass. The man seemed amiable, and the one duel he'd seen him in had been solid, even if the former king of Slytherin house had died on the end of Voldemort's wand. It was his unofficial position as leader of the neutrals that drew him to him. That, and his daughter, the ice queen of Slytherin, would no doubt make a good ally.

Harry finished getting ready, checked his transfiguration one last time, apparated to the Hog's Head, and stepped into the floo.

"Greengrass manor!"

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Lord Greengrass jumped to his feet as the floo flared green and the same hooded figure he'd met in the Leaky Cauldron stepped out. The figure immediately drew his hood down, and smiled.

"Lord Greengrass, thank you for inviting me."

Jacob stepped forward to shake the man's hand. He was shocked. Lord Slytherin's face was far younger than he'd expected. Maybe twenty? Maybe twenty-five?

"Lord Slytherin, we are both honored and surprised to be welcoming you to our home," he gestured to the witches in his life, who stepped forward.

Lord Slytherin took Sunny's hand and brushed his lips against her knuckles, who looked quite happy at the charm offensive. The new lord repeated the gesture with Daphne and Astoria. Daphne giggled, and Jacob thought he saw a flicker of surprise flash across Slytherin's face.

Ten minutes later both he and Lord Slytherin were sat in his office, opposite each other in plush leather armchairs.

"So, the Wizangamot."

"Indeed. Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first. The winter solstice is coming up soon, and the chamber will be acknowledging my ascendancy."

"Which I am very interested to hear about. But I suppose you want to know what's in it for you, to ally yourself with the neutrals?"

Slytherin smiled. "We can talk about how I became Lord Slytherin later. As for your other question… No."

"No?"

"I already know what's in it for me. I am grey, through and through. For the purposes of this discussion, I am also neutral."

"And by neutral you mean…?"

"I mean I side neither with the bigots of the Dark, who would see our world destroyed in a sea of hate, nor the fools of the Light, who would see our culture destroyed and our lives ruled by an almighty, draconian ministry."

Jacob nodded, "So you are offering unconditional support. That is most welcome."

"Well sort of."

Jacob frowned. "Sort of?"

"The neutrals are losing and I don't accept losing. Tell me Lord Greengrass, what do the neutrals stand for?"

He was momentarily thrown both by the blunt statement and by the question. "Well, I think you said it yourself. We are a group of people who believe that both the Light and the Dark are extremists who will tear apart our world if left unchecked."

"And what are you fighting towards?"

"I'm sorry, isn't that what I said?"

"Not really, you said you are fighting to maintain the status quo. That doesn't move towards anything. It is keeping things as they are."

"But keeping things as they are is the point, for the most part anyway."

"Yes, but that doesn't change that the status quo is neither sexy, nor appealing to the young and impressionable. Think about how Voldemort was able to forge the Dark out of the children of the ancient and noble houses. And how Dumbledore rallied the children of both half-blood and pure-blood families into the Light."

He turned over the implications of what the young lord was saying in his head. "So, you're suggesting we need a mission? Something to rally a new generation around?"

"Yes."

"And no doubt you already have such a mission in mind."

Lord Slytherin swirled the brandy he'd given the man earlier and looked far away before returning to the here and now. "I am sick and tired Lord Greengrass; sick and tired of the aspersions made against my house, sick and tired of those who believe that Slytherin stands for hate and bigotry. Sick of those who believe that to be cunning and ambitious is to be evil, that to use old magic is to be evil. And sick of those who use my house's name as justification for their horrific actions."

Jacob was surprised. Sure, he'd heard the same points made many times before, usually whispered from one neutral to another at parties, afraid they'd be overheard by a Dark sided wizard and denounced for heresy, but to hear Lord Slytherin himself speak them so brazenly had a galvanizing effect.

"You are proposing the resurrection of Slytherin house with neutral ideals as a rallying point for the neutral faction."

"Yes."

He sat back and thought. It was an ambitious plan. It involved shifting the entire philosophical stance of a good chunk of the wizarding world. But with Lord Slytherin as a legitimizing force, it might be possible to win back a good number of more liberal Dark siders and more conservative Light siders.

"Such a plan depends heavily on your abilities and power as Lord Slytherin."

"Well, money is no issue, with the ascendancy to the Slytherin Lordship I was made privy to a number of family secrets that secure more than enough wealth. As for magical power… well… Do you have a dueling room?"

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry stood, tall, powerful, robes whipping around his feet in a swirl of barely contained magic. Time to see how much all that battle time camped in Voldy's head translated to actual dueling instincts.

"Standard European Dueling Rules," called Lord Greengrass from the far side of the huge, warded dueling room.

"Standard? How about Extended Class B?" he countered, "We are the grey faction after all."

Greengrass looked at him for a long moment before offering a small smile. "Very well, Extended Class B Rules. Joint countdown from three — starting on one."

Lady Sunny stood to the side, fidgeting incessantly with the cuff of her robes.

They both raised their wands.

"Three, Two, One!"
"Three, Two, One!"

A flurry of spells shot towards Harry, all intending to take him out, but he swatted them out of the air before they reached him halfway. One particularly nasty looking purple spell wouldn't be swatted, and he dodged it, bringing up a shield to absorb the stunner his opponent had hidden in its shadow.

'Nice and steady,' he thought.

A stun, shield-breaker, stun combo failed as Harry conjured a rock to block the shield-breaker, and let the stunners splash, uselessly, on his wordlessly cast protego.

Lord Greengrass, seeing that Harry wasn't attacking him, started casting more complex spells. Transfigured animals fell to his mid-range flame whip, magical fog was blown away with a miniature hurricane, and illusions totally failed to fool his magical sensing ability.

'Going well,' he thought.

Then, Jacob Greengrass struck.

All at once, Harry found himself boxed in by a banish, shield breaker, stun combo on one side, a transfigured animal attack on another, and a delayed firewall activation on the third. It was a masterfully executed pincer movement, and left no normal escape route.

The brief look of victory on his opponent's face died when Harry shot upwards and floated some ten feet above the ground.

He grinned. 'My turn.'

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Jacob Greengrass realized he was being humored less then thirty seconds into the duel. He'd been a high ranked duelist on the international circuit earlier in life, and was used to the back and forth rhythm of a good solid duel. This guy though… this guy was simply more powerful then him. Slytherin wasn't even trying to conserve energy. He swatted or shielded against spells instead of dodging them. He made no effort to move around the dueling arena, just stood in one spot, and he left huge holes in his casting lineup, in which he should have been attacking.

'OK,' he thought, 'you want to play it like that?'

Conjured rocks became a pack of attack dogs charmed with a confundo.

'Holy Merlin, did he just use a flame whip?'

Conjured fog surrounded Lord Slytherin and was moments away from freezing solid.

'Holy Damn.' he thought, struggling to maintain his footing as a blow-you-away wind shredded his fog.

Two copies of himself sprang from his body and started casting, rapid fire, which Slytherin just ignored and allowed to pass through him.

'How. The. Hell? Right, enough pissing around.'

After several more failed attacks, he sprang his trap, the one that had earned him his highest ever rank in competition, and watched as a brief moment of shock passed across Slytherin's face.

'HAH! Yes, that's right! Got yo—.'

He gaped. His infuriating opponent had somehow, inexplicably, flown up into the air, completely dodging his best shot at winning.

Lord Slytherin grinned at him.

'Ohhh shit.'

Barely twenty seconds later it was all over, and had mostly been an exercise in showing off. He was now trapped, helpless, in the coils of a live, giant snake, surrounded on all sides by conjured swords, all pointed straight at him.

"Do you yield?" Slytherin asked, descending to the floor like an avenging angel descending from heaven.

He looked at the man who'd just completely over powered him, incredulous. "Yes, I yield."

Slytherin hissed a command at the snake and it slithered away, releasing him as the swords all disappeared. He shrugged. After everything he'd just seen, that Lord Slytherin was a parselmouth was possibly the least surprising revelation.

He briefly shared a look of understanding with his wife, who'd been standing off the side, staring at the young man in the middle of room with undisguised awe.

"I hope you're convinced of my abilities now Lord Greengrass."

"Certainly, and please, call me Jacob."

Slytherin smiled, "Then please call me Harry."

They shook hands.

"I guess that flying spell must be a Slytherin family spell then. The only other I've heard who could do that was You-Know-Who."

"Yes, the legacy of Slytherin is quite amazing."

"I'll say. So Harry, going to let us in on how you came by the Lordship?"

"Yes, but before I do I have one more request of you. I need someone to stand in as proxy for me for my seat. Do you have any recommendations?"

He was again surprised. "Why would you want a proxy?"

"I have a very good reason, at least in the short term, which is part of the details of how I came by the Lordship. Anyone spring to mind?"

"Well," he glanced at his wife, "I suppose Sunny could if it's really necessary. She's had all the training."

Sunny nodded, still staring at the man she now knew was called Harry.

"OK. Shall we retire to somewhere more comfortable?"

Ten minutes and some Wizengamot strategizing later, Jacob was sat across from Harry, on the comfy living room sofa, with Sunny by his side. They'd developed quite a good rapport; Sunny especially, seemed to be getting on well with him.

"So, Harry, going to keep us in suspense all night?" Sunny joked.

Harry smiled, "You have to understand, by telling you what I'm about to tell you, I'm trusting you with a good number of very important secrets. I know we are now allies but if these facts became public knowledge-"

"-You don't have to worry about that," Sunny interrupted before reddening slightly, "I-I mean."

He smoothly cut in, "What my Lady means, is that we'd like to think ourselves worthy of our word."

"Of course… OK then, big reveal time." Harry took a vial of milky blue liquid from the inside pocket of his robes. "Do you know what this is?"

"No," he replied.

"This is the antidote to ageing potion." The young man then uncorked the bottle and swigged the whole vial in one go.

Before their eyes, the man started to transform, his strong features softened, his eyes got larger in proportion to his face, his whole body shrank, and his clothes morphed themselves to his new form. The man sitting across from them was now a boy.

"Whaaa?"

Sunny was speechless.

"This is the main reason I cannot take my seat on the Wizangamot. I was born on July thirty-first, a mere eight years ago. It would cause too many questions to be asked."

Jacob was stunned. Too many questions was right. Too many questions were piling up in his head right now. He'd had no idea what to suspect when the man… boy… when Harry had said he couldn't take his seat; a long lost decedent of the Slytherin line, a bastard perhaps? The son of a squib maybe? But whatever he was expecting this wasn't it. One main thought fought its way to the front and shouted loud enough to be heard.

"So… I just got my ass handed to me by an eight year old?"

Harry smiled, "Yes Jacob, yes you did."

Sunny spoke up. "How Harry? How did the family magics recognize you so early? You're not supposed to be recognized until you hit your majority. And why now? Why not a year earlier or a year later?"

"Ah, that is very much a Slytherin family secret."

"But you are going to tell us how you are of the Slytherin line?" Jacob asked, remembering the incredibly one-sided fight he'd just had. "You're not You-know-Who's lost son or something are you? Come to think of it, how are you so damn powerful? And know so much magic? And how do you have a wand? I can't imagine th—"

"Please, one question at a time. And most of those are also Slytherin family secrets. But I can tell you how I ascended to the Lordship. Even if I can't explain the timing."

They sat, expectant.

"Before I continue, I must remind you that my name is Harry. Not anything else. OK?"

They nodded.

Harry pointed his wand at himself, said "finite incantatem," and his face was wiped clean, replaced by another face, a far more familiar face.

"John Potter!" He jumped up, anger flowing into him.

"Lord Greengrass! What did I just tell you?"

He stilled, taken aback. "Oh. Ah, yes. My apologies." He sat down again, very carefully, feeling sheepish for his outburst while everyone remained silent.

Sunny was staring intently at the John Potter lookalike, as though trying to work out a puzzle.

"My name is Harry. I was born on the July thirty-first, 1980. I have a twin brother. I'm sure you can see where this is going."

Jacob's eyes bulged despite himself. "You're the brother of the Boy-Who-Lived? I never heard he had one. I've never seen you. Or heard of you. Ever."

"That is because after Voldemort's"—both he and his wife flinched—"attack, I was abandoned by my parents."

"What!" Sunny shouted. "How could they? Why?"

"Tell me, what are the ways you can acquire a Lordship?"

Jacob thought for a moment. "You have to be male, and blood related within three degrees of relation."

"Other ways?"

"Um… You can be blood adopted, but that's considered dark magic now, and illegal."

"Yes, that's two ways. Any others?"

He sat in silence, stumped.

Sunny spoke up, quietly. "Right of conquest."

Harry sat back and smiled a smile with no warmth. "Exactly."

Something seemed to be passing between Harry and his wife, her eyes were widening, and her breathing had become labored.

"No," she whispered.

"Yes," said Harry.

"What?" he said, totally in the dark.

"Dear," his wife said, "Who was the last of the Slytherin line?"

"Well… Rumor said it was You-Know-Who."

"And what is right of conquest?"

"It says that a line will pass to the conquer of the last of the line, so long as the last of the line initiates the conflict that ends in their death."

"So?"

"But… But Harry didn't defeat You-Know-Who, John Potter did."

"Oh come on Jacob! She cried, exasperated, "Can't you see what's going on here? If John were the defeater of You-Know-Who, he'd be Lord Slytherin. He isn't, Harry is."

His eyes widened. "John Potter isn't the Boy-Who-Lived? You are?"

Harry sighed. "Yes."

"Why did they abandon you then? Wait, why would they abandon you anyway? And why does everyone believe John Potter defeated You-Know-Who?"

"Three answers, Dumbledore, Dumbledore, and Dumbledore."

"What did Dumbledore do?" Sunny asked, she looked to be getting agitated and he couldn't blame her. How could anyone abandon their child, especially when they were so obviously magically powerful? He could understand if a family abandoned a squib, even if he didn't agree with it, but someone like Harry? It was unthinkable, despicable.

"I could tell you, but it would put both you and your family in very real danger from very powerful people who will want the knowledge. Do you still want me to tell you?"

They looked at each other and nodded, before he replied, "Yes." They were in too deep to back out now.

"Very well. Some nine years ago, there was a prophecy made. A prophecy which said a child would be born with the power to defeat the Dark Lord, a child who would be marked by the Dark Lord as his equal, and who would have a power that the Dark Lord knows not, and that either must die at the hands of the other."

They both stared at him, wide eyed.

"Dumbledore decided that any wizard who fit the criteria laid down by the prophecy was too dangerous to be allowed to be allowed to freely develop their abilities, so, when he realized the prophecy referred to me, he arranged for me to grow up with muggles, unaware of my heritage, unaware of my magic."

Sunny was starting to get teary eyed now. Jacob just looked on, stony faced.

"I'm still not sure how the bastard managed to convince my parents — they don't seem to know John isn't the true Boy-Who-Lived, but I have a few theories." He sighed again, "Dumbledore's plan was to keep me as weak as possible, all the way through my early years, through my time at Hogwarts, until it was time for me to 'face my destiny', where upon I'd be rolled out to either kill or be killed."

"Wait," Sunny interjected, "why would you need to do that? You-Know-Who's dead."

Harry gave her a look.

She shrieked. "He's not dead!"

Harry shook his head.

His mind was reeling, but a loose strand tugged at him. Something wasn't quite right here, but he couldn't put his finger on it… "Wait," he said, "If You-Know-Who's not dead how did you claim the Lordship?"

"That's part of the power he knows not. Its the same reason I'm so much more powerful than most children my age, and is something I am very definitely keeping to myself for the moment."

Jacob collapsed backwards into the sofa, still trying to reconcile the eight-year-old boy sitting in front of him, with the commanding, charismatic, powerful young man he'd fought against not thirty minutes before. "It's all so much to take in. I don't know where to start thinking."

Sunny spoke up. "We should start with the winter solstice Wizangamot session, and work from there."

"Right."

 

Chapter Text

Daphne Greengrass sat in a garden chair, bathing in the mid-morning sunlight, practicing her occlumency. It helped her focus, and she needed the distraction. The feelings of helplessness had been getting stronger, like a fist squeezing her heart.

"Daphne, we have a guest for you to meet."

She looked up to see her mum leading—no, walking with…

"I already know John Potter Mother", she said, distain etched across her face.

The boy continued walking right up to her. "I assure you, Miss Greengrass, although I may look like John Potter, I most certainly am not John Potter." He held out his hand, and, creating an over whelming sense of deja vu, took her hand as she reached out, brushing his lips against her knuckles.

'This certainly isn't John Potter,' she thought, surprised at his manners. Her eyes trailed over a very obvious lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead. 'Who is he?'

"Harry is taking a break from business with your father, and I suggested that since you are the same age, and will be going to Hogwarts together, you might show him around the gardens?"

She looked over the boy. Something wasn't quite right.

"Harry who?"

The boy smiled. "Just Harry for now Miss Greengrass. My family name is a Greengrass family secret."

Daphne's head whipped around to her mother who just nodded.

She returned her gaze to Harry, and narrowed her eyes. If this boy was going to be all secretive then she had no reason to be familiar.

"Very well, Mister Harry. Would you follow me?"

"Lead on Miss Greengrass."

The pair walked away from the patio, and into the garden proper. It was a big garden.

Daphne couldn't help stealing glances at the boy walking beside her. Something about him was different. He walked with confidence, but he didn't strut, like many of the other boys did. He wasn't talking much, but it wasn't shyness, more a comfortable silence. She'd never seen him at family parties, but his clothes were very rich.

"Mister Harry, what kind of business do you have with my father?"

"We were working on a plan for something he's doing in the Wizangamot."

She scoffed. "There's no way Father would ask for help from children like us for his Wizangamot work. You're a liar Mister Harry. What were you really doing with him?"

They'd reached the top of a ridge overlooking the flowerbeds.

She expected him to react angrily to her comment. Any of the other boys would have, especially after being caught in a bare faced lie, unless they were timid, which the boy didn't seem to be. Instead, he smiled at her. It was quite a nice smile.

"Miss Greengrass. In the wizarding world, you have to accept that sometimes, everything is not quite what it seems. This is a nice place isn't it," he said, turning to the beds.

"Wha? Er. Yes. Wait, what was that before supposed to mean?" She glared, putting her hands on her hips, and trying to look indignant, like she'd seen her mum do when her dad was failing to be funny. It didn't seem to be working.

"Care for a seat?"

Now she was just confused. "There are no seats."

Her eyes widened when the boy produced a wand from somewhere, and her jaw dropped when the boy silently conjured a large, comfy looking garden chair for her.

"W-w-w-w-wha-what. H-how?"

Boys weren't supposed to be able to do that. She'd never even seen an adult wizard do that, but this boy had just done it.

"Like I said," the boy said, conjuring a second chair for himself and seating himself with a loud Whumpf, "things in the wizarding world aren't always what they seem."

The boy was looking at her expectantly, and she carefully sat down in the chair, as though expecting it to disappear the moment she trusted it to hold her weight.

"Your garden really is very nice, do you come out here a lot?"

Daphne was being thrown. Somehow she'd lost control of the momentum of the conversation. And the boy still hadn't answered her question, or gotten angry.

"Y-yes quite a lot. I—" She hesitated "I like the outdoors."

He smiled that annoyingly nice smile again. "I like the outdoors too," then his smile faded, "there's nothing worse than being trapped inside."

Silence descended on them again, and again, the boy didn't seem to mind. He stared out over the grounds, and she couldn't help think how mature he looked. Was it possible he'd been serious before?

"Um, Mister Harry?"

"You can call me Harry you know."

"OK, Harry," she said, belatedly realizing she'd just happily accepted his permission to use his first name, when she was the one who'd decided to snub him with the honorific. "How do you have a wand? We're not supposed to have a wand until we go to Hogwarts."

"That is one of my own family secrets."

She hurumphed. "I wish I had a wand. We have lots of old ones, but Father won't let me use them."

"You are practicing wandless magic though aren't you?"

"What? No. Only really powerful wizards can use wandless magic."

"That's not true. You were practicing occlumency before weren't you?"

"I… that doesn't count."

"It really does you know. Being good at occlumency is the first step in being able to learn wandless spells."

"Really?"

"Oh yes. And there are lots of other types of magic for which being a good occlumens is important; like transfiguration, and becoming an animagus."

Daphne sighed. "I so want to become an animagus." She looked up at the birds flying around the gardens. To be free like them, what she wouldn't give.

"Yeah, me too," he paused before continuing, "tell you what, when we're at Hogwarts, why don't we learn it together?"

She widened her eyes again. "Can we do that?"

"Sure, why not, just don't tell your parents we had this conversation, OK?"

She smiled. The boy, Harry, may be keeping secrets, but he didn't seem too bad. And if his skill with a wand was any indication, he'd be a useful person to have around.

"OK."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Harry sat opposite Jacob and Sunny, finishing up the latest round of correspondence between Lord Slytherin and the various members of the neutral faction.

"Harry, we'd like to talk to you about Daphne," said Sunny, breaking him out of his focus.

"Oh yes?"

Sunny seemed to hesitate before plunging on. "For the last few months we've been engaged in talks with Lord Walter Slughorn about a possible betrothal contract between him and Daphne."

'The nephew of the potions master,' Harry thought, 'I can see why they'd do that; the Slughorn family are notorious networkers.'

The Greengrasses were looking at him, at though expecting something.

"Well, it makes sense," he said, "from a strategic point of view."

Jacob took over, "Yes, that's why we were doing it, but, well…"

"Daphne isn't really that happy with it," Sunny jumped in again, "he's quite a bit older than she is, when they marry on her majority he'd be almost fifty, and I think she was expecting something else, and we really don't like it much either, but if we don't have a good excuse for breaking off the negotiations we might alienate an important lord who we were trying to secure," she finished in one long breath.

"I see."

"We were wondering," She took a second deep breath, "we were wondering if we could offer you her betrothal instead."

Harry's eyes widened slightly, he really should have seen that coming, but it still blindsided him. "Um, wow… My Lord and Lady Greengrass, I'm very honored, Daphne is a wonderful person, and I'm sure one day she'd make a wonderful wife… though I must admit I was already considering another."

"Its OK, Harry. You don't have to give an answer now, but promise us you'll consider it… please?" Sunny implored.

"I will consider it."

"That's all we ask."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Daphne was waiting in the manor foyer. She'd been told Harry was taking her somewhere today. Recently, for some reason, her parents seemed to be very keen for her to spend time with Harry.

Her mother had made it very clear that Harry was in charge, and that she should listen to him, which had annoyed her. She could look after herself after all, but, at the same time, she could see where they were coming from. In the last few weeks, Harry had shown a skill with magic that bordered on the mythical. It seemed to her there was nothing he couldn't do.

"Good morning Miss Greengrass."

She turned. "Good morning Harry. Are you going to tell me where we're going then?"

"Well, I thought I'd make it a surprise, but I suppose I could give you a clue."

"Go on then."

Harry took out his wand, waved it over her, and her robes changed into something that could only be described as extremely muggle.

"What is this?" she shouted, "Why am I wearing boys clothes?"

"You've never seen girls wearing trousers before?"

"Well, yes." She blushed. "But I've never worn them myself."

"Wow. Pureblood princess indeed."

"Shut up Mister. What is this stuff anyway?" She felt the cool, smooth material that covered her; it felt warm and snug on the inside. The top was bright blue with orange dangly things attached. The trousers were dark green and made of the same material. Her shoes now felt massive, like wearing bricks.

"It's outdoor gear. It's what muggles wear when they're going exploring."

Daphne perked up at that. "Really? We're going exploring?"

"Well, neither of us have been where we're going, even if I do know quite a bit about it, so sure, lets go with that."

"And we're getting there, how?"

"Knight bus"

"Oooo, I've never been on the knight bus before! Lead on then Harry."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Daphne was on a buzz high.

"That was amazing!"

"…"

"It was just so wavy! All over the place."

"…"

"You OK Harry?" She suddenly noticed he looked a little ill.

"…Next time… I'll just disillusion us, and we'll go by broomstick," Harry said, bent over slightly, hands on his knees.

"Oooo! That would be amazing too!" She looked around. "Where are we anyway?"

The bus had dumped them on a roadside, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Green hills stretched as far as the eye could see. Down in the valleys she could see woods growing around streams. There wasn't a single other person, muggle or magical, anywhere. A light mist hung in the air, peaceful, ethereal.

"Welcome to Dartmoor."

"Dartmoor?" she exclaimed, "Home of the faeries?"

He grinned. "Not for a very, very long time. And what we're here for is far less likely to bewitch us into insanity, so don't worry."

"That's very reassuring Mister Harry… It is very pretty though."

"Well, we're going deeper now. Have you ever side along apparated?"

Daphne nodded, not even bothering to register shock that someone her age could apparate. The normal rules didn't seem to apply to Harry. The fact they were here, on their own, was testament to that. Her parents had barely let her out of their sight her entire life, and suddenly here she was.

Harry held out his arm to her, she took it, and they both felt the distinctive squeezing sensation.

Crack!

Daphne, still on Harry's arm, appeared on the top of another hill. She quickly looked around.

"What's that?" she asked, examining a landscape filled with grass and rocks. The rocks were laid out in a big circle filled with lots of smaller squares and circles. It looked like a blueprint drawn in the earth.

"That is Grimspound," Harry replied. "It's an ancient Bronze Age settlement; both muggles and magicals lived there, probably either druids or Viking rune-smiths, hard to say though. It was named after grim, the god of war, or Odin as he's better known today. The muggles bred cattle, and the magicals bred unicorns."

"It's beautiful."

"If we walk down we can go explore it, it's a really cool place."

Harry wiggled his arm, and she realized she was still holding it, and quickly let go, face flushing red. It had felt entirely too natural.

Five minutes later, Daphne was running from ruined hut to ruined hut, thoroughly enjoying the squelching feeling of her boots in the boggy ground around the settlement.

"I don't suppose there are still unicorns around are there?" she called over to Harry who sat atop a stone pillar, the remains of a large gate.

"Fraid not," he called back, "the only herd in England is in Cumbria."

She stilled. "Where I live?"

"Yeah."

"You mean, I've lived near a unicorn herd all my life, and didn't know it?"

"Sounds like it."

"Damn," she whispered.

"You OK?" He walked closer.

"Sorry Harry, I think I just realized how little I've seen of the world. I was raised in Greengrass Manor. I've been to the other manors of the noble houses, and occasionally the alleys, but that's it. My idea of outside, up until now, has been the garden, but this…"—she gestured to the vast expanse of moorland—"is so much more."

Harry smiled. "Want to see even more?"

"Yes!"

Several hours of hiking across moorland later, and Daphne found herself in front of a gate leading into a wood.

"And this place is?" she asked, still breathless from the long hike over the hills. She had never felt like this before. She felt so… alive.

"This is Yarner wood. The muggles have a bird nesting program going on here, so there are a lot of different species in there."

"Then let's go." Daphne grabbed his hand and pulled him forward.

Soon she was surrounded by the happy sounds of songbirds.

"It's winter at the moment, so there aren't as many as other times of the year, but its still nice, don't you think?"

"Yes, it is," she said. It was so tranquil.

"We've still got a ways to go, common." This time, Harry grabbed her hand.

"Gah!"

Three hours later, Daphne was exhausted. She felt like they'd walked all over this forest. She'd cooed over bird boxes, and pointed, excited, to every bird she'd seen.

Harry seemed distracted though.

"You OK?" she asked, sitting on a convenient rock to catch her breath. Her calves, thighs, and butt were on fire.

"Yeah, just didn't feel what I was looking for."

"What were you looking for?"

"I'm on the lookout for a specific bird species. It's a little side project of mine. I'll let you know more later, but we should be heading back now."

"OK." She paused, looking deep into his green eyes, before continuing, "Thank you for bringing me here Harry."

"Hey, no problem, we're friends right?"

She smiled, hearing him say it felt nice. "Yeah, friends."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Chief Warlock of the Wizangamot, Albus Percival Wolfric Brian Dumbledore, arrived in the Wizangamot chambers. There was a group of wizards and witches standing in a huddle around one of the seats, and, with a politician's instincts for where the action was, he wandered over.

"Good morning Jeffery, good morning Richardson, Cliff, Abbott."

The wizard addressed as Jeffery turned.

"Good morning Albus. Have you seen this?"

"No, I don't think—" he froze, looking down at the crest on the back and arms of the chair they'd been crowding.

"Ah, that… oh dear."

"Albus," said the one known as Richardson, "surely there has been some kind of mistake, or it is a joke."

"I'm afraid that's not possible. The Wizangamot chambers are controlled by the Albion family magics. There is no way to fool it; to do so you'd have to tamper with the ancient magics woven by Merlin himself."

"Well then," another wizard said, "who is it? After all this time?"

"No doubt we are about to find out."

Without fanfare, he slid the elder wand out of its holster on his wrist, and kept it ready in his wand hand. He remembered damn well who the last heir was, and since there was currently no possibility of any other succeeding the line, that could only mean one thing. Somehow, Tom had found a way to both return, and finally claim the Lordship that had eluded the former Slytherin king all his life.

Was it all about to kick off again? Did he need to reconvene the order? Was it time to grab Harry Potter from his muggle prison to let fate have her way with him?

As more wizards and witches flooded the chamber, the hubbub grew as rumors flew among them. Some voices were raised, some looked horrified, others fascinated, and yet others thought it was all a big joke.

Eventually the room, save one chair, was full, and Dumbledore rose to the podium of the Chief Warlock.

"Good morning Lords and Ladies, wizards and witches, of the Wizengamot, and welcome to the 1470th winter solstice since the establishment of the albion family magics. Normally this would be a somewhat standard session, however, it seems we have an old family seat reactivated."

A susurration of murmuring filled the chamber.

He tightened his grip on the elder wand.

"Could they with the required ring, please come forward to take the swearing in oath before they take their seat?"

One figure stood, and Dumbledore was shocked. So shocked he forgot he was supposed to be on alert.

Lady Sunny Greengrass, wife of the leader of the neutrals, descended the stairs from the visitor gallery to the Wizangamot floor, decked out in full Wizangamot regalia. And on her robes, clear to be seen by all, was the crest of Slytherin house.

What did this mean? Had the neutrals fallen to the dark? That would be the worst possible outcome. With the neutrals in their pocket, the dark would, for the first time ever, command a majority in the chamber, and could push through whatever laws they wanted. That would be a disaster of the highest order.

But…something didn't feel right.

He looked out across the hall, and took in the faces of the chamber.

Despite the advanced occlumency every member learned as a matter of cause, he could clearly see the emotions broadcast across the hall. The Dark and Light were shocked, but not a single neutral looked surprised.

Lucius Malfoy looked like he'd just bitten into a cockroach.

What did it mean?

He returned his focus to the elegant, blond-haired witch standing in front of his podium.

"Lady Greengrass, do you stand here today to accept the seat of Lord Slytherin on behalf of Lord Slytherin, and wear his proxy ring?"

She flashed a hand, on which appeared a very distinctive silver ring.

"I do."

"And do you swear on your family's honor to uphold the laws, customs, and honor of this chamber, and work towards the betterment of magical kind in all its forms, both present and future?

"I do."

"Very well, please take your seat."

"Chief Warlock," the Lady said, "I believe it is customary for a newly seated member to give a speech to the chamber."

He considered. This would give them an insight into what Tom's positioning was. So much about what was going on was confusing, Any information would be helpful.

"Very well, Slytherin Proxy Lady Greengrass. Please go ahead."

The newly minted Slytherin Proxy turned and beheld the chamber.

"My fellow Lords and Ladies, wizards and witches. My Lord Slytherin has asked me to give you this speech, prepared by him.

A thousand years ago, the founder of my line helped build an establishment that has lasted to this day. Hogwarts castle and its school stand as a monument to what a person, supported by friends, can achieve. Since that time, many of the greatest wizards and witches of our world have been members of my house, a fact I am immensely proud of. That notoriety has also, for some, become a tool in and of itself.

In recent years, it has become fashionable to wear the clothes of the ancients to better pitch a modern ideology. None has suffered from this more than Slytherin house, and it is my intention to work closely with all those who identify with my house to reestablish the primacy of the honorable and ancient traditions of the house that Salazza Slytherin founded.

Those traditions are, ambition, drive, and the ability to understand what lies at the core of our humanity, both the good and the ugly, and work with it to achieve great things. These traits give those who call my house theirs the potential to achieve greatness, and with that potential, and its realiazation, comes power. If there is one absolute law of power, it is that it brings out the true character of those who wield it. Slytherins must, above all others, exercise restraint, sound judgment, and, dare I say it, cunning, in all their dealings to prove they are worthy of being called a Slytherin.

Those that prove themselves worthy can truly be included in my house and my family.

Ever since Merlin forged the Albion family magics, the value of family has been spellbound into the very fabric of our people. Those old and ancient magics rule over our lives and help ensure our culture and society continues.

The Hogwarts houses are unique among the ancient families of our culture in being the only houses that accept members from outside their direct bloodlines or unions, into their families. For everyone who ever sat on the Hogwarts stool, and was called to the Ancient and Noble house of Slytherin, a small amount of Slytherin family magic runs through your body forever, regardless of how high you rise, or low you fall.

As Lord Slytherin, the head of said Ancient and Noble house, it is my intense wish to see you, the members of my family, rise high.

Who here doesn't fight for their family. Who doesn't fight to ensure we have a future we are happy to hand over to our children. Ensuring the families of our world have a place and future is the legacy of those old, ancient magics, and I look forward to the day I can pass on the baton to future generations, happy in the knowledge that they do.

Thank you."

She walked up the stairs to take her new seat.

There was a smattering of applause, mostly from the neutrals, but most, Dumbledore knew, were too busy decoding all messages in what they'd just heard.

He certainly was.

What the hell had that been? That wasn't a speech Tom would give. Hell, there were plenty of positively Light messages in there, mixed in with Darker ones, but definitely more traditionalist than blood-supremacist. It was practically, well… neutral.

The realization hit him, hard.

Despite how seemingly impossible it was, Lord Slytherin wasn't Tom. But then, who would it be? Who was Lord Slytherin? The only name even remotely in the running was Harry Potter, because of the right of conquest, but that was impossible, both because of Tom not being truly dead, and the boy's age.

Might Morfin or Marvolo Gaunt have sired a bastard child without anyone knowing? It seemed impossible given what he knew of the family, but it was less impossible than it being Harry Potter. Come to think of it, if there was an unknown male line running around, it might explain why Tom was never able to claim the Lordship.

It wouldn't explain why they'd never been picked up on the radar before though… they'd have to have been outside the country. OK. So what we have here is a recently returned male bastard line of the Gaunt family, which, apparently, is extremely neutral and grey in its philosophy.

And they were about to attempt to massively influence the students and graduates of Slytherin house. That was something that couldn't be allowed to happen without carful oversight. He'd have to talk to this Lord Slytherin and persuade him to work with him to ensure he wasn't making any grievous errors. He couldn't allow a breeding ground for dark lords to form.

Someone in the chamber coughed loudly, and he realized he'd been lost in his thoughts, silence filing the hall, for a full thirty seconds.

"Ah, yes. Thank you, Slytherin Proxy Lady Greengrass, for those words, and please pass on our thanks to your Lord Slytherin. I'm sure you've given many people a great deal to think about. Let's now proceed onto other business."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

The new Slytherin Proxy Lady Sunny Greengrass, temporarily the most interesting person in the wizarding world, arrived home after many hours of snacking on finger food, pretending to drink, and fielding questions.

She immediately felt something wrong.

From the sitting room, came the sound of sniffling and sobbing.

She walked in.

"Dear?"

The sight of her daughter, Daphne, curled up in a ball on one of the couches, gently rocking herself, tears streaming down her face, wrenched at her heart and shredded all thoughts of work.

Daphne looked up, and hiccupped. "I don't want to," she said, her voice barely reaching across the room.

Oh dear. She closed her eyes. The after-Wizangamot meeting with Lord Slughorn had obviously not gone well.

"I don't want to," the girl repeated, a little louder this time.

She walked across the room, sat down next to Daphne, and wrapped her up in her arms, holding her close, stroking her hair. She didn't say anything. She couldn't think of anything to say.

"He's horrible!" her daughter suddenly burst out. "I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't, I don't," she cried, clutching at her robes, and soaking them with tears.

Lady Sunny's heart broke. She felt so helpless. If nothing changed soon, the signing would happen in the next few weeks, and her daughter's match would be sealed. She couldn't bear to see her Dahpne's spirit slowly crushed like this. It was too painful.

Screw it. She knew she could get in a lot of trouble for doing this, but she didn't care anymore.

"Dear," she started, softly, continuing to stroke the hair of the little blond in her arms, "I really don't want to get your hopes up, but I think I should tell you that we have spoken with another about your betrothal."

Daphne sniffed. "Who?"

"Harry."

The girl stilled in her arms, and stayed that way for a long time.

Finally, Daphne spoke. Her words were barely audible. "And what did he say?"

"He said he'd consider it."

More silence.

Suddenly, the little girl moved, and before she could register what was happening, Daphne was up and running for the door, almost tripping over her robes in her haste.

Lady Sunny watched her daughter disappear from sight, hoping something good was going to happen, and praying she hadn't just made a huge mistake.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Daphne ran through the halls of Greengrass manor. She needed to find Harry. She needed to.

Eventually, she opened a door to an unused room and found him, sitting at a desk, reading something. Her throat constricted, but she choked out, "Harry."

"Miss Gree—" Harry looked up, and stopped, clearly startled. "Daphne? What's wrong? You look terrible."

She ran at him and threw her arms around him, clinging to him.

"Please," she said, desperation weighing every syllable, "Please don't leave me to that man. He's horrible! I told him about wanting to explore the world, and he laughed at me! He said that wasn't what witches should do. He said when I was married to him, I was going to stay at home, host his parties, and raise his children, and that was all I was for. Then I got angry, and did some accidental magic that turned his skin blue, and he slapped me! He said that I would learn to be obedient, or he'd never even let me step out of the house."

She looked up into his face. It was hard, and he wasn't smiling.

"Please Harry," she repeated, "I don't want to be a prisoner for the rest of my life."

Something flickered in his eyes, and she thought she saw his face soften a little.

Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, he spoke. "Daphne… living by my side would be very dangerous."

"I don't care!" She gripped him harder.

"You know you wouldn't be the only witch in my life."

"I don't care!" she repeated, "I trust you. I'll do anything you want, just don't let him have me… please…"

They sat in silence for a moment more before Harry extracted himself from her, and walked to the door. He paused.

"Excuse me for a moment. I'll be back soon."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Daphne sat in Harry's office.

She'd been sat here for hours now.

The thoughts just wouldn't stop. Again and again her mind tortured her with horrible images of Harry running away from the manor in disgust, or changing his mind, or her parents asking for things Harry wouldn't accept, or changing their own minds, or deciding that Lord Slughorn was the only real choice, or Harry not being able to afford her bride price, or the family magics not accepting the contract, or, or, or…

She'd tried drawing inwards into her occlumency training, but that just made the images running through her head all the more vivid and unbearable.

Somewhere, far off in the manor, a clock struck late.

She was getting tired now. All her energy had been burned in worrying. She looked around the room, perhaps for the first time since she'd walked in.

Why did Harry have an office in the manor anyway?

Come to think of it, she never did get an answer on what business Harry had with Father.

Daphne stood on shaky legs and walked over to the desk.

She ran her fingers, light as a feather, along the desk's edge, and across the letters and papers that were strewn across its surface.

She looked down at a pile of sealed letters in the out-tray. That was odd. The top letter, the only one she could see, was wax sealed with a crest that looked familiar.

It was a shield with a snake on it.

It looked like the crest of Slytherin she'd learned in heraldry lessons.

Why would Harry be sealing his letters with the crest of Slytherin? There had been that man that had visited a month ago, but Harry didn't look anything like him, and the man had been too young to be his father.

Something niggled at the back of her mind, but she was too exhausted to pin it down.

She looked around for a seal stamp, but couldn't see one, and she wasn't about to start rifling through draws.

Daphne looked down at the letter again. The seal really was small, and the crest so intricate.

She turned her hand over and laid the back of one finger over the seal. Her finger didn't cover the width of the seal, but it wasn't far off.

A signet ring?

Strange.

"Ahem."

Daphne spun around, red faced, heart leaping into her throat, and saw the one she'd been waiting for.

Harry stood in the doorway, casual, smiling, and in his hand he waved a very ornate looking parchment.

"All signed and official," the boy said, as though he'd just got back from shopping in the Alley. "We shall become Lord and Lady in our fifth year at Hogwarts, some eight years from now."

Daphne covered the distance between them in a heartbeat and hugged him as tight as she could. "Thank you Harry. Thank you, thank you, thank you," she cried, doing her best to hold back the rapidly forming tears.

For a long time she held him, Harry easily supporting her weight, until, eventually, she let go, wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her robe, and looked at him, impishly.

"So," she began after a quick sniff, "am I now to learn what Lady I am going to be?"

Her new betrothed grinned. "I thought you'd have figured that out already by your snooping on my desk."

She felt blood flushing her cheeks. "No. I just saw the Slytherin crest."

Harry brought his hand up, and wiggled his fingers in front of her face. A ring stood out on them.

Her eyes widened. "Seriously Harry! You're the heir of Slytherin?" she shouted.

"Yep, well… actually I'm a bit better then that. I hope you can take the limelight because you're going to be in it."

"What do you mean, a bit better? And… how can we become Lord and Lady Slytherin if there's already a Lord Slytherin?"

"You remember what I said in our first conversation in the garden? Things in the wizarding world are not always what they seem."

Daphne remembered. She was unlikely to ever forget.

"Now we're betrothed, there are quite a few family secrets I refuse to keep you in the dark about. Your parents are downstairs, and we're going to have a long chat about a bunch of different things."

"Will that include what you've been doing with Father?"

"Yes. Although I've no doubt you'd be able to piece that together from tomorrow's Daily Prophet."

Daphne looked into his green eyes again. Somehow, Merlin only knew how, she'd just dodged a killing curse, and found the philosophers stone. She was going to be Lady Slytherin, and married to someone who, in the short time she'd known him, had shown himself to be strong willed, understanding, mature, and impossibly magically powerful.

She'd gone through hell, and came out into the sunlight on the other side.

"Lead on, my future Lord Slytherin?" she suggested.

"After you, my future Lady Slytherin.

 

Chapter Text

Hermione Granger, holding a book to her face, lay upside-down on her bed, head and shoulders hanging off the edge, resting but an inch from the floor, long brown hair spreading out like a curly halo. It was a position only a serious book lover could adopt, and she knew she was a serious book lover.

"Hermione," her Mum's voice called through the closed bedroom door, "he's here."

She sighed, snapped the book shut, rolled her body off the bed, onto the floor, and scrambled to her feet.

"Ready Mum," she called.

The door opened, and in walked her Mum and… a boy? Her eyes narrowed.

"This is Harry, dear," Emma Granger said, "Harry, this is my daughter, Hermione."

"Isn't he a little young to be tutoring maths?" she asked.

The boy gave a small smile.

"Harry's math skills are beyond A-level level." Her Mum grinned. "I think the two of you will find you have a lot in common."

Her eye's flickered, and she looked at the black-haired boy again. She'd always fancied herself to be one of those prodigies you occasionally saw on the news, but this boy sounded like he actually was one.

"Well, I'll leave you two to get on with it," Mrs. Granger continued, "if you need anything, Harry, don't hesitate to ask."

The door closed, and she found herself alone with Harry.

"Are you really as good as that?" she asked. Not quite believing this boy was at university level.

"I am."

"OK then." She snatched her maths book from the desk beside her bed, flipped through to the end, and thrust it in front of his face, pointing at one the equations. "Let's see you solve that then."

The boy looked at the equation, took the book from her, laid it down, rummaged in his bag, and drew out a text-book of his own. He then flipped to the end, and gently handed it to her, pointing at one of the equations.

"This one's for you, Miss Granger."

She looked down at the book the boy had handed her, and blanched. Masses of unknown symbols stared back at her. She didn't have a clue where to start.

After staring at the indecipherable mass of squiggles for a good twenty seconds, gradually feeling the red blush of inadequacy creep up her neck, she looked up. The boy was offering her a notebook. She took it. The answer to the equation she'd given him, complete with working, displayed itself in all its humiliating glory.

The boy looked into her eyes, and smiled.

"That's not fair!" she cried. "You're obviously at a higher level then I am!"

"And now you know that, Miss Granger. I am not your peer, I am your teacher."

She fought to keep the flush, creeping up her neck, from taking over her face.

"So, are you ready to put some hard work into this? Or am I wasting my time?"

"No! I-I mean, yes, I'll work hard."

"Excellent."

For the next two hours, she tackled arithmetic, fought with geometry, and wrestled algebra into the ground. It was intense, but her new teacher made it enjoyable. This was so much better than the snails pace her teachers at school insisted on. The feedback loops were short and tight, and she could feel herself getting better.

"Well, this has been a productive session," her new teacher said, putting his books back in his bag.

"Yeah," she agreed, "when's our next one?"

Your Mum suggested twice a week would be good. How does Saturday morning sound?"

"Great!" she exclaimed, realizing she sounded a little too enthusiastic.

Harry smiled. "Miss Granger, have you ever read Alice in Wonderland?"

"Yes," she replied, thrown by the sudden conversation shift.

"Did you know Lewis Carroll was a mathematician?"

"No." She was shocked that the absurdist story had been written by someone who dealt in rules and logic.

"Your homework is to re-read Alice in Wonderland while looking for relevant principles that Lewis Carroll wove into the story."

Her catlike grin threatened to break free from her face. Now, this was her kind of homework.

"OK."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Hermione sat on her bed, arms around her knees, watching the clock tick closer and closer to nine o'clock. She hadn't found any mathematics in the book. She'd tried. She'd tried. She'd put all her mind into it for hours. But Alice's adventures through wonderland seemed to touch on everything but mathematics. It made a mockery of it. Nothing was consistent, not even the way things changed.

She hated failing at assignments, and she felt she had failed. Harry was the first person her age she'd ever met that could keep up with her, and now, he was going to think she was stupid. Being smart was all she had. She wasn't athletic, or pretty, or popular.

The clock struck nine. Her execution was due.

The door opened.

"Good morning Miss Granger." Harry walked through the door. The door closed with a definite click. "Are you ready for today's journey through the looking glass?"

"Ahh… well, Harry…"

Her teacher dragged a chair to the side of the bed, sat down, and stared at her. "What was the single most un-mathematical thing you found?"

"The single… un-mathematical?"

"The single most absurd occurrence, something that defies mathematics and logic."

She was confused. She was grateful that Harry wasn't disappointed with her, but couldn't see how this was relevant to their studies. She thought about his question. "I guess it would be the Mad Hatter's party," she started, feeling a bit more confident "when time stopped at six o'clock but continuity continued."

"Ah, yes. That was a good one. I haven't figured that one out yet. Someone may have, but if they have, they aren't telling."

She blinked at him. Figured it out? Figured what out? Were they playing some kind of metaphor game?

"Can you give me another?"

She thought for a moment. "When the animals throw pebbles at Alice, and they turn into cakes."

"Another good one. Gamp's law stops us doing that one."

"Gamp's law?"

OK, this must be a setup for the introduction of a new concept. She'd seen something like this when someone tried to explain calculus to her using a story about a tortoise and an arrow.

"Not important right now. Can you give another?"

She was getting into the swing of this. "The drink labeled 'Drink Me' that causes Alice to shrink."

Harry's face broke into a wide grin. "Well done Miss Granger."

Despite herself, she felt the familiar surge of happiness for getting a question right, even if she didn't understand what she was getting right. This whole line of questioning was strange.

Harry reached into his pocket, and brought out a small bottle of acid green liquid. He placed it on the desk to his side. The bottle had a small label on it that said 'Drink Me'.

She stared at it. Her confusion was growing.

"Miss Granger,"—Harry brought her attention back to him—"Do you ever find strange things happening around you?"

"W-what do you mean?" she said, but she instantly knew what he was talking about. This discussion of things shrinking, and changing, without rhyme or reason cast her mind back to thosetimes. The times her rational mind desperately tried to force down, and ignore.

"You answered the last question correctly. Lets see if you can go for a more difficult one. Give me one example of a situation in your life where something happened that defied logic."

Her breathing was quickening, becoming shallower. He couldn't be talking about those times. If she said something so outrageous he'd think she were insane.

Harry reached over, and took her hand in his.

"It's OK Hermione. You know what I'm talking about."

When it finally came out her voice was quiet, timid. "I was being bullied at school. They took my books, and threw them across the playground. They started to hit me. The next thing I knew, they were all thrown across the playground. Some of them were badly hurt."

Harry nodded. He leant back, and made a hand motion to indicate she should continue.

"Another time, I desperately wanted this book from this shop. I was outside looking in through the window, and the next thing I knew, I was holding the book in my hands. I was so afraid of being caught stealing that I dropped it and ran away."

"Wow. Non-spatial summoning. That's amazing."

Her breath hitched, her voice got desperate, more urgent. "What is? Do you know what's was going on? How these things keep happening?"

Harry produced an ornate looking stick of wood, and waved it at the door.

"I do know." He was smiling now. "Because I am like you. You are special Hermione. You have the talent."

"Talent?" Her nails were leaving imprints on the palms of her hands.

"Magic."

"Magic?"

"You are part of a secret community of witches and wizards. People who use magic in their every day lives to achieve feats the non-magical world can only dream of."

Her teacher pointed the stick of wood at the lampshade on her desk. It morphed into a vase.

Her body relaxed. She stared in wonder.

"Normally, because your parents aren't magical, you wouldn't begin your magical education until you were eleven, but…"

"But?" she whispered.

"You are special even among witches and wizards, Hermione. You have the potential to become one of the most accomplished witches ever. A prodigy if you will."

A prodigy. She'd always wanted to be one of those.

"But."

"But?"

"Do you remember the scene in the book when Alice is in the court, and starts to grow in size?"

She nodded.

"Do you remember what the dormouse tells Alice?"

She nodded. "It said that she had no right to grow so fast, and that she was taking up all the air."

"And what did the King and Queen ordered her to do afterwards?"

"They said, 'rule forty-two says all persons over a mile high must leave the court'."

"The magical world can be like that. I want to teach you Hermione, but it will have to be in secret, both now and when we go to school together."

"School?"

"At age eleven we'll go to a magic school called Hogwarts with most of the other witches and wizards of magical Britain. By the time we're ready to go, you'll have more than caught up to the other students who've lived with magic all their lives."

She was ecstatic. Magic was real. She'd just seen it. And she could learn it. It was like all the fantasy books she'd ever read. And… catch up… Yes. She had to catch up.

"When do we start?" Enthusiasm radiated from her like a beacon.

"Right now. We'll go over your curriculum for the next two-and-a-bit years. What I'd like to teach you, and why."

She nodded.

But before that, a few more demonstrations of what the other side of the looking glass can do. Sound good?"

Her eyes gleamed, and darted to the bottle of acid green liquid, still sitting innocently on the desk.

"Yes, Harry."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

It had been three months since they'd started training. Hermione sat cross-legged on the floor. Opposite her, sat Harry.

She was nervous.

Occlumency was fascinating. She could feel her mastery over her mind growing day by day. Homework that used to take an hour was now dispatched in a quarter. Revising for tests had become a joke. A single pass over the material, filed into her mental library, was all she needed. She now had even more time to practice.

Her willpower seemed to be improving too. Before, she'd had to drag herself from her books to do things she knew she must, but now, she seemed better able to prioritize activities based on rational thought. Harry had started her on an exercise program — "It helps develop your magical core," he'd said, — and she thought it would be hell, but, retreating into her occlumency made it surprisingly enjoyable.

But this?

This was frightening.

Harry continued talking. "Once I'm in your mind, I will be able to both test your defenses, and help you improve them."

"Are you sure about this?" Everything Harry had taught her suggested letting someone play around with her mind was a bad idea.

"You have my word that I will not make any changes without your explicit permission. I may end up seeing memories you're not comfortable with me seeing, but actively testing defenses is the only way to be sure they are doing their job properly."

She fidgeted on the hard floor. There were memories she definitely didn't want Harry seeing. In the last few months, she'd felt closer to him than anyone else in her life—except her parents. The idea of losing him, terrified her.

"We can put it off, but if we do we'll have to push back your education in other areas."

"No. I'm OK. Its just…"

"You're nervous about me seeing certain things."

She nodded, and bit her lower lip.

"Hermione. I will never think less of you for anything I may end up seeing. You're far too amazing a person."

She smiled. She knew he didn't mean it. She may be intelligent compared to her peers, but she was far too plain in everything else to be amazing. But it still felt good to hear him say it.

"Thank you, Harry."

"…"

"OK, do it."

Harry raised his wand at her forehead.

"Legilimens."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Hermione stood in the trunk Harry had bought her for her birthday. It was amazing, like having a second room in her room. Bookshelves covered the walls, filled with hundreds of books from the mysterious magical world. It was the most amazing gift anyone had ever given her, and part of her wondered how rich Harry must be to be able to afford this kind of thing.

Harry had said learning the culture of the world she'd be entering was the most important, and most difficult, part of her education. The books she now possessed ranged from legal practices, to politics, history, adventure, and romance.

Like the trunk, every book had been charmed both with notice-me-nots, and illusions, so that anyone looking at it would see a non-magical, or 'muggle' book. Magic was incredible.

Harry had given her one instruction. In the next twelve months, he expected her to have read every book in the trunk.

At the end of those twelve months, he had a test for her. When she'd asked for more information, Harry hadn't explained, just smiled, and said if she prepared properly she'd be fine.

'Well', she thought, 'never let it be said that Hermione Granger was ever unprepared for a test.'

Occlumency at the ready, she pulled the first book from the first shelf, 'The History of the International Statute of Secrecy', flopped down on the comfy armchair in the corner, and began to read.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Hermione was agitated. "I don't see how anyone can stand it," she said.

Harry sat in the armchair in the opposite corner of her trunk, sipping on orange juice, and practicing wandless magic — the showoff. "You know, it wasn't that long ago that affairs in the non-magical world were similar to the magical one."

"I know that, but it seems these family magics exist specificity to stop anything from changing."

"Well, when Merlin created them, stability was the most important thing on everyone's minds. Remember, this wasn't long after the Romans left, and the English kingdoms were still forming. War was rife, and magicals were seen as strategic assets to any kings who could find them. The family magics enforced a structure on the magical families, ensuring they'd work together in the interests of magicals as a whole."

She shuffled her feet. "And now we're stuck with it?"

"Yep."

"And it can't be changed?"

"All the books with the rituals to manipulate the family magics were destroyed centuries ago. There may be some copies left, but if there are, we don't know about them, and the people who hold them sure don't have any incentive to change things."

"What about the rune stones? The family magics are ward based aren't they?"

"In theory yes, you could reprogram the family magics by hard altering the rune stones, but good luck finding them. No-one's ever managed it. Many have tried."

She sighed and slammed the book she'd just finished shut. "Well that sucks."

"Yep."

She stood, and walked over to a bookshelf. The latest pile of finished books was starting to become unstable again. Book piles merged into book piles, and occasionally toppled down forming book rubble piles. She'd have to put them back on the shelves soon. She picked out another book, Fashion and Clothing of the Magical World. She sighed. She had enough of this kind of thing from the girls at school.

She slumped lengthways across her armchair, and started to read.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Hermione's face was crimson. She looked at Harry over the top of the romance novel she'd been reading, 'A muggleborn and a Lady'. She'd just learned her best friend and teacher was also one of those Lords she'd been ranting about for the last six weeks.

"You're Lord Slytherin?"

"I am."

"Eep," she squeaked.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Hermione slammed the final book closed. She had finished. She put the book away, and looked around the trunk that had been her second home for the last ten months. So much knowledge. Harry's goal had been for her to cram a lifetimes worth of pureblood education into a year, and she'd risen to the challenge.

The more she'd read, the more she'd realized what she was letting herself in for.

The magical world was scary.

But it was also… well… magical. And she wasn't overly worried. She had Harry.

Harry was amazing. When she'd first seen him doing wandless magic, or seen him transfigure that lamp into a vase, she'd been impressed at magic. The more she read though, the more she realized how insane Harry was for being able to do those things. He truly was a prodigy… and Lord Slytherin. And she was his student, under his protection.

She hoped she'd eventually prove herself worthy of his house. She had ambition in spades, but cunning? Something she'd have to work on.

"You finished?" A voice came from the trap door above her.

"Yes Harry."

"Great! Two months early, as well."

She beamed.

"I think someone's earned themselves a reward."

"Ooh!"

She was learning, and Harry was happy with her. All was well in the world.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Hermione was worried. "A party?"

It was two months after she'd finished the reading project.

"This is your test," said Harry. "You're going to one of my political gatherings while taking on the identity of another. Your goal is to convincingly play the part of a pureblood from New Zealand."

"But-but, what if I'm found out? What if they realize? What if I embarrass you?"

This all sounded far too much like the plots from one of those romance novels she'd read during the 'ten-months-of-reading'.

"You'll be disguised Hermione. No one will know who you are, even if you do slip up. I'll be there in disguise as well, to rescue you if it gets too bad. This is important for your education. I need to know you can handle yourself in these situations."

She bit her lower lip.

"But what about dress robes? And jewelry, and stuff? They'll expect me to have all that, and I don't, and what about being a child? These political parties are for adults."

Harry smiled, and held up a vial of green liquid.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ten-year-old Hermione Granger stood in front of the full-length mirror, and stared. Twenty-two-year-old Hermione Granger stared back.

Plain, boring, bookish. These words haunted her school playground days. Her bushy hair was untamable, and her teeth were massive. They'd called her beaver face.

She reached out to the mirror and stroked the reflection. The reflection's hair was calmer, still curling at the ends, but otherwise straight. Her teeth fit her face perfectly. Her face had lost the baby fat; it was elegant, symmetrical, and dignified. She looked like something out of those magazines her classmates were always giggling over. She was beautiful. This is what she'd be like in twelve years?

A pop beside her made her jump.

"Is Missy Grangy ready to be dressed?" asked the female house elf, another thing she'd have to get used to.

"Oh, yes, please, thank you Tropsy."

Half an hour later, she looked in the mirror again. Her floor-length, emerald-green dress hugged her hourglass figure, perfectly matching the snake-decorated chocker and earrings Harry had leant her for the party.

"I told you you were amazing."

She turned to her best friend and teacher's voice. Her breath caught.

Harry looked incredible. His shoulders were broad, his over-six-foot-frame, hidden under layers of dress robe, was still obviously well muscled. His face, also, had lost the baby fat, leaving a strong, firm visage of man.

Deep inside, she felt something she'd never felt before. It tingled.

"You look pretty good yourself," she said, before blushing. Had she just said that?

Harry chuckled, and waved his wand over his face, transfiguring it into his private persona of Lord Slytherin, before putting on an emerald green mask, his public face. He held out his arm for her. She took it, still feeling that unidentified feeling.

Together they walked to the main doors.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Charlotte Timberland, also known as Hermione Granger, stood in a small circle of adult wizards and witches, trying her best to remain cool. She'd just quoted one of the classic stories from her 'ten-months-of-reading'.

"I must say," said one of the wizards, "it's nice to see a young lady who knows her literature."

"Indeed," said another, "so many of the youth today think they can get by with loud explosions, and puffs of smoke."

"Where in New Zealand did you say you came from?" asked one witch.

"Auckland."

They all nodded the nod of those who have no clue where a place is, but aren't about to admit it.

"Well it must be amazing to be a friend of Lord Slytherin," the witch continued.

"It is certainly educational," she said, hedging her reply.

The witch looked around and leaned in, whispering so only their group could hear. "Tell me, have you ever seen his face? Is he handsome?"

She blushed. What was wrong with her tonight?

"Ho hah!" the witch said, triumphant. "So you have!"

"I-I can't possibly betray My Lord's secrets."

They nodded again, understanding, while filing away the 'My Lord' honorific for further inspection later.

"Charlotte."

She turned. It was Harry.

"May I borrow you for a moment?"

"Oh, of course, please excuse me," she said to the slightly disappointed group.

Harry led her over to the food table.

She felt that tingly sensation again when he touched her arm. She felt her face flush.

"How are you doing?"

"Managing. It's actually not as bad as I thought it would be. Most seem shocked anyone 'my age' can quote from the magical canon."

Harry snickered. "There's a chance I may have over prepared you. But that's the point. I wasn't joking when I said you have the potential to become one of the greatest witches ever. And as your new friend over there said," he nodded to the second wizard in the group, "many people feel they can get by on large explosions, and puffs of smoke."

She nibbled on a pastry thing. Harry had damn good hearing.

"Anyway, I'll be right back. I have to take care of something," and with that, he fled.

Strange.

"Hello Miss Timberland."

She turned. She was being addressed by a girl. A really pretty girl, with long blond hair, and piercing blue eyes. She must be about her age… am I really that small?

"Hello Miss…?" She let the question hang in the air.

"Greengrass, Heiress of the Most Ancient and Nobel House of Greengrass." The newly declared Miss Greengrass stared up into her eyes.

Of all the wizards and witches she'd met tonight, she'd yet to feel a more calculating gaze. She felt she was being sized up, weighed, and judged. Two months of drills and training instantly processed the input, and short wired the appropriate response straight to her mouth.

"Heiress Greengrass, thank you and your family for hosting tonight's festivities. And thank you for extending an invitation to a foreign witch such as myself."

"Nonsense. You are a guest of Lord Slytherin. Any guest of his Lordship is a guest of House Greengrass." The young witch smiled. "I do find myself wondering though, just how well you know his Lordship."

She stared at the young pureblood heiress. A girl the same age as her and Harry. The daughter of the Lord who was hosting the party Harry was using for his political games. The wheels spun.

"He is my teacher. He has taught me many things."

"You are lucky Miss Timberland. Lord Slytherin is an amazing person."

"I know that."

"I would hate him to put his trust in someone who may not truly understand his value."

She bristled at that. "I do understand his value," she said, the last word dripping with distaste. "He's one of the most amazing wizards of his generation. He can do things many adult wiz—" she clapped a hand over her mouth, appalled at the words that slipped out.

Greengrass smiled a stony smile, but ignored her slip. "The fact you are still comparing him to 'those of his generation', shows you still don't truly appreciate his value."

She tried to compose herself.

"But don't let it get to you," Greengrass continued, "You really are doing amazingly well. I can see why he's putting so much effort into you."

She didn't respond. She didn't dare herself to speak.

"I hope to meet you again soon, before our paths inevitably cross in a more permanent fashion."

She watched the annoyingly precocious blonde walk away. She felt she'd just been received a massive backhanded compliment. What had the little witch meant? That she might not appreciate Harry? Rubbish. She'd completed every piece of work Harry had ever given her, often ahead of time, and always to his satisfaction.

Lost in thoughts, she failed to notice her teacher's presence until he was right on her.

"Knut for your thoughts."

"Ack!" She jumped, breathing heavily, "Don't do that!"

Harry, still wearing his emerald green mask, snickered. "You ready for the next round?" he asked, waving towards the groups of wizards and witches still milling throughout the grand-ballroom of Greengrass Manor. "You're creating quite a stir, you know. Everyone wants to know where such a beautiful, well-mannered, and cultured witch sprang from."

She blushed.

"Sure. OK."

Face still flushing from the unknown feeling rushing through her, she let herself be led across the floor to another group. Despite her recent slip, she allowed herself a moment of satisfaction. She was doing well, and Harry was happy with her.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Back in her ten-year-old body, Hermione stood in front of her desk mirror, and thought about that night.

The feelings that had rampaged through her all-night had been scary. She'd felt she wasn't in control of her own mind or body. Every other thought would stray towards Harry. Not for any good reason that she could identify. Just because.

The blonde's comments hadn't helped.

As soon as she'd arrived home, wearing her standard jeans and t-shirt, she'd grabbed, and re-read, the book on puberty her parents had gifted her a year ago. The first time through, she'd understood what was being said at an intellectual level, but the difference between that and living it was as large as the difference between the river and the ocean.

The feelings were slowly fading back into nothingness. But she understood she'd been given a taste. And that was the taste of a twenty-two-year-old, when the throws of puberty were supposed to be over. What was it going to be like in the next few years?

She shivered.

A week ago, the idea of living in a castle, full of other witches and wizards, with Harry, seemed like a dream. Now it seemed like a plot to drive her insane. But, even if her body was no longer pumping hormones, her mind still remembered the feeling. It remembered that at some deep level, she'd enjoyed it, and wanted it.

She shook her head, and, like a good student, switched focus to the next few weeks.

Soon, Harry would start teaching her magic. Real magic. There was almost a whole year left before Hogwarts started, and she'd be getting her letter in just a few weeks. Her parents would then find out about magic. That scared her, but Harry would be there for her. Her parents liked Harry. And Harry… she was pretty sure Harry liked them too…

Chapter Text

Eight-year-old Ginny Weasley slipped out the back door of The Burrow, broomstick in hand, righteous indignation just outweighing fear of getting caught. She picked her way across the lawn, the moon highlighting gnome hole shadows, and entered the orchard.

It wasn't fair.

She fiddled with the bent bristles of the borrowed broom.

Why couldn't she play? Because she was a witch? Humph.

She swung her leg over the broom's shaft, and kicked up off the damp floor.

If she was going to be treated like a pureblood princess she should at least get the good things that went with it. Money, fancy balls, dresses, jewelry, and stuff.

She pitched the broom, and made a gentle curve before diving and snatching a pinecone from the ground.

And if she wasn't getting any of that stuff, then she was damn well going to do what she wanted.

She tossed the pinecone, and watched it sail through the two branches that stood in for a quidditch hoop.

Of course, she knew that one day, she'd be married to The-Boy-Who-Lived, John Potter. She'd be Lady Potter. It was destiny. But that wasn't now, that was forever away.

She swerved, looping around in a figure of eight, pretending the moths flitting in the moonlight were bludgers.

John Potter had warmed up to her recently. He still didn't care to defend her quidditch playing to her brothers, but he'd accepted the idea she wasn't just his best-mate's little sister. That was good.

She slowed, hovering below the tree line.

Something felt off.

She floated to the nearest tree. The feeling got stronger. She backed away. The feeling faded.

Weird.

She approached again, and circled the trunk. She looked around. Nothing. Wait, what was that?

Far away, on the tip of a tree branch, something was hanging on the far side of the ward line.

She edged forward, slowly, cautious, and stopped just before the ward line; the hedge below marked the limits of her safe haven.

She could see the object of her curiosity better up here. It was a necklace. What would a necklace be doing hanging on this tree? Still, she shouldn't go any further. It would be too dangerous.

She inspected it from a foot away. She could see every detail. It was a silver chain, holding a silver pendant. A pendant in the shape of lightning bolt.

It was beautiful.

It would look even better on your neck.

The pendant felt light in her hand, the chain hung over her palm.

It would look even better on her neck.

Legs gripping the broomstick, she unfastened the chain's clasp, bringing it around her neck. She flicked her long, red hair out of the way.

Wait. Was this really a good idea?

*Click*

"…"

"…"

"…"

What was she doing all the way out here? The orchard was way away. If Dad caught her out here she'd be in trouble. She wasn't sure how the wards worked. She hoped he hadn't felt her leaving them. Then again, he always looked surprised whenever she and Mum got back from shopping, so he probably couldn't.

Gripping the broom with one hand, she zipped back to the orchard, grabbed an apple from a tree, and pitched it straight through the makeshift hoop.

Hah! She'd show them all.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny's broom floated just outside her grasp.

She tried to reach it.

The broom turned into an apple.

The kitchen door opened.

"You're going to be a proper lady, Ginny, and proper ladies don't have brooms."

"But Muummmm," she tried to protest.

"No." Her Mum morphed into John Potter, "I need a real pureblood. You're house isn't even noble."

"But, but."

John Potter disappeared. Her bedroom window opened.

A bird flew in.

It perched on her shoulder, before lifting her high up in the sky.

'It mustn't drop me. I don't have my broom,' she thought, desperation flooding her being.

She fell.

She landed.

"That was a weird dream."

She looked around a small, comfortable living room.

'I'm still dreaming?' This felt a lot more real than a dream. She could smell the scent of baking. A baby started crying. No. Two babies started crying.

A younger looking Mrs. Potter walked in from another room, wearing an apron. The adult redhead walked up to a cot in the corner of the room, reached in, and lifted out a small toddler.

Ginny could recognize the still-growing, scruffy black hair anywhere. John?

Mrs. Potter reached down again, drawing out a second, identical looking toddler.

"There there boys. Mummy's here."

One of the toddlers threw up.

"Oh Harry," the mother sighed, putting the other child down before cleaning up the one called… Harry?

This was strange. It felt far too real to be a dream, but it was showing things that clearly weren't real. Why did Mrs. Potter have two children?

Her world faded to black.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny sat at the kitchen table eating toast. John was supposed to be coming over to play with Ron today. She was hoping he'd say something to Ron about letting her fly with them too.

The floo flared green, and The-Boy-Who-Lived, John Potter, stepped out.

"Hey mate," Ron called.

"Hey Ron, you ready for some serious action?"

"Well, I don't know what your godfather has to do with it,"—they both snickered—", but yeah, let me grab my broom."

Ginny sat, hoping… but no, John walked out after giving her naught but a wave, and a smile.

She followed the two boys down to the orchard. Ron had run on ahead, so she latched herself on to John's arm.

"You know," she started, "you're really good at flying."

"MMmmmhmmm," he hummed.

"Wouldn't it be amazing if you got on the Gryffindor team?"

"I am going to be on the Gryffindor team."

"So am I."

John looked at her, surprised. "But, you don't fly."

"Only because Ron and the others won't let me."

He looked uncomfortable. "Yeah, well, that's their business isn't it?"

She pouted. Why didn't he ever take her side?

Half an hour later, John landed for a drink after a good hoop shot.

Now was a good chance to talk to him again. She could ask him about that dream.

But what if he laughs at you?

John Potter grabbed a bottle of pumpkin juice from a bag sitting below a tree, and took a swig.

But what if he laughed at her? That would be bad. John was just starting to warm up to her. No need to endanger that by making him think she was being a silly little girl.

The-Boy-Who-Lived dropped the empty bottle, swung back on his brand new Nimbus 1700, and took to the sky once more, waving at her before returning his focus to the game.

She walked over to the empty bottle, picked it up, and put it back in the bag they'd brought with them.

One day, it would be her up there.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny watched, helpless, as the cruelest looking man she'd ever seen walked through the rubble of the door he'd just blasted to pieces, eyes glowing blood red.

No. That wasn't. It couldn't be. Panic flooded through her.

The man swept over to the twin cots on the far side of the room, and loomed over the two screaming infants.

No. Don't.

"To think that something so small and delicate could ever be fated to be a danger to me," the man spoke, words as heavy and blunt as lead.

Realization froze her heart. He was going to kill John's brother. No. Stop.

The man pointed his wand at one of the infants, — "Avada Kadavra," — there was a flash of green, a loud *BOOM*, and her world exploded around her. Bits of ceiling fell around her, shards of broken glass flew through her body, and the man standing by the cots disintegrated with a shriek, sending a ghost-like apparition screaming through the roof, leaving nothing behind but the smell of chlorine.

Despite everything harmlessly passing through her, she crouched, hands held to her face, waiting for the smoke and dust to settle.

Silence.

What happened?

She stood, and crept towards the cots, dreading what she'd find.

There, in the cots, lay the two boys, awake, and unharmed, save for an inflamed, red, lightning-shaped cut on one of the boy's foreheads.

They were alive.

Footsteps from behind her caused her to whirl around. In strode Albus Dumbledore, who made his way to the cots, stood next to her, and looked down at the boys.

He frowned at the forehead cut, and mumbled, "So he chose Harry."

So he chose Harry? Harry was the boy with the cut? He'd been the one attacked?

Dumbledore waved his wand at baby Harry, and the cut faded from view, not healed, she noted, just faded.

Another crash heralded the arrival of the Potters. They were frantic.

"Professor!" Mrs. Potter cried, "We came as soon as we felt the wards fail! Please tell us. Are they? They're not."

"Calm yourselves Lily, James. It seems he tried to kill John, but John destroyed him."

Dumbledore picked up the un-marked child, and held him up to them.

"Oh, thank Merlin!" Lily Potter took John in her arms, cradling him, whispering to herself and the toddler that everything was all right.

James Potter stepped forward, putting a hand on his wife's shoulder. "And Harry?"

"Ah yes, Harry." Dumbledore suddenly looked sad. "I need to speak to you about Harry."

"What? Why?" Lily looked up.

"I suggest we adjourn to the kitchen, a drink will do us good, and we don't have all the time in the world."

The uncertain Potters, followed by the sad looking headmaster, left the room, and Ginny's world, once again, faded to black.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny sat alone in the shade of an orchard tree.

The dreams were becoming more frequent. It had been months since they started, and it seemed she was now getting them every other night.

She'd watched, confused, as Harry was dropped off at a muggle house, then watched in horror as Harry went through years of shouting, beatings, whippings, starvation, confinement, and mental torture.

It made her sick.

Why had they done it?

She didn't understand.

She'd decided after the first few dreams that she wasn't going to tell anyone about them. What could she say? I dream dreams of You-Know-Who, and Dumbledore, and the Potters abandoning their child to the life of a slave? They'd laugh at her at best, and say she was going dark at worst.

But what about Harry?

In all the dreams she'd had, Harry had been younger than John was now. What was Harry doing now? Was he still alive? Was he still living that life? Was this a cry for help? Was she supposedto help him?

She trembled. What could she do? What was she supposed to do?

And John? Did he even know he had a brother?

She suddenly realized she hadn't thought of John as 'The-Boy-Who-Lived' for ages.

She sucked her breath in. Her eyes widened.

John wasn't The-Boy-Who-Lived. Harry was.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny walked into the muggle greengrocer of Ottery St Catchpole.

"Ginny, can you get the bread and milk, while I go pick vegetables?"

"Yes, Mum." She walked to the back of the shop, and inspected several loaves before picking one up, and placing it in the wicker basket she carried.

She looked up.

John Potter was standing at the far end of an aisle looking at jam.

Weird, what was he doing here?

She'd had mixed feelings about John in the last few weeks, and wasn't keen to speak to him at the moment.

John picked up a jar, and turned his head as he rounded the aisle corner.

She gasped.

On his forehead was an inflamed lightning bolt shaped scar.

"Harry?"

She ran to the end of the aisle, and bolted around the corner.

The aisle was empty.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny stood in what must be Hogwart's great hall. Hundreds of students, dressed in black, stood in rows. All looked serious, some were crying.

"We are gathered here today to pay our last respects to Ginerva Molly Weasley, a young witch snatched from us long before her time."

What?

"Ginny epitomized the qualities of her house and family. We are unlikely to see such an outstanding example of bravery and courage in one so young in a long long time."

No. No. No.

She ran to the front of the hall, and stared in horror at the picture sitting, surrounded by flowers, on top of a coffin. Words washed over her, but she didn't hear anything being said. The coffin and photo filled her world, freezing her blood, shortening her breath, decrying all that was fair and just in the world. Her image, looking a few years older, beamed happily in the arms of John Potter.

She looked around the hall, seeking John's face, but couldn't find it.

Wait. There. In Slytherin house? No, that wasn't John. Standing all by himself, a circle of isolation surrounding him as though he were contagious, was Harry, telltale scar clear for all to see.

She turned again to look at the coffin and, despite being a dream, her knees gave out.

What had happened? This was the future? She was going to die?

The dream continued to sweep forward. Ten minutes? Thirty minutes? She didn't pay any attention.

She couldn't think.

Then, her world faded to black.

And faded back a few moments later.

She watched You-Know-Who resurrect in a graveyard.

She watched John try, and fail, to duel You-Know-Who in the ministry of magic atrium.

She watched Ron and a brown haired witch being tortured by You-Know-Who in a large manor house, their screams of terror and pain forcing their way into her head.

The tremors started again, she couldn't take this any more, she just wanted out. Out. Out! Please!

Don't worry. You are OK. You are safe. You are safe.

The tremors subsided, her breathing slowed.

It was just a dream. It couldn't hurt her. It hadn't happened yet.

She watched an older Luna Lovegood throw herself in front of a killing curse aimed at John.

She watched John, in a forest, walk towards You-Know-Who, as though taking a stroll in the gardens.

"Go ahead. Death will not allow your victory. I will defeat you."

"Avada Kadavra."

She watched hundreds of witches and wizards being rounded up, ripped from their families, mothers from daughters, husbands from wives, brothers from sisters, and executed in mass killings, or else enslaved, forced to serve their new master's every menial or depraved whim.

She watched all this on the verge of panic, but every time she thought she couldn't take any more, calmness flooded her body.

Her world faded to black again…

…And faded back in a prison cell. A pile of dirty rags sat in a corner.

Nothing happened.

At least no one was being killed or tortured here.

The pile moved, and resolved itself in her mind as a person. A person of skin and bones, of greasy hair, and shaggy beard.

She edged forward to get a better look.

A person with an enflamed lightning bolt scar on his forehead.

"Harry?" she whispered.

Nothing.

The cell door was flung open, and two guards marched in, grabbed Harry, and half dragged him down the corridor.

The scene changed again.

She watched Harry being dumped through an eerie looking archway while You-Know-Who screamed in terror.

The scene changed yet again.

This time, the room felt warm, it felt comfortable, like an Anglo-Saxon chieftain's roundhouse in times of old.

Harry was talking to a man and woman. They felt beyond powerful. The man held a scythe; the woman held a book.

Her eye's widened as the meaning of their conversation sunk in.

Sentences crashed through her head like tidal waves, drowning out all other thought.

"Dumbledore declared him The-Boy-Who-Lived when he was a baby and the child made no effort to disavow others of that impression, even when it became apparent to him that it was you the prophecy referred to."

Shock.

"It was never his plan for you to stay in Azkaban for as long as you did, but when he died before John Potter did, he was no longer able to manipulate events, and your brother said nothing to anyone who might have been able to intervene."

Anger.

"He knew Ginny was going to die, and let it happen anyway?! I thought those two loved each other."

Betrayal.

"You must save Ginny Weasley."

… … …Hope.

The scene faded in and out, words flowing into other words, as though parts were being skipped.

Before long, Harry was flung back through the archway, and the scene, once more, faded to black.

This time, when the world faded into being, she was standing on a rock, looking out over the bluest sea she'd ever seen.

Harry, a Harry who looked the same age as John, stood to one side, looking out across the water.

She picked her way across the rocks to stand next to him, so that she might get a better view of whatever he was looking at.

"Hello Ginny."

She started. Her head turned so fast her hair whipped her face. Harry was looking at her, right at her, straight into her eyes. Her heart pounded.

"I won't let it happen, you know. I'm going to stop it."

"I-I"

"…?"

"I can't believe they did all that too you."

Harry laughed a mirthless laugh. "Sucks doesn't it."

She nodded.

He looked out to sea again, as though lost in thought.

"…"

"…"

"…"

"How?"

"Mmmm?"

"How did I die?"

"You weren't listening during your eulogy?"

"I was… a bit distracted."

"It doesn't matter anyway. I told you, I'm not going to let it happen again."

"I'd still like to know, and you were happy for me to hear it before."

Harry sighed. "Your soul was sucked out by one of You-Know-Who's toys. It forced you to open the chamber of secrets, and spent half your first Hogwarts year possessing you, attacking students with a one-thousand-year-old, sixty-foot-long basilisk."

She stared at him, appalled.

"Slowly losing your mind to Lord Voldemort isn't fun, and John could've easily stopped it at any time by taking the object from you, and destroying it, like he should have, but because of his obsession with 'preserving the timeline', he condemned you to another year of torture.

"…"

"…"

"…"

"So, what are we going to do now?"

Harry raised an eyebrow. "We?"

Despite everything she'd just been through, she felt free. She finally knew what had been going on for the past few months, that she wasn't losing her mind, that the dreams she'd been having were for a reason, and that Harry, whose living conditions she'd been getting panicky about, seemed fine.

She grinned impishly at him. "Yes, we. I assume you didn't spend months showing me stuff just so you could declare yourself my hero?"

Harry returned her grin. "You're damn right about that. I want to train you."

"Train me?"

"For better or worse, our fates are intertwined, decreed by the powers that be themselves, and if you, and a few others, are going to walk the path with me, then you'll need to be ready for it."

She thought back to what she'd just seen. The death, the horror, the suffering. If that's what the world had in store, then she damn well did need to be ready for it.

"OK."

"Great. Meet me in the orchard one week from tonight at mid-night."

"But the wards—"

Her world faded to black.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny paced. The half-moon illuminated the orchard.

Despite the cheerful, jokey attitude she'd displayed to Harry, the truth was she'd mostly been running off adrenaline at the time. After waking up from her dream that night, it had taken all her willpower not to have a breakdown. The full enormity of what she'd seen kept crashing in on her.

It was only the thought of meeting Harry for real, The-True-Boy-Who-Lived, that got her through the week. Harry felt more like the hero the Boy-Who-Lived was supposed to be. The hero from the adventure books.

But, how was he going to meet her? She was sure Harry had never been keyed in to the wards.

"Hi Ginny."

She jumped.

"Harry!" she said in a fierce whisper. "How did you get in?"

"Common, I'll show you."

He grabbed her hand, and led her to a space between two trees on the far side of the orchard.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"Harry? What am I looking at? There's nothing here."

He grinned. "Oh yes, ahem… 'The secret passage into the Burrow is located between the two most northern trees in the orchard'."

Ginny processed his words, and was shocked as a trapdoor appeared in the ground.

"What was that? How did you?" she spluttered.

"That was a fidelius charm. It preserves a secret, and only the secret keeper can reveal the secret. I'm the secret keeper. C'mon." He opened the trap door, and descended the stairs beneath.

Ginny hesitated, then followed.

"But where did the secret passage come from?" she asked, as they made their way along. "I've never seen it before."

"I built it. There are ways to get around tight, interwoven perimeter wards like the Burrow has, but doing it without anyone noticing either takes hours to do it once, or leaves very obvious signs of a permanent entrance. Creating an underground passageway, hidden by a fidelius, lets me create a permanent way without anyone being any the wiser, and only the secret keeper, and those who posses the secret, — i.e. you — can use it. Ah! Here we are."

Harry stopped in a small room hollowed out of the earth. Ginny could see runestones lining the walls, floor, and ceiling. A wooden walkway elevated the path they were walking on above the stones.

"The runestones trick the ward system into thinking they are the next ward stone in the system, and that the system is still complete, when, in fact, there is now a hole. It's called a man in the middle attack. Often, it's pretty useless, because most warded systems have area wards as well as perimeter wards, but the Burrow doesn't."

Ginny bit her lip. She didn't want to imagine the trouble she'd be in if her parents ever found out about this.

"And only we can use it?"

"Yes. Only you and me. C'mon."

They crept down the passage until they came out at another trapdoor. She looked around, and found herself in the middle of a small copse.

"Hey, I know where this is. We're training here?"

"Nope, we've a little way yet." He reached into his pocket, and drew something out. "Here," he said, handing her what looked like a tiny broomstick. "The activation phrase is 'Harry's awesome broomstick'."

She inspected the tiny broomstick, and grinned. It looked like a nimbus 1700. She'd only ridden one of these once, for two minutes. John had let her have a go on her birthday, before Ron had glared daggers at John, and he'd asked it back.

"Say it," Harry urged.

"Harry's awesome broomstick."

The tiny broomstick expanded into a full adult version, and, laughing, she swung her leg over the shaft.

"Hold it!"

She looked at him.

Harry brought out a wand, and tapped her on the head. She felt like an egg had been cracked over her. "What the?"

"Disillusionment. We'll blend into the background, which in the night-sky makes us damn near invisible."

"Wow… ah… Harry, how do you have a wand?"

"Later," he said, pulling out his own broom.

They both shot into the sky, Harry occasionally calling out to guide her. Flying while almost invisible was thrilling, but also disconcerting. She felt like a bird, swooping and curving around the sky on this incredible broom, but, at the same time, she didn't know exactly where Harry was, and couldn't shake the feeling she was going to crash into him.

After twenty minutes of the most enthralling flying she'd ever had, they touched down in the clearing of a wood. A small waterfall splashed and flowed to one side.

Harry faded into view before dispelling her. He then started waving his wand in patterns before several bluebell flame lanterns appeared from nowhere, and floated upwards, hanging themselves on nearby branches. They cast a soft, blue light on everything. It was beautiful.

"Muggle repelling wards," he said, by way of explanation. "So, what do you think?"

"It's a very nice place. Having a picnic here during the day would be nice." She walked over to the stream, squatted down, and dipped her hand in, testing the water. "So, what are we going to learn?"

"How are your occlumency studies going?"

She stood back up, and shuffled her feet. "What's occlumency?"

Harry looked shocked. It was the first time she'd ever seen him surprised. "Oh wow… that… actually explains so much."

"Explains what?" she asked, getting agitated. "What's occlumency?"

"It's the magic of the human mind. All pureblood houses that I've encountered teach their children occlumency, because, without it, anyone trained in legilimency can pull family secrets straight from your head… or any other secret for that matter. It also gives those who study it better concentration, memory, and skill acquisition."

Ginny was agast as the implications sank in. She'd never heard her parents so much as mention such a practice to her, or any of her brothers.

"You mean, people read our minds?"

"Well… you might have some latitude. A lot of wizards might assume your family practices occlumency, and so don't try to probe you. It's considered a large faux pas to be caught using legilimency on someone with the defenses to detect intrusion. But anyone who knows you don't practice it…"

"Why isn't using legilimency illegal?"

"Because the noble houses, most of which are pureblood, learn occlumency, but the muggleborns—and to a lesser extant halfbloods—either don't know to, can't, or decide it's not worth it. This gives the noble houses, and other traditional houses, a massive advantage over everyone else, and they mostly control the law, so why should they outlaw it?"

She thought about it. It made sense. It wasn't right, but it made sense.

"So I need to learn this?"

"Yes."

"How long will it take?"

"Normally it would take years, but I have a trick that'll cut that down to just months."

She perked up. "Really? Oh, thank Merlin. I thought I was going to be massively far behind."

"Once you've got intermediate occlumency down, we'll move onto wandless casting."

"What! I thought only really powerful wizards could use wandless magic?"

"Not true. It just requires the combination of a specialized form of occlumency, which most practitioners don't bother learning, and the time to learn how each spell you want to learn should feel moving through you, rather than through the crutch of a wand."

This was awesome. This is what she imagined being the friend of the Boy-Who-Lived would be like.

"And then?"

"That'll be plenty for the moment. We'll practice dueling as well, but that's just further application of our wandless studies."

"OK." Her face set in determination. "When do we start?"

"Right now."

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny danced around the secret training spot, letting her happiness wash over her barriers and through her mindscape like a flash flood. She'd gotten it down. Harry had just spent half an hour inspecting and probing her mind, and declared her fit for the fight.

"Yes, yes." Harry said, grinning at her as she jumped in the stream, splashing him with cooling water. "You're happy, we get that."

"Harry, you've no idea what it feels like. This is the first time I've gotten good at something that is just mine. Something none of my brothers can do. When Mum would yell at me before, I felt like I was being beaten into the ground. I just wanted to shrivel up, and disappear. Now, I feel like I can easily take it. If feels amazing."

She leapt from the stream and wrapped her arms around Harry. "Thank you."

Harry returned the hug and smiled. "Well then, there does remain one more thing to do."

She looked at him. "What?"

"Close your eyes."

She suddenly realized how close they were.

"W-w-what?"

"Close your eyes."

She hesitated for a moment, but closed her eyes. He wasn't going to… was he? Was he?

She felt Harry's hands reach up to her neck and flick her hair away before withdrawing. Something dragged across her neck and upper chest.

"There we are. No need for this anymore."

She opened her eyes. Harry was holding a silver chain necklace with a lightning bolt pendant attached to it.

She was puzzled. "I don't remember putting that on."

"This has been serving as your basic occlumency for the last seven or eight months, and letting me send you those dreams. Now you've got your own occlumency, you don't need it any more."

She bit her lip. Conflicting emotions clashed, not the least of which was disappointment that he hadn't. She felt she should be angry that she'd been wearing a magical artifact, which had been messing with her head for over half a year, without knowing, but, on the other hand, she couldn't deny it had turned out for the best. Harry knew what he was doing…right? She trusted him, didn't she?

She thought back to the memories of the future, to the conversation with Fate and Death, to John committing suicide on the end of You-Know-Who's wand, thinking Death would give him a third chance, …to her eulogy.

Yes. Yes, she trusted Harry.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

"Harry?" Ginny sat cross-legged on the grass of the secret training spot. She was trying to feel her magic flow through her while focusing her intent on creating a lumos light in her palm. It had been weeks since he'd deemed her occlumency sufficient to move on to the next step.

"Yes Ginny?"

"Can we talk?"

"Sure."

"It's about John."

Harry seemed to stiffen. "Oh, yes?"

"I-I…" she hesitated before plunging forward, "For months I thought I was over him, I mean, he did all those things — or will do them — but, in the last few weeks, I haven't been able to shake the feelings I had for him before. I guess I just can't connect the boy he is now to the John who utterly failed to do what he should have done… and what he did to me."

Harry looked thoughtful.

"I still want to continue our training," she added, quickly. "I just feel torn, between what I feel for John," — her voice dipped down to barely audible level — "And what I feel for you." She blushed lightly.

"Do you want to like him?"

"No!" She shook her head causing her red hair to flail.

Harry looked thoughtful again. "One moment." He stood up, and with a *Crack!* was gone.

She waited.

Five minutes later, Harry returned with another *Crack!*. He held a vial of crystal clear purple potion.

"This is a potion that reveals all the worst traits and habits of a person to the drinker. It's supposed to be very difficult to continuing liking someone after having drunk one of these. The effects only last a few days, but the mind still remembers all the bad things, even if the magic is no longer present."

Harry handed the potion to her. She looked at it, uncertain. She didn't know what she'd been expecting when she brought this up with Harry, but this wasn't it.

"How did you prepare this so quickly?"

"I have his hair in my supplies."

"How did you get his hair?"

Harry grinned. "You don't want to know."

She looked back at the crystal-clear, purple liquid sloshing around as she turned the vial this way and that. She bit her lip.

Could she really do this? She didn't like the feelings she had for John, but they were still her feelings. Could she choose to hate him? To decide he was no longer part of her future, and shut him out from that, permanently?"

She looked up at Harry, who was sitting, legs out in front, pointedly angled away from her, looking towards the waterfall. The message was clear. This was her decision.

Her hands trembled. Her entire world shrunk to the tiny glass vial in her hands.

She rubbed the tip of the vial's stopper between her thumb and forefinger, and forced herself to remember all those times John hadn't stood up for her.

She popped the stopper.

She drank.

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

John Potter exited the burrow's floo, and looked around. Ginny wasn't here. She and he had been drifting apart over the last few months, and it was only now that he realized he'd missed having her hanging around. It was true he hadn't been doing much for her, but he'd never seen the need when she wouldn't ever leave him alone.

He'd asked Dad what to do, which had been educational.

"Son," he'd said, "girls expect you to chase them, if you don't they'll eventually give up, no matter how into you they are. I chased your mother for six years before she finally agreed to date me."

"But I don't want to d-d-date her… I just like having her around."

"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that, Son. Face it, Potter men can't resist a pretty redhead."

A quick check in with Mrs. Weasley confirmed she wasn't in the house.

"She's recently been spending a lot of time in the orchard, John dear."

He walked the path to the orchard. Maybe Ginny would like a ride on his broom. That would surely work. Ginny seemed to like flying, even if she never did any.

He reached the orchard's edge, and saw her sitting below a tree… practicing occlumency? That was different.

"Gin Gin!"

Ginny raised her head, and his world shattered.

Hate.

It shouldn't be possible for eyes to contain such loathing. Such malice. And for those chocolate-brown orbs to be directing all that revulsion at him.

"G-gin?" he stammered. "What's wrong?"

She stood, and walked off without saying anything, giving him nothing but a final disgust filled glare.

He felt like he was going to cry. Tears welled up, and his breath started to shudder. What had he done?

- DP&SW - RIBSR -

Ginny felt her magic course through her, felt it ride the currents of nerves and blood, felt it pool in her hand, felt it seep into her finger tips, and watched the stinging hex shoot towards her intended target, who instantly battered the spell away with his wand.

"I did it!" She leapt up, ran at Harry, and threw her arms around his neck, forcing him to spin her around, or risk losing his balance.

"Well done." He smiled. "Keep it up, and at this rate we'll be doing actual dueling soon. I'll have to start thinking about introducing you to your dueling partner."

Her face fell, and she looked at her feet. "Dueling partner? I thought we were going to…"

"Oh, we are." Harry lifted her chin, and grinned. "But you're going to be stuck here for a whole year while I'm in Scotland, and I don't want you getting rusty. I've been training a few others, so we're not going to face this future alone. There will be a good number of us to rely on."

Not alone. That sounded good.

"Oh, that reminds me," he said, snapping his fingers, and reaching into his pocket. "I have something here for you, since you've just mastered your first wandless spell, I guess this will do well for a reward."

She took the object and looked at it. It was a ring, but it clearly wasn't a ring ring. It was silver and had a small lightning bolt design on the face.

She raised an eyebrow.

"I'm giving these rings to those who know all three of the secrets. They're invisible to all but those who also wear one. They're also soul bound, and have most of the usual goodies you'd expect from a high end piece of jewelry."

She fingered the ring. It was a gift from Harry.

"It doesn't make you have weird dreams does it?" she asked, tracing the ridges of the lightning bolt with the sensitive tips of her fingers.

"Nope, no dreams. Although they do have a few cool features. They can send very basic messages to each other using vibrations, and they make you immune to compulsion charms. That was the only immunity I could get to work. I swear, Merlin was a frekkin genius when he created the noble-house rings."

"You were trying to re-create the noble-house rings? Ambitious aren't we?"

"Well it is my house's nature."

"Well that's true." She looked thoughtful. "You know, if you'd told me a year ago I'd be going to Slytherin, I'd have said you were mad, and to piss off."

"How we change mmm?"

"Yah."

"How's my brother doing?"

Her expression darkened. "Still whining that his love detests him for no reason. Ever since the hate potion wore off, he's become so needy it's sickening. My family even tried to hold a mediation between us the other day."

Harry cringed. "I bet that went well."

"They spent the whole time trying to tell me that I was being unreasonable; that we looked so cute together. Well, Mum did anyway."

Silence descended on the pair for a moment.

"So, you want to put that on?"

She perked up. "Sure, which finger?"

"Pinky of your right hand. So it's very obvious when you shake or kiss hands."

"So, it's kind of like a secret club."

"In a way."

"Cool."

She slipped the ring on her pinky, and felt the magic catch. It was the first time she'd ever worn a magic ring. For a moment, she allowed herself to imagine she was a real pureblood princess.

"Back to training?"

She beamed. "Yes Harry."

Chapter Text

Harry, disguised as Child-Lord-Slytheirn, sat outside a Diagon Alley cafe. He polished off his full-English breakfast, and considered the top-floor-office four shops away, headquarters of most innovative newspaper in the country, The Quibbler.

Luna Lovegood had been a nervous, frightened child when he'd last been at Hogwarts, but Voldemort's memories showed her to be both loyal, and a competent duelist. She'd gone one-on-one with Yaxley, lived, and then taken a killing curse meant for his incompetent brother. She was an obvious asset. Luna and Alexandra would make perfect dueling partners for Ginny who were all childhood friends. The Lovegoods were also noble, owned a national newspaper, and were a light-sided family sitting on the edge of being grey. Courting them was a no-brainer.

Being noble, he'd have to be more carful in how he handled Luna. With Ginny, he knew that if everything went to dragon dung, he could wipe her memory, and start over again. He'd have never dared use a compulsion-charmed necklace with a mental backdoor if Ginny were noble. The noble house rings made such tactics impossible.

He'd have to build his friendship with the Lovegood Heiress without such tactics, and there was an obvious point in the timeline where he'd be able to build a solid link. In the year before Hogwarts, Pandora Lovegood, Luna's mother, died during a spell crafting accident; an accident that was both predictable, and preventable. Stop Lady Lovegood's death, and Luna would be putty in his hands.

But that event would be less than six months before his first Hogwarts year; a dangerously small timeframe to both befriend and train her. He wasn't even sure the timeline would repeat itself anymore. He needed something sooner, but despite thinking for weeks, he hadn't come up with anything he liked.

He raised his orange juice to mouth-level, and fumbled for the straw with his mouth.

"Hello."

He tore his distracted focus away from The Quibbler Building, glanced towards the voice, and did a double take. He was looking into the silvery-grey eyes of Luna Lovegood.

"Would you like to be my friend? I don't have many friends."

No fucking way. His mouth switched to emergency autopilot while his brain malfunctioned and shut down.

"Yes, I would like to be your friend."

"Yay." The girl raised her hands in the air, glided over to him, and hugged him. She pulled away. "What's your name?"

"Harry."

"I'm Luna. Did you know you're surrounded by kerfuffling scribblebugs?"

"You know, I did not know that," he said, still stunned. His brain started to reboot. This was Luna Lovegood? Hogwarts must've really knocked the spirit from her. "What is a kerfuffling scribblebug?"

The short blonde smiled. "It's a type of flying beetle that hunts Nargles; they breed very fast when there is enough magic to support them."

"And they're incorporeal, invisible, and completely undetectable?"

Luna frowned. "I can see them."

"I believe you."

Luna's smile broke out again. She was wearing green, flowing, modern, open-robes with a white summer dress. It was an odd combination, and made her look like a white flower surrounded by long, green leaves.

He thought for a moment. "How many do I have around me at the moment?"

She counted. "Fourteen."

Harry flipped open a notebook, and made a note. It stood to reason that if these possibly non-existent beetles were supported by magic, and reproduced, then there must be an environmental carrying capacity. If he had fourteen now, and that changed, it might mean something. Like an increase in magical power? It certainly wasn't the best way to quantify raw magical power, but if Luna could see them, it would be easy, and could be measured without the subject's knowing.

"Luna, do you have any kerfuffling scribblebugs?"

"Oh no Harry, very few wizards do."

Well scratch that idea then. He flipped the notebook shut.

"Fancy some cake?" he asked.

"Do they have pudding?"

"I'm sure they have pudding."

The girl clapped her hands, once. "I like pudding."

He smiled. 'Sometimes,' he thought, 'Fate can be such a sweet mistress.'

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

'And sometimes,' Harry thought, 'Fate can be a right bitch.'

He crouched behind a bush in a small park, opposite a line of drab looking London town houses, and recast his rain repelling charm. It was chucking it down. The sky was dark, the buildings were grey, and the ground slurped and squished around his dragonhide boots. It was just as well he'd already performed the ritual to give him near perfect eye-sight and hearing, or he'd have problems with his glasses.

Twelve Grimmauld Place stood taunting him. So close, and yet, with its ancient war wards, it might as well be on the moon. The Weasleys had scrimped when they'd constructed the ward system around the burrow. Keyed portkey wards, keyed apparition wards, key-in and key-out wards, muggle repelling wards, and a basic magic shield. That was it. They didn't even have an anti-animagus ward. The Blacks, by contrast, believed that the strongest protections available, still weren't strong enough. They'd put up everything short of fidelius, and getting past them with discretion was not happening.

Direct mind magics also wouldn't work. Alexandra Black certainly wore a noble house ring. The only way he was going to get to her was by luring her outside. But how? Her father wouldn't have anything to do with the neutrals, unless he thought he could persuade one of them to the Light. Ginny said her friendship with Alex had deteriorated recently, ever since Alex started becoming interested in darker magic, and Ginny started going after John Potter, the symbol of the Light. She never left the house by the front door, always by floo.

Whatever he was going to do, it wouldn't be done standing here while the heavens tried their level best to drown him.

He apparated away with a *Crack* leaving two foot-shaped impressions, which quickly filled with muddy water.

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

Harry gazed up at the rook-shaped building in front of him. It looked more serene during the day, when not surrounded by death eaters, and engulfed by fiendfyre.

"Look Harry. These are our dirigible plum bushes." Luna danced like a fae from stories of old around the magical and mundane plants that littered the gardens of the rookery. All she needed was the flowers in her hair, and the tendency to claw her way through people's intestines.

"Interesting plant. I don't think I've seen them before. Do they have magical properties?"

"Their fruit enhances your ability to accept the extraordinary."

"Really?"

She paused by one of the bushes. "You sound like you're having problems believing it," she said, plucking one off the bush, and proffering it to him. "Would you like one?"

"Oh, I believe it. Umm… could I take it and eat it later?"

"That's probably a good idea Harry. They're poisonous if not cooked before eating."

He coughed, and looked down at the fruit he'd just accepted from Luna. He wondered if she'd have told him that before he'd started to chow down. He had a bezoar in his bag, but getting poisoned still wasn't on his to-do list. He carefully put the fruit into his bag.

"Thank you Luna. Do you eat them?"

"Oh yes."

He grinned. A plant that made you more gullible would definitely come in useful, especially if the noble house rings didn't block it.

"A Nargle just appeared by your head, Harry."

"Oh?"

"Opp, it just got eaten by a kerfuffling scribblebug." She smiled a dreamy smile. "They're really very useful."

He shook his head. Being around Luna was an experience. He'd been in Voldemort's head for years, but Luna's presence was surreal.

"Are we going to see the back garden too?"

Luna beamed at him. "Yes, Harry."

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

Harry stalked his prey down Diagon Alley like a wolf stalks a deer. His quarry spent a few minutes window-shopping the quidditch store, another ten minutes eating an ice cream in Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour, before finally stepping into Flourish and Blotts.

He crept, unseen, through the rows of books, keeping an eye on the long black hair that swept around corners. Its wearer was clearly looking for something specific. Something that would get it into trouble if found buying it. Why else would she be alone?

The girl spent a long time looking at one book in particular. From two bookshelves away, he recognized the oversized tome as Hatcher Romulo's Updated Compendium of Defence Against the Dark Arts. She tucked it under her arm, walked to the counter, head held high, and proceeded to have a loud argument with the store clerk, who refused to sell her a book restricted to those who were of age.

Eventually, frustrated, the girl gave up and left the store in a huff.

Opportunity.

He swigged an aging potion, ghosted to the counter, bought the book the girl had left behind, causing more than a slight eyebrow raise from the clerk, and left the store, drawing his hood up over his head to hide his face.

He'd been waiting a long time for a good moment to slip Alexandra Black a private invitation to a Greengrass party. This would do fine. He lifted a small envelope from his bag, and slipped it just behind the tome's front cover. His rapid footsteps soon caught up with the Black heiress outside a junk store.

"Heiress Black."

She hesitated before turning. Even her shoulders looked guilty.

"Here." He handed over the book, which she took in stunned silence. "Next time, use one of these." He wiggled another aging potion before turning to leave."

"Wait!" He heard Alexandra call from behind him, "Who are y—."

He disapparated with a *crack*.

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

Harry was impressed.

He sat, cross-legged, opposite Luna who was likewise seated.

"Your occlumency barriers are very good Luna."

"Thank you, Harry. Mummy always insists I work hard on them."

"Have you ever thought about taking the next logical step and learning wandless magic? With the level you're at it shouldn't be that difficult."

"But I don't have anyone who can teach me wandless magic. Could you teach me wandless magic, Harry?"

"I- yes. Yes I can, Luna."

"Yay. I like being your friend, Harry."

Harry made another mental notch on his surreal-Luna-Lovegood-moment tally.

"I like being your friend too. You make it very easy." And he meant it. Luna was so open, and accepting of everything. Maybe it was time to take the next step.

"Luna, I need to tell you something."

"What do you need to tell me, Harry?"

"I don't really look like this."

"Oh? What do you really look like?"

"Like this." He swigged a liquid finite.

"You look like Harry Potter."

"Yes I— wait what?"

"Well obviously you sort of look like John Potter, but John Potter doesn't have that scar on his forehead, so the only thing you can look like is Harry Potter."

"But, you know about Harry Potter?"

"I know he's a nice boy who's going to teach me wandless magic."

"I- right. That works. Let's go with that."

That little exchange was surely worth at least three notches.

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

Adult-Lord-Slytherin-Harry, complete with emerald mask, stood in the grand ballroom of Greengrass Manor, sipping on a glass of white. Child-Daphne stood to his side, sipping on a glass of pumpkin juice, scanning the hall for interestingness. The party had started a good hour ago, and one guest in particular had yet to show.

"Do you think she'll come?" Daphne asked.

"She may. She seems quite capable of sneaking out to the Alley. On the other hand, she might have been caught, or she never opened the book, or the Blacks have a prior engagement, or, and I admit this is a low chance event, she didn't want to."

Daphne stifled an un-lady like snort. "A witch seeking the dark arts not wanting to attend a party after being invited personally by Lord Slytherin? I just don't see that happening."

Harry looked towards the miniature blonde beside him. "I do find it unlikely, but remember, we've been purposefully altering people's perceptions of what Slytherin stands for. It's bound to alienate the more hardcore blood-supremacists, and we don't know how indoctrinated Alex is by the stuff she's read in the Black Library."

Daphne acknowledged his point with a slight tip of her glass.

Suddenly, the floo flared green, and a small figure stepped out, wearing an elegant black-laced dress robe, and a Lord-Slytherin-style, black mask.

Harry and Daphne watched the figure hand the master of ceremonies an invitation before holding a short conversation with him. The man nodded, straightened, and called out…

"Miss Incognito."

He snorted. Daphne looked dumbstruck.

"Wow. Way to call attention to yourself. Someone reads far too much historical fiction," he said, as every head in the hall turned to the floo.

The young witch looked uncomfortable at the sudden attention, but rallied, and strode over to a food table on the opposite side of the room to him and Daphne.

The general hubbub of the party resumed, and Daphne spoke. "I'm guessing Lord Black has been taking it light on the social training. What do you bet everyone in the hall knows she's the Black Heiress by the end of the party?"

He grinned. "You know I don't take losing bets."

"Are you going to introduce yourself now?"

"Nah. Give it a half-hour. Let her sweat for a bit. She's not getting any good conversation when no one knows who she is, apart from being treated like a guess-my-name-puzzle. Oh. I spoke too soon."

An even smaller blonde, this one a centrifuge of energy, had barreled over the ballroom floor towards 'Miss Incognito', and was now attempting to draw the lace-covered witch into a mile-a-minute dialogue.

Daphne sighed. "Oh Tori."

His grin widened. "You love her."

"I do, but I wish—"

"—Hey, I wouldn't change a thing about her. Enthusiasm like that is a rare commodity."

The Black heiress was now being dragged out of the ballroom and into one of the many antechambers.

"Guess I'll go introduce myself earlier then."

Daphne nodded. "Good luck, My Lord."

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

Five minutes later, Harry opened the door Astoria had dragged Alexandra through to find them both happily engaged in conversation, Alex leaning on an ornate dinning table. When Alex saw him, she snapped up, and immediately dropped a curtsey.

"My Lord Slytherin."

"Miss Incognito. Although I'm sure our inimitable Astoria has already done so, I'd like to personally welcome you to Greengrass Manor. Astoria, could you excuse us a moment?"

Astoria giggled, and also dropped a curtsey,—"Yes, My Lord Slytherin,"—before dashing out of the room.

The door clicked shut.

The two regarded each other, both masked, one, tall and comfortable, the other, smaller and stiff.

"You made quite an entrance Miss Black. If your purpose was to stop your father knowing you're here, that may not have been the best way."

"Kuh. It wasn't easy getting here you know," she sounded defensive, "I had to slip sleeping potion in my old man's biscuits."

"But you managed it."

"Yes, I did. Umm… Thank you for buying me the book."

"You're welcome."

"What was that potion you said I should use? I didn't recognize it."

"Aging potion."

The girl slapped her mask in a theatrical gesture of chagrin. "Of course. And…"—her voice changed to confused—"you carry aging potion around with you?"

"Why are you interested in the dark arts Miss Black?"

She shifted, uncomfortable. "Well, they're really interesting."

"You don't need to pretend with me. I know more dark magic then perhaps any other person alive."

"More than held in the Black Library?" She sounded hungry.

"The Black Library no doubt holds many secrets that I do not know, but, as a whole, yes, far more than the Black Library."

"Is that why you invited me here? The Black Library?"

"No. I'm far more interested in you, Miss Black."

"Me?"

"Yes, you. It's rare these days for a young witch to be both independently interested in the dark arts, and have the potential resources to pursue those interests. And I'm also still interested as to the why."

"I'm… I'm not sure I'm comfortable discussing that right now."

"That's OK. There are many reasons for walking the path we walk, and many of them are very private."

She made a gesture of grateful thanks.

"There is another thing. There is someone I'd like you to meet."

"Who?"

He walked over to a nearby low chair, sat down, and wordlessly invited Alexandra to sit opposite him. "Miss Black," he started after the raven-haired girl had sat down, "what I am about to tell you is a closely guarded secret. If you can't keep secrets then I suggest you say so, and we'll part ways now."

She paused for a moment before continuing. "No, I can keep secrets. I succeeded in keeping out my instructor's probes last month."

"Very well. His name is Harry."

"…?"

"He is the estranged twin brother of John Potter."

"What? That wuss doesn't have a brother!" she shouted.

"The Potters abandoned Harry with Lily's muggle relatives just after Voldemort's attack. I've been raising him in secret for quite a while now."

He couldn't see under her mask, but he was pretty sure her mouth was hanging open.

She huffed. "And you want me to meet him? All Potters are pathetic."

"You never met Harry's great-uncle did you."

"Well no. Why?"

"Charlus Potter was not a man you wanted to mess with. He was one of the few who almost defeated Voldemort during his first rise."

"You mean his only rise."

"Of course."

"…"

"…"

"Harry will also be just one year above you at Hogwarts, and will likely also be sorted into Slytherin.

"OK. I'll meet him."

"Excellent. My hope is that you can both further your studies together. You'll find he is very competent."

"I'd rather learn with you!"

"Unfortunately, right now, that isn't possible, but you will find Harry is more than capable of taking my place."

Alex didn't look convinced, but it was the best he was going to manage for the moment.

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

Harry stood at the far edge of a clearing in the Rookery gardens, and regarded Luna. She had just succeeded in casting her first wandless protego. She was a quick learner. There were only a few more spells she needed.

"Well done, Luna. Pretty soon you'll be able to start dueling practice with some of the others I've been teaching."

"Yay. More friends." She glided over and hugged him… again. Luna had turned out to demand more hugs than even Ginny. Considering he'd spent the first twenty-some years of his life without a single hug, he wasn't complaining.

He was just pulling away when he noticed they weren't alone. A man and a woman stood, side-by-side at the garden's edge, watching them. It was still early afternoon. Luna hadn't mentioned her parents would be home today.

"Um… Hello," he said. Luna turned around to see whom he was addressing.

"Well hello there young man," said Xenophilius Lovegood, his shoulder length blond hair framed his young but well-traveled face. "I hope your intentions towards my daughter there are honorable."

He glanced at the nine-year-old girl in front of him before looking back at the man. Lord Lovegood didn't look angry, just curious.

"Yes?" he said, very uncertain.

"Excellent." He seemed pleased. "Then we can start writing up the betrothal contract."

"…"

He hadn't just heard that correctly? Had he? He'd accepted Luna being a bit odd, but her parents too? Lady Lovegood wasn't making any effort to disapprove of or contradict her husband, and they didn't look like they were joking. The Lovegoods weren't poor. They ran the second most circulated newspaper in the country, and were noble, dealing with the backstabbing politics of the Wizengamot on a regular basis. They were powerful, and powerful people who made stupid decisions didn't remain powerful for long. Therefore, this offer wasn't stupid. But he couldn't see the reasoning behind it.

Oh.

"Lord Lovegood, you know that I'm not John Potter, don't you?"

"Yes Harry. I know that you are Harry."

"Just Harry?"

"Luna made it very clear that your last name is"—he made quotation marks with his fingers—"a super duper secret. But, having seen you, I suspect I can guess what it is."

"I am not next in line to the Potter Lordship."

"That is not a problem."

It still didn't make any sense.

"I am already subject to a betrothal contract."

"Even better! A consort contract will even allow Luna to continue the Lovegood name."

Every political brain cell in his head was screaming in terror. It was too easy! Life doesn't work like this! You don't just get given awesome stuff! He glanced to Luna who stood to the side beaming a lumos-maximus smile towards her father.

"My Lord Lovegood. I'm very honored. I don't understand though. Why would you offer me Luna without knowing anything about me."

"I know you've been practicing wandless magic with Luna; a skill that you are proficient in despite your age."

'OK,' he thought.

"I know that you are independent and responsible, since you are able to move freely, and without parental oversight or consent."

'OK.'

"I know you are politically intelligent from your questions to my offer."

He raised a mental eyebrow at the post-decision rationalization.

"I know another family, traditional enough to use betrothal contracts, deems you worthwhile enough to be party to one."

'Social proof,' he thought, 'But Lord Lovegood knows he doesn't know the political alignment of my betrothed.'

"I know you were able to afford said contract, and that you are dressed in acromantula-silk closed-robes, and dragonhide boots."

'More post-decision rationalization.'

"I know you are brave and stouthearted by your pose and manner when confronted by a powerful Lord and parent who you've been trying to avoid, and keep secrets from."

He winced.

"I know you are diligent since the wards record your presence every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the last six months without breaking the pattern once."

He winced again.

"I know Luna likes you very much."

Ah.

"And I know that sooner or later, some Lord in the Wizangamot is going to try to include a betrothal contract with Luna as part of some strong-arm political maneuver."

Ahhhhh. Was it that simple? A preemptive strike to protect Luna with a boy she likes, and seems to not be terrible?

"Was that enough reasons Harry?" Xenophilius smiled.

…That was actually only one real reason, the rest were reasons why he wouldn't be horrible, or just weren't good reasons. It still didn't seem right. You just don't ask boys you've only just met to be your daughter's consort even if you have a good reason. You spend time to sniff out potential land mines. You feel for family compatibility.

At this point his as yet unformed mortal passions got sick of his overthinking, and reared up from his deepest memories of puberty, spent in the company of happiness-sucking demons, the nails-on-blackboard cackle of Belatrix Lestrange, and not a single feminine curve, screaming at him to shut up and accept the damned offer!

"Yes, Lord Lovegood," he said weakly.

"Wonderful!"

Pandora Lovegood clapped. Luna turned, jumped, and hugged him. Her fifth hug of the day.

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

Harry waited in the park, two blocks from the old London town house of the Blacks, hidden from the casual glance of passing muggles. A recognizable, slight figure, wearing black, traditional closed-robes, walked towards him, crossed over pavement and road, onto grass, and halted a few meters from him.

"Dear Merlin, you really do look just like John Potter. I feel so sorry for you."

"A pleasure to meet you too Heiress Alexandra of the Most Ancient and Noble house of Black. And I prefer to think that John Potter looks just like me."

She snorted. "Whatever Potter. So what are we going to do here?"

"I thought we'd start with occlumency and then move onto wandless magic."

"I already know occlumency, and why should I bother with wandless magic? We're getting wands when we go to Hogwarts anyway."

Harry summoned a stick from the base of a nearby tree. Alex looked surprised for a fraction of a second before her expression relapsed to her attempt at a mild sneer, although on her it looked more like a pout.

"When someone takes your wand, its important to get it back," he said, waving the stick for emphasis.

"So that's one spell. And I could just keep my wand attached to my wrist in combat."

"And if someone shatters your wand? Or cuts off you hand?"

The Black Heiress spluttered. "Shatter my wand? That's despicable," she said, rubbing her wrist and ignoring his comment about severed hands.

"You're the one studying the dark arts. You must have seen the requirements for many of the rituals, and the personal anecdotes of the authors. It's not a pretty world out there, Alex."

"Don't call me Alex," she shot back. "And of course I've read those rituals, do you think I'm stupid?"

"No."

"Good. I'm not interested in wandless parlor tricks. I'm interested in learning more of what's possible with the full range of magics, not just the tiny amount authorized by the ministry. Why should we not learn everything magic is capable of?"

"Well, there are good reasons the ancient families keep knowledge of the old magics hidden from the general population."

"Che. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the ancient families. The Light is trying to take our birthrights from us."

"Yes they are. But what use is learning that stuff now, when you don't have a wand? Our time is better spent learning the things we can with the tools we have."

She didn't look convinced. "Is that all you can teach me then? Silly little party tricks?

"I can regale you with story after story of what all the magics are capable of, but without a wand, such knowledge isn't very useful. We can move on to that stuff in our first year of Hogwarts. It's useful then."

She pursed her lips. "You're wrong," she said, walking until she was nose to nose with him. "It is useful now." She smiled, and laid a hand on his shoulder.

He raised an eyebrow.

Alex brought her hand down to his arm, and gripped.

Strong! He made to shake her off, but couldn't. Too strong. Far stronger than any nine-year-old girl had any right to be.

Quick as a wand draw, Alex grabbed his shoulder, and effortlessly turned him around, arm twisted around his back, grabbed his other hand, and pinned it with the first. Her grip was like a vice.

He grimaced, and stopped struggling. He hadn't been expecting that.

Alex leant into his ear. "Do you see Potter?" she said, sounding pleased with herself. "There are many old magics that are very useful right now."

Shit. This was going to hurt like a bitch. Bracing himself, he unleashed a wandless area-of-effect banishing spell, pushing the witch away from him, and dislocating his left arm, sending a bolt of pain shooting through him.

Alexandra stumbled backwards, tripped on the hem of her robes, and landed on her bum with an "Uff". She looked up, seemingly unhurt. "You jerk!"

He turned, and popped his arm back into place. "See? Wandless magic isn't useless either. And you are aware that the ritual of krazenkart is best done on one's thirteenth birthday for best effect?"

Her cheeks tinted. "S-Shut up Potter!"

He silently regarded the raven-haired girl still glaring up at him. She was so hostile. He needed to establish authority and dominance, but she wasn't buying it. Dare he reveal he could use a wand to show her something more impressive? No. It was too risky to reveal any more of his secrets to someone who didn't implicitly respect him. It would have to wait until they got to Hogwarts. In the meantime, he'd have to throw her a bone to stay in her moderately good graces. The rapport they had now was much better than they'd had last time around.

"Fine. I'll see what books we have that are of interest. Maybe we can do a book swap."

She smirked, stood up, brushed herself down, flicked her hair, and put a hand on her hip. "That sounds more acceptable Potter."

- DP&SW – RIBSR -

[Early Summer - 1991]

Child-Lord-Slytherin-Harry walked down Diagon Alley, hand-in-hand with Daphne.

They'd both just got back from a four-week-trip around the UK and Europe, building and fideliusing emergency boltholes, complete with supplies. Daphne had got a lot of use out of her muggle outdoor gear. It had been a long time since she'd first gone out in it.

"Has it really been three years?" he mused.

"Pretty close to it." She replied.

"We've got a lot done."

"Yes. Project Save-The-World is going well." Daphne hummed. "I still can't quite believe all the stuff that happens to you, and all the places we've been."

"Welcome to the life of Mister Harry."

She smiled sweetly at him. "You've put a lot of work into Project Harem too."

"Hey, Project Harem is an integral part of Project Save-The-World," he joked.

"Sure. Just remember, as the future Lady Slytherin, I'm the one that has to keep all these extra girls in line."

"You met Hermione."

"I did."

"And?" he grinned.

"I grudgingly admitted she's not horrible. But she still doesn't have the political killer instinct."

"Give her a chance, she's still only eleven. Not everyone can grow up with politics engraved on their soul."

Daphne cast her gaze around the alley before returning her focus to her Betrothed. "I'd have liked to have met the original eleven-year-old you."

He snorted. "Oh no you wouldn't have. I was everything you hated. Weak, validation seeking, naive."

"Easier to control?"

"Pshhh. You don't want a husband who's easy to control. It would take all the challenge out of it."

The blonde's voice dropped. "Yes, but it might be nice to win occasionally," she mumbled.

"Then you'll just have to keep getting better won't you?" He grinned.

"Better than The-Boy-Who-Is-Going-To-Cheat-His-Face-Off?"

"If you want to spend ten years in Azkaban, camped out in the Dark Lord's head, just to get good grades in school, be my guest.

"I just think it would be amazing to have all that knowledge at such a young age, while all your peers are so far behind."

"Well, you have the next best thing at least."

She unconsciously drew closer to him. "Yes. I do."

They reached the steps of Gringotts.

"And now," he continued in a semi-serious whisper, "it's time for Lord Slytherin to start throwing around some serious gold."

Chapter Text

[Earlier that morning]

Harry sat at the Greengrass breakfast table. Papers were strewn across the surface. Daphne sat opposite him, financial report in one hand, jam spread toast in the other. The two adult Greengrasses had already eaten. Astoria was still asleep.

Daphne finished swallowing. "So, a single underline is a calculation, and a double underline is the final amount?"

"Yep."

"And the exchange rate between 'pounds' and galleons is fifty-to-one?"

"Yep." He knew pureblood heirs didn't usually start learning business until their teens, but Daphne was always a fast learner.

His betrothed whistled. "That is a big number above that final double underline."

"Traditionally, it's called the bottom line. And yes, I got lucky. Three months ago one of the national distributors got caught short, and agreed to buy the rest of the goods I'd stockpiled to last while we were at Hogwarts."

"I can't believe anyone's business is so big that they'd buy that much all at once."

"In the muggle world, £1,200,000 isn't that much."

Daphne shook her head in wonder. "And so far this year you've netted £1,523,424, for a total balance of…." She dropped the income statement and picked up the four-year balance sheet. "£2,482,761."

"Yeah, but we can't expect those kind of numbers moving forward. That deal was a one-off. Without it, we bring in about £450,000 every six months, plus a bit extra from customer growth."

Daphne was still inspecting the balance sheet. "I see business wasn't that good for the first two years, 1988 and 1989."

"Oh no. Business was great. It's just that I had some rather large expenses. You may recall them. Daphne."

Daphne blushed. "Y-You said yourself, that paying that much was the only way Lord Slughorn wouldn't—"

Harry laughed. "Relax Daph. I know. And I wouldn't take it back for anything."

Daphne blushed a different kind of blush.

"And you must admit," he continued, "having the highest bride price in history did a lot for both our reputations."

She nodded. "It did. When it was leaked to the Prophet, no one would talk to me about anything else for months."

He chuckled.

"Don't you think there's a risk someone at Hogwarts will figure out that you're Lord Slytherin? Since I'm betrothed to him, and we're always going to be together?"

"It's a risk. One we'll have to work with. Hopefully by the time anyone finds out, we'll be well positioned."

Daphne set the balance sheet down, and reached over to another pile of papers. "And this"—she gently waved the new papers in her hand—"is the next step in that positioning?"

"Yep. Slytherin Manor. We've been holding the Grey together for the last three years, and even persuaded some back, but we need to push our influence. With Slytherin Manor, the three manors of the Light, Dark, and Grey, will become four. A critical mindshare shift towards the Grey, and a perfect base of operations for us. A place we can be daring without the fear of damaging the Greengrass influence."

"How much are you thinking about putting into this?"

"We've £2.5 million at the moment. I've been playing with the numbers for a while, and I think we can have our twenty-five thousand square-foot mansion—which is what's needed for the project to be worthwhile—for £6.6 million. Although I still need to check some numbers with the goblins."

Her eyes widened. "132,000 galleons. But we can't afford it. We only have fifty-thousand galleons."

He smiled. "Of course we can. We have a profitable business, and we're building a house with the money. Those two things, taken together, should be more than enough collateral for a loan."

"You're going to borrow money? From the goblins?" She looked worried.

"Yep."

"Is that a good idea? Only, I've heard stories of axe wielding debt collectors, and defaulters being fed to dragons."

"Those are legitimate concerns. So we'll do everything in our power to make sure we don't default. We can't afford to wait five years, and I trust the goblins to keep certain details confidential." He took a sip of orange juice before continuing. "The payments for a ten-year £4.6 million mortgage would amount to £600,000 a year at today's interest rates. I dropped in on my three main customers six weeks ago, and got them to agree to larger purchases at fixed times through-out the year in exchange for a better deal."

Daphne watched him, expectantly. "Meaning?"

"Meaning we'll keep back £500,000 as safety in the vault, and before we head off to Hogwarts, we'll have another £612,000. That'll keep us afloat for almost two years, even if everything went to hell.

"How secure are these businesses of yours?"

He sighed. "Honestly? Not as secure as I'd like. I'm the sole runner for three regional suppliers. Everyone else is happy with their suppliers, and isn't interested, unless they're desperate. Those three customers make up fifty percent, twenty-five percent, and twenty-five percent of my total ongoing business. That's never a good thing. Ideally I'd have at least five customers, each having only twenty percent.

"And how secure do you think those customers are?"

He grinned. "Individually? Not too bad – so long as they don't get shot or caught. Curtis loves me. His business has doubled over the last three years on my supply. Riversmith isn't growing all that fast, but he's solid, and Kovac is expanding like crazy. Still small, but give him a few years and he might start to close in on Curtis."

Daphne regarded him. Her look was calculating. "It's not enough."

"Mmm?"

"I know you. You wouldn't make a massive play like this unless you had multiple fallbacks. Your smuggling business is only one, and you just admitted it wasn't as secure as you'd like."

"Ah, Daph. You do know me. Yes. I have another plan for making obscene amounts of money, and paying off the mansion before we hit third year."

She smiled sweetly at him. "And will I know this plan?"

"Yep." He took another sip, and leaned back in his chair. "Let me tell you about something that is probably happening at Hogwarts, this year."

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

[Back to the present]

Daphne looked up at the wonky facade of Gringotts bank. A building currently holding one of the most sought after artifacts in wizarding history, the philosopher's stone. Right now though, they cared more about goblin gold than the stone.

"Shall we?" Child-Lord-Slytherin-Harry said.

"Yes." She took his arm, and together they walked into the bank, across the main floor, and up to a teller. The goblin had to lean over his desk to see them.

"Yes?"

She noticed Harry glance around before replying. "I am here to open a family vault for The Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin… along with some other related business."

The goblin raised an eyebrow.

Harry flashed him his head of house ring.

The teller drew in a sharp breath. "Please follow me, my lord."

And that was pure Harry. She was sure if any other eleven-year-old had tried that they'd have been laughed out of the bank without even a raised eyebrow. It was something about his stance and speech; it whispered 'I know what I'm doing, and I have every right to do it'.

They were led through a long series of passageways and corridors, and into a well appointed waiting room. A pair of large double doors on the far side of the room opened, and they were ushered in. A large goblin, wearing a pinstripe suit, stood up from the far side of a desk, and waved them in with an equally large, toothy grin.

"Lord Slytherin," he said, sounding happier than any goblin she'd ever encountered before. "I have been waiting for this meeting for almost two years now. Please, please sit down. We have much to discuss."

Her eyes were drawn to a small ceremonial battle-axe on the belt of the goblin's suit.

"My name is Ragnok Boneslicer of the Boneslicer Clan, and I won the right to be your vault manager two years ago."

They all took their seats.

Harry matched the goblin's grin. "Ragnok Bonesclier. May your gold flow, and your enemies fall under your blade."

She flashed her betrothed a surprised look. The Dark Lord studied goblin culture? She'd have never guessed that.

Ragnok looked mildly surprised too. "And may your enemies die in a pit of fire, and your vaults always be full…"—he grinned his toothy smile again—"something I'm hopeful will soon be true."

At this point she couldn't help herself. "Excuse me, Mister Ragnok. You said you won this account?"

Ragnok smiled at her. "In combat, young witch. With the blood of my enemies on the blade of my sword."

She shuddered.

"But that was two years ago. When the Prophet announced Lord Slytherin's ascension, it was expected you'd be at our doors in weeks. When the details of your betrothal were leaked, the clans started fighting like young'uns over a breeder. Where have you been?"

Her betrothed smiled. "I've been trying to keep a low profile for the last few years, but now that I'm about to start Hogwarts, that's no longer possible. Plus I have a large project to discuss with Gringotts."

Ragnok blinked. "About to start Hogwarts?" He sounded incredulous. "You mean… you really are as young as you look?"

"I am."

Ragnok turned to her. "And you?"

"Yes," she said. "I am heiress Greengrass, Harry's betrothed. We're both eleven. Well Harry is soon anyway.

He turned back to Harry. "And yet you hold a Lordship."

"I do."

Ragnok leaned back in his chair and looked thoughtful. He grinned, and leaned forward again. "I like the interesting clients."

She let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding.

"Let's get this cart on the tracks then. A drop of your blood if you would, Lord Slytherin."

Harry proffered his hand and Ragnok gave him a small nick with an ornate looking dagger. The blood ran down the blade, and into a small chalice on the desk. A quill started writing.

"You mentioned another project," Ragnok prompted while the quill filled out the parchment.

"Yes. A large land purchase, building, and warding project."

"Excellent, we can discuss that in a moment. Now, lets see." Ragnok took the finished parchment, and gave it a once over. His face went white. He stared at her and Harry with the air of a cat who'd been regarding a pair of mice… a pair of mice who had just turned into a pair of wolves. He wasn't smiling. "Lord Slytherin. You took your Lordship on the thirty-first of July, 1988?"

She glanced at Harry. He looked calm as always, which was reassuring. The goblin's sudden change in demeanor was a little freaky. Had Ragnok learned something he wasn't supposed to?

"I did."

"And you were born eleven years ago, on the thirty-first of July, 1980?"

"I was."

Ragnok glanced at her before looking back to Harry, and continuing. "And you have lived for almost twenty-five years?"

Her breath hitched. Oh, Merlin. They'd been caught.

Harry was silent.

Ragnok put the parchment down, leaned back in his chair, and rubbed his temples.

"Lord Slytherin. Miss Greengrass. Let me tell you a story." He paused for a moment before continuing. "Two years ago there was a minor crisis in the Goblin nation. The great accounting we call it. For centuries, Gringotts has used a standard method in all our records for determining people's ages. Blood magic. The same method used by the family magics. It's very convenient since it can't be fooled by anyone; it allows us to know the rights and ownership of many inheritances and legacies without directly intervening with the parties involved. But most importantly, it can't be changed. Not by us, not by the Wizengamot. The higher powers themselves determine the laws of magic. All our records used a person's date-of-birth, since that's what blood magic, and therefore the family magics, used to determine age.

She noticed the goblin looked agitated as he spoke. She tried to see where this was going.

Ragnok closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. "Then, two years ago, something happened that had never happened before. Two adult witches, sisters, one born a half-hour after the other, were to inherit a modest amount, and the will stipulated that the older sister would inherit the majority, including an old gauntlet. The gauntlet was tied to the family magics. When the older sister attempted to take possession, the gauntlet rejected her, causing her great pain. We were puzzled, and re-took blood from the two sisters. Just like we thought, the older sister had been born first. It took some of our cleverest researchers days to figure out what had happened. When we adjusted our ritual to write down not just date-of-birth, but years lived as well, we saw that the youngersister was now older.

She could now see where this was going. This was not good.

"It turned out that the younger sister had once used a time-turner, and was now a half-hour older than the older sister." Ragnok opened his eyes. "This might sound like a one off, but it isn't. We've been dealing with the shifts in time of our clients for hundreds of years. It's not something we're unfamiliar with. We had to go through all our records and re-adjust them all to include a 'current-age' line. Hundreds-of-thousands of documents. We had to re-take blood from all our major clients, and introduce new rules requiring taking blood before any age related decision is made. Somehow, something had happened to change the very laws of magic. And eventually, we determined the change had happened in the summer of 1988, in late July or early August.

Morgana's bum. She glanced at Harry again, who hadn't moved an inch the whole time.

"The same time that you, a time-traveller who has traveled further than anyone outside of myth and legend, took a lordship, which your date-of-birth should have precluded you from taking." Ragnok's knuckles were white where he gripped his desk. "You, Lord Slytherin, somehow changed the laws of magic."

Her heart pounded. Was this the moment a dozen goblin guards would pile into the room, and drag them away?

Harry opened his mouth. "I didn't."

"…"

"…"

"Then what?"

"It is as you said. Only the higher powers can change the laws of magic."

Ragnok's voice softened. "One of the higher powers intervened in the world, and changed the laws of magic, to give you a lordship?"

"Two higher powers actually."

"Karzak Turlk!" Ragnok swore.

"Can we assume your discretion in this matter?"

Ragnok looked at her betrothed as though he had grown five extra heads. "Lord Slytherin. I will have to make a report to my king, but other than that I will do my best to endeavor your secrets stay secret. I always do for all my clients, and I have no interest in annoying any of the higher powers."

Oh, thank Merlin. It looked like they weren't in trouble. Dragon stomachs were not in her immediate future. Her breathing slowed.

Harry wore the smile of a man who has been told today's weather will be sunny. "Excellent. Then maybe we can move onto other business? I think you'll find it quite interesting."

Ragnok remained silent for several moments. He leaned back, and barked one loud laugh. "Certainly, Lord Slytherin." The goblin flashed that toothy smile once more. "Like I said, I like the interesting ones."

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Two hours later, they left the bank. The exchanges after the time-travel revelation had been all business, and the two males had been throwing around many words and phrases Daphne didn't know. The gist of it was that Harry's numbers were mostly correct, that the goblins would look for a suitable piece of land for Slytherin Manor, and they'd be staying in contact by owl while they were at Hogwarts. If everything went well, she and Harry would inspect and approve the site plans during the Christmas break. Construction would begin within weeks, and if everything went well, the manor would be finished less than a year later. Just in time for Christmas of their second Hogwarts year.

She glanced towards her betrothed. "I still can't believe we got out of there alive. I thought we were done for."

Harry grinned. "You doubted me Daph? I'm hurt."

"Prat."

"You seemed quite happy once we got into discussing the details of the manor. I thought you were going to start picking out curtains."

Her cheeks tinted. "Well, it's important! I mean, I know it's going to be years until we're married, but this is going to be our home for the rest of our lives."

"We have a good six months to talk about the details."

"True."

"There is one thing that worried me though."

"What?"

"Remember when he mentioned our Hogwarts letters, and how they work on family magics?"

"Oh yes." Daphne recalled a short discussion about how various artifacts determined people's ages. "Ragnok called it the Book of Names, but he said it still used date-of-birth, not time-lived."

"Yes… but what name will it give me? Who will my Hogwarts letter be addressed to? What will the class registers refer to me as?"

She immediately saw the problem. "Oh, damn."

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

"So, to safely get into Hogwarts and confundus the Book of Names, you need to get hold of this invisibility cloak?" Daphne was sat in a Harry-conjured garden chair overlooking the Greengrass flowerbeds, where she'd first seen Harry whip out his wand, two and a-half years ago. Harry sat opposite. An afternoon breeze blew through her long, blonde hair. Birds sang in the trees.

"Yep. And the cloak is in Potter Manor."

"Mmmm…." She thought about it. Harry was testing her, she knew. He often did this. Instead of just telling her what they were going to do, he'd ask her for a plan, and then poke holes in it. She took out a quill, and started doodling on Harry-conjured parchment. Damn he was useful. Harry went back to his book.

Eventually, she looked up from her work. "OK. I have it."

Harry gave her a nod to continue.

"Your Weasley girl is tied to the Potter wards, right?"

"You mean Ginny? Yes, she is."

"Right. Ginny. We wait until John Potter tries to invite her over again, then you sneak into the burrow, stun the male Weasley who's friends with John Potter, and give him draught of living death. Then you levitate him over the burrow wards where me and Ginny will be waiting. That's so the wards record him leaving." She glanced up to see if Harry was following.

Harry nodded.

"Then, you sneak back through your secret passageway, and cast the imperius curse on Ginny. Ginny floos to Potter Manor, and you apparate me and the male Weasley to the edge of the Potter Manor wards, where you'll have already set up a small-area fedelius charm."

He nodded again.

"Then Ginny loses John, and sneaks off to find the cloak. You take control of Ginny, and use magic to help the search—summoning spells, point me spells, et cetera."

He nodded again, although his eyes were starting to glaze over.

She forged ahead. "You have Ginny take a ten-minute polyjuice potion to make her look like the male Weasley, and l push the real male Weasley over the Potter wards so they record him entering the Manor. You, controlling Ginny, find the cloak, and make a break for the ward line. Ginny waits there under the cloak for the polyjuice potion to wear off, then throws the cloak to me, and I pull the male Weasley back over the ward line. Then Ginny leaves to find John, they have an argument, Ginny leaves in a huff, we take the male Weasley back to the burrow, give him the living-death antidote, implant false memories, and Ginny spends the next week popping veritaserum antidote sweets every morning and evening."

"…"

Harry blinked owlishly at her. He leant back in his chair. "OK, good effort. Seriously. Now you're going to tell me what's wrong with that plan."

She felt a bit sheepish. "Too complex?"

"There's nothing wrong with a complex plan, if it's also the plan with the best risk-to-probability-of-success ratio, but the more complex a plan is, the more likely it is for something to go wrong. That plan is pretty complex. What else is wrong?"

"Um… John Potter might not invite Ginny over?"

He shrugged. "That's just a matter of waiting for an opportunity. If one didn't turn up we could always make one."

"Can't really think of anything else."

"Really? You pretty much acknowledged the biggest weakness yourself, right at the end."

She looked at him, face as blank as a clean slate.

"You want Ginny to take veritaserum antidote for a week after the mission. By doing so you acknowledge the danger that Ginny could be suspected of involvement, and even questioned."

"Ah. You're saying it would be better if none of our people were seen by anyone the whole time."

"Exactly."

"But how do we get into the manor then? The wards will record all our presences. Even yours. Especially yours. Merlin, they might not even have taken down the child safety wards tied to you."

"True."

"Then how?"

"You were almost there when you suggested we use the imperius curse on Ginny."

Her eyes darted around his face, looking for a clue. "But, using the imperius curse on anyone who isn't on our side is incredibly dangerous. If anyone ever found out, it's life in Azkaban. And most people who are tied to the Potter wards will have noble house rings, so no obliviating. I know the Weasleys don't, but it's still more risk than I thought you'd be willing to take."

"Yes. So we use the imperius on someone who can never complain, who can pass straight through the wards without issue, who won't be recorded by the wards, and who it's even legal to cast the curse on."

She looked at him, puzzled. "Who?"

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Daphne lounged in Harry's trunk, reading a muggle travel book, making notes, and bracing herself for an apparate-squeeze every ten seconds. The first time she'd climbed into his trunk, been shrunk, popped into his pocket, and chain-apparated across Europe, it had been nauseating. She'd gotten used to it. This time, she could even read while Harry flew and apparated, five miles at a time, all the way across the Atlantic.

It had been three hours, and flight-Harry should be landing soon.

She stood, and walked over to the cooler, runes alight with pulsating magic. She found a bottle of pumpkin juice amidst the pile of orange juices.

She braced for the next apparate. It didn't come. The lack of squeeze was like a landing announcement. She waited. The door at the top of the stairs opened. Birdsong of every describable variety poured into the trunk, filling the cozy interior with promises of the exotic and exciting.

"We're there!" called Harry.

She climbed the stairs, stepped out of the trunk, and was engulfed by a wall of heat and wet. The air pressed down on her body, and filled her lungs with soup. A mass of organic dark-green and brown rose in front of her. Behind her, a massive river pushed and roared with the unstoppability and ferocity of a dozen nesting dragons.

"This is Brazil?"

"Yep. On the edge of one of the forests. Wha'dja think?"

"It's… bigger." The trees were massive, and interwove into each other forming a solid, living cliff.

"You've no idea just how right you are," Harry said, shrinking the trunk, and popping it back into his pocket. He handed her an aging potion and they both drank. The soon-to-be first-years morphed into twenty-year-olds. Their clothes morphed with them.

Pointing themselves downriver, they trekked along the riverbank for a half-hour, and eventually found themselves at the edge of a small muggle village.

A short conversation with a bemused group of villagers sent them to another village some two hours walk down the river. They climbed over huge tree roots, cut through dense undergrowth, and, occasionally, Harry flew her over boggy mud-banks, much to her secret delight.

Eventually, tired, soaked, and high on endorphins, they stood in front of a small, dilapidated, wood-built shop. Birds sung in cages hung around the entrance. Lizards and spiders sat in boxes made from the lithe, green growth of bushes and trees. She drank in the new sights and sounds like a Gringotts prisoner might drink in the sky.

Harry's eyes gleamed when he spotted a medium sized snake in a large see through box by the door. He crouched down, and a series of hisses were exchanged between them. Eventually he stood up. "Yep, this is what we're looking for."

"You know, that wasn't any less creepy than when I first saw you do it."

Harry just grinned, took her hand, and led her into the dark interior of the shop.

A short, tanned, middle-aged man sat on a low stool in a corner smoking something foul. She wrinkled her nose.

Harry dove straight in, chatting with the man in a tongue she didn't recognize. It may as well have been parseltongue for all she was able to understand it. Harry laughed a few times. The man looked at her.

"You have very beautiful wife."

She blushed.

Harry chuckled. "Yes. She is the snowdrop of England."

Kuh. An elegant flower that opens just as the snow and ice starts melting. She blushed harder. Damn aging potions.

Eventually, the man stood, and left the shop by the back door.

She looked towards Harry, not quite meeting his eye. "Does he have what we're looking for?"

"Sounds like it."

They waited in silence, Harry wandered around looking into cages and boxes, occasionally chatting with a snake. It was weird the way they'd all perk up when he passed by.

The man walked back in, ferrying the cutest thing she'd ever seen on his shoulder. She cooed and clapped her hands, all thoughts of embarrassing flower metaphors forgotten.

Its fur was black, it's tail long, and its small face was framed with two large tuffs of white where its ears would be. The small monkey-like animal gripped the man's shirt with tiny human-like hands, and pivoted its head with quick, sudden turns.

Her eyes shone staring at the endearing fluff-ball.

"The common marmoset," Harry said, by way of confirmation. "New world monkey species, generally grows to a maximum size of twenty to thirty centimeters in length. Very intelligent, very social. Weighs around 250 grams."

"He's adorable." She made to touch the small creature, which backed off, seemingly uncertain, before leaping to her shoulder, and trying to climb into the front of her shirt. "Gah!"

"She, actually. And a good thing too, or I'd have to have some serious words with it." He glared at the animal trying to burrow its way into her chest.

She giggled, and fed it a piece of fruit the man had offered her.

Harry handed him some muggle money. "Any idea what you're going to call her?"

She turned to regard the inquisitive animal now clutched to her shoulder, playing with her long, blonde hair. The small monkey was a gift from Harry. Not the first to be sure, but she was definitely the cutest.

The idea of having a marmoset for a pet, rather than the more traditional cat, meant something to her. A powerful statement that said, 'I'm not going to do things the traditional way. I'm free to explore and travel, and damn society's yardstick. Harry is my yardstick'.

She turned back to Harry. "How about Free-key?"

Harry's expression blanked for several seconds, before slowly spreading into a broad grin. "Perfect."

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Harry crouched at the edge of the Potter Manor wards, under a three-by-three meter fidelius charm. His breath was calm, his clothes dark, and his eyes alert. Daphne crouched opposite. Her breath was short, her clothes muggle, and her eyes nervous. Freekey sat on her shoulder.

"You ready, Daph?"

Daphne nodded.

He raised his wand, and pointed it at Freekey. "Imperio." The strange sensation of being in two places at once flooded his mind. The imperius curse took a lot of practice, not because the spell casting was difficult, but because learning to control two entities at the same time—to see through two sets of eyes, distinguish two sets of smells, and two sets of balance—was not easy.

He, as Freekey-Harry, leapt to his human shoulder, and gave the pretty blonde a miniature thumbs up.

Daphne reached into a pocket, drew out a bright yellow potion vial, popped the top, and offered it to him. He grabbed the vial with tiny hands and drank, feeling power flood his system as the strengthening solution took hold.

He, as Human-Harry, disillusioned Freekey-Harry, and settled down on the ground, the better to focus on his monkey half. He jumped to the ground, glanced once towards Daphne, and marched on all fours to the ward line. This was the moment of truth. He'd sensed the wards to the best of his abilities, and he was sure they didn't include a ward that could stop non-magical animals, but there was always a danger. He reached a tiny hand over the wards and tensed. Nothing. He stepped over the line, all the while waiting for the throw back. Still nothing.

A few moments later he was through. He gave a little monkey smirk.

"Did it work?"

"Yes," said Human-Harry

The grounds of Potter Manor lay before him, open and inviting. He slunk through gardens and vegetable patches, across gravel paths and patios, and eventually found a drainpipe fixed to the manor wall. Freekey was a natural climber, and the strengthening solution made it all the more easy. In just a couple of minutes of careful clambering, he was on the roof, a mirror of the background, shifting unseen across the night sky.

"Where are you now?"

"The roof, heading towards the chimney. No problems so far."

He found the red and white smoke stack, and started to climb. His tiny fingers easily found their way into the concave curves of cement between the bricks. He reached the top, tipped over the edge, and started down. He felt his tail come to rest on something.

"Damn."

"What?" Daphne was holding her breath.

"There's a grate blocking the chimney floo. Looks too small for me to fit through. I'm going to have to use the owlery."

He climbed out of the chimney, and padded over to the wall he suspected held the owlery. He peeked over the edge, and his nostrils filled with bird.

"Found it."

He shimmied down the wall, and swung into the small open window to the owlery. Despite the late hour, two owls were asleep on their perches—a tawny, and a greater sooty. One owl that was definitely not yet here was a snowy. His eyes flashed hunger. There was another girl he needed to nab. One that would surely drive his brother spare.

He crept through the owlery, knowing that if the large birds-of-prey awoke—with their highly developed sight, and razor sharp talons—they'd probably be able to spot the shifting background gliding through their territory. He cringed to think of Daphne's reaction should he get Freekey injured or killed.

He reached the door, looked up, and inspected the handle; it was a lever, not a knob, thank Merlin. He leapt above the handle, grasped it with both hands, planted his little feet above him, and pushed down, forcing the door open with a faint *click*.

The owls didn't stir.

He jumped down, leapt through the gap, and closed the door just enough to eliminate the gap.

"I'm in."

Daphne took in a deep calming lungful before letting it out again.

The corridors of Potter Manor were wide and dark. There were many doors, and he tried nearly ten, all leading to empty or otherwise boring rooms. Then, he opened one that opened into a storage room. Boxes were everywhere. He spied a thin, wooden box buried under several larger boxes, and his little monkey eyes widened in glee. There, on the side of the box, was a triangle, containing a circle, with a line through the middle.

"Found it."

Daphne sat a little straighter. "You have it?"

"Not quite, it's under a few heavy boxes, but I think…."

He wedged himself between the boxes and the wall, and pushed with all his potion-improved power. The strengthening solution increased his strength by several times—a quirk of his tiny size—but Freekey was still a small primate, and it was tough. The boxes tittered. The boxes fell. A solid thump vibrated through the walls. Hopefully the size of the manor would stop that being heard. Bedrooms were often silenced from the rest of the house for obvious reasons.

"Got it. It's in a box."

The box was locked and warded. He had no chance of opening it with a body that lacked magic of its own. Gripping the sides of the box, he dragged it across the floor, through the door, and across the manor. He reached the door of the owlery before he realized he had a problem.

"Damn it."

"What?"

"Even with the potion, I won't have the strength to pull the box up to the owlery window."

"Can't you open the box?"

"No. Not without magic. It has wards, and I don't have the strength to break… no… wait. Yes! Great idea, Daph!"

"Wha?"

"One moment."

He dragged the box to the ballroom landing, overlooking the Potter Manor ballroom… from three stories up.

"Here goes nothing."

He tipped the box on its side, pushed it through a banister, and watched it hit the marble ballroom-floor with a loud crash. Splinters went everywhere, and a cloak of liquid cloth spilled out. He tore down the spiral staircase, dashed for the cloak, and threw it over his small body, just as a pair of house elves popped into being only a few meters from where he stood, hidden, even from the gaze of death himself. The elves stared at the wreckage, and started a rapid and heated discussion. He edged away, and made a bolt for the stairs.

"Damn. That was close. I have the cloak, but was almost rumbled by a pair of house elves."

She gasped.

"Get ready to leave. The area's going to get hot."

He jogged and hopped, trying to keep the oversized cloak from tangling around his miniature form. The Potter patriarch ran past in a bathrobe, heading down the hallway he was heading up. Oh how he wished he could land an unseen stinging hex.

"Homenum revelio!"

Smirk. Hah. Not this time, dickhead.

He dashed through the owlery, leapt the window, and swung down the outside of the building. Lights were coming on throughout the manor. Shouts could be heard.

He fled across the grounds, and reached the outside of the manor wards. Daphne was already half way into his trunk. He leapt to her shoulder, flung the cloak to his human self, and cancelled the imperius curse on Freekey.

"Let's move it!"

Daphne gave a sharp nod, Freekey gave a chirp, and both girl and monkey vanished into the trunk.

He slammed the trunk shut, shrunk it, shoved it into his pocket, set the fidelius runestones to self-destruct in ninety seconds, donned the cloak, crouched to the ground, and shot into the sky, accelerating from zero to sixty miles-an-hour in seconds, reached a mile up, and disapparated. The resulting *crack!* could not have sounded more satisfying.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: The Book of Names – Part Two

Harry stood on the Greengrass Manor lawn, wearing only swimming shorts and sandals. The sun warmed his pale skin. A slight breeze ruffled his messy hair.

"Soak me, Harry!"

He whipped his wand in the direction of the voice. "Augmenti." A jet of water shot from the end of his wand; it hit something, vanished, and reappeared a foot away.

"Gah!"

He stopped the charm, and regarded the unseen obstruction. He still couldn't see anything.

"It went straight through the cloak, curved along the insides, and shot out the back of it!"

He picked up a clipboard, and walked towards the voice. Daphne appeared, slightly moist, and dressed in full rain gear. Earlier, he'd suggested she also wear a swimsuit. She'd panicked, and threatened to sting-hex him if he so much as transfigured her hat.

"It felt like I was in a cave made of flowing water."

He unclipped a muggle pen from his waistband, and made a note on the clipboard. "So, it hides against water too. Although, if you know what you're looking for it is still possible to spot you, but only while the spell is being cast."

Daphne folded the liquid-like cloak. "That's four things it protects from so far — sight, chalk, water, and homenum revelio. Now at least, anyway. I still don't understand why anyone would charm the cloak to be vulnerable to homenum revelio. It's their own cloak isn't it?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. The charm's been removed now." Harry looked down at the clipboard. "But the cloak doesn't stop you being heard, nor smelt, and calor revelio still picks up a heat signature. I'm glad so few people know that spell."

Daphne snapped her fingers. "It's about going in versus going out."

He smiled. "Continue."

"Well, light bounces off things right? That's how we see. The water came from the outside, so did the chalk, and the homenum revelio feels like a wave going over you if you're hit. I didn't feel anything under the cloak."

He scribbled on the clipboard.

"Sound is vibrations, but it radiates out from you. So does smell. So does heat."

He grinned. "Sounds like you're on to something. Although it doesn't explain how you can still see while wearing the cloak. Chalk that up to magic, I guess. What would this mean if it were true?"

Daphne hesitated. "That… that other things coming from the outside might also not work on the cloak?"

He dropped the clipboard, took the cloak from her unresisting hands, and whipped it around himself, vanishing from sight. "Stun me."

"W-what?"

"Dueling practice time, Daphne. Stun me."

The adventurous blonde stared, shrugged, closed her eyes, and raised her hand in his direction. Red lights appeared on the tips of all five digits. A bolt of red shot towards him. He watched in fascination as the bolt hit the cloak, passed through it, hugged and curved along the inside, and hit his shoulder. Darkness.

"Harry. Harry!" Daphne's voice called to him from the fog of nothing.

"Ugh." He sat up on the grass.

Daphne was peering at him from a half foot away.

"Guess that didn't work then." He smiled sheepishly.

"What happened? I saw the bolt disappear. It didn't flash when it hit you."

"It passed along the inside of the cloak like you described the water did, but it happened to hit my shoulder. I'm guessing you've got a one in three chance of dodging a spell that hits you, under this thing."

Daphne raised her eyebrows, and bit her lower lip. "That's pretty cool, but it would have been even cooler if it made you immune to enemy spells."

He pointed a finger. "That would be a total game changer." He stood. "It's still pretty good though. Better than a demiguise cloak. Much better than a disillusionment charm."

Daphne frowned. "Still doesn't get us into warded areas."

He winced. Their one experiment at ward breaking with the cloak had been painful. They'd keyed him out of the Greengrass wards, and he'd tried to enter. It had gotten him past the perimeter wards, but the moment he'd fully entered the area-wards he'd been forcefully and painfully ejected. "If the cloak could get us through wards, that would be game over. But at least we now know what it can do."

He stretched his arms. "You ready for a super secret Hogwarts scouting mission?"

Daphne's eyes gleamed. "I am so ready for that."

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Harry flew under the invisibility cloak. He weaved his way through the trees of the forbidden forest, dark and foreboding. Cobwebs lined the branches. Sharp brambles and bushes littered the ground. Things made strange sounds in all directions. Water dripped from a recently passed storm. Fresh earth and decomposing wood filled his nostrils.

He touched down by the humming ward lines of Hogwarts Castle. He pulled out his trunk, disillusioned it, un-shrunk it, and opened the lid.

"Ward stone A," he whispered.

A dainty hand appeared holding a rune-covered, ruler-sized wardstone.

He took it, and started installing it a few meters away. A minute ticked by. "Ward stone B."

The hand appeared again.

Four minutes later, he'd set up five ward stones to make a three-by-three meter square. The final stone was in the center for the key-stone. He closed the trunk again, shrunk it, and popped it back in his pocket. He sat down, under the cloak, and started the occlumency meditation. Twenty minutes ticked by. Harry stood up, and touched his wand to the key-stone. He murmured, "fidelius occultum." He felt the fidelius charm catch.

A minute later the trunk was open again, and a blonde head popped out, looking around like a meerkat from a burrow. She looked extremely confused. "Where are we? I don't understand."

"We are in the three-by-three meter space just outside the Hogwarts wards, between the large split oak, and the twenty-second dead birch west of the lake."

Daphne blinked.

"Merlin, that felt weird." Her brow furrowed. "So, where's the castle? Why are we in a forest?"

"We can't actually see the castle from here, and anywhere we could carries a higher chance of being spotted before we got the fidelius set up."

Daphne pouted. "That's no fun."

"Yeah, well," he rubbed the back of his head, "How about getting over here, and telling me what you can feel coming from these things?"

Daphne clambered from the trunk, and joined him at the edge of the ward line. She closed her eyes, raised her head, and took a deep breath. "I can feel it."

"Good. What can you feel?"

The blonde shifted, and tilted her head, as though trying to hear something very faint. "Not much. I can just feel it. I know it's there."

"OK. Draw your wand. Be very careful not to cast anything."

Daphne drew her brand-new, twelve-inch ash and dragon heartstring wand, and held it tight, uncertain.

He took her wand hand in his, and guided her towards the wards. "There," he said, "feel the magic pooling in your hand from the wand. Can you feel it?"

Daphne's breath hitched. "I can feel it. So many feelings. It's like eating a whole bag of bertie botts every flavor beans."

He nodded. "You see now why wizards are so fond of their wands, and become reliant on them?"

Daphne gave a small nod. "Is there anything different from what he remembered?"

"No. The wards are as pathetic as ever. You feel the strawberry one?"

Daphne scrunched up her face. "Strawberry? I don't see what—wait. Yes! I feel it. Wow, it really does feel like strawberry. How does that work?"

"It's called synesthesia. It's a weird thing our brains can do. It allows us to perceive the sensations of one sense as those of another. In this case, our magic sense has a 'taste'.

"That's so weird."

"Yeah. And the strawberry one is the one that detects dark magic. Only, it's supposed to be raspberry."

"And the detection wards?"

"I'm going to see about them now." He stood forward, raised his wand to the wards, and closed his eyes. Flavors flooded his mind. He picked them apart until he felt a taste that was overwhelmingly sweet. The detection ward. He focused on it, and was surprised when it unraveled in his head, laying itself out to him like a sweets only buffet. Chocolate, cake, carrot, and blueberry were just a few of the tastes he could sense. He counted sixteen tastes in total. "Wow."

"What? What?" She sounded impatient.

"I can feel them. All the people in the castle. The wards let me through their security system. They never let Voldemort do that."

"Because you're Lord Slytherin?"

"That can be the only reason. Huh. That'll make this a lot safer." He thought for a moment. With this, he'd be able to enter the castle, and erase his presence. For anyone who relied on the wards, it would be as though he were never even there. He smiled. "Well, that's all we needed. let's get goin—." He turned, and froze. His voice turned to steel. "Daphne! Don't move!"

Daphne froze, still facing the wards.

There, milling around their own square ward perimeter, silent as a shadow, and as large as muggle cars, were three confused-looking giant spiders. Visions of a pet spider kept in a box shot through his head. A spider racing away from Tom Riddle's wand.

He readied his own wand. One of the quirks of the fidelius charm was that shooting anything out of it, in visual range of someone who didn't know the secret, counted as revealing the secret. If he cast a spell against them, they'd be able to see them both. Daphne wouldn't even be capable of casting a spell, not being the secret keeper. Not that she was powerful enough to kill one of these buggers yet.

The acromantula clicked their mandibles at his sudden outburst. They'd heard his conversation with Daphne. They needed to be memory wiped. Or killed.

"Daphne, whatever you do…Do. Not. Leave the wards." He leapt out of the perimeter, and immediately hit one of the spiders with an over powered cutting curse. Ichor sprayed everywhere. He heard Daphne scream behind him.

The other two spiders whirled around, and closed on him with supernatural speed.

The first crashed down from another cutting curse to the face, exploding spider brains all over the clearing. The last pounced, venomous pincers stabbing the ground where he'd been only a moment before. He flew backwards, cloak whirling in front of him. He took aim, and cast.

The final spider exploded in a shower of spider bits. Decorating the clearing with a fine shine of gore.

He flew back to the wards, where Daphne still stood, wide-eyed, shocked, and shaking. The smell was visceral.

"You OK?"

"Y-y-yes I… I'm OK. I just." Her knees gave out. She collapsed to the ground."

"C'mon, let's get out of here. There's a change of robes in the trunk."

Daphne nodded, took his proffered hand, still shaking, and climbed back into the trunk. She took every step as though her legs would betray her again.

He looked around the gore-filled clearing, and sighed. They needed to evacuate fast. Who knew how many others were around? There was no time to recover the ward stones as he'd have liked to. They'd have to be destroyed instead. It seemed he was getting through miniature ward stones almost as fast as aging potions these days.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Daphne suffered nightmares for weeks. Most featured giant spiders eating Harry whole, while she looked on, helpless, before they exploded in a sea of spider guts. Then she'd wake up, sweating and shuddering. Thankfully, she hadn't had one for five days now, so she probably wouldn't have to ask Harry for help. That would be embarrassing. She already owed him far too much.

Today was the twenty-first of June, the summer solstice, the first mandatory Wizengamot of the year, and the day they'd decided to solve their Book of Names problem. By breaking into the office of the most powerful wizard in the world.

"You ready, Daph?"

She stood by the Greengrass Manor sitting-room floo, wearing her brand-new, emerald-green, formal Wizengamot robes. The highlights were silver. Harry was dressed in new Hogwarts open-robes and muggle clothes. She fingered the silver, lightning-bolt ring on her right pinky.

She nodded. Her hands were sweating. "Get in. Alert you when Dumbledore starts the session. Warn you if he leaves."

Harry smiled. "That's about it." He took a deep breath. "Right, I'm off then." He turned to leave.

"Wait."

The boy she was to marry one day turned back to her.

She hesitated. She hugged him. Despite their close relationship, she'd never felt comfortable enough before. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and held him close.

Harry also hesitated, but then relaxed. He returned her hug.

"Don't get caught, Harry."

"…I won't."

"Promise me."

"I promise. Focus on your task, and I'll focus on mine. Together, we'll pull it off."

Her parents entered the room, both wearing full Wizengamot regalia, and highly amused smiles. She broke the hug, cheeks tinting.

Harry grinned.

"You ready, young lady?" asked her father.

"Yes, Dad."

"Good." They joined the two pre-teens by the floo.

"Now remember, you are a guest. Best behavior."

"Yes, Dad."

Her father looked Harry up and down, taking in his Hogwarts open-robes and muggle clothes. He smirked. "Don't study too hard, Harry."

Harry returned the smirk. "Wouldn't dream of it, Jacob. That would just be confunding."

Despite her worry, she groaned. Her mother rolled her eyes. She turned, and marched into the floo. "Ministry of Magic Atrium!"

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

A half-hour later, Harry hovered a foot above the still waters of the Hogwarts Black Lake. The invisibility cloak billowed in the Scottish highland wind. He was sure it would have looked cool if anyone could have seen it.

That was unlikely.

He was both disillusioned, and under the invisibility cloak. He'd silenced himself, and had been practicing wordless and wandless tergeo spell casting for weeks. He could now vacuum up all his dead skin-cells and hairs while running. That sorted out the smell problem. It wouldn't be good if a trained animal, animagus, or warewolf, could identify him. It did take all his concentration to pull off that trick though.

The wards welcomed him with open arms, overwhelming his senses. His occlumency departmentalized the sensations. He pushed his hand through the wards, and noted a new taste added to the detection ward. His own. His identifier tasted of oranges. He smiled wryly.

A few moments later, his taste was deleted from the detection ward. He nodded, satisfied. Now he just had to wait.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Daphne stuck to her mother's side while they made their way through the packed throng of lawmakers in the corridor outside the main Wizengamot room. As the betrothed of the mysterious Lord Slytherin, she was getting a lot of attention.

"Ah! Lady Greengrass!" a voice called.

Her mother turned, and she saw an older, shorter wizard, with a full grey beard.

"Lord Ogden. A pleasure to see you again." Her mother motioned to her. "Have you met my oldest daughter, Daphne?"

She remembered Lord Ogden from her lessons. He was Grey, and likely the sixth richest person in Magical Britain.

Lord Ogden smiled all the way to his eyes. "No, I don't believe I've had the pleasure, although I know I've seen her at the edges of your parties, Lady Greengrass. But, of cause we all know about you, Miss Greengrass. Betrothed to our favorite masked Lord, aren't you. Any idea when he'll finally grant our august body an audience?" His eyes danced with mirth.

"I couldn't possibly speak for Lord Slytherin, my lord."

His deep laugh rang out across the hallway. "Of course not." He turned back to her mother, and lowered his voice. "So, what do you think of this new legislation?"

Her mother sighed. "This is just a re-run of what they tried to push two years ago. And I don't think our position should be any different to what it was then."

"I quite agree."

A gong sounded, and the double doors to the chamber opened.

"Opp, that sounds like our cue."

They all walked into the chamber, and Daphne broke off from her mother to climb the stairs to the visitor gallery.

Half way up, she caught sight of someone she definitely didn't want to see. Lord Slughorn was busy talking to a group of wizards whom she thought belonged to the Light. Before the spiders, that man had been the subject of most of her occasional nightmares.

He spotted and leered at her.

Daphne shuddered. She continued to climb as fast as she could while maintaining her dignity. Lord Slughorn was a key-stone of the Grey. She knew they had to deal politely with the man, but that didn't mean she had any interest of being within a hundred miles of him.

She was sure the man secretly wanted to pry her away from Harry. It had only been some fast political tap-dancing that had stopped him jumping ship from the Grey when her betrothal had gone through. She was sure it had been him that had leaked their betrothal to the Prophet.

Daphne found a seat and sat down. The other seats were filling up fast. No one wanted the semi-annual mandatory Wizengamot session to go on any longer than it had to. There were too many magical rituals and ceremonies that required the solstice.

The grand warlock entered the chamber, and briefly caught her eye. She braced for a legilimency probe, but it never came. Harry's memories had shown the headmaster was quite liberal with his legilimency, but Harry also suspected the old wizard only used it on muggleborns and half-bloods from newer families. Those he thought couldn't defend themselves. Seems Harry was right.

Dumbledore stood at his podium, and banged his gavel three times.

"Good morning Lords and Ladies, wizards and witches, of the Wizengamot, and welcome to the 1473rd summer solstice since the establishment of the albion family magics…"

Daphne pushed a minute amount of magic into her lightning-bolt ring. It made a single vibration.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Harry felt the vibration in his lightning-bolt ring. It was time. He pushed forward, past the lake, across the grounds, up the side of the ancient castle wall, and onto the top of the astronomy tower.

Safest place in England. Yeah right. Any random group of broomstick-riding wizards could get in this way.

He tap-danced down the stairs. He glided along the corridors. He flew past the grand staircase. The massive castle was dead to the world. Not a ghost, not a teacher, not a house-elf.

Harry reached the stone gargoyle. He felt for the magic in the stone creature, felt himself welcomed into its control system, felt the shift.

The gargoyle stood up and moved aside, leaving the spiral staircase open to him. That was a relief. He hadn't been sure that would work, and was glad he didn't have to break in through the window.

He opened the door, trod on the humorous welcome mat, and scanned the room for his goal.

One painting frowned at the open door; another looked confused.

He spied the book sitting on a raised pedestal, next to the sorting hat. Excellent.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Headmaster Dumbledore listened to the assembled aristocracy of the wizarding world bicker and snipe at each other. Not much was likely to happen. Not much had happened for a while. A few years ago, it had looked like the neutrals were set to collapse. That would have been… volatile. But it hadn't happened. A new player had shown up, with a new ideology, and new energy. The neutrals now called themselves the Grey, and were blocking almost every law the Light or Dark put forward. Stability seemed to be their watchword.

Rumors ran rampant about Lord Slytherin. He'd heard stories of the man. Rumors of a powerful charismatic wizard in an emerald green mask. Rumors of expensive gifts, lavish parties, and stirring speeches. The methods were uncomfortably familiar.

But, despite his first words to Magical Britain, Slytherin had seemed content to let things be. He hadn't interfered at Hogwarts, hadn't tried to recruit students to his cause, and hadn't pushed many laws of his own.

He had a feeling that was about to change. The man's eleven-year-old betrothed was watching him from the visitor gallery. Her gaze was more intense than an auror interrogation. She would be joining Hogwarts this year. So would Harry Potter. It made him uncomfortable.

Most of his contingencies for the boy depended on his being an outcast of both the Light and the Dark. If the Grey took him in…. Would Lord Slytherin appreciate the risks the boy posed, even if he explained? He didn't know. The man still refused all contact with him. Slytherin was harder to pin down than fog.

He jerked. He felt his moon-shaped spectacles heat up; saw them flash a warning onto the lenses. Someone had entered his office, alone. Someone who wasn't on his personal OK list. But how? The security systems shouldn't let anyone in who wasn't OK'd. Even Minerva couldn't give permission without his clearance. Who could possibly— his eyes widened, and flickered to the ice-blue stare of Miss Greengrass.

Slytherin could possibly.

And he was trapped here. He didn't even dare patronus Minerva. Not in the middle of a full Wizengamot session.

Merlin damn it!

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Harry fired a point blank killing curse at a sleeping Fawkes who gave a loud Cawwww, burst into flames, and fell to the floor in a pile of ashes. He conjured three boxes, scooped the ash into one, the newly molted phoenix chick into the second, and the sorting hat into the third

He glided to the paintings, and turned them all to face the wall. They weren't happy about this, but what did he care.

He pocketed the ashes. The hat and phoenix chick boxes should be left here. As much as how utterly broken phoenixes were, there was no point swiping him. Phoenixes were extremely loyal. If he wanted one, he'd have to find his own.

That should take care of anything in the room that might tattle on him. Now time for the main event.

Harry opened the Book of Names, and turned to the latest year, 1991. There he was — Lord Harry James Potter Slytherin — Current Residence: The master bedroom, Apartment 3, 63 Loather Street, Penrith, Cumbria. The private apartment he rented near Greengrass Manor.

He focused his magic and weaved enchantments. The name faded, replaced with another. Harry James Potter — Current Residence: The Cupboard Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. Harry smirked. Seeing the look on his aunt and uncle's faces when he turned up for a night would be priceless.

He closed the book, and turned to the rest of the office. What else could he do while he was here?

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Daphne could see the grand warlock was agitated. He showed all the signs. Excessive beard tugging, beard stroking, beard fiddling, beard curling, the lot. Not only that, but he kept shooting glances at her. Did he know? Did he suspect?

The Lord who'd been droning on finished his piece and sat down.

Before the next person could stand up, the Headmaster jumped in.

"Thank you, Lord Nott. We'll now take a twenty minute unscheduled break. That is all."

Daphne felt a rock fall into her stomach. She quickly pushed three successive bursts of magic into her lightning-bolt ring.

Dumbledore all but ran out of the chamber.

The assorted wizards and witches murmured, surprised and confused by the grand warlock's sudden exit. They all heard Dumbledore shouting for his phoenix all the way down the corridor.

Please, Harry. Get out of there.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Harry felt three vibrations on his lightning-bolt ring. He cursed.

The pensieve had been so tempting. He could watch some important memories, and give Dumbledore a perfect red-herring reason for a break-in. It was only when he'd entered that he'd spotted the obvious drawback. You couldn't leave in a hurry.

He watched, frustrated, as a younger Trelawney fumbled her way through an interview. She stiffened, and spoke the fateful words that condemned him to a life that could never be normal. He knew all this already of course. Voldemort had learned the contents of the prophecy, which is why he'd been happily left in Azkaban. But he'd never seen the original. As far as he knew, only Dumbledore had.

The foggy room faded. He felt himself yanked out of the pensieve, and thrown back into the headmaster's office.

Harry didn't bother to look around. He cast a room-wide, overpowered tergeo cleaning charm, and lunged for the door.

The floo flared green.

His heart stopped. He flung open the door.

The headmaster stepped out.

His heart pounded. He leapt though the opening.

A bolt of red slammed into the door behind him.

The stairs were before him. He jumped down them, three at a time, not trusting himself to fly, lest he crash into the curved wall. The gargoyle blocked his escape. The security system dialed him in, and activated, but it cost him precious seconds. Another bolt of red smashed into where he'd been only a split second before.

How the hell?

He ran into the hallway, carful to keep removing his scent as he went.

Halfway down the passageway, his pursuer stepped out.

The suits of armor immediately tried to grab him.

He dodged.

A terrible realization settled over him, seeped into his veins, and froze the blood in them. Somehow, the headmaster could detect him. He knew where he was.

Shit. Now he dare not fly at all.

"Come now, Lord Slytherin," a genial voice called from behind him, "is all this necessary?"

He continued running. The voice also continued, never seeming to get further away.

"I mean, we all want the same things, I'm sure."

He bolted onto the grand staircase, and took the first staircase available.

"And there is so much good we could do if we put aside our small differences."

How the hell was the bastard following him? He made to jump through the first window he could see. The shutters slammed shut.

"Is all this cloak and dagger nonsense really needed?"

He was being shepherded away from the towers. He needed to get off the path that led to the dungeons. He'd be trapped there. He dived through the next tapestry.

"You want stability in the wizarding world, that much is obvious."

He screeched to a halt. The voice was in front of him.

"Don't you think it would make more sense to work together with those who share your ambitions?"

He shot out a wordless hominem revelio. Dumbledore was still behind him.

"It's called ventriloquism, Lord Slytherin. Can be very amusing at dull parties."

He wanted to brain himself on the wall. The old man could sense magic! Just like he could. Duh! No wonder the bastard could follow him. He'd been casting cleaning charms every half-dozen steps. He might as well have been sending out a beacon announcing himself.

"Ah, I see you've decided to be reasonable."

He ran.

A sigh. "Or not."

He couldn't stop using the cleaning charms. That would be brain-dead stupid. But he had to get away. He arrived at the steep-climb staircase to the astronomy tower.

Two statues lowered their lances, baring his path. He wordlessly blasted them apart. Several powerful spells splashed against his rear shields.

"There are forces at work in the world, Lord Slytherin. Forces that could end up destroying the world you obviously care for."

You mean me. He forced down the impulse to swear at the fucker as he passed the forth floor landing.

"And there are old threats too, threats considered past that could once more raise their ugly heads."

He reached the top of the tower, and made for the edge.

"And your betrothed will be entering Hogwarts this year. There are many dangers she might face. Wouldn't it be better to work together?"

Harry stopped dead on the edge of the tower. All the time he'd spent with the full-of-life witch flashed through his head. He saw red. How dare he? How DARE he? He normally kept his magic under tight control. Now, it flared, overwhelming the area with pure power. He turned.

The disillusioned figure of the headmaster shimmered into being by the door. Dumbledore sighed; his shoulders drooped. "That wasn't supposed to be a threat, Lord Slytherin."

Barely controlling his rage, he reached into his pocket, retrieved his tiny flying-with-Ginny-broomstick, and un-shrunk it. The broom seemed to hang in the air.

Dumbledore took a step forward, holding out both empty hands in a gesture of peace. "I don't know why you distrust me so. I mean you no ill will. I hope one day, we can work together."

Harry leaned back, and dropped.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Albus Dumbledore slumped into his high-back chair, and rubbed his temples.

After his unscheduled break had ended, the Wizengamot session had gone on for far too long. He'd only just got back, and discovered the extent of Lord Slytherin's machinations.

Lord Slytherin knew the prophecy. He was only the second to know it in its entirety. It was now even more critical that he find a way to bring the powerful Lord to his side.

He looked around his office. There wasn't a speck of dust anywhere. The man was thorough; he'd give him that. He couldn't think of a single way to pin the break-in on him. No fingerprints, no smells, no memories. The only thing he had was the lack of an identification ward record. He doubted Amelia Bones would accept a proof-by-lack-of-proof argument.

The man had walked in like he owned the place, done what he wanted, and who knew what else. Then left.

He reached into a drawer, and withdrew a stack of parchments. Each one was as dust-free as the rest of his office. He flipped through them. Giant dog, chess set, flying keys… all useless now. All compromised.

He sighed.

Add to that, there was a powerful wizard running around who could breeze through Hogwarts security, and he was faced with little choice.

The protections surrounding the stone would have to be re-thought and beefed up. Beefed up, a lot.

Chapter Text

Harry stretched his tense muscles out in the unkempt grass, and chewed on a dandelion stem. The weeks following the Book of Names mission had driven him to distraction. John would wake in just a few days time, and he'd gone over things in his mind so often he was having trouble sleeping.

The crisp midnight air ruffled his hair. He shook himself and settled down to watch the entertainment.

In the middle of their secret training spot, illuminated by the light of bluebell flames, red hair faced off against dirty blonde. One intense, determined, and focused, the other relaxed, casual, and dreamy.

He spat out the dandelion. "Begin!"

Four hands rose, one alight with pure white light, three alight with red.

Ginny leapt to the side. She sent two stunners hurtling towards Luna, who danced away from one and let her shield absorb the other. Luna's stunner sailed towards Ginny. It passed over her shoulder, and she landed on the ground.

Ginny rolled. She fired off another pair of stunners in quick succession.

Luna's shield absorbed the second stunner, but shattered on the third. She twirled. Both her hands lit up red, then pearl white, then red again.

He watched Ginny dodge and shield against the barrage of stunners and stingers. Her movements were close and sharp. Her eyes burned.

The two witches edged towards each other. The dodges became closer, the misses nearer, neither willing to back off.

Luna lunged. Two shields appeared from her hands, leaving her no attack.

Ginny's eyes widened at the sudden advance.

His eyes narrowed.

Ginny poured stinging hexes into the shields as the blonde drew closer.

The shields held, power constantly flowing into them. Luna stood right in front of Ginny, full-shield versus full-assault, neither gaining ground on the other.

Then Luna shouted, "Stu-Pi-"—Her mouth glowed red—"-Fy!" A tiny, red light shot from the tip of her tongue, straight into Ginny's stomach.

The redhead blanked. Then collapsed into the soft grass.

He blinked.

He blinked again.

"Luna. Did you just fire a stunner from your tongue?"

"Yesh, Hawwy," Luna said, holding her tongue with her fingers.

He stood up, and walked towards Ginny. "That's just… wow. How did you think to do that?"

"It's long and pointy, Harry. You said that's why we use our fingers. I bet boys can cast from their special boy parts too."

He coughed, and lowered his wand from where he'd been about to enervate Ginny. "I wasn't planning on going into battle naked."

"Oh, Poo."

He shook his head, and turned back towards Ginny. Sometimes Luna freaked him out with how disturbingly adult her thinking could be.

"Enervate."

Ginny stirred, and pushed herself into a sitting position. "What happened?"

"Luna got you with a stunner that she shot from her mouth."

Ginny's jaw dropped. "Wha—?"

"Yeah, I know." He looked back to Luna who was demonstrating by holding her tongue with her fingers, and pointing to it while making 'Ahhhh' noises. "I'd really like to know how that mind works."

"I just want to beat her. Just once!" Ginny pouted.

He shook his head. Despite coming close many times, Luna always managed to stay just one step ahead of Ginny.

"Well, you'll have a whole year to practice against her. If anything else, you two are going to rock your dueling bracket when you get to Hogwarts."

Luna had wandered off. She was plucking grasses, and tying them together.

He turned back towards the fidgeting redhead. "You sure you don't want back-up when John awakens?"

Ginny stiffened. She held her head high. "I already said. I need to do this by myself. I can handle it. And we've been training for it for ages now."

"He's still going to be five years older than you."

"I don't care, I need to do this, Harry." Her chocolate eyes looked straight into his, as though daring him to push his opinion.

He sighed. He'd suggested Ginny start wearing the mind-backdoor necklace again so he could take control if the shit hit the fan, but she'd refused. She'd said if she couldn't handle things herself then what use was she. She'd said she didn't want to be a helpless little girl who always needed protecting.

He'd pointed out that it was merely a fail-safe, a measure of last resort, only to be used if she really couldn't handle something that happened. Ginny was having none of it.

"Okay, I was just making sure you really were sure. You remember the emergency signal for your ring?"

She nodded, and recited their prearranged signal.

He nodded back. "Just make sure to contact me the moment you feel you're out of your depth."

She let out an exasperated breath. "of course. You don't need to be so worried, you know. What can he do? He can't even use his wand yet."

He closed his eyes, and tried to keep the frustration from his voice. "We don't know what he'll do, that's the problem. He's going to wake-up into a situation that is totally different to what he remembers. He's just been killed, then brought before two deities, then resurrected, and his girlfriend now wants nothing to do with him. People do stupid things in high emotion situations."

"I can stun, sting, shield, and summon, all wandlessly. He can't. If he tries anything, I'll just stun him."

He looked at the girl in front of him, all righteous passion and fiery indignation.

He took a deep breath, and looked into her eyes. He tried to make his voice as soft as he could. "Just be carful, okay."

She relaxed a little. "Yes, Harry."

"Look!"

They both turned to the voice. Luna twirled around. A grass necklace rested on her neck. A grass crown adorned her hair.

"I'm fully green grassed!" She smiled a dreamy smile.

Ginny's mouth opened, but no words came out.

His eyes glassed over. "On second thoughts, maybe it's better not to know what goes on in there."

DP & SW: RIBSR

It was morning. Harry appeared on the corner of Privet Drive and Magnolia Crecent. He wore well-made and well-fitted, muggle clothes. Jeans and t-shirt. Regular exercise, along with good diet, and potions, had fixed most of the effects of seven years of malnutrition. He was now taller than average for a one-day-away-from-eleven-year-old.

He strolled up to number four, and rang the doorbell.

He waited.

The door opened. It was Aunt Petunia, just how he remembered her from fourteen years ago.

"You!" she screeched, and tried to slam the door.

He stuck his booted foot in the crack. "Ah ah ahh, Aunty. Not so fast."

She got ahold of her voice. "What are you doing back here?" she hissed.

He smiled the smile of an utter bastard. "I have a business proposition to discuss with you and Uncle."

"Business…? What does a little freak like you have that could interest us?"

"Maybe I should come in and we can talk about it, rather than right here on your doorstep where I'm sure all the neighbors will be very interested."

Petunia looked like she was swallowing a lemon, but did open the door and allow him in. "Where did you run away too? Do you have any idea how freaked— how… troubled we were when you disappeared?"

"Yes," Harry drawled. "I've no doubt you were sweating buckets about what would happen if the freaks who left me with you realized you'd lost me."

"That's not—"

"As far as where I've been. I think it's best that remains unknown for the moment. Oh, hello Uncle."

Uncle Vernon rose from where he'd been sitting at the kitchen table. His face was rapidly turning red. His little piggy eyes bulged. Dudley wasn't anywhere to be seen. "Boy! You dare to show your miserable little face here? Do you have any idea what you put your Aunt and I through?" he yelled.

"I can imagine Uncle, which is why I'd like to give you a lot of money in compensation."

"You think we need anything… from…what do you mean?" His voice had turned from furious to just angry and curious.

"Well, you're always going on about what a burden I am, and how I'm ungrateful, so I thought I should do my bit to chip into the family coffers, so to speak. After all, you've been feeding and housing me for the last ten years. It's only right."

"What are you talking about, boy? You haven't lived here for—"

He opened his bag, and slapped a large pile of taped twenty-pound notes, onto the table.

Vernon's piggy little eyes widened even further. He reached for the pile and thumbed through it.

"Fifteen-thousand, Uncle." He reached into the bag again and slapped another pile down. "And another fifteen-thousand over the next seven years, or until I reach my majority as recognized by my fellow freaks, whichever comes first."

Vernon's face twisted into a greedy smile.

He summoned the pile back from his uncle's hand.

Petunia gasped.

"But," he continued, "only if I've lived here for the last ten years."

Vernon's face turned red again, presumably torn between ranting about freakishness, and wanting to keep the money on the table. Eventually, he calmed, sat down, and regarded Harry as though for the first time. "So, Boy. You want us to pretend you haven't been anywhere. Is that it?"

"That's it Uncle. I'll also need to sleep here occasionally. But probably not too often."

"And where exactly is this money coming from? Freaks like you don't have well paying jobs."

Harry looked between his uncle and aunt, slightly perplexed. "Aunt Petunia, did you never visit Potter Manor?"

Petunia looked uncomfortable. "Once."

Uncle Vernon looked confused. "Pet?"

Petunia squirmed. "The Potters are… well, they're not quite as poor as I may have led you to believe. It's just…"—her voice hardened—"I don't want anything to do with them! Okay?"

Vernon leaned away from his ranting wife. "Okay, Okay." He turned back to Harry. "So, this money comes from your freakish parents?"

"Good god, no. It's them I don't want knowing where I've been. They'd probably throw a fit, and do a whole bunch of freakish things to you and your house."

Vernon's eyes bulged yet again. He wondered if the man practiced in front of a mirror.

"Let's just say the money comes from a wealthy patron who has been taking care of me, and who doesn't wish his name floated around all over the place."

"Mmmm." Vernon stroked his many chins.

Petunia bit her lower lip. "And are you going to go to that… that school?"

"Yes. My letter should be arriving tomorrow, and someone will probably turn up the day after to take me shopping. Then I'll be on my way again, and we won't see each other for another year."

Petunia looked torn. She shuffled her feet, and twisted her apron. "Why?" she eventually asked.

"Mmmm?"

"I told Lily you were a freak. Every year, whenever you did something, I'd send her a letter saying you'd done something freakish. But she never listened. She always insisted you were normal. Now that you're going to that school, are they not going to take you back?"

"My parents knew very well that I wasn't a squib. That was just an excuse to send me away."

She spluttered. "But. Why?"

"I don't fully know. They might have been tricked, or they might believe that throwing away your children like garbage is okay if it turns out they're a bit inconvenient."

Petunia's eyes narrowed. "The next time I see that red-headed, little miss perfect, double-dealing bitch—."

"—Feel free to make her feel as guilty as possible, but remember to keep my situation secret."

Petunia blinked. "Yes. Yes of course. Well then, er… Harry." She stood up. "Dudley's spare bedroom? You're getting a bit big for the cupboard." She had the grace to look sheepish.

Harry smiled, amazed things were going as well as they were. He hadn't even needed to use compulsion charms.

Vernon was busy counting the notes in the two piles.

"That sounds like an excellent idea."

DP & SW: RIBSR

Quiet. It was quiet. And warm. Quiet and warm. And comfy. Quiet, warm, and comfy. John Potter's eyes shot open. He sat bolt upright, and looked around. He was home. The familiar red and gold of his bedroom in Potter manor felt odd. Like seeing an old friend after a lifetime. He breathed, and noticed the lack of pain shooting through his body. He couldn't feel the cruciatus. But, of course. It hadn't happened yet. None of it had happened — The stone, the chamber, Pettigrew's breakout, the tournament, Voldemort's resurrection… his death —None of it.

He'd been given a second chance. Death and Fate had chosen him. His eyes gleamed.

Ever since the headmaster had sat him down four years ago, a week from now, and told him he wasn't really the boy-who-lived, he'd felt like a fraud. Every time someone had used that damn title, a little bit of him had cringed in terror, terror that someone, anyone, would find out, and he'd be branded a liar. A cheat. The very opposite of what a hero of the Light should be. How much he wished for a chance to prove himself to be the hero the world thought he was.

Now, he'd been given that chance. Now, he actually was the chosen of Fate. He'd have to carful of course. He couldn't let anyone know he was from the future. That would risk changing things too much, and future knowledge was one of his only real weapons. Always have a plan. That's what Hermione always said.

Wow. Hermione. She was still a child at the moment, wasn't she? And Ginny. His thoughts strayed to a few hours ago, a lifetime ago, in a time that hadn't happened, and to the beautiful girl who'd kissed him and begged him to stay safe in the maze of the fourth, and final task.

Ginny would have to go through the whole chamber of secrets thing again. He cringed. That… really sucked. But it was part of who she was. His Ginny had gone through the chamber of secrets, and come out the other side stronger and better for it.

Then there was his brother… he'd felt guilty when he'd helped send him to Azkaban, but Dumbledore had made clear the danger he posed, the reason he'd been sent away. Even if a part of him found it hard to connect the scared, needy, weak, scrawny Slytherin, with the danger to the world the leader of the Light painted him as.

But there wasn't anything he could do about that. Events needed to match the previous timeline as closely as possible. If that meant his potential dark lord brother needed to go to Azkaban then so be it.

On the other hand, there were plenty of little things he could do that wouldn't change things too much, but that would be very helpful. Looking back, he'd been standoffish and arrogant, mostly because of his insecurity over the whole not-really-the-boy-who-lived thing. This time, he'd make the effort to reach out beyond his tiny circle of Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.

He swept his legs over the side of the bed, and hopped off. He looked at himself in the full-length mirror, dressed in red and gold pajamas. Merlin, he was short now. He grinned. Voldemort didn't know what was going to hit him. His stomach rumbled.

Ah. But first, breakfast!

DP & SW: RIBSR

John arrived in the dinning room, and was brought up short by the massive stack of presents on the table.

Oh, that's right. It was his birthday.

He pulled out a chair and sat down.

"Tippy!"

A house elf popped into being beside him.

"Young Master is up very early this morning." The elf said, waggling his ears.

"Yeah, I just thought it would be a good idea getting up earlier in the morning. Is there any breakfast? Maybe something healthy and nutritious, and high in protein?"

"of course, Young Master." Tippy popped away.

A few minutes later, breakfast appeared — A plate of egg-white omelette, with carrot and broccoli, a small lean stake, a small mountain of chopped, sautéed sweet potatoes, a bowl of yogurt with mixed fruit, sliced almonds, and raisins, and a glass of whole milk.

Now, this was more like it. He dug in.

Half way through demolishing the mountain of magic and muscle fuel, his father arrived.

"Morning, Son. You're that desperate for presents mm?" His father's eyes radiated mirthful knowing.

"Not really, Dad. Just thought getting up earlier in general would be a good thing." He speared a chunk of steak.

"Hah, thinking of taking after your mother then? I see you've also started eating different too. Where's your usual sugar staves cereal?"

"I figured high protein and veggies would be better from now on, I'm a growing boy right?" He grinned.

"Damn right, Son." Glad to see you taking your body seriously, now.

He smirked. "On that note, could you help me with that? I know you and Uncle Sirius work out."

His father smiled. "You want to be shown the ropes? Sure."

They chatted back and forth for a while, before his mother walked in wearing a dressing gown. She swept over to him, and enveloped him in a warm hug.

"Happy birthday, Darling."

He knew he'd normally have been embarrassed by such displays of affection at this age, but he didn't care. Being tortured and murdered certainly changes your outlook on life. He returned her hug. "Thanks, Mum."

She looked surprised. "Not shoving your Mum away? I like this new young gentleman." She glanced at the present pile. "And you haven't even touched your presents. Should I get the healer?"

He grinned. "Maybe this new young gentleman has learned patience and the value of family over mere things."

His mother put her hands on her hips, and gave him a look. "Okay, who are you and what have you done with my son? Do we need to flush polyjuice?"

He rolled his eyes. "Is there a prophet around?" It would be a good idea to keep up to date with what was going on. Plus, it had been four years. Getting some reminders would be helpful.

His father eyed him "Damn, you need to steady with the growing up, else we're not even going to recognize you when you get back from Hogwarts." Lord Potter threw him a copy of the prophet sitting on a nearby serving tray.

He smiled, and spread the newspaper in front of him. His smile vanished. His brow furrowed.

The headline read — 'Lord Slytherin Announces Construction of Slytherin Manor — Set to Personally Increase GNP by three percent for 1992 through 1993.'

What the hell? He didn't remember this. "Lord Slytherin?"

He father looked over his copy, and grimaced. "Yeah, he's going to get a lot of support from this. Parkinson will probably get one of the contracts — he's in construction. Not that I've got anything against stripping the Dark of their support, but you can bet your arse—"

"James!"

"Sorry dear, you can bet your… bottom, that some of the contracts will go to supporters of the Light that are on the fence too. Losing Lovegood was a hard blow. We don't need any more to jump ship."

He bit his lip. This wasn't what he remembered. Not at all. There was no Lord Slytherin. He was sure of it. The heir of Slytherin had been Riddle. And the timeline couldn't have been changed. He'd only just got back. What was going on?

He rubbed his face. If things were different than what he remembered… Oh Merlin, what was he going to do? He couldn't rely on foreknowledge. No, he mustn't panic. So long as the important events happened it shouldn't be too bad…. He needed to know what else had changed. Asking someone would be best. He wasn't going to meet Hermione for another month, but Ginny… Ginny could help him. Yes.

"I think I need to speak to Ginny."

His mother looked at him, eyes dimmed from their usual brightness. "Are you sure that's a good idea, dear?"

What? His eyebrows drew together.

"Of course it is!" roared his father. Lord Potter grinned. "I told you, Lily, Potter men don't give up easily, see? Don't you remember what happened with us?"

What were they talking about? A sick feeling started to pool in his stomach.

"Yes, but it was different with us, dear." She looked pained. "Ginny is different."

Wha?

"Nonsense! I'm sure John will win her back. Eh, Son?"

Win her back? "Excuse me… I…I'll be right back." He bolted from the room, and fled up the stairs to his room, barged in, and flung himself at his writing desk. He reached for his diary. His hands trembled; they sweated. He flipped to a random page in the last few months.

'May 23rd, 1991 — Ginny still hates me. I tried sending her an owl with an invitation to a quidditch game, but it didn't work. Her reply said she wasn't interested. She asked me to stop trying to buy her. I sent a reply asking what I needed to do to be her friend again. She said it didn't matter. That by the time she could learn to forgive me it would be too late. That I wouldn't be me anymore. What does that even mean?'

His eyes watered. What was going on? It sounded like his yesterday self was just as confused as he was. He flipped around the diary until he found what looked to be the incident.

'April 15th, 1990 — Ginny hates me and I don't know why. I was going to invite her broomstick riding because we hadn't really hung out for a while, but when I went out to the orchard she looked at me like I was the worst dark lord ever. Then she left and I couldn't think of anything else. What have I done? I don't understand. I can't stand being hated. Ginny likes me. I know she does. We've been friends for ages. You don't just suddenly hate someone. I'm going to ask her tomorrow what's wrong. I'm sure it's all just a misunderstanding.'

The writing shook more and more as the entry went on. The ink and parchment was rife with inkblots and water stains. It was clear he'd been crying. His hand had been shaking, just like it was now. Something had changed, and now Ginny hated him. That was… ridiculous. Ginny couldn't hate him. Not the beautiful, kind angel who'd been part of his life as long as he could remember.

He remembered those sweet, moist chocolate orbs that had made him promise to come back safely, before the fourth task, only a few hours ago. His eyes narrowed, even as his hands shook. Something was off, and he was going to figure out what it was.

DP & SW: RIBSR

John flooed into the burrow three hours later. His parents had a birthday party prepared for that afternoon. He'd talked his way into trying to invite Ginny personally. His father had been all over the idea.

He walked down to the orchard.

A figure stood among the trees, facing away from him, dressed in a familiar blue summer dress, faded from too many washes and re-sizing charms.

"Ginny?"

Ginny turned her head, giving him a profile view of her young face, framed by fire-red hair. He gave a quiet gasp. Her eyes looked so sharp. So not innocent. In the last timeline, he hadn't seen that look on her until a few weeks after the chamber incident, when some Slytherins had publicly suggested she'd been… used… down in the chamber.

"I wondered how long it would take for you to come here." Her voice dripped venom.

"G-Ginny. What's wrong?"

"Wrong? Is anything wrong? I don't know. Why don't you tell me, John. Is anything wrong?"

He scrabbled, but couldn't think. His diary entries had given him no clue what had happened.

"I don't know. Please. Help me understand." His heart ached. The way she looked at him burned a hole clear through his soul.

She sighed. "Unfortunately, that isn't an option. If you can't figure it out yourself, then I can't help you. Not that I want to."

"Please, Ginny."

She turned, and shook her head. Half her hair fell across her face, the other half held in place by an ornamental hairpin. "No." She walked towards him. Her eyes hardened further.

He fought down the instinct to draw his not-yet-bought wand. Her pose radiated hostility and readiness to attack. She drew almost level with him.

Then, he saw it, something he hadn't seen before. His eyes widened. Then narrowed.

She passed his field of view. "I suggest you forget we were ever friends. It will be easier for you." She carried on walking behind him, back towards the burrow.

He continued to glare ahead, his eyes still narrowed. His fingernails bit into the palms of his hands.

That hairpin; it wasn't a normal hairpin.

He'd seen one of those before. Once. They were damn expensive. And he knew that Ginny hadn't had one in the last time-line. There was no way that Ginny Weasley— poor, second-hand-clothes-wearing Ginny Weasley— could possibly afford a shrinking, super-rare, limited edition, hairpin Nimbus 1700 broomstick.

DP & SW: RIBSR

John lay awake in bed. Ron snored in the bunk below him. Their parents had been surprised when he'd asked to sleep over at the Burrow, but hadn't objected. He shifted to his side.

Somewhere far outside the Burrow, an owl hooted.

He'd been surprised when none of his birthday presents contained the invisibility cloak, but he wasn't sure how to ask about that without having to explain how he knew about it.

He slipped the covers off, and slipped on his indoor shoes.

Not having the cloak made him feel naked. He'd have to learn the disillusionment charm as soon as possible.

He crept out into the hallway.

Either that, or he'd have to figure out where the cloak was. Maybe one of the elves could help him. Damn. He wished he'd thought of that earlier.

He descended the stairs, carful to step over the one that always squeaked.

The more he thought about the hairpin and Ginny's strange behavior, the more he thought back to second year, and to a Ginny who'd been distant and jumpy. Who'd seemed to be a completely different person. And to a cursed object that'd been possessing her. Controlling her.

He arrived outside Ginny's door. He opened the door, carefully, quietly, expecting shrieks of hatred and indignation at every inch of progress.

Not that that would stop him. It was painfully obvious something was wrong with Ginny. And he was going to save her.

He padded to her bedside, and gazed at the peaceful angel, fast asleep, one leg stuck out from the covers. A line of drool ran down her elegantly freckled cheek.

He dragged his gaze from Ginny to the side table. Ahh. There. He picked up the tiny broomstick and pocketed it. If this was what was wrong with her, then he knew just who'd be able to tell him.

DP & SW: RIBSR

Early next morning, John zoomed by the vast numbers of floo connections until a familiar sitting room filled his vision. He stepped out into the ancestral home of the Blacks. A most unwelcome sight immediately greeted him.

"What are you doing here, Potter?"

Alexandra Black, winner of his personal award for most-frustrating-Slytherin, and fellow Ti-wizard champion, sat in a high-back chair, reading a thick and ancient-looking tome. The last time he'd seen this witch, they'd been trading curses in the maze. As much as he hated admitting it, it had only been by luck that he'd won that little skirmish.

"Alex." His tone was cool.

She narrowed her eyes. "Don't call me that."

"I'll call you what I want."

She looked surprised by the retort. Then her eyes narrowed. "What's got you so full of yourself? Not that it matters. Almost all Potters are pathetic."

"Whatever, I'm here to see your Dad. Where is he?"

"Why?"

"That's not your business."

"Maybe I want to make it my business. After all, you want to know where my Dad is."

He clenched his teeth. "What do you want?"

She smiled. "How about a book swap from the Potter library?"

"Are you out of your mind!" he all but screamed. He got a control of himself. "All I want to know is where your Dad is. How about a box of chocolate frogs?"

She stared at him for a whole two seconds, before laughing. "Wow, I really don't know how you two are related. You have all the political understanding of a typical Gryffindor brick, Potter."

He hated this. Even when she was ten—or almost ten—she still had that sharp tongue and unerring ability to get under his skin. Seeing her this young again made him wonder where the little girl who'd played 'wizards and witches' with him, Ginny, and Ron had gone.

"What's all this shouting?" Lord Sirius Black marched out of a side room, wearing full auror uniform.

Oh, thank Merlin.

Alex huffed.

"Oh, morning, John. You're here early. I was about to head into the office."

"Padfoot, I've got a problem. Can I talk you about it? It's kinda to do with your work."

Sirius eyes turned sharp and flashed him a questioning look. "Sure thing. This an at-the-office kind of thing? Do your parents know?"

"Yeah, and no. It's kinda sensitive. I need the input of my favorite Godfather."

"Hah!" Sirius barked. "Alright then, Pup. See you there." He hesitantly turned to Alexandra before stepping into the floo. He cleared his throat, and tugged his collar. "Err. Be good, Alex."

Alex lowered her head. "Yes, My Lord Black."

Sirius grimaced, and turned away again.

He waited for Sirius to floo away, before stepping in, turning, and smirking at the doll-like dark witch.

She growled back.

DP & SW: RIBSR

John landed firmly on his feet in the auror department. He followed his godfather to his office. The early birds were just starting to arrive. There weren't many of them, but then, there weren't many aurors, just twenty-six. They were the elite, the best. In a country of only twenty thousand, you couldn't expect there to be a massive standing army to battle the likes of Voldemort. They dealt with dark wizards. Regular law enforcement was handled by DMLE security wizards.

Sirius landed in his large chair, spread his legs, planted his large hands firmly on his knees, leaned forward, and looked him square in the eyes. "Alright kiddo. What's up?"

"You know how Ginny's been acting oddly recently?"

Sirius's expression turned pensive. "She does seem more distant."

"You know how the Weasleys are"—he hesitated—"not exactly the most well off?"

"Yes."

"Yesterday, I noticed Ginny was wearing this." He brought out the hairclip and handed it to Sirius. "It's a limited edition, Nimbus 1700 broomstick that can be shrunk and used as a hairclip. They cost one hundred Galleons. That's two and a half times more than a standard Nimbus 1700.

Sirius whistled, and examined the hair clip up close, turning it this way and that. "And you nabbed it from her?"

"I want to make sure there's nothing on it that might be affecting her behavior. I know how you always say to be on the watch for things that don't add up."

"That I do." He rubbed his short beard. "Fine, we'll take a look at it and see what's what. But next time, I advise you to bring this sort of thing to me before you start grabbing things. If this really does have dark magic on it there's no telling what it might have been able to do to you. Besides, I don't think I have to remind you that until you handed it to me under suspicion of being a dark artifact, what you did was legally theft."

He shrugged. "Sure thing."

Sirius stood, placed the hairpin broomstick on the desk, and started waving his wand and muttering under his breath. The wand waving and muttering went on for a while. A second wizard was called in, who also waved his wand around and muttered. A conversation was held. More wand waving and muttering. Then, Sirius's eyes looked mildly shocked. Then confused. Then worried. Sirius looked sidelong at him before shaking his head, as though getting rid of a thought.

"Well, Pup, the broom's clean. That doesn't mean there isn't anything suspicious going on though. I'd like to know if Molly and Arthur know someone is gifting their little girl really expensive presents."

John sighed. Half relieved that Ginny wasn't under possession, half frustrated that his only lead had come up dead. "So, we don't know anything more then?"

Sirius looked uncomfortable. "Well, not quite. We did crack the passcode to un-shrink the broomstick."

"Well?"

"Whoever gave Ginny the broomstick could be anyone, really. But we know he may be called Harry."

His face blanked. "What?"

"The passcode is 'Harry's Awesome Broomstick'."

Harry. His breathing sped up. Images of his scrawny, evil Slytherin brother shot through his head. His adrenaline raced. That slimy little bastard. How dare he cozy up to HIS Ginny. Ginny whohe loved. He stilled. Harry meant evil, which meant dark magic. Ginny could be enslaved. Love potions, hate potions, there were so many things. Confundus charms, compulsion charms, legilimency, the imperious curse, possession. HIS Ginny on the floor of the chamber, soul being drained, body cold as death. How dare that bastard! He'd rip him to pieces. Break every bone in his body. No, that wasn't nearly enough. Skele-gro, then break them all again, and again, and again.

His thoughts ran far ahead of anything his rational mind told him his brother was capable of. His hands clenched and unclenched.

"Err. You okay there, Pup?"

He fought for control, passed his emotions through his occlumency exercises, and forced a sliver of rational thought into the saddle of his consciousness. He took a deep breath, and his eyes hardened.

"Yes Sirius. I need to speak to my parents. Now."

Chapter Text

Ginny paced in her usual spot in the orchard. The air was stuffy and oppressive. The shade of the trees offered the only nearby respite. She glanced towards the burrow and wrung her hands. It was long past lunchtime, but she wasn't hungry.

She couldn't find her broomstick. She'd looked all morning, checked all the pockets of her clothes, and underneath her bed. She'd even tried summoning it, walking around the burrow, waving her hands when she was sure no one was looking, but nothing.

What would Harry say? Would he be angry? She knew those broomsticks weren't cheap; that they cost more than her parents made in a couple of months. Here she was trying to prove she could handle herself and she couldn't even keep track of her things. She'd handled John well enough. She'd known the boy didn't have the guts to try anything. But that little victory was overshadowed by her newest problem.

She ran a hand through her flame-red hair and bunched it into a fist. Sweat beaded on her brow in the summer heat. She was going to get a headache at this rate.

"Ginny." Her father's voice called though the fruit trees.

She briefly raised her eyes to the sky. "Yes, Dad?"

Her father came into view. "Could you come into the kitchen? Your mother and I need to discuss something with you." He looked unusually serious.

She groaned. She knew she shouldn't have missed lunch. "Yes, Dad."

Ginny walked with her father into the compact kitchen and dinning room. Her eyebrows raised slightly when she was met, not only by her mother, but also by a tall witch with long, wavy black hair. The witch sat at the table end. Her mother stood by the sink sipping a mug of tea. Neither were smiling.

"Sit down, Ginny."

She sat and felt a shiver go up her spine. She couldn't ever remember seeing her mother look so serious before. Molly Weasley didn't usually look serious; she usually blew-up long before then.

"This is Andromeda Tonks," her father said, motioning towards the black-haired witch. "She's Sirius's cousin, and a healer working at St. Mungo's." He sat down adjacent to Mrs. Tonks, opposite her.

She frowned. A healer? Why was she seeing a healer? She felt fine.

"Now, Ginny." Her father re-directed her attention back to him. "Have you made any new friends recently?"

She stared blankly at him. "No."

"No one?" he pressed. "No new people you keep in contact with by owl? No one who approached you while out shopping maybe? Perhaps a friend of one your friends that you met while at their house?"

"Dad, I hardly ever go anywhere. When would I have time to meet any one? And I don't have an owl."

Mrs. Tonks raised an eyebrow.

Her father sighed. "Ginny, I really need you to be honest with us here. It's very important."

Her jaw clenched. "I am being honest. I haven't met anyone I'd call a friend for ages."

Her mother stood behind her father and Mrs. Tonks. She looked like she was visibly restraining herself.

"Okay then." Her father continued, sounding out each syllable like a death knell. "Could you tell us why you spend so much time alone now, rather than with your brothers?"

Ah, her occlumency study time. She and Harry had long ago figured a cover story for that.

"Well, I like to read don't I?" She held up a slim volume she'd taken to the orchard with her. "And all my brothers are at Hogwarts most of the time aren't they? Except Bill and Ron, but Ron's become such a jerk recently."

Her mother took a sharp breath. "Ginny!"

"It's true. Ron thinks just because I don't worship the floor John walks on anymore, that means I'm evil."

Mrs. Tonks tapped her fingers on the tabletop. "Yes… why don't you tell us a bit more about that? Why do you hate John Potter?"

"Why do I need a reason to hate that tosser?"

"Ginny! Language!"

"No, Mum, I'll call him what I want." She folded her arms.

"Now see here—" her mother began.

"—Molly, please," healer Tonks interrupted.

Her mother shut her mouth, grabbed her mug and held it like a lifeline.

"Ginny," Mrs. Tonks said, "You said you did used to like John. What was the specific thing that made you change your mind? I've seen some memories of how you used to behave around him, and it must have been something pretty big."

She squirmed in her seat. She couldn't tell the whole truth, but she did need to give at least a plausible reason. "Maybe I learned somethings about him that made me see him in a different light."

"What did you learn?"

"That's my business."

"Ginny!"

Andromeda held up a hand. "Please, Molly." The healer continued. "Ginny, your parents are concerned by your sudden change in behavior. It's very unusual for people to swing from such an extreme to another."

She frowned. "Well, like I said, that's my business isn't it. And it's not sudden, it happened ages ago."

"It was sudden at the time."

"It's still my business."

Andromeda gave a slow nod, and made a note on a piece of parchment in front of her. She turned to her father and made a hand signal that looked pre-arranged.

Her father took a deep breath, reached below the table, and brought out something very familiar.

Her breath hitched.

He placed it on the table. It was her shrunken broomstick.

Her eyes darted between each of the adults in front of her. Her mother had crossed her arms, foot tapping, clearly agitated; her face was reddening. Mount Molly looked set to blow.

A bead of sweat rolled down her face. She put on her best confused voice. "My hairpin?"

"YOU know full well that is not a hair pin!" her mother screamed.

She flinched.

Her father maintained his serious face despite the verbal assault just behind him. "Ginny. Who gave you this broomstick?"

"…That's my business."

"Ginny," he said, more forcefully. "Who. Gave. You. This. Broomstick?"

"I told you, Dad. That's my business."

Her father rubbed his face. "Ginny. Whoever gave you that may have bad intentions. He may be trying to hurt you. He may be trying to control you."

"You don't know what you're talking about. This is my business." She looked at the first gift Harry had ever given her. "And that is my broomstick."

Mrs. Tonks watched the exchange, making notes on her parchment.

Her mother smacked her mug down on the counter. "Don't think you're getting that back, young lady! Now you tell us everything you're hiding, understand!"

Her eyes hardened, even as her hands started shaking. "No."

"Ginny, dear." Her father's voice strained calmness. "It's not impossible that you might get the broomstick back. But we have to know who gave it to you so we can talk with them, and understand their intentions. You understand that don't you? If you believe whoever gave you the broomstick wouldn't harm you then you've no reason not to tell us who it is."

"No." She shook her head.

"Ginerva Weasley!" her mother shrieked. "You tell us now or you're on double chores, and grounded until you do!"

She clenched the skirt of her dress with her fists. Tears started forming at the edges of her eyes. "No."

"Ginny—" her father tried again.

"No."

Her father seemed to deflate. He sat back on the table and looked towards Andromeda. Something unsaid seemed to pass between them, and her father gave a slight, apprehensive nod. "Okay. Andromeda here has a few more questions for you."

She looked towards the raven-haired witch.

The healer leaned on the table. "Miss Weasley. Do you have a boy friend?"

Her eyes widened. Her mind blanked. "Wha—?" She felt her cheeks flush. Then she felt something else. The incessant nudge of a legilimency probe.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

John climbed The Burrow stairs to Ginny's room.

His mum had just got back from the Dursleys. Her red cheeks and puffy eyes suggested it hadn't been a happy reunion. Apparently, his brother still lived there, and was as ignorant as ever. Hagrid had turned up earlier that morning, and was taking him shopping.

His parents had been distressed by the possibility of someone called Harry manipulating Ginny. From that, he'd managed to force a confession of his brother's existence, one month earlier than in the last time-line. From there, it hadn't been much work to get things moving. Ginny was being flushed of potions, enchantments, and mind magic, and it shouldn't be too long before he had the real Ginny back.

For a moment, he'd been afraid his brother had somehow also come back in time, but that seemed not to be the case. Not that he couldn't have dealt with it if he had. Harry would've only been a fourteen year-old weakling with two years of magical education, and two years of prison, after all. But if not his brother, then who was the Harry the broomstick spoke of?

He arrived at Ginny's door and pushed it open.

The sight that greeted him made him feel ill. Ginny was rope-bound to her bed. Her face was chalk white, and a foul smelling bucket stood by the bed. Her head, previously staring up the ceiling, turned to look at the opening door.

Her eyes narrowed. "You," she all but hissed.

"Hi, Ginny," he said, not keeping eye contact. The continued venom vanished the pit of his stomach. "You don't have to worry. You'll be better soon."

"Better!" She croaked, coughed, and a stream of green liquid dribbled from her mouth; it flowed into the bucket. "There's nothing wrong with me!" She struggled on her bindings, but her attempts were weak.

"Ginny, if you're under someone else's influence then you wouldn't know it."

She stared at him. "It was you, wasn't it? You took my broomstick. That's why you stayed over last night."

"Ginny—" he began.

"You! You!" She sputtered and coughed, and more green liquid poured from her mouth. She stopped struggling and collapsed back. "Get out."

"Ginny."

"Get out!"

She flailed again, and an unseen force hit him square in the face, knocking him back and onto the floor. His face stung. Accidental magic. Ginny was getting unstable. He scrabbled backwards, out of the door, and safely around the corner, trying to ignore the continued stream of insults hurled at him.

He reached and closed the door. He trembled. What had happened that required Ginny to be tied down? It must have been something severe. Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would tell him.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

"…And then Andromeda was thrown backwards, off her chair, and slammed into the cabinet. Apparently Ginny has a fully built mind-scape." Arthur Weasley had dark circles under his eyes. "That shouldn't be possible. We've…" He shifted, and wrung his hands, "We've never taught any of our children occlumency. Couldn't afford the tutors, see? And mind-scapes areadvanced."

John perched on a stool, and watched the unfolding drama of the Weasley household adjusting to their only daughter cursing their names while suffering real pain and discomfort on their orders. His face was still swollen from Ginny's outburst.

Molly Weasley bustled around the kitchen, cleaning and re-cleaning pots by hand, making far more noise doing so than was necessary. Her eyes were red-shot.

Fred and George sat off to one side, bent over parchment, mostly ignoring the exchange.

Percy wasn't. "There's no way a child like Ginny could build a mind-scape — it's dark magic I tell you."

Molly wailed.

"Percy!" Arthur snapped. "It isn't necessarily dark magic. And just because you don't understand something doesn't automatically make it dark.

Percy looked affronted. "Current ministry regulation designates all new forms of magic as dark until they've been proved otherwise."

"This isn't a new form of magic. And the occlumency isn't the problem. The problem is that she's hanging around people who are influencing her, and forcing her to keep secrets."

John looked around the faces. Left unsaid was that attempting to force those secrets out of Ginny with legilimency had turned out to be a bad idea.

He felt the Weasley's pain, but just like them, knew it was necessary. Exactly how this change had happened was still a mystery, but he was determined to find out. He also needed to find out what else had changed so he could get the time-line back on course.

The door opened, and he watched Andromeda Tonks walk in and take a seat.

Molly turned from the sink. "Well?"

Andromeda sighed. Her shoulders slumped forward. "The results have come back negative. There was and is nothing in her system. No potions, no enchantments, no mind-magics." She avoided catching anyone's eyes. "All your daughter's actions are completely her own."

His mouth dried in an instant.

"In fact, far from being vulnerable to mind-magics, she seems immune to some forms, including compulsion charms."

He started to sweat.

The older Weasleys were staring at Andromeda. Their gazes resigned. Mister Weasley put his head in his hands.

"No." A steel voice rang around the kitchen, and he realized it was his own.

Andromeda turned to him; her voice was monotone. "I'm sorry, John."

"No. You must have missed something."

"We performed a complete system cleanse. Any and all forms of foreign magic residing in the human body are catalogued and cleansed. I'm sorry."

"Then there's something else then!" He screamed. His almost mature magic flared.

The assembled Weasleys and Tonks flinched.

He slid off the stool and stumbled his way towards the floo, ignoring the concerned calls of the adults.

It wasn't true. Something else was going on. He'd seen too much weird stuff to just accept someone's word that there were no other possibilities. Ginny was being controlled and hewould save her.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Ginny sat on her bed, hugging her knees to her chest, no-longer bound, but still very much a prisoner. She forced herself to retreat into her mind-scape to keep the tears from welling up.

Her parents had locked her bedroom door from the outside. She was grounded. Grounded—"until you come clean, young lady,"—her mother had said. They had apologized for the legilimency and putting her through several hours of hell, but the apology had been weak and was immediately followed by another interrogation about the evil dark wizard trying to corrupt her, and how they just wanted what was best for her. As though they hadn't just tried to force the information from her by mind raping her.

She felt miserable. She wished Harry were here. He always made her feel safe, something she no longer felt in her own home.

She heard a small click, and the door creaked open.

The twin's heads peeped around the corner. They scuttled in and closed the door behind her.

She stared at them over her knees.

"Well look who it is, George."

"The mistress of mind magic herself, Fred."

The two stood to attention, and gave duel, theatrical bows with lots of extraneous hand waving."

Despite feeling terrible, she couldn't help but giggle.

"You are very impressive, Little Sister."

"Indeed, oh brother of mine. The tales of your magical prowess have spread far across these lands—"

"—Straight to the ears of these two humble rapscallions."

Fred shook his head. "Knocking a fully trained mind-healer out of your head, and onto the floor—"

"—Striking down the defeater of You-Know-Who with accidental magic."

She managed to suppress a frown. Oh how badly she wanted to land another dozen stinging hexes on that dick.

"—And above all, succeeding in sneaking around, learning all that, and who knows what else, without Mum and Dad finding out—"

"—Until your favorite person in the world squealed on you."

This time she did frown.

"No worries, Little Sis. You have clearly shown to have what we need—"

"—And we would like to formerly invite you to our merry band of pranksters… The Hogwarts Buccaneers."

She stared at them. "You don't care about the evil, dark-wizard corrupting your innocent baby sister?"

They frowned.

"Of course we care."

"But, it would be hypocritical of us to not take your side."

"Besides, we figure the best way to protect our little sister is to make sure the trouble she gets up to—"

"—Is the kind that doesn't end with her being used as potion ingredients in some hideous dark ritual."

Her eyes widened. "They're not really saying that are they?"

"No. But it's pretty close."

She pursed her lips. "You don't expect me to betray my… err… version of the 'Hogwarts Buccaneers' do you?"

Their faces lit up.

"Betray?"

"Another prankster group?"

"Never," they declared in unison.

She smiled. Harry didn't really know much about the twins. She was sure he'd like them. But getting them on the inside of Harry's circle wouldn't be easy. Harry was the most paranoid person she'd ever met. Given what he'd gone through, she couldn't blame him.

"Anyway. Chatting about your deeds of myth and legend isn't what we're here for."

"Oh?"

"We're giving you a heads up."

"Downstairs, that healer, Tonks, is talking with Mum and Dad about the possibility of using veritaserum."

Her eyes widened in horror.

"They're really not sure about it, but apparently, as head of a pureblood house, Dad can request some from the ministry, and have a specialist handler administer some to a member of the house."

"But, he's more than a little bit uncomfortable with the idea. Especially after what happened with the legilimency."

"Mum is a bit more enthusiastic."

"It also wouldn't be cheap."

"Just thought you should get some warning, Little Sis."

"We'll keep you updated."

They left, and closed the door behind them.

She started to sweat. Veritaserum? They wouldn't. Would they? Her breathing became strained. She started to shake.

She didn't have a defense against veritaserum. If they gave that to her and asked the right questions, she'd squeal all of Harry's secrets. Her mind flooded with images of Harry in Azkaban, all skin and bones, wearing rags, eyes dead to the world. Her chest tightened.

Tears of frustration and desperation welled up in her eyes. She looked down at the ring on her pinky. The hand it was attached to was trembling.

She should have alerted Harry already. She should have alerted him the moment she realized they knew about the broomstick. She should have alerted him the moment they started to pump her for foreign magic. But she hadn't.

And now it was so time-critical she didn't know if Harry could get here in time.

She focused her magic into her right pinky, and pulsed it into her ring. Long long short, short short short, long long long, short short short.

She collapsed side-ways on the bed, rolled into a ball, and gazed towards the clock.

The second-hand moved.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

[Forty-five minutes earlier]

"Potter." The words were ground out through clenched teeth.

"Greetings, Heir Malfoy of the Noble House of Malfoy" Harry said, lightly stepping onto Madam Malkin's measuring stool. His Dumbledore orchestrated introduction to the wizarding world was turning out a lot better than first time around.

Draco Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "What's with the formal greeting? Finally decided to stop acting like blood traitor scum?"

Harry grinned. "The formal greeting is because we've never met before."

"Wha?"

"Allow me to introduce myself. Harry James Potter, estranged member of the Most Ancient and Noble house of Potter. John is my detested brother."

The young sales-witch measuring him gasped. Although whether due to realizing this wasn't John Potter or to his declaration of sibling loathing, he couldn't be sure.

Malfoy's eyes widened. "The Boy-Who-Lived has a brother?"

"That is a one-hundred percent true statement."

The cords measuring him were suddenly pulled a lot tighter. Yep, definitely the declaration of loathing.

"You hate him?"

"I believe the ways and means employed by him and my family to be short-sighted and contemptible."

"You…you're Dark?"

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that… although I've got nothing against dealing with people who needlessly antagonize me." He glared at the sales-witch who returned his look with one of pure contempt."

"So…" Malfoy regarded him as one might a puzzling quidditch play. "What house do you think you'll be in?"

"Slytherin. No question."

Malfoy nodded slowly. "Yeah. I'll probably go there too. Although my Father did say he wouldn't be furious if I went to Ravenclaw."

Harry smirked. Malfoy had been the bane of his existence during his brief and lonely two years at Hogwarts. Looking back it wasn't hard to see why. He'd turned up in the house of the aristocrats wearing rags and standard Hogwarts modern open-robes. Scrawny and dirty. No hygiene products, no grooming knowledge. Was it any wonder he'd been treated like a walking dragon-pox victim?

"Potter," Malfoy said, "there's a man outside trying to get your attention."

He glanced around, and spied the half-giant making impatient jerking motions while holding a single massive multi-layered ice-cream. The man took a long lick of it.

"Oh, don't worry. It's just my parole officer."

Malfoy frowned.

He turned. "Five more minutes!" He turned back. "Merlin. Some people, eh?"

Malfoy shrugged.

He grinned at the boy. "So, do you have your real robes ready yet, or are you getting them later?"

The Malfoy scion eyed him, and smirked. "Later. Acromantula silk. Closed of course. You?"

"Closed and dueling. Acromantula silk and dragon hide… which I'm certainly not getting here," he added to the reddening commission-based sales-witch.

Malfoy's eyes widened. "You're bringing dueling robes?"

"Yeah. Not planning on wearing them normally though. Not unless it's needed. My parents"—he lowered his voice so only he and Malfoy could hear—"would pitch a fit if they found out."

Malfoy nodded again, smirked his trademark I'm-better-than-you smirk, and reached out a hand. "By the way, I don't think I properly introduced myself. Draco Malfoy, Heir of the Noble House of Malfoy."

Harry smiled and took the boy's hand. Yep. Definitely better than last time.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Harry was frog-marched into a trunk shop, and walked out a few minutes later with a trunk so cheap it probably wouldn't survive a kick to the side.

A visit to an apothecary yielded a half-broken set of scales and potion ingredients from the half-price, soon-to-expire shelf.

A second-hand bookshop produced textbooks with their covers spell'o'taped together, and their pages torn out.

All the time, Hagrid glowered at him, and continually made comments about how thankful he should be his parents were spending their money on him. It was scary just how much the huge man sounded like Uncle Vernon.

And last time around, he had been scared. This time around, he was just getting pissed off. He also vowed to sneak Ginny out of The Burrow next year, and take her shopping before Hogwarts started. No way she was entering Slytherin like he had last time.

Hagrid left him, and the tinkle of a shop bell snapped him out of his thoughts. He was suddenly face to face with an uncomfortably familiar face.

"Hello, Mister Potter," said the wizened face of Mister Ollivander from only a few feet away. "But. Also not Mister Potter…"

He shivered. "I'm Harry Potter."

"Really?" Ollivander raised his eyebrows. "I've never heard that the Boy-Who-Lived had a brother… and yet… and yet… you somehow feel familiar."

Harry's thoughts flew back to a dusk light chase away from an ancient yew tree. He met the old man's gaze with his firm one. "I've been exiled from the wizarding world for the last ten years."

"Most extraordinary. And your parents are not here on the most important occasion of a young wizard's life?"

His back straightened. His eyes narrowed, and his voice lowered. "Quite. But I'm not here to discuss them."

"Indeed, indeed. Let's find your match then shall we. Mmmmm, how about this one?"

Close to one hundred wands later, Hagrid was tapping on the window, clearly unhappy at being made to wait.

Finally, the holly and phoenix feather wand was trundled out and gave its debut performance of sparks.

Ollivander looked puzzled. "Most curious."

He mentally rolled his eyes, and decided he'd let the old man go for it. "What's curious?"

"Oh, that this wand should be meant for you. I was expecting your brother to get it, if anyone. That it should go to you is most, most curious."

"Yes," he drawled, sarcasm dripping like a leaky tap, "most curious."

Ollivander frowned, and he beat a hasty exit. He really shouldn't give people that attitude, but he was damn sure Ollivander had realized what his wand match meant last time around, and also hadn't told him then.

His thoughts strayed back to privet drive. He grinned. Then, he felt a series of vibrations on his right pinky. The grin vanished. Oh, Damn.

"C'mon you," Hagrid said, pulling him along as though he were a dog on a leash.

He looked around. There was no one, thank Merlin. Voldemort may have been able to control animals before the age of eleven without a wand, but Hagrid wasn't an animal. Hell, giant blood even gave him magic resistance. He whipped his true wand from its holster and forcefully whispered, "Confundo." He whipped the wand away again.

The half-giant looked back at him. The look was cautious, calculating. "Actually, yeh can make you're own way home can't yeh?"

He nodded.

"Good. I'm gettin' a pint." He continued to stroll to the leaky cauldron.

His eyes hardened. His muscles tensed. Something had happened to Ginny. He ducked into a side alley, ran behind a discarded crate, and apparated.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Harry cracked his way to Devon, nightmare scenarios playing out in his mind. He arrived in Ottery St. Catchpole, took out his trunk, un-shrunk it, and descended into its depths. He grabbed the invisibility cloak, and a poly-juice. He swiped a strand of Ginny's hair, dropped it in the vial, and shook. The potion turned green.

He faced the trunk's full-length mirror and hesitated. He'd never actually used poly-juice to turn into a girl before.

Harry drank. His hair lengthened, turned red. He shrunk. His slight musculature vanished. His lower internals re-arranged themselves. He squirmed. It felt weird.

His clothes shrunk with him, but didn't change style. He flashed a look in the mirror. Straight, loose fit jeans, and button down shirt. It looked wrong. It gave clues. He made a split decision, cursing his lack of foresight every second. He stripped off his clothes and slipped on one of Daphne's dresses, re-sizing it with a wave of his wand. Better.

Harry whipped the invisibility cloak around him, ascended the trunk, and re-shrunk it. He scowled. No pockets, and annoyingly, no time.

He apparated to, and then cloaked straight through, The Burrow's perimeter wards, wand in one hand, trunk in the other. Sneaking through the tunnel would've taken much longer.

He crouched under the kitchen window and listened.

"—Dragons can wait. Family comes first."

"If Ginny's not being magically influenced is it our business?"

"Of course it is! Just because it's not magic doesn't mean it can't harm her."

"But using magic to force her… it's wrong. It's a massive violation of trust. We should limit ourselves to keeping her away from him."

He'd heard enough. He flew up to the upper windows and peeked into them. Eventually he found the one holding Ginny, stretched out on a small bed. The whole room was pink.

He rapped at the window.

Ginny's head shot up. She leapt off the bed and ran to the window. She looked around, but obviously couldn't see him. She opened the window. He flew past her, brushing against her as he did.

"Harry?" Her voice trembled.

He whipped the cloak off him, and cast a privacy spell.

Ginny's eyes widened at the sight of her doppelganger.

"Yes, It's me, but you don't know that."

She hesitated, and then took a deep breath. "The secret passage into the Burrow is located between the two most northern trees in the orchard."

He beamed.

"Harry!" She leapt, wrapped her arms around him, and clung to him like a limpet. "Thank Merlin you came. Oh, it was horrible, and I'm so, so sorry I didn't alert you sooner." Every word leaked from her through sobs and sniffs. "I woke up and…"

Sixty seconds of condensed summary later, his eyes were ablaze, and his gut burned. How dare Ginny's own family treat her like that?

Ginny lowered her eyes. Occasionally they flickered back up to his. Chocolate met Chocolate. "You're… you're not angry with me are you?"

He snapped out of his furious staring match with the wall. His features relaxed. "With you? Of course not, Ginny. You made a judgement call that turned out to be inaccurate, that's all. We both did. And you did a brilliant job holding on for as long as you have."

She shifted her embrace. Her trembling abated.

"Neither of us thought they'd actually consider using veritaserum."

Ginny stood back and looked straight into his eyes. Her red hair fell over her face, just like his did. She raked it behind her ear.

He blew on his, but it just fell back on his face.

"I want the necklace," she muttered.

He nodded, un-shrunk the trunk, grabbed the silver lighting-bolt pendent, and a pack of veritaserum antidote sweets.

"Here." He proffered them.

She took them, put the necklace on, and tucked it under her shirt. The magic caught.

"Eat two sweets a day, morning and night."

"Yes, Harry." She popped one into her mouth.

"If you lose them, or they get taken, or they put you in solitary confinement, or you run out, let me know, and I'll take control. I'll be able to resist through my noble house ring."

Ginny nodded her understanding, taking deep, calming breaths. Then smiled impishly, eyes turning playful through the tears. "Nice dress, Harry."

He rubbed the back of his head. "Er, yeah, it's one of Daphne's"

Ginny frowned. Then sighed. "This is the last time we're going to see each other for a whole year isn't it?"

"You're not going to see off your brothers?"

"I doubt they'll let me now. I don't even know how long it'll be until I'll be able to visit Luna again."

"Well, we can see each other if you want."

Ginny tilted her head, her eyes questioning.

He tapped the pendent.

Her eyes widened in understanding.

"How would you like to go sightseeing in dreamland?"

Ginny grinned. "That would be cool."

"Okay, then."

A creak came from the hallway.

They both froze. Their gazes locked on the bedroom door.

"You need to go," Ginny whispered fiercely.

"Yes."

He reached for his trunk, and felt a pulse of magic shoot through the room. He felt the privacy charm fail.

He froze.

"Got him!" A voice yelled.

His eyes widened. Oh fuck.

"Got him? What did you do!" another, older voice screamed.

Ginny looked around, frantic. "What's going on?"

"We trapped him with a containment ward!"

He dashed to the window, and smashed the glass. He reached out, and pushed his magic into the ward.

"You trapped him in there with your sister! You idiots!"

The ward threw him backwards, onto his side, and across the floor. Pain shot through him. His skin scrapped off leaving raw streaks down his thigh.

"Bill! Go firecall the aurors! Now!"

He scrambled to his feet. Ginny's body was so much weaker than his own.

"No!" Ginny shouted.

Aurors? That would be game over. He started to sweat.

"Be quiet, Ginny! You're in enough trouble already!"

His breathing quickened.

"No! You're being horrible!"

His heart pounded. He couldn't think of a way out. Panic gripped his soul.

"Ginny! Who's in there with you?"

His nostrils flared, desperately trying to suck in enough oxygen to feed his rapidly overloading system.

"No! I'm not telling you! If you don't let us out now! I'll… I'll…"

Images flashed through his head of Azkaban. Of being trapped. Of being helpless. The walls seemed to close in on him. No. No! His magic flared.

"Holy Shit!"

He could feel it running through him like an out of control storm. Pouring out of him, like a flash flood.

"Harry!"

His nerves lit up like fire, the very air in his lungs whirled around. The world turned green. Voices filtered through, but were indistinct and distant.

"The ward!"

"Do something, Bill!"

"I'm trying!"

His whole body was coiling like a spring, tension upon tension building to an unstoppable crescendo. His back curved forward.

"Your wand, Harry!"

A hand thrust something into his hand, something long. Someone hauled him, pulled him forward, towards the magic. He could feel it, trapping him. How dare it. Something inside him broke.

"Harry, Let it out, now!"

"Dad! Get away from the door!"

"No! Ginny! No!"

His magic, whirling around, bending his body, searing his nerves, coiled through him like a whip, down his arm, into his wand, and cracked.

His world exploded.

The ward shattered. Dust fell around him, the floor shook, the Burrow creaked, and lurched.

His wand was yanked from his hand.

Clarity shot through his brain. He whirled around.

Ginny threw his wand and cloak into the trunk. "Go now!"

He stumbled forward and shrunk the trunk.

The door slammed open.

Three Weasleys barged in, wands out, shocked at the two Ginnys, unsure where to fire. "Wha?"

He found his footing. He ran.

He felt a stunner whizz by his head, felt another impact into his shield, but the third?

"Ginny!" someone angrily yelled.

He dove through the broken window, and stopped his fall a split second before he hit the ground. He landed. He ran.

"Wingadium Leviosa!"

"Wingadium Leviosa!"

Another stunner sailed past his head. He dashed down the path to the orchard.

"Stop, you bitch!"

He skidded into the quidditch clearing. Fuck. He couldn't open the trapdoor. Not while they were still here. They'd see the secret. He turned, and shoved his trunk between his teeth. He bit down, hard.

The two older Weasley children bore down on him.

The moment they were in range he shot off duel stunners from the tips of his fingers.

The two Weasleys gasped, eyes widened in shock. They dodged. They fired.

He dodged. He shielded. He fired.

They dodged.

"Fuck!" one yelled.

"Go round. Circle her!"

A stunner barely missed him. He stumbled, felt another stunner slam into his shield, felt the shield fail, saw his opponent's look of triumph, realized his hands were instinctively catching his fall. His eyes widened.

Fly! Don't Fly!

Time slowed. He could see the way the wizard's wand was angled, the way his cloak whirled at his sudden halting motion, the way his dragon tooth earring bounced. The way his long ponytail curved. Saw the faint glow of red build on the tip of his wand.

His heart stopped.

A flash of red shot from the trees, and hit the young man in the side. The triumphal look blanked, and he fell to the ground.

He blinked.

Time returned. He found his foot, spun to his second adversary, and sent two stunners at a hastily cast shield. They smashed into it with the force of an enraged nundu. The first absorbed, the second shattered. The spell hit, and the second young-man hit the ground with a finalistic thud.

His breath returned. His heart hammered.

He spun, eyes darting around for other threats, adrenaline still surging through him.

His eyes spotted movement, and his world re-aligned itself. Happiness and relief flowed through him. His trunk fell from his mouth. He laughed. Through the trees towards the Burrow, he spied a lone retreating figure, long red hair waving behind her like a roaring fire.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

Sometime later, Harry, still wearing Ginny's form, apparated into his fidelius-hidden cliff vault. Everlasting torches flickered light and warmth across the stone walls and wooden furniture.

There had been no further distress calls on his ring, but the events of the past hour had certainly been a wake-up call. The moment he'd escaped The Burrow, he'd immediately gone to the available hiding spots of Voldemort's soul anchors to grab what he could. Now more than ever, he knew he couldn't afford to just sit around and allow history to repeat. And in his hands was the cold, hard proof.

His left hand clutched the Gaunt ring, sans withering curse. It had been the work of a moment to bypass the security systems, and snatch the ancient heirloom. Voldemort's memories made sure of that. His other hand though… his other hand clutched the locket. And it was fake. His high-pitched female scream of frustration had startled even him, bouncing and echoing off the inferi-filled cave walls. He was going to have to find someway to track or find the missing Horcrux, but that wasn't happening for a while.

Trunks lined the wall of his vault, one contained his Drug supplies, another contained a back-up stash of Galleons, another held a stash of muggle money, another, a supply of potions, and yet another, an assortment of clothes. A final trunk, in the corner, was empty and lined with lead and acromantula silk.

Harry opened the final trunk's first compartment and dumped the oddly bland ring inside. By this time next year, he'd have a second soul anchor. He straightened and started to feel the sensation that told him the polyjuice was wearing off.

He opened the clothes trunk and rummaged around for a suitable selection. His fingers closed over a long leather coat and he grinned, fingering the thestral hide duster he'd bought from the Mongolian craftsman some years before. He wouldn't be tall enough for that for at least five more years, and the coat seemed to suck at holding a re-sizing charm. But when he was tall enough… he smirked.

He pulled off Daphne's dress just as it started to tighten. His muscles reformed, his hair receded to his normal messy mop, and his eyes lit up Avada Kedavra green.

He quickly tugged on a pair of jeans and t-shirt, followed by an informal open-robe.

Harry stepped back and surveyed his tiny safe house. He had just under a month before Hogwarts started. He might as well pack everything he'd need now while he was here.

- DP & SW: RIBSR -

The hearth of Greengrass Manor's family quarters blazed merrily, spreading warmth through the room and into Harry's cold body.

"So, you were on your way to save the day, turned into a girl, and your first thoughts were you needed to dress the part?" Daphne giggled.

Freekey sat on Daphne's shoulder, nibbling on a macadamia nut.

He smiled a thin smile. "Yes well, I couldn't give any clues could I? Besides"—he continued, looking contrite—"it did look wrong."

Daphne reclined back in her comfy armchair and regarded him. "Well, that was quick thinking on Weasley's part at least. If she hadn't hidden your cloak and wand when she did they could've linked you to Lord Slytherin through memory examination."

"Yeah." Harry rubbed the back of his head. "That was far too close for comfort."

"She did say your name though…"

He shrugged. "They already knew someone called Harry was involved, so it wasn't too bad."

"And the containment ward?"

Harry shuddered. "That thing was a monster. It isn't normally possible to power a ward that strong so quickly. The only explanation I can think of is that the curse breaker tied the ward directly into The Burrow's own perimeter wards." He snorted. "If so, I could've just apparated straight out when I broke it. As it was, smashing that thing almost completely drained me. I was weak, vulnerable, and not thinking straight. Add to that the lack of wand, and the need to keep my signature moves secret, and there you have it." His face contorted in disgust. "The perfect recipe for me being beaten by two kids who just graduated."

Daphne's eyebrows knitted together, she looked puzzled. "What caused that though?"

"What?"

"Your reaction. I mean, you've never lost control like that before. Have you?"

He thought back to what happened the moment he'd realized he couldn't escape from the containment ward.

"I… I don't know. You're right. I don't know what happened. It just felt like I was trapped. It felt like the walls were closing in on me. I felt powerless. I've never reacted like that. Not even in Azkaban or while at the Dursleys." He shivered. "I couldn't even breathe properly. It wasn't a good feeling." He looked at his feet, and continued in a whisper. "The closest I ever felt like that was when I was at Hogwarts, before they locked me away."

Daphne was quiet for a moment. She stood, plopped down beside him, and took his hand in hers. "Harry, look at me."

He raised his gaze to meet her ice blue one.

"You saved me from a life of imprisonment, Harry. And I will do everything I can to ensure you never have to go through that again."

He smiled weakly at her. "Thanks Daph."

"I mean it, Harry. You have me with you this time. And Granger." She frowned briefly before her face changed back to concern. "And the others next year, too. You aren't alone this time."

He smiled again, and this time allowed it to spread over his face.

His focus snapped from Daphne's face, distracted by a sharp tapping from the nearby window.

"Oh," said Daphne, "speak of the fey." She stood and let in Hermione's new pet.

The beautiful snowy owl, formally known as Snowy, now known as Hedwig, alighted on the low table and stuck out her leg.

He untangled the letter and read it. Hermione was so enthusiastic about getting to Hogwarts, so ready to prove herself. They all knew it was going to be tough. They knew they were walking into a multi-year battle for control of the wizarding world, but that didn't squash her spirits. If anything, she seemed even more focused than last time around — sharper, more aware — and while he knew a lot of it was down to his own meddling, he couldn't help but respect the witch.

Daphne stood to his side, reading over his shoulder. "Sounds like she's doing well."

"Yes." He looked around at Daphne. "She's about as ready as she'll ever be." He looked down at the letter again, and to the table where Hedwig and Freekey were nipping and scratching at each other. He rubbed the letter between thumb and forefinger, and spoke softly. "I think we all are."

Chapter Text

[Earlier in the summer of 1991]

She couldn't find them.

It was time. Today was the day that she, Hermione Granger, was going to irrevocably bind herself to Harry's cause. She thought about everything she'd learnt from him, and all the revelations and shocks she'd gone through. She thought about the mission Harry had brought back in time with him, to defeat a dark lord, and recreate the wizarding world. But most of all, she thought about her best friend, her confidant, the one person who she knew she could count on. And after today, he would be even more than that. He would be her magical guardian, her protector, her Lord. But right now, she couldn't find them.

Hermione ducked around the smoked-glass door to the garden, and looked across the wide lawn. They weren't here either. They weren't in the kitchen. They weren't in the living room. They weren't in their bedroom, and they weren't in either of the bathrooms, or the study, or the garage. That only left one place.

She sighed, stomped up the stairs, slammed open her bedroom door, marched to her trunk, threw open the lid, and poked her head in the space beyond. There, sat her parents, looking as guilty as the kid in the biscuit tin, each holding an open book with another large pile sat beside them.

Mum! Dad! We're going to be late! And you now know goblins don't like to be kept waiting.

"Ah," said Daniel Granger, "is it that late already?"

"It's been that late for a full ten minutes, Dad."

"Right." Emma Granger stood and slammed her book shut. "Enough reading!" She raised her hand theatrically in the air. "Time to hit this mystical world! Through the looking glass, into the wardrobe, past the second star to the right, and straight on till morning!"

"Orrrr," Dan interjected, grinning, "just on Charing Cross Road off Tottenham Court Road.

"Yeah, or that."

Hermione pursed her lips. "Your clothes are in the bedroom in the bags. Can we ple-e-e-ease go now?"

"Of course dear, we're just getting in the right mood." Her mother smiled.

Hermione shook her head. She'd no idea what she'd been worried about before. Her parents had eventually reacted to the news of magic's existence like any self respecting intellectually curious person would react, with awe and the enthusiasm of true fantasy geeks, which they were.

Harry had helped. So had Lord Slytherin. And seeing them both on her doorstep at the same time, warm plum pie in hand, had certainly thrown her, but only for about as long as it took to say 'would you like polyjuice with that'.

She'd felt strange, watching the two of them play off each other, knowing one of them wasn't Harry. Figuring out which one was the real one hadn't been easy. After a few hours of intense discussion about the political and social realities of the magical world—during which her parents had run the emotional gauntlet from mildly horrified to mildly angry to mildly depressed to resigned, to hopeful and grateful, before finally returning to their previous state of mild enthusiasm—'Harry' had come back from the kitchen, and sat back down on the living room sofa, legs firmly together and bent slightly to one side, hands placed on 'his' knees, one on top of the other, back perfectly straight, head angled slightly downwards… the perfect poise of a pureblood princess.

Hermione had raised an eyebrow, and the girl wearing Harry's body immediately realized her mistake, blushed slightly, and shifted into Harry's more signature 'take-up-as-much-space-as-possible' sitting position.

She'd later learned that, yes, it had been the Greengrass Heiress under there.

Since then, her Mum and Dad had spent most of their free time sneaking into her trunk, and devouring everything they could. Her mum was particularly interested in magical theory, which gelled with her dabbling in theoretical physics in uni, while her dad had called dibs on all the books on ancient runes, in keeping with his interest in engineering.

Since both of those fields were rather specialized, they'd both already read all the books the trunk had on them. The bookshops of Diagon Alley promised to greatly expand their family's secret library, and so it was with great excitement that the Granger family piled into the family Range Rover, and sped down the road, towards the magical world.

- DP & SW – RIBSR -

Daniel Granger drooled.

Emma stood in front of him wearing what Hermione called 'robes' and what he called a figure hugging, form fitting, curve showing, dress. The material around the forearms, legs, and feet hung loose and billowed, but was tight at the shoulders, chest, waist, and bum.

"This is amazing," Emma said, spinning and twisting to inspect herself, "It was all loose before I put it on, but as soon as I straightened it, it just sort-of molded itself to me."

He nodded, still staring.

"The material is so soft, but it's also quite thick. It doesn't seem to stretch much, but I have no problems moving in it at all… how does that work?"

He continued to stare, before realizing he should probably say something. "Magic?"

She giggled. She actually giggled. He hadn't heard her giggle in years.

He swallowed.

"You look pretty good too, Dan."

He snorted. "I look like a monk."

"Monks don't have finely embroidered, black on black robes." She stepped towards him, swaying as she neared.

His pupils dilated.

She leant in to him, and whispered by his ear. "I think they make you look like the manly man who once ravished me in a club bathroom."

His breath hitched. He brought his hands around her waist, and felt the curve of her body under the silk-like material. "That was quite a while ago," he breathed.

"Too long ago," she murmured.

Emboldened, he skimmed a hand up the feminine curve of her back, reached her hair, bunched it in his grasp, and pulled back and down, firm but also gentle.

She gasped, and moved with him, exposing her neck, and forcing her to look into his eyes.

He gazed into those twin hazel beacons, and saw something he hadn't seen in close to a decade. Lust, excitement, nervousness.

Her breathing shuddered, and he was sure she could feel his excitement pressed against her, even through the clothes they wore.

His lips moved closer to hers.

*Knock* *Knock* *Knock*

"Mum! Dad! Are you ready yet?"

They both froze. Reality poured back into their world, and the dim, dark interior of the Leaky Cauldron bathroom came back into focus.

Emma cleared her throat. "Yes dear, we'll be out in just a minute."

He heard something sounding vaguely like a huff from beyond the door, and footsteps walking away. He returned his attention to the beautiful woman still pressed against him. His hands returned to her waist. "We will continue this later," he stated in a voice as immovable as a mountain.

She continued to gaze into his eyes. When her voice finally escaped it was low and husky. "Whatever you would command of me, my sexy head of house."

A shiver ran up Daniel Granger's spine. Truly, sometimes, there was something to be said for wizarding culture.

- DP & SW – RIBSR -

The goblins working the tills of Gringotts Bank, London, really hated the run up to Hogwarts new year. Pureblood parents would act extra snooty to show their impressionable children how to deal with 'their kind', half-blood parents would utterly butcher their attempts at goblin culture while giving themselves smug, self-congratulatory pats on the back, and muggleborn parents would run around like humans with their heads cut off, alternating between bemused worry and indignant outrage.

Of course, this was a generalization, but generalizations generally hold true, which is why teller clerk Sharpblade looked on with resignation as a small human female, wearing standard muggle clothes with bushy earth-colored hair, walked in the door of the Gringotts main hall, and looked around with the awe struck countenance of a typical muggleborn.

Then the girl's parents walked in, and his goblin mind rang a warning bell. They walked like muggles, looked around like muggles, but wore what wizards would consider high-end, expensive fashion. They dressed like members of a pureblood or noble family. But no pureblood or noble house that he could think of would allow their daughter to walk around dressed like that, not even those of The Light.

The girl now walked towards his counter, and his attempts to pin her down into some kind of box failed even harder. Despite her muggleborn-like awe of her surroundings, she moved like a human pureblood female, like the heiress of an ancient and noble house. How odd.

She now stood right in front of his desk, looking up at him. Her parents, or what he assumed were her parents, stood a few feet behind her. They seemed to be deferring to her. Why?

He raised an expectant eyebrow at her.

"Greetings, teller clerk Sharpblade. May your day be profitable and your enemies bleed."

Well, that was one for one.

"And you, young witch, may your affairs bear fruit, and your foes suffer. What can Gringotts help you with today?"

"My patron has made an appointment for us to meet with account manager Ragnok Boneslicer."

Now that raised both his eyebrows. Ragnok Boneslicer held the accounts to several ancient and noble families, and the Boneslicer clan was a rising power. "And you are of house…?"

"Granger, clerk teller."

Granger… Granger… didn't ring any bells. He glanced at the adult witch who watched the scene with a mother's oversight, like a lioness watching her cub play with live food. Her face didn't seem to have any of the classic tells of any of the ancient lines. Nor was there a noble house ring visible that might hint at her birth house. But, then again, it was easy to be wrong with humans, even with his training, and rings didn't have to be visible.

"Well, if you will wait a moment, I will confirm the appointment and see you to the account manager's office." He slid off his high chair and walked past the family. He turned to the adult wizard and witch. "And I will say it is good to see wizarding parents who properly educate their children in our ways." He turned back and walked off.

Behind him, Daniel and Emma Granger shared an amused glance between themselves before turning their proud gaze on their daughter, who was trying hard not to look smug.

- DP & SW – RIBSR -

Hermione strode down the many passageways of Gringotts, carful to maintain a respectful distance from the goblin in front of them while occasionally glancing behind to ensure her parents were still with them. This was all mostly formality. She and her parents had spent days going over the contract they were about to sign, and had even pulled in both a muggle and magical lawyer to give it a careful picking at.

A pair of large doors swung open in front of her, and they were ushered into a waiting room.

Barely a few minutes had gone by before another pair of doors at the end of the waiting room swung open, and a large goblin waved them inside. The goblin took a seat behind a large mahogany table. The three of them sat in the chairs lined in front of the desk, her father in the middle, she and her mother on either side.

The goblin looked towards her father. "Welcome to the wizarding world Mister Granger, I am Ragnok Boneslicer of the Boneslicer Clan. May your practice prosper, and your enemies get cavities."

Hermione and Emma giggled.

Her father tried to hide an amused smile. "And may your gold flow and your enemies wind up in a bloody decapitated mess a coins toss away from an occupied dragon pen."

Ragnok grinned. "A bit much for a first meeting, but a very enthusiastic attempt none the less, Mister Granger."

Daniel Granger smiled sheepishly, glad that his playfulness hadn't offended.

"Before we get to the meat of our meeting, Lord Slytherin suggested our young Miss Granger here undergo an inheritance ritual. Would you have any objections?"

Her father glanced at her, to which she gave a short nod.

"That would be fine," he said.

Ragnok stood up, picked up an ornate silver knife from the table and looked towards her. "Are you familiar with the inheritance ritual, Miss Granger?"

She took a deep breath. "The inheritance ritual dates back to the fifteen hundreds and the founding of Gringotts. It uses a combination of Gringotts records and the Albion family magics to place a person within a family line, and highlights any titles, or inheritances they are eligible for. It is one of the more basic rituals used in modern wizarding society, requiring but a single drop of blood to be sacrificed into a purpose made runic chalice. The ritual is owned by the goblin nation, and may only be carried out by citizens of said nation." She took another long breath.

Ragnok blinked. "Hmm, I think I can see why Harry likes you."

She went slightly pink. The adult Grangers smirked at each other.

"Yes, that is more or less right. Here you go." Ragnok handed over the knife to her and watched her expectantly.

She held the knife, and nervously made a small prick at the tip of her index finger, letting a single drop of blood fall into the silver chalice on the desk. Both she, and her parents watched in fascination as the prick healed itself, and the blood stopped flowing.

Ten minutes later, after a very interesting conversation, they'd confirmed that she was indeed a true muggleborn, and not the long lost squib line of Merlin. They all pulled out their papers and got down to the real business.

Ragnok crouched behind the desk and brought out an ornate stained oak box. He opened it. Inside sat six silver rings. Three of the rings had a small snake wrapped around the setting, while the other three featured a wreath of wheat. "We just received these back from the enchanter. A most unusual request, to be sure, but when does our Lord Slytherin ever do things the normal way?" He laughed at what appeared to be an inside joke before gesturing to the rings. "The wheat ones are, of course, yours, just sign here and the house of Granger will be officially recognized by the ministry as a house." He pushed a filled out form towards her father who picked up the quill offered and signed where shown. A small cut on the back of his hand briefly showed his signature etched in blood before fading.

Her father picked up the box.

"Well, here's to the magical world. Hermione, Emma," he intoned, handing each a ring.

They each put on a ring and felt the magic catch. Dan's glowed for a split second before re-coloring itself gold.

"Congratulations, Head of House Granger."

Dan grinned. "How long until the wizard ministry challenges it?"

Ragnok returned his grin. "With this next bit, hopefully never."

They returned their gaze to the papers in front of them, and Ragnok cleared his throat. "Ah. Allow me to read out the salient points. I know you've already read it through many times, but it is only proper. We haven't done one of these for hundreds of years after all."

Hermione smiled. It had taken a lot of work to get to this point but once she had a firm grasp of the legal position she and her parents were in, it was only a matter of time before she and Harry worked something out to safeguard herself and her family.

"Point one," Ragnok read, "Vassalage of House Granger to the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin.

Responsibilities of Most Ancient and Noble (MAAN) House Slytherin

A - MAAN House Slytherin will arrange for and authorize the installation and maintenance of war-level goblin wards around the granger residence.

B - MAAN House Slytherin will offer permanent residence at Slytherin Manor for members of House Granger during times of war.

C - MAAN House Slytherin will champion House Granger in any legal disputes that may arise in the magical world.

D - MAAN House Slytherin can stand in loco certatior for any members of House Granger challenged to an honor duel, and will for any non-magical members.

E - Lord Slytherin will act as magical guardian to minors of House Granger born to non-magical parents.

F - MAAN House Slytherin will magically defend the interests and honor of House Granger within the means offered by the law, up to and including declaring blood feuds.

G - MAAN House Slytherin will grant House Granger unfiltered access to the Slytherin Library.

H - MAAN House Slytherin will make all reasonable effort to secure places for all eligible children of House Granger at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I - MAAN House Slytherin will train all magical members of House Granger in the mind arts from age five until they have reached mastery level three.

J - MAAN House Slytherin will extend MAAN House legal rights to House Granger within the extent permissible by the law.

K - MAAN House Slytherin will grant House Granger a one-acre parcel of land in the grounds of Slytherin Manor along with the option to build a medium sized country house.

L - MAAN House Slytherin will respect the family secrets of House Granger and not divulge secrets to other houses, including other vassal houses, without consent of the Head of House Granger.

Responsibilities of House Granger

A - House Granger will grant right of first refusal of any betrothal contracts to MAAN House Slytherin.

B - House Granger will support MAAN House Slytherin during times of war with able wands and minds.

C - Working age members of House Granger will provide fifty workdays a year (or an equivalent) to MAAN House Slytherin.

D - MAAN House Slytherin will be granted twenty-five percent royalties on intellectual property held by House Granger.

E - MAAN House Slytherin will be granted a five percent share on all earned and business net incomes owned by House Granger along with options for a position on the boards of said businesses.

F - House Granger will not divulge Slytherin family secrets without the leave of Lord Slytherin.

G - House Granger will provide MAAN House Slytherin with unfiltered access to the House Granger Library."

Hermione nodded through most of it. The actual contract was much bigger and contained a lot more legalize but the intent was clear. Whatever happened in the future, so long as the House of Slytherin survived, the House of Granger would be protected.

The biggest sticking point for her parents had been the betrothal contract clause, until it was pointed out to them that it only became an issue if House Granger actually wanted to use a betrothal contract. Mostly, the clause was just to stop other houses trying to force a betrothal contract on her through some other method. In such a case, her father could just point out that of course they'd love to do a contract, but Lord Slytherin would always get 'first dibs'. That had never happened in the second timeline, but considering how she'd acted then, it wasn't surprising.

Another interesting clause was the war wards. These would give the Granger residence high-level protection, and the house rings that both her Mum and Dad now wore, drew power from the wards of the house to offer basic shielding from magical attacks. So long as they were at home, they were reasonably safe. The rings were also voice-activated portkeys, and altered clothing worn to show the coat of arms of Slytherin house, complete with vassalage crest.

They weren't noble house rings by anyone's opinion, but they were as good as money could buy for a small, warded area.

Eventually, her father picked up the blood quill once again, and signed.

Ragnok grinned a goblin, toothy grin. "Welcome to the family".

- DP & SW – RIBSR -

Outside the bank, Hermione stretched her arms to the sky. "Whew." She looked around the alley. "Can we go clothes shopping next? I really want to get my new school robes." She glanced with a little envy at her parents' clothes. The Slytherin shield didn't look so good on her currently very muggle clothes, and she was loathed to take off her brand-new magic ring.

Her mum chuckled. "Certainly, Hermione. I think your father and I will wander over to the Leaky Cauldron, and get some lunch. Do you think you'll be okay on your own?"

She nodded. "Yes, Mum." She hesitated before eyeing her parents. "Do you think you'll be okay on your own?"

Emma looked at Dan. "I think if we can't survive a few hours on our own in the magical world it's better we find that out now."

Hermione nodded again, turned, and wandered down the alley until she arrived outside Madam Malkins Robes for all Occasions.

"Hello, Dearie," said a middle aged witch, upon entering. "Hogwarts is it?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Right along there then, with the young man being fitted in the back."

She wandered to the back of the shop, stepped up on the stool, and found herself facing a boy of about her own age with brown hair so light is was almost blond. It was neatly combed to the side, and he held himself with a dignity that made Hermione immediately conclude 'Pureblood'. His robes were pinned all over him. The assistant was to one side, busy taking notes.

The boy looked her over. "How do you do. My name is Justin Finch-Fletchley." He held out his hand.

Oh, Damn. Not pureblood. Hermione's mind scrabbled. Finch-Fletchley was one of the muggleborns in her year, but she wasn't supposed to be dealing with this until September the first. On the other hand, this boy practically screamed 'upper class'. If any muggleborn could take it, it would be this one.

She took his outstretched hand between thumb and forefingers, and bobbed a shallow curtsey. "Pleased to meet you. Hermione Granger, of the House of Granger, Vassal of the Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin."

Justin raised his eyebrows at this, but quickly recovered, giving a little bow of his own.

"Ah, my apologies, I didn't realize we were 'on display' as my parents like to say."

She smiled. "In the wizarding world, you are always 'on display'."

"Is that so? I was going to Eton. Thought I'd got away from all that by coming here."

"I'm afraid not. The wizarding world has many of it's own customs and rituals, and many of them aren't well spelled out to new comers."

Justin looked uncomfortable. "You mean, I'm on display, and I don't know any of the rules?"

"Pretty much."

"I haven't already messed up talking to you have I?"

Hermione gave a winning smile. "Well, it isn't exactly polite to extend your hand to someone of higher rank. Of course, I'm not of higher rank than you, but you didn't know that. Best to wait for the introductions first before offering your hand."

"And how do you tell if someone is higher rank?"

"That's… not an easy question to answer. Best just to not offer your hand to anyone until you've learned the rules."

Justin looked back towards the assistant who was still scribbling notes. "And how do I learn the rules?"

"Well, normally your parents or a portrait would teach you."

"Portrait?"

"A moving painting, usually of one of your ancestors."

Justin gave a nervous smile. "I've got lots of paintings of my ancestors. None of them talk though."

Hermione laughed. "Well, you're doing better than me. I don't have any portraits at all. Talking or otherwise, just still photos of my grandparents, who were more likely to offer to play darts with you, than teach you etiquette."

Justin perked up. "So, your parents aren't magical?"

"Oh no. I'm muggleborn, just like you are."

Justin frowned. "Then how do you know all this?"

"When I was eight, a friend of mine happened to realize I was a witch. He's a wizard from one of the older magical families. He taught me a lot of the culture, and brought my family under the protection of one of the Most Ancient and Noble Houses." She tapped the Slytherin coat of arms on her shirt.

Justin squinted at the shield "Umm… isn't that Slytherin?"

She nodded.

"Isn't Slytherin one of the Hogwarts houses?" Justin asked. "Isn't it supposed to be really… err… evil?"

She snorted. "All the houses have a bad reputation. Gryffindor is for foolish headstrong wannabe heroes. Hufflepuff is for hardworking and loyal idiots, Ravenclaw is for antisocial and aloof nerds, and Slytherin is for backstabbing evil bar— er, people."

"Umm… wow. That's quite a summary."

"Thank you."

"… Sorry, did you say you were a vassal of Slytherin House?"

"Yes."

"You don't… we don't all become vassals of the house we join, do we?"

"Oh no, of course not. I'm a special case. My house's vassalage has little to do with the Hogwarts part of Slytherin House."

"Ahh. Good then."

A silence descended upon the pair of them while the assistant witch finished pinning her robes around her.

Justin was just finishing up. He stepped off the stool, and looked like he was about to leave, but turned back just as the assistant witch was handing him his bags. "I don't suppose you could find a way I could learn all those rules could you? I'd hate to think I was embarrassing myself."

Inside, Hermione Granger did a little, private victory jig.

- DP & SW – RIBSR -

Hermione stepped outside the clothes shop wearing brand new casual robes, the shield of Slytherin house proudly displayed for the entire wizarding world to see. Her school robes and muggle clothes sat neatly shrunk in a side pocket. She rubbed her hands together. Everything was going so well. She'd achieved a third of the mission Harry had given her for the Hogwarts express, and she hadn't even set foot on it yet.

Now that clothes were taken care of, it was time for the next most important thing on the list. A wand! And this time, the mission from Harry was meant to be done now.

- DP & SW – RIBSR -

The bell rang, and Hermione stepped into the dusty old shop. Boxes were piled everywhere. Thousands of wands, each destined to a single owner, each containing either unicorn hair, a dragon heartstring, or a phoenix feather.

Hermione remembered Harry's words, spoken not too long ago.

"Fifty new students a year on average, Hermione." They'd been sitting opposite each other in her parent's back garden. Harry's conjured chairs overlooked the vegetable patch. "That's for Hogwarts alone. Another fifty go to other, smaller, lesser-known schools in the British Isles." He looked up from where his forehead rested on his knuckles.

She nodded to show she was following.

"Then there are the other wizards and witches that need replacement wands for whatever reason. Call that a doubling of demand — so two hundred wands on average in the UK a year. Then there's the rest of the world… Obviously other wand makers use different combination of wand cores. Gregorovitch has been known to use vella hair, thestral tail hair, and even coral, among others. But many wand makers use Olivander's three-core system, and that still leaves the underlying problem. Brother wands are rare, Hermione."

"I don't understand. What is a brother wand?" She edged forward on her chair, closer to the new knowledge, closer to Harry.

"A brother wand is a wand that shares a core from the same animal. I had the brother wand to Voldemort in the second timeline. When brother wands meet in battle they produce a priori incantatem effect that locks the wands together and produces a powerful magical knock-back on the caster that looses the subsequent battle of wills."

She nodded, slowly, trying to see the implications.

"When I was sent to Azkaban, Dumbledore took my wand, and later used it in a battle with Voldemort to stall him while the order achieved a side objective. Voldemort was pretty annoyed about this, and subsequently delved deep into wand lore to understand what went wrong. That's how I was able to make this." He held up his fifteen inch yew and thestral hair wand. "Eventually he discovered the brother wand effect, but he had to go directly to Ollivandar to find it. It's not common wand law. You won't find any mention of brother wands in standard dueling rules and regulations, nor will you find it in basic books on wand troubleshooting, nor on wand care and maintenance, nor is it a part of any active government laws and regulations, even in the market for wands, which is one of the most highly regulated markets in the wizarding world. As I said before, brother wands are rare. So, can you see the problem?"

She nodded, slowly. "Where are the tens of thousands of dragons, unicorns and phoenixes needed to ensure the rarity of brother wands?"

Harry smiled, grimly. "Exactly." He leaned back in his chair. "We know how they get the dragon heartstrings. Dragons are farmed. It's not pretty, but dragons grow really quickly. You can have a dragon that's ready to give its heart to a wand in as little as three months. Most dragons never live to see their first winter, and never fly past the mountain they were born on.

Hermione put her hands up to her mouth, her eyes wide in horror. "That's… that's terrible. Oh, those poor creatures."

Harry shrugged, face grim. "It is what it is. The wizarding world uses dragon in many different products. Dragon liver, dragon heartstrings, dragon blood, dragon hide, the list goes on and on. It's the only reason dragons are still around as much as they are. It's quite hard keeping the existence of dragons quiet you know."

She shuddered, before continuing in a whisper. "What about the unicorns?"

Harry brightened. "A bit better news there. Unicorn tail wand cores are made up of many different unicorn hairs, all interwoven together. The different combinations of hairs in each cord ensures that the brother wand effect never becomes an issue."

She sighed in relief. At least there wasn't a battery farm out there raising and slaughtering baby unicorns.

"Phoenixes are where we have a problem. Phoenixes are amazing creatures. They are very intelligent. They can carry extremely heavy loads. Their tears have healing properties, and they can travel by flame, teleporting themselves and others anywhere they wish."

Hermione's eyes widened. "I'd read stories with phoenixes in them, but I wasn't sure if their powers were real or made up. They seem too good to be true."

Harry smiled. "They are. Real that is. And too good to be true. You'd think that with how incredible phoenixes are that everyone would have one. But they don't. Phoenixes are extremely difficult to domesticate. There are only two people in the world who have a phoenix, Albus Dumbledore, and some sports team in New Zealand. Phoenixes are supposedly very picky about whom they bond with, but once that bond is established they are loyal. Loyal until death. Almost always the human's death. Phoenixes live for immensely long periods of time, owing to their ability to be re-born from their ashes when they die."

Hermione scrunched up her face, and frowned.

Harry continued. "So… we have a bird that is almost impossible to catch, because it can teleport past any wards known to wizard kind, almost impossible to domesticate, with only two currently known cases, almost impossible to hunt as killing one will result in a ball of flame, a pile of ashes, and no feathers, with a lifespan measured in hundreds if not thousands of years, and yet rare enough in numbers that the muggles can't confirm their existence." Harry brought his hands together in front of him and steepled his fingers. His eyes gleamed. "So the question is this. Where the fuck does Ollivandar get his phoenix feathers?"

The dust of the shop tickled Hermione's nose and jolted her from her musings.

"Good morning," said a soft voice from right beside her ear.

She jumped, but quickly rallied.

"Good morning. Are you Mister Ollivandar?" She didn't curtsey, or handshake, or bow, or introduce herself by title, or anything. Not here. Mister Ollivandar might be a senior member of the oldest most-ancient British house still alive, but in this context, he was a trader, and there were few formalities with traders. Besides, it would throw off her spiel.

"Yes. And you are here to buy a wand, of course."

"Of course. I'm Hermione Granger, Sir. This is all terribly exciting. Isn't it? I mean, a wand, and magic. How do I decide what wand I'm going to get?"

The man in front of her chuckled while a number of tape measures started wrapping themselves around her. She idly wondered if wand compatibility changed as a wizard grew.

"The wand chooses the wizard, my dear, or witch in your case. I don't recognize the name Granger. I assume your parents are non-magical?"

"Yes, Sir." Her tone conveyed her eagerness to own the ultimate symbol of magic.

"Mmm… I suggest we start you here then." He withdrew a box from the nearest shelf, and handed her a plain looking wand."

She shook it, but nothing happened.

"Ah, guess not. How about this one?"

The wand choosing went on for ages. After an hour, there were open boxes festooning the entire shop, and Mister Ollivandar was getting more and more excited.

"Another tricky customer," he muttered under his breath, "This year's batch have been really quite interesting… Mmmm… maybe I was wrong about you… maybe you need a little more… yes, lets try this one, cherry and dragon heartstring, ten inches."

The wand maker handed her the wand and a few pure white sparks came out the end. Mister Ollivandar's eyes lit up a split second before he snatched it back. "I knew I was getting close. Okay, then…"

And so it went. After another half-hour she started to worry about her parents.

"Annn…" Mister Ollivandar seemed uncertain, but eventually opened an ornate and dusty box, within which was a much longer wand. "Here, try this one. Ash and dragon heartstring, fifteen inches."

Hermione reached for the wand and felt the warmth before she'd even touched it. She grinned, and gripped it. A fountain of pure white sparks shot from the end and landed all around her.

Mister Ollivandar clapped. "Well done, Miss Granger. Very well done. And such an unusual combination."

"Really?" Despite the long time in the shop she'd managed to maintain her enthusiasm the whole time.

"Oh, yes. Very unusual. Ash, and dragon heartstring. Why I don't think I've ever seen that combination sold before. I made this wand nearly sixty years ago, and didn't think I'd sell it in my lifetime. Complete opposites. Diametrically opposed. A healer's wand, Miss Granger, but a healer's wand with bite, so to speak."

Her eyes widened a tad.

"Really, Sir? I would have thought phoenix feather for a healer's wand."

Mister Ollivandar chuckled. "Oh, you'd think so wouldn't you? What with phoenix tears and all. You are a scholar, Miss Granger. But no. The normal core for a healer's wand is unicorn hair. To have dragon heartstring is most unusual. It is the ash that gives it the healing qualities. Diametric opposites, as I said."

"Does this mean I don't have an affinity for phoenixes or unicorns then?"

Mister Ollivandar raised a questioning eyebrow

"I mean, to be a healer, having access to phoenix tears or freely given unicorn blood would be helpful wouldn't it?"

"Helpful?" The old man looked thoughtful. "Yes. It would be. Very rare though."

"Sir?" She bounced on her feet and looked around. "It can't be that rare, Sir. I mean, how many phoenix feathers are in this room?"

The old man stilled, and allowed the sounds of the street outside to filter into the silence of the dusty shop. "Sometimes, Miss Granger," he started, the words carful and measured. "Rarity depends on where one stands."

"I don't understand."

"I remember every wand I've ever sold, Miss Granger, every single one. I also know the styles of every other wand maker out there. Anyone who is anyone worth knowing."

She tilted her head.

"A dozen moons ago, I was approached with a memory, the memory of a wand, which someone sought to identify. It was a very fine wand — long, yew, ostentatious, but done to a quality and accuracy that I've never seen before. It was certainly not any wand maker that I know. Nor was it a legacy wand — old wands leave traces that are identifiable to the trained eye."

Her mind whirled. He wasn't talking about Harry's wand was he?

"That wand was a very rare wand. Unique, I would say. And I find myself wondering where the young man that wielded that wand got it from."

She stared blankly at him.

"Something of a mystery that is," he tried.

She shifted to a look of innocent puzzlement.

"Well, in any case. You have yourself a very special wand there, Miss Granger. Healing and combat in one very powerful package. I expect to see great things from you."

"Thank you, Sir." She turned to leave, deciding to get out now before she gave something away.

"Oh, and Miss Granger?"

She stilled at the door

"The next time you go for the innocent wide-eyed muggleborn routine, I suggest you do so without your Slytherin vassalage crest on your robes.

Hermione felt herself go red, and bolted from the shop.

- DP & SW – RIBSR -

An hour later, and a considerable number of galleons lighter, Hermione, Dan, and Emma emerged from Flourish and Blotts. Hermione was still cringing from the wand shop, and had decided to alleviate her embarrassment by drowning herself in books. She'd taken her newfound wand specialty to heart, and bought most of the shop's available books on healing.

Her dad had gone ahead and grabbed every available book on runes, and her mum had done the same for arithmancy. All in all, it was a very productive day for the newly minted Granger Library, and a visit to the trunk shop yielded a brand new library for most of her parent's books to go in.

There was just one more item on Harry's mission list, and she was going to make damn sure she got this one right.

She marched into Eeylops Owl Emporium, and immediately spotted, and sidled up to, her quarry. The snowy owl eyed her owlishly.

"Hello, girl," she whispered.

"Hoot."

"My Lord says I am in need of the most beautiful and cleverest owl I can find. An owl who can find anyone, anywhere, and who is willing to be paid in mountain high stacks of bacon."

"Hoooot!"

— End of Chapter Thirteen —

Chapter Text

To Alexandra Patricia Black, the dim shelves of the Black Library were a place of worship. She hefted the satchel slung over her shoulder, and made her way through the stacked shelves. The thin fingers of her free hand kissed the spines of the books to her side as she walked past. This was her legacy, what set her apart.

She wasn't too sure about blood supremacy, it didn't really make sense to her, but she was glad she was pureblood nonetheless. Purebloods, like noble houses, held power in the wizarding world.

She stopped, briefly, and ran a finger down the spine of a fiction book.

No. She paused. That wasn't quite true. Almost half the noble families were pureblood, even those of The Light and The Grey, but many others were half-blood families. She knew this because she'd checked.

She fingered a newly selected dusty book, and slid it from its brother's snug embrace. The title read 'The Dark Mountain- A Story of Power and Heroism'. The edges of her lips tugged upwards. She'd read many of these stories now, and the subtitle of this one summed them all up. In every story there was a hero, and it didn't matter if they were a blood supremacist, a protector of muggles, or the dutiful child of an ancient bloodline, they were always a hero. And in every story the hero found some special power, which gave them the ability to win. Sometimes it was special teachings from a mentor, sometimes it was a powerful artifact, and sometimes it was a demonic or necromantic ritual, but whatever it was, without that special power the hero would be just another smear on the wall.

She looked down the aisle of ancient tomes. Her jaw firmed.

This was her special power, her key to being someone. She would never be Lord Black. She was a witch. But with this library that wouldn't matter. Many of the books dated back over a thousand years and contained spells and rituals long since forgotten or banned. With this library, she would achieve great things.

She slid the new book into her satchel, and continued on her path. The end of the aisle opened to another aisle, halfway down which was an alcove hidden between two bookshelves. She ducked between the two shelves, placed the satchel on the floor, and gently lowered herself into the large, plush armchair.

"Good morning, Alexandra."

On the wall in front of her hung the painting of an older man, large and imposing, with long black hair and a medium length black beard. The words beneath the portrait read 'Orion Arcturus Black'.

"Good morning, Grand Father," she said, lowering her head.

The man smiled. "Rise, child. And sit up straight."

She did so.

"It's been a few weeks since you last visited." His voice was light and amused. "I was beginning to think you'd forgotten me."

She averted her eyes.

"Ah, come on. None of that. I'm not blaming you. I'm sure you've been busy."

She relaxed slightly. "Yes, I have. Reading mostly."

The man chortled. "I wouldn't be surprised if you get sorted into Ravenclaw at this rate."

Her head jerked. "I will not. I will be in Slytherin."

Orion Black continued his deep, baritone chuckle. "I'm not doubting it. If you want to, you can achieve anything. You are a Black, after all. Black blood flows through your veins."

She nodded.

"On that note, how go your efforts to reach out to Lord Slytherin?"

Her eyebrows furrowed. "Slowly. He appears to be a very private person." She brightened. "But I did get this though." She reached into the satchel by her side and pulled out what looked to be a new, thick tome.

"And that is?"

She held it in front of her to show him. "A dictaquilled copy of Pathways of the Mind. It's all about mindscaping."

Her grandfather raised both his eyebrows. "That is a rare one. I remember my father trying to wrangle a copy from the Orsini before the purges after the fall of Grindelwald."

She beamed.

"And in return you traded… what?"

Her grin threatened to strain the sides of her face. "Nothing. It was an early birthday present."

Her grandfather didn't smile back and her smile faulted. "That was Okay? Wasn't it?"

The man stayed silent for a time, seeming to choose his words carefully. "Yes." He eventually said. "It is okay. It is a very rare book, and you've done well to secure a copy where even my father failed."

She managed a small smile before looking down again, waiting for the hammer to drop.

"It is now more obvious then ever that Lord Slytherin wants something from you. And you still aren't sure what it is?"

"Well… he does seem very interested in the Black Library."

"But you said before that he said he was interested in you."

"Yes, but what could he possibly want with me?"

Orion looked down at her, condescension radiating off the canvas. She lowered her head.

"Alexandra, despite the situation with your mother"—she flinched—"you are still heiress of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. We have enumerable treasures and artifacts, one of the most complete libraries in the country, a fortune that places us among the richest of our peers, a reputation that precedes us around the globe, and a seat on the Wizangamot—"

"Which I will never fully control," she interjected, bitterness filling her voice.

"—And as such," he continued, ignoring her interruption, "there are many who will be competing for your hand. It seems to me that he is merely attempting to steal a lead on the competition."

She felt her cheeks heat up. She hadn't considered that he might literally want her.

"I don't even know him," she blurted out. "He never shows his face. And he's already going to marry Greengrass. And I've heard rumors that he's going to be Luna's consort too."

"Well then." The man settled down in his painted seat. "There you have an opening, don't you? If you want to find out more about him, you just need to ask your friend."

"But... but, sharing with two other witches? Isn't that weird?"

The man frowned. "It's unusual certainly. But remember your duty is to ensure the best for the House of Black. If your husband has to split his focus across multiple families, then he would need to rely more on the Lady Black to manage this house's affairs."

"And he's so much older than me."

He shrugged. "You said rumor has it he's in his mid twenties. Fifteen years isn't that big an age gap. We can live to be 150, remember."

She squirmed in the large armchair. "I'm not sure I even want to think about this right now."

"You'll have to think about it eventually." His voice was firm. "The earlier you start, the better a match you can secure for yourself." He wrinkled his nose. "It's highly unlikely you're going to get any help from my son on this, after all."

"I guess…"

"Come now," Orion said, brightening up, "You have done well for the house in securing that book. I don't think I gave your grandmother anything as valuable during our whole courtship."

She felt a weight lift from her shoulders. She smiled, and felt another rush of blood to her cheeks.

"Why don't you put your prize away, and we can talk about other things?"

She nodded. "Okay."

Her grandfather's painting swung forward to reveal a secret hiding space behind it. On the top shelf were the five books Lord Slytherin had so far loaned or traded her. She slid her precious gift next to her slowly growing private collection. She stood back, and regarded her hidden treasures with pride and a little trepidation. It wouldn't do for her father to learn what she was up to, after all.

— DP & SW – RIBSR —

Later that afternoon, Alex stepped into the sitting room of Grimmauld Place to find her father collapsed in one of the high-back chairs, eyes closed, still wearing full auror uniform. On the table next to him sat a glass of half-drunk fire whisky.

She sat in the chair facing him, on the opposite side of the room, and slid herself to the chair's back. She opened the book she'd taken from the library that morning, and continued to read.

Moments passed.

"Ah, hey there, Alex. Didn't see you come in. How was your day?" The voice yanked her from the world she'd just started to fall back into.

She placed a bookmark into the same page she'd taken it from and closed the book, resting both hands on its cover.

"It was fine."

"How are your summer classes coming along?"

"They are also fine."

"I've heard you're still top of class, eh? You must be quite pleased about that."

She paused before answering. "Learning is important for the future."

Silence filled the room for a moment.

Her father gave a small grimace, and reached for the glass beside him. "Lily says if you continue at this rate, you may do better than her when you finally go to Hogwarts."

"Lady Potter is a good teacher. And I do plan to be top of my year at Hogwarts too."

"Ah, shooting for Ravenclaw then?" His voice sounded hopeful.

More silence. Silence as cold and uncomfortable as an iced pond.

"Maybe."

Sirius sighed. Then he suddenly perked up, a large grin forming over his face. "So!" His large hands landed on his knees. He leaned forward. "Who do you want to invite for your birthday next week?"

She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could say a word he continued.

"I've already invited John of course, and Susan, It'll be nice to have some time with James and Amelia"

She groaned.

"I'd have invited Ginny as well, but I'm afraid she's grounded at the moment. Molly isn't happy with her just now. How about Hannah? And Ernie? And maybe—"

"—I thought," she interrupted and then paused for a moment. "I thought, we could invite the Carrow twins."

Her father looked like he'd just swallowed muck.

"Why in Merlin's name would you want to invite those two? You hardly know them."

"That's why I want to invite them. They're both girls, my age. What's the point of inviting only people you know to a party?"

He shifted in his seat. "Alex, a party is for having fun!"

"Dad, I'm going to Hogwarts in one year. How am I supposed to do my duty if I only know a handful of other wizards."

Sirius shifted again. His eyes refused to meet hers. "Alex… really… you don't need to worry about that. It's not that important. It's more important to have fun."

"Dad, I talk to my classmates, you know. I'm not stupid. Everyone else worries about it." Her voice was starting to rise. "Don't pretend you're not going to spend half the time next week talking with your auror buddies. Talking about who's going to sit where and with whom on the train. About what's best for Potter, and Weasley, and Susan, and everyone to say to whom and when."

"Alex, I just… I just don't want to distract you from your studies."

"Ah, that explains why you 'just want me to have fun,'" she snapped.

Her father stiffened. "No Carrow twins, and that's final!"

Her eyes widened slightly before narrowing. She laid aside her book, stood, and gave a small curtsey. "As you wish, my Lord Black."

Sirius winced. "Alex, surely there's someone else you'd like to invite?"

She landed back in the chair. "What about cousin Draco?"

Her father choked on his drink. "Absolutely not!"

"Well then…" she sighed as though in defeat "What about Luna?"

She knew this was a gamble. Two years ago he'd have said yes without hesitation, but things had changed. Luna had switched to a different homeschool group, and they hardly saw each other anymore. Susan said that many saw Lord and Lady Lovegood's defection to the Gray as an unforgivable betrayal.

Sirius paused. He swished his fire whisky around in the glass. He looked up at the ceiling. "I… suppose—"

"Yay! Thanks, Dad!" She leapt off the chair and skipped out of the room.

Behind her, Chief Auror Sirius Black, The Hammer of the Light, stared, then collapsed back in his chair, sighed, and downed the rest of the glass in one large, tired gulp.

— DP & SW – RIBSR —

Alex stood beside her father at the floo, waiting for their guests to arrive. Her dress was purple. At first she'd come down wearing the black dress she'd worn to Lord Slytherin's party, but her father said she looked like someone had died, and ordered her to change. Next she'd come down wearing emerald green. One look from him had her turning on her heels before he could even open his mouth. She would have come down wearing a gray dress if she'd had one, but she didn't. Eventually she'd chosen purple over blue or yellow or, Merlin forbid, pink.

The floo flared green and three people stepped out in quick succession.

"Prongs! Hey Lils."

The couple smiled, and returned Sirius's greeting.

"And how's my favorite godson?"

John Potter grinned. "You mean how's your only godson?"

Sirius hesitated for a fraction of a second.

A sliver of a suspicion edged its way into Alex's head.

"Of course!" her father barked. "You enjoyed your birthday?"

"Yeah! Thanks for the new broomstick."

"So what'cha got there?" Sirius pointed to the box in John's hands.

John looked suspiciously smug. "It's a present."

"Well, Alex?" Sirius looked at her.

She stepped towards the boy she'd recently started to think of as the Harry clone, and took the box wrapped in moving quidditch wrapping paper. "Thank you, Heir Potter." She bobbed a curtsey, still holding the box, but not lowering her head.

John Potter similarly gave a stiff bow, and the two slowly stepped away, green and violet eyes never leaving each other, like two duelists at the tail end of a blood feud. "You're most welcome, Heiress Black."

The adults watched the display with not a small amount of worry.

The floo flared again and two more people stepped out.

"John!" A young witch with shoulder length red hair and a yellow dress stumbled from the fireplace, and greeted the Potter Heir.

"Hey, Susan." John's expression shifted from stiff to warm.

The two hugged before Susan turned to Alex.

"Hey Alex. Happy Birthday!"

"Thanks, Susan." She smiled.

They migrated away from the grown-ups, and formed their own little triangle while the adults mingled among themselves.

"Here," Susan said, thrusting her own box shaped present towards her, this one wrapped in moving butterfly paper. "I really hope you like it."

She took the box, which was much lighter than John's had been. "Thank you. We can open these at lunch." She turned, and walked over to the table where the rest of her presents lay.

Behind her, John's voice said, "By the way, Susan, you're looking very pretty today. That dress really suits you."

She rolled her eyes, and turned back to see Susan blushing. Oh, Merlin.

"Hey, you three." Her father called over to them. "Why don't you head into the playroom for a bit, I think the Lovegoods are going to be a little while."

They looked at each other, nodded, and walked away from the floo. Alex couldn't help notice that John made sure to walk in front, and when they reached the first door, held it open for both her and Susan. Their eyes met as she walked past, and a single dainty eyebrow raised returned a small boyish grin. What was Potter up to?

— DP & SW – RIBSR —

The playroom of the Blacks huddled in Grimmauld Place like a crypt, a museum to the changing tastes of two hundred years of magical children. Shelves lined the walls, overflowing with dolls and teddy bears, play wands and toy broomsticks. Everything still worked. When a toy of the Black's broke, it was thrown out. What were left were the high quality survivors of the eternal war with time, little fingers, and accidental magic.

Alex strode into the middle of the playroom, snatched a random book from a nearby shelf, and held it close to like a shield. She watched Susan and Potter file in behind her, and close the door.

"What's up with you, Potter?" The words shot from her mouth like a stunner.

Potter continued to grin. He looked around the room as though admiring a place of outstanding natural beauty. "Nothing. Why would you think something's up with me?"

She caught Susan out of the corner of her eye walk over to a shelf, press her forehead against a music box, mutter "a magic beyond all we do," and stand back while the intro to a fifty-some year old classical song gradually filled the room.

She fixed the boy with her violet stare. "It's like you're suddenly pretending to be all grown-up."

A brief look of annoyance flashed across his face, quickly replaced by a confident smirk. "We all mature at different speeds, Black, you should know that. Maybe I just did grow up."

Susan shuffled back to them, and stood between them to one side.

"Or maybe you're just trying to get more attention." She shot back.

"There's nothing wrong with attention. Fame is an important aspect of political power."

"So you admit it."

"No. I just—"

"John. Alex," Susan cut in, her voice slightly higher than normal. "Let's not fight, okay? We're all here to have fun, right?"

She fought to keep from rolling her eyes. "Sure."

Susan clapped her hands together. "Why don't we have a game of exploding snap?"

They both nodded. Exploding snap wasn't horrible.

Susan and John dug around until they found a pack while she retrieved three toy wands from a locked box. They sat down at a low table, and she presented a toy wand to each of her guests.

Susan took one, but John politely declined. Instead, with a totally straight face, he flicked his wrist, and a real wand appeared in his hand. His eyes never left hers.

Her face reddened. She felt as though she'd just lost something.

"Oooo," said Susan. "What is it?"

A slight tug pulled John's lips upwards. His voice softened. "Acacia and dragon heartstring, twelve inches, firm, and excellent for transfiguration." He tried to make his voice as mysterious as possible. "Just like your father, Mister Potter. Just like your father."

Susan giggled.

She also couldn't help but smirk at the boy's impression. She'd once accompanied her father on an errand to the creepy wand seller.

"What about you, Susan?" she asked.

Susan pouted. "I had to leave mine at home. Auntie said there was no point in carrying it around until Hogwarts started. Hazel and unicorn hair, thirteen inches, good for divination."

John raised an eyebrow. "Divination?"

"Yeah, that's what I thought too. I asked Auntie. Apparently our family does have some seer blood in it. That's why we're called Bones. They used to use bones in divination a long time ago." Susan shuddered.

She dealt the pack into three piles, and they each took turns tapping their wands to their own piles. The sound of slow classical music—flutes and clarinets, molding into trumpets, trombones, and oboes—settled on the trio, punctuated occasionally by the shouts of "snap!".

Alexandra reflected on the boy in front of her. John Potter may be acting a bit more grown up, but he was still very different from Harry. She still didn't see Harry much. Sneaking out was difficult. But when she did, she got the impression that he was hiding a lot under the surface. He gave the impression of potential, coiled like a spring. You could almost feel it. It was an impression similar to what she got from Lord Slytherin in the two times they'd met— understandable if Harry had lived with him for three years. John Potter now gave off something similar, but less so.

That specific feeling was were the similarities ended.

In their first meeting, she'd proudly shown the estranged Potter the results of the first ritual she'd done. His reaction wasn't awe or fear like she'd expected, merely a detached observation about how it could have been done better. She was certain that if she ever showed John Potter, his reaction would be to immediately tattle to her father about her being dark.

Since then, she and Harry had shared a cautious dialogue about magic, politics, and the future. His dozen odd letters were piled on a shelf above her books behind the portrait of her grandfather.

One thing that Harry was quite reluctant to talk about though was Lord Slytherin. Well, no longer. If her grand father was correct, and she was being courted, then she needed answers, and she was going to get them.

"Snap!"

All three non-wand hands slammed onto the middle pile. Alex's first, then Susan's, then John's. The outside packs chose that moment to explode, sending cards straight up into the trio's faces, and covering the floor with cardboard debris, ending the game in the only way the magical world knew how.

"Well, this looks like fun." A dreamy voice announced itself from the door.

"Luna!" Susan jumped up, ran to the blonde, and hugged her. "I haven't seen you in forever! How are you? Who's your new teacher? I saw an article in the Quibbler that said you wrote it. Did you really write that?"

Luna smiled. "Hi, Susan. I'm doing well. My new teacher is Lady Davis. I saw that article too. And I also wrote it."

"Wow! Getting published in a national newspaper. That's amazing. Even if your Dad is the editor."

Luna's dreamy voice didn't change. "Yes. He was very proud of me. He gave me a pat on the head. So did my Lord. Of course, the cows were annoyed, but my Lord's levitation charm is very strong."

Susan choked back a laugh.

So did she, before the implications of Luna's words sunk in.

"So it's true?" she asked.

The blonde girl looked past Susan, and waved at her. "Hi Alex, hi John. 'It' might be true. What is 'it'?"

"That you're contracted to Lord Slytherin." She saw Potter's eyes narrow.

"Oh. Yes. It's true."

Susan gasped. "But, I heard Daphne Greengrass was already betrothed to him."

"Oh. Yes. That's true too."

Susan's eyes widened. "He's going to marry twice? Doesn't that worry you?"

"Oh. No. Not at all." Luna smiled. "I'm getting a new sister. I've always wanted one."

She glanced at John. His gaze could have melted lead it's focus was so intense.

Susan's voice dropped to a stage whisper, which still carried across the room. "Have you seen him? Do you know what he looks like?"

John leaned forward.

"Oh. Yes. He's very handsome."

"Really?"

"Yes. I love masks."

Susan sagged. "I mean, have you seen under his mask?"

"Oh, Yes. He's very handsome under his mask too. Very rugged. Has definitely seen battle. I hope he's handsome under everything else too."

"Luna!" Susan went red, and slapped the blonde's arm.

Alex felt the heat rise on her own cheeks. Luna had certainly changed since they'd last met.

"Luna." John's voice rang out across the room. It sounded firm, almost commanding. "It's actually really important for us to know more about Lord Slytherin. What can you tell us?"

Her eyes widened in shock.

Luna though, didn't seem to care about the blatant and direct fishing attempt, although her voice did change timbre slightly. "I'm sorry, Heir Potter, but you know well that I cannot betray my lord's secrets."

"Surely you can tell us something?"

"I can tell many things. But only to those whom my lord wishes it."

Did Luna just glance at her then?

"But—"

Luna's voice changed back to dreamy. "And I've also been asked to call you all into the living room." Her eyes shone. "I think I saw pudding next to the presents."

— DP & SW – RIBSR —

Alex stared.

There was indeed pudding next to the presents. It was pink, in a large bowl, and had whipped cream on top. Some kind of animated marzipan two-legged lizard with massive teeth stomped around the edge of the bowl. A little sign next to it declared it 'Luna's Pudding'. Runes adorned the side of the bowl. It was a monument to the human sweet tooth, and as such taunted her with its mere existence.

Her father hovered nervously nearby. "Lord Lovegood made it clear that this pudding qualified as a politically sensitive issue, and that the Gray would hate to see anything untoward happen to it."

Luna landed in the chair in front of the bowl, and picked up a large spoon.

John watched Luna from the other side of the table, his face hard and calculating.

Susan, Madam Bones, and Lord and Lady Potter looked bemused.

"What are the runes for?" She asked.

Her father glanced at her. "Blood wards." He coughed. "Only a Lovegood as recognized by the Albion Family Magics can reach the pudding."

Luna spooned up a spoonful of pudding, and spooned it into her mouth. She glowed.

John looked up. "But this house is warded, isn't it? You can have exclusionary wards inside another ward scheme?"

Lily Potter looked shocked but delighted by the question.

James Potter beamed. "Now that's an intelligent question, Son. Yes, you can. It's an inherent weakness of many ward schemes that curse breakers exploit. Doesn't cancel out the outside wards of course, thank Merlin."

They continued to watch Luna demolish the blood ward protected pudding until Lily Potter drew their attention. "Well, why don't we start on the gift giving? Then Alex and her friends can play together until it's time to cut the cake."

That sounded like a good idea. Not that she was all that excited. Her best birthday present was already hiding upstairs in the library. She glanced at the pile beside her. It was a large pile though.

"Okay," she said, and picked up a random present. The tag read 'To Alexandra Black, from: Eloise Midgen'. "Umm… not sure who this person is."

The majority of the pile seemed to be from people she didn't know. Of those she did know, they came from every shade of the magical world — Light, Gray, Dark, they were all there.

"Oh," said Lady Potter, "Why don't you just put those aside, and we'll do them all at once at the end. Let's do just the ones from the people here first."

"That sounds like a good idea."

The first present was from Susan. The red haired girl stood shyly beside her while she ripped off the wrapping paper. Inside was a collection of hair accessories.

"I know you like black, so I tried to get them in darker colors." Susan looked down. "Do… you like them?"

Her eyes gleamed. She plucked a bejeweled black butterfly from the box, and pinned her hair back. The butterfly fluttered its wings.

"Of course I do."

Susan beamed.

The next present came from John. It felt heavy, and she was sure it was a book. She wasn't disappointed. She tore the paper off and stared. She stared some more. Then stared at Potter. Then back at the book.

John Potter looked smug.

"Well Alex? Show us all."

Confusion welling up in her, she turned the book around to show the gathering.

The title read, 'The Light Side of the Dark Arts'.

Silence descended on the group.

Lord Potter spoke. "That's an interesting choice of present, John."

John inclined his head.

Interesting was the correct word. She couldn't think of a more appropriate present. She knew of this series even if she hadn't read it yet. It was as close to giving her a book on the dark arts as he could get away with without seeming to do so. But at the same time, its political stance was firmly of the Light. He may have matured a bit, but this was something else. The John Potter she knew would never be capable of this level of subtlety. It was a very good present.

She fixed him with her gaze, but he gave away nothing.

Eventually she broke the silence. "Thank you, Heir Potter."

"You're welcome." He still looked mildly smug, but maybe this time it was warranted…

"My present next!" Luna jumped up and ran around the table. She picked up a large box from the side of the table, and carefully placed it in front of her. "Keep it that way up."

The box blocked her view of Potter. She glanced at the blonde standing beside her. "Why do I have to keep it that way up?"

"You just do."

Amelia Bones leaned forward. "Are those air holes?"

"Maybe."

Behind her she heard a sharp intake of breath from her father. She started to rip the paper off the box.

*Meow*

She halted.

"Did the box just Meow?"

"Maybe."

She never cared for her father's stories from school, but right now, she grinned a marauders grin. The rest of the paper fell away to reveal a carrying case. Her breath hitched. Bright violet eyes stared at her from behind the wire mesh of the door. The same bright violet she saw every time she looked in a mirror, and attached to those eyes was the cutest pure black kitten she'd ever seen.

On her other side, Susan squealed. "Kitteh! Oh Merlin, Alex, her eyes look just like yours!"

She glanced behind her to see all the adults speechless. She giggled, opened the door, and allowed the kitten to climb onto her. Her eyes gleamed pure evil. Her father had never allowed her to get a cat, but she knew he couldn't refuse her this one. To do so would be a massive insult. For a moment, she forgot her mask. "Thank you, Luna, thank you."

Luna smiled. "You're most welcome, Heiress Black.

She smiled back at her.

Present opening halted for ten minutes while everyone held, petted, and fussed over the little fur-ball, which she'd decided to name Amethyst. Her father had been a bit put out, but eventually gave in and even gave the kitten a good sniff as padfoot, before declaring her 'acceptable'.

"Shall we move on?" Madam Bones asked.

Lily Potter looked up from where she was holding Amethyst. "Yes, Lets. Alex?"

"Actually, Lady Potter. I do have one more gift to give," said Luna.

"Oh? Two gifts?"

"Well, this one isn't really from me. She held up a more traditionally sized gift. It's from my lord."

Every adult in the room stiffened.

Her head shot up, and stared at the wrapped gift.

"Luna," her father said, slowly, "do you know what it is?"

"Oh yes, it's a book."

Her heart was beating faster. Another book? What was Lord Slytherin playing at? Why give it in front of everyone?

"Luna, we don't want to imply any mistrust or disrespect towards your future lord, but would you mind if we checked it quickly for magic?"

"Of course not, Chief Auror Black."

Luna handed it over to her father who waved his wand over it for a few minutes. John looked on, the same intense expression he'd worn in the playroom back on his face. Eventually, her father declared it clean, and handed it to her, a look of extreme reluctance on his face.

She carefully peeled the paper away to expose the cover. She stared. She snorted. She looked at Luna, picking up her spoon for another helping of pudding, all dreamy face and innocent smiles. She looked back down at the book, then at John Potter, then back down at the book. She closed her eyes. She tried to hold it back, but she couldn't. Her shoulders started to shake.

Her father looked on, concern radiating on his face. "Alex?"

She threw the book on the table, and howled in laughter. Tears leaked from her eyes. Why was she even worried? She still wasn't sure about this courting business, but that didn't change the fact that Lord Slytherin was awesome.

The assembled group stared at the book, eyes radiating shock, concern, puzzlement, and incredulity.

John looked ready to kill.

The title read — 'The Light Side of the Dark Arts - Volumes II and III'.

— DP & SW – RIBSR —

"How did Slytherin do that?"

Alex marched beside Luna towards the black library. They'd left John and Susan back in the playroom, excusing themselves with a comment about kerfuffling scribblebugs or some suplayroomch weirdness.

Luna hummed. "Is it really a good idea for me to be in the Black Library? Won't your father get angry?"

Alex scoffed. "Him? He wouldn't notice a threat to the Black legacy if it challenged him to a duel. It'll be fine." She furrowed her eyebrows. "Just don't touch any of the books on the third rows or above. And you didn't answer my question."

"The hourglass beetles told him."

She stared at the blonde, eyes narrowed. They arrived at the library door. "You could just say that 'you can't reveal your lord's secrets', you know."

"I can't reveal my lord's secrets."

"Better. C'mon, I want to show you something."

She opened the door, and the two began the winding path through the stacked and dusty shelves.

Luna walked with complete ease, and she couldn't help notice the girl didn't seem at all awed by her surrounding. "Is the Lovegood Library like this?"

"Mmm? Oh. Our library isn't quite as big as yours. It's actually only about the size of the playroom."

"Oh."

"But it has a spiral staircase around the side, and I'm not sure how many floors it has."

"What?"

"Me and Daddy went on an expedition to see how high it went, but by the time we'd climbed for four days we decided to turn around."

She gawked at her reacquainted friend. "And all of that was books?"

"Oh, many of the books were copies of books from lower down. That's another reason we decided to turn around. We hadn't come across a new book for a whole day."

She imagined climbing for days in an ever-repeating library. "That sounds like it would have got frustrating."

"It was fun. We both wore hats. And we had packed lunches."

"… And, how many floors did you go up?"

"Fifty."

"Fifty! You climbed for four days, and you only got fifty floors up?"

"We did spend most of the time reading. It is a library."

"…"

They rounded the corner of a long aisle.

"Where is this library?"

"In the basement."

"In the…" She threw up her hands. "Forget it. I give up."

Luna continued to hum, and they arrived at the alcove. She stepped into the space, and pulled Luna in behind her.

"Grandfather."

The sleeping portrait of Orion Black gave a snuffling sort of sound and slowly opened his eyes. "Alexandra." He sounded surprised. "I hadn't expected to see you again so soon." He eyed Luna, and raised an eyebrow. "And this is?"

"Grandfather, this is Luna, the future Lady Lovegood, and consort of Lord Slytherin."

Luna gave an elegant curtsey. "Portrait Orion Black."

"Lovegood, eh? I remember the Lovegoods of my time. Minds so sharp they went past eccentric, and into full on insane. Just about the only noble family I could have a discussion about blood purity with where we disagreed but could still be polite about it." He frowned. "My condolences for your grandparents. It was a real shame when that bastard went full megalomaniac. One of the biggest regrets of my life, supporting him."

Luna's voice quieted. "Thank you, Portrait Black. I never knew them."

"No, I don't suppose you'd have got the chance… and they never had paintings made?"

Luna shook her head.

Orion Black sighed. "Ah, well, enough about sad matters… Congratulations on your future consortship with Lord Slytherin."

Luna brightened. "Thank you, Portrait Black."

"You must be quite nervous about it. Being contracted to someone so important and yet of whom so little is known."

"Not really."

"Oh?"

"I have full confidence in my lord."

"Mmmm…" Orion Black stroked his beard. "Is he a pureblood, your lord?"

"Both of his parents are magical."

Orion Black nodded, slowly.

Alex watched the exchange, fascinated. Grandfather was a lot better at this then she was, that much was obvious. So, Lord Slytherin was a half blood with two magical parents. That would mean that any of his children would qualify as pureblood according to the law. She could almost see the wheels turning in her grandfather's head.

"And what are your lord's intentions towards my granddaughter?"

Her ears and face burned. She sat down and buried her head in her hands. She'd wanted to ask Luna that question herself, but not just yet, and not like that.

Luna tilted her head slightly. "Portrait Black?"

Orion Black narrowed his eyes. "It is considered polite to formally declare your intentions — a note, an in-person proclamation, a piece of courtship jewelry… something.

"Portrait Black, I am but a humble instrument of my lord's will"—Orion scoffed.—"and I couldn't possibly speak for him, but if I were to guess, I would suggest that your son's attitude to parental influence and my lord's political alignment might make him cautious in making any such declaration, less he put your son on the defensive, and further restrict your granddaughter's movements."

Silence. Then her grandfather's voice filtered through to her as a whisper from where she still stared at the wood floorboards.

"…And you're ten years old. Dear Merlin, you put even your grandparents to shame. I wonder if that means you're even more insane then them too…"

She looked up.

Luna beamed. "Why don't you ask Alex? She can tell you."

"She's insane," she said without hesitation.

Luna turned and hugged her. "Thank you."

"Umm… you're welcome?"

Orion Black chortled. "Oh very well. I can't say I fully approve of all this cloak and dagger business your lord is engaging in, but I can see you're going to grow up to be an intelligent lady."

Luna bobbed another shallow curtsey.

"I just have one question."

"Oh?"

"Does your lord support the pureblood cause?"

Luna paused for just a moment. "My lord understands the frustrations many in magical Britain have with the noble house system since the loss of the rituals, and he recognizes the dangers posed by first generation magicals to the international statue of secrecy."

Her grandfather seemed to search Luna's face for several seconds. "Damn, he has trained you well."

Luna's face was a picture of serenity. "That's all down to Lord Slytherin's super secret motivational technique."

"Which is?"

"Hugs."

Alexandra face palmed, again.

— DP & SW – RIBSR —

The cake was white and had ten candles in it. Alex blew them all out while the assembled wizards sang happy birthday, lead by Lady Potter. She sliced the cake into even pieces, and doled them out onto conjured plates. Luna accepted hers with an enthusiasm normally reserved for global sporting events. Susan politely accepted hers then proceeded to demolish it. John seemed to have gotten over Lord Slytherin's oneupmanship. He accepted politely and ate slowly, chatting with Susan.

The grown-ups all took their own slices, and she directed her attention to her own slice. She sighed. There were many costs associated with magic, and sometimes the cost was high. She took a bite and pretended she was loving it. It tasted like a sponge.

Every ritual has a cost.

Ever since Harry had pointed out that she should have waited for her thirteenth birthday for the best effect for the strength ritual, she'd felt a bit melancholy when eating sweet things.

She was a witch. She would never have all the power that wizards held in the wizarding world, but with the ritual of krazenkart she'd at least been able to narrow that power gap a bit. The ritual gave the witch who cast it both the strength of the man she could have been, and the potential for strength of the man she could have been. The cost was her ability to taste sweetness.

She didn't regret it. Not at all. But if she'd a bit less headstrong, she probably would have waited a few years first.

She caught Luna's eye and the blonde gave her a small encouraging smile. Did she know? Surely Lord Slytherin would know. Would he have told her?

"So, have you heard anything from Macmillan about the Hogwart's express?" Her father's voice washed over her and the other children.

John stopped half way through a joke, and stilled for a fraction of a second before starting to nibble his cake.

Susan looked at him, her face one large question mark.

Luna perked up.

John jerked his head towards the table where to grown-ups sat.

Susan's eyes widened in understanding.

She rolled her eyes, and resisted the urge to jump and shout 'told you so' at her father.

"Yeah. He wants his son to stay out of the main groups, but from the sound of it he was leaning more towards us than the Gray." Lord Potter's voice was a bit louder than her father's.

Luna brought out a set of gobstones, and they began a slow and pointedly silent game.

"So, he's going to have Ernie present himself then?"

There was a slight pause.

"I'm not sure, it's hardly necessary under normal circumstances. Ernie and John have known each other for years, and their compartment is going to be almost all kids they both know from classes."

"Buuttt…" Lily's voice interjected.

James Potter continued. "But there's the Gray to think about, isn't there. Macmillan may well want Ernie to present himself to them, even if he doesn't want him to sit with them. And if he presents to them, then he'll probably present to us too."

"Who would Ernie sit with if not John's group?"

"Not sure… maybe he'll scout for new muggleborns."

There was a sigh. Lily spoke. "At least we don't have to worry about clashes between our children and the children of the darker families. Daphne's going to be a wall between us."

"Yes. The Dark at the front of the train, the Gray in the middle, and the Light at the end…"

Lily spoke. "Wouldn't it make more sense to have the Dark at the end and the Light at the front? I mean, what about all the muggleborns who have to put up with all the bigotry the moment they step on the train?"

"It's a bit late to organize a different seating arrangement now, Lily. Hell, the way we're doing it this year is hardly better than organized chaos."

"Well Prongs, this year is crazy. The first born children of the leaders of the Light, the Dark, and the Gray, all starting Hogwarts, in the same year?"

"Trust me, Padfoot, I know. I've been fielding owls from dozens of parents for weeks now. Every single one is convinced that if their kid screws up, their whole family is going to ostracized for the next decade. It's mental."

Madam Bone's voice joined in for the first time. "I heard something interesting."

"Oh, what?"

"You know the Smiths?"

"Yeah, of course. Sally is going to be in with John."

"Mmmhmm.. And guess who's going to be with Greengrass?"

"… You don't mean?"

"Yep. Zach."

"Wow. So the Smiths are splitting themselves. Just like the Patils. Fine if you have two children in the same year, I guess."

Lily spoke. "At least there aren't any triplets this year."

There was a snort from Sirius. "I'd like to see the family with the balls to try and make nice with all three parties at once."

"A traditionally Gray family might be able to pull it off."

"… I suppose."

"So that brings the total noble houses for the Gray's compartment to three… same as the Dark," said Lord Potter.

"While we're sitting pretty with five. Hah!"

"Sirius…" Lily admonished.

"I know, I know, it's not the most important thing, but still."

Lord Potter spoke. "I've actually heard an interesting rumor about the Gray's next move."

"What?"

Across from her, John's eyes widened in alarm.

"I've been told—"

"DAAAAD!"

All the adult faces turned to their group.

"What?"

John silently made rapid head jerking motions to where Luna sat gazing at the gobstones with a ferocious concentration.

The adult's eyes widened slightly.

Lord Potter coughed. "Ah. Yes. Amelia, would you do the honors?"

A cloud of magic settled over the table, and the grown-ups continued to chat, their voices now muffled to anyone who might listen in.

Luna's gobstone spewed liquid in John's face.

— DP & SW – RIBSR —

Alex and Luna sat on their knees on her four-poster bed. They'd ditched Susan and John again. Amethyst was hunting a sock, which Luna dangled in front of her. The black kitten made a giant leap, misjudged, and tumbled off the bed, landing in a heap of clothes, mewling and clawing.

"So, how do I learn more about Lord Slytherin?"

Luna looked back at her from where was reaching over the side of the bed. "Lord Slytherin is a very private person, Alex."

"I figured that already."

"He has many secrets that he doesn't give away lightly. He needs to know he can trust those close to him with those secrets absolutely."

"And you're one of those people?"

Luna beamed. "Yes."

"How? I mean what did you do to earn that trust?"

Luna looked up at the ceiling. "I learned what he had to teach."

She huffed. "Well, I haven't been able to learn anything from him because he doesn't want to teach me."

"Lord Slytherin can't teach you until you learn to protect his secrets."

"Protect his… you mean occlumency? I know occlumency already!"

Luna crawled towards her, and placed her hands on her shoulders. Her blonde hair fell in front of her face.

"Umm, Luna?"

Luna flicked her hair back, and fixed her with her silvery gray stare. There was nothing dreamy about it now. "May I?"

Her pupil's dilated. "Y-you know legilimency?"

"A bit. May I?"

She hesitated. Then she firmed her resolve and nodded.

Luna leaned forward and rested her forehead on hers. The girl's soft breath tickled her nose. Her heart beat a little quicker and she strengthened her shields, ready for the tell tale tickling that signaled a mind probe. Her whole world seemed to narrow to the silver orbs in front of her.

And then something smashed into her with the ferocity of a mothering nundu. She gasped. She tried to push the presence away, but she might as well have tried to stop a tidal wave. Suddenly Luna was everywhere. Everything was open to her, all her memories, all her emotions, all her fears, hopes, and dreams. She fell forward, and darkness enveloped her.

She was being held. She opened her eyes to see Luna's gray ones gazing down at her with a mixture of resolve and sadness.

"Not nearly good enough, Alex."

She looked away, embarrassed and angry with herself. Her heart raced. She needed to get away. She easily shoved Luna away, and scrambled from the bed. She got two steps before she felt herself being summoned back into Luna's arms. She grabbed the girl's arms from around her waist and plied them off, but still couldn't move. She was stuck. "Let me go!" She wriggled.

"Shhhh…Alex, there's nothing to be embarrassed about." Luna's voice was soft and calming. The girl nuzzled the back of her neck. "It's okay, really it is."

She stopped struggling, and trembled. Fear and vulnerability flooded her.

"You found out that you're not as strong as you thought you were. That's fine. No one expects you to be a god."

"Why?" her voice was a whisper. "Why can't I keep you out?"

"Alex, the occlumency lessons given to us before we go to Hogwarts are only supposed to stop stealth and surface intrusion."

"But my tutor did full assaults too!" Her voice started to rise.

"It's quite likely he was holding back. It normally takes a decade of practice before you can keep out a master legilimens, if they're really trying."

Her lip trembled. "But how can you…"

"Lord Slytherin's teaching methods are much better than normal ones, and Harry used those methods when he taught me."

She thought back to when she'd first met Harry. She hung her head. Her grip loosened on Luna's arms, and she felt the girl wrap around her, Luna's chest still pressed to her back.

They stayed like that for whole minutes. Her trembling ceased. She calmed.

Eventually the words slipped from her lips like the single snowflake before the avalanche. "I want to learn."

Luna shifted behind her. "Well, it's a bit late to learn from Harry. He's going to Hogwarts now."

Her voice grew desperate. "Can't I learn from you?"

Luan seemed to consider it. "You could. Although I doubt I'd be nearly as good at teaching as Harry is."

"I don't care! I mean, it's the only way isn't it? Lord Slytherin isn't going to teach me himself is he?"

"No. That's unlikely at the moment."

"Then you'll do it?"

She grasped Luna's wrists, and turned. Luna was once again her dreamy self. A massive smile plastered on her face.

"Of course I will, Alex. I've missed having you as a friend." The girl then shuffled forward and wrapped her in another minute long hug.

Slowly, Alex relaxed into it. It did feel kind of nice.

— End of Chapter 14 —

Chapter Text

Welcome to Season Two of Dodging Prison and Stealing Witches.

This season will have seventeen chapters (probably), released every other Sunday evening (that’s my Sunday evening — I’m in Cyprus). I’d like to release more often, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend for my chapters to get longer and longer, and for the political and social maneuvering to take up more and more brain space, so bi-weekly it is (Plus I’m still working on original projects).

And now…

*Read in deep baritone voice*

Previously…

Harry Potter has come back in time to stop the Dark Lord winning — to remake the wizarding world how he wants it. To help him stay out of Azkaban, Death and Fate gave him a lordship, and Harry became Lord Slytherin. Keeping his time travel secret, Harry used the knowledge and skills he learned from Voldemort to amass a small fortune, smuggling drugs in the muggle world.

As Lord Slytherin, he befriended the Greengrasses, and took the reigns of the neutral faction, rebranding them the Gray, and saving them from assimilation by the Dark and the Light.

And as Harry, he started gathering a group of witches to become the core of his many hidden plans. He became betrothed to Daphne Greengrass, who loves exploring and could put Machiavelli to shame. He vassaled Hermione Granger, who applied her viscous intellect to the magical and the social side of the wizarding world. He become the future consort of Luna Lovegood, who is as mysterious as she is devoted. He made inroads to befriending Alexandra Black, whose ambitions and frustrations make her prickly to friend and foe alike. And he snatched up Ginny Weasley, who has come to see her former crush as the archetype of everything she loathes.

That crush was Harry’s twin brother, John Potter, who was given a chance to come back in time to defeat Voldemort, but really messed it up. Harry’s traveling back three years before him changes a lot, and time-traveler John now deals with a world very different to how he remembers it from his original time line.

Now, Harry, Daphne, and Hermione are off to Hogwarts, with their sights firmly set on the legendary artifact that could easily fund a dozen wars. But will all go according to plan?

 

Dodging Prison and Stealing Witches

Book Two: The Foundations of Power

 

Chapter Fifteen

The First Year's Train Dance

Platform Nine and 3/4 was a marvel of magical space folding. The enchantments surrounding this icon of the British magical world had to hide, not only the platform, but also the rail track, which snaked out of the station and cut its way straight through a city of eight-million muggles. After it left the city, the rail line had to stay hidden for the entire eight-hundred kilometer journey, all the way to Hogsmeade station. A thin slice of magic, indelibly cutting the country in two.

Muggle repelling charms and standard ruin-illusions would do no good here.

Figuring out a way to hide such a conspicuous tract of wizarding world territory was to be one of the greatest engineering feats of the arithmancy revolution — or rather, that’s what the 1827 minister of magic, Ottaline Gambol, told her contractor, Lord Woodson Hawking. To which Lord Hawking deadpanned, “You’re havin’ a jape, Gambol.”

Nevertheless, after nearly twenty years of work, the Noble House of Hawking did crack the problem. The solution was in reverse-expansion charms. Instead of creating more space where there was none, Woodson figured out how to create no space where there was some.

All the way up and down the country, whenever anyone crossed the five meter wide slice of land that contained the Hogwarts Express line, they bent through an undetectable, space-contraction ward, none the wiser of what just happened. New muggleborns on the Hogwarts Express would shriek in fear and delight as motorway cars barreled straight towards the train, only to disappear mere inches from the track and instantly reappear on the opposite side.

This all required one of the largest warding projects of all time, because while it’s relatively easy to ward a five-square kilometer circle, it’s a lot harder to ward a five-square kilometer strip that’s five meters wide and eight-hundred kilometers long. Thirty-two thousand miniature ward stones were needed. Two every five meters. These stones were housed below the Hogwarts Express line, in an eight-hundred kilometer subterranean passageway called a ward tunnel. Because the failure of even a single stone could endanger the whole line, regular checks were required to ensure the stones were all in order.

Not many people knew this. Also, not many people knew that platform Nine and 3/4 was sealed off anytime there wasn’t a train in service. More people knew that Hogsmeade station was not sealed off when there wasn’t a train, but few considered it of any huge import. This only goes to show that while the wizarding world may not be as silly as many people would like to believe, it does still tend to overlook small details.

Harry James Potter, current Lord Slytherin, future Consort Lovegood, time-traveler, former Azkaban resident, and most definitely the Boy-Who-Lived, sped down the ward tunnel on his trusty nimbus 1700 broomstick. The walls held no lights. This didn’t worry him. In the hand not gripping the broomstick he held his newest toy, a back-mirrored hand of glory. The shriveled appendage cast a bright light in front of him, illuminating some sixty meters of tunnel. At one-hundred kilometers per hour that gave him about two seconds to react should something block his way.

This also didn’t worry him. He’d always been amazing on a broomstick. In fact, he suspected that if the whole parents-dumping-him-at-the-Dursleys thing hadn’t happened, he’d probably have been a quidditch player. Yes he could fly without one, but it just wasn’t the same.

He passed yet another maintenance floo and checked the time. One o’clock in the morning. He’d been flying for nearly eight hours now. He should be nearly… ah. He slowed down and stopped as the tunnel opened out into a much wider space. The ward stones here were larger, more powerful, and more numerous. He could feel the thrum of magic seeping off them.

Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out his shrunk trunk. A quick rummage produced the Potter invisibility cloak, which he donned. He re-pocketed his trunk, padded over to the stairs, and examined the door at the top of them. The door was warded, just like it had been for Tommy-Boy when he’d explored down here. The underground room was also warded against apparition, but, and this was the important bit, the platform above wasn’t. He looked up to the roof, some four meters overhead and slowly floated up to meet it. It also seemed that the warders working on this stretch of the project hadn’t been as thorough as they should have been. You couldn’t apparate into the platform when it was sealed, but once you were inside…. He reached the very top and pressed himself flat against the ceiling. He smirked. Destination, determination, deliberation. There was a faint crack and he found himself less than one meter from where he’d started, but this time on the platform.

There sat the Hogwarts Express in all her scarlet metallic glory. He’d ridden her thrice in his life, and seen her ridden fourteen times before that. The platform was empty. Dead. He shivered and apparated straight into the first public compartment.

Unshrinking his trunk again, he withdrew a standard warding kit and a small tuft of burnt-brown human hair. He had an hour. Today was a big day, and he couldn’t afford to play on anything less than a full eight hours of sleep. He took off his shoes and socks, gripped his hand of glory between his bigger and smaller toes, picked up the kit’s paintbrush, unscrewed a jar of invisible ink, and, resisting the urge to whistle, got down to work.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione Granger stood with her parents in Kings Cross Station. Her heart raced. Her eyes took in every detail of the 19th century building, all red-brick, black-steel, and glass.

People bustled all around them, oblivious to the wonders that lay just beyond the nearby gate. They stared at Hedwig as they dashed by, sitting as she was in her cage on her trunk. Occasionally, a child would point and exclaim.

This was it. This was the day. This was—

She stopped suddenly. She’d been thinking that quite a lot recently. Every day seemed to be the day. She shook her head.

“You ready, Sweetie?”

She took a deep breath. “Yes, Mum.”

“Now you are going to owl us aren’t you?”

“Yes, Mum.”

Hedwig gave an affirmative bark.

“And you’re going to ask Harry for help if you need it?”

“Yes, Mum.”

“And if a really big problem comes up, what do you do?”

“Owl Lord Slytherin, Mum.”

“Very good.” The older female Granger had tears in her eyes. “Don’t worry dear, we’ll all see each other at Christmas.”

She nodded. Tears threatened her eyes too.

Her Dad spoke. “You do us proud in there, Hermione. I know his lordship has given you some special tasks. Keep one eye on them, and one eye on your studies, yes?”

She sniffed and blew her nose with a quickly produced handkerchief. “Yes, Dad.”

“Right, go for it then.” He hugged her.

She hugged him back, and before she could lose herself anymore, she turned and hugged her mother too. She took another deep breath, turned her trunk and raptor ladened trolly, pointed it in the direction of the space between platforms nine and ten, and walked off at a brisk, confident pace. Her heart beat even faster as she neared the barrier, but she didn’t slow down. She reached it, closed her eyes, and opened them a moment later to see the magnificent scarlet Hogwarts Express.

She kept on walking and joy filled her heart. Her world. She looked around and suddenly realized that, like in Diagon Alley, she was surrounded by other witches and wizards. Her Slytherin mask slid into place and her pace slowed to a more graceful gait.

To her left, an older wizard complained to an even older witch. “I mean really, all this fuss over one prepubescent kid.”

“Now, now, Gilbert. You wouldn’t be saying that if you’d been in the country eleven years ago.”

Her joy faded a notch. She mentally rolled her eyes.

A little further on, a group of older students bantered among themselves. “Check it out. Mum baked two cakes. I get to present the other to The-Boy-Who-Lived when we’re off.”

She shook her head.

Nearing the center of the platform, she caught sight of today’s Daily Prophet headline on a sales stall. Boy-Who-Lived Starts Hogwarts — Pride of the Light.

Humf! She barely held back a scowl. And people were going to call her ignorant. How could they heap such praise and attention on her Harry’s brother, and then turn around and treat her best friend like scum scraped off their boots?

Hermione turned her back on the offending news stand, walked a few paces away, and looked around for a place to change. She spotted a dark corner and headed towards it. She picked Hedwig off the top of the trunk, opened the lid, and, much to the surprise of a few nearby wizards, climbed into the trunk, and locked the lid behind her.

Back inside her beloved miniature library, she stripped down to her underwear and pulled on her brand-new, black, acromantula silk Hogwarts robes. The moment she’d finished straightening it, her vassalage crest appeared above her left breast and on her sleeves.

On her right hand, the vassal ring of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin faded into sight, and on her left, the ring of House Granger followed it. Harry’s silver lightening bolt ring rested on her pinky, hidden to all but his most trusted. That meant her.  She felt warmth run through her at the thought and almost skipped back to the stairs, which led to the trunk’s lid. She unlocked the lid, pocked her head out, and stared.

This wasn’t where she’d left the trunk. Her eyebrows furrowed. She could see over the top of the Express. The floor seemed quite a way away.

Chortles wafted up from below. She looked down. Two red headed boys, a bit older than her and indistinguishable from each other, gazed up at her. They looked to be waiting for a reaction.

“You know its very rude to interfere with a lady when she’s changing.”

This apparently wasn’t the reaction they’d been expecting. They looked at each other, eyebrows raised, before turning back to her. “Our sincere apologies, my lady,” the one on the left said. They gave synchronized, over-exaggerated bows.

“If we’d realized you were changing, we would of course have offered to help.”

Her eyes widened. No. Bad Hermione. Slytherin mask, Slytherin mask… “Well, can you at least help me down then?”

“Certainly, my lady.” They waved their wands together and chanted, “Wingardium Leviosa.”

Her heart skipped a beat as her world jerked and she found herself slowly descending to the ground. The trunk landed with a soft clonk of wood on stone. She carefully finished her journey, stepping out of the trunk, and closing it behind her with an audible clunk.

The red-haired twins stared at her.

“Yes?”

They looked at each other again. Then back at her. “You’re… so are you a first year or not? We don’t remember ever seeing you before.”

“Why would I not be a first year?”

The one on the right pointed at the crest on her chest. “You’re already sorted.” It sounded almost like an accusation.

“Ah, no. You see where the helmet would normally be? There are two crossed wands instead. That means I am a vassal of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin.”

The two looked like she’d just announced the sky was green and the grass was blue. “A vassal? Do they still exist?”

“Yes. I’m one of them.”

“Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of a servant of the forces of evil, now would we, Fred?”

“Certainly not, oh brother of mine.”

She wasn’t sure what to say to this so she said nothing.

“I’m sure she’ll want to be on her way.”

“Mmhmmm… to pillage and terrorize, no doubt.”

“Yes, to hunt down the innocent and steal all their chocolate frogs.”

“To find all the ikle muggleborns and jinx all their electrics.”

“Heeey!”

They looked back at her.

Slytherin mask. Slytherin mask… “I would have you know that I am a muggleborn.”

Now the twins looked like they’d checked the sky and grass and found she’d been right. They blinked. Finally one whispered. “The Dark Muggleborn.”

She scoffed. “I’m not Dark. I’m Gray.”

They frowned. “The Gray Muggleborn doesn’t have quite the same punch, does it, George?”

“No it doesn’t, Fred.”

She hefted her trunk and started to drag it, slowly, towards the carriage. “Shouldn’t we be moving? The train must be leaving soon.”

As one, they swept by her, grabbed opposite sides of the trunk, and heaved it up. “After you, my lady.”

— DP & SW: TFoP —

In the middle of the train, Daphne Greengrass lowered herself into the centermost compartment seat, and straightened her robes.

Freekey leapt off her shoulder and onto the the table.

She fished in her pocket, produced a large nut and held it to the inquisitive monkey, who grabbed and nibbled at it, turning it constantly in her tiny hands.

She produced a small hand mirror and checked her hair. She adjusted her robes again. She produced a small slip of parchment from a pocket. It held a list of some thirty-odd names. She read over the list, turned over the parchment, and went over each of the names in her head, recalling the basic facts about each person, and counting off when she’d finished. She folded the paper back up, and slipped it back into the pocket. Then, just in case she’d missed something, she checked her hair again.

Harry. She sighed. For the last three years she’d never gone more than a few days without seeing Harry. She’d hugged him goodbye not twenty-four hours ago, and already she missed him. The thought of not being able to talk with him for ages did weird things to her chest. But she was the betrothed of Lord Slytherin, the heiress of the Ancient and Noble House of Greengrass, and the de facto leader of the sons and daughters of the Gray. Someone like her wouldn’t give the time of day to a scruffy, uneducated, light-named, non-entity. At least, that was the official reason. The real reason was that the headmaster and current Slytherin head of house would be keeping a close eye on Harry for the first few weeks, and he couldn’t afford to attract too much attention. It was all heart-wrenchingly frustrating.

In the solitude of the compartment, she allowed herself a self-indulgent pout.

Someone grabbed the compartment door and the pout vanished from her face.

The door slid open. It was Tracy.

“Daph! Hi, Freekey.”

A smile lit her face. “Hi, Trace.”

Freekey looked up from the nut and chirped.

The brown haired girl entered the compartment, dragging a trunk behind her. Tracy looked up at the overhead compartments and frowned. “How did you get your trunk all the way up there?”

“My dad put a lightening charm on my trunk before we left.”

Tracy slapped her forehead. “Aghh. I should have thought to ask.” She frowned again. “But still, even if it’s lightened, that’s a long way up. You’re not that much taller than me and I can’t reach up that high.”

She flicked her wrist to produce her wand, which she shook back and forth.

“No way.” Tracy looked suitably impressed. “When? How?”

“My lord taught me.” The pride in her voice slipped into a smirk on her lips, which was fine. She had worked hard for it.

“But how? What about the underage magic laws?”

“Wand tracking doesn’t work under fidelius.”

“What’s fidelius?”

“Look it up.”

Tracy pouted. “Fine.” The girl sighed. “Wow, you’re so lucky, Daph. I wish I had a mysterious betrothed to spoil me rotten. It’s so romantic.”

She looked at the brunette, incredulous. “Oh, yes, being terrified out of your wits for months because you’re going to be married off to a fat old geezer is the best thing ever.”

Tracy winced. “But, he saved you, Daph.”

She folded her arms. “I know he saved me. That does’t mean I’m glad I needed saving.”

“But. But, you’re always talking about him. It’s always Lord Slytherin this, or Lord Slytherin that. Aren’t you happy about it?”

Her shoulders slumped back in the chair. “Yes. Yes I am happy. I just wish it didn’t happen that way. Wishing for what I have is like wishing to win the Daily Prophet grand prize draw, where if you don’t win, you get A-kay’d. Many people who enter, don’t win.” She looked over at her friend.

“How would you react if, after the great feast, tonight, you received an owl from your dad saying he’d sighed a contract for you?”

Tracy stilled. “I’d probably freak out.”

She nodded. “Anyway.” She clapped once and stood up. “Your trunk.”

Tracy looked down at it.

“Why not just shove it up against the wall for now? We’re going to need space for six more. Hopefully some of the others have lightened there’s.”

Together they shoved the heavy trunk against the wall and just got comfortable when the door slid open again. They both turned.

It was Granger. But not as she was the last time she’d seen her. The previously bushy hair was now more wavy, and the buck-teeth looked like they’d been shrunk. The witch stood in the doorway as though Merlin had returned to Earth.

The witch’s eyes did a lightening circuit of the room — from her face, to her hands, to Tracy’s face, to Tracy’s hands, and finishing at her face again. Subtle. Granger took a step into the room. “Heiress Greengrass, of the Ancient and Noble House of Greengrass?”

“Yes,” she drawled.

“I am Hermione Granger, of the House of Granger, vassal of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin.”

There was a audible intake of breath to her right.

She rose from her seat and regarded the witch for a moment.

Granger didn’t extend her hand.

She raised a single manicured eyebrow. So, she was Granger’s superior, was she? That’s not what the witch actually believed though, was it? “Welcome, Miss Granger.” She gestured to her side. “This is my good friend, Tracy Davis, Heiress of the Noble House of Davis.”

She glanced towards Tracy, who was looking between her and Granger, very confused.

“Ah, pleased to meet you,” Tracy said, extending her hand.

Granger took the hand, and smiled. “Pleased to meet you too.”

They shook.

“So,” started Tracy, grinning like a madwoman, “have you two met before or something? I mean, I know we’re being massively pureblood today, and all, and if anyone would have already met I’d have expected, well…”

Granger’s eyes flickered to hers, before returning to Tracy. “We’ve never been formally introduced before, but…”

“…It’s safe to say that we’ve heard plenty about each other through a mutual acquaintance,” she finished.

Tracy folded her arms. “Oh, yes? A ‘mutual acquaintance’ hmmm?”

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

Her eye twitched. Granger’s lips thinned for a moment before flashing back to neutral.

Tracy’s grin went full impish. “Should we get comfy then? Five more to go after all.”

Granger dragged her trunk in and shoved it under a seat. They all sat down and silence filled the compartment.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

[Meanwhile… at the front of the train…]

A small girl with long, burnt-brown hair adjusted her robes and strode with purpose towards the door to the first compartment. She fought to keep her nerves under control as she neared. Daddy had spent the last week drilling into her head how important this was. She reached for the door handle and paused.

Actually, she should really find and talk to her best friend before she joined Malfoy shouldn’t she? Otherwise they wouldn’t see each other the whole train ride. Yes. That was a good idea. She turned around and marched away from the compartment, sure of foot, and firm in purpose.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

[Moments later…]

Harry finished brushing his teeth in the tiny train bathroom, slipped his shrunk trunk back into his black silk robes, and poked his head out into the corridor. All clear. His signature ‘I’m fine’ Slytherin mask lit up his face with a glint of humor and a boatload of confidence. He swept to the first compartment, knocked, and slid back the door.

Four pairs of eyes latched onto his. Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, and Parkinson. Four pairs of eyes narrowed.

“Bugger off, Potter,” sneered Pansy. “This is our end of the train.”

Harry grinned. “My sincere apologies, my lady. But I fear your aggression may be misplaced. I’m sure Heir Malfoy would be happy to introduce us?”

Draco’s face relaxed back into boredom. “Oh, Harry, it’s you.”

Pansy’s head whirled between him and Draco. “What?” Her voice was wary. “Draco, what’s going on?”

Crabb and Goyle looked between the three, immediate aggression held back only by sudden confusion.

Draco stood. “Heiress Parkinson, may I present Harry Potter, estranged twin of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Potter. Mister Potter, this is a close friend of my family, Heiress Parkinson, of the Noble House of Parkinson.”

The outside sounds of other children laughing and crying seeped into the compartment.

“Whhaaatttt? Draco, is this a joke?”

Draco sat back down.

He smiled. “I assure you, Heiress Parkinson, this is no joke.” He bowed to the slightly flat faced girl. He turned. “And you, gentlemen?”

The Crabb and Goyle boys fumbled through their formal introductions.

Pansy crossed her arms. “Well, okay, but what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the back of the train, with your brother?” She sneered the last word.

“I don’t get on well with my family. As to why I’m here…I’m shopping.”

Pansy’s eyes knitted together. “Shopping?”

“Yes.” He turned back to Draco. “Heir Malfoy, I believe you will be addressing the compartment soon after leaving. May I request the honor of a seat to listen in?”

Pansy looked incredulous. “Potter, we’re full. We’ve been full for weeks.”

He inclined his head. “I’m aware of that. However, I could take a seat until the eighth arrives and then just stand for a few minutes after that.”

He looked between Pansy and Draco. The Malfoy heir seemed deep in thought. Eventually the blonde gestured a languid hand. “Very well, Harry. However, once all the real wizards arrive, you’ll have to leave.”

His warm smile tweaked a quarter-inch wider. “Of course, Heir Malfoy. You have my thanks and gratitude.” He sat down and made himself comfortable.

Beside him, Pansy stuck her nose in the air and hurumphed. “Well, at least you have manners.”

The door opened and Theodore Nott stuck his head in the compartment. “Hi everyo—” the Nott heir’s eyes fell on him “—Whaa?”

— DP & SW: TFoP —

[Halfway between the first and middle compartment]

John Potter marched through the corridors of Hogwarts Express, glancing into the compartments as he passed.

Time was short. He knew he had to find Hermione before they left the station or he wouldn’t get the chance. The younger versions of his friends and classmates would be expecting him in the end compartment.

Every other footstep brought with it a new pointed finger, another whisper, a poorly hidden giggle or blush. He responded with nods, smiles, and even the occasional wink, causing said blushes to deepen. The open-seating cartridges were the most extreme. All eyes on him, every move and gesture analyzed and giggled over. He had to dodge out of the way of more than one pair of fourth or fifth year girl’s arms, who thought he was ‘utterly adorable’. Frustrating, considering he thought they were much the same.

He’d started at the second to first compartment and was nearly at the middle of the train, and he still hadn’t found Hermione. Obviously she wasn’t going to be in the first compartment, the compartment of the Dark. He glanced into the compartment just before the middle one, gave a small head shake and moved on, passing said compartment without even a glance. Obviously Hermoine wasn’t going to be in the Gray’s compartment either. He continued looking all the way down the train and, eventually, arrived just outside the last compartment. He bit his lip. Had something happened to Hermione? He’d never known the bushy haired witch to be late for anything, and the train would leave any moment.

He sighed, put on his game face, and slid open the compartment door. The faces of Susan Bones, Ron Weasley, Lavender Brown, Sally Smith, Padma Patil, Neville Longbottom, and Hannah Abbott, greeted him. They were all here. He forced a cheerful smile and sat down.

They exchanged a round of greetings and pleasantries. Susan, Lavender, and Padma were excited. Sally, Neville, and Hannah were nervous. Ron, as was so typical of his red-headed friend, seemed bored.

There was a slight shift and the world outside the window started to move away from them. They were off. As one, all the children turned to him, expectancy alight in their faces.

He took a deep breath and reached into his occlumency. “Friends. Thank you all for sitting with me today. I know that much of this has been arranged by our parents, but I’d like to think that even without their involvement, we’d have come together like this anyway.”

A few smiles lit the faces around him. Susan grinned.

“We’ve all known each other for years. And now, we’re about to start Hogwarts together. It’s my sincere hope that by the end of these seven years, we’ll be closer to each other than we are even now.”

More smiles.

“There are, however, those about to start Hogwarts who know no-one. They did not grow up in our world. They do not have a legion of the best people a wizard could ask for to back them up. They are starting out alone.”

Frowns.

“They will also be our friends. Our world can seem a difficult and confusing place to muggleborns, and it is our duty to protect them from those who would sooner see them thrown out of our world, rather then befriend them.”

Firm nods. Set jaws. Alert eyes.

“A lot changed with the downfall of Voldemort—“

Squeaks, large pupils, flushed faces, awe.

“—And over the last decade, our parents have done a lot to move the wizarding world in the direction it needs to go. The auror force, which was devastated at the end of the last war, has slowly begun to regain its strength,”—He nodded to Susan who beamed.—“the laws around dark artifacts and magic have been strengthened, and laws discriminating against muggleborns have been defeated.”

Ron thrust out his chest. Susan grinned again.

“But even as we celebrate these successes we face a newer and perhaps more worrying development than the traditional Dark families.”

Tilted heads. Frowns.

“Three years ago, a man claimed the title of Lord Slytherin, and has since persuaded the neutral families to abandon their neutrality and follow him.”

Hannah and Sally’s frowns deepened.

“This development is worrying, not because the Gray seem to hold the same beliefs as the Dark, but because we do not know what beliefs they do hold. The Light holds the most votes in the Wizengamot, but not by much. The Gray holds even fewer than either the Dark or the Light, but so long as the Dark and the Light do not agree on something, the Gray decides if it becomes law or not. And so far, the Gray has let barely a single contentious law through.”

More frowns.

“The progress that our parents made, stopped three years ago.”

Ron scowled.

“What does Lord Slytherin really want? We don’t know. All we really know is that it isn’t what we want and that Lord Slytherin intends to keep his true intentions secret, possibly until it is too late to do anything about it.”

Neville squirmed. Lavender bit her lip.

“That is why I’m asking you to stay as alert as possible around the children of the Gray. Look for the true intensions behind the pretty words. Stay friendly, but cautious, and do not allow yourself to be seduced by vague promises and slippery logic.”

Slow nods. Faces set to stone.

“We are the children of the Light. We have upheld what is good and just since before the founding of Hogwarts. We protect all, regardless of nobility or house age, and regardless of blood status! We will all soon be in different houses, but that won’t change that we are the Light, and that we stand firm against the Darkness.

Clapping. Ron stood and thumped him on the back. Susan hugged him, before backing off and blushing up a storm. The compartment filled with appreciative words and declarations of support.

Inwardly, John smirked. Much better than last time.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

The small girl with long burnt-brown hair quick marched back to the first compartment, heart pounding. Her friend had found a nice second year to talk to and the older girl had regaled both of them with stories of the castle. It had been so interesting, she’d forgotten the time. When she’d glanced out of the window and realized the train was moving, she’d been horrified. She reached the first compartment and reached for the door handle.

Suddenly, her throat parched. Her tongue felt like sand paper. Thirst clawed at her, nagging and insistent.

Okay, she would find a drink first, and then come back. It was only a few minutes after all.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

In the middle compartment, the Hogwarts Express started moving.

Daphne sat surrounded by the children of the Gray and a few courtiers. To her right sat Tracy, Granger, and Blaise Zabini. To her left sat Parvati Patil, Zacharias Smith, Terry Boot, and Wayne Hopkins.

They all looked towards her.

“Thank you all for joining us today.” She paused. “I’d like you all to look around this compartment. Look at the faces next to you.”

They glanced around.

“In this compartment we have four females and four males; three noble houses and five common ones; five purebloods, two halfbloods, and one muggleborn.”

A few eyes widened and Zach stole a suspicious glance towards Hopkins.

“Soon, we may also be Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and Slytherins, but don’t let this fool you… what we really are isn’t any one of these.”

Zabini leant closer.

“We are wizards, born with the gift of magic. How fast can you cast? How powerful are your spells? How good are you at bending the universe to your will? These are the questions that matter.”

Boot and Zach’s eyes briefly met, one raised eyebrow between them.

“The Light wishes to tame us, domesticate us, dictate to us what is and isn’t safe for us to do. They set up committees to command what charms we’re allowed to even experiment with, let alone use. They waste the best years of our brightest minds with the asinine business of expanding the ever-growing lists of muggle toys we’re not allowed to play with. They deem to claim the moral high-ground of protecting those with no power while systematically removing said power and centralizing it with an ever-growing, all-powerful, draconian ministry.”

She looked around the compartment making eye contact with every one of her peers. In most cases, grim determination stared back.

“The Dark, on the other hand, would have us rip our world in three. In their irrational fear of what they don’t understand they would reject even the most basic of human decencies to spread contempt and fear throughout our world. They also claim to fight the good fight, to bring needed reform to a world that is stagnating, while protecting our culture and legacies. But their methods would result in our total destruction, not our ascension.

“We do not care about blood, so long as your mind is sharp and your wand is strong. We do not care about nobility, so long as you strive to be the best at whatever it is you do. And we do not care about past mistakes, so long as you look to future with steel and determination.”

Granger was actually leaning forward in her seat, eyes gleaming brighter than the Express’s scarlet shell. The moment she caught the girl’s eye though, the newly wavy-haired witch folded her arms and sat straight again, though the gleam did remain.

“The Light and the Dark are making mistakes, but they are not the people within them. The Light and the Dark are ideas. They are collections of beliefs, and, in many cases, they are loosely collected groups of vested interests. Interests shift. Minds can be changed. And the people who yesterday were our enemies, may tomorrow be our greatest allies.

“We have a golden opportunity before us. We have seven years to learn and grow. Seven years to get to know each other and form alliances and friendships that can weather the storms life will throw at us. But that cannot happen if we allow Hogwarts to divide us. So…”—she paused—“I’d like to suggest we set aside some time every few weeks to get together for dinner. That way at least, we’ll not fall foul to the trap of believing that what color your tie is, somehow dictates who you must like and hate.”

Parvati and Tracy scoffed. The dramatic tension broke.

“Sound good?”

She looked around. Most everyone nodded. “What about you, Hopkins?”

Hopkins hesitated, then also nodded.

“Excellent, let’s get down to business then.”

Granger whipped out a piece of parchment and a quill, and with the faint click clack sound of the train in the background, they started fleshing out details for the next few weeks.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

In the first compartment, muggle London gradually faded into the distance behind them.

Harry certainly was not smirking. No, absolutely not.

“Where is Turpin?” Nott scowled towards the door.

Draco put down his quidditch book, threw a bored glance towards where Nott scowled, and shrugged. “No matter. It’s her own fault if she’s late. We start without her.”

The blonde haired boy shot him a glance before speaking with an aristocratic drawl. “One and half thousand years ago, Merlin created the Albion family magics to rule over this land. He forced the families of the time to work together to better the fate of magicals as a whole. And he left behind a legacy to ensure that those who had proved themselves worthy would have the right to lead our people.”

Harry glanced around the compartment. All eight seats were full — Draco, Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, Parkinson, Bulstrode, and Su Li. All purebloods. All except him.

“My own family arrived on these shores in 1066. We worked hard for the good of all and overtime proved ourselves worthy of the trust Merlin established all those centuries before.”

Su Li stared, quiet but intense, as befitting the probably future Ravenclaw.

“But not long after that, the rituals used to ennoble worthy families were lost, hunted down, destroyed, and for five-hundred years we’ve lived without. For five-hundred years, families have striven and proved themselves worthy, yet gained no recognition. Ennoblement was replaced with ‘The Order of Merlin’.” Draco made as though to spit. “A pretty piece of silver and gold to hang on your robes and parade for an hour of glory.”

Crabbe and Goyle’s fists were clenched. Bulstrode scowled.

“Families like the Goyles, the Crabbes, the Carrows, the Bulstrodes, and the Crouches, and yes, even families like the Dumbledores, who, five-hundred years ago, would have been granted seats on the Wizengamot, have been denied their earned right to help guide our world, simply because the rituals of Merlin have faded.

“Then, as our world stagnated, those born to muggles started to demand, yes demand, that they be given the right to govern our world. Is that fair? Is it fair that your families have spent centuries proving themselves worthy, and were denied that privilege, only to have these… people who know nothing of our world swoop in and demand what you have spent generations earning?”

The bored aristocratic tone was gone. Though well articulated, Draco’s words dripped venom. He was impressed. Such righteous indignation on behalf of a group that he was not technically of — Draco’s occlumency was obviously more advanced then he’d expect for a boy of his age.

“For the last one-hundred years, we who are pure of blood, have sought to change the system. To allow any family that has learned the ways of our world some measure of the influence they should have. But that effort has been constantly forced back. For every victory we achieve, we are forced to give up twice as much.”

“The rise of the two Dark Lords of our century were the bright points for us. For two brief ten-year stretches, we were starting to win. But both times, our ultimate goals were snatched from us.”

Draco eyed him with not a small amount of resentment. He tilted his head in apologetic acknowledgement.

“We were being forced back, but we now have a breathing space. With the Gray blocking all new laws, we can regroup, rearm, and get ready for the next advance. The return of Lord Slytherin is a calm before an almighty storm. And it is a storm that we will win.”

Draco paused, took another deep breath and continued. “I believe the Gray are closer to us than they are to the Light. They are lead by Lord Slytherin. Tonight, many of us will be sorted into Slytherin house. As will many of the Gray. They must be made to see the rightness of our cause!”

Draco stood and made a double fisted jerk downwards, as though smashing an invisible staff into the floor. “They WILL be made to see the rightness of our cause!”

Clapping, acknowledgments, and hear-hears erupted around him. He joined in too, clapping politely, a faint smile playing around his lips.

Draco sat back down and slipped back on his bored aristocrat Slytherin mask.

“Yeah, Draco! We’ll show them!” Pansy shouted.

Su Li bit her lip, her cheeks tinged with red. “Uhh, Heir Malfoy?”

Draco turned to her with a raised eyebrow.

“My family is over five-thousand years old, but we’ve only been in Britain for fifty years, where do we stand in your vision?”

Draco frowned. “I’m not fully sure… I’d have to ask father, but… I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have been invited to join us here if your family wasn’t considered worthy.”

Su Li perked up. “Oh, that’s okay then.”

Nott smirked. “What about Potter’s family?” The boy jerked his thumb towards him.

His ‘I’m fine’ mask became rather fixed.

Draco rolled his eyes. “They were acceptable two generations ago, but blood traitors now, the lot of them. They lost themselves when Lord Potter married that whore of a mudblood.”

All eyes shot to him. If they expected him to react with anger about this slight to his mother, they were disappointed. He shrugged.

“I never knew my mother. She might be a whore for all I know.”

“Wow, Potter, you really do not give a toss do you?” Nott looked impressed.

Draco picked his quidditch book back up and eyed him with a calculating look. “Potter…you told me before you were going to join the dueling club, didn’t you?”

“Well, I didn’t actually say that but as it happens, yes.”

“So you’re not trying out for the quidditch team then?”

“Nope.”

Draco nodded and seemed to lose interest again.

Nott on the other hand… “Sorry, Potter, but if you’re in Slytherin, our year slot belongs to me.” Nott grinned a toothy grin.

His stoney smile cracked into a grin of his own. “We’ll see.”

Nott glowered. “Might I remind you that you are merely a dirty half—”

A knock at the door silenced Nott.

Draco sat a bit straighter and affected a particularly drawling voice. “Enter.”

The door opened to admit a much older, taller, and bulky boy dressed in Hogwarts robes with a yellow tie. He looked to be a sixth or seventh year. He was sweating, his eyes dilated.”

“Heir Malfoy of the Noble House of Malfoy?”

“Yes?”

“I…I am Richard Quincy of the House of Quincy. I’ve been asked by my father to present these to you,” he flourished a box of some kind of food, “and to extend both my and my families gratitude to you and your father for awarding us the shipping contract.”

After his initial stutter, the older boy said this in one long breath.

Draco waved the boy to deposit the food on the table.

“My father chose your family because it was the best choice, Richard, and your thanks is appreciated. If I have problems with Hufflepuff in the future I know I can come to you for help.”

“Y-Yes. Of course.” The older Hufflepuff bowed and excited the compartment without turning around.

Pansy looked into the box. “Cauldron cake anyone?”

Nott’s eyes gleamed towards him. “I think our resident food taster should try first.”

He glanced from Nott’s face to the box. He shrugged. The combination of bezoar and noble house ring negated most dangers… but still… he looked thoughtful. “Sure, why not? It would be a shame if the ambassador to the Gray had to miss his appointment because he got poisoned.”

Nott stilled. He flourished his wand and carefully, and with great deliberation, cast the tempus spell. “Merlin!” he grabbed his bag and exited the compartment with as much dignity as a jogging pureblood could muster.

He sat down and made a point not to look smug.

Crabbe grabbed a cauldron cake and dug in, Pansy gossiped with Su Li and Millicent about ‘you’ll-never-guess-what-so-and-so-did’, and Draco busied himself with several small slips of folded parchment, occasionally shooting glances at him, as though he were a particularly strange insect that kept flying by his window.

He leaned back and relaxed.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

In the middle compartment, Hermione Granger was confused and frustrated. Harry’s betrothed made no sense. Daphne was the heiress of an ancient and noble house, and they were in public, so she’d naturally given the heiress the difference wizarding culture expected. But Daphne had rejected this status. So, she’d then decided to treat Daphne like an equal, but this only seemed to annoy the girl. She was sure the heiress didn’t want to be treated like someone of lower status, so what did she want?

She silently hoped that Harry’s other betrothed made a bit more sense and brought her focus back to the older Gryffindor witch who’d just presented Daphne with a box of muggle Belgian chocolates.

The Gryffindor glanced to her, saw the crest, saw the ring, and paled. “H-Heiress Slytherin? I-I’m sorry but I don’t have anything for you, my parents didn’t say anything—“

Oh hell. “—Please.” She held up a hand and sighed. This was the second person to panic like this. “I am not Lord Slytherin’s daughter. I am Lord Slytherin’s vassal, and no-one knew I would be joining Hogwarts today as such.”

“O-oh. Ah, okay then.” The girl didn’t look like this was much better, but did manage to finish her social ritual with Daphne and exit the compartment with only minor blushing.

Tracy giggled. “Maybe we should start a pool on how many times someone loses themselves when they see you, Hermione?”

She grumbled.

Blaze smirked. “I’ll put a sickle on five times.”

She made to look incredulous. “Oh, come on.”

“No, really,” Tracy continued. “Maybe we could get them to faint by telling them you’re a muggleborn too?”

She paused. “Already did that with a pair of red-headed Gryffindor twins.”

“The Weasley twins?” Tracy gasped. “No way!”

“Well, they didn’t actually faint, but—“

If we’re quite finished,” Daphne interrupted, “I’d like to bring it to your attention that the boy from the Dark is late.”

She frowned and inspected a piece of parchment in front of her. She didn’t strictly need a parchment record, but there were times when having to keep retrieving things from her mind-scape library was tiresome. “Well if he doesn’t get here soon we’re going to have to move Cooper up to the next slot and—“

*Knock* *Knock*

“—And never mind,” she finished.

The door slid open to reveal a tall boy with slicked over mahogany hair, wearing closed silk robes and an expression of haughty indifference — an expression that was spoiled somewhat by the redness of his cheeks and the shortness of his breath. He wore the crest of the Noble House of Nott on his robes.

“Heiresses Greengrass and Davis and Heir Smith?” he half panted.

“Yes?”

“Yes?”

“Yes?”

The Nott heir straightened his robes, took a deep breath, and bowed. “I am Heir Theodore Nott of the Noble House of Nott. I believe we have met before, Heiress Greengrass. And what is that?” He pointed to Freekey sitting on a pile of books on the small compartment table.

Daphne smiled. “She is Freekey, my familiar. And yes, I remember seeing you at last year’s winter festival. Perhaps you would care to take a seat?” She motioned those of her bench to budge up, which they started to do. “You’re looking a little winded.”

“Ah, it’s nothing, Heiress Greengrass.” Nott muttered.

“Nonsense, I insist.” Daphne’s eyes glittered.

He sat.

“Besides, our ambassador to the Light is about to depart now anyway. Isn’t that right, Hermione?”

She frowned. No. She wasn’t leaving for another five min… oh. She half-sighed, half-smirked. “Yes.” She stood and dusted down her very expensive black, silk closed robes so the crest was clearly visible to their guest.

Nott’s gaze slid to her as she stood, traveled up her body to her face, studied it for a split-second, then jerked back down to the crest. He stood back up so quickly his feet left the ground. “Heiress Slytherin.” He bowed again. “My sincere apologies. I had no idea you would be joining us today.”

Tracy giggled.

“Please, Heir Nott,” she said.

Nott straightened.

“I am Hermione Granger, of the House of Granger, vassal of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin.”

Nott’s jaw slackened. “Vassal?”

“Yes.” She dipped into a shallow curtsey. “My lord expressed the hope that we might get along over the next few years, as he is of the fullest confidence that you, like me, will be sorted into his house.”

Nott straightened. “Of course, Vassal Granger… er…” he looked uncertain. “Do I call you Vassal Granger or what? I was never taught…”

She suppressed a smile, though the other girls were not bothering to hide their amusement. “Miss Granger is fine if you wish to be formal. Or just Granger or Hermione as you like.”

“Very well, Miss Granger.”

She nodded, brushed past the boy, and left the compartment.

She walked down the corridor. It was time to meet the fake-boy-who-lived, Harry’s brother, and the boy who, in six years of so called ‘friendship’, hadn’t given her one single lesson in wizarding culture.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

The small girl with long burnt-brown hair tiptoed up to the door of the first compartment and shook. It was so late now. Could she really face them all after being so late? She teared up. Her breath shuddered. No. She couldn’t do it. She was a disgrace, a failure. The girl turned and fled back up the train, locked herself in the toilet, and sobbed.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

In the last compartment, John Potter sat chatting and joking with Ron and Susan. Occasionally, Neville would join in, or Lavender, Sally, Padma, and Hannah would add their share. Every few minutes, like clockwork, another older witch or wizard would arrive to present some gift or other. After sometime of this, the compartment table was starting to spill over, and even Ron was having difficulties keeping up with the flow of food.

Hannah sat up a bit straighter, holding a piece of parchment. “John.”

“Mmm?”

“Next is the ambassador from the Gray.”

He too sat straighter. “Oh, really? And they are?”

“Umm… the parchment doesn’t say.”

He sighed. “Always with the freakin secrecy. Would it kill them to at least tell us that much?”

Neville shrugged.

“Well, whatever. You know the drill. Be friendly, cautious, and try to remember everything you can.”

Everyone in the compartment nodded and went back to what they were doing.

He was pouring himself a glass of pumpkin juice from a bottle when a knock sounded and the door slid open. But it wasn’t the Gray’s ambassador. A massive smile bloomed on his face. It was Hermione, already dressed in her… his smile faulted… in her acromantula silk robes?

Hermione stepped into the compartment with considerably more grace then he remembered his friend possessing. “Heir Potter?”

Heir Potter? His heart sped up. His eyes trailed along the trimming of the robes, to the crest, and froze. His faltering smile collapsed. No.

“I am Hermione Granger, of the House of Granger, vassal of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin, and the ambassador sent by Heiress Greengrass.”

No no no no! NO! He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t think. He stared at his best female friend in horror. She looked back at him, cold and expressionless. His voice eventually emerged, raspy, like old parchment. “Vassal?”

“Yes,” she replied in a clipped tone.

He had no idea how the rest of the compartment was reacting, or if they were reacting at all. He couldn’t take his eyes off the abomination in front of him. “How?”

Hermione appeared to not care about the pain in his voice. She continued on as if he’d asked her what they were going to cover in their next transfiguration class. “Well, I know there hasn’t been a vassalage done for nearly two-hundred years, the last one was to Lord Ogden in 1812, but all the old laws are still in place, they mostly haven’t been used because muggleborn families didn’t like the idea of being vassals and purebloods didn’t want anything to do with muggleborns, which is ridiculous of course, my lord doesn’t care about such distinctions though.”

The assembled witches and wizards sat in silence for a moment.

Hermione looked around the compartment. “Heiresses Bones and Abbott, Heir Longbottom.” She bobbed a curtsey to the other half of the compartment.

The bob seemed to snap him out of whatever horror induced spell had been cast on him. “Hermione… he’s brainwashed you!”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Hermione, this isn’t you!”

“I’m sorry, Heir Potter, but have we met before?”

He stilled. He glanced around the compartment. The others were looking at him with expressions ranging from worried, to confused, to shocked. “Err…no of course not, I just…” he paused and tried to relax his features. He smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging way. “Hermione, someone like you doesn’t need to be doing all this formal bobbing stuff, it’s not expected of you.”

This apparently was the wrong thing to say.

“Oh! So just because I’m a muggleborn, you expect me to have no manners and run around offending everyone like its my job. Heaven forbid someone take the opportunity to actually learn about the culture they want to join.”

“That’s not what I—“ but Hermione had already turned and stormed out of the compartment sliding the door behind her with an audible click.

“Oh, very well done!”

He turned to see Susan glaring at him.

That was friendly and cautious was it? And just what was all that about?”

He shrank in on himself. His world felt like it was falling down around him. That wasn’t how he’d imagined his first contact with Hermione to go. His heart felt like it was being squeezed by a giant fist. His voice lowered to a mutter. “I’m…I’m sorry, Susan. I was just shocked that Lord Slytherin had taken a muggleborn family as his vassals.”

Susan hurumpfed. “I think we’re all shocked about that. But that’s no reason to lose your head.” The girl got up and marched to the door.

“Where are you going?”

Susan wheeled around, face red. “I'm going for a walk. And then, in a few minutes, I’m going to the Gray’s compartment to try and fix this mess.” Her own voice became a mutter. “That’s what ambassadors are supposed to do after all — clear up after their leaders mess up.” She opened the door walked through and slid it shut behind her.

He put his face in his hands and grit his teeth.

“Cheer up mate,” came Ron’s voice. “Chocolate frog?”

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione stormed along the corridor, back towards the middle of the train, and paused to calm herself. She allowed her emotions to pool and swirl inside her, to feel the righteous indignation and fury, before bringing down the occlumency hammer and sliding on her Slytherin mask once more. She took a deep breath. That had gone… almost exactly as Harry had predicted it would. She brightened. And now she could get on with her lord’s other mission. She’d spotted Justin a few compartments down when she’d boarded. It wouldn’t take a lot of effort to track down the four other muggleborns in her year. She could make contact with them all and get back to her compartment in short order.

Resuming her graceful walk, Hermione swept down the corridor, a head-strong, wavy-haired princess in night-black silk and emerald green trimming.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Back in the middle compartment, Daphne crossed one leg with the other, and fed Freekey another almond. The adorable primate could never get enough of them, although she did like macadamia even more.

Nott had made himself comfy and was busying himself with a game of exploding snap with Zabini and Smith, being as polite as his blood supremacist bigotry would allow with Tracy, while ignoring Hopkins completely. Hopkins, Parvati, and Boot sat in another threesome, discussing quidditch and dueling and who was doing what.

A knock from the door distracted her. The door slid open to reveal the shoulder length red-hair of the Bones Heiress. “Heiress Bones, what a pleasant surprise.”

Bones looked determined. She took a deep breath. “Heiress Greengrass, I must formally present my and my friend’s apologies for the unacceptable behavior of my friend, Heir Potter, upon your ambassador. I hope we can move beyond this.” Susan bowed.

She scowled inwardly. Something happened, and she don’t know what. She clenched her teeth. Where the hell was Granger? She couldn’t very well ask what the unacceptable behavior was. She had no choice but to accept the apologies and miss an opportunity to extract concessions.

Nott stopped playing to listen.

“That’s okay, Heiress Bones. Your apology is accepted. Although…” An idea shot through her head. “…Although it might be good too if Heir Potter came and presented his apologies directly. Maybe in half an hour? I’m sure we’d all feel better if the aggressor in this matter could apologize directly to the wronged.”

Bones seemed to consider this for a moment before nodding. “I can’t promise, Heiress Greengrass, but I will do my utmost to drag Heir Potter’s butt over here if I have to.”

She nodded.

Bones left.

She turned to the stalled exploding snap game. “Heir Nott, your presence here has been very much appreciated and I look forward to more chats in the future. Could we ask for you to excuse us now? I fear we will need to be changing soon.”

Nott looked around at the fully-robed witches and wizards sitting around the compartment. “As you wish, Heiress Greengrass.” He stood and made his way to the compartment door, but not before the pack exploded again sending cards all over the compartment.

The door closed and she swung to Boot. “Terry, could you find Hermione and drag her back here? Preferably before Potter shows up?”

Boot, as one of her classmates in the pre-Hogwarts homeschool taught by Lady Davis, stood and gave her a thumbs up. “Sure, Daphne. I’m on it.” Then he too left.

Tracy shot her an encouraging grin. She glared.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

In the first compartment, Harry stared out of the window, scanning the many trees along the train-line’s edge.

Parkinson’s high-pitched voice intruded on his survey. “What are you doing, Potter?”

He glanced back into the compartment. No one was paying much attention. Su Li, Millicent, Crabbe and Goyle were talking holidays. Draco was reading. “Bird watching.”

“Bird watching?”

“Yep.”

Pansy leaned over and tilted her head, causing her bob hair to fall down the sides of her face into her eyes. The girl brushed it back behind her ear. “Why?”

“Can’t a boy have a hobby?”

“But are you seriously expecting to be able to see any birds while we’re moving in this train?”

“Well, the train does run over a magical lay line, and it radiates magic along the entire line of the country. You never know what interesting birds might decide to make their home here.”

She huffed. “You’re weird.”

He smiled. “Thank you, Heiress Parkinson.”

The door slid open and Nott stuck his head in. “Hey! You’re never going to guess.”

Draco didn’t bother to look up from quidditch book. “Then I won’t bother trying. What is it?”

Nott stepped into the compartment and looked triumphant. “Lord Slytherin has sent a vassal to Hogwarts!”

This got Draco’s attention. “What?”

“There’s this witch in our year called Hermione Granger. She’s in there with the Gray. She’s got a Slytherin vassal crest on her robes and everything. And she’s obviously had pureblood training.”

He smiled. Well done, Hermione.

Draco frowned. “Granger isn’t a pureblood name.”

Nott shrugged. “Maybe she’s foreign.”

“Did she sound foreign?”

“Well… no… so, a half-blood then?”

Draco shifted. “I’m not sure what to think about that.”

Nott grinned. “I imagine you’ll have no problem with it, after all, you’ve kept Potter here with you the whole time.”

Draco frowned.

He stood up. “Well, I’d better go get changed.”

Nott looked nonplussed. “But you’re already wearing your robes.”

“Yeah, but as much as I like these robes, I now have to go put on the standard robes again.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“It’s all part of a super cunning Slytherin plan.”

“What plan?” asked Pansy.

“Wouldn’t be very Slytherin if I went around telling everyone, would it?” And with that closing comment, he swept to the door and flashed Pansy a single, twinkly eyed smirk.

Behind the closing door he heard a single “Humpf.”

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Only a few compartments down, Harry heard female crying from within his target bathroom.

He knocked softly. “Hello?”

The crying continued. “Are you okay in there? Do you need me to go get someone?”

“No.” Returned a wet voice in between sobs.

He sighed. Always a block in the floo. He sat down with his back to the door. It wasn’t as though he was in a huge rush. “So, why don’t you tell me about it? I know that always helps me when I’m like this.”

The sobbing dissolved into a sniffling. “I’m useless. I was supposed to do something, but I didn’t and now it’s too late and my Dad is going to be so angry with me.”

“What were you supposed to do? Maybe it’s not too late?”

Another round of sobbing erupted. “No. It’s too late.”

He let the crying continue for a while. Eventually he asked again.

“What did you have to do?”

The girl sniffed. “Meet with the people in the first compartment. But I got distracted and now I just can’t.”

Oh.

“Are you Lisa Turpin?”

The sobbing ebbed. “H-how do you know that?”

“I was just in the first compartment. I can help you Lisa.”

The train click clacked. The floor vibrated under him.

“Lisa? If you come out, I promise I’ll be able to help you. All will be okay and you’ll be able to report good news to your father. I promise.”

The voice from the other side trembled. “How?”

“Just trust me, okay? It will all be alright.”

He waited. Then, after a couple of minutes, there was a flush, the door opened, and a tear stained face with blood shot eyes and long, burnt-brown hair stepped out. The eyes widened. “J-John P-Potter?”

He took the girl’s hands, still holding several tissues. “Harry Potter actually, I’m his unknown twin brother. Let’s get you cleaned up a bit, then we can go to the compartment together. I’ll introduce you and give them a good reason why you weren’t there for so long.”

Lisa shook. “What good reason?”

“How about you being ill? That would work wouldn’t it? And with your current state that won’t be difficult to pull off.”

She trembled, still looking very unsure.

He pulled her into him and hugged the girl. “Ah, c’mon. It will be okay. I promise.” Eventually Lisa returned the hug and sunk into him.

Arms still around the girl, he flicked his wrist to bring his wand to hand. He stepped back, arms still on her shoulders. “It will be okay.”

The girl nodded and blew her nose.

“I’m going to cast a spell on you to clean up your face so you look fresh, then I’m going to cast a spell on you to make you look like you’ve been ill, okay?”

Her eyes widened again, this time in awe. “Y-you can do that?”

“Yes.”

He angled his holly and phoenix feather wand towards the girl and cast two spells in quick succession. Immediately the tear stains and blood shot eyes were replaced with yellowing complexion and droopy eyes.

“There we go. We can say you were being taken care of by some friends.”

Lisa nodded, he took her hand, and together they made their way back to the front of the train. They reached the first compartment and she started to breath harder. “H-Harry, I’m not sure I can do this.”

He reached his magic into the temporary ward he’d set up.

“It’s just too much.” Lisa started to struggle in his grip. He held on.

“I…I must go!”

He switched the ward off.

Lisa stopped struggling. He enveloped her in another hug. “Its okay, Lisa. You can do this.”

Lisa shook again. She blinked. “Yes. Yes, I can.” She looked into his eyes. “Thank you, Harry.”

He opened the door and poked his head around the door. “Heirs, heiresses, witches, and wizards — I’ve found our wayward guest.”

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Five minutes later, Harry closed the compartment to the Dark behind him and sauntered off down the corridor. Okay, so he’d lost his spot, but he’d got everything he wanted to accomplish done, and Lisa couldn’t stop making doe eyes at him, which was definitely a result.

Maybe now he’d walk up the train and accidentally run into Hermione. She might still be tracking down muggleborns and it would be good to see how that was progressing.

But first…

He slipped into the now empty bathroom, pulled out his shrunk trunk, and started changing into the bog-standard Hogwarts robes.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John watched the door of his compartment slide open to reveal a much calmer Susan. “How did it go?”

Susan flopped down next to him. “Greengrass said she’d accept the apology on the condition that you apologize in person.”

He groaned.

“None of that. I think she’s quite right. You were rude so you should apologize.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll go.” He stood, trudged to the door, slid it open and started making his way down the train, towards the middle, and towards the Gray. He reached the open seating carriage just a few compartments from the middle of the train and reached for the door handle.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry waved off yet another confused Boy-Who-Lived worshiper. Damn, he’d forgotten just how extreme his peer’s reactions had been on the train. The first time around, he’d been confused but hopeful. Everyone had seemed so friendly and curious. Puzzled, yes, but they’d taken the news that he was a mistaken squib twin of the Boy-Who-Lived with interest and cheer. That good will had lasted until the sorting, after which, everything went to hell.

He passed the middle compartment, which he knew held Daphne, and continued on. He arrived at the door to one of the Hogwarts Express’s few open seating areas, reached for the door handle, turned it, entered the space beyond, full of relaxing and joking witches and wizards, glanced towards the carriage’s far exit, and froze.

His nostrils flared, his eyes hardened, and his lip curled, a cacophony of hatred flashed across his face in a heartbeat, and left just as quickly.

An annoyingly familiar back closed the far side door and started to turn towards him.

His face relaxed, his eyes warmed, and his mouth melted into a smile of summer, log fires, and good cheer. “Brother!”

All talk halted. Every student’s head turned.

Deep in his stomach, unaffected by even the strongest occlumency, bile rose.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John stared. The carriage stretched on to infinity. A full half the eyes were on him. The other half fixed on the figure standing at the other end of the infinite space.

It was Harry.

His heart beat faster. He started sweating.

But, it wasn’t Harry. It wasn’t the Harry that he remembered. The Harry he remembered was small and scrawny — timid — flinching at shadows and jumping at the smallest noises.

This Harry looked to be as tall as he was and his stance was taller still. His face was open and friendly, and he wasn’t wearing glasses, taped or otherwise.

His own face obviously betrayed his confusion.

“Surprised to see me?” Harry’s lip quirked into an almost cheeky grin.

“How?”

An uncomfortable feeling of deja vu flooded him. 

“The normal way, I suspect. Didn’t Mum and Dad tell you I’d be joining you this year?”

His eye twitched. “What do you know about Mum and Dad?”

All the assembled students watched, wide-eyed, turning back and forth with each volley in the turn-based verbal duel.

“Very little. They did after all, abandon me.”

Someone gasped.

“An unusual policy, you must admit, for the supposed lightest family. But even then, you’d think when they realized their mistake that they’d at least take the effort to meet their long lost child before he left for school.”

He flinched and shifted his feet on the plush carpet. That certainly didn’t look good. But how did Harry know about what was normal for squibs and families of the Light? And how did Harry… he froze. Harry wasn’t ignorant. His heart pounded faster. Which meant… He screamed a roar of primal rage. “You bastard!” He drew his wand and fired the dueler’s hello without so much as a thought. The fucker dodged them all and flipped up a nearby table as a shield. Books and parchment went everywhere.

Shouts and screams filled the carriage.

He lunged forward. Magic poured from his wand, determined to destroy the threat to his love. “What. Did you. Do. To. GINNY?!” With each furious cry an overpowered spell dented, gouged, and smashed apart the doomed table in a righteous shower of ripped parchment and wood splinters. But when the dust and magic settled, the fucker had vanished.

He snarled.

“Potter!”

He dodged a head-bound expelliarmus on instinct and spun around, adrenaline still pumping, wand still in hand, ready to obliterate his new target.

“Potter! Put your wand down now! That is an order!”

He stared into the trembling but determined face of a younger Penelope Clearwater. Anger drained away. A lump formed in his throat. His wand arm dropped to his side. He shook. He looked around. Every face looked back at him with shock and fear. Several flinched as his gaze fell on them. Dread pooled in his stomach. Oh, that can’t have looked good.

Several hours later, it was a red-faced and much scolded John Potter who stepped off the Hogwarts Express.

The crisp air of the Scottish September bit into his hands and face. The children around him chatted and laughed, leaving him alone in the crowd. He deposited himself in a boat with Susan, Ron, and Hannah; and stared at nothing while the others stared at everything. The oohs and aahs of naked awe swirled around his person like mist, while the worries and angst of hidden uncertainty caressed his skin like a cloth-made dementor aura.

He clambered out of the boat and offered Susan an unthinking hand. Together, they trudged up the embankment, to the greatest magical school in Britain, and to the Hogwarts sorting ceremony.

He listened with half an ear as McGonagall gave them the house as family speech, and he caught a glance of Harry, alone and isolated, but also strong and confident. He clenched his teeth. If things kept going as they were… he was going to have to do something.

— End of Chapter Fifteen —

 

Chapter Text

The Hogwarts great hall was big, and the students, packed together like bristles on a broomstick, were small.

Headmaster Albus Dumbledore frowned. He surveyed the young witches and wizards of the great hall with the air of a similarly great lord surveying his just as great house. There was a feeling of trepidation not normally found before the sorting. John Potter’s entrance to Hogwarts had been on the lips of all for the past week, but this went beyond even that.

He’d heard the phrase ‘The Golden Year’ more than once. There hadn’t been a year so full of heirs in living memory. Ten heirs. A year was usually lucky if it got even one. That three of those heirs were children of the leaders of the Dark, Light, and Gray didn’t help.

The side door opened and Professor McGonagall lead the first years into a line facing the rest of the students.

The general hubbub of the hall slowly died.

Leaning over the head table, he could see the general state of the children. Many fidgeted, their eyes darting around the hall as though expecting to be attacked. That was normal. His frown deepened. What wasn’t so normal was that a smaller number seemed to sway slightly. Their eyes drooped shut before jerking open again. An occasional yawn escaped. They looked exhausted. He couldn’t help notice that this second group all wore custom made robes.

The sorting began.

“Abbott, Hannah.”

It wasn’t right, forcing these children to sink in their parents political crucibles. They should enjoy their childhood.

“Hufflepuff!”

He forced a smile and clapped for the Abbott girl.

“Bones, Susan.”

“Hufflepuff!”

He motioned for Poppy to join him.

“Boot, Terry.”

“Ravenclaw!”

Poppy leaned down to his ear. “Yes, Headmaster?”

“Brocklehurst, Mandy.”

“I wonder if you might take a quick look at some of our more well known young charges—“

“Ravenclaw!”

“—during the feast? I fear many of them may have been using their occlumency all day.”

Poppy huffed.

“Brown, Lavender.”

“Really, Albus. I know occlumency doesn’t use much magic, but they’re still far too young for extended use like that.”

“Gryffindor!”

“I know, Poppy.”

“Bulsrode, Milicent.”

“Slytherin!”

He sighed. “Unfortunately it’s not our place to dictate how their houses conduct their affairs.”

“Corner, Michael.”

“Ravenclaw!”

Poppy grumbled.

“Crabbe, Vincent.”

“So long as they don’t expect pepper up,” she said.

“Slytherin!”

“I’m getting far too many students these days who think—“

“Davis, Tracy.”

“—they can push themselves to the magical edge and just fix it with a potion.”

“Slytherin!”

“Just don’t be surprised if I drag one or two of them up to the hospital wing.”

“Dunbar, Fay”

“Gryffindor!”

He pursed his lips.

“Entwhistle, Kevin.”

“I hope that won’t be necessary, Poppy.”

“Hufflepuff!”

He clapped extra enthusiastically for the wizarding world’s first newest member.

“Well, of course I also hope it won’t be…”

“Finch-Fletchely, Justin”

“…But, well… look at that boy there.” She gestured towards the line of unsorted students.”

“Hufflepuff!”

He glanced over to where Poppy had indicated. The Longbottom heir was resting his head on the adjacent girl’s shoulders, eyes closed.

“Finnigan, Seamus”

He frowned. If only Tom had chosen the Longbottom child. Low magical power, no brother, and no parents.

“Gryffindor!”

“Yes,” he said, slowly.

“Goldstein, Anthony.”

“I see the problem.”

“Ravenclaw!”

Poppy nodded and left to sit back down.

“Goyle, Gregory.”

“Slytherin!”

He clapped the new snake in, just as he had for every other child thus far.

“Granger, Hermione”

Whispers and murmurs filled the hall.

A girl with wavy brown hair walked towards the stool.

He furrowed his eyebrows. The muggleborn looked almost as exhausted as the heirs…

Professor McGonagall lowered her parchment. “Quiet, please!”

… And the robes…

The noise lessened.

The girl reached the stool.

…And the way she stood, even when clearly ready to fall asleep…”

Minerva’s eyes fell on the girl. He heard the old witch choke. “Miss Granger?”

The girl sat down. “Yes, Professor?”

Minerva glanced around the hall. “Would you care to explain why you are wearing a crest before you are sorted?”

His eyes widened.

“I am a —she stifled a yawn— a… vassal of my lord. Lord Slytherin. That is why I wear his crest.”

He tensed.

The whispers and murmurs started again.

How dare that man. His nostrils flared. To shackle a poor muggle family to his will… Slytherin was just like him back in his youth, and he’d seen where that lead. He clenched his jaw. But… at least the man had now showed his true colors — preying on the weak and vulnerable. Truly Dark.

Minerva stood, words forming but not emerging.

The hat, clutched in Minerva’s unmoving grip, twisted towards the poor girl and, without moving an inch toward the girl’s head, called out, “Slytherin!”

The Slytherin table erupted in a mix of enthusiasm and polite caution.

The girl stood and walked to the Slytherin table without so much as a backwards glance.

He stared at the girl’s back, half angry, half sad. As soon as the snake pit learned her heritage, she’d regret ever hearing the name Slytherin.

Minerva seemed to have gotten over her shock.

“Greengrass, Daphne.”

Oh. Of course. The Greengrass Heiress and Slytherin’s betrothed. Is that why he’d done it? To serve the young Heiress? Is that what muggleborns were to the young lord? Second class citizens, fit only to serve the noble houses?

“Slytherin!”

Greengrass made to sweep to her new table, but in her fatigue it came out more as a shuffle.

He sighed. He’d call the Granger girl into his office tomorrow morning and explain what Slytherin had done. Then they’d meet together with her parents and he’d advise them on how to break the contract, assuming it was even legitimate. With any luck they’d be free by the end of the week and he could offer to have the girl resorted.

The sorting continued to shuffle and stumble forward, until eventually…

“Potter, Harry”

Whispers again filled the hall.

And that was another reason to get the muggleborn out of Slytherin.

He shot off a mind probe as the true boy-who-lived strode to the hat. Worry. Fear. Excitement. Disappointment in his brother on the train. Mixed feelings towards a cute girl who’d helped him. Confusion about why everyone was interested in him. It was an extremely unorganized mind. Unorganized, but, on the other hand, also quite healthy. He withdrew and suppressed a sad frown.

And the boy looked healthy too. Sending him to be raised by muggles had been a risky move. Tom had been raised by muggles. He’d been almost certain Petunia wasn’t going to honor her sister’s request. Luckily, it seemed the Potter boy had been spared Tom’s hate and fear filled childhood.

Minerva placed the hat on the boy’s head.

Silence.

“Slytherin!”

Gasps filled the great hall.

He resisted the urge to nod. This was the outcome he’d have expected if his guess all those years ago had been accurate. Things were slotting into place better than he’d hoped. An isolated, muggle-raised, well-adjusted Harry Potter was the best of both worlds. He’d just have to make sure Severus kept a carful eye on things.

“Potter, John.”

This time, the whispers were too loud for Minerva to ignore. “Quiet! If I have to tell you again I’ll start giving out detentions!”

Amazingly, the young potter heir didn’t seem to be tired at all. Down, yes. A bit sad, yes, but not tired.

John Potter walked to the stool and had the hat placed over his head.

Silence.

Then, “Gryffindor!”

The table on the far left erupted.

John Potter stood up, gave a small, sad little bow, glanced towards the Slytherin table, and walked over to the clapping and cheering throng of Gryffindors.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Hermione huffed. “Honestly, does he have any humility?”

Daphne shrugged and stifled a yawn.

Tracy stared from her to Daphne through half-lidded eyes. Malfoy, Nott, Parkinson, Bustrode, Crabbe, Goyle, and Harry sat a little further up the table. They looked equally shattered. Well, all except Harry of course, she mentally added.

Minutes dragged by until, eventually…

“Zabini, Blaise.”

“Slytherin!”

The girls all clapped their dark skinned comrade. 

“Finally,” Daphne muttered as Blaise sat down next to her.

She acknowledged his arrival with a nod.

The evil headmaster stood up. “Now, I do have a few words for you all, but now is the time to eat, drink, and be merry. Dig in.”

The tables in front of them instantly filled with food.

She collected an assortment of potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, and roast beef onto her plate and began processing it.

Around her the sounds of the older years’s laughing and joking flowed into the vacuum that was the Slytherin first years.

She speared a slice of beef on her fork and looked across the table just as a matronly witch wearing white robes bustled up to Daphne.

“Miss Greengrass.”

Daphne looked around, mouth still full.

“I’m Madam Pomfrey, the school’s healer. I’m going to perform a check for magical exhaustion. Okay?”

Daphne swallowed her bite and nodded.

Despite her own tiredness, she couldn’t help pause with the beef halfway to her mouth. New magic.

Madam Pomfrey pointed her wand at Daphne and muttered an incantation that she couldn’t quite catch. The healer frowned when the tip of her wand lit up dark pink. “You’ve been using far too much magic today, just like all the rest of your peers, I suspect. Make sure you get a good nights sleep and come see me if you’re still tired by lunchtime tomorrow.”

Daphne nodded again, turned, and resumed her mechanical eating.

She continued to watch the healer as she moved up the table, stopping at every tired looking student. So, that was the diagnostic charm to test for magical exhaustion was it?

She frowned. Was it a charm though? It didn’t affect the properties of the target, after-all. But the book she’d bought said it was a charm. She took a bite of potato. Something to ask the charms professor about, maybe.

She continued to eat and surreptitiously snuck a small piece of beef into the pocket of her robes, in which a tiny snake under Harry’s command writhed in appreciation. Eventually the healer made her way around the table to where she sat.

“Miss Granger, is it?”

She turned. “Yes, Healer Pomfrey.”

“Just Madam Pomfrey while in school, Miss Granger.”

She hesitated. “As you wish, Madam Pomfrey.”

Madam Pomfrey nodded and a quick wand brandish produced a light pink light. “Well, Miss Granger, you’ve definitely been working yourself hard, but I’m glad you seem to be able to show restraint, your toxin levels are far lower than most of your peers.”

She felt her cheeks redden and nodded. “Can I ask a question, Madam Pomfrey?”

“Of course, Dear.”

“Is that a charm or something else? Because—“

Just then, a loud crash came from the other side of the hall. Madam Pomfrey whirled around. “Oh, please excuse me.” and with that she hustled towards the source, an audible, “Oh, I feared that,” issuing from her lips.

She pouted and craned her neck to spy a small party of Gryffindors, including John Potter, staring at the collapsed form of the Longbottom Heir. She turned back again to face her new comrades. “I guess it was a bit too much for some of us.”

Daphne, Tracy, and Blaise all grunted in unison.

The feast continued.

Warm food and peace filled her up. The food here was good, if a bit slanted towards high calorie fats, carbs, and sweets.

Suddenly she felt something that shouldn’t have been. The faint and gentle touch of a mind probe. She yanked on the probe and whipped around to identify the source of the attack. The lightning-fast vision of a bearded old man, fighting to get away from a rampaging dragon, shot through her mindscape, just as she found herself gazing into the shocked blue eyes of the chief warlock.

Her pulse raced. She clenched the fork in her hand, hard. For one moment, the two stared each other into eternity, and then, just as quickly, the moment ended. She released the probe and turned back to her dinner, fork still clenched hard enough to leave an imprint in her palm.

She glared at her food and stabbed an errant carrot.

So, that was the man who would happily throw Harry to the depths of hell. Not on her watch.

The main course gave way to dessert and there were no more attempts on her mind.

After despairing for the lack of low sugar dessert options, she chose a slice of blueberry pie. At least it contained some fruit.

The dessert ended. She placed her fork down, and turned back in her seat to face the front, just as the enemy stood back up.

“Now that you are all fed and watered, I do have some beginning of year announcements. Firstly, the forbidden forest is forbidden. We haven’t had a single death in fifty years and it’s a record I’d very much like to continue.”

She shuddered.

“The quidditch tryouts will be held in the third week of term and the dueling tryouts will be held in the first week of November. If you wish to tryout for your house team, please contact your house team captain.”

She nodded. She wasn’t doing either, but she would be lying if she said she wasn’t looking forward to watching her lord wipe the floor with everyone.

“The forbidden items list is now bigger and better and is available on the office door of our resident caretaker, Mister Filch.” The man paused. “And finally, we are currently doing maintenance on the third floor corridor on the right hand side. As such, that area is potentially dangerous and is out of bounds until further notice.”

She kept her face totally blank. So, Harry was right.

“And now, the school song!” He waved his hands in the air, allowing his purple robes, embroidered with stars, sequins, and glitter dust, to fall down his arms. The other professors looked like they wanted to be elsewhere.

Words sprang from the tip of the man’s wand and the entire school started a chaos filled cacophony of hectic hymns. The majority found a collective voice halfway through. A nice medium pace, leaving only the true mavericks breaking the flow. That included the red headed twins who’d ‘helped’ her on the train… and Harry.

The song finished.

“And now,” the evil man continued, wiping a happy tear from his two-faced face. “bed time — off you trot.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Daphne stood in the Slytherin common room. Granger stood to her right. Blaise and Tracy stood behind them. As soon as they’d entered the room, they’d been shepherded into neat columns and rows along with the rest of Slytherin House.

She wanted to go to bed. It was so close. But she was stuck standing here.

The common room door swung open and a figure swept into the room, past all the waiting students, and to the front of the gathering. Severus Snape. His hair was long and greasy. His robes were black and stained. His nose was crooked, and his whole air screamed deadly assassin. As Slytherin masks went, it was a good one.

“Welcome…” Snape began, “to the Most Ancient… and Noble… House of Slytherin.” A voice of silk and daggers.

“This house has a long tradition of cunning and ambition… of elegance, and…breeding.”

Beside her, she thought she sensed Granger tense up.

“In Slytherin House… we follow a strict code of unity and discretion. Any political… rivalries… will stay inside the house. Outside these walls we stand as one.”

She nodded. Unless her lord said otherwise.

“You will find that being in Slytherin House will grant you many privileges that other houses are not party to. The facilities here are one of the many advantages we hold over other houses. These facilities will remain secret… or else.”

Subtle.

“I am Severus Snape. Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House.” Snape turned and looked her right in the eyes. “And I am Head of Slytherin House. Regardless of what some of you… might believe.”

What?

She stared straight back, refusing to either rise to the bait or submit.

Snape turned away from her. His eyes briefly fell on Granger before traveling back over the assembled students.

“We hold our ancient traditions dear and we do not appreciate those families who might soil our ways with… Light ideals… and who destroy those who fight to uphold those ways.”

A quick glance confirmed Snape was looking at Harry now. She ground her teeth. Bastard.

Another quick glance at Granger showed her Slytherin mask was cracking, anger seeping through fissures, like larva through rock.

She nudged the witch and shot her a look. The mask instantly snapped back.

“In Slytherin House… members of those families will quickly find themselves persona non grata.”

She stared straight ahead. Focusing all her exhausted will power on a single spot of wall some five meters in front of her.

“You will all maintain the dignity expected of those of your station. If I catch any of you engaging in unseemly behavior, you will be punished.”

Translation — Don’t get caught.

“You will all maintain the highest academic performance as is expected from those with your magical advantages.”

Translation — Most of you know at least basic occlumency, but that’s no reason to slack off.

“And you will all show proper respect to those who have proven themselves your betters.”

“If you have any questions, go to a prefect. If you have to come to me and a prefect could have handled it, you will no be happy with the result. Don’t be late for classes tomorrow. There are no excuses.” And with that, Snape swept back out of the common room, pausing only to open and close the door behind him.

Daphne didn’t wait a moment longer. Bed was calling.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

The next morning, Hermione’s eyes snapped open. The bed felt wrong. Oh! She was at Hogwarts! She scrambled out of the silk sheeted bed and whispered the time spell. Seven o’clock. Breakfast would start any moment. She stripped off her brand new dressing gown and stepped over to the double-shower bathroom.

The beautifully warm water washed over her.

The door opened and she heard someone else enter. Another stream of water fell in the stall next to her’s.

The water was so nice and warm.

Minutes passed.

She shut off the water and exited just as an equally wet Daphne Greengrass left her stall. They stared at each other for a moment, wrapped in towels and dripping. The Greengrass Heiress hesitated, then continued on back to the dorm room. She followed.

Ten minutes later, they were both putting the finishing touches on their magically dried hair. She applied straightening charms, while Daphne was doing highlights with her wand.

They still hadn’t spoken a word.

Parkinson could be heard in the bathroom, arguing with Tracy and Bulstrode over shower time.

She made a mental note to get up an hour earlier tomorrow.

They finished their hair at the same time and started to put on their robes in unison.

She glanced at Daphne again. The girl seemed totally focused on what she was doing.

Socks were pulled on. Shoes were laced up.

Shouts of indignation still emanated from the bathroom.

They both stood up.

Daphne made as though to say something, but seemed to think twice.

She snapped.

“This is stupid! We need to talk about some things.”

Daphne paused on her way to the door and turned back. “Yes, that’s true.”

“Like, where exactly do we stand with each other? I mean, what was all that on the train yesterday? Do you want me to defer to you in public or what?”

“In public?”

“Yes, you know, where other people can see us.” She raised her right hand and wiggled her silver, lightning-bolt, ringed pinky finger.

Daphne’s face pinched.

She waited.

Daphne opened her mouth, then closed it again. Then, eventually, opened it again. “In public we can act as social convention would dictate we act. And in private we can act as social equals.”

“…”

“…”

She smiled. “Excellent. Shall we get breakfast then?”

Daphne stared at her. Then nodded, once.

Together, they left the dorm room, strolled through the common room, and made their way down to breakfast, trying not to look too suspiciously comfortable in the optimal route they took.

Ten minutes later, she sat opposite Daphne at the end of the Slytherin table furthest away from the head table. She inspected the breakfast offering, frowned, grabbed a small slice of bacon, and lowering it into her snake filled pocket. She idly wondered if she could get the house elves to serve fruit muesli.

Harry entered the hall, fresh and bouncy. She had to stop her face from betraying her feelings. She wanted to speak with him so badly. To greet and be greeted. To feel that warm feeling she always got around him.

Harry walked past her and sat in the middle of the table. Students on all sides shuffled away as though he had the pox. He took no notice and reached for the toast.

She bit back a scowl.

“Miss Granger?”

She turned. It was Professor McGonagall.

“Yes, Professor?”

“Headmaster Dumbledore wishes to speak with you in his office. The password is jelly beans.”

She adopted a carefully neutral expression.

“I’m sorry, Professor, but I have written instructions from my magical guardian that I may only speak with the headmaster in his presence.”

McGonagall frowned. “Miss Granger, our records show the Headmaster is your magical guardian.”

“Then I can only suppose the records haven’t been updated since my parents appointed Lord Slytherin as my magical guardian.” She tapped her first Slytherin vassal coat of arms that was still visible above the new, standard Slytherin arms.

The stern professor’s eyes flustered from her robes, to her face, to Daphne, and back to her again.  “May I see these written instructions?”

“Certainly.” She reached into her bag and handed over an official looking parchment.

McGonagall read. “Well,” the professor said, dropping the parchment to her side and looking around at nothing. “This is all… very unexpected.” McGonagall’s speech was breathy.” Do you have any idea why your parents did this, Miss Granger? Have you noticed any strange changes in their behavior? Perhaps subtle alterations like new interests or new habits. Has there been any—“

“—I hope, Professor,” Daphne interrupted, “that you are not accusing my lord of foul play?”

McGonagall’s lips thinned. “Miss Greengrass. It is most unusual for a…” the professor hesitated and glanced down the Slytherin table “…for a family in Miss Granger’s situation to hand over responsibility of their child to a total stranger. I am only doing what is necessary.”

She sighed, stood, turned and gave the now shocked professor a formal curtsey. “Professor, I am thankful for your concern and for the responsibility you are showing for my wellbeing. In this case, I hope I can put your mind at rest by saying that my lord has both mine and my parents full confidence, and that he has been nothing but straight with us in the time we have known him.

“Most of my lord’s concern is in leaving those under his care in the lone presence of a political rival who is also the most powerful wizard in the world. Regardless of his reputation for fair dealing, you must see this is a legitimate concern. You will find that Heiress Greengrass has identical written instructions from her parents for the same reasons.”

She glanced over at Daphne who nodded.

McGonagall seemed to consider this while fiddling with the bun of her hair. “Very well. If you’ll excuse me, I need to inform the headmaster of this development.” The transfiguration professor left.

She and Daphne shared a longer than normal look, before busying themselves, once again, with breakfast.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Daphne studied the strange shape hidden by a silk drape on the large desk at the front of the classroom.

“Students!” called the squeaky voice of Professor Flitwick. “You are now beginning your formal education of magic. Over the next seven years you will learn all the basics you need to be a proficient wand wielder.”

The shape was twice as tall as the diminutive professor, stood as he was on a stack of books on his own desk.

“In this lesson, we’re going to cover the basic magic theory, how magic flows, the units we use to measure it, and how some of the tools we use fit into this system. We’ll finish by using our wands to measure your current magical capacity.”

Granger was vibrating beside her, a look of total focus on her face.

“Let’s start with a simple question. What is magic?”

Granger’s hand shot up.

“Yes, Miss Granger.”

“Magic is a form of energy, which certain living things can store and use to manipulate reality.”

“Excellent. Two points to Slytherin.”

Granger beamed.

“Magic is, as Miss Granger said, a form of energy that exists all around us in another plane of existence, which we call the aether. The aether does not interact with physical things in anyway. The only way the aether interacts with us is through a thing which some living things possess, called a core.”

Flitwick hopped off the stack of books he’d been standing on, walked over to the shape hidden by the silk drape, and pulled, revealing a strange assortment of four glass spheres connected by tubes. The spheres were arranged like a diamond with a large sphere at the top, two smaller ones in the middle, and one last medium sized sphere at the bottom.

The professor waved his wand, and the windows closed, dimming the room.

Flitwick pointed to the highest and largest glass sphere. “This is our core. It absorbs raw magic from the aether at a constant rate and stores it.” The little professor tapped his wand to the sphere and they watched as a glowing blue liquid filled the sphere. Appreciative gasps filled the room. After a few moments, the sphere was full. It looked very pretty to her mind.

“The blue liquid represents raw magic. Now, our core is connected to our bodies, represented by these two spheres.” He indicated the middle glass spheres, which were both connected to the top glass sphere, full and glowing.

“When our magic flows from our core into our bodies, our core converts it into a more usable form — what we call ready magic.” He tapped the single tube which lead from the glowing sphere to the two empty middle spheres with his wand. Slowly, the glowing blue liquid started to flow from the first sphere into the tube where it split into the two separate spheres. As it passed into one of the spheres the liquid turned green — in the other sphere, it turned red.

Flitwick pointed to the green liquid now sloshing about in its sphere. “This is the ready magic in our body.” He pointed to the red liquid in the other sphere. “This is a toxin produced by our core when it turns raw magic into ready magic. Our body processes this toxin and flushes it from our system as quickly as it can.”

There was now only one empty sphere. It was connected to the sphere containing the green colored liquid.

“However, it is very difficult for our bodies to use magic directly. Humans have a very high ‘natural reluctance’ — Something you’ll learn more about in transfiguration class — So, to combat this natural reluctance, we use a wand.”

He tapped the final, bottom sphere and glowing green liquid started to flow into it from the middle sphere which held it. Eventually the bottom sphere filled up. “And there you have it!” The professor jumped back onto his pile of books. “The magical system of our bodies. From aether, to core, to body, and finally, to wand. Simple!”

Daphne grinned. She remembered going through a very similar lesson like this with Lady Davis not too long ago, although Tracy’s mum didn’t use the beautiful glassworks.

Beside her, Granger smirked. Presumably, Harry had taught her something similar.

“Now!” Flitwick called out. “We’re going to introduce two new concepts which will help us measure our magical power. You’ll want to bring out your parchment and quills for this bit.”

A series of groans filled the room, along with the scraping of chairs and rustling of bags and paper as people scrabbled for writing materials.

Flitwick waved his wand at the blackboard, and a stick of chalk lifted itself into the air and started to write on the board.

“The first is how we measure magic. How much magic does it take to cast a spell? How much magic does our core store? Or our wands? We measure this with a unit called the Merlin.”

The chalk wrote MERLIN on the board and underlined it twice. Next to that it wrote ‘— THE MERLIN IS DEFINED AS THE AMOUNT OF MAGIC THAT CAN BE STORED IN 100g OF IRON [M].’

“Do all of you have your wands?” the professor called out. There was a general call of yeses and nods while a few people brandished them, already in hand.

“Good, good. The number of Merlins that can be stored in your wand core is quite a bit higher than what can be stored in iron. Again, you’ll learn more about that in transfiguration.” He waved his own wand in the air. “Generally, your wand will store between 100 and 165 Merlins, depending on length and wand core.”

He looked out around her classmates. “Any questions?”

A girl she didn’t recognize raised her hand. “How many Merlins can our body hold?”

“Ah, good question. The number of Merlins our body will hold under normal circumstances is dependent on our lean body mass. One Merlin per kilogram. The larger you are, the more magic your body stores. Does that answer your question?”

The girl nodded.

“Any one else?”

No one moved.

“Okay.” He waved his wand towards the black board again. Again, the chalk floated into position. “The second measure we are going to cover today is the Flamel. The Flamel is a measure of how quickly magic flows or is being used.” The chalk wrote FLAMEL, underlined it twice, and then wrote ‘— THE FLAMEL IS DEFINED AS A CONSTANT FLOW OF ONE MELIN PER SECOND. [1 F = 1 M/s]’

Flitwick then waved his wand and two more glass apparati appeared on the desk. Both had a large glass sphere full of glowing green liquid that lead to an empty cylindrical glass beaker. The tube that linked the first sphere to its beaker looked bigger than the second.

“The system on the left hand side has twice the flow rate of the one on the right.” He waved his wand and glowing green liquid started to flow. “See how it fills up the beaker faster than its twin? If these were real wizards, the one on the right would be able to charge and cast spells twice as fast as the one on the left. His ‘flamelage’ would be twice as high.”

Flitwick looked around again. The sounds of quills scribbling on parchment filled the suddenly quietened classroom.

“Any questions?”

The same girl from before raised her hand again.

“Yes, Miss Roper?”

“What determines our flamelage, Sir?”

“Another good question. Take one point for Ravenclaw. We have several points in our body where magic flows, and each point will have a different flamelage. The point where raw magic flows from our core into our body for example. Or the point where ready magic flows from our bodies into our wands. Our core-to-body flamelage changes the most with age. Our wand flamelage, by contrast, is determined by our wand compatibility. There are some other ways flamelage changes but we’ll discuss that in a later lesson.”

Roper nodded.

“Now! Everyone take out your wands!” People started scrabbling again.

Daphne gave a flick of her wrist and produced her brand new hazel and unicorn hair wand. On either side of her, Granger and Tracy both had their wands in hand. Tracy had a massive grin on her face.

“The first spell we are going to learn is the lumos spell.”

A few scoffs were heard. She raised a single eyebrow.

“Now, I know that for some of you, this is very basic stuff. But please remember that some of your peers have never used even a toy wand before. The purpose of this exercise is not to develop casting skill, but to measure magical capacity.” He waved his wand at the chalk again. “The lumos spell is very useful for this.”

The chalk wrote, ‘LUMOS - PRODUCES A VARIABLE LIGHT BASED ON FLAMELAGE’

Flitwick turned back to them, away from the chalkboard. “Or, in other words, the more flamels you can produce, the brighter the light… I need a volunteer.”

Granger’s hand instantly shot into the air.

She gave the girl a half-lidded look.

Tracy giggled.

“Yes, Miss Granger, please come to the front of the class.”

Granger stood up and swept to the front of the classroom.

She spotted John Potter sitting several rows down, looking at Granger the way a just-kicked puppy might look at its owner. She smirked.

Flitwick produced an hourglass from under the desk.

“Now, Miss Granger, what I’m going to ask you to do is to hold your wand out in front of you and close your eyes.”

Granger did so.

“We’re going to go through a basic visualization exercise to enable you to cast the spell. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time. That’s very common. Now, imagine it being really dark, so very dark that you can’t see anything. You also know there is a monster nearby but you can’t see it. You also know that this monster is afraid of the light and that if you can produce light, you’ll be able to get away. Can you imagine that?”

Granger nodded.

“It’s really dark and you need that light. You need it right now. Now, cast the spell!”

“Lumos!” The dimmed classroom lit up. Illuminated by a single point of strong light.

Flitwick turned the hourglass over. The sand started to fall. “Oh, very well done, Miss Granger, keep it just like that, yes, that’s it, just like that.”

Granger opened her eyes and stared at the light. A thousand laughs danced in her eyes.

Flitwick tipped his own wand to the tip of Granger’s and muttered an incantation of his own. The professor’s wand shot out a number, much like a tempus spell shot out the time — 12.07.

The light shone brightly for a little while more, then, suddenly, it dimmed, not going out, but not nearly as strong as before.

Flitwick flipped the hourglass over and tapped his wand on the top. Another number shot out of the wand — 18.42.

“The first number is the flamels Miss Granger is capable of producing. The second is how long she can keep that rate of flow up before the reserves of her wand and body are drained. Multiply the two together and you get what we call the maximum immediate reserves — the maximum number of Merlins that Miss Granger has access to at full power.”

The chalk on the board wrote ’12.07M/s x 18.42s = 222.33M’.

Once those reservers were used up, Miss Granger only had what little magic flowed directly from her core, which almost always has a much lower flamelage than our wands have. That is why the lumos spell eventually dimmed.

Flitwick glanced at the wand held in Granger’s hand. “That is quite a wand, Miss Granger. Dragon heartstring I presume?”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Good, good. Well done. Three points to Slytherin. Please sit down.”

Granger walked back up towards her and Tracy, looking very pleased with herself.

“What I want you all to do now is practice the lumos spell. Once you’re sure you can cast it at full power, I will measure your maximum immediate reservers. If you are waiting or finished, please read and make notes on chapter one of An Introduction to Magical Theory.

Daphne jabbed her wand. “Lumos.” A bright light lit the end of her wand. She was pretty sure it wasn’t quite as bright as Granger’s had been.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Headmaster Albus Dumbledore read the letter again. He wasn’t sure what to think. He’d just got back from checking the ministry records and Miss Granger’s parents had indeed appointed Lord Slytherin as their child’s magical guardian. That wouldn’t be easy to reverse. Not without the Grangers willing assistance. Not only that, but Lord Slytherin appeared to have put it into the head of both the girl and her parents that he was dangerous enough that he shouldn’t be left alone with a child. Him. The headmaster of a school. Did Slytherin really believe that? Or was it just a ruse to distance this family from those who might clue them in to the power he now wielded over them?

The door to his office opened. He pocketed the letter.

“Ah, Professor McGonagall. Are we ready?”

Professor McGonagall stood in the doorway, wrapped in her hardworking traveling cloak. “Yes, Albus.” She hesitated. “I really don’t know where all this came from. They seemed to be a perfectly normal muggle family when I talked to them last year.” She coughed. “Although, now I think about it, they might have been a bit more accepting of everything than most muggle families are.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Let’s hope we can get this all straightened out as soon as possible. I do have an appointment with Gringotts straight after, and I don’t need to say how dangerous it is for Miss Granger’s family right now.” He walked over to the floo and threw a pinch into the fire place. “Crawley.”

A few minutes later, they walked towards the house in question from the deputy headmistress’s apparition point. He stopped and caught McGonagall with his hand.

“Albus?”

“Something’s not right. There’s so much magic in the air I can feel it from here.” He drew his wand and carefully stepped forward, McGonagall following behind.

He stopped again, and pointed his wand into a spot a few feet off the pathway, towards one of the muggle residences.

“That’s the Grangers house, Albus.”

He stepped back. “It’s warded.”

McGonagall gasped. “What does this mean?”

“It means, that there is more going on here then just a pureblood preying on muggle families. These wards are expensive. I recognize many of them.”

“Not all?”

He shook his head. “No, my dear professor. Not all.”

He stood and looked at the ward line.

“So, what should we do, Albus?”

He turned towards his deputy and gave her his twinkly eyed smile. “I guess we knock and see if anyone’s home.”

He stuck his wand into the outer ward and pulsed a stream of pure magic into it. Next to him, McGonagall did the same.

He waited, wand still held in the ward. A few moments later he felt an answering pulse shoot up the elder wand into his body. A nod from McGonagall showed that she too had been accepted. They unlatched the gate and stepped onto the property.

Walking up to the front door, he could feel the powerful ward magics sweep over him, probing him, judging him. He never thought he’d feel this kind of magic from a muggle residence. It was eerie.

The door swung open just as they reached it. A well dressed young woman stood in the door.

McGonagall froze. “Mrs. Granger?”

He glanced backward to look questioningly at his deputy.

“Professor McGonagall,” said the now identified Mrs. Granger. Her voice was light and cheerful.

He turned back to the young woman.

“And Headmaster Dumbledore too. What a surprise. And to what do we owe this pleasure?”

We? He looked around.

“My husband is in the sitting room. Please follow me.” The woman turned and lead them away.

McGonagall seemed to unstick herself. “Mrs. Granger, may I ask how you came across those clothes?”

“Twillfitt and Tatting’s. Nice, aren’t they?”

McGonagall had no time to reply before they entered the sitting room.

A man, presumably Mr. Granger, stood up from the far side of the room. The man’s clothes were no less respectable than his wife’s, if a bit plain for his tastes.

“Professor McGonagall,” Mr. Granger announced in a strong, jovial voice, “Glad to see you again, after almost a whole year. And Headmaster Dumbledore. The chief warlock himself.” Mr. Granger motioned them both to sit down in the two arm chairs opposite where he’d been sitting. He then sat back down himself, while Mrs. Granger sat on his right. “Fire whisky?” He started pouring a dram.

“No, thank you, Mr. Granger,” he said, without thinking. “We’re here to ask—“

“—An where did yon get that?”

He looked askance at his deputy, who stared at the bottle held in Mr. Granger’s hand.

Mr. Granger looked at the bottle as if he’d only just noticed it. “Oh, Lord Ogden gifted a crate to our lord last christmas, and he graciously passed on a half dozen bottles to us. Good thing too, this variety is tricky to find, so I’m told.”

“Tricky to find?” Mcgonagall sounded incredulous.

He looked between his deputy and the Grangers.

Mr. Granger held the tiny glass to the straitlaced deputy headmistress.

McGonagall seemed to fight a small war with herself.

“Go on, Professor,” said Mr. Granger. “You only live once.”

The war ended with the forces of straitlace routed. McGonagall took the glass and slowly drank as though from the elixir of life.

“Now, Headmaster.” Mr. Granger turned to him. “What do we have to discuss? I hope Hermione isn’t in trouble already.”

“Well, we hope not, Mr. Granger. We’re a bit concerned about your choice of magical guardian.”

Mr. Granger frowned. “And how does this concern Hogwarts?”

“Lord Slytherin is a man about whom little is known. No one knows what he wants or what he is doing. He keeps secrets and doesn’t tell people what is really going on.”

Mr. Granger smiled. “Ah, I understand. Kind of like how Hogwarts didn’t mention about us not having even half responsibility for our own daughter?”

He stared.

Beside him, Mcgnagall choked on her drink.

Mrs. Granger shifted in her seat. “Or about both us and our daughter being subject to a completely separate set of laws from the mundane government, in which we are third-class citizens and have no representation.”

He stared some more.

“Or about what inevitably happens to muggleborn children who refuse a magical education?” Mr. Granger’s voice was a bit more pointed now.

He flinched and glanced at McGonagall, who’d paled.

“Or about how much discrimination our daughter will face in the future? About how many built-in advantages older families have? Both legal and magical?”

“Or about how only eleven years ago, Magical Britain was in the middle of a civil war, in which people like us and our daughter were hunted down like dogs and slaughtered by a guerrilla organization, many of the members of which then skipped prison because they were rich and powerful?”

“About how if we became inconvenient for certain people, we could disappear right from our own beds in the middle of the night and nothing we did alone could stop that?”

“Now that’s not true.” That at least he could defend.

“Oh, really? How many muggleborn families survived the last war with the dark lord?”

His stomach dropped and his shoulders slumped. He looked into Mr. Granger’s flinty eyes. When his voice emerged it sounded older than he’d ever heard it. “Okay, I think you’ve made your point. Perhaps we aren’t as open as we would like to be with muggleborn parents. But what would you have us do?” He stretched his hands, palms faced out. “The truth would simultaneously enrage and terrify them, and alienate them from their own children. Many would blame them. Families would be torn apart.”

Mrs. Granger reached for the bottle and poured herself a glass. “Some would, yes. But that could be ameliorated by doing what our lord did for us. He protects us. He brought us into his family and granted us what rights and privileges it is within his power to grant.”

“Mrs. Granger, with the greatest respect, the wards around your property cost a small fortune and to give them to every muggleborn family would be far beyond the resources of Hogwarts.”

She smiled, sweetly. “Well then, I will go to bed tonight happy in the knowledge that we serve a man who has not only the words, but also the powers to keep me, my husband, and my daughter safe.”

He snapped. “Doesn’t it worry you that you know nothing about this man?”

Mr. Granger smiled and looked him straight in the eyes. “Speak for yourself, Chief Warlock.”

His eyes widened in shock for a flash of a moment. Mr. Granger knew something and the man’s eyes were fixed on him. They were right there. He reached out his magic between them, there was a flash of white light, and he felt a sad little yank just behind his navel.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Daniel Granger stared at the space where, just before, the most powerful wizard in the world had sat. He leaned back in his seat and sighed.

“What happened?” McGonagall jerked up and whipped out her wand.

He clutched the golden head-of-house Granger ring on his hand like a child might clutch a blanket. “The headmaster attempted to use some kind of offensive magic on me — legilimency, I suspect. The wards shielded me, then ejected him. He’ll be several miles away in a local park.”

McGonagall swung towards the door, wand still in hand.

“Please stop waving that thing around, Professor.” Emma reached forward and patted the far side of the small table between them.

McGonagall whirled back around and fixed his wife with a wide eyed stare. He could hear the woman’s breathing.

“Why don’t you sit down and tell us about how Hermione is doing. And yourself. We haven’t seen each other for a whole year after all.”

The old witch stared for several more seconds. Eventually she sat down and took a deep breath. “If…If Albus did try to use legilimency, then I apologize on his behalf.”

He made a noncommittal gesture. “Maybe we’ll have a conversation about that some other time. In the meantime, what about Hermione? How is she fitting in?”

The professor seemed to take a moment to collect her thoughts. “I have not actually had a class with her, yet. But I do have transfiguration with her at one o’clock.”

He glanced at the clock and shared a quick, magic-is-awesome glance with Emma.

“She is in Slytherin.”

Emma grinned. “Well, of course she is. Ambitious and cunning, sounds like our Hermione.”

“Well, yes, but, a muggleborn in Slytherin… it is not going to be easy for her. You wished for honesty, and that is the honest truth.”

He smiled a smile of glass and flint. “I think you underestimate our little girl’s capabilities. And anyway, she has allies.”

“Oh. Yes. The Greengrass heiress.”

He maintained a carefully blank face. “Indeed.”

Emma poured the professor another dram. “Perhaps we could quickly talk about healer training? It’s something Hermione brought up after she got her wand.”

McGonagall’s face relaxed. “Certainly. Well, the options are…”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Dumbledore picked himself up from where he’d fallen on a well manicured grass lawn. He brushed himself down. Damn. He shook himself. That was a mistake. Ugh. He was getting old.

He looked around. It looked like a muggle park.

Wards like that wouldn’t have deposited him far, so he must still be in Crawley. Professor McGonagall hadn’t joined him, so presumably she was still with the Grangers. That was good. Maybe she could learn something more useful.

He frowned. The Grangers were convinced that Slytherin was a protector. And to be fair, the man certainly had invested a lot of money into giving the Grangers magical protection powerful enough to stop even him. Slytherin had done far more for this muggleborn family than he had ever been able to. Was he mistaken about Lord Slytherin? But then, why did Slytherin seem to distrust him so much? It made no sense. Slytherin still wouldn’t speak with him. After all these years.

He sighed. What he really needed was a iron clad reason to speak with the man. One that Slytherin couldn’t refuse and still maintain his image with those he led.

He stilled.

Oh, he was being stupid! He reached into the pocket of his robes and brought out the letter Lord Slytherin had written, baring him from speaking with Miss Granger without her magical guardian’s presence. He smiled and let out a held breath. Of course. That’s how he could get his meeting with Lord Slytherin. Now he just needed to find a valid academic reason to speak with Miss Granger.

He looked off into the distance. But first, he had an appointment with the goblins to keep. He focused on the nearest apparition point to London and vanished.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Hermione sat next to Daphne in the transfiguration classroom. A blank piece of parchment lay in front of her. Her quill was ready inked and lay perfectly parallel to the parchment.

A cat padded down the aisle past her and jumped onto the desk.

She stared at it.

“Professor McGonagall is a cat animagus,” Harry had said.

She smirked.

Out of the corner of her eye, Daphne did the same.

A large bell sounded, indicating the start of class. Several minutes after that, two more students hurried into the classroom, looking relieved at dodging their presumed teacher based reprimand. One of them was Dean Thomas.

The cat leapt from the table and resolved itself into the upright and stern visage of Professor McGonagall.

The late student’s faces fell.

“Thank you Messrs Thomas and Finnigan. Please take your seats and if you are late again, I shall turn you into a clock.”

The professor walked down the aisle.

“Welcome to transfiguration. The magic of transforming objects into alternate forms. You will soon be shocked to discover that in the next five years, you will only learn five actual spells in this class.” The old witch paused and walked back up to the front of the lecture room.

A few of her classmates did indeed look surprised. Not her, of course.

“This is because one spell will cover almost all our efforts up until your NEWTs.” McGonagall pointed her wand at a goblet on the desk in front her. It turned into a small statue of a knight on horseback. Another wave of her wand turned it back. She then picked up the goblet and pointed her wand at the table itself. The desk turned into a pig.

“I just used the same spell on both the goblet and the desk, the general transfiguration spell.” McGonagall said, turning the pig back into a desk again. “This is the spell we shall spend the majority of our time with.” You may well be able to cast the spell by the end of this class. But to master it, will take a lifetime.”

She diligently wrote down, ‘Point 1. General transfiguration spell - lifetime to master.’

“To cast the general transfiguration spell we channel our ready magic through our wands with intent to affect the change.”

McGonagall picked up a stick of chalk and wrote — A SPELL IS READY MAGIC WITH INTENT. “This applies to all magic, not just transfiguration. When you cast a charm, or a jinx, you are doing the same thing. Of course, for the spell to work, magic has to also agree with your intent, and that often requires additional actions. Hence, magic words, wand motions, rituals, etc.”

She copied this down too. She already knew it, but that was beside the point. Good students wrote things down.

“When we cast the transfiguration spell on an object, we channel the spell into the object. The object will continue to change as the intent channeled into the object changes.” The professor wrote — A TRANSFIGURED OBJECT HOLDS THE SPELL WITHIN ITSELF.

“When the magic in the object reaches zero, the object reverts back to its original form.”

McGonagall then reached under the desk and brought out two large glass bowls, a block of wood, and an hourglass.

“Class, please watch closely.”

She leaned closer to get a better view.

McGonagall placed the block of wood in the first bowl, flipped the hourglass, and pointed her wand at the wood through the bowl’s top. The wood turned into water.

“I have just channeled a tiny amount of magic into the wood.”

The professor looked down at the bowl and glanced at the hourglass. Several seconds later the wood turned back into water. McGonagall tapped the hourglass — 5.09 seconds.

“This time, the transfiguration lasted five seconds. Now, watch what happens this time.”

McGonagall turned the wood back into water, but this time, she poured half the water into the second bowl. The moment the water in the second bowl lost contact with the water in the first, it turned back into wood, a block, just like it had been before, but half the size. The first bowl, though, still contained water. They waited. They waited some more.

The water turned back into wood. McGonagall tapped the recently re-flipped hourglass — 9.65 seconds.

“Can anyone tell me what just happened?”

Her hand could not have moved faster.

“Yes, Miss Granger?”

“Once you poured half the water into the second bowl, it lost contact to the spell, so it turned back into wood. The first half then had only half as much mass to keep transfigured, but the same amount of magic, so it stayed transfigured twice as long.”

“Well done, Miss Granger. Two points to Slytherin.”

She beamed.

McGonagall wrote on the board — TRANSFIGURED OBJECTS USE UP THE MAGIC IN THEIR SPELL UNTIL THERE IS NO MAGIC LEFT.

The professor transfigured the wood into water again and then held the bowl up high so their attention was focused on it. Her voice was loud and sharp. “If you were to take a sip of this, you would end up with a mouth full of wood or sawdust. If you were able to drink this, all in one go, without the contact being lost between the liquid stream, you would end up with a stomach full of transfigured water. This would be a very bad thing. The water would gradually turn back into wood as individual molecules were absorbed by your stomach. This would cause severe damage to your stomach lining. You should never drink or eat anything that has been transfigured. Ever.

She grimaced. Harry had described some of the more graphic results that could be achieved with transfiguration if you were really trying hard enough. Just thinking about them made her squirm. The class seemed to have the same idea. One Hufflepuff girl in particular didn’t look well.

McGonagall put the bowl down on the table. “If we kept this transfiguration active for long enough, we would start to see a thin film forming on the top of the water — wood dust from the water molecules that evaporated from the water and lost their transfiguration.”

Under the last blackboard line, McGonagall wrote — IF YOU ARE UNCERTAIN IF SOMETHING YOU ARE ABOUT TO EAT OR DRINK CONTAINS MAGIC, CHECK FIRST!

“After the general transfiguration spell, we will learn the spell that checks an object for the presence of magic. If the object contains magic do not consume it.”

A tentative hand was raised towards the front.

“Yes, Miss Roper?”

“What about those chocolate frog things? They contain magic don’t they?”

Several rows down, she heard Malfoy mutter, “stupid mudblood.”

Her eyes narrowed.

Professor McGonagall paused. “Yes, they contain animation magic. However, they are sealed in special packages to prevent tampering. So long as you have just opened one, it should be safe to eat. But if you are still uncertain, there are more advanced spells to determine the exact nature of the magic an object contains. We will not be learning them until much later though.”

She swept from the blackboard to stand in front of the desks.

“Now, I am going to hand each of you an iron nail, and you are going to attempt to turn it into a small wooden spoon, like so.” A nail turned into a tiny wooden spoon.

A few minutes later, a tiny wooden spoon lay in front of her. She beamed and fought not to look to Harry for praise. She looked to Daphne instead. Another tiny wooden spoon, identical to hers, lay in front of the blonde witch. She caught Daphne’s eye and got a courteous nod in return.

She pouted and looked around the classroom. Except for Harry and his Gryffindor brother, no one else was even close to the two of them. It was amazing to think that, in the second timeline, she’d still been at the top of the class, even without Harry’s advanced occlumency training and while hanging around with… with…. She looked over at the red-headed boy next to Harry’s brother, who gave his nail an unsuccessful, half-hearted poke and then complained about being bored…. With that.

As it was, this felt like child’s play.

She let out a short breath through her nose.

“Daphne,” she started.

Daphne turned.

“Has our lord ever shown you that trick where he transfigures many different objects, builds something with them, and then times the magic to run out at the exact same time, leaving all the objects still standing?”

Daphne looked between the two spoons on their respective desks. “Yes…”

“Do you think we could do it?”

Daphne snorted. “Holding a transfiguration on 100g takes two milliFlamels. These nails weight, what? Maybe 10g?”

“Well, okay, I know we won’t get it exactly, but wouldn’t it be interesting to try and get close? It’s not as though we’re doing any else useful at the moment.”

Daphne looked around. “What would we use to measure the time? The tempus spell isn’t exactly good for this, is it? And we don’t have one of those hour glasses.”

She paused. It was a good question. She thought for a few moments. “Iron can only hold a certain amount of magic, right?”

“Yes, one Merlin per 100g. We just did that in charms.”

“Right, so the longest time for a transfiguration on iron is?” The question hung in the air.

Daphne’s eyes sharpened. The witch pulled her parchment towards her and scribbled on it for a few moments.

She glanced over at the parchment and saw arithmetic of the type Harry had practiced with her years ago.

“Seven minutes, twenty seconds,” the blonde announced.

“So we could use a piece of transfigured iron as our clock, and then practice on something else, something that can hold more magic. We could try to only pump in enough magic to match the iron’s transfiguration time.

Daphne nodded slowly. “That sounds… like it would work.” The pretty witch frowned. “But isn’t waiting over seven minutes a bit long? Wouldn’t it be better to use something with a lower maximum capacity?”

“…I guess.”

“Miss Greengrass? Miss Granger?”

She looked up. The surprised form of professor McGonagall loomed over them.

“Did you both do these?” McGonagall picked up one of the tiny spoons.

“Yes, Professor,” Daphne answered.

McGonagall put the spoon down and took a deep breath. “Very well done, the both of you. Two points to Slytherin each.” She glanced down at them. “Please do slow down a bit though. I do want Gryffindor to have some chance at the cup this year.”

The corner of her lips tugged upward. It wasn’t Harry praise, but it was something.

“Professor?” Daphne interjected. “Could you tell us what the lowest capacity material known is?”

The professor’s eyebrows raised. “Why do you want to know, Miss Greengrass?”

“We were thinking of practicing precision in the amount of magic we use, but we don’t have a measurement device.”

McGonagall hesitated. “Oh. I see what you were thinking of doing. There’s really no need for that. I’ll lend you the hourglass, just let me get it.” And with that, the professor left to fetch it.

“Well, that’s convenient,” she said.

Daphne nodded.

Tracy landed between them. “You two are finally talking!”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Albus Dumbledore was led into a well appointed goblin office.

“Greetings, Clan Leader Goldtooth.”

A large, well dressed goblin wearing a sword by his side, stood up from behind his equally large mahogany desk, and smiled a twenty-four carat smile. The Goldtooths were well named.”

“Greetings, Chief Warlock. Please. Sit.”

He did so. There were few formalities between those who spoke the underground warrior tongue.

“I assume you are here about the”—the goblin dropped his voice in a show of mock secrecy—“You-know-what in vault 713?”

He smiled. “Indeed. I hope there haven’t been any problems?”

Goldtooth grinned again. “None what so ever. A few goblins expressed an interest, but as soon as they learned that the immortal alchemist had provided his own special brand of defense, they didn’t even bother to enquire further. And it’s not as though gringotts needs another one.”

“Good good.” It had taken a lot of work to persuade Nicholas to entrust him his most prized possession. But even then, his mentor and teacher had insisted on adding his own final defense.

The goblin shuffled a stack of papers. “I’m surprised you are picking it up this late.”

“Yes, we had to upgrade security. I decided the previous plans were not fit for purpose.”

The goblin fidgeted. “You know I’ve said before that Gringotts security is more than sufficient for holding items like this?”

His eyes twinkled. “Ah, yes, but not for the type of purpose I have in mind, Clan Leader.”

Goldtooth sighed. “Very well, Chief Warlock, you know your own business best, I’m sure.”

He looked up at the ceiling. “On that note, has there been anything of interest in our efforts to learn about our mysterious, masked wizarding clan leader?”

Goldtooth scowled. “Nothing. The Boneslicer clan are keeping their interests as close as ever. Various clans have lost several of their best fighters in just the last year trying to wrest control of various accounts from them.”

He nodded. If Goldtooth was to be believed, the loyalty Lord Slytherin received from the Boneslicer clan seemed almost as much as what he received from the Goldtooths. It was disconcerting. Especially since he knew what he’d done to warrant it.

“If there is nothing else, shall I have you shown to the vault?”

He shook himself from his thoughts. “Yes, Clan Leader.”

Some time later, he stood in front of a large ornate looking mirror, staring at the image of his long dead sister, an equally dead Gellert, and his still living brother, all standing around him and smiling happily.

Gellert looked him in the eyes and mouthed words that tore at his heart. “I forgive you, Albus.”

He sighed. “Nicholas, you truly are a demon.”

He ignored the other four figures, standing far off in the distance behind his destroyed family. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his special shrunk trunk, and enlarged it. The trunk sat as wide and long as he stood tall. A powerful wand-wave levitated the entire mirror, and a second wand-wave hovered it over the open trunk, down into its depths, and onto the expanded space’s floor with a light thunk.

He flicked the extra large trunk closed with another wand wave and shrunk it with a single wand poke.

He turned to leave. He wasn’t looking forward to setting up his own final addition to Nicholas’ work. Not at all.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Several hours later, back in his office, Dumbledore took off his moon shaped glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“John, my boy, you simply cannot act like that in front of everyone.”

John Potter sat in the large chair in front of him, eyes defiant and aflame. “You said it yourself, Headmaster. You said he’s a danger.”

He sighed. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean you can openly attack him like that. You shouldn’t attack him at all. I never meant for you to be that… antagonistic towards him.” He really hadn’t. Perhaps telling the other Potter twin about his brother had been a mistake. But how else was he to keep them apart?

“What about Ginny?” the boy half-shouted.

He gave a tiny shake of his ancient beard ladened head. “John, the unknown wizard or witch who’s been teaching young Miss Weasley occlumency duelled both of Miss Weasley’s older brothers, without a wand, and overpowered the Weasley family wards. Miss Weasley might call this person Harry, but it’s not your Harry.”

“But… But…”

He frowned. Something seemed off, but he wasn’t sure what. “John, is there something you need to tell me?”

The young man stiffened. “No, Headmaster.”

That was a very fast response. He studied the boy in front of him. The Potter heir had seemingly matured a lot over the past few months. But in other ways, the boy seemed more unstable than before. More focused? More determined? Certainly more powerful. Half the spells Miss Clearwater reported John using were fourth year spells, and both his rate of casting and duration should have been beyond him. If the wards hadn’t reported him as being John Potter, he’d have suspected foul play.

But it was still troubling. Even more so because of Harry. If John was this powerful, It was likely Harry would be too.

He kept his sapphire gaze on the boy. Eventually he looked away. “Forty points from Gryffindor for initiating an unsanctioned duel and one weeks detention with Mister Filch, Mister Potter.”

John nodded, stiffly.

“You may go, John. Please be more carful in the future.”

John left.

He sunk a bit lower in his massive chair. Sometimes he hated his job.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

John Potter slammed the door to the Gryffindor first year dorms behind him.

It was official. He wasn’t going to get any help from anyone in power to restore the timeline, or to ensure that the proper outcome came about. Ever since he’d come back in time he’d been floating along, letting most things happen just like they had last time, with just a few changes here and there to improve his position.

But, things hadn’t happened like last time, had they? Things weren’t the same, and it was looking more and more like he was dealing with events that he just didn’t know about.

Seeing Hermione wearing Slytherin green, hanging around the Greengrass heiress, and gliding around as though every day was the yule ball, hurt. Hurt so much. And he didn’t want to admit it, but without Hermione, he wasn’t as well off as he’d been even last time around. Oh, he had Susan now, who was cool in her own way, and Padma, and maybe a few others, but none of them was a replacement for the formerly bushy-haired, genius muggleborn.

He padded over to the window, drew back the curtain and surveyed the Hogwarts grounds. A faint mist hung over the open grass.

His eyes narrowed.

If he was going to do this, it was going to have to be with his power. He couldn’t rely on anyone else. Not any more. Not with all the changes. That meant he didn’t have any choice but to be better. He was eleven. But he had the core of a fifteen year old. That meant that when he was fifteen this time around, he’d have the core of twenty year old. And he knew he was beyond the top tier of power for his year to begin with.

Would that be good enough to fight Voldemort? It would have to be.

He clenched the curtain in his fist.

That meant he’d have to train. He’d have to get better. And he was going to start—

His stomach growled.

…right after dinner.

 

Chapter Text

Daphne sighted down her wand and loosed a bight red stunner on the wooden target dummy.

The Slytherin dungeons were exceptionally well equipped. They had a duelling range, a potions lab, and a small library. Harry had hinted there were other, more secure, places they could use later, but until they could set them up, she planned to make as much use of these facilities as possible.

Next to her, Granger lined up her own wand. “You don’t think we’re going to need this any time soon do you?” Granger asked, firing off her own stunner towards the dummy.

She frowned. Their first day at Hogwarts had gone well. Nothing too drastic had happened and today looked to be more of the same. But still…

She fingered her wand. “It’s better to be prepared than not.”

Granger lowered her wand. “You could just say, ‘I don’t know.’”

She kept her face blank. “‘I don’t know’ was part of my meaning.”

Granger tilted her head in a half-acknowledgement, turned, took a deep breath, and let loose a continuous chain of spells.

A few booths away, a group of older Slytherins were also training, making use of the time before breakfast to brush up on their skills, no doubt dulled by summer sloth.

Granger continued to pour magic into her target, muttering almost constantly under her breath, her spell casting fast, precise, and sustained. One stunner, one shield-breaker, one jelly legs jinx, and one more stunner. The standard stunner was medium speed and medium power, the shield-breaker did nothing to a human, but was very effective against a protego, and the jelly legs jinx was a super fast cast time threat meant to throw off an opponent for that crucial split second after their shield dropped. They called the combination the dueller’s hello and it contained the three non-shield combat spells Harry had taught her so far. Each of Granger’s spells flowed seamlessly into the next, an elegant dance of wand and hand movements, made all the more impressive by the witch’s occasional feints and ducks, dodging the pretend counter spells of an imaginary enemy.

She noticed the group of older Slytherins had paused and were eyeing them. The assumed leader detached himself from the group and sauntered over. She didn’t recognise the boy but he walked with a manor that screamed pureblood. She nodded at him and received a nod in return. The older boy stood a few paces away and watched Granger for a few more seconds before her casting slowed and stopped.

Granger turned.

“Good casting for a first year,” he commented. “I counted nine hellos before you slowed down. I assume you have at least one of them wordless?”

Granger stood a little straighter. “Yes, the stupefy, otherwise I’d never be able to keep that up for as long as that. I considered learning circular breathing but in the end I decided not to bother.”

The boy tilted his head. “Circular breathing?”

“It’s a technique that allows you to breath in through your nose while you breath out through your mouth, but I’m not sure how useful it would be when you can just learn to cast wordlessly.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “Where did you see that? I’ve never seen that before.”

Granger shrugged. “It’s not from around these parts.”

The boy eyed her Slytherin vassal crest.

Was that suspicion in his eyes?

“Rumours say your lord comes from New Zealand…”

Granger smiled sweetly. “I’m sorry, I can’t divulge my lord’s secrets.”

The boy nodded, as though confirming something to himself.

Daphne’s lightening bolt ring vibrated. Her heart leapt — a message from Harry. She instantly buried herself in her occlumency and started decoding.

The boy nodded and extended his hand to Granger. “Romulus Volf, of the Ancient House of Volf.”

Granger made to bring her hand to his but before she could grasp it, Volf snapped up her hand, bowed down, and brushed his lips across her knuckles.

She almost missed this, so focused was she on Harry’s message.

Granger smiled and raised an eyebrow. “Hermione Granger, of the House of Granger, Vassal of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin.”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Granger.” Volf straightened up. “I hope that you are planning to join the duelling team? I’ve already been approached by Heir Nott, but for you I’d happily kick him aside.”

Daphne,’ the message started, ‘meet me with Hermione around the back of greenhouse one a few minutes before herbology. - Harry.’

“Oh.” Granger hesitated. “I don’t know about that. I’m sure Nott is good at duelling, and someone better might turn up.”

She bit her lip. Harry planned to meet them? Yes, she was happy, but she thought the whole point of the first few weeks was not to meet. Something must be wrong.

Volf snorted. “I reckon with a few weeks training you could take most second years. You have the power for it. If you can save our second year duellist from dealing with his main opponent, we’ll be in a much better position. I doubt Nott could pull that off from the small amount I’ve seen of him so far.”

She really missed Harry. She fiddled with the cuff of her robes and stared off into the distance.

“Still, I was planning on working on some other projects…” Hermione mumbled.

“Look, how about you join the club as a temporary member. Then, when trials for the team happen in November, you can see if you still stand up to Nott? If Nott can’t improve enough to beat you by then, then you’ll probably be better than him for the tournament in April.

Wait, what? She snapped to attention and glanced between Granger and Volf.

Granger fidgeted and opened her mouth to reply.

“Wait.” She held up a hand to stall Granger. “How about she goes ahead and does that, but on the condition that if anyone can beat Hermione in a fair fight on the day of trials that you give them her spot?”

Volf stared at her. His eyes narrowed. “You… I will not tolerate anyone but the strongest being on my team.”

Whops.

She held up both her hands. “Of course.”

“I will put the person on the team, only if they can beat all the other first year candidates.”

“I wouldn’t suggest anything else.”

“Okay… then we have an understanding.” Volf nodded and took a step backwards. “Miss Granger, Heiress Greengrass.” He turned and walked back to his group.

She turned to Granger who opened her mouth.

“Not now,” she whispered. “Our lord wants us.”

The presumed question on Granger’s lips died in a half strangled squeal, quickly muffled by the witch’s own two hands clamped over her mouth.

“C’mon.”

An hour later found them standing in dew-fresh grass around the back of the massive glass structure of greenhouse one. There were no signs of Harry anywhere.

Granger shot her an anxious look.

Suddenly, a small bag fell at her feet. She picked it up. A pair of footsteps trod away from them through the grass, drawing their eyes to a faint outline against the background, shimmering in the soft morning air.

Granger pouted.

She inspected the insides to find a note, scrawled on parchment and wrapped around another package wrapped in brown paper.

D, He. I hope you’re doing well. I wrote this note on a transfigured lump of shale. It will revert at 9:00am. In the bag is the IC. I’m having problems investigating our main project for the year. There are gender specific wards around it, like in our dormitories, and I can’t get past them. Unlike the wards in the dormitories, they aren’t tied to Hogwart’s own wards. ‘His’ experience suggests they shouldn’t be there, but they are. I need you two to get past the first ward line and take readings on the next ward line, if there is one. Be carful not to trip any detection wards. Little boys are made of slugs and snails and puppydog tails. Keep an eye out for QM and the EH. Once you are done, buzz me to arrange pick up of the IC. Remember, I’m a single SOS call away. Can’t wait to see you both again. - Me

She looked up. Granger finished reading over her shoulder. She looked Granger in the eyes. They both nodded, turned, and quickly head to herbology.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Hermione stared in awe. The inside of greenhouse one was even larger than its outside. Birds chirped in the canopy above, butterflies swirled around her head, and she knew she could hear the distant roar of a waterfall in the distance. Around her, the other Slytherins and Ravenclaws all huddled around the fat and squat head of Hufflepuff house, waiting for their introduction. On the other side of the group she spotted Sophie Roper, fellow muggleborn. She edged towards her.

“Come students, all ears on me!” Professor Sprout called out. The general murmuring died down.

“Now, you should all have your books with you, 1001 Magical Herbs and Fungi. This will be your codex for the next seven years. Herbology may not have the wild wand waving of other subjects, but it is just as critical to your education. Can anyone tell us why?”

Her hand leapt up without seeming to pass through the space in between.

“Yes, Miss Granger.”

A few people rolled their eyes. Mmm… maybe she should tone down the answers a bit…. She took a deep breath. “Plants and fungi make up the majority of magical energy brought into our world through the aether. Over ninety-five percent of all magic in the world comes from plants and fungi, most of our permanent wards use plants or fungi as their source of magic, and most potions use plants or fungi for at least one ingredient.”

“Excellent, Miss Granger. Two points to Slytherin.”

She beamed. Yes, this was how the world should be.

“As Miss Granger said, plants account for most of the magic we experience around us. Wands may make us magical, but plants make the world magical.

“This year, we will be learning the basics of taking care of plants. We will be growing a batch of huntsman’s sorrow from seed to harvest. Can anyone tell me what’s special about this plant?”

This time, she kept her hand down.

“Anyone?”

On the other side of the group, Daphne raised her hand.

“Yes, Miss Greengrass?”

“Huntsman’s sorrow is a wizard bred plant that can only germinate with wizarding help. It’s used in healing and can amplify the effects of healing spells when applied to a deep wound.”

“Well done. Another two points to Slytherin.”

Daphne nodded once, Slytherin mask firmly locked in place.

She frowned.

“Now, get into groups of four. Quickly now!”

She started and looked around.

Sophie moved towards a workbench a half dozen meters away. She lunged for it, elbowing Terry Boot out of the way with a quickly mouthed apology.

She reached for one of the wooden chairs.

“Oh Merlin no, not you. This thing is complicated enough already.” On the other side of the workbench, Padma Patil of the Light and Lisa Turpin of the Dark reached for the two free chairs. Sophie joined them a moment later, sitting down next to her.

“What’s wrong?” asked Sophie. “Oh, hi Hermione, thanks for talking to me on the train.”

She smiled, “My pleasure.”

Patil glanced at Turpin, who in turn eyed her with weary eyes.

She nodded towards the two cautious witches. “Pleased to meet you Miss Turpin. Miss Patil — I don’t think we were formally introduced the last time we saw each other.”

Patil frowned and nodded. “No. It was rather hard to do that while you were shouting at the boy who lived.”

Turpin’s eyes widened. “She really?”

“Oh, yes.”

Sophie tilted her head. “Isn’t that the hero boy? Did you really shout at him, Hermione?”

She nodded. “I did. And Miss Patil here can tell you why.”

“Well, I could… or I could just ask you why you’re here.”

She made to look confused. “Sophie’s here. Why shouldn’t I be here?”

Sophie glowed.

Patil frowned. “But are you here as Miss Granger the muggleborn, or are you here as Miss Granger of the House of Granger, Vassal of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin?”

Sophie smile turned to confusion.

Turpin’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly.

“Can’t I just be here as Hermione?”

“You could,” Patil started, “but I don’t believe it. I don’t trust you.”

“Padma!” Sophie cried out. “Why did you say that? Hermione’s nice.”

“Is she?” Turpin interjected. “What about Harry Potter?” The girl glowered. “Why is all of Slytherin house ignoring him?”

Her eyes widened. “I’m not—”

“—Yes you are! Harry Potter’s nice, and all of Slytherin is ignoring him! Why?”

Sophie and Patil leaned back from the ranting burnt-brown haired girl.

She stared at the girl, dumbfounded. She swallowed. What could she do? Explain? The idea was unthinkable.

She suddenly realised the greenhouse was deadly quiet. Professor Sprout was nowhere to be seen. She felt many eyes all fixed on her.

Lisa Turpin’s eyes burrowed into hers, flared and angry. “Why?” The  repeated accusation stabbed her.

Her heart hammered. Her chest tightened.

“I…I…”

Her eyes started to sting.

A chair scrapped on the stone flagstones. “Thank you, Lisa.” Harry’s cheerful voice wafted over her. “But it’s okay. It’s just something I’m working out with my fellow Slytherins.” Slytherins scoffed throughout the greenhouse.

Turpin suddenly seemed to realise that everyone was watching her. The witch glanced towards some of the Darker tables, suddenly nervous. “Oh… Okay then,” Turpin trailed off.

“I really do appreciate you standing up for me like that, though. They’ll all come around eventually, I’m sure.” She could hear the grin in his voice.

More disbelieving scoffs filled the glasshouse. The chair scrapped again and the general hubub slowly started up again.

She looked at the burnt-brown haired witch and saw cheeks tinted with pink.

Sophie gasped. “Hermione, are you crying?”

She looked around wildly. The world was slightly blurry. “No.” She clamped down her rising feelings. “No, I’m not.”

Sophie reached into the pocket of her robes and passed her a handkerchief. “Here.”

She took it and dabbed at her slightly watery eyes. “Thanks, Sophie.”

On the other side of the table, Patil and Turpin watched her with wide eyes.

Sophie smiled. “No worries, Hermione. That’s what friends are for, right?”

She smiled back. If only Daphne could be more like that.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Daphne shivered.

The potions lab dripped, cold and dark. For every three torches in the Slytherin common room, the potions lab had only one, and not the warm orange of a campfire. No, these were closed bluebell flames, flickering their dim light across gray, un-plastered stone walls. It felt like being submerged in an underwater cave, still lingering fumes filling her lungs as surely as water might drown the helpless and the trapped.

She watched Professor Snape billow to the front of the classroom, cloak rippling in the eddy of some unseen and unfelt current. No one moved.

Snape turned. “You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making…”

The speech swept over her like a tide. Pretentiousness crashed on pretentiousness and told her little of their curricula for the next seven years.

“Potter!” Snape whirled on Harry, where she’d seen him sit at the back of the room. “What is the primary purpose of sycamore in potion making?”

“As an agitent, Professor.”

Snape paused and seemed to search Harry’s eyes for an age.

He whirled on her. “Greengrass, name a potion that uses boomslang skin.”

“Polyjuice, Professor.”

Snape paused again, but this time only for a moment.

“Granger!” Snape turned a fraction to where Granger sat a few feet from her. “How many turns does a simple boil cure potion require?”

“Seven, Professor — three clockwise and four anticlockwise.”

Snape paused… again. “Mmm… Let’s try another. Granger, how long must you keep a strengthening solution at boil before adding porcupine quills?”

“Thirty minutes, Thirty-five if the moon is gibbous, Professor.”

“What is the most difficult to find ingredient in felix felicis?”

“Luck, Professor.”

“What should you do immediately after adding death-cap to a solution containing activated salamander concentrate?

“Vanish the solution, shield yourself, or runaway if you don’t have a wand.”

“…”

“…”

“What potion… might you add silver to?”

Hermione hesitated. “…Wolfsbane, Professor?”

Snape pounced. “Why? Silver is toxic to werewolves.”

“It… it might act as to interfere with some aspects of the curse. Perhaps there are other potions elements that could counteract the harmful aspects of the toxicity?”

Snape sneered. “You’re just guessing.”

Daphne frowned. Snape was deliberately trying to get a raise out of Granger. She knew Harry had said the greasy haired professor would have problems with any perceived challenge to his authority, but this was something else.

Hermione reddened. “Yes, Professor.”

“Mmmmm….” Snape leaned forward and gazed deeply into Granger’s eyes.

Silence. Then both Snape and Granger snapped back as though they’d been slapped. Granger gasped. Snape clutched his head in one hand, his eyes flashing pure rage.

She sucked in her breath. He didn’t, did he?

“Granger!” Snape’s normally pale skin was red. “Come with me!”

Snape made to leave the room.

The rest of the class broke out in whispers.

She caught Granger’s eyes, furious brown gimlets giving all the confirmation she needed. She shook her head. No way would Harry just let that slide. Granger nodded in understanding.

“Sir?” Granger turned back to where Snape slammed open the door. “Where do you want me to follow you to?”

“Be quite, girl! And follow me now!”

“No, sir.”

“What?” Snape’s voice dropped to a deadly whisper, which nevertheless carried across the dungeon.

“You just attacked me. I have written instructions from my magical guardian not to be with the headmaster without his presence because he is concerned about my safety with him. Given that you just tried to attack me, I’m confident that sentiment will now extend to you too.”

“Stupid girl! The Headmaster is your magical guardian!”

Oh, Merlin. Daphne’s stomach dropped. Not here. Her eyes flew around the classroom, to all the wide, watching eyes.

“No,” Granger started.

Daphne tried to make urgent signals with her eyes.

“Lord Slytherin is my magical guardian.”

It was like watching a broom crash in slow motion.

Snape paused, his face one large triumphal sneer. “You expect me to believe that a couple of filthy muggles signed over their daughter to an arrogant, cowardly, no name?

Somewhere in the back of the room, a drop of water made an audible plop noise.

She dared a look towards the Darker Slytherins. Nott, Parkinson, Crabbe and Goyle all looked shocked. Malfoy had already passed shocked and moved onto disgusted fury. On the Gray side, Tracy and Blaise looked between her and Granger. Tracy shot her a what-the-hell-are-you-doing look.

Granger’s voice wavered only slightly. “I do not appreciate those words about my parents.”

“Enough! You will come with me or I will have you expelled!”

She took a deep breath. So it had come to this, already. She stood. “Professor Snape.” Her voice rang through the dungeon like a bell. “Despite your comments to our house yesterday, you are only head of the Hogwarts branch of Slytherin House at the discretion of my lord Slytherin. If my lord wishes it he can take control of the Hogwarts branch back from you.”

This was technically true, but did present some inconvenient problems, which they really didn’t want to deal with just now. She was sure she could hear Snape’s teeth grinding from across the room.

The Gryffindors all watched with bated breath. John Potter looked torn between horror and awe.

Snape drew his cloak around him. “And you think this Lord Slytherin will listen to you?”

“I am his betrothed.” She glared at Snape, annoyance seeped through her body even as she felt her magic seeping out of her body. She didn’t care. Her whole world focused on the six foot of enemy in front of her.

“And why should I believe that he views you as anything more than a silly little girl to carry his heirs and pretty his arm?”

Gasps filled the dungeon.

Fury and frustration threatened to break through her cool hard mask. She fought it down and glared straight into Snape’s eyes. Her magic continued to flow. Her hands numbed.

“Then allow me to make this clear to you, Professor.” She sneered the title with all the distain she could muster. “My lord Slytherin gave me express instructions that if you threatened or attacked me or Hermione, that we should contact him and he would remove you as head of house, and ensure that you could never again step foot inside the Slytherin dungeons — an action for which he has every legal right and total magical capability.”

Snape glared.

“Maybe we should get back to the lesson and cease this foolish charade, Professor.”

Snape stood at the top of the stairs, stock still and silent.

“Class dismissed!” he snapped, before storming out.

She sat back down and let out a deep, slow breath. Granger’s wide eyes met hers and then dropped to her hands. She glanced down. Her hands had been gripping the back of her chair so hard her knuckles were white — white from her skin, white from the pressure, and white from a thin layer of ice crystals, which traveled from the tips of her fingers, up the back of hands, and halfway from the cuffs of her robes to her elbows. Daphne shivered.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Early next morning, Hermione marched down to the Quidditch pitch, mind whirring.

Her and Daphne’s confrontation with Snape had spread through the school like fiendfyre. Everywhere she and Daphne went, groups whispered and pointed as they walked by.

Rumours flew faster and thicker than the morning owls, but there were three facts everyone seemed to agree on. That she was muggleborn, that someone had used legilimency on someone, and that Lord Slytherin was considering removing Snape as head of Slytherin House.

Slytherin house had been quiet as the grave. Blaise said everyone was feeling out everyone else for where they stood before doing anything.

Then there was Daphne. She glanced at the pretty blonde strolling a few paces from her. Daphne still confused her. The girl was distant, almost cold. But when Daphne stood up to confront Snape, she was so cold she burned. The coldness went beyond cold and became something almost hot, like pools of liquid nitrogen, bubbling and gassing, less like snow carelessly piled around and more like a blade made from razor-sharp ice. The girl licked like a frozen flame, sucking the heat out of the space only to return the intensity back five-fold.

Had that intensity been focused at her, she wasn’t sure how she’d have handled it, but it wasn’t, it had been in her defence. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Did Daphne really feel that way, or was she just doing what Harry asked her?

They arrived at the centre of the quidditch pitch to find most of their classmates form Slytherin and Hufflepuff milling around a long line of mouldy old brooms. She avoided the glares in her direction from the Dark and instead shuffled over to the Hufflepuff boys, who’d formed their own little circle.

“Good morning Wayne, Zach. Hi, Justin. Hey, Kevin.” She greeted the two Gray and two muggleborn Hufflepuff boys with a wave and a smile.

Kevin Entwistle stood an inch or two taller than the rest of them. Someone like Malfoy would no doubt laugh at his loose tie and his mousy brown hair had an almost Harry-like just-got-out-of-bed look.

Justin Finch-Fletchley, by contrast, was as immaculately dressed and groomed as he’d been both in Madam Malkin’s and later when she’d successfully found him on the train, even if those clothes would be considered fairly common by wizarding standards.

All four returned her greetings and made room for her in the circle.

Zach gave her an imperious nod. “So, what’s this we hear about you and Snape? Rumor says he attacked you.”

She nodded. Justin and Kevin gasped.

“Yes, he did. Legilimens attack.”

Wayne tutted.

Zach sucked his breath in. “I’m going to take my practice a lot more seriously from now on, I think.”

She nodded.

Kevin and Justin shared a confused look.

Kevin spoke. “But… if da teacher attacks a student, shouldn’t he be thrown out?”

Wayne and Zach shuffled.

“It’s not quite as simple as that,” Wayne said.

Zach nodded. “Yeah, legilimency isn’t considered assault until actual damage is done, and if you can defend yourself no damage will be done.

“And if damage is done,” Wayne continued, “it’s usually hard to prove.”

She jumped in. “Of course, it is considered extremely rude. It’s not the sort of thing done in polite company.”

Justin frowned. “That doesn’t seem right. What is legilimency anyway?”

“It’s a form of mind magic. It’s not quite mind reading, but it’s sort of like that.”

Kevin’s mouth dropped. “Mind reading?”

She looked around to where the hufflepuff girls were standing. Heiresses Bones and Abbott, along with Sally Smith, and two other girls she didn’t know were talking with the one lone Hufflepuff Light boy, Ernest Macmillan. “More like mind surfing,” she said.

Wayne tilted his head. “What’s surfing?”

Justin and Kevin shot Wayne incredulous looks.

“It’s a muggle sport. Think riding a broom on massive waves of water.”

“That sounds kinda cool.”

Kevin threw up his arms. “We’re getting off da point! What’s going d happen to da potions professor? I really don’t like him. He was nothing but nasty d’us all class. He almost made Leanne cry! I right wanted d’give him it.”

Zach looked at her. “Yes, Miss Granger, Vassal of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin, what is going to happen to Snape?”

She fidgeted with the cuff of her robes. “I’m not sure yet. That depends on my lord.”

Kevin’s eyes widened. “Your lord? Vassal? So you’re right nobby then?”

Justin and Zach rolled their eyes out of Kevin’s view.

She opened her mouth to reply.

“Don’t worry about it Hermione,” Wayne interjected. “Kevin’s just having an interesting time adjusting, isn’t that right, Kev?” Wayne playfully elbowed the larger boy.

Kevin crossed his thick arms. “Look da way I grew up, I’m just nad used d’all dis nobbyness, kay?”

She smiled, “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it soon.”

“Alright everyone!” A loud female voice interrupted them. “All attention on me and I’ll show you how to properly mount your brooms.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Daphne climbed towards the Hogwarts castle after their first flying lesson, trying to ignore the feeling that she was going to fall over onto the grass. Despite a few tentative flights with Harry, clinging onto his waist for dear life, she’d never really gotten the hang of flying.

Harry made it look easy and the other Slytherins kept shooting him furtive glances, especially Malfoy, whose flying, while good, clearly wasn’t as good her lord’s.

She was actually glad for the distraction. Malfoy and the rest of them had distanced themselves from her, Granger, Tracy, and Blaise. Slytherin house seemed to be drawing lines, and she wasn’t sure exactly what those lines even represented.

She looked around and paused.

Granger made it a few steps in front of her before turning in question. Tracy and Blaise continued on walking for a moment, before they too stopped.

At the edge of the forest, a man with a hard to miss turban disappeared behind a tree trunk, heading deeper into the forbidden forest.

She frowned, carried on climbing, caught up to Granger, and whispered into her ear. “Third floor, now.”

Granger’s eyes widened slightly before she gave a small nod.

“What’s up you two?” Tracy asked.

“Nothing. Hermione and I have a few things to take care of. See you at Lunch?”

Tracy and Blaise looked at each other.

“Sure. See you then,” Tracy said.

“Don’t get in trouble,” Blaise added with a wink.

A minute later she and Granger ducked into an empty bathroom near the third floor. She pulled out the invisibility cloak and cast a muffliato.

“What happened?” Granger asked.

“Just saw Quirrelmort head into the forbidden forest.”

Granger nodded in understanding. A few moments later they were shuffling unseen along the passageway to the third floor corridor on the right hand side, dodging students and stealing glances at the many paintings who chatted happily among themselves with far more openness than when they could see students around.

They reached the corner to their target and paused.

“Wands out,” she whispered.

“Yes.”

She crouched down and stuck her wand under the hem of the cloak.

They edged forward, carful not to expose themselves or trip over each other.

Her breath hitched and her face scrunched up as one of the most foul things she’d ever tasted flooded her senses.

“Is there something?” Granger asked.

“Yes.” She desperately wanted to wash her mouth out. “I think it’s the gender ward.”

“Does it taste like slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails?”

“If you mean, is it both slimy and fury? Yes. And it’s horrible.”

They edged forward some more.

She let out a breath. “Urgh. The taste is gone, thank Merlin.”

“So, is there another ward?”

“Yes. Here you should record it too.”

The visible tip of another wand joined hers, two separate inches of wood floating in mid air just above the stone floor.

“Got it?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Okay, let’s get out of here.”

“Wait!” Granger hissed.

“What?”

“I think I can decode this one now.”

“…”

“…”

“Quickly then.” They really mustn’t be caught here.

She heard muttering from the empty space beside her. The corridor was still empty. She hoped it would stay that way. The last thing they needed was for Mrs Norris to catch them.

Granger seemed to shuffle around, pulling at the cloak and fiddling with something in her clothes.

“What are you doing?”

“Hang on. I’ve got just the thing.”

She heard the rustle of parchment.

“Is that a book?” she asked, incredulous.

“Yes. I brought it just for this situation.”

Said book appeared in view just under the cloak.

Minutes passed. Pages were turned. A few people passed at the end of the corridor, but clearly didn’t see anything. Granger continued to mutter to herself.

“Okay,” Granger said, eventually. “It’s a containment ward.”

“Excellent. Now, lets go.” If they went quickly they could still grab lunch and get updated on the latest political situation.

“Wait!”

She glared at the empty space beside her, knowing full well Granger couldn’t see her. “What?”

“We could go for the next ward line.”

“What! No, we can’t.”

“Why not? The containment ward only keeps things in, and it’s not keyed to us.”

“We don’t know what’s in there!” She gestured to the door the ward line was protecting. “It could be anything.”

“Yes and we need to find out what that is.”

“But we could let Harry handle it.”

“How’s he going to get past the gender ward?”

“Harry obviously has a plan, but we don’t know what that plan is. That’s why we shouldn’t just rush in.”

“…”

“…”

“Fine,” Granger snapped. “But only because I don’t want to accidentally mess up Harry’s plan.”

She rolled her unseen eyes. “Good, now lets get out of here before luck turns on us.”

They shuffled out of the corridor and down to their bathroom, just as Filch chose to make an appearance, heading the way they had just come, muttering about kids and manacles.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Dumbledore sat in his throne at the head table. Lunch was in full swing and the shouts and laughs of hundreds of young throats warmed his heart, even as his never-off political mind ruthlessly dissected the many school cliques forming and reforming in front of him.

The Slytherin table was the most interesting and disturbing at the moment. Yesterday, there had been two main camps formed around Lucius’ son and Jacob’s daughter, with the Quidditch team forming a third, smaller circle around young Mister Flint, and the duelling club forming a fourth around Romulus Volf.

Now, however, all the circles were mashed up. Everyone chatted with everyone and there didn’t seem to be much to distinguish the groups. Every so often, a student would stand, move to another position and sit down, moments before another student, sitting just a few places away, would repeat the action. It was a slow dance, forming new lines around some new political issue. He frowned. He was pretty sure he knew what that issue was.

Severus had been unable to hold his tongue.

Not two months ago, he’d seen how protective Lord Slytherin could be when he’d made an unwise comment that the young lord had interpreted as a threat to Miss Greengrass. The resultant magic hadn’t been as powerful as his, but it had made him pause. The ability to radiate magic from your body was a trick that required a combination of occlumency practice and strong emotions, and managing it for anything more than a few seconds indicated high core to body flamelage. Lord Slytherin had a high core to body flamelage.

Now Severus would have Lord Slytherin focused on him, and Slytherin had already made it clear through Miss Greengrass what he would do if Severus didn’t toe the line. He couldn’t afford for Severus to lose that position, especially not now.

Just how far would Lord Slytherin go to protect the muggleborn girl? For surely it would take more than points deductions and detentions to do so. Did Slytherin’s protective streak extend that far or was it just an ‘in the family’ thing?

He cast his eyes over the Slytherin table and noticed that a core group seemed to have solidified around the Slytherin duelling captain. Young Romulus Volf didn’t look pleased. In fact he looked apoplectic.

Miss Granger and Miss Greengrass were nowhere to be seen, which was probably just as well.

The hard-core pure-blood-supremacist duelling captain chose that moment to stand and storm off to the Slytherin dungeons, followed closely by several other students.

He watched the boys departure sadly and picked up his goblet. He swirled the orange liquid inside. At least this situation would probably weaken the Gray faction somewhat. The attitudes of some of the parents would mirror that of their children. The Gray had been a roadblock to so much of James and Lily’s good work for a long time now.

He stilled. Letting the pumpkin juice in his goblet settle down in his hand.

Would it be good though?

What would happen if the Gray fell?

He looked out over Slytherin table, over Gray and Dark mingling and debating, throwing accusations and counter accusations. How many of those in the Gray would come to the Light if the Gray fell?

He did the math in his head.

He flinched. His stomach turned over.

Oh, Merlin. He slammed his goblet down on the table. He needed them, didn’t he? He needed a stable Gray, and, by extension, he needed Lord Slytherin.

Fuck.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Hermione walked into the defence against the dark arts classroom, muttering under her breath. It wasn’t her fault they’d had to rush lunch. She was just doing what she was sure Harry wanted.

She froze. The smell of garlic hit her like a hammer. Beside her, Daphne blanched. She added tracking down a smell removing charm for clothes to her rapidly growing to do list, shifted mental gears, and scanned the room for her next objective.

She spotted the dark-skinned Dean Thomas sitting at a long bench with Seamus finnigan and… she groaned… John Potter.

She nodded to Daphne and set off for her target. The long bench allowed her to easily insert herself at the end and scooch up to where Dean sat.

“Hi, Dean.”

Dean turned. “Oh, hi, Hermione! How’s it going? You’re not in trouble are you?”

John Potter leaned around to see what was going on.

“Oh, from potions?” She smiled. “No, not yet.”

John frowned. “What about the Slytherins? They’re not doing anything bad are they?”

“No, I’m doing quite well, thank you.” She replied, tone shifting from joyful to prim.

John didn’t seem convinced. “But what about you being—“

“Hi, Brother!”

Harry landed in the bench in front of her.

John recoiled. “What are you doing here?” Venom dripped through shock.

“We have DADA together.”

“I mean why are you sitting near me.”

“What’s wrong? Can’t I sit near my favourite brother?”

She had to stop herself from laughing.

“We hate each other!”

“Why?”

John seemed dumbfounded. “What?”

“When?”

“Huh?”

“Which? Who? Where?”

“What the hell are you on about?”

“I mean why do we hate each other?”

John struggled for an answer for a moment.

Dean looked between them, obviously confused.

She just focused on keeping her laughter in check.

Eventually John Potter burst out with, “You stole Ginny from me!”

Harry tilted his head. “I assume this Ginny is a witch, yes? How could I even meet her? No one told me I was even a wizard until I received my letter.”

Dean furrowed his eyebrows. “How did that happen? You’re twins. He’s a famous wizard from what I’ve heard. How could you not know you’re a wizard?”

Harry raised a finger. “Why don’t you ask—”

At that moment a stronger than normal smell of garlic swept by them and the true purpose of Harry’s sitting position quickly became clear.

Professor Quirinus Quirrell took his place at the room’s podium and shot her a look of such malice and hatred that she drew back in her chair and unconsciously flicked her wand into her hand under the table.

Sat where he was, Harry was directly in the path between her and the purple turbaned professor, currently hosting the death damned soul of Dark Lord Voldemort.

She turned. Daphne had chosen to sit directly behind her.

She felt a gentle nudging on her occlumency shields and stopped herself from yanking on it just in time. She swotted it away instead. A bead of sweat rolled down her face.

“Welcome to defence against the dark arts.”

She raised a worried eyebrow. No stutter? Harry said he’d stutter.

“This class is to prepare you for the threats that you will encounter outside these walls, of which there are many.” Quirrell’s voice was regular and well paced, neither too loud nor too quiet.

“These threats come in two varieties, magical and mundane. We will spend most of this year focusing on how to defend against mundane threats.”

Quirrell looked behind her. “You have a question, Mister Malfoy?”

She turned. Malfoy put his hand down.

“Professor,” the blonde haired boy drawled, “why are we waisting our time with such trivial concerns? Muggles pose no threat to us.”

Quirrell smiled. “Ah, I’m not surprised that you would say that, but I did not say muggle, did I?”

Malfoy hesitated. “You said…”

“I said mundane. I did not say muggle. I will now demonstrate.” Quirrell waved his wand and a conjured vase appeared on the desk. The man walked a dozen paces away so that his back was to the classroom wall. Another wand wave produced what looked like a small rock. One single, strong wand movement sent the rock shooting towards the vase, which smashed into dozens of pieces before vanishing into thin air.

She brought her arms down from where she’d protectively and automatically covered her head.

“Many of the threats you will face from wizards come in the form of non-magical objects enchanted to create physical force. These objects are not spells. They do not shoot at you with pretty lights like in a duel, but they are just as dangerous. A banished rock to the head will take you out just as surely as a stunner. Does that answer your question, Mister Malfoy?”

She looked around again. Malfoy nodded, eyes wide.

“Having said that…” Quirrell smirked, walked over to his desk and reached behind it to grab something. “There are some muggle threats—” her own eyes widened and her heart sped up. “—That you must also—” A hunting rifle came into view “—learn to deal with.”

In front of her, harry had his wand pointed forward under his desk, a faint white light alight on its tip.

Quirrell walked forward, turned, conjured another vase, waved his wand once more, sheathed it in his robes, shouldered the gun, pointed it towards his desk with his back to the class, took aim and…

BANG! The vase exploded into a million pieces. What was left wasn’t even recognisable as pottery.

Quirrell dropped the rifle to his side. “We won’t be focusing on those threats, but do not forget that your studies into mundane defence against wizards also applies to muggles.”

She shook. Voldemort knew about guns? Why didn’t he use them then? Harry must know. She’d ask him when she next saw him.

“The first spell we will learn is a shield against physical projectiles found on page twelve of your textbook. You will pair off and practice casting the shield while the other lightly throws these buttons at each other.” Quirrell held up a small bucket.

The class stared at him.

Quirrell looked around. “Go on! Get to it!”

The class scrabbled.

She turned. “Hey, Dean—“

“—C’mon, Dean.” John grabbed Dean’s arm and dragged him away.

The dark-skinned, possible muggleborn shot her an apologetic look before being lead away to the far side of the class-room by the fake boy who lived.

Hermione pouted.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Daphne marched towards the common room after dinner, intent on getting the just-handed-out DADA essay out of the way. She needed all the brain space she could spare to tap dance around Granger being outed and she didn’t need braindead simple academic assignments getting in the way. Beside her, Granger looked equally focused, muttering something about evil twins and what she’d like to do to them.

As they neared the portal to the Slytherin common room, Tracy appeared before them, panting and red-faced.

“Daph. Hermione.” Tracy’s heaved the words, low and urgent.

They stalled.

“I was just in the common room and there’s a bunch of upper-year boys planning to put Hermione in the hospital wing. I just barely got away.”

Oh hell.

Granger sucked in her breath.

“Volf put them up to it. He’s leading.”

“What about Blaise and our other allies?” she asked.

Tracy’s eyes were wide and dilated. “Don’t know where Blaise is.” Tracy wrung her hands. “You know Flint?”

She nodded.

“He said that, ‘If the little girl wants to keep a pet, she can take care of it.’”

She glanced at Granger. The witch’s eyes had hardened.

Tracy continued. “That was the most extreme one I heard, but the feeling is about right. They’re not happy. Most of the Grays who might help are in other houses. I think we’re on our own on this one.”

Damn. She took a breath and pulsed a few choice pulses into her silver lightning bolt ring. Granger already had her wand in hand, looking ready to storm the fort.

“Okay, I’ve sent the distress call. We should find a bathroom to hide away in until our lord can get here.”

Hope bloomed on Tracy’s face.

Granger snapped towards her. “But we can’t run away! They’ll think we’re cowards. That we need protecting.”

She flashed Granger an annoyed look. “They don’t even know we’re here. We can just enter a few moments before our lord and it will all be fine.”

Tracy’s face fell.

A shrill, nasal voice behind them, coming from the direction of the great hall, caused her to swing around, just as a slight figure raced past them.

“It’s them! They’re here!” Heiress Parkinson shot towards the portal and leapt through it.

Tracy groaned and double face-palmed. “And now?”

Her stomach dropped. She felt sick. She flicked her wrist and brought her wand to her hand. “Now we hold on as long as we can.”

They waited a few moments where they were, staring at nothing in particular.

Then they walked to the portal, every step deliberate and slow. She put her hand on the door.

She waited a few more moments.

That was probably about as long as they could get away with. She looked towards her allies. Determination made its home in Granger’s face. Tracy’s lip quivered and her hands shook.

She gave a single slight nod, and pushed.

The common room was packed. Slytherins of all years filled the many chairs that furnished the wide and tall space of the dungeon. Many were laughing and joking. As one, all heads turned towards her.

She took several steps into the room, head held high, wand held tight. The portal slammed quietly behind her and two faint human-shaped shadows joined hers, stretching forward from the low-hung wall torches behind her.

Near the fireplace, from the area of the common room unofficially designated Dark territory, three older, stronger boys stood and stepped into the clear floor space between them. Romulus Volf led them. Everything about them made her eleven-year-old brain scream at her to run, hide, and wait to be saved. She focused on the feeling and magically crushed it, occlumency claiming her mind’s sovereignty, even as her body flooded her with concentrated fight or flight, with the focus very much on flight.

The assembled crowd continued to laugh and joke. To the side, she thought she saw someone running a betting pool.

Behind her, Tracy whimpered.

She took a few more steps into the room and the shadows followed her. Fifteen meters of invaded personal space shrunk between them and the boys, all three of whom also had their wands out.

She tilted her head and spoke loudly enough for the whole room to hear. “Can I help you, Volf?”

The room quietened. A few chuckles could be heard around the room.

Romulus Volf glared. “Yes. You can step away from the mudblood right now if you know what’s good for you, Heiress Greengrass,” he said, distain dripping from the honorific.

She held her chin high. “I know your family Volf — ancient, almost most ancient. Your family has a distinguished history. What do you have to gain from this?”

“That mudblood bitch has no right to be here!” Volf gestured behind her, to Granger. “How dare she pretend to be a pureblood! This is Slytherin House. They are not welcome here.”

A few jeers from the crowd filled the space.

“That wasn’t answering my question, Romulus of the Ancient House of Volf. What do you have to gain from this action? Do you believe you will gain support and respect — displaying your power by picking on an eleven-year-old girl?” She raised her chin again. “Do you think it is wise to antagonise two noble houses and all the resources at their disposal?”

It was a weak statement. Not least because many of said resources were currently watching and not doing anything.

Volf sneered. “I don’t care about any of that shit! When purebloods are given their proper place, people like me will rule over blood traitors like you!”

One of her eyes twitched.

“But until then, what? You can raise that wand at me and those who serve the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin if you wish, but that will not bring glory and honor to the house of Volf. “

Time to play her ace.

“Nor will it grant you favors with Lord Slytherin should he decide to take back control of Hogwarts Slytherin House!”

“I don’t believe in Lord Slytherin!”

Her jaw dropped. “Wha?”

“When has this mysterious lord ever shown up to anything? I don’t think he’s real! He’s never even been in the prophet once!”

She stood rooted to the spot. Words failed her.

Volf glowered. “I’ll tell you one last time, Heiress Greengrass. Leave now or I will put you in the hospital wing too.”

She swallowed and took a single defiant step to the side, overlapping her own shadow with Granger’s. Her resolve hardened.

Behind her, a small gasp escaped Granger’s lips.

She glared at Volf and his two cronies. “Despite what you may believe, one day, I will be Lady Slytherin!” She brought herself up to her full 4 foot 10 inches.  “The Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin does not abandon those who serve it and have sworn loyalty to it! It does not forgive those who seek to harm those it protects! And it most certainly does not bow to cowards with the cunning of a flobberworm and the tact of a troll!

Red shot towards her and she shielded just before it reached her.

Granger’s darted to the side, firing a stunner towards Volf.

Volf dodged.

Volf’s goons opened fire.

Tracy dived for a nearby table.

She fired off her own spell chain, interrupted only to franticly sidestep one of Volf’s bolts.

Granger reached a nearby armchair, just as their occupants scrabbled out of the way. One second and several dodged spells later, she joined Granger, trading hard stone floor for thick carpet.

The torrent of spells continued to rain down on their position, then stopped.

She heard the slap, slap, slap of rapidly approaching footsteps. She shielded.

Volf burst around the side of the chair.

Three shouts rang out.

One jelly legs jinx and a stunner slammed into Volf’s pre-cast shield. One shield breaker shattered hers.

More footsteps.

She re-shielded.

Granger re-fired.

Volf quickly backed off and continued firing, dodging every other spell and shielding those he couldn’t. His skill and experience shone through, taking on both her and Granger at close range.

Then, suddenly, her rate of fire slowed.

Damn!

She scrabbled over the chair just as a blue spell landed where she’d been. She landed on the other side…

“Got ya!”

…And her wand ripped from her hand, straight into the waiting grip of Goon A.

She looked around to see an equally wandless Granger scowling at Volf.

On the other side of the doorway, Tracy lay, roped and gagged.

Her heart thundered.

Stall. Stall now. “I suppose you think you’ve won!”

Volf looked at her, incredulous.

“Listen, little girl. You could have played nice and just handed over the mudblood.”

Volf and Goon A walked forward.

She shared a glance with Granger. She nodded.

“But no, you had to make it difficult.”

She could feel her magic flowing back into her, refilling her. Flowing down to the tips of her fingers.

“Now!” She flung up her hand and fired a red bolt towards Goon A. Another bolt joined hers, also firing towards Goon A.

Oh, damn.

Shock flashed across Volf’s face, but only for a moment.

Goon A fell.

“Why you!” Volf roared, whipping his wand up and firing an incarcerous at Granger.

They both scrabbled backwards, her hand and elbows burning on the thick rug.

Granger shielded with the spell they’d just learned in defence, bouncing the ropes off it and onto the floor.

She managed to chain together two whole spells.

Volf shielded and fired and dodged.

She fired one more spell and her reserves were gone again.

Her lungs pumped, fast and laboured.

An stray incarcerous finally hit Granger, immobilising the Slytherin muggleborn.

Cheers filled the room.

“I swear you’re going to pay now!” Volf spat.

She scrabbled for one final shield, but the magic just wasn’t there.

The tip of Volf’s wand glowed.

Desperate, she dropped her occlumency shields and felt a fresh flush of magic, even as terror swept her.

“Diffindo!”

The cutting spell shot towards her.

Her fingers glowed white.

Her shield appeared.

The spell hit it.

Her last shield shattered.

The spell carried on through… and splashed off another shield just behind the first one.

“Diffindo! Diffindo! Diffindo! Diffindo!”

She stared as spell after spell splashed against the shield glowing in front of her with all the effect of silk thrown at stone.

Volf’s casting slowed, puzzlement seeping through anger.

Half lying on the ground, she looked up and behind her.

A tall figure dropped its disillusionment and shimmered into sight.

Relief flooded her.

It wore long flowing emerald green robes, trimmed in shining silver. It wore an elegant green mask, trimmed in night black. It stood tall, firm, and very, very angry. It was Lord Slytherin.

Everyone froze.

Anger-saturated ready-magic flooded from Harry and filled the common room with his power, enveloping her like a warm blanket and freezing Volf to the spot. Any festive atmosphere that may have been present dried up in seconds.

She swallowed an errand choke that threatened to become more, slowly brought her occlumency shields back up, stood with as much dignity as possible, still shaking, and joined her lord’s side, tugging the still bound Granger with her.

Volf stayed rooted in place, staring at Harry like the lone hyena caught by the bull elephant.

No-one moved. The moment dragged on and on. Gasps echoed all around the room as people realised her mysterious and very real Lord Slytherin had been flaring his magic straight from his body for longer than most of them could cast, and still the magic flowed.

Volf’s eyes widened from shock to terror as fifteen seconds became thirty, which then became a full minute.

She spotted a couple of older students edging towards the stairs leading down to the dormitories, but before they could reach them Harry’s wand tip glowed white and every common room exit slammed shut and bolted. The would-be escapees winced.

“Oh no you don’t.” Lord Slytherin's voice filled the room like the growl from an unseen throat in a darkened cave. “You’re all staying here.”

The whirlwind of magic slowed and stopped.

The room let out a collectively held breath.

“What the fuck!” Harry roared. Flaring his magic so much that the common room fires leapt high and blazed green. The entire room winced and the magic settled down again.

Harry casually jabbed his wand at Granger, releasing her from her bonds. The wavy haired bookworm slowly got to her feet, shooting Volf a wild look of triumph.

Volf overcame his obvious fear enough to scowl.

“Romulus Volf.” Harry intoned, snapping the pureblood’s attention back to him. “You just attacked both my vassal and my betrothed with the intention to cause grievous bodily harm. I demand satisfaction.”

Shocked murmurs filled the room.

Volf goggled. “I wasn’t going to kill them! Just put them in the hospital wing for a night!”

“Then I shall do my best not to kill you. You can accept the duel, or try your luck with the law.”

Volf swallowed. “I…I think I’ll try my luck with the law.”

Despite the weight in the room, she caught a few chuckles and heard someone shout, ‘Coward!’

“And if I gave myself a handicap? Three on one? Those two friends you have there for example?”

Volf looked incredulous. “Excuse me a moment, Lord Slytherin.” Volf hurried away to converse with his cronies. The crowd started moving. Chairs were shoved back. Books and parchment were collected.

Harry shot a finite at Tracy who rubbed her wrists, climbed into a chair, and clutched a throw pillow in a death grip with both arms.

She leaned closer to Harry. “What are you planning to do to them, my lord?”

“Nothing permanent, but it won’t be pleasant. Are you sure you want to be here for it?”

Granger leaned in on the other side and whispered, “I’m not running away! They would have done it to us!”

She nodded slowly.

Harry’s emerald and black mask nodded back. “Very well.”

The trio led by Volf returned and accepted Harry’s terms. By this time, the crowd had formed a long space in the middle of the common room free of chairs and other obstacles. Someone was setting up duelling wards with miniature ward stones and older students to channel the magic.

She stepped over to where Tracy sat and joined her, followed by Granger moments later. They would have a good view of the duel from where they sat. She placed a comforting hand on one of Tracy’s shaking shoulders.

Tracy smiled weakly back at her, eyes flicking back and forth from her to Lord Slytherin. “So, that’s your hero, is it?”

She smiled back. “Yes. He’s amazing.”

Granger nodded

“But… three on one? They are all duelists.”

Her smile didn’t falter. “Just watch, and see the difference between a duelist and a warrior.”

An older girl with long curly hair held her wand above her head and spoke loudly so the whole room could hear over the hubbub. “This is a formal honor duel. The combatants have agreed to extended class B rules. I am Miss Anabella Richardson of the House of Richardson and will act as official witness. All combatants have agreed to limit their casts to non-immediately-lethal spells. When my conjured handkerchief lands on the floor, the duel shall begin.”

Silence descended.

The three boys tensed.

Anticipation coiled in on her.

The girl made a complicated gesture and a pure white handkerchief shot from the end of her wand.

Her eyes tracked the flimsy piece of cloth on its journey down to the hard stone floor.

It landed.

Four wands raised.

Four spells cast.

The stone floor in front of Harry melted and thrust upwards, forming a solid shield in front of him.

The sounds of spells hitting Harry’s wall crashed through her head along with the roar of the crowd. Pieces of stone flew from the wall and bounced off the wards.

Harry flicked his wand.

Nothing visible happened.

She heard loud and rapid footsteps from the other side of the wall.

Harry flicked his wand again.

The two goons leapt around the wall, wands out, tips glowing, followed a split second later by several angry looking stone snakes, as thick as her arm and as long as she was tall. The deadly looking snakes lunged for the boys, still too focused on Harry to notice.

Harry returned their fire, rolling around on the floor and shielding in a whirlwind of body and magic.

A moment later the two boys noticed their stoney, scaly problem. Yells and screams filled the air. They wrestled with their attackers for all but a moment before being dropped by a now back-on-his-feet Harry.

Harry jumped with cat-like grace, grabbed the top of the wall and stuck his head above it, only to drop back down a moment later, a purple spell shooting past where his head had been moments before.

She frowned then gaped as Volf rose over the wall, mounted on a broomstick. Extended Class B, indeed.

Harry flicked his wand. The wall melted.

Volf rained spells down on him.

He jumped back.

The former stone wall reformed itself into one large stone serpent, several meters tall with fangs the length of her fore-arm, sticking out from its mouth and up around its head like the teeth of some horrible deep-sea monster.

Volf screamed.

The crowd screamed.

The serpent lunged.

Volf shot backwards so fast he hit the duelling wards, and knocked himself off his broom, leaving him open to counter attack.

Harry leapt onto the snake, seeming to care not for gravity or its laws, and descended on the dazed boy like a god of war.

Volf had just enough time to raise his shaky head before Harry’s wand touched the boy’s forehead.

“Legilimens.”

And Volf let loose a scream of pain and terror the likes of which she’d never heard and never ever wanted to hear again. It went on for ages. On and on. Students covered their ears and scrunched their eyes shut. One girl broke down crying. And still it went on.

Eventually it stopped.

Volf collapsed on the floor, curled into a fetal position, and wept.

“Romulus Volf.” Harry’s voice echoed around the deadly silent room from where he stood several feet off the ground, balanced on the snakes raised head.

Volf sniffled.

“I did promise to myself to put you in the hospital wing, but honestly, I think that last one was more than enough.”

The snake lowered him back to Volf’s level.

“Do you feel the inclination to attack any of my family again?”

Volf uncoiled like a spring and prostrated himself before Harry. “No! My lord!”

Harry stepped off the head and kicked him.

Volf grunted.

“I am not your lord! I am only the lord of those who have proven themselves worthy. Hermione has proven herself. You have not.”

The crowd turned to glance at her and Granger, who’d been wearing a look total shock on her face ever since Harry had started his attack on Volf, but did flush red at that last comment.

“Nevertheless, honor is satisfied… at least for you…” Harry whirled around. “Mister Marcus Flint!”

The older child of the Gray flinched, but did manage a shaky bow. “Lord Slytherin.”

“I shall be speaking with your parents about your interesting choice of behavior tonight. You and several others.” The masked face turned to each of the older students of the Gray. They bowed, curtseyed, gulped, and sweated.

“And now, I am leaving. I trust this will be the last time I will have to intervene in my common room in such circumstances. Come, Daphne, Hermione, I’d like a word with you — you too Miss Davis.”

Harry swept to the Slytherin common room portal, kicking the still knocked out goons on his way.

The snake turned to snap a last playfully bite at Volf who recoiled before it fell to the ground and melted back into a pile of rubble, exactly mirroring a deep gouge now in the common room stone floor.

She followed Harry departing figure, Granger and Tracy flanking her on either side. She caught both of their eyes, still wide as dinner plates, and smiled. “That, Tracy,” she whispered, “is the difference between a duelist and a warrior.”

 

Chapter Text

Later next day, Dumbledore sat at his large polished oak desk in the headmaster’s office and stared at a collection of parchments clutched in his hands. Lord Slytherin, it turned out, would go to great lengths to protect Miss Granger and Miss Greengrass.

Most of the Slytherin students had basic occlumency shields and he hadn’t been able to see much of what happened in the Slytherin common room last night, but what he had been able to piece together painted a picture of a man who was unafraid to use fear and pain as a deterrent.

Three points in particular stood out as high emotion moments in the minds of the few students he’d explored. The first was shock when Miss Granger and Miss Greengrass performed wandless magic to stun one of their attackers. That was something to think about. The second was surprise turning slowly to fear and awe when Lord Slytherin flared his magic for over a full minute. He couldn’t feel the magic through the memory, but if the looks of the other students were to go by, it was strong. And the third had been sheer terror when Slytherin tortured Romulus Volf with legilimency. That was extremely worrying, both for Slytherin’s ruthlessness and for the nature of the method itself.

He’d long ago ruled out the possibility of Lord Slytherin being Lord Voldemort, but that didn’t make the situation much more comforting. Slytherin’s legilimency attack was exactly the kind of thing Voldemort would have done. Tom was almost certainly the foremost expert on the mind arts in the entire world, and, at least in that respect, Slytherin seemed closely molded on the Dark Lord.

He couldn’t let a dark lord of any kind rise. He mustn’t allow it to happen. It was a fair blessing that Harry Potter hadn’t been in the common room when the event transpired. At the moment, Harry Potter getting closer to the Gray seemed to be his worst case scenario for the boy. Lord Slytherin was powerful, amoral, ruthless, and protective — the perfect mentor and shield for a young boy, marked as his equal, to be raised into something terrible.

He would have to pay close attention to that danger, especially with Tom in the castle.

In the meantime, he had to speak with Lord Slytherin, at the very least to get a bead on the man and attempt to protect Severus from his attentions.

Dumbledore shuffled the parchments still held in his hands and smiled a grim smile.

Luckily, he’d now received just the thing to bring Slytherin in. If this didn’t work, then Slytherin wasn’t the man he thought he was.

“Floppy.”

A house elf appeared at his side. “Yes, Headmaster Dumblydores?”

“Could you call for two owls, please, Floppy?”

Floppy bowed low to the ground. “Certainly, Headmaster Dumblydores.” The elf vanished.

Dumbledore set the parchments down, pulled two blank sheets to him, inked his Phoenix feather quill, and started writing.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Harry woke up on Friday of the first week of school to find himself drenched in sweat. It was a good kind of sweat though. He smiled and yawned. Ginny’s dreamland duelling training kicked ass. Her pendent had been a one of a kind, once in a lifetime find, and snatching it when he did had been a master stroke. He wouldn’t get to see her every night, but he looked forward to when he did.

He swung his legs off the bed, slipped on his slippers, and padded over to the bathroom. A few minutes of rinsing off later, he brushed up, left the bathroom, and slipped on his workout clothes.

On the other side of the room, Malfoy snorted in his sleep and turned over.

He wasn’t so sure about Malfoy at the moment. The young Heir had such potential for his cause, but it lay hidden under a quarter inch layer of pretension, pomposity, and solid damn presumption.

From the moment Snape gave his “Fuck Harry Potter” speech at the beginning of term, Malfoy’s attitude took an immediate and total 180 degree turn from the cautiously accepting attitude Harry had painstakingly cultivated. He’d expected this, but it didn’t make it any less annoying.

He’d cornered the young heir the following day on his way back from a bathroom.

“Heir Malfoy,” he’d said.

Malfoy had sneered at him. “What is it, Potter? You think I want anything to do with a dirty half-blood, blood-traitor like you?”

Unlike Malfoy’s sneer, he’d kept his face friendly and neutral. “Heir Malfoy, I understand that at the moment you are choosing to follow the majority of our house in ostracising me—”

Malfoy had scoffed.

“—However,” he’d continued, “I want you to know that there may well come a time when it is politicly intelligent to consider an alternative path, and when that time comes you may look upon our time now as a missed opportunity.”

Malfoy’s eyes had narrowed. “What makes you think that such a time will ever come?”

He’d grinned, held out his hand, palm up, and produced a small ball of hovering, flickering flame, without word or wand.

Malfoy’s eyes had widened, shooting from his face to the micro fireball and back.

He’d held it there for a second more. “Just a suspicion, Heir Malfoy.” He’d then bowed, turned, waved the fire away, and walked off, leaving a hopefully more uncertain and slightly more cautious Malfoy behind him.

The young heir’s behavior over the next few days suggested he had, in fact, made a slight impression. The open verbal attacks from Malfoy slowed, and only happened when the young heir joined in with someone else.

Harry finished pulling on his trainers, and, with one last glance at the Malfoy heir, left the Slytherin first years dorms.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

After exercising, showering properly, changing, and strolling down to breakfast, Harry sat in the middle of the Slytherin table and ploughed through a large stack of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and assorted vegetables. He finished off his pile of organic fuel and muscle building material with a bowl of mixed oats, fruit, nuts and seeds — something he’d never seen at breakfast before, but which tasted quite nice.

All around him, empty chairs loudly proclaimed his status as an outsider, neither wanted nor needed. The people nearest him occasionally shot dirty looks and glares, to which he smiled back and waved.

At the end of the Slytherin table, nearest the head table, Malfoy held court, surrounded by his small clique of Dark first years.

At the other end of the table, Daphne presided over the collection of students that made up the Gray, Hermione on her right, Tracy on her left. Flint also seemed to be back in fold, sitting five seats away from the end, as were a few other older students of note who he’d singled out the other night.

Suddenly, a flurry of post owls descended on the four tables. One snowy owl immediately caught his attention. Hedwig flew over his head and deposited a thick envelope in front of Hermione. He glanced over to the Gryffindor table and struggled to keep a smirk off his face. The look of hurt and betrayal on John’s face, staring at the beautiful bird now being fussed over by Hermione, was as delicious as the breakfast he’d just eaten and even more satisfying.

Harry turned away from the table of the brave and regarded Hedwig and her package again. Hermione didn’t normally receive post in the morning. She tended to get mail from her parents in the evening, so what was this about?

He watched Hermione slice open the envelope with a breakfast knife, pull out the package and start to read. Hermione whispered something to Daphne who leaned over and started reading too. Then Hermione let out a muffled squeal and started to whisper furiously with a huge grin on her face.

Daphne whispered back and pointed at something else in the letter.

Hermione’s eyes raked back to the parchment. Her face fell, quickly replaced by anger. She flashed a glare behind him towards the head table, before folding the parchment, standing up, and stalking out of the great hall.

Huh. What was that about?

He resisted the temptation to morse code her through their rings. If it was really important, Hermione would message him. There were many reasons for this period of self inflicted isolation, and one of the lesser ones was to feel out Hermione and Daphne’s ability to work together and without him.

Several minutes later, Harry pocketed a last boiled egg for later, rose from his chair, and started making his way towards history of magic, grinning at the few remaining glares of a now almost empty great hall.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

On his way to history of magic, Harry halted in the middle of a long corridor. Something felt off.  He looked around but couldn’t identify what happened. Then it happened again. A slight pulse of magic, so weak as to be almost unnoticeable, washed over him from just around the next corner.

He narrowed his eyes, and took several steps backwards. His body now stood right next to a large banner hanging down from the top of the arched ceiling to the stone floor. He called out. “Alright! Who’s there?”

An almost inaudible curse came from around the corner, followed quickly by, surprise, surprise, Romulus Volf, flanked by his two duelling team goons.

Harry sighed. He didn’t have the time for this.

“Potter!” Volf sneered. “I think its time you learned—“

Harry reached for the banner beside him and stepped into an alcove behind it.

“—Hey! Don’t run away from us!”

He cast a wordless quietening charm on himself, hissed at a tiny carving of a snake in the far wall, and stepped into the resulting secret passage way. The wall silently closed behind him.

“What the fuck?” Volf’s voice shook with indignation and puzzlement from beyond the wall.

Harry continued to walk away.

“Looks like he got away,” came the voice of Goon B.

It wasn’t that he didn’t have business with Volf, but he was tired from training with Ginny all night and almost late for class.

“No shit, Merlin!” Volf’s voice faded into nothing.

He’d get around to his business with Volf at some other point. Right now though…. He walked into History of Magic, trod up to the back of the classroom, sat down, acknowledged his presence for the register, cast a notice-me-not on himself, put his head in his arms, closed his eyes, and went to sleep.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Later that evening, Harry withdrew the invisibility cloak from his shrunk trunk in an empty Slytherin dormitory and crept through a mostly empty common room.

The clock wall ticked a few minutes before curfew and his mind stirred from his all-day tired drudge. History of Magic and astronomy were both certified sleepy times. Charms and transfiguration were a bit more risky to catch a kip in, but he hadn’t been caught yet. Potions and herbology, on the other hand, gave no chance whatsoever for nap time. They were both group based. As for defence against the dark arts… well, he’d sooner kiss the headmaster than fall asleep in a room containing Hermione, Daphne, and Dark Lord Voldemort.

He opened the Slytherin common room portal and stepped out into the darkened corridor of a nighttime Hogwarts. The silence whispered through the hallways as he made his way up towards one of the few exits unlocked to students. He climbed the stairs of the astronomy tower, each step as inaudible as he was invisible.

He reached the top of the tower and spotted Professor Sinistra setting up for tonight’s astronomy class. Not his of course. And he didn’t plan to be back until long after the lesson had finished.

He climbed up onto the parapet and surveyed the area under the half-moon light, before lifting himself up into the air and out across the school grounds.

Within minutes he arrived at the school perimeter wards. A pulse of his wand set the wards to maintain his presence in the school and off he flew, over the lake, and towards the village of Hogsmeade.

He lightly landed outside a small house on the outskirts of the village, which looked just like all the others. The only difference was that to all but his eyes, this house wasn’t even there. He walked though the fidelius charm and the wards, which immediately lit all the lights, started a fire in the floo and welcomed him back with a pulse of magic and a dong of gong.

He shucked the invisibility cloak off and marched up to the little cottage’s office.

A small stack of parchments greeted him on his desk along with a similarly sized stack of unopened letters. By the window, perched his owl, a large and majestic sooty owl called Macavity. Macavity’s feathers were as gray as the fur of his namesake and his eyes were deep black with a small, Slytherin green iris — not quite his own shade, but close.

He’d been looking for an owl for ages, but just hadn’t found what he’d been looking for. Then one day, Luna marched into one of their training sessions with a Macavity-filled cage under one arm and a smile on her face, and that was that. He’d known immediately the guy was perfect for the mysterious Lord Slytherin.

Harry walked over to the preening bird. “Hey there, partner.”

Macavity nipped at his fingers and ruffled his feathers.

“You ready to deliver tonight’s batch of dastardly dispatches?”

Macavity hooted, bobbed his head, and stretched his wings.

“Right.” He pointed at the stack of letters on his desk. “I’ll just get through these and then you’re off. I’ve also got a meeting soon, so I’m off soon too.”

Macavity hooted again in acknowledgement and took a scoop of water from a bowl by his perch.

Harry sat by the desk, picked up the first letter, sliced it open, and read.

Another invitation to something he couldn’t go to. He placed it in-front of a large stack of parchments on the side of his desk.

He sighed and sliced open the next one.

He grimaced. A tear-stained letter begging him for assistance in something he could do nothing about. He placed this one in-front of another, thankfully much smaller, stack of parchments next to the first.

The next letter heralded from Gringotts. He grinned and sliced it open. He read.

Ragnok had identified three potential sites for Slytherin Hall and inclosed details. Brilliant. The girls would love this. He scanned the three sites. One place in Cumbria with a large parcel of land, another in East Anglia with a smaller parcel, and the last one… He goggled. The last one was a small island in the shetlands.

Huh.

He put them to one side and picked up the next two letters. He smirked. Two sets of identical green inked addresses stared back at him, penned with lots of extraneous curls and flourishes. One penned to Lord Slytherin and the second to Harry Potter.

They were from Alex.

He ripped them open and read.

His smirk grew.

Alex’s occasional letters to Lord Slytherin were getting a lot more insightful, and her more frequent letters to Harry Potter were getting a lot more friendly.

He knew Luna had reached out to the Black heiress recently so that could well be the reason. That girl was scarily smart and seemed to preempt his intentions in a way that even Daphne didn’t come close to. He looked over to where Macavity now nibbled on owl treats. He’d be quite freaked out if it weren’t so damn useful.

He waded through several more inane letters before hitting the last one. He stared at the lone envelope. He recognised that handwriting. He’d seen it before, often in the margins of transfiguration essays in comments like, “Well done, Tom — I hope you keep this focus on your academic work.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d received an owl from the man. Nevertheless, he waved his wand over the letter for several minutes. The owl office that stored his mail for pickup was supposed to check for undesirable magic, but with someone like the headmaster he took no chances.

He eventually satisfied himself and sliced the letter open. He read.

Dear Lord Slytherin, Head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin,

I am writing to inform you of an opportunity regarding a child in your guardianship, Miss Hermione Granger. Miss Granger’s parents have expressed an interest in their child receiving healing training, an interest which was first expressed by Miss Granger herself.

Normally such training is not started until a student has reached their third year when they begin their electives, however, after having spoken with Miss Granger’s teachers and inspecting her classwork thus far produced, I feel it could be acceptable to extend the unusual and privileged possibility of fast tracking Miss Granger and allowing her to begin classes with Healer Pomfrey immediately.

These classes are small, containing no more than three or four students across all year groups and can be expected to increase a student’s workload by no less than ten hours a week. Such positions also give extra credits and are strong indicators for prefect and head girl positions.

As I’ve previously hinted, this would be the first time Hogwarts has extended such an offer and there are, therefore, certain issues that I would need to discuss with you personally before I would feel one hundred percent comfortable in fully committing myself to such an offer. I’d like to extend to you an open invitation to meet with me and Miss Granger in my office any time in the next few weeks between the hours of four and six pm.

I look forward to meeting you,

Yours respectfully,

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Order of Merlin (first class), Grand Sorcerer, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards.

Harry lowered the letter to his side, stared off into nothing, and bit his lower lip. So, this is what got Hermione worked up this morning. He reread the letter for a second time. He really didn’t want to meet with Dumbledore. But on the other hand, getting Hermione any kind of healer training would be very desirable. Once Voldemort had his method of immortality, he’d decided there was little point in learning something like healing.

He put the letter down and rubbed his temples.

He really didn’t want to meet Dumbledore.

Hermione knew he really didn’t want to. That was why she’d been so annoyed towards the head table this morning.

He folded his hands and tapped his foot.

Once Harry was in that office there was no chance he was getting out without a long talk with the headmaster about all sorts of things. The man would try to wring every last piece of information he could out of him, and then draw many accurate conclusions even from what Harry did not tell him.

But then again… having even a partly trained healer on call would be more than invaluable, and Hermione could be counted on to go over and above the call of duty, so it was quite likely she’d be far better than could be expected in no time at all.

Aghh.

He rubbed his face.

Damn that man.

He looked up to find Macavity watching him, head tilted to one side.

His face cracked.

“Don’t look at me like that, partner.”

Macavity turned his head the other way.

“What?”

Macavity turned his head back to the first side, still nailing him with his unblinking stare.

He broke. “Okay! Okay! I know already, I’ll meet with Dumbledore.”

Macavity bobbed his head and returned to his water bowl.

Harry stood up and shook his head. He was pretty sure familiar bonds weren’t supposed to form this quickly.

Macavity gave him a what-did-you-expect look.

He scowled. “You just want more excuses to cozy up to Hedwig.”

Macavity gave an indignant hoot and leapt to the window.

Harry smirked. “Liar.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Lord Jacob Greengrass straightened his robes, pecked Sunny on the cheek, strode out of their soft lit bedroom, down the darkened corridor, out of the warm family quarters, down the grand staircase of the massive and empty Greengrass ballroom, and towards the floo. He pointed his wand at a small statue on the mantle piece and sent a pulse of magic into it.

Immediately, walls rose around him out of the floor. Stone ground on stone, creating a much smaller and cozy room in the formally desert like ballroom.

Two of the Greengrass house elves popped in with several large and comfy chairs taken from the sitting room, a low table already ladened with bottles and glasses, and several bookcases, which soon encircled the room, completing the effect of a well lived in drawing room.

He sat down in the nearest chair, poured a small shot of whisky and awaited his guests.

A few minutes later, the floo flared green and a very familiar mask stepped through. He smiled. “Harry.”

Harry, magically aged to the mid twenties of his Lord Slytherin persona, walked over to one of the other chairs.

“Jacob.” Harry’s voice warmed the temporary receiving space from behind his mask as he sat. “How are you?”

“Good.” He looked Harry over. “More importantly, how are you? Daphne’s owls haven’t been able to tell us much.”

Harry nodded. “That’s not surprising. I’m fine. We’d hopped that Hermione would keep her status a secret for longer than what transpired, but these things happen.”

Jacob poured a shot of whisky into a small glass. He’d already seen the memories of the events of the previous night. Copies hadn’t exactly been hard to get hold of. “And you’re still sure this whole vassalage thing was a good idea?”

“Absolutely.”

He stood, walked over to Harry, and handed him the glass. “Well, it’s done now.”

Harry took the glass with a small nod of thanks. “The Grangers will prove to be a great asset to our cause. Dealing with a small amount of unpleasantness is worth the cost.”

Jacob sat back down and regarded Harry for the ten-thousandth time in his life. He still had problems believing the man sat in front of him was a boy of no more than eleven years. It still boggled his mind. Having said that, the one time he’d seen Daphne as a young woman of twenty years had freaked him out much more.

Harry rested his still full glass on the armrest of his armchair. “Who else are we expecting?”

He thought for a moment. “Just Andrew and Lovegood, I think. Slughorn flooed an hour ago to say he had to cancel and Woodcroft has a prior engagement.”

Harry nodded.

“Also,” Jacob continued. “You might want to check this out. He threw Harry a stack of parchment.

Harry read the first page. “The Muggle Protection Act?”

He nodded. “Weasley’s proposal. Standard Light silliness going on.”

Harry continued to read. “Yes… I can see that… Oh dear…”

The floo flared green, bathing the room in flickering emerald, and out stepped a man who, only a few years ago, he’d never have expected to be greeting to a high-level late-evening drink of the Gray. Lord Xenophilius Lovegood. He stood. “Xeno,” he smiled. “Welcome again to my humble home.”

Xeno smiled back, long hair falling over his young but worn face. “Excellent to be back! We alone here?” He waggled his eyes towards Harry.

Harry nodded. “Yep.” He put down the parchments in hand in front of him.

“Excellent!” Xeno strode over and slapped Harry on the shoulder before landing on a third chair in a thump of cushion and a splaying of legs. “Always happy to see my mysterious, all powerful, and alter-aged future son-in-law.”

Jacob’s smile became rather fixed. He’d once been offered a consortship arrangement, but he’d turned it down out of loyalty to Sunny. Of course, he couldn’t very well complain, given what he’d almost been forced to do with Daphne and Lord Walter Slughorn.

In the end, the Gray had gotten a powerful ally out of the bargain. Intelligent people might laugh at the Quibbler, but the smart people knew that the less intelligent people took it seriously. And the less intelligent were in the vast majority. The smart themselves, took it selectively serious, depending on just how smart they were.

The Gray now had the Quibbler, the Light had Witch Weekly, and the Dark had the Prophet in all but name. The balance of power was now, thanks largely to Harry, balanced. If that required a son-in-law with more than one father-in-law then so be it.

Harry drummed his fingers on his armchair. “I would hesitate to describe myself as ‘all powerful’, Xeno.”

Xeno settled into an enigmatic smile. “Maybe, but you’ve got a lot more going on than you let on. I know that.”

Harry waggled his head, not committing to anything.

Jacob gave a single nod. That much had been obvious for years.

The floo flared green and disgorged his final guest. A shorter, older wizard stepped out.

Jacob stood again, walked over and shook the man’s hand. “Andrew. Good to see you again.”

Lord Andrew Ogdon beamed around the room. “Good to see you again, old boy. Xeno. Slytherin. I see you’ve got the whisky out.”

Harry and Xeno greeted the older man.

Jacob lead the man over to the last chair and poured him a glass. Andrew had mentored him in the Wizengamot after the death of his father and he’d held the man in high regard ever since.

The four of them shared pleasantries for a moment before Andrew got right down to what he seemed itching to get off his chest. “So, Slytherin. Just saw the memory of you beating the living snot out of Volf’s boy. I must say that was terrifying. Almost wet myself, hah!”

Harry picked up his un-drunk glass and brought it to the masks lips. The mask enveloped the glass almost like a real mouth. He took a drink. “Yes.” He lowered the glass again. “I’ve said for years that I have no intention of allowing that kind of behavior in my name and now that Daphne and Hermione are at Hogwarts, it stops.”

Andrew sat back in his chair. “Ah, yes. The muggleborn girl. Impressive casting on that one. Wandless even. You trained her?”

Harry inclined his head. “Indirectly.”

“Well, good show, I say.” Andrew smacked his lips. “Always thought the muggleborns could do better for themselves. I employ a good number of them, but it’s hard getting much out of them with the education most of them receive outside of Hogwarts, and runes can only do so much by themselves.”

Jacob nodded. The status of the three much smaller British schools outside of Hogwarts had been a subject of much discussion for their little group over the years.

“I also saw this.” Andrew thumped something down on the table. The latest edition of Witch Weekly stared up at him. “Congratulations are in order, I think, Slytherin, eh?”

Jacob raised an eyebrow, picked up the magazine, and flipped to the table of contents. His other eyebrow joined his first in its climb up his forehead. “The 1991 highest incomes list?”

Andrew pointed with his glass. “That’s the puppy.”

He flipped through to the relevant page, loudly titled ‘The Witch Rich List’, to find Harry right at the top with a 1990 income of 20,200 Galleons (£1,010,000), beating out Malfoy for first place by a chunky 1,400 Galleons (£70,000). In the column after Harry’s name of Lord Slytherin, the table listed the source of Harry’s income as ‘Slytherin’s treasure’.

He flipped the magazine to Xeno who started reading with great interest. He tilted his head. “Slytherin’s treasure?”

Harry coughed. “You know I still don’t know what we’re actually talking about, right?”

Andrew barked a laugh. “You’ve finally been added to this year’s rich list. Seems that even the journalistic gossips at Witch Weekly couldn’t figure out what you actually do, so they’ve just gone with ‘Slytherin’s treasure’ as your source of wealth.”

Xeno folded the magazine up and threw it to Harry. “Welcome to the tax paying community, Lord Slytherin.”

The assembled wizards chuckled.

Jacob smirked. “You’ll probably be receiving a lot more requests now from the unofficial tax collecting departments of the ministry and associated institutions.”

Andrew laughed. “You up for upping your donations now, eh? Slytherin?”

Harry chuckled under his mask. “Most of my profits will be going towards the construction of Slytherin Hall for the next few years, but I do plan to set aside an amount for political contributions, maybe 5% raising to 15% over three years.”

Xeno nodded. “Well, that would bring you in line with what most of us pay. Pretty sure 15% is what most of the Dark and Light dole out too. Except Malfoy of course. That man likes to throw around money like confetti.”

Jacob sat back in his chair and knocked back his drink. Malfoy wasn’t going to like being kicked off first place. The man seemed to take an unhealthy obsession in being the richest wizard in Britain. Of course, income wasn’t net worth, but the ministry didn’t tax wealth, only income, and the rate was so low that people like Malfoy didn’t even try dodging Gringotts reporting procedures. They just wanted to be high on the list.

Harry ran his finger down the list. “Slytherin, Malfoy, Potter, Greengrass, Parkinson, Ogdon, Westbrook, Yaxley, Lovegood, Flume. That’s a pretty damn good mix of factions. Four Gray, three Light, and three Dark in the top ten.”

Andrew sniffed. “Yeah, but the top twenty is full of the Light.”

Jacob pointed his own finger at the list. “Yes, but most of them have incomes under 8,000 Galleons (£400,000).”

Andrew shrugged. “It adds up.”

Harry folded the magazine up and threw it back to Andrew. “It does. But power is often best concentrated at a point for best effect…”

Jacob could hear the smile in Harry’s voice.

“…And the wealth of the Gray is nothing if not concentrated.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

The next Monday, Harry woke in his Slytherin dorm four poster, threw on his workout gear and trotted down to the grounds for his daily workout.

He wanted to get a better place to train together but the options were limited. The chamber would be the ideal place, but so long as Voldemort was around he wasn’t going near the place with a ten foot staff.

The room for hiding things was another option, but that would take a long time to set up, and, again, he didn’t want to do it while Voldemort was here, in case the Dark wanker wanted to check on his prized immortality trinket. A prized trinket, which he’d already swiped.

His feet led him out across the grounds, still wet from morning dew, and down to the lake. He started jogging.

Two laps of the lake later he’d built up a good solid sweat. He pulled in at a junction into a clearing in the forest. From here, he could see the lake path, but people would have difficulty seeing him in the trees.

He pulled his wand and conjured an assortment of dumbbells, barbells, hammers and what could only be described as big ass stones.

Forty minutes later he collapsed on the ground, well and truly done. Sweat covered him like a second skin, pooling and running down his arms and legs, which burned from his efforts.

He vaguely waved his wand towards the conjured equipment, vanishing it back into thin air.

He lay on his back, breathing hard.

Gradually, his breathing slowed, only to be replaced by the panting of another.

He sat up.

The panting came from towards the lake path and seemed to be getting closer.

He disillusioned himself and crept to the edge of the tree line, eyes peeled.

The out of breath form of his brother passed him, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, heading up the lake path towards the loop that would bring him back around to the castle.

Huh. Harry pursed his lips and watched his brother’s form grow smaller as it jogged away. That was different. Time traveller John never took morning exercise in the second timeline… did he? Of course, he could be mistaken…

He leaned on the tree next to him and tapped on the bark.

…Or perhaps his own actions were affecting the path John was taking. Merlin knew he’d done plenty to stir his brother up. In fact, given all the shit he’d thrown at John, it would be far more shocking if it didn’t affect him.

He stood for a few moments, lost in thought.

Oh, well. It wasn’t as if this was going to change his behavior towards John. It was highly unlikely that his influencing of Ginny or Hedwig or Hermione would make it less likely that John would happily help to throw him back in Azkaban.

Harry turned to his impromptu gym, made sure he’d not forgotten anything, and proceeded to make his way back up to the castle. Breakfast called.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

“Stop, Potter!”

Harry dived around the next stone corner, whipped out the invisibility cloak and became as nothing.

Volf careened around the corner just behind him, wand out, and stopped dead, staring past him to the empty corridor that lay stretched before him.

Volf shook his head and muttered a curse under his breath.

Harry didn’t move.

Eventually, after a few more obscenities about dirty, half-blood blood-traitors, the Slytherin duelling captain turned and made his way back the way he came.

Harry waited for a few moments, then whipped the cloak back off. He sighed. Why did Volf always pick the times he was in a rush for class to ambush him? Didn’t the dick have classes of his own?

He made his way onwards to Transfiguration, sat a bench away from Daphne and Hermione, clocked in for attendance, cast his notice-me-not, and put his head in his arms. He yawned. Adrenaline and endorphins from exercise and being chased were slowly replaced by a sleepy full stomach from a hearty breakfast.

“Just thirty minutes,” he half mumbled.

Sometime later, he woke from his power nap to find the class working on practical transfiguration. He canceled the notice-me-not and conjured an exact copy of the matchbox scattered in front of the classes quicker students who’d already moved on from nails.

After a few minutes, Professor Mcgonagall stood in front of him. “Mister Potter?”

Harry looked up at the stern visage of Scottish witch. Her face radiated puzzlement.

“Yes, Professor?”

He fought back a yawn.

Mcgonagall stared for a few more moments before shaking herself. “Please attempt the transfiguration for me, Mister Potter.”

He nodded, focused on an almost complete transfiguration form, and let his magic flow through his holly and phoenix feather wand and into his conjured box. The box shifted and became a snuff box — a snuff box made of cardboard.

Mcgonagall picked it up and inspected it. “A good try, Mister Potter. You just need to work on the feel of aluminium in your mind. But you’ve got the difficult bit done.” She put the cardboard snuffbox back down on the desk. “It shouldn’t be too much more effort for you to master this exercise now.”

He nodded. “Thank you, Professor.”

Mcgonagall nodded back and moved on.

He yawned.

An indignant cry caught his attention.

He turned.

Hermione glared at Daphne’s desk, frustration radiating off her in waves. McGonagall’s sand timer sat between the two girls, flashing up a collection of numbers. He couldn’t see Daphne’s work from where he sat, but her half-smug expression suggested she’d just bested Hermione in some way.

Hermione hit the sand timer and waved her own wand.

Seconds ticked by.

Another wand hit and a new number shot from the timer.

Now Daphne looked annoyed and Hermione, smug.

He watched this back and forth for a few more minutes. The wand jabs got more pointed and the looks each girl shot the other got more determined. Glares became scowls, and smug looks were punctuated with crossed arms and fist pumps. They seemed not to notice him watching them. Their world seemed to consist of only their desks and each other.

Eventually, he noticed other students starting to stare.

Right. Time to intervene. He needed to message Hermione anyway. This seemed as good a time as any.

He pulsed magic into his lightning bolt ring.

Both girls froze.

He turned away from the girls to face the front of the classroom.

You look like you’re having fun.

He glanced back around at them. Both their faces had gone slightly red.

Hermione,

Be ready to meet Lord Slytherin at the main entrance way at five o’clock today. Bring everything you need for a meeting with the Headmaster.

Daphne,

Not much longer.

Harry.

By the time he’d finished his morse code message, many of the other students were wrapping up their attempts and putting their books away.

He felt two separate sets of buzzes on his finger, each separated from the other by the magic of the ring.

Yes, Harry.

Yes, Harry.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Harry smiled through the invisibility cloak.

Books rose high on either side of him. The Hogwarts library was the largest in magical Britain. There were more books here then anyone could reasonably read during their seven years of education, let alone master, even with advanced occlumency.

Voldemort certainly hadn’t. Perfect student though he may have been, he still had limits, especially with all his ‘extracurricular activities’. After he’d ascended to power, Voldemort hadn’t bothered to learn at the obscene rate he’d done during his Hogwarts time and the twenty odd years that followed. He was a Slytherin, not a Ravenclaw. He viewed learning as a means to an end, not an end in itself.

So did Harry, for that matter. And he now had a very specific end in mind.

The wards surrounding the restricted section whispered to him as he passed. Unlike those on the third floor, these certainly were plugged into the main Hogwarts wards.

He reached for a likely looking title — Seeing the Unseeable. He opened it to the table of contents. It was a divination book. Another of Voldemort’s weak spots, but not what he needed right now. He slammed it shut and tried The Wardbreaker’s Handbook. Forcing entry… man in the middle attacks… trojan horses… towering… he slammed it shut too. Nothing he didn’t already know, and he didn’t want to break the wards… at least not yet. He needed to know what lay behind those wards. Each probably contained a separate defence and now that he knew of the extra gender ward, which hadn’t been there in the second timeline, he wasn’t taking the chance that all the other defences were the same as last time too.

What he really needed was a way to see past those wards, to see through walls without having to actually send anything in there. Freekey could certainly be useful, but he wasn’t putting Daphne’s pet on the line without assurances the little monkey would be okay. Especially considering the first obstacle last time had been a freakin' cerberus.

Maybe some kind of charm would do it? Like something to change the opacity of an object…

He grabbed a book titled Advanced Charms for Mass Production and made his way to a sitting area in the back of the restricted section, still under his cloak, sat down, cross legged in a corner, and started to read.

Somewhere close by, stone ground on stone.

He stiffened.

He heard footsteps.

He carefully closed the book on his lap and flicked his wand into his hand. His cloak would keep him hidden but it never paid to be too careful.

Two figures appeared around the stacks of books.

He frowned. It was Ginny’s twin brothers. What were they doing in the restricted section? More interestingly, how did they get in?

The two seemed to be consulting something out of his view, possibly a book.

He shifted on the hard wood floor and waited for them to leave.

The two turned.

His breath hitched. They were walking straight towards him. He clutched his wand firmly in his hand.

The two stopped several feet from where he sat. They loomed over him.

“Well hello there, Harry Potter.”

Fuck. How?

“We know you’re there, little Slytherin.”

Shit. Crap. Memory charms.

“We’re not going to hurt you—“

“—Much.”

“We just want to talk, Harry.”

Okay, negotiate first, memory charm second. He needed to find out how they found him. He pulled the cloak off and stared at the two red headed twins. “Okay, I’m impressed. How did you do that?”

“Nuh uh uh.” The twin on the left waggled a finger. “We’re not giving our secrets away so easily, Harry.”

The one on the right stared as he pocketed the cloak.

“Nice cloak, by the way.”

Fuck. He grinned. “Isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” Left twin turned to Right twin. “I don’t think invisibility cloaks are on the forbidden list, but that’s probably only because no one’s ever had one before.”

Harry’s grin widened, while inside his mind whirled at a million miles a minute. “Yes, I’m sure. I’m also pretty sure the same could be said of advanced ward breaking tools.”

Both twins froze. Bingo.

“I’m sure we don’t know what you’re talking about, Harry” Right twin said, leaning on the wall beside him.

“I’m sure you don’t.”

“And we’re sure that you can’t prove anything.”

“Whoa, whoa” Harry put up his hands, “Who said I’d want to rat you out?”

The two eyed him, warily.

“You want to talk, right? Can I suggest we do it somewhere that isn’t here? This isn’t exactly the safest place for a chat.”

The two looked at each other. Something seemed to pass between them. “Follow us, little Slytherin Harry.”

Harry stood and brushed himself off. One quick detour to replace the book and he followed the twins to a stack of books, which looked just like every other book shelf.

“Normally,” one twin began, “we’d be reluctant to show someone one of these secret passageways…”

“… But it seems that you’ve already got a way in anyway.”

The first twin poked around under a shelf and the whole thing, complete with wall, ground outwards, revelling a confined stone passageway. Miniature ward stones framed the doorway at each corner.

Harry snatched a glance at the ward work as they left. Pretty sloppy and home-made from what looked like thrown away scrap, but it seemed to do the job — very impressive for almost fourteen year olds.

The doorway ground closed again.

Harry frowned. “What would you do if you opened that door and someone was on the other side?”

The second twin turned from where he walked a few paces in front of him. “Oh, that’s not a problem, little Slytherin Harry. Trust us.”

So, they had some way to know where people were did they? Is that how they found him? That could be horrifically bad.

He ground his teeth, unseen by the Weasley twins advancing ahead of him. This was quickly looking to be a full legilimency and memory wipe job.

They made their way down the secret passageway and out into an unused classroom. They hopped onto desks facing each other.

“So,” Harry began, waving his wand to cast a privacy charm, much to the surprise of the two red heads, “to what do I owe the honor of such an impossibly improbable visit?”

The twins looked at each other. “That, my dear little Slytherin Harry—“

“—Is a story of many parts.”

He crossed his arms. “Well, you can start by telling me why you insist on calling me little Slytherin Harry. I’m not that little you know.”

“Ah,” said Right twin, his smile rather fixed. “But you are a little Slytherin to us.”

“And,” continued Left twin, “you are, more importantly, and unquestionably, Harry.”

Silence.

Ohhhh Bugger.

He tilted his head. “Well, that is my name.”

The twins continued to stare at him.

Left twin held up his hand, all fingers stretched out. “Let’s see shall we?” He dropped one finger with his other hand. “Several years ago, our dear little sister was besotted with one John Potter.” He dropped a second finger. “Then, suddenly out of the blue, she starts hating on him as though he’s you-know-who reborn.” He dropped a third finger. “Then, just a few months ago, our little savior bursts in out of the blue and accuses said darling sister of being controlled by dark magic. It then turns out that she isn’t being controlled, but she has being getting advanced occlumency training from some unknown person and that this unknown person is called Harry.”

Right twin took over. “Then, just weeks later, we find out that the much vaunted John Potter, the boy who lived, the vanquisher of you-know-who, has a twin brother—“

“—Imagine how shocked we were—”

“—Indeed, oh brother of mine. Shocked. To find that this boy had been raised by muggles.—”

“—Oh how terrible, we thought—”

“—We shall show him the magic of the magical world, we thought—

“—And then, on the train, we were sitting in a compartment with our good good friend Lee Jordon, when who should come by, but John Potter from one side—“

“—And Harry Potter from the other—”

“—And before we know what’s happening, the two are at each other’s throats.”

“—Twin against twin, oh it pains me to see—“

“—Yes, oh twin of mine, such tragedy that two who were meant to be together should be pulled so far apart—“

“I don’t hate John.”

The twins stared at him.

“Yeah right, Harry—“

“—Pull the other one—“

“—It does have bells on.“

Right twin hopped off his desk. “We can tell, Harry. We’re brothers in a family of nine. You think we can’t spot when someone is being friendly in a stick-a-dagger-in-your-back kind of way?”

Harry didn’t say anything.

“So,” continued Right twin, “your name is Harry. The person who taught Ginny occlumency is called Harry. You hate John Potter. Ginny started hating John Potter not long after our parents think this all started. Harry gave Ginny a top of the range broomstick. We saw you flying on the field the other day looking like you’ve lived on a broomstick all your life. You’re supposedly raised by muggles and we find you in the first week of school, hidden in the restricted section of the library, reading books on charms that would give us headaches.”

“And you have a freakin' invisibility cloak. And you somehow got through the library wards and it wasn’t through our secret passage way. We know that.”

Left twin swung his legs back and forth. “You, Harry, are Harry. You. Are. Harry.”

Harry stared at them. Damn. This would require quite some tap dancing. He kept his face completely blank. “It sounds like this Harry guy is quite an interesting character.”

Right twin blinked. “You’re still—“

“—Let me finish,” he snapped.

Right twin shut his mouth.

He took a moment to collect his thoughts. “Tell me more about this Harry. How do you feel about him?”

The twins shared a glance. “Well, we don’t really know him, do we?”

“Mostly we want to make sure he’s not a dark wizard praying on our baby sister.”

Harry tapped his chin. “This Harry person sounds like he’s spent a lot of time with Ginny. I imagine to teach someone something like occlumency would take that.”

Right twin nodded, slowly. “Yeah, it took us ages, and we have the twin advantage.”

Harry’s heart fell. Oh shit. They knew occlumency. Even memory charms weren’t totally safe then. And what was the twin advantage? He took a deep breath. “What do you know about what Ginny thinks of this Harry person?”

“We know she trusts him.”

“We know she likes him.”

“Well then, since you say that Ginny has strong occlumency, shouldn’t her word count for a lot? I’m sure you know your sister very well. Is she the kind of person who would hang out with a dark wizard?”

Both twins shook their heads.

“Then shouldn’t that be that?”

The twins stared at him for what seemed an age.

Eventually, Left twin spoke. “I guess so.” He hopped off the desk to join his twin. “Then we shall be off, but if you ever hurt Ginny…”

“Wait just a moment!”

They stalled, mid turn.

We still have business. Please sit.”

They raised their eyebrows but did sit back down.

“Two points. Point one. You saw me in the restricted section and you saw that I have an invisibility cloak. How do I know that you will keep all my secrets?”

Right twin grinned. “We’d give you our word.”

Harry shook his head. “We’re going to have to do better than that. We’re not leaving this room until I know both of us will keep the other’s secrets.”

The twins frowned. “Isn’t the fact we hold something over the other good enough?”

Harry sighed. “No. Because what you hold over me is massive and what I hold over you is tiny. And there’s still the second thing.”

The twins looked at him expectantly.

“How did you find me? I need to know.”

Left twin shook his head. “Sorry, little Slytherin Harry, that’s our great secret.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “I will give you anything it is in my power to give you to find out how you did it. You know some of my capabilities now. I promise you it isn’t a small offer.”

Right twin tapped the side of the desk. “Anything?”

“Anything within my means that I deem to be of equal value to the information I’m requesting.”

Left twin grinned. “Well, you are a child of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Potter. How’s your pocket money looking?”

His heart leapt. “You want, money? What for?”

“That’s our business, little Slytherin Harry.”

“I just want to get an idea of how much you need.”

The two looked at each other. “We’re thinking maybe one galleon every other month.”

Oh Merlin help him. He slammed his hands on the desk. “I’m writing you a damned blank check here! You set up a man-in-the-middle-attack in a well hidden secret passageway to break a way into the restricted section of the Hogwarts Library with rubbish most would throw away. What could two people like you possibly be doing of value that can be achieved on two and an eighth sickles a week?”

Right twin opened his mouth to protest.

Harry held up his hand. “Stop. Just stop.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his shrunk trunk, opened it, stepped inside, and closed the lid behind him. He counted out twenty-five galleons and dumped them into a small gringotts bag.

When he opened the trunk lid and poked his head out, the twins were still sat there, watching him with a strange look on their twin faces.

“What?”

“Nothing, little Slytherin Harry—”

“—Just some massive déjà vu.”

“Yeah, well. Here.” He climbed out and handed over the bag. “Twenty-five galleons. Come to me when you need more.”

The twins looked stunned.

“If you’re not back in a month for more, I’m warning you, I will chase you both down, and force it on you.”

They nodded, mutely.

“Now. Tell me how you found me!”

Right twin reached into his robes and pulled out a roll of parchment.

Five minutes later, Harry drooled. If Wormtail had ever thought to mention this to Voldemort, the Dark Lord would have turned the castle inside out looking for it.

“Yep,” said the twin Harry could now see was Fred, pointing proudly to some of the more interesting areas. “This baby is a masterpiece. We’ve already memorised many of the secret passageways on it, but we’ve still got a ways to go. Why, I remember one time…”

Harry drummed the desk with his fingers. This wouldn’t classify as a Potter heirloom, not unless you went by goblin law, but it was technically his birthright. The problem with that was that it was John’s too and even Alex’s. In fact, Alex had more claim over it than he or John… Hmmm…. Certainly something to think about, that.

He refocused on the map. He could see the room he and the twins were standing in clearly. Three small dots labeled Fred and George Weasley and Harry Potter. Thank Merlin he’d found out about this now. If he’d ever met the twins as Lord Slytherin while the map showed Harry Potter, it could have been… bad.

It was also clear the map took it’s readings from the Hogwarts wards — wards that he could control. He glanced sideways at the twins, still expounding on their story. How trustworthy were they? Was the money enough to keep them with him or did he need more? This map threw up so many questions. Had they seen Hermione and Daphne going about their business on the third floor? Had they spotted him disappearing in one part of the map and reappearing in another? The map didn’t show parseltongue only secret passageways. And even now, he could see a dot with a duel label of Quirinus Quirrell and Tom Riddle pacing a far flung study.

And what could he achieve if he had regular access to this thing? The possibilities were incredible.

He needed something to bring these two closer. The money was a good start, especially if they became dependent on it, but he needed something else, something more. He racked his brain while the twins rattled on about all the pranking feats they’d pulled off with this ultimate weapon against the fog of war.

What did he know about them? What did he have that they might want? They were ambitious. They loved pranks. They didn’t care much for rules. They seemed to revel in pulling off things that people their age shouldn’t be able to. They didn’t care much for academic work. And yet, they were diligent in their own projects, if what they said about their independent occlumency practice was true.

“And that’s when we bolted around the corner, just as filch comes around the—“

“—Do you want to be animagus?” he blurted out.

They stared at him.

“Well?”

Fred furrowed his eyebrows. “Are you serious?”

Harry gave him a look. “Yes. I’m damn serious. Well, are you interested, yes or no?”

George frowned. “We already looked into being animagus a long time ago.”

“Yeah,” continued Fred, “decided it wasn’t worth it. Takes far too long.”

“Suppose I had a short cut?”

They stared at him again.

“Especially for diligent pranksters who’ve been working on their occlumency like good little boys?”

“Oi!” George mock punched him on the shoulder.

Fred looked pensive. “How much of a shortcut?”

“Twenty to one hundred hours of work this year, depending on how good your occlumency actually is, and 150 hours next year.”

George whistled. “That’s a lot faster than the two thousand hours the books say.”

“Yep. Target of full transformation by next Christmas.”

Fred gave him a half-lidded look. “How long have you been planning this?”

“Never mind that. Are you in?”

The twins looked at each other.

“We’re in.”

“We’re in.”

“Excellent.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Harry strode back to the Slytherin dungeons to prepare for his meeting with Hermione and Dumbledore.

“Hey!” *gasp* “Potter!” *wheeze*

Romulus Volf stepped out from the next corner, some two dozen meters ahead of him.

Harry stopped and turned his head. Behind him, Goon A blocked his retreat. He turned back to Volf. “Damn. You must have run through a quarter of the whole freakin’ castle to pull that off.”

“Shut up!” *Huff* *Huff*

“Well, whatever,” he said out loud. At least now he had some time to kill.

Volf seemed to get his breath back. His breathing slowed and his back straightened from its bent-over wheeze fest. “It’s about time someone showed you your place, Potter!”

He flicked his wand into his hand. The Goon behind him was the most dangerous at the moment and all three of them knew it. Unfortunately for the other two, they didn’t know he could sense magic.

He vaguely waved his wand. “Yes, yes. I understand that. But first I’d like to ask to join the duelling team.”

Volf’s jaw slackened. “You what?”

“I said, ‘I’d like to join the duelling team’.”

Volf growled. “Why should I let you?”

“Because you want the strongest, don’t you? That’s what you’ve always said. ‘I will not let anyone on the team unless they are the strongest.’ I am the strongest. Ergo, you will let me on the team.”

Volf snorted.

“Annndddd…. If I beat all the other first years, you’d have a real reason not to include Miss Granger on the team.”

Volf stilled. He lowered his wand to his side.

Harry’s eyes widened, slightly. The dick was actually considering that.

His first plan had been to offer to duel the entire Slytherin duelling team for the spot, one after the other, with a forfeit of a thousand galleons if he lost, but if this worked first, so much the better.

Volf’s eyes narrowed. “Granger didn’t even want to be on the team in the first place. She only accepted because Greengrass pushed her into it.”

“Do you think she’s going to back down now? After all that’s happened?”

Volf scowled.

“Accept me as a candidate and I guarantee that I will beat Granger. In fact, I guarantee that I’ll win Slytherin the whole tournament.”

Volf scoffed. “Now you’re just being an arrogant little toe rag.”

Harry shook his head. He felt an almost instantaneous build up of magic behind him, whirled around, and swotted aside a tripping hex.

A startled Goon A kept his wand trained on him but made no attempt to cast another spell.

He turned back to Volf who looked equally surprised.

“I am good. And I intend to show you just how good at the November trials. Imagine having a seventh year in the first year slot. That’s me. I’m not dicking around here.” He strolled forward until he stood beside Volf. “I know that you don’t much like me, but with me on the team, Slytherin will win, and that’s all there is to it.”

He walked off down the corridor and didn’t feel a single magical build up behind him the whole way.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Harry stood in front of his shrunk trunk’s full-length mirror, looked down at the line of bottles in front of him one last time, took a deep breath, grabbed the first in the line and downed it.

The super high-dose ageing potion took affect, changing his true eleven year old body into the body of a seventy year old man, complete with beard. Any resemblance to James Potter was extremely difficult to spot.

He grabbed the second bottle in the row and downed that.

The polyjuice potion took affect, changing him into the visage of a random male muggle, this time in his mid twenties. It wasn’t the best looking face though.

He grabbed the third and final bottle in the row and downed that too.

The beautification potion took affect, shifting the irregular features of his borrowed face into something more symmetrical… more symmetrical and even less recognisable.

He then took his wand and started transfiguring his face, hair, and vocal cords into his private persona of Lord Slytherin. Fifteen minutes later, he’d finished and stood back to inspect his handy work.

He reached down and picked up the final piece from the desk — Slytherin’s mask.

There.

He tapped the mask, now on his face, with his finger tips.

He reached into his left pocket to check his supply of Peruvian instant darkness powder. Check.

He reached into his right pocket to check his mini spray bottle filled with draught of living death. Check.

He took in his complete form in the mirror, decked out in full horntail dragon hide duelling robes, complete with hood, gloves, and boots, brocaded in silver and trimmed in emerald green.

It went without saying, that he intended to take no chances with this meeting.

He exited his trunk, currently inside a parseltongue only secret passage, held up his wand and added the presence of a second Harry Potter to the wards, while instantly changing his original label from Harry Potter to Lord Slytherin.

It wouldn’t do for a certain pair of twins to wonder what Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were doing in the Headmaster’s office, after all.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Hermione fidgeted and surveyed the Hogwarts grounds from behind a tall glass window in the entrance hall.

“You ready—“

She yelped.

“—Hermione?”

She spun around to see the tall, masked figure of Lord Slytherin. She crashed into him and hugged him as best as she could, given their current hight difference.

Harry returned the hug.

“Are we alone?” she whispered.

Harry whispered back. “You know how to test for that.”

She nodded and spoke in a loud and clear voice, “Lord Slytherin’s secret place is located on Berneray Island in the Outer Hebrides.”

Harry gave her a thumbs up.

“Harry!” she hissed, hugging him harder. “I miss you so much. And there’s so much I want to talk to you about and so much to tell you. When are we going to meet up properly? There wasn’t time for anything the other night.”

Harry glanced around again. “Hopefully, soon. I’m hoping this meeting will help us get some idea of how closely Dumbledore is paying attention to things.”

She nodded.

“How’s the snake in your pocket doing?”

She patted said pocket. “No problems. It seems to really like beef.”

Harry nodded.

She stepped back and looked him up and down. She couldn’t deny that older Harry cut a dashing figure. “And you’re… you’re okay with, all this?”

Harry sighed. “Not really, but we’re doing it anyway. The opportunity is too good to miss.”

“Thank you.”

Harry’s voice picked up a cheerful beat. “No worries. This is all part of the game.

She nodded.

“Shall we?” He motioned down the corridor.

She turned to Harry’s side and slid on her Slytherin mask. “Lead on, my lord.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Albus Dumbledore signed off on another piece of parchment and added it to his out tray. The clock ticked. The many devices around him whirred, clicked, bobbed, and sploshed.

“Ahem, Headmaster.”

He looked up. He was being addressed by one of his paintings.

“Yes?”

“It would appear that Miss Granger is being led towards your office by the masked wizard known as Lord Slytherin.”

His eyes widened. So soon? He hadn’t expected that. “That is most interesting. Thank you.”

The painting nodded and went to sleep.

At last.

He swept aside the mass of parchmentwork on his desk with a wave of his wand and conjured two comfortable armchairs in front of him.

After three whole years of back and forth, or rather, after three whole years of only forth and a complete absence of back.

He picked up Miss Granger’s parchments and regarded them for a moment.

He’d been right.

He put the parchments in front of him and glanced at the door to his office.

The minutes ticked by. He frowned, suddenly feeling very silly, sitting behind his desk, twiddling his thumbs, like a fresh employee waiting for his new boss to drop by. Slytherin wasn’t even supposed to be out of his twenties yet. He slowly shook his aged head. If Slytherin really was a Dark Lord in the making, there would be tells. Obvious tells, like in Riddle, and he’d spot them.

The minutes continued to tick by.

Surely the man should have been here by now.

Another minute went by.

Okay, now he was sure Slytherin was doing it on purpose.

*Knock* *Knock*

He started. Oh, but of course the wards wouldn’t alert him. How foolish for him to assume so. He let out a deep breath. “Come in.”

The door opened.

“Ah, Lord Slytherin.” He beamed towards the heavily dressed man while a million alarm bells rang in his head. “And Miss Granger. Come in. Please. Sit.”

The masked man and girl sat down in the chairs in front of him. The girl wore an expression of dignified indifference. The man looked fully ready to enter armed combat against an army.

“Albus Dumbledore,” the man said, in a voice as deep as the sea.

“Headmaster.” Miss Granger bobbed her head.

“Well.” He offered them sweets from a small bowl, which they both refused. “It’s good to see you again, finally, after all this time.”

He glanced over to Fawkes who completely ignored the visitors. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?

The girl’s face remained blank. Slytherin’s face, was, obviously, unreadable.

“I’m quite sure we’ve never met, Headmaster Dumbledore,” Slytherin said.

Dumbledore waved vaguely. “Of course, of course.” He smiled. “So, how is England treating you?”

“About as well as she always has.”

He waited for an elaboration.

It didn’t come.

He shifted in his seat, removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Lord Slytherin, may I speak freely?”

“Yes.”

“I sense a great deal of mistrust from you towards my person. I don’t know why. Maybe I did something to you, accidentally or on purpose, I don’t know. Maybe you disapprove of my polices or methods or laws that I’ve helped passed or stopped from passing. I don’t know. What I do know is I’d like us to be able to work together. There are many issues that I know we see eye to eye on.”

The mask of Lord Slytherin stared at him. “Issues such as?”

He glanced towards the girl by Lord Slytherin’s side. “Your actions and behavior suggest you are in favor of muggleborns in our world.”

The mask tilted slightly. “…I prefer to think I am in favor of brilliant and talented witches and wizards who strive to better themselves.”

For a brief moment, a corner of the girl’s lips curled upwards before slipping back into her un-childlike blank facade, common among pureblood children, but always disturbing to see.

Dumbledore stroked his beard. “As the headmaster of a school, this is a sentiment I can fully endorse.”

Slytherin nodded, once.

“I wonder if you might be interested in seeing this.” Dumbledore reached to his side and placed a document he’d recently received in front of Lord Slytherin. It was an advanced copy from Arthur of his proposal for a muggle protection act.

Slytherin picked it up and glanced through the pages. “I’ve already seen this.” He put the parchments back down again.

Dumbledore chuckled. “And?”

“I think it’s self serving and short sighted.”

He raised an eyebrow. Slytherin certainly didn’t mince his words once you got him going did he? “Would you care to elaborate?”

“The vast majority of the proposal deals with increasing the powers of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office, either directly, by allowing them to call auror raids on suspected individuals, or indirectly, by massively increasing the number of items that are classified as muggle in origin, thus necessitating a larger staff and bigger budget. That’s understandable, considering the author of the bill is the head of the department.”

Dumbledore frowned. “But muggles make new things all the time, surely you see the need to increase the number of items in the classifications?”

“Well, that brings me to the short sighted bit. Hermione?”

Miss Granger snapped her head sideways. “Yes, my lord?”

“What would your opinion be on a policy that advocated the continued banning of the integration of magic with new technologies as they develop? Technologies such as ceramics, plastics, electronics, lasers, chemicals, etc?”

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow and turned his attention to the muggleborn girl.

Miss Granger seemed to think for a few moments. Eventually she spoke. “If magicals ban such integration, they may find, one day, that technology has become superior to magic, or that muggles have independently discovered either the existence of magic or even how to use it.”

“Well reasoned, Hermione.”

For a moment, Miss Granger beamed.

Dumbledore frowned. Was that likely? Certainly a lot had changed in the muggle world over his lifetime, but how possible was it that they would achieve something as improbable as discovering how to circumvent memory charms, or even use magic themselves. They were muggles. He shook his head. “I really can’t see that happening, Lord Slytherin.”

Miss Granger frowned.

Slytherin tapped his fingers on the armchair rest. “Then we find ourselves at an impasse, Dumbledore.”

“Surely you see it is important to protect the wellbeing of those who live now, rather than sacrifice them for preventing the hypothetical and highly improbable doomsday scenarios of the far future that wizards can deal with, if and when they occur?”

Lord Slytherin stopped tapping his fingers. Eventually, he spoke, and when he did, the words had a hint of steel and a bite that his previous speech lacked. “That’s rich coming from you.”

Dumbledore’s eyebrows both rose. Well, that was certainly a reaction. He raked his eyes over Slytherin wishing he could see the man’s face. “I don’t understand.”

Slytherin lay back in his chair and his voice returned to his previous slow, deep rumble. “No, I don’t suppose you do.”

The two gazed at each other for an age. Old face staring into blank mask.

He cleared his throat, picked up the papers in front of him and idly shuffled them. “I have here the papers for Miss Granger’s admittance to our healing program—”

Miss Granger perked up.

“—however, there is one thing I would like to discuss first.”

“Oh?”

“I understand that you’ve made aspersions as to the suitability of our highly qualified and talented potions master.”

“I may have made comments, yes.”

“I’d like your assurances that he will be allowed to continue the job for which he is almost uniquely positioned for.”

Miss Granger stood, fists clenched at her side. “That man tried to mind rape me! And then as good as threatened to expel me for defending myself!”

“Miss Granger.” Dumbledore looked towards Slytherin. The man didn’t move, seemingly uninterested in reigning in the irate girl. “Legilimency is not illegal. And I would remind you that your own Lord Slytherin, ‘mind raped’, as you put it, young Romulus Volf just the other night, in a manner far worse than Professor Snape may have attempted on you, if it is even true.”

Granger scoffed. “That was different. That was in a duel. And my lord wasn’t a professor giving a class and mind raping his students.”

“Be that as it may,” he straightened the parchments on the desk. “I would like your assurances, Lord Slytherin, that Professor Snape will be allowed to continue his job.”

Granger sat back down.

Slytherin watched him, silent and unmoving.

Dumbledore started meaningfully tapping the parchments in front of him.

Slytherin leaned forward. “If that bastard tries anything like he tried with Hermione ever again, on her or anyone else under my protection, I will eject him from the dungeons so fast, he’ll be a smear on the ceiling.”

“Noted, Lord Slytherin.”

Miss Granger huffed.

Slytherin leaned back. “Go on then. Stamp the damn parchments.”

Dumbledore smiled, flipped over the parchments, picked up his phoenix feather quill, and signed. “Congratulations, Miss Granger, you are now officially the youngest healer trainee in Hogwarts history.”

Miss Granger nodded, stood, took the proffered parchments, and she and Lord Slytherin turned to leave.

“Oh, one last thing, Lord Slytherin.”

The masked man turned back.

“If there are important issues regarding the running of Hogwarts that I feel a Lord of one of the four houses could provide useful input on, would said lord be interested in giving that input?”

The man stood stock still. Then he topped an imaginary hat. “Owl it all to Daphne. She’ll give you my input.”

Then the man turned, and he and the girl left without another backwards glance.

Just as the door closed shut, he felt a strong pulse of magic and the telltale swoosh of a cleaning charm sweep through his office, wiping out all traces of the man who’d just left.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

The Chamber's Pipe Network

Daphne stirred the cauldron in front of her clockwise, exactly three times. She stopped and started on the opposite turns. The potion bored her with its simplicity and her mind wandered elsewhere. After the whirlwind first week, September had slowed, settling down to a routine of easy classes and even easier homework. The only decent competition came from the witch sat next to her and the not-really-boy-who-lived, sat three rows in front of her, who had somehow managed to crawl his way onto the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

Harry, of course, didn't count.

She stopped turning, set a small timer on her wand, and glanced sideways to see Granger finishing up the sliced marrow, each perfect wafer a thumbed nose to their oily haired professor, who'd had the gall to fail the muggleborn witch two weeks ago for imperfectly sliced ingredients. Granger spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon with a pile of cucumbers and a knife in the Hogwarts kitchens after that, and hadn't stopped until their special brand of Harry occlumency produced the desired skill increases. Snape had yet to find a single fault in Granger's technique since, much to the man's obvious displeasure.

Her wand vibrated. Daphne lifted her spoon from the cauldron, set it aside, and turned down the runic flame.

It was now October and soon she'd be seeing Harry again. One month. It felt like forever.

Granger lifted her cutting board over the cauldron and slid the sliced marrow inside.

After the meeting with Dumbledore, Harry had decided to push back the time for meeting up in person a few weeks.

The last marrow wafer dropped into the cauldron with a small ploop. The potion turned vomit yellow.

Daphne wrinkled her nose and began to stir again. She couldn't wait for when all this hiding from each other business would be over. She sighed. Knowing Harry was so close and not sitting beside him just felt wrong. There was no other way to describe it.

Granger pointed her wand at their cauldron and cast a physical shield.

Daphne frowned. "What—"

*BOOM*

A fine mist of unfinished potion billowed past her, coating her face, hair, robes and work surface in a fine layer of foul smelling dampness.

"Finnigan! Weasley!" Snape swept past her to berate the two shocked looking Gryffindors on the other side of the room, now sat in front of a large mess, more resembling a ringed, molten candle than a proper potions cauldron. "Do you two have anything between your dunderhead ears!"

Daphne let the words wash over her and glanced around. All the other visible potions had just faded several shades. All except theirs.

Granger smiled a winner's smile.

Daphne felt her cheeks warm up. Damn it. She should have spotted whatever Granger had. She should have been paying more attention. Instead she'd been daydreaming after Harry like a silly little girl with a crush. "Good catch," she whispered.

Granger nodded, still smiling smugly, and turned away to prepare the bottle for their potion sample.

Daphne grimaced and stirred the potion three more times. Next free period couldn't come fast enough.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Eleven year old Harry Potter sat cross legged on the hard stone floor of the room of lost things, allowing the dust to swirl about his face with every outward breath he exhaled.

All around him sat the detritus of a thousand years of accumulation. Innumerable treasures to the poor and orphaned scattered among the occasional piece that even the lords of noble houses would spill blood over.

The cathedral-like room murmured, silent but for the shifting air around the many runic torches, flickering their slight light across the walls, casting long, distorted shadows through and up the hundreds of freestanding, solid-oak shelves, each one three men tall and more than a dozen long.

A creek shuddered from the far side of the room.

"—you it would work!" Hermione's excited voice wafted through the deadly silent space.

"Yes, yes, you were right, okay?" followed Daphne's moments later.

Harry shifted and watched the subtle shifting of light and shadow though the many shelves as the two girls made their way through the space.

"Where is he?" said Hermione.

"Maybe he's not here yet?" replied Daphne.

"Tch. He is never late."

"I didn't say he was late." Daphne's voice sounded a little annoyed. "Just that he might not be here yet."

Harry stood up and walked up the rows of shelves. He leaned around the next shelf.

"Well," Hermione started, "when you said—"

"—Hi, girls."

Hermione whipped around. "Harry!"

Daphne's head shot up.

Hermione bounded forward and wrapped him in a bone crushing hug.

He held her for a few moments before letting go of the excited witch and regarded Daphne, stood a few paces away, holding one arm with her other, and biting her lower lip. He grinned. "No hug, Daph?"

Daphne hesitated, then drifted into his arms and enveloped him in the same warm, mildly desperate hug she'd given him before he'd left to infiltrate the Hogwarts Express. "I missed you," she whispered, and broke away, cheeks red, refusing to look him or Hermione in the eyes.

Hermione stared wide-eyed at Daphne. She opened her mouth to say something.

"Hermione," he interrupted, bringing her attention back to him. "Test for company?"

Hermione hesitated, nodded, opened her mouth… and choked.

The happy mood froze. Harry's eyes narrowed. In an instant he had his hand pointed at Daphne, finger tips glowing red, Daphne shoved her wand into the crook of Hermione's neck, and Hermione whipped her wand up to press against his temple.

He flicked his wand into his other hand. Hermione's wand tip glowed red against his head. In one smooth movement, he curved his wand from the floor to above his head. "Homenum Revelio!"

Four outlines appeared in his mind, Him, Hermione, and Daphne, and a fourth off to his side. "Accio humanoid spy!"

A muffled shriek to his side heralded the rapid arrival of their unwanted guest. All three wands instantly refocused on it.

A small, female house elf, dressed in a Hogwarts tea towel, landed at their feet.

An elf. "Stop!"

The elf looked up at him with wide eyes. "Trippy must. Trippy must report."

"Do not leave!" he ordered.

The elf started to tremble. "Why is Trippy obeying Potter boy?"

"Why are you here?"

"Ohhh, Head Master Dumbledores not be liking this, no not at all, Trippy must report."

"You will stay here!"

The elf seemed to struggle with itself.

"Imperio!"

The feeling of being in two places at once flooded over him. He saw both the elf, and himself, towering over himself, wand pointing at his temporary elven body. Hermione and Daphne also stood, wand trained on the elf, looks of shock and fear on their faces.

He spoke from his human mouth. "Hermione, privacy charms."

Hermione nodded and started casting.

He took out his shrunk trunk from his human pocket and expanded it. "Daphne, veritaserum, fourth shelf down on the right."

Daphne nodded and climbed into the trunk.

Moments later, Hermione finished casting and Daphne returned from the trunk carrying a small vial of pure, see-through liquid.

"Three drops on the tongue." He opened his elven mouth and allowed Daphne to drop three drops into it. The dullness of the truth serum flooded his mind, while, at the same time, a small part of him, protected by his noble house ring, fenced off and preserved his free will.

"Hermione, stun her."

Red light shot towards him and the senses from his ensnared target closed.

Now better able to focus, Harry started piling on the compulsion charms. To strengthen the already strong need to obey Lord Slytherin, to not disaparate away, to not call for help, to not attack, or try to find ways around the commands.

"Incarcerous." Ropes shot out of his wand and wrapped themselves tightly around the young female house elf.

"Daphne, test for company."

Daphne nodded. "Lord Slytherin's secret place is located on Berneray Island in the Outer Hebrides."

He nodded. "Hermione, revive her."

Hermione did so.

The elf struggled against the ropes, but her eyes were dull and her efforts halfhearted.

"Stay!"

The elf trembled and spoke in a voice far lower and deader than the usual house elf squeak. "Trippy is obeying Potter boy. This is not right."

"Trippy, why are you here? What were you doing?"

Trippy shook her head, but her voice did emerge. "Trippy was asked by Headmaster Dumbledores to keep an eye on Heiress Icygrass"

He glanced at Daphne whose eye twitched.

"Why?" Daphne asked.

The elf shook her head and kept her mouth clamped shut.

Harry pursed his lips. "Why, Trippy?"

Trippy's mouth forced itself open as though a dozen horses were dragging a massive stone boulder. "Headmaster Dumbledores is wanting to know if Heiress Icygrass was being in troubles, or in dangers."

Harry raised an eyebrow.

"He is also wanting to knows if Heiress Icygrass is being making friends with Potter boy," she said in her dead squeak.

Harry growled. "Are any other elves tasked such?"

"No, Potter boy."

"Are any elves tasked to watch over me or Hermione?"

"Trippy knows of no such elves with any such orders, Potter boy."

"What about John Potter?"

"Headmaster Dumbledores has lefty looking over the boy-who-lived."

Harry took a step backwards. So, a spy on Daphne and John, but not on him. Of course, he'd been checking for spies on him ever since he'd arrived and he hadn't found any. But why not? Surely it would make sense to sick one of the little buggers on him. He tapped a nearby shelf with his non wand holding fingers.

Daphne and Hermione watched him watching the elf, wands still trained on her.

"Trippy," he continued. "Has Dumbledore said anything in your presence about what is in the third floor corridor?"

"No, Potter boy."

"Do you know what is in the third floor corridor?"

"Trippy only knows there is a chimaera—"

Daphne squeaked.

"—beyond the first door because house elves must be feeding it, Potter boy."

His eyes widened. So did Hermione's.

Daphne stood, wand dropped to her side, a look of utter horror on her face.

Harry felt mildly sick. A chimaera. Holy shit. An actual Merlin damned chimaera. It wasn't quite a nundu, but it might as well be. There weren't many cases of wizards defeating chimaeras. Most weren't stupid enough to try. What the hell was Dumbledore thinking?

"How do you feed the chimaera without being killed?"

"House elves is throwing meat through containment ward at nighttime when all students are being asleep."

Figures.

"What is the chimaera made from?"

"It has the body of a goat, two heads, one from an eagle and one from a tiger, and three tails from a tiger, a snake, and a fox."

Harry frowned. That was quite an unusual mashup. He turned to the girls. "Can you think of any more questions?"

They shook their heads.

"Okay then." He turned back to Trippy. "Are any of the other elves or any other sentient beings expecting you to be anywhere within the next hour?"

Trippy's struggles became frantic. "N-N-No, Potter boy."

He nodded and fired a bright red stunner at Trippy who collapsed, limp and still bound in the conjured ropes.

"Daphne?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"You'll find draught of living death in the sixth draw down on the right."

Daphne nodded and returned a minute later with the bottle. Harry tipped it down the elf's throat.

"Right."

He levelled the wand at the space between the elf's large, closed, bulbous eyes, and focused on all that needed to be forgotten.

"Obliviate."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry, crouched in the invisibility cloak, Daphne and Hermione pressed tightly against him, halted by a bit of Hogwarts wall with a tiny, barely-visible carved snake at the bottom. "Do both of you have your snakes with you?" he whispered.

"Yes, Harry," came the two synchronised whispers inches from his ear.

"And your sunglasses?"

"Yes."

"Yes."

He nodded, although there was no way for the girls to see him. "Okay, then." He leant down to the snake carving. "$Open$."

A tiny hole in the wall expanded into a circular opening large enough for a large man to walk through without bending. He heard an intake of breath from one of the girls. "C'mon." He climbed in and held his hand out to first Daphne and then Hermione, careful to keep them as far under the cloak as possible until the wall closed behind them again.

He whipped the cloak off.

"Lumos." Hermione's face bloomed into being by the light of her charm.

Daphne looked around. "Where are we? It's pretty cramped in here."

The hole they'd climbed into looked like a sphere of metal from the inside. Two small holes sat perpendicular to the large hole they'd just climbed through.

Harry lit his own wand. "We're in the Hogwarts piping system."

"Ohhhh." Daphne's eyes went wide.

Hermione frowned. "But how do we go anywhere? We can't fit through that." She gestured to one of the tiny holes.

Harry chuckled. "Just walk towards it."

Hermione looked at him for a moment, turned and took a step towards the hole. The round sphere of the wall retreated as she moved towards it and the roof above her dipped slightly in the space between her and them.

She squealed. "Oh. Oh. I get it. The pipes change size to fit whatever moves through them."

He grinned. "Yep."

Hermione eyes shone. "That's amazing. But what about the outside?"

"Dynamic space expansion."

"Oooooooo."

Daphne tapped her chin. "Let me guess. You've found a way to get to the stone?"

Hermione stopped inspecting the walls to look at him.

He scratched the back of his head. "Not quite."

"No?"

"Well, I've got close. But I still need to set some stuff up and I haven't been able to find anywhere closer. I thought we'd do it together since we haven't had any time together for a while."

Daphne put her hands on her hips. "Well said, Mister Harry."

Hermione's eyes widened. "Mister Harry?"

Daphne reddened. "Umm, I mean…"

Harry smiled and grabbed Daphne's hand.

"Gah!"

He dragged her towards Hermione. "Enough chatting, let's move."

After several hundred meters of pipe, including a few climbs and slippery slides, they found themselves in a section of pipe with a small chalk-like line drawn on the side.

He waved towards the line. "I did that."

Daphne wrinkled her nose. "Do I taste slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails?"

He looked back from where he'd taken a step towards the line. "Wow. You're getting pretty good at this."

Daphne cringed. "It's not a taste I feel I'm going to forget in a hurry."

Hermione giggled.

Harry took out his shrunk trunk and expanded it. "Daphne? You know where the miniature ward stones are. I think we'll need six."

Daphne nodded and a minute later arrived back with a half dozen small ward stones in a sack.

Hermione looked on with great interest as he took out one of the stones and tapped it repeatedly with his wand. "So, we're breaking into the third floor corridor?"

"Yep."

"With those stones?"

"Yep."

"What's to stop someone doing that with Slytherin Manor once we've got it built?"

He smiled. "This only works on perimeter wards. If the security system also has area wards they'll activate the moment someone walks through the hole."

Hermione lips formed an o. "That's why you needed us to check this out first."

"Yep."

Daphne made herself comfortable on the lid of the trunk.

Harry put the first stone down and picked up the second. "Oh, that reminds me. I got the specs for three parcels of land from Gringotts the other week."

Daphne perked up. "Well?"

"One in Cumbria, one in East Anglia, and one on an island in the Shetlands."

Hermione's eyes gleamed. "I like islands."

He finished tapping the second stone and vaguely waved it. "What about your parents?"

Hermione's face fell. "Oh. I don't know."

Daphne tapped the lid of the trunk. "There's a lot more to think about than just how much we like it. It may be important to be physically close to certain places. East Anglia would put us much closer to London."

Hermione pouted. "But can't we get anywhere quickly with magic?"

Harry put down the second stone and picked up the third. "Sure. If we chose the one in Cumbria or the Shetlands we could probably set up a private floo point in an empty apartment in London, or something." He started tapping away. "Might do that anyway, actually."

"Couldn't choosing an island give many interesting benefits?" Hermione asked.

Daphne grimaced. "Yes. Horrible Scottish weather almost all year round. At least East Anglia would be warm and dry in Summer."

Harry glanced at Daphne, then down at the stone in his hands. "Mmmmmm…. Might give for some interesting warding possibilities…"

Daphne frowned. "Such as?"

"We could build the ward tunnels under the sea bed that surrounds the island. That would make them much harder to attack and would stop any towering attacks."

Hermione inclined her head. "What's a towering attack?"

"It's when someone builds a second ward system right next to the one being attacked. It protects the attackers and lets them gradually encroach onto the target's territory." He put down the third stone and picked up the forth.

"So," Hermione started, "why not do that? The under water thing I mean. It sounds like a good idea."

Daphne shot Hermione a look. "There probably are some good reasons. Harry?"

Harry looked up. "Building the ward tunnels under the sea bed would probably up the cost of the project by quite a bit. My instinct says by too much."

"Oh." Hermione looked disappointed. "So, no island then?"

"Not necessarily. We could still build the ward system on the island itself. It would still make a towering attack much more difficult than normal."

Hermione perked back up.

Daphne swung her legs back and forth. "How much is the warding system going to cost anyway?"

"Gringotts quoted us 15,500 Galleons. That's 775,000 pounds."

Hermione googled. "Holy Melin. Harry. That's… insane!"

He looked up from his tapping away at the fourth stone. "Hermione?"

"I…I mean… Harry, how much is this manor going to cost?"

He looked at her with deadpanned eyes. "6.6 million pounds."

Her mouth dropped.

Daphne snorted. "What part of manor didn't you understand?"

"I… I didn't think…" Hermione fell back into silence. Eventually she spoke in a small quiet voice. "Harry?"

"Yes, Hermione?"

"How big is this manor going to be?"

"Twenty-six thousand square feet."

Silence decided again.

Harry put down the forth stone and picked up the fifth.

"I think my parents were planning to build something much smaller on their plot…"

Harry stopped tapping and smiled. "Hermione. What your parents build on their plot is totally up to them. I wouldn't expect them to try to compete with the manor. That's not the point."

Hermione nodded slowly. "So, the wards are costing 15,500 Galleons, and building the rest of the house is costing, what? 120,000 Galleons?"

He sent a particularly strong jolt into the stone he held. "Nah. Construction will be around 3.3 million pounds, about sixty-five thousand Galleons. The ward system will cost 15,500 Galleons, furnishing another sixteen thousand, and the land and improvements to the land will be around nineteen thousand, depending on which parcel of land we eventually choose.

Hermione's face scrunched up in a rictus of concentration. "That still leaves… about 16,500 Galleons."

Harry put down the fifth stone and picked up the sixth and final stone. "House elves."

Hermione choked. "800,000 pounds worth of house elves! How many are we getting?"

"Two."

Hermione stared.

"A house elf costs 400,000 pounds?"

"Around that."

"How?"

Daphne frowned. "Yes, how? I mean, when we talked about this before I just accepted it, but it does seem a lot."

Harry paused in his tapping. "Well, look at it this way. A house elf can do the work of two full adult wizards. A normal adult wizard's salary for menial work of the kind that house elves do is around 15,000 pounds a year, that's about three hundred Galleons. Following?"

Hermione and Daphne nodded.

He continued. "And a house elf can work for upwards of fifty years. That means that when you buy a house elf you're buying around one hundred years of labor in advance."

Hermione frowned. "But wouldn't that mean that a house elf should cost 1.5 million pounds then?"

"No, because the value of one years worth of labor in fifty years is much less than one years worth of labor now."

"But, how do you figure that out?"

Harry smiled. "Remind me to give you a book on basic finance when we get out of here."

Hermione smiled and nodded.

Daphne chuckled. "So, the Dark Lord was interested in business then?"

He frowned. "You know, I have learned things since I returned."

Daphne held up her hands. "Of course, of course."

His frown turned into a sheepish smile. "But… as it turns out, in this instance, Voldy did actually study this."

"Hah!"

"Yeah. When you believe yourself to be immortal, things like compound interest suddenly become super relevant." He held the now adjusted sixth and final ward stone in his hands and turned to the ward line.

Harry placed the stone at the corner of the tunnel and tapped his wand around the stone a few times. He turned around to find the girls watching his every moment with rapt attention. "Sticking charms powered by the ward system," he said, by way of explanation.

They nodded.

Five ward stones later, the pipe-sphere held a hexagon of ward stone points, cutting at a diagonal angle parallel to the gender ward line. Harry stepped through the new hole in the ward and let out a breath. He grinned. "Success!"

The girls cheered. They made their way along the now unblocked tunnel to a bare stretch of pipe wall with a snake carving in it. They'd passed many snake carvings on their way here, but this one lay inside the gender line ward.

Harry held up his hand. "This… looks like where we need to be."

Daphne fiddled with the cuffs of her robes. "It's not going to be the chimera on the other side of that? Is it?"

Hermione paled.

Harry tapped the wall with his wand. "Probably not."

Daphne grimaced. "Probably not?"

"Well, we haven't gone though any containment wards. If it is the Chimera we should be perfectly safe where we are."

Hermione gulped.

"Hey, you two trust me to protect you don't you?"

The girls looked at each other. Then back at him. They nodded, slowly.

"Okay then." He whirled around. "$Open$."

The pipe wall expanded to form a portal, metal melting outwards like the world's biggest mouth, and facing them through the opened wall space was… nothing.

"Well, that was anticlimactic."

He stood in the pipe and surveyed the room beyond. Two doors faced each other on opposite sides of the room.

Hermione's voice cut through the silence. "That's a TV! And below that is a VCR."

He stared. On the far side of the room, there was indeed a muggle television and a tape recorder.

"What's a TV?" asked Daphne.

Harry frowned. This was unexpected. He was sure they were in the third floor corridor.

Hermione voice washed over him. "It's a muggle device for viewing moving pictures from afar. Kind of like a cross between the wizarding wireless and photographs."

He could feel a ward line in front of him, warning him against entering the room.

"Oh," Daphne replied. "That sounds interesting. What's it doing here?"

"No idea."

He turned to the girls. "I'm going to do a quick test, Okay?"

They nodded.

He un-shrunk his trunk, descended, and brought out a jar of spiders.

Daphne's eye-brows raised. "Oh, I was wondering when they were going to make an appearance. I saw them on your desk."

He nodded, reached in, grabbed one, put the jar down, poked his wand at it and muttered, imperio. For the second time that day, his world sliced in half between two views, but this time, far stranger, seeing the world through ten pairs of eyes and trying to control ten sets of legs. He jumped off his own hand and carefully dragged himself along the floor towards the ward line. He reached the edge of the pipe tunnel and fell off.

Then, pain. Total burning pain shot through his bodies. He shrieked through his human body and broke the connection.

"Harry!" Hermione and Daphne clutched at him. "What happened? Are you Okay?" they asked in succession.

"Yeah. Yeah. I'm fine." He grimaced. "There's either some kind of animal area ward, or a ward to defend against the imperious curse, or both, or something else. Nasty, whatever it is."

Daphne frowned. "So, what are we going to do?" Can we do anything more from here?"

He shook his head. "Maybe. But not with what I can think up off the top of my head."

Hermione nodded towards the opposite side of the room. "What about the TV?"

"Another time. Right now I want to keep working on figuring out how to identify what's inside the rest of the rooms." He pointed to the doors on opposite sides of the room.

Hermione perked up. "Ooo I could help you with that!"

Daphne's head whipped around. "What? But you're about to start healing training. And you've got that thing going on with the other muggleborns. And you need to get ready to get destroyed by Harry at the duelling club tryouts."

Hermione ducked her head. "Yeah, well, but I could still help."

Harry frowned. "I think Daph does make a reasonable point. Not that I don't think you can do it, but we don't want you spread too thin… I somehow doubt healer training is going to be a walk in the park."

Hermione pouted.

"Daphne, you can help if you like? I assume you were offering to help?

Daphne smiled. "Yes, I would like that."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Dumbledore sat on the hard bench of his reserved lane, waiting for his team, and contemplating his duties.

Three weeks ago, he'd finally met with Lord Slytherin. The man had been… polite, if rather closed off.

Dumbledore had started the meeting with every intention of uncovering the telltale cues that marked an ascending dark lord. Anger, hate, fear, loathing, disregard for others, overwhelming superiority complexes. Slytherin seemed to possess none of these. The important word being seemed.

He picked up his favourite muggle bludger, a florescent pick affair, and absently rolled its heavy weight in his hands.

There had been one moment in the meeting when Slytherin had cut loose and showed a flash of what lay hidden beneath the mask. Anger. Anger at him. Anger at him for something he had done in the past. The implication was that he'd caused Slytherin to lose something or someone dear to him, and it was a direct consequence of Dumbledore's willingness to sacrifice others for a greater good.

He grimaced. He hated that phrase. Yes, he'd been forced many times to conduct the cold blooded calculus of necessity, but to try to pretty it up was the first step on the road to falling to the Dark. That was a major difference between good and evil. Evil tried to justify evil in the name of good, while good knew that evil done in the name of good was still evil.

He had no delusions that he was a little bit evil. But it was that knowledge that kept him from falling, that kept him Light.

Did Lord Slytherin appreciate that subtlety?

Clearing the air with the man was crucial, but Slytherin wasn't telling and gave nothing away. For the last three weeks, Dumbledore had racked his brain, going over every tough choice he'd been forced to make over the last few decades. He could think of few people fitting Slytherin's description who'd have good reason for hating him, but he'd systematically investigated and ruled out each one of the them.

Dumbledore took a sip from a plastic cup and popped a muggle sweet from a paper bag into his mouth.

There was one worrying conclusion about Lord Slytherin that he couldn't help himself drawing. The man was power hungry.

Dumbledore had dangled a free power-up out of his window, and Slytherin, after three years of ignoring his existence, had come running. That was an important point to consider.

That the power-up that brought him in had been healing worried him even more. That suggested the man didn't trust St Mungo's, or that he eventually wanted to place Miss Granger there as an agent, or, worst of all, that he planned to get into situations that needed a healer on call. Situations like battle.

He idly stroked his beard.

Of course, there was also the possibility that he was massively over reading this and Slytherin was just pulling strings for a girl in his care.

He took another sip. The drink fizzed in his mouth.

"Good afternoon, Dumbledore." Minerva sat down on the bench opposite him. He always admired how well his old friend could blend in with muggles. He smiled.

She sniffed.

"Good afternoon, Professor. I trust we can expect the rest of our faculty soon?"

"No doubt." She sniffed again. "And once more, Albus, I must voice my objection to holding our staff meetings, here." She clipped the final word so short it might have been a punctuation mark. "I do not like leaving the castle with so few adults."

One lane over, a heavily built muggle threw his bludger down his lane. It smashed into a neatly arranged set of pins and toppled them over. A barrier crashed down and the words 'FULL STRIKE' flashed up onto the muggle screen above him.

Dumbledore smiled. "I've always felt it important to come together and build friendships as a team." He poked his wand into the air and a bolt of static flashed across every screen in view. "And what better way to do that than with such a delightful muggle pastime?"

Minerva made no attempt to argue the point. She placed her hands on her knees and assiduously ignored the group behind her, now shouting, cheering, and jumping up and down.

More Hogwarts staff trickled in over the next few minutes — Sinistra, Vector, Flitwick, Babbling, Burbage, Sprout, and Kettleburn, in varying states of enthusiasm. Quirrell arrived with a face so blank it might have been vanished.

Dumbledore was just putting the final entry into the machine when Severus turned up. "Ah, Severus." He turned to regard the man, still in full wizards robes, now trying to make room for himself between Sinistra and Babbling. "What would you like your name to be?"

"I've said before, Headmaster…that I will not be participating. Not now…. Not ever."

On the bench opposite, Professor McGonagall sniffed in agreement.

He sighed and turned back to the machine. "Very well, as you wish."

He pressed a button and the screen flashed the message 'GAME TIME'. He picked up his favourite fluorescent pink bludger, stepped towards the lane and rolled it down the track. Several pins fell over. The screen flashed an animation and a number six appeared next to the name 'THE GRAND WARLOCK'

He turned back.

Babbling stood to take her turn.

"So," he started. "We're now through our first month of classes. What do we think of our so called golden year? Professor McGonagall?"

Minerva tapped a rhythm on one skirted knee. "Miss Granger, Miss Greengrass, and Mister John Potter."

There was a susurration of murmuring around the group.

He sat down and popped another muggle sweet. "Oh yes?"

"Yes, Dumbledore. All three of these students are so far beyond their class mates as to be unbelievable. John Potter's homework is clearly fourth year level. Miss Granger's is third year, and Miss Greengrass' is late second at least and I've already seen improvements in just the last four weeks in both of them."

Babbling returned and sat down with a huge grin on her young face. The screen updated a large X next to the name 'I WILL RUNE YOU'.

Flitwick nodded. "Indeed, Minerva—"

Vector stood and made her way to the front.

"—Those three students are quite something else. Miss Greengrass and Miss Granger spend almost their entire class time fine-tuning control of their spells rather than learning them."

Severus grumbled something incoherent.

Minerva nodded.

Dumbledore stroked his beard. "And what do you think, Professor Quirrell?"

"I agree with those assessments. Miss Greengrass and Miss Granger are… unique students. But it is Mister Potter who most catches my interest."

Dumbledore stopped mid beard stroke. "Oh?"

"Mister Harry Potter."

Dumbledore chuckled while inside his heart leapt. "And what is it about our young savior's brother that interests you?"

Quirrell made a vague hand waving motion. "Oh, this and that. For starters he possesses situational awareness that I rarely see in wizards thrice his age."

Dumbledore frowned. That… was not what he expected to hear. "Situational awareness?"

"He is very good at spotting a dangerous situation and adjusting his behavior accordingly."

"Indeed?"

"Yes. In many ways, he reminds me of a younger version of myself."

"Hey, Filius, you're up!" Vector arrived back and high-fived the diminutive professor. The screen flashed a seven next to the name 'THE PRIME MINISTER'.

"Really?" Dumbledore watched his pink bludger roll back into the ready rack as though by magic. "Are you perhaps thinking of taking on an apprentice?"

Quirrell made a face. "No, thank you, Headmaster."

Dumbledore nodded and looked away from Tom's vessel. "Well, do keep an eye on him. Its in all our interests to see both Potter boys grow up into strong, powerful young wizards."

Filius zoomed towards the seated witches and wizards on his knees, both hands in the air. "Strike!" He came to a stop between the two rows. The screen flashed, and an X appeared next to the name 'PINT SIZED CHARMER'.

Dumbledore frowned. If Filius won again, it would be his fifth in a row. Damn duelling champion.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione's next free period found her walking towards the Hogwarts infirmary clasping five thick textbooks to her chest. She nudged open the door and stuck her head through the gap. The pristine clean interior reminded her of her parent's practice. The smell of bleach filled her nostrils. "Um… Madam Pomfrey?"

"Ah." Madam Pomfrey bustled around a corner at the far side of the long, bed-filled room. "You're here. Good, good. Come in."

Hermione entered.

"Take a seat." The older witch gestured to a stack of folding chairs. "And, Miss Granger?"

Hermione froze while reaching for a chair. "Yes, Madam Pomfrey?"

Pomfrey put a single hand on her hip. "Now, Miss Granger, you may call me Healer Pomfrey."

Hermione flushed. "Ah, right, yes… er, Healer Pomfrey." She sat down next to a bed and waited.

A few moments later, an older Ravenclaw girl entered.

"Miss Clearwater," Pomfrey gestured to a desk in the back. "Box number eleven. I want a full diagnostics and report. Then I'll approve or disapprove your treatment recommendation."

"Yes, Healer." The girl walked to the back of the room.

Hermione craned her neck to see what the Ravenclaw was up to, but couldn't get line of sight.

A few minutes later, what looked like a seventh year Hufflepuff boy entered, and, once again, he was directed to a separate desk towards the back of the room.

Eventually, after several more minutes, during which time she was too anxious to even open one of the many thick books in front of her, Healer Pomfrey returned from whatever task she'd been handling, pulled up a chair, and sat down opposite her.

"Miss Granger, I'll be upfront about this." The healer put a small pile of parchments down on a small table next to her. "I think you're too young for this."

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but a held-up hand stopped her.

"I think you're too young, but apparently, it's not my business to decide who joins our program." She sniffed. "So, you're just going to have to make up ground as we go. And quickly."

Hermione made small, rapid nods.

"This program is intended to replicate the first eighteen months of St. Mungo's healer training, part time, over five years. Although in your case, who knows. You've got seven years to work with, but I'll be damed if you just waste those extra two years. Clear?"

Again, she nodded.

"Right. The first year of the program is spent on the basics of first aid and dealing with common physical injuries. These include broken bones, flesh wounds, torn ligaments, sprains, and internal bleeding. We'll start with a demonstration and then I'll assess your capabilities to actually do the practice considering your disadvantage."

She nodded.

"Follow me."

Healer Pomfrey stood up and led her around the back of the room, past where the other two were working at hidden desks, to a third desk surrounded by walls that came over her head. On Madam Pomfrey, they didn't reach more than halfway up her chest.

"Sit."

She sat.

The healer reached up to a shelf and pulled down a clear box.

Hermione's eyes widened. Her stomach lurched. Inside the box, a live mouse scurried around, putting its feet up on the see-through walls and sniffing the air.

Healer Pomfrey put on a glove, opened the box, and pointed her wand inside. "Stupefy." A tiny flash of red shot from the wand and hit the tiny rodent. Pomfrey then took out the now stunned mouse and lay it on the desk.

"Tell me what you see."

Hermione looked at the mouse. They weren't really doing this were they? This was a live animal! "Umm… it's a mouse, Healer Pomfrey. A stunned, live mouse."

"Correct, Miss Granger. Can you cast the stupefy spell?"

"Yes, Healer Pomfrey."

The healer looked up in surprise. "You can?"

"Yes."

Pomfrey put the mouse back in the box. "Enervate."

The mouse instantly started moving again.

"Please stun it."

Hermione obediently pointed her wand inside the box and said, "stupefy." A bright light shot out of the wand, hit the mouse, and shattered the box around it.

Healer pomfrey picked a bit of box out of her hair. "Yes, thank you, Miss Granger. A bit less power next time, I think. Please remember that a mouse is not a fully grown wizard."

Hermione felt her cheeks heat up. "I-I'm sorry, I forgot."

The healer inspected the mouse, seemed to find nothing wrong, and put it back down on the desk. She pulled a pot plant towards herself. "Do you know what this is?"

Hermione started. She instantly recognised the leafy green plant. "Yes, it's huntsman's sorrow. We're growing it in herbology. It has healing properties."

"Good. And this?" Pomfrey pulled a box of brown powder towards herself.

"I don't know, Healer."

"This is dried and powdered huntsman's sorrow. Not as potent as fresh, but much more convenient and quicker to apply. Now, please watch carefully."

Hermione watched, half horrified, as the older witch pointed her wand at the stunned mouse and said, "diffindo." A gash opened in the mouse's thigh and red liquid instantly pooled in it and started trickling out.

Oh, Merlin. She put a hand over her mouth as her breakfast threaten to leave her.

Quick as a flash, Madam Pomfrey pointed her wand at the mouse with her right hand and said, "concrescat sanguinem" while reaching into the box of dried powder with her left. The blood started to instantly dry. She sprinkled a tiny amount of the powder on the wound and prodded it again with her wand in her right hand and intoned, "sano caro." The wound started to close, fresh blood stopped seeping through the quickly clotting blood, and in moments it was impossible to tell the mouse had even been cut.

Hermione let out a long held breath. She felt slightly light headed.

Healer Pomfrey turned to her. "So, how good do you think you are at the cutting charm?"

Hermione clutched the length of her expensive robes in a death grip. "Um. I don't know it, Healer Pomfrey. My lord didn't teach me yet."

Pomfrey raised an eyebrow. "Then I suggest you get practicing before your next lesson. Unless you want your patients to wind up like that box." She gestured to the destroyed pieces of see-through box that still littered the desk top.

Hermione took a deep shuddering breath. What had she expected? Healer training without squishiness? Without being responsible for the lives of others? It wasn't that she hadn't been expecting it. She just hadn't been expecting it on her first day! She nodded, once. "Understood, Healer Pomfrey."

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Daphne lounged in the second comfy armchair of Harry's shrunk trunk, flipping through pages of a three hundred year old charms text book. This was their third covert visit to the library's restricted section since their visit to the Hogwarts pipe network. Harry had set up a tiny fideliused area in the reading section, just large enough for the trunk to sit, fully expanded with the lid open.

She sighed, shut the book, and added it to an ever growing pile on the floor next to her.

Next to the rejected books, Trippy the drugged again house elf lay on the floor, dead to the world, again. Knowing she had a spy tracking her every move was disconcerting to say the least. On the other hand, knowing they could ambush the little bugger and wipe her memories whenever they needed made her feel a little better.

Harry's feet appeared from the invisible open trunk lid and descended a few steps, closely followed by his shins, thighs, midriff, torso, arms full of books, and finally head, each body part sliding into view as it left the cloak's invisibility field and entered the subspace of the trunk.

"How's it going?" Harry asked.

She glanced at the pile of books to her side and frowned. "Nothing yet." She grabbed the next book from the yet-to-check pile, opened it and started to make notes on the chapter names.

Harry nodded, carried his load of restricted section books to the small table, dumped them on the side furthest from her, landed in the armchair opposite her, picked up a single thick tome, and started reading.

Time flowed by.

She closed the final page of the book and picked up her wand. "Tempus." She frowned. This one had taken forty minutes to skim through, only to confirm there was nothing of help to them. Although there had been an interesting titbit on the fidelius charm.

Harry gazed at her over his book.

She put the book down on the rejected pile. "Why doesn't Dumbledore just put the stone under fidelius if he's trying to keep it safe?"

Harry yawned. "The Flamels probably do. The Headmaster probably has the stone here as a lure to get me and Voldemort in the same place at the same time. You know, for the prophecy."

She frowned. "But aren't you worried the stone might be a fake then? I mean, why have it here at all?"

Harry shook his head. "Nah. Anyone who knows the Headmaster well could tell you he's just the kind of arrogant sod who'd never believe anyone could actually get past all his defences."

Daphne looked at the thick book still laying in her lap. "Any idea how many books there are that might have what we're looking for them in them?"

Harry looked off into the distance for a moment. "Maybe three or four thousand?"

She scowled. "There must be a better way of doing this."

"There is."

She looked at him expectantly.

"Already have them all memorised and then use advanced occlumency to quick search through them all in your mind."

She threw up her hands. "Well, that's not very useful."

Harry inclined his head.

"And who uses their occlumency all the time while they're reading? You'd be magically exhausted after every single day."

The corner's of Harry lips twitched upwards. "Why do you think Hermione was far less tired after getting off the Hogwarts express than everyone else?"

She stared at Harry, face totally blank. "What?"

"Hermione's been using her occlumency, all day, every day, for almost three years. Her system can probably process magical toxins faster than anyone else in our year."

She gaped.

"Not included myself, of course, but I've a lot more magical power to build up my toxin tolerance with. If I was working with what Hermione had, she'd probably be doing better than me," Harry added.

"That's… insane!"

Harry's eyes gleamed over his book. "That's the point."

Daphne leaned back in her chair and stared at nothing on the floor, shoulders drooping and posture slumped. She knew Granger worked hard. She knew Harry had been teaching the muggleborn for almost as long as she, Daphne, knew him. But she knew what magical exhaustion felt like. It felt like a million angry ants running through your head, dragging you to unconsciousness, whether you were ready for it or not. And the feeling didn't always stop the next day. Waking up feeling like a hippogryph had run you over wasn't fun. To willingly go through that every day for Merlin knew how long it took to build up tolerance… was it any wonder she was struggling to keep up?

She glanced up from her staring match with the floor to see Harry's eyes still gleaming over the book, the edge of his mouth tugged upwards. The gleam slowly turned into a twinkle.

She breathed in sharply. "You bastard! You're enjoying this!"

Harry's face broke into a full on ear to ear grin.

"Stop it!"

Harry's grin widened yet further.

"Argh!" She grabbed the nearest book and hurled it at his stupid grinning face.

The book sailed past his rapidly ducked head. Harry broke into deep laughter.

Daphne scowled and clutched her fists. "Will you shut up! It's not funny!"

Harry slowly stopped laughing, though the grin remained firmly plastered on. "I'm sorry, Daph. I shouldn't be laughing." His grin melted into a fond smile. "I seem to recall you saying a couple months back that it would be your job to 'keep all these girls in line'."

She stiffened. Yes, she had said that, hadn't she? That was before she'd really met Granger. Miss overly-familiar, headstrong, pure-blood-trained, muggleborn-free, youngest-healer-trainee-ever, always-rolls-sixes, push-herself-sick-for-years, magical-powerhouse, Hermione Granger.

In the second timeline, Granger beat her in school studies with no occlumency and while carrying a wizard ton of dead weight. If their roles were reversed, and Granger were the future Lady Slytherin, and she, the muggleborn, would she be doing nearly as well?

Probably not.

Harry was still smiling at her.

Her jaw firmed. She sat straighter. "My Lord Slytherin."

Harry tilted his head. "Yes, my future Lady Slytherin?"

She felt her face heat up. "C-Command me."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"

She was sure her head was going to melt, but plunged on regardless. "We've always done stuff together, right? Like learning and planning and things."

"We have."

"How intense is what we do, compared to the others, I mean? Compared to Granger, Lovegood, and Weasley?"

Harry put his book down and leaned back. "Ginny's training is pretty intense, but that's because she's become obsessed with beating Luna. Luna's training has always been about the same as ours, but that girl picks stuff up so quickly it's scary and she's already abnormally powerful. And Hermione always pushes herself far beyond what most people would be willing to. Sooo… I guess not that intense."

Daphne bit her lip and gripped the edges of her armchair. "I want that."

Harry tilted his head the other way.

"I want to be pushed hard. Tell me what to do. I'll do anything. I want to be useful to you as more than just the Greengrass Heiress." She glared straight into Harry's deep emerald eyes.

"You know, the political work you're doing now is really important."

"I know. But I can do more. Hermione can. So can I."

She kept looking into his eyes, refusing to look away or even blink.

Harry stared right back. Again, his lip curled upwards. "I think we can manage that, somehow."

She nodded.

"First things first though, let's figure out how to get our mitts on the ancient artefact that gives unlimited wealth, and immortality, mmm?"

Daphne's gaze swept over the pile of as yet unread books to her right. Her eyes hardened. "Right." She grabbed the top book and slammed it open on her lap. She focused on her occlumency and felt the magic flow into her head. The world became clearer, sharper, and more understandable. She looked down at the pages in front of her and started reading.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John Potter strolled through the door of Professor Flitwick's office. "Professor?"

The short charms master looked up from where he sat at his desk.

"Mister Potter? How can I help you?"

John stepped forward. "I understand you occasionally take on students who show particular aptitude for duelling, Professor."

Professor Flitwick put down the paper he'd been reading. "I have been known to, yes. But I assure you those are rare circumstances. A student usually needs to show me something quite special for that, and I've never before taken on a student before their third year.

John smirked, flicked his wand into his hand and held it high above his head.

"Lumos!"

 

Chapter Text

 

It was Halloween. Hermione shivered. She really needed to learn the warming charm.

"Okay, class!" called out Madam Hooch, sitting atop her cleansweep seven. "Three laps of the pitch! In pairs! Keep nice even space between each other and don't go too fast!"

Hermione sidled over to the Hufflepuffs. "Good Morning, Kevin."

The larger Muggleborn gave her a wide grin. "Mornin'. You wanting ta group up?"

She smiled back. "Sure."

The other puffs gave them the thumbs up and the two waited for the teacher's whistle. It blew and they started a carful, slow lap.

Hermione adjusted her grip. "So, how're classes going?"

Kevin kept his eyes forward. "Kay, I guess."

"You guess?"

Kevin shrugged, causing him to dip briefly before he brought himself back to her level. "Getting da spells down is hard. Everyone else always gets dem first."

"Ah."

They continued flying for a few more moments.

"You're lucky you're so smart."

Hermione glanced at the boy. "You mean because I learn spells quickly?"

"Yeah! You're always da first. Every time."

She shrugged, causing her own little dip. "I have a lot of advantages."

"Oh, yeah? Like?"

"I learnt all the theory when I was younger. So I get more time to practice spells."

"That's unfair!"

Hermione nodded. "Yes."

"I mean… they're all saying dat it don't matter dat ma Mum an' Dad ain't magic, but dat's not true den."

She shook her head.

"Dat sucks."

"It's actually a lot worse then that."

Kevin shot her a look. "Wha'dja mean?"

"I'm a muggleborn too so I understand what you're going through, but I was lucky. I had my best friend to guide me. You remember when we talked about legilimency?"

Kevin looked thoughtful. "Yeah. I think so. Dat mind reading stuff right?"

"Yes. Well, there's this thing called Occlumency that some people who grew up in the magical world learn, which protects against that. But it also helps you learn faster, gives you a near perfect memory, and helps you control your emotions."

Kevin's jaw dropped. "Dat's awesome! I want to learn dat!"

"—And it takes years to learn and isn't taught at Hogwarts."

Kevin's face fell. "Whaa? Why? Dat makes no sense!"

Hermione shifted on her broom as they made a slow and shaky curve at the edge of the pitch.

"D'ja know this Occ-lu-mency then?"

She nodded.

Kevin huffed. "And everyone else?"

She shook her head. "No, not everyone." She nodded to where Susan and Daphne had paired up for the laps. "Susan will know it. So will Hannah and Zach. Ernnie and Wayne might know it, but I'm not sure.

"Well dat right sucks."

"You're doing better than many muggleborns, you know."

Kevin looked puzzled. "How? I'm always last."

"We're actually in Hogwarts. Most muggleborns go to one of the smaller schools. If you want to get a good job after school, you stand a chance. Most don't get that chance, or they leave the magical world."

They continued to fly in silence, Kevin deep in thought.

"Of course," she continued, as though she'd just thought of something, "that advantage doesn't mean anything if you appear too muggleborn."

"What'ja mean?"

"You know how some of the Slytherin's are… shall we say, not very nice?"

Kevin scoffed. "Some of dem are right dicks. Dat Malfoy—"

"—Yes, them. Well, they really don't like many non-magical things and many who give good jobs are like that. Going to Hogwarts means a lot, but you also need to know how to behave around them."

Kevin shifted uncomfortably on his broom. "Ya talking about being all nobby ain't ya? Dat just isn't me, ya know?"

"It's not really about being upperclass. It just looks a bit like that. It's really about being wizard. You're a wizard."

"…I guess…"

They pulled up to the larger group of witches and wizards, hovering around waiting for further instructions. Several others were shouting at each other. Madam Hooch was assisting stragglers on the other side of the pitch.

"Give that back, Malfoy!" Megan Jones darted after the blond Slytherin boy who held a red and brown glass ball. An obliviation detection device?

"Come on, Jones. Your family is supposed to be good at this," Malfoy called back, holding the orb just out of the girl's reach.

"Heir Malfoy!"

Hermione turned to see Susan Bones floating near Daphne.

"If you do not give that back immediately, I shall report it as theft to my Aunt!"

Malfoy looked like he'd bitten on a lemon. "Fine! Catch!" And he hurled it straight between the two Heiresses.

Both Susan and Daphne pulled their wands and aimed at the falling orb.

"Accio Remembrall!"

"Accio Remembrall!"

The glowing orb fell between the two, froze, and shook in midair.

Hermione watched, eyes wide, as a thin beam of silver light formed between the two wands. There was a loud *Crack!*, the onlookers gasped, and both unwilling witches were yanked together with equal cries of surprise and indignation, colliding with a loud crunch and falling from their brooms. They landed on the charm-softened pitch floor in a tangled heap. The remembrall bounced next to them.

Hermione shot over. She was, almost certainly, the most qualified, after all, even with only a few weeks of healer training. "You okay?"

Susan pushed herself into a sitting position. "I'm okay."

"Yeah." Daphne followed the Bones heiress. "Yeah, I'm good too."

Hermione nodded. "Good." She leant closer to Daphne. "What was that?" She whispered. "That wasn't the brother wand effect. It was silver!"

Daphne shook her head. "I'm not sure." The Greengrass heiress looked around for her wand.

"Mister Malfoy!" Madam Hooch bore down on the group. "You come with me now!"

Hermione spotted the two wands lying together on the ground, reached out for them, and hesitated.

"Hermione?" Daphne appeared on her right. "Oh."

Susan appeared on her left. "Oh, wow."

The two dropped wands were identical. Both Hazel, both the same length.

Hermione picked them up. "I don't suppose you both have unicorn hair wands too?"

Susan and Daphne both nodded.

Hermione held one out for Susan. "This one yours?"

The Bones Heiress inspected the wand. "No. Mine has a bevelling on the grip." Susan handed it to Daphne and took the one left in her hands.

"So," Susan began, "What was that?"

Hermione coughed and she and Daphne exchanged knowing glances. "It probably had something to do with the wands being so similar to each other."

A small crowd formed around them of both grounded and air born students.

Susan tapped her chin. "Can we try it again?"

Hermione looked around. She couldn't see Harry anywhere, which probably meant he was under invisibility, or notice-me-not, or both.

Daphne stepped away. "Sure."

Susan grinned.

"But not the summoning charm, I think."

Susan snorted. "No, I think not."

"Do you know the disarming spell?"

Susan nodded. "My Aunt taught me most of the basic defence spells."

"Right. On three then."

They faced each other.

Hermione studied the scene carefully.

"One, two, three, expelliarmus!"

"One, two, three, expelliarmus!"

A silver light flashed midway between the two witches and a silver thread formed between them.

The crowd gasped again.

Hermione's mind raced. What did this mean? There wasn't a bead forming on the thread, so it wasn't exactly like the brother wand effect, but it was kinda similar.

Daphne and Susan stared into each others faces. The silver thread shook. It vibrated. It snapped. Both witches stumbled forward, but unlike with the summoning charm, they weren't forced together. Their wands stayed firmly in their hands.

Hermione let out a held breath. Well, that was certainly interesting.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

After lunch, Harry and Daphne entrunked themselves in the library's restricted section. Harry had conjured a few ready carved halloween pumpkins, giving the trunk a warm glowing feel.

Daphne growled at her half-read book and threw it across the trunk. "Useless!"

Harry looked up. "You know, I'd advise against ever letting Hermione see you do that."

She glared at him. They'd been skimming through books for weeks now for solutions to seeing past the wards and found nothing. To say it was getting on her nerves would be like saying Lord Slughorn was a bit slimy. She crossed her arms and huffed. "It's like we're looking in completely the wrong place. This can't be that rare a problem."

Harry shrugged. "Voldy tended to just power through wards. His approach was very much smash and grab. Especially once he'd clipped the auror's wings in the Wizengamot."

Daphne snorted. "Why'd he even need to worry about them? He could take them out couldn't he?"

Harry looked incredulous over his book. "Voldemort isn't god you know, Daphne. Neither am I. One auror? No problem. Two aurors? Again, no issue. Three? That'd be tricky for him. Four? Very tough. Put five against him and he'd probably lose unless he got the jump on them."

Daphne reached over to the side table and picked up the next book. It was titled 'Ancient Mesoamerican Wards — The Snake Eats the Eagle'. She looked back up. "And the death eaters?"

Harry waved a vague hand. "Some of them could go toe-to-toe with an auror, but most wouldn't stand a chance. Bellatrix could. So could Yaxley and the Carrows. Malfoy and the male Lestranges don't have auror stamina, but they do have dark family magic, which makes up for that weakness. Macnair hits like a nundu but lacks the agility required." He smiled. "The thing is that aurors never fight alone. They're trained from day one to fight in pairs and they're deadly because of it." Put two aurors against two death eaters and the aurors will win unless the death eaters get a lucky shot."

Daphne swallowed. "But the Dark Lord could go against two pairs and win?"

Harry nodded.

"Did he?"

Harry nodded again. "It was brutal."

"Could you?"

Harry tapped his chin and gazed off into space. He looked back. "No. I'm not powerful enough." He sighed. "One pair, yes, but two? No. The only reason Voldemort and Dumbledore can is because…" He stilled.

Daphne head-inched, one hand palm up. "…What? Because of what?"

Harry looked away again. "It… might not be a good idea to say."

Daphne's eyes widened. Holy Merlin. Harry told her everything. What could possibly be so bad that he'd hesitate?

"…Harry?"

Harry bit his bottom lip. He made as though to speak, then hesitated. He did so again, and again stopped. Eventually, he spoke. "Daphne… if I tell you this, I'd like both of us to perform an unbreakable vow to never perform the magic I'm about to tell you about."

Daphne gasped. You could only make one unbreakable vow. Apparently, this was a different level of bad. But she still wanted to know. She nodded, slowly. "I promise."

"Okay. We'll bring Hermione in on this later and do it then." Harry took a deep breath. "There is a ritual. I'm not going to tell you what it's called. The ICW is so determined to eradicate this ritual from human knowledge that the name is under taboo. So are the exact words required to perform the ritual." He paused and looked around before continuing. "Let's call it the unforgivable ritual."

The trunk suddenly felt colder. The carved pumpkins lining the walls took on a more sinister look, creepy grins staring down at them from all around. Daphne shivered. "I would have thought that would be… horcruxes."

Harry waved his hand dismissively. "Horcruxes are bad, certainly, but more for what they accomplish than the methods used to create them." He grimaced. "After all, there are people in this world who would happily commit murder for a few knuts in someone's back pocket, let alone immortality."

Daphne shivered again.

"And of course, the fact that Death himself takes such an interest in Horcruxes that he personally intervenes to eradicate them."

"But the… unforgivable ritual?"

Harry looked her straight in the eyes. "The 'unforgivable ritual' grants one immense power. It doubles the flow of magic between the core and the body, grants immunity to magical toxins and allows the caster to force the almost total submission of any wand to themselves."

Daphne's eyes widened. Her voice became a whisper. "Merlin."

"Yeah. And Voldemort was already a powerful wizard to start with."

She slumped back in her chair. Everyone knew the Dark Lord was above normal wizards, but by such an amount? She looked back up. "And… the cost?" Every ritual had a cost.

Harry stared back, stony faced. "The cost is two fold. The ritual requires you to swear yourself to a cause, a cause you feel strongly for. If you don't feel strongly about it, the ritual won't work. The first cost is a sliver of your rationality about the cause you swear yourself to. You become a little bit mad about it. A little bit insane."

Daphne's eyes widened. "And the Dark Lord…"

"Swore himself to the eradication of muggle influences in the wizarding world."

She let out a long, deep breath. "That… explains so much."

Harry nodded. "It does, doesn't it?"

"Is that why he never uses muggle guns even though he knows about them?"

Harry made a partial hand movement. "In part, yes. He actually adopted a policy of second strike escalation."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning he wouldn't use muggle weaponry until someone else did. Then it was fair game."

"… Ah." She hesitated. "Is that why you're not going to have us use them either?"

Harry nodded.

Daphne chewed on her bottom lip. "And that was the first cost? …what's the second?"

Harry sighed. "The second cost is… the life of the one true love… forcibly taken."

Daphne's heart froze. Her breathing stopped. She looked into Harry's eyes, saw the seriousness in them, felt the beating in her chest and the sweat on her hands. Her lip trembled. A twinge of fear pinched her. "I… I see now why the unbreakable vows."

Harry nodded, once. It looked to be a very tired nod.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Hermione dashed past the girl's second floor bathroom, ignoring Moaning Myrtle's wailing cries over some unknown and unspecified tragedy. Probably someone throwing a roll of toilet paper through her. As far as she was concerned, the dead girl could keep it to herself, especially today of all days. She had no intention of joining her as Howling Hermione. Trolls and Dark Lords be damned.

She glanced around to check no one was watching and leapt up the stairs in a decidedly unladylike manner, bolted down another corridor, and lunged for the door to the hospital wing.

"Ah, Miss Granger, just in time." Madam Pomfrey closed the door behind her and waved her towards the back of the wing.

Hermione sat down with barely a moment to catch her breath and regarded her current box with its unfortunate and live test subject scurrying around inside. Thankfully, she'd been able to get control over the diffindo cutting charm quickly enough in that first week not to kill any of the little animals. Putting enough power into that first stupefy to shatter the box had made a big impression. She had a record of one month of healer training and no deaths. Hopefully it would stay that way.

Madam Pomfrey appeared at her side. "Tell me about wand specialism, Miss Granger."

Hermione pushed her magic through her mind scape and found the relevant information. "A wand tends to perform better at certain branches of magic. When a wand channels a spell it is particularly suited to, the flamelage for those spells can up to twice as high, although that speed is rare."

"Correct, Miss Granger. And your wand is ash and dragon heart string. Why is this important?"

"Because the ash makes it a healer's wand."

"Yes, and…?"

"The dragon heartstring stores more magic than other wand cores?"

Madam Pomfrey sighed. "Why is speed important in healing, Dear?"

Hermione flushed. "Oh! Because every second counts."

"Exactly. We can cure almost anything. Cancer, heart attacks, and strokes are all easy. Dark magic and magical diseases are harder, but if we can stabilise the patient, we can work a cure. But one thing that we can not cure is death."

Hermione nodded along.

"Your number one priority when you are faced with a new patient is to keep. them. alive. Everything else comes second. To do that you have to know what's wrong with them. Then work down a list of spells to counteract the most common and fast acting causes of death."

The older Healer handed her a parchment. Hermione blanched. Tiny writing covered the entire spread detailing dozens upon dozens of spells.

"These are the one-hundred life savers. By the end of your training here you will know them like the back of your hand. Please read out the first one."

Hermione ran her eyes to the top left hand corner. "Vitals diagnosis charm chain."

Pomfrey nodded, stunned the mouse in the box, lifted it out, placed it on the worktop, pointed her wand at it, and cast five spells in quick succession. Her wand movements were fast and precise, giving the impression she was fighting a sword duel with a bottle-sized opponent. Five numbers bloomed over the mouse, each one a different color.

"The red number is body temperature. The blue is blood pressure, the green is respiratory rate, the yellow is pulse rate, and the black is magical toxicity.

"Your homework will be to describe the function of each spell, what they measure, and to identify what the first spell in your stabilisation chain should be given a high and low number for each of the vitals based on the visual cues on page sixty-three."

Hermione nodded and made a note in her mindscape. They were all just like the spell Healer Pomfrey used at the welcome feast to measure their magical exhaustion, the last, black, one.

"Healer?"

"Yes, Miss Granger?"

"I meant to ask you this at the feast, but are these actually charms? I mean, I read that the definition of a charm was a spell that applies a temporary or permanent change to an object without changing its fundamental structure, but these don't do that."

Madam Pomfrey tapped on the table. "Technically, no. But there's a history behind that. We call them charms now because the field the spells originally come from was torn down after the establishment of the international statute of secrecy." The healer swished her wand through the air. "Healing was allowed to keep them because they were considered too useful, and rightly so!"

"—What field?"

Madam Pomfrey looked around distractedly. "What? Oh, divination. That used to mean any spell that dealt with extracting or processing information. Reduced to fortune telling quackery now, unfortunately. Don't know why we keep teaching it."

Hermione grinned a feral grin.

"Miss Granger?"

"Oh. Nothing Healer Pomfrey. Just thinking about something. Shall we continue?"

Madam Pomfrey kept her gaze for a moment longer. She stepped back and pointed to the mouse still on the table. "Yes. Please follow the following instructions."

Hermione nodded and started following the healer's directions while dancing a jig in her head. Harry was going to be pleased with her.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Daphne bit her lower lip, again. Who knew such horrific magic existed? What kind of person would willingly murder the person that magic deemed them perfect for? At the front of the room, exactly that person shuffled some parchments on his desk and watched as the rest of the class filed into the defence against the dark arts classroom.

Interestingly, Quirrelmort's attitude to her and Hermione had been gradually shifting over the last few weeks. He now seemed more interested than angry.

Hermione lowered herself onto the bench beside her and leant into her ear. "Divination," she whispered, her voice urgent.

"What?"

"Divination. Madam Pomfrey says divination used to deal with any spell that collected or processed information!"

Her eyes widened. "Why doesn't Harry know that?"

"Because Vol—"

She slapped a hand over Hermione's mouth. "Not here," she hissed.

Hermione's eyes widened, flickering towards the front of the class where said possible Dark Lord was now getting to his feet.

The possibly possessed teacher or possible Dark Lord put his hands on the sides of the lectern, glaring at the few stragglers who hastily sat, pulling out quills and ink. "It is Halloween." His voice rang out like a death knell. "The turning of the tides between the light and the dark." So very different to the stuttering imbecile Harry had warned them to expect.

Harry was sat in front of them, as he always did in DaDa, which was good. Daphne wasn't sure how well she'd handle being in the same room as Voldemort without Harry's ever-reassuring presence.

"As many of you who come from older families know, tonight is the ideal night for many rituals that are considered borderline dark." Quirrelmort grabbed a garlic bulb swinging near his head, gave it a disgusted look and tossed it aside.

"Were you in upper years we would take advantage of that to demonstrate the effects of such solar events on spells cast, but you are not."

He paused.

"Of course, only some of you would be aware of such things given the rot in our world. Miss Granger!"

Daphne glanced sideways to see Hermione straighten in her chair.

"You supposedly serve a most ancient and noble line — What are your responsibilities as a vassal to your lord?"

Hermione took a slightly shaky breath "As a vassal I have pledged my wand to my lord. To stand by him in times of need and heed his council in times of peace."

Quirellmort tilted his head. "And as your magical guardian, are you aware that your lord can marry you off to anyone he so chooses?"

Hermione went slightly red. "I…I am aware."

"And you are fine with this?"

Hermione lifted her chin. "I trust my lord with my life."

Quirellmort made a single fluid hand motion to his side. "Well then, since you are supposed to be a wand of your lord, you will come up here and we shall see how you do against"—he looked around—"…Mister Malfoy."

Daphne turned to see Malfoy start in his chair.

Hermione nodded, rose in her chair and descended to the wide open area at the front of the classroom, joined a moment later by Heir Malfoy.

In front of her, Harry had his wand in hand, casually pointing forwards.

"This will be a standard duel with standard rules." Quirellmort looked them both over. "I trust you both know them?"

Hermione and Malfoy both nodded.

"Then begin on my three. One. Two. Three."

A flurry of spells erupted from both pre-teen's wands and ten seconds later it was all over.

Hermione stood over Malfoy's stunned form, picked up his wand, and cast a series of spells on him in quick succession. A series of colored numbers rose from the downed boy. She nodded and turned back.

Quirrelmort raised an eyebrow. "Fascinating. It would seem your lord has trained you well, Miss Granger. I must admit, I did not think it possible…"

Hermione nodded and rapidly retreated.

Tension drained from Daphne's body as Hermione climbed back up the inclined steps to their bench.

"Next will be Miss Greengrass"—She spun her head forward—"and Mister Potter."

She stood.

"Not you, Boy-Who-Lived." Quirrellmort waved John to sit back down. "I mean the other Potter."

A minute later, Daphne found herself facing off against Harry at the front of the classroom. She found it hard not to shake standing so close to that thing.

Focus! She shook herself. Harry looked into her eyes and she could feel the assurance in them. She calmed and thought about what to do next. Should she go full out? Harry surely wouldn't, but then, Harry would easily flatten her if he wanted. She gripped her wand tighter. Best to give it her all and let Harry determine what he wanted to happen.

"On three. One. Two. Three."

She lunged to the side, put up a shield, got two spells into her chain, saw red… and knew no more.

The world faded back into view.

"…is how it's done."

A hand appeared in her view. It was Harry's. She gripped it.

"And notice the quick adaptation to the new shield position."

She allowed herself to be pulled to her feet, felt the sore where she'd landed on her bum, and gave Harry the warmest smile she dared, given the audience.

"That is why Mister Potter here is currently leading this class."

She looked around. Everyone in the packed lecture theatre stared at Her and Harry with interest.

Quirellmort paused in his monologue to wave the two of them back up the stairs. "Please now turn to page 210."

The rustle of pages filled her ears as she climbed the last few steps. She shot a surreptitious tempus under the desk. Still fifty minutes to go until the start of the Halloween feast. She sighed. Hopefully she could get some food in before whatever was going to happen, inevitably happened.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Far off in the distance, the faint rumble of the Halloween feast arrived in the ears of John Potter, lurking in a shadowy corridor alcove, waiting for telltale thump thump of distant troll feet and the unmistakable stench that announced them.

His training with Flitwick was going well and he was sure he could now take the beast on. Whatever Quirell said, he knew who was really top of defence against the dark arts. Figures a dark wizard would show favouritism to his dark twin.

He shifted on his feet.

Having said that, no one could deny that Harry could duel. And that was worrying on many levels. Harry shouldn't be that good. Either someone was secretly training him… or… or… he shook his head. Harry couldn't actually have come back in time too… could he? Even if he had, he should be a total weakling. Future Harry would be an Azkaban wreck with two years of Hogwarts education and two years of will sucking hell.

This Harry wasn't that. And how would the little slime have done it? Maybe, because Harry was his twin…

*klap* *klap*

He gripped his wand tighter. Something was coming. It was faint, but getting louder.

*Klap* *Klap* *Klap* *Klep*

He relaxed slightly. Footsteps — far too light to be a troll, or even an adult human. A figure darted around the corner.

"Oh!"

It was a Ravenclaw girl. "Hi." He waved. Sophie Roper, a muggleborn.

"Um…" The girl drew a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "I don't suppose you could tell me which way the bathroom is could you?"

He blinked. "Yeah sure, it's just up that way, turn right, and you should see the sign."

The girl beamed. "Thanks mister hero!" and off she went.

John watched her turn the corner and stared after her. Something about what just happened didn't feel right. He looked at the wand in his hand. Something about a …bathroom?

His eyes widened. Oh shit!

"Imperio."

And every concern was swept away.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry crouched by the corner of the third floor corridor, invisible under the Potter's deathly hollow. A half dozen spells hid his other tells. In the distant he could hear the faint murmur of several hundred voices, faint through several floors of solid stone.

If events happened like they did last time, Quirrellmort would soon show up to take a swing at the stone. He wanted to see that. Whatever you could say about Voldemort, the man was a planner. Before he struck a target he did all the recon he could, mapped out a line of attack, then ruthlessly executed it. How many times had he been forced to watch ministries and castles fall before the Dark Lord's strikes?

Harry shifted on his feet, feeling the hard stone floor through his cheap but neat muggle shoes.

He wasn't sure what was going on with Quirellmort and that worried him. Their defence against the dark arts teacher was acting more and more like Voldemort himself did. That hadn't happened last time. But why would the addition of Lord Slytherin into the timeline cause Voldemort take more control of Quirell? For surely, it could only be that factor which caused the change.

Well, whatever. Without Hermione crying in a bathroom, there would be little need for him to be elsewhere and he could focus his full attention on this. With any luck, Quirellmort might even drop some clues for him. He could but hope.

Harry ran his index finger, slowly, along his holly and phoenix feather wand and waited.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Could you pass the sprouts?"

"Twenty inches! I swear she's trying to kill us!"

"Sure thing."

"You wait till your OWLs, you'll be begging for that little."

"They say Potter got a nimbus 2000."

"Wish I'd never taken it."

"Old news!

"And the chicken."

"Saw it at breakfast weeks back!"

Hermione served herself another potato off the big plate in front of her and looked around. The smells of the feast filled her nostrils with beef, gravy, and roast vegetables. The normal thousand floating candles had been replaced with as about as many floating glowing pumpkins and she couldn't help wonder how they got them to stay up there, given what she knew about how long pumpkins could retain magic.

Flint pointed his fork in the air and twirled it. "We'll win that match, no problem. Potter's a nancy boy and our team is nothing but hard hitters this year."

On her left, Daphne coughed in the middle of a separate conversation.

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Is that why you don't have witches on the team? Because they're not hard hitters?"

Flint frowned. "Now, see hear, Granger, it's not that I don't want witches on the team, Merlin knows it would liven up the locker room, it's just that none of the few who applied managed to beat the best wizards, see? Most of the families don't like their daughters playing."

"So if a witch did apply and could beat the current hopefuls then you'd let her on?"

"Well," Flint stroked his chin, "There is the cohesion factor to consider. Most of our lot have played together since they were kids. Got really good teamwork together, you know. She'd have to be really something special…"

Hermione shook her head and busied herself with her plate again. She may trust Harry with absolute power over her, but she wouldn't trust most of this lot to sweep the floor.

She caught a snatch of conversation from Tracy.

"—was really surprised by our Potter's performance. He beat you, Daph. Might it not be a good idea to talk to him? I mean, it's not as though you give a damn what Snape thinks."

Daphne moved her food about on her plate. "We shall see." She speared a fine slice of beef, took a dainty bite, chewed, swallowed, laid down her knife and fork, and dabbed her mouth with her napkin. "Potter is an unknown quantity. We don't want to just rush in. I'll grant you that he is starting to look more… interesting, but that is no reason to throw ourselves at him."

Hermione suppressed a snort. If there was a throw-yourself-at-Harry-competition, the Greengrass Heiress would certainly come out tops. She'd never seen her act the way she did with Harry with anyone else.

She glanced around, but of course Harry wasn't there. He would be up at the third floor corridor by now, waiting for the mass panic caused by Quirrell barging into the great hall to check out the stone's defences.

Hermione took another bite of food and glanced at the large entrance door to the great hall. Any moment now…

And then Quirrell entered the hall from the side door and calmly sat down at the staff table.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Dumbledore watched Quirrell take his seat at the head table, turned back forward, and surveyed his dominion.

Things had quietened down over the last month. He hadn't heard anything from Lord Slytherin, Tom hadn't seemed to make any moves, and Harry Potter was so isolated the boy hadn't even bothered to turn up to the Halloween feast.

On the other hand, such timidity between Tom Riddle and Harry Potter did mean any possible confrontation between the two seemed less and less likely. That wasn't so useful.

Dumbledore picked up his goblet and swirled it.

There was also the fact that Lord Slytherin knew the prophecy from when the man had broken into his office. If Slytherin cared about it at all, it was hard to tell. John had no clue who Slytherin was, apparently, and Slytherin hadn't seemed to make the connection between the prophecy and Harry. Lily and James also hadn't changed their behavior towards him, so it was unlikely Slytherin had told them, thank Merlin.

Speaking of John Potter… where was he?

The doors to the great hall slammed open.

"TROLL!"

He stared.

All talk ceased.

John Potter ran down the middle of the hall between the two tables. "On the seventh floor!" He reached halfway between him and the door. "Thought you ought to know." Then fainted.

Silence.

Then someone giggled. Laughter broke out across the entire hall, great heaving belly laughs.

He stood up. "Silence!"

The laughter died instantly.

"Prefects, lead your houses back to your dormitories." Eyes widened around the hall. One girl shrieked but was quickly shushed.

So much for a quiet month.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Did you see that?" Hermione hissed.

"Yes." Replied Daphne.

"It was him."

"Yes."

Hermione closely followed Daphne, leading half the first year Slytherins out of the great hall.

"—Sophie's not back!"

She twitched toward the sound. Padma Patil and Lisa Turpin rushed past. She grabbed Lisa's arm. "What's going on?"

"Sophie doesn't know about the Troll and we can't find her. She went to the bathroom."

Daphne whirled around.

Hermione's stomach dropped. "The first floor bathroom?"

"Out of order."

"And the second floor has the ghost."

"Hermione!" Daphne jumped in front of her. "You can't seriously be thinking—"

"Third floor bathroom! C'mon!" She dodged around Daphne and charged forward.

Behind her she heard following footsteps.

"Save me from your stupid Gryffindor tendencies!"

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry heard the rumble of a half score hundred feet far earlier than the end of the feast should dictate. He tensed. It had started. Soon, Quirrellmort should be here and he could see how far his pray had gotten.

$RIP$ $TEAR$ $KILL$

Blood drained from Harry's face. No.

A dozen meters away down the corridor, a small round hole formed in the wall and rapidly increased in size.

No.

He pressed himself to the wall, still as he could.

$KILL HUGE BEASITE$ $RIIPPPP$

Adrenaline flowed through him. So long as he gave no indication he was here he should be okay. Just so long as he didn't move. Not. One. Inch.

A huge body slithered out of the passage and a head as large as he stood tall paused in its advance to the door. Teeth as long as his leg chomped together mere feet from him. Magic's perfect killing machine tilted its head and sniffed the air.

Far off, he heard the faint approaching sound of phoenix song.

The huge snake turned its head and looked straight at where he stood, flat against the wall.

Not. One. Inch.

He felt an SOS vibration on his lightening bolt ring.

Fuck.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Sophie finished her business in the strangely normal bathroom stall. Given all the other weird thing's she'd seen in the wizarding world, she still expected to find a toilet that made her sit down on it upside-down, or perhaps one that commented on the color of her knickers, or something equally outlandish.

She stuck her hands under the running sink taps, rinsed them, and looked for some method of drying, of which there wasn't one.

She sighed and wiped them on her robes, then brightened. She'd met John Potter, if only to ask him directions. That was cool. It wasn't every day you met a real life story book hero.

Sophie hummed a tune, turned around and stilled.

Stench filled her nostrils.

She looked up.

She looked up more.

A horrific face looked down on her.

She frowned. "This is the girl's bathroom!"

— DP & SW: TFoP —

John Potter's feet walked up towards the Gryffindor common room. Everything was well with the world. Nothing could possibly concern him.

"And then what happened?" someone said. Ron? Yes, it was Ron.

"I saw the troll. Big and stinky it was," said John Potter's mouth.

"Think the Dark let it in?"

John Potter's feet continued walking.

The Dark? Something about the Dark.

John Potter's mouth opened again, but no words came out.

"You okay mate?"

John Potter's feet stopped. John Potter's feet? Feet. Feet. The Dark, letting something in. Something bad. Something he had to stop. His feet! "No!" He shook himself.

Ron stumbled. "Mate?"

He started running.

"What! Where are you going?"

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Screams emanated from the bathroom ahead of them.

Hermione lunged for the handle and yanked back the door.

A huge figure stood, poised, club raised over a scene of total destruction, and one terrified witch.

"Accio Sophie!"

Sophie shrieked. The club descended right where the girl had been crouching.

Daphne shoved by her. "Stupify!"

The spell did nothing.

The troll turned to the door.

"Stupify!"

Lisa also shoved by her and grabbed Sophie's ankle.

The troll raised its club again.

Hermoine dived to the side.

"Stupify!"

Padma leapt into the space where she's just been standing.

The club descended.

Padma opened her mouth to scream.

"Diffindo!" Hermione's spell shattered the club. Bits flew everywhere.

Sophie continued to scream her head off.

The troll looked at the useless stump of its club.

"Stupify!"

Lisa dragged Sophie towards the door. "Something else! For FUCKS SAKE!"

The troll grabbed Lisa leg and swept her into the air.

"AHHH!"

Hermione started transfiguring a nearby broken pipe into a sword.

Padma dived in between the trolls legs and pointed her wand at its shorts. "Reducio!"

Hermione started a mental countdown.

An expression of acute pain shot across the Troll's face. It roared and dropped Lisa.

Three.

"Ouch!"

Hermione leapt forward and plunged the sword into the beast's leg.

Two.

On her other side, so did Daphne with a shout and a stab.

The troll roared and lashed out, narrowly missing her.

One!

Hermione and Daphne leapt back and the two swords turned back into pipes, ripping pipe sized holes in its thighs.

Padma scrabbled through the troll's legs, avoiding being squashed as it fell to its knees.

"C'mon!" Hermione beckoned to the Ravenclaw, now with a downed troll between her and them, and still very much in grab range.

Padma made to move, but got only a foot before being snatched up, shrieking, by her robes.

Sophie and Lisa continued to scrabble on hands and knees towards the door.

Hermione aimed her wand. "Diffindo!"

Sophie got to her feet and stumbled through the door.

The troll-held-robes split and Padma fell back on the ground with a loud whumf.

Daphne finished transfiguring another pipe-sword.

The troll grabbed a rock.

"Diffindo!" Hermione's spell hit the rock and did nothing. She ducked a troll fist swing.

Lisa turned back towards the troll.

Daphne leapt forward.

The troll hurled the rock.

"No!"

Lisa whipped her wand forward "Metaprotego!"

The troll-thrown rock froze in mid-air an inch away from Daphne's head.

Daphne ducked it and made to stick the sword in the beast's chest.

*Smack!*

And tumbled back as the troll's other massive hand slapped her away. The sword fell from her grasp.

Padma finished shuffling out of grab range.

Hermione rolled to a groaning Daphne and started to drag the dazed witch away.

The troll grabbed the damaged floor and dragged itself several feet towards them, toward the door, and towards their only exit.

A desperate Padma leapt the remaining few feet, got between the troll and door, and dived through it.

Now clear of witches, Hermione and a still dazed Daphne followed a moment after.

A heartbeat later, so did the troll.

The five witches scrabbled back down the dimly lit corridor, shooting spells and dragging each other with them. Each spell thudded into the trolls face and body. Each blow further slowing the wounded, roaring beast, now trying and mostly failing to move with two water pipes fully healed into the muscles of its probably paralysed legs.

Hermione could feel the victory creeping up. They were moving faster than it! It couldn't get to them. They weren't going to die. She could taste the success.

"Here comes the-boy-who-lived!"

Hermione goggled.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Dumbledore strode down the seventh floor corridor, Flitwick, Mcgonagall, and several other teachers trailing behind him.

"Are you sure it's here? Dumbledore?"

He turned to his deputy. "No, Minerva, not at all." He sighed.

A faint pop sounded next to them. A female house elf appeared wearing a Hogwarts tea towel.

"Icygrass and friends is being fighting troll!"

Gasps surrounded him.

Dumbledore swore. "Fawkes!"

Nothing

He whirled back on the house elf. "Where?"

"Third floor bathroom."

He strode quickly back the way he'd came, followed by his staff. "Fawkes!"

Again, nothing.

Merlin, Damn it!

— DP & SW: TFoP —

"Here comes the-boy-who-lived!"

Hermione goggled.

John Potter leapt over where she half lay on the floor and bounded towards the wounded troll.

The troll roared.

She stared in horrified fascination as the boy jumped on its head, ignoring the tree-trunk thick flailing arms, and stuck his wand up its nose. "Bombarda!"

The troll's head exploded. Her lord's twin was thrown towards them and hit his head on the floor, instantly knocking him out, just as the remains of the troll's brains splashed all over her and the other girls.

The corridor was suddenly far too quiet.

The troll slowly fell forward.

The five brain-covered witches stared at the headless troll corpse, to the unconscious boy now laying at their feet, and back again.

Hermione sighed. "That was…"

"The dumbest thing I've ever seen," finished Lisa.

Daphne wiped gunk off her face. "Why do these things always end with me covered in monster guts?"

A sob started. She turned to see Padma gathering her crying fellow muggleborn into a hug.

Hermione absentmindedly jabbed her wand at John, confirming all his vitals were fine, and that he wasn't dying. Although she did see a nasty cut on one exposed shoulder.

"T-T-T-Thank y-y-you." Sophie sobbed into Padma's robes.

Padma rubbed her back. "Hey, we're all here for you. Okay? We said we would be, didn't we?"

Sophie nodded, shakily.

A groan caught all their attentions.

Hermione watched as a groggy John Potter raised himself on his elbows. "What happened?"

Daphne snorted. "What happened is that you jumped onto a slow moving target, which we were happily outrunning, and cast a blasting curse at pointblank range."

Potter shook his dazed head.

"You're lucky you weren't killed," Daphne finished.

Her lord's twin stilled, as though he'd just remembered something, leapt to his feet and turned away, towards the forbidden corridor.

Hermione shot out her arm and grabbed his wrist. "And where do you think you're going?"

John Potter looked into her eyes. "I've got something to take care of."

"What? There's only the out of bounds corridor off that direction."

Potter shook off her arm and marched off.

She called after him. "You're injured!"

Potter ignored her.

Damn. She and Daphne shared a look.

Daphne rose to her feet and made to follow. Hermione turned back towards the group. "You'll be okay, right?"

The two pureblood Ravenclaw witches nodded. Sophie turned her head away from Padma's chest. "I'll be okay, Hermione." she sniffed again, "Thank you, and you too… er…"

Daphne turned. "Daphne. Daphne Greengrass, Heiress of the Ancient and Noble House of Greengrass."

Sophie sniffed again. "Thank you, Daphne."

Daphne nodded and the two of them set off after the Gryffindor time traveller.

They arrived at the corner to the out of bounds corridor a few minutes later to find John Potter standing and staring, wand hanging limply at his side, face pale.

"What?"

Hermione caught up to him and her gaze fell down the corridor. She stared.

Daphne joined them and gasped.

The corridor was completely destroyed. Suits of armor lay in heaps of scrap. Great chunks of wall were gouged out. Rubble lay everywhere. The splinted remains of a door lay half way down the space. Tapestries were torn and half hanging off the walls.

John took a step forward. "What? What did this?"

Hermione shared a fearful glance with Daphne. What had happened here? Where was Harry? Was he safe… Or?

Hermione felt a stab of pain shoot through her leg. She winced. The snake Harry always told to keep in her pocket had started writhing and biting at her leg. She saw Daphne's eyes widen. Panic flying through them.

John took another step forward.

Her own heart started beating faster again. Adrenaline started pumping. Basilisk. Harry could be in danger. He could be badly injured. She had to find him. But…

She glanced towards Daphne and nodded at John's back. Daphne nodded.

Hermione raised her wand.

John took another step.

The tip of her wand glowed red. "Stupify."

The boy collapsed in a heap on the floor.

She and Daphne reached into their robes and whipped on twin pairs of muggle sunglasses.

Daphne turned. "Right, lets get out of here."

Hermione blanched. "But we have to find Harry!"

"Are you crazy, Granger? It's a Basilisk! A Merlin damned Basilisk! We're just dead weight!"

Hermione ignored her and marched forward.

"For magic's sake!"

She reached the door and stepped through it. She stared. The corpse of a huge animal lay on the floor. It had the body of a goat, the heads of an eagle and a tiger and the tails of a cat a fox and a snake. The snake tail writhed around in the air. The rest of the creature was very definitely dead. The chimera was dead.

Daphne arrived beside her and gasped.

Hermione's gaze raised from the massive corpse to take in a scene of destruction even more total than the corridor outside. Huge circular holes were smashed in the walls of several rooms beyond, taking whole doors with them, creating a long passageway of huge, ancient, jagged stones, which stretched on far further than the castle's outer walls could realistically contain.

What was this place?

She felt Daphne tremble beside her. "Why would anyone put a chimera in a school? And why would anyone ever willingly fight one? Even with a Basilisk? What's this all for?"

Hermione shook her head. Something was very wrong here, but she couldn't put her finger on what. Every time she tried it seemed to slip through her mind like water through a sieve.

Daphne pointed. "There! Look."

Hermione stared. A figure stood on the far side of the Chimera's corpse, just hidden from the doorway. She walked forward. Her eyes widened.

It stood perfectly still. It was tall, had a long, billowing cloak, long hair, a hooked nose. It's skin looked like stone, and it held the smashed remains of a large potions bottle to its face. Glass littered the floor around it.

It was a petrified Severus Snape.

A human head appeared from no where.

Hermione shrieked and clutched her chest. "Harry! Don't do that!"

Harry's head frowned. "ID check?"

Daphne gave the fidelius location.

Harry nodded. His eyes were urgent. "As you can see, I'm fine. Get back to the dorms, fast. The damn snake isn't here just now, but that doesn't mean it won't turn up again."

Hermione pouted. "And you?"

"I'm going to investigate a bit more. I don't know what all this is all for, but I know I want to find out. Anywhere with this much security must be guarding something quite special."

Daphne nodded. "Let's go, Granger."

They left after a few hissed words from Harry to the snakes in their pockets and made their way back to where they'd left John Potter. "Aghh!" Hermione stamped her foot. "We forgot we have to take him to the hospital wing."

"We could enervate him and send him there?"

"He'll ignore us and inconvenience Harry."

Daphne sighed. "Yeah. He would."

They heard the approach of many footsteps. She and Daphne shared a panicked look, whipped off their sunglasses and pocked them just as Dumbledore appeared around the corridor corner. "Miss Greengrass! Miss Granger! What is happening here?"

Mcgonagall and a few others followed a split second later. The old witch gasped. "Is that Mister Potter?"

Hermione stepped forward. "Heir Potter was injured in the fight with the troll and refused medical attention. He left and we followed. I was forced to stun him for his own protection and was about to take him to the hospital wing."

Dumbledore seemed to take in the destruction of the corridor, and in particular the smashed door to the room behind them. And here?

Daphne took over. "We don't know. We just got here."

The headmaster nodded. "Then please take Mister Potter to the hospital wing, immediately. Do not dawdle. Thank you for assisting Miss Patil and Miss Turpin in rescuing Miss Roper. Professor Vector, if you would escort them?"

Vector nodded and the three of them, plus a levitated Potter, left for the hospital wing.

At least they had avoided a detailed grilling from the headmaster. Hopefully Harry would be okay.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

Harry followed the trail of destruction down the series of rooms. Everywhere, rubble and debris covered the floor. Rune stones lay smashed on their pillars, marking the former presence of a battery of formidable wards, all now gone.

The first room after the chimera contained a miniature rainforest. The many rare species of magical plant curled and sniffed the air as he passed, unfelt and unseen.

The second room contained the remains of a small army of charmed warriors. One of the stone soldiers groaned and reached into the air, its bottom half completely shattered.

The third room was empty, bar a complicated looking set of glass pipes and spheres, which twisted and turned in on themselves. The basilisk seemed to have ignored it and just smashed its way straight through to the next room.

The forth room was completely dark, save for the massive hole in the far wall, and the carpet of stars, lighting the high, domed roof by the thousand.

The fifth room, he recognised from his and the girl's exploration of the pipe network. A room empty but for a muggle TV and a VCR. He padded over to the table in front of the TV, waved his wand over the parchment on it, and read.

'To reach the next room, you must program the tape recorder to record East Enders on Sunday at 7:00pm on Channel One.'

Next to the parchment was a remote controller with over a hundred buttons on it.

Harry put down the parchment and frowned. It seemed like a strange kind of lock. And why would anyone go to the trouble? What on earth was so important as to set up such an elaborate defence system while also making said defence system kind of dumb?

He peeked into the sixth room to spy a three meter tall bronze statue of Severus Snape, a set of vials of clear liquid on a table, and nothing else. There was no extra hole in the wall. The snake was nowhere to be seen.

What the hell was going on?

Behind him, he heard approaching voices. Dumbledore.

Shit.

He sidled up to the far wall of the TV room, hissed, and stepped into the pipe network beyond.

Whatever was going on here, in this strange magical obstacle course, he could leave it for another time. Ultimately, it wasn't that important. It wasn't as though it was going to help him find the stone, after all.

 

Chapter Text

 

When Harry woke up the next morning, he’d wanted to bash his head in with a rock. He’d been so close. The stone had been right there. Almost all the defences had been down. The basilisk had obliterated the first six rooms. And he’d forgotten where the stone was. He only knew one type of magic that could have that effect — The fidelius charm. And yet, when he woke up, he could once again, remember where it was.

That suggested that, in the few hours between the Basilisk’s attack and Harry’s going to bed, someone had put up a fidelius charm and then taken it down again. Given that Dumbledore had been behind him and nowhere near the final room, that either meant someone powerful was on permanent guard in the final room, or…

“Or what, Harry?”

“Or,”—he looked into Daphne’s ice blue eyes.“—more likely, some annoying genius has set up the fidelius charm to activate on a proximity ward and deactivate on a timer.”

Hermione’s eyes widened.

“And by annoying genius, I mean Dumbledore.”

Daphne frowned. “So we can know where the stone is, so long as we don’t get too close, and if we do, the whole world forgets?”

“Probably.”

The three first-years had ducked into a Parselmouth only secret passageway after breakfast — And after taking the necessary anti surveillance precautions, naturally.

“What’s most galling,” he continued, “is that I didn’t even inspect the second, fourth, fifth, and seventh rooms properly, because I didn’t know it was important!”

Hermione and Daphne shared a glance.

Hermione spoke. “Will Dumbledore even set the defences up the same again?”

Harry ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. Maybe. At least we now have several new avenues of attack to pursue.” He pursed his lips. “Anything else interesting turn up?”

Daphne reached into the pocket of her robes. “Yes, These arrived this morning at breakfast.” She handed him two separate pieces of unfolded parchment. The first read…

Miss Greengrass,

Please pass the enclosed letter onto your Lord Slytherin as quickly as possible.

Albus Dumbledore.

The second parchment read…

Dear Lord Slytherin, Head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin.

Thank you for taking the time in September to meet with me. I hope this might lead us to a more mutually beneficial dialogue regarding issues we both agree on.

As promised, I’m writing to ask your opinion on a matter of some import regarding the school and to request any and all information you may have on another matter.

The first is that last night, tragically, our current head of Slytherin House, Severus Snape was attacked by an unknown force and petrified. Normally this wouldn’t represent a problem. However, surprisingly, it would seem that the supply of fresh mandrake has dried up, and thus, until it is available again, or Hogwarts can grow its own, we are short one head of house and a potions professor. I would appreciate your opinion on who might take up the temporary position.

Harry smirked. The trade in fresh mandrake was one of those Daphne’s father controlled. Lord Greengrass’s business machine could move almost as fast as his Macavity could fly when needed.

He looked up from the letter. “So, Dumbledore wants to know who I’d replace Snape with, if I kicked the bat from the Dungeons.”

Daphne nodded. “It seems that way.”

He continued reading.

The second matter is one of historical record. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but your ancestor was rumoured to have built a secret chamber in the school. With a new Lord Slytherin in the public sphere, I thought it might be interesting to take advantage of any insight you may have to once more bring this possibly priceless piece of history to light. I could imagine that such a project would reflect well on those who undertook it and that the Most Ancient and Noble House of Slytherin as well as Hogwarts herself would be much culturally richer for it.

Yours respectfully,

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Order of Merlin (first class), Grand Sorcerer, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards.

Harry folded the letters up and handed them back to Daphne. “I understand that he’s worried about the monster, but does Dumbledore really think I’d trade his ear for my house’s secrets?”

Daphne pocketed the letters. “Maybe. Or maybe he thinks that you had something to do with what happened last night and he’s looking for a reaction.”

Harry frowned. “Maybe.”

Hermione, who’d been watching the back and forth between them, chewed on her lip. “So, what are we going to reply with?”

Harry smiled. “Unless either of you have a better idea, we’ll suggest the Bloody Baron as head of house. He’s a logical candidate from our point of view, yet also totally unacceptable, and we won’t have to show our actual hand.”

Daphne nodded. “And for the chamber?”

“Rephrase whatever you find on it in Hogwarts — a History.”

Hermione perked up. “I can do that.”

He nodded. “And see if you can find some way to needle him. I’m getting sick of being polite all the time.”

The two girls stared at him.

He grinned. “I’m sure you can come up with something amusing if you put your heads together.”

Hermione and Daphne exchanged glances before twin gleams appeared in their blue and hazel eyes.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Headmaster Albus Dumbledore stared down at the owl he’d just received. His eye twitched.

The parchment he held was pastel green and covered in glitter.

Dear Headmaster,

We suggest the Bloody Baron for the position of Head of Slytherin House. As to the Chamber of Secrets, we know it was supposedly built by Salazar Slytherin and that legend says it contains some kind of beast that is meant to either cleanse the castle of the unworthy or guard the castle from outside forces depending on which version of the myth you believe. This is, unfortunately, all we’ve found on the subject.

Yours,

Lord Slytherin, Heiress Greengrass, and Miss Granger.

The ink was neon pink and surrounded by sticker stars, rainbows, and smily faces. Two charmed unicorns in silver ink frolicked with each other at the bottom of the parchment.

Dumbledore chuckled darkly. If Slytherin thought he could get to him by rubbing his face in the fact that he’d delegated correspondence with him to a pair of eleven and twelve year old girls, then he was sorely mistaken.

Not that he wasn’t a little annoyed, but he was far more concerned about losing his potions master during a critical time for his project of goading a confrontation between Harry Potter and Voldemort.

That and he hadn’t seen Fawkes since the previous night and he was starting to get worried. While phoenixes had a kind of limited immortality, that didn’t mean they couldn’t be seriously inconvenienced. He knew that better than most.

He looked back down at the parchment in his hands. Well, if Slytherin wanted to play games, he was more than capable of reciprocating. After all, he had his own reputation as an eccentric old man to keep up.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

For Harry, most of the rest of the day had been reasonably normal, but the next morning, he made his way down to the Hogwarts great hall for breakfast, his mind whirring.

Late last night, Daphne had slipped him a message. Apparently, Padma Patil had been asked by her father to send him her memory of the fight with the troll. Mister Patil was so proud of her daughter, he’d invited all his friends and acquaintances around to show them. Copies of the memory had then spread throughout a good chunk of the more well-off adults of the wizarding world, all apparently equal measures shocked and amazed that four first-year witches had gone toe to toe with a full grown mountain troll before it was finished off by a ridiculously powerful, but equally foolish boy-who-lived.

Although there were no known pensieves among the Hogwarts students, rumors had spread throughout the castle yesterday like fiendfyre, and the four witches were being heralded as Heroines and Troll Slayers. Opinion was split on his brother, with half thinking him a hero for ‘saving’ the girls and the other half thinking him a rash idiot for jumping into a trolls grabbing range when the beast was already immobilised.

Harry sat down and picked up a discarded copy of the Daily Prophet. Sure enough, there on the front page was a photograph lifted from Padma’s memory. It showed a particularly dramatic part of the battle when the troll threw a rock straight at Daphne, who was leaping towards the troll, conjured sword in hand, protected by a shield cast by Lisa Turpin. Hermione was ducking under the other troll’s arm swing and Sophie and Padma were diving for the bathroom door.

Other pictures showed Daphne and Hermione had plunging their twin swords into the monster’s legs, Hermione’s diffindos shattering the troll’s club and freeing Padma from the troll’s grasp, and Padma sliding through the troll’s legs, casting a shrinking charm on the brute’s shorts as she went.

Finally, one picture showed John Potter jumping on a mostly immobile troll and blasting its head off, sending both troll and boy to the floor.

By the time he’d finished reading the article, the hall filled and Dumbledore got to his feet. The man cleared his throat and the hall quietened.

“I have a few announcements to make before you all head off to classes.” The headmaster’s eyes skimmed the four tables. “Firstly, as many of you may have noticed, our resident potions master is not currently with us. He has unfortunately suffered an accident and will not be with us for a while.”

A few people clapped and cheered but were quickly shushed.

“Until Professor Snape returns, therefore, I shall be teaching potions classes with the aid of several upper year prefects.”

An excited murmuring filled the hall. Harry swore under his breath.

“Next, in a totally unrelated incident to do with a rather large troll, Miss Granger, Miss Greengrass, Miss Padma Patil, Miss Turpin, and Mister John Potter have each earned twenty-five points for their respective houses.”

Whispers and cheers spread throughout the hall.

“And finally,” Dumbledore continued, in a voice that despite all impossibility seemed to twinkle as much as his eyes, “according to Lord Slytherin’s request, I have decided to make the Bloody Baron the temporary head of Slytherin House.”

Harry wanted to brain himself on the table. The daft old bugger actually went for it.

The Bloody Baron hovered at the front of the Slytherin table, ghostly blood dripping off him, chains draped across his shoulders and arms, looking simultaneously more anticipatory and more sadistic than Harry thought he’d ever seen the apparition. The other ghosts didn’t look happy. The rest of the hall looked nonplused.

One Slytherin near him leant closer to another. “Can he do that?”

The other Slytherin shrugged.

Dumbledore waved a final hand. “And now, get to classes. Go on.”

The students started to file out in pairs and groups.

Harry followed them. The Bloody Baron as head of house wasn’t ideal, but it was certainly better than some of the other options. He could work with it.

“Oi, Potter!”

Harry turned, almost out of the hall, to find Romulus Volf forcing his way over to him.

“Yes?”

Volf stopped next to him. “You know tryouts are soon, right?”

Oh yes, the duelling tryouts. Harry nodded. “Yes, at the end of the month.”

Volf nodded. “You know Granger went against that troll. You still sure you’ll win? Nott’s been at the club every week and I still don’t think he can take the mudblood. You do still have a month to train.”

Harry smirked. “I’m sure.”

Volf scowled. “Because if you don’t…” He made a fist and slammed it into the wall next to him. His scowl flashed into a wince.

Harry raised an eyebrow and looked at the fist, now slightly red. “So, you want some healing on that?”

“No, I don’t,” Volf grumbled, nursing the hand and not looking Harry in the eyes.

Harry grinned. “Are you sure? I hear Miss Granger is in healer training. You know… you could always…”

“Shut it, Potter!”

Harry snickered, turned and walked off down the corridor. “See you at the tryouts.”

Behind him, Volf growled.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Heroine Hermione the troll slayer sat down in her first potions class since Halloween. The number of times she’d been approached to recount the events of that evening was starting to grate on her. She didn’t have time for that rubbish. She had healing training, and schoolwork, and duelling practice, and physical training, and she was plugging away at setting up the muggleborn faction in the school. Still, it was at least better than being damsel-in-distress-Hermione the bully victim.

Daphne, by contrast, was in her element. The number of Slytherins the Greengrass Heiress could call acquaintances had risen substantially in the last twenty-four hours, and the dreaded dead space between the Gray and the Dark at the Slytherin Great Hall table, had slightly shifted towards the Dark.

Temporary evil potions professor Dumbledore strolled to the front of the class, looked around, smiled a smile of friendship and twinkles, tapped his wand on the board and uncovered previously unseen writing.

“Good morning, class. I will be your potions professor for such time until Professor Snape is back with us.” Dumbledore motioned to the back of the classroom. “I will be assisted in this by Miss Pebble and Mister Cummerlog, two of our sixth year prefects.”

The two prefects waved.

“We will be continuing the syllabus of Professor Snape in upcoming lessons, but since my specialty is alchemy rather than potions, I thought it might be instructive to start out with a special lecture that highlights the similarities and differences between these two subjects.”

Hermione sat a bit straighter in her chair. She might despise this evil old man for what he did and wanted to do to Harry, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try her hardest in class, and she hadn’t learnt much about alchemy.

“Now, who can tell me the difference between potions and alchemy?”

Her hand shot up.

“Miss Granger.”

“Alchemy is permanent, potions are temporary.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Well done. Two points to Slytherin. Yes, indeed. Alchemy is permanent, but can you tell us why it is permanent, Miss Granger?”

She reddened and shook her head. She hadn’t learnt that yet.

“No matter, Miss Granger. Alchemy uses magic to enact real changes at the mundane level of things. It is the bridge that links magic to muggle disciplines such as chemistry and physics. Most other forms of magic, including potions and transfiguration, use magic to directly apply an effect over a structure that doesn’t change. That is not what Alchemy does.”

On the table, the headmaster rested two similar reddish looking rocks. “These stones are called bauxite. Bauxite is a type of rock found in many places throughout the world.”

He placed his wand on one of the rocks. “Now using transfiguration, I could easily take this rock and turn it into something more interesting.” He jabbed his wand and the rock turned into a metallic-looking model spitfire fighter plane. “This is easy, quick, and efficient, but it has a problem…”

The model airplane turned back into a rock.

“As you know from your transfiguration studies, the magic will eventually run out. However…” He pointed his wand at the other rock and made a complicated waving motion over it. What looked like a fine silver dust rose from the stone and deposited itself in a pile to the stone’s side. The stone itself now had a darker color. He then poked his wand at the pile of silvery dust, which glowed red-hot, liquified, and flowed upwards, moulding itself into a familiar shape. A moment later, another, smaller model airplane, still red hot, sat on the desk. “This magic is permanent.”

The class stared at the little object on the teacher’s desk.

Sophie raised her hand.

“Yes, Miss Roper?”

Sophie lowered her hand. “That’s aluminium, isn’t it?”

Dumbledore beamed. “Yes, it is. A metal discovered by alchemists more than a thousand years ago, and independently discovered by muggles more recently. It is light and strong — not as strong as steel, but it has a better weight to strength ratio. Muggles use it in their flying machines. We tend to use it in packaging, toys, and dancing cake tops.”

A few Slytherins snorted.

Dumbledore ignored them and continued. “Alchemy doesn’t create new things it merely works with what is already there. You cannot permanently create from nothing, but you can permanently change some things to others, if you know how.” He adjusted his moon-shaped spectacles. “Mister Harry Potter.”

Hermione turned to see her lord, almost hidden at the back of the class, perk up.

“Yes, Professor?”

“There are some spells we teach at Hogwarts that are actually alchemy, rather than the branch they purport to originate from. Can you think of any based on the rule we just discussed?”

Harry seemed to think for moment. “The bubblehead charm?”

Dumbledore looked surprised. “Indeed. And your reasoning?”

“Well, I know it works in normal air as a protection against potion fumes, but it also works underwater, doesn’t it? So if it works underwater then it must be turning water into hydrogen and oxygen. It releases the hydrogen and keeps the oxygen in a bubble around the casters face.”

Dumbledore continued to look surprised. “That is a very well reasoned answer. Well done.”

For the rest of the class, Hermione secretly pouted. No points. And the headmaster refused to call on Harry again, as well. Bastard.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Dumbledore shuffled parchments on his desk and regarded the empty classroom as the last of his students filed out.

Just as Severus said, Harry Potter seemed to be well isolated and friendless. But he was also smart and knowledgeable. Maybe the boy’s isolation was working against his plans. After all, all that time spent alone was probably spent in the library or such like. The question was, which was more dangerous… a knowledgable Harry Potter or a connected one?

He didn’t even need to think for longer than a moment. Connected. A connected Harry Potter was far worse than a knowledgeable one. So much depended on people either not caring what happened to the younger Potter or being ready to believe the worst of him.

He seemed to be slowly getting the Lord Slytherin situation under control, but Harry Potter was still a danger. He could not allow another Dark Lord to rise. He absolutely — could — not — allow it.

He shuddered and wrestled control over the obsessive thoughts flying through his mind. Damn ritual.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

For the inner-circle girls of the Gray faction and their secret lordly classmate, the next four weeks flew by in a swirl of classes, studying, training, and politicking. A quick expedition though the pipes, to the third floor corridor, revealed that the defences around the stone had indeed been reset, much to Harry’s annoyance.

Hermione did succeed in cracking the VCR programming obstacle, but they then immediately ran into the fidelius trip line the moment they stepped into the next room, causing them to completely forget where the stone was. The Headmaster had then almost nabbed them, and they decided from then on not to make another attempt on the stone until they had a solution.

With Hermione’s hint from Madam Pomfrey, those solutions now trickled in like the eternal autumn rain that drizzled outside. The library’s restricted divination section contained many tantalising hints and descriptions of all kinds of amazing spells, although they’d yet to find an actual how-to guide.

This was in-part hampered by the limited time they had for the search. Daphne was juggling the political boon of being the troll-slaying Slytherin princess with the fallout from the Bloody Baron taking up the head of Slytherin Hogwarts House.

Many of the students seemed to think Lord Slytherin was playing silly buggers with them, although there were others who pointed out that, terrifying though the Baron was, he was still fairer than Snape.

Harry tap-danced through a couple of meetings with his fellow Gray faction leaders and both Hermione and Daphne received owls from their parents questioning the appointment of the Bloody Baron while both lauding and decrying their Daily Prophet front page troll slaying antics.

Even Ginny had grilled Harry when he’d next dream visited her, even though he hadn’t even been there, and Alex’s next owl to Lord Slytherin had been one long plea to be taught to ‘fight like those kick-ass girls’.

Harry had so many things going on, it wasn’t until the start of the November, the day of the duelling club tryouts, that he even had time to check in on one of his more unexpected and opportunist projects.

He stood in a secret passageway, holding a note in one hand. He knocked on the lid of a trunk with the other.

The lid opened and a familiar shade of red hair popped out, followed quickly by the hair’s head.

“Greetings, Harry,” said one of the Weasley twins. “I see you got our little note.”

Harry nodded and followed the twin into the trunk. “Yeah.” He looked around. The trunk wasn’t as big as his, and only contained the one compartment, but it looked serviceable. “So this is your HQ? It looks well used.”

The twin who’d let him in beamed and waved to his brother. “It is well used. Got a great deal on it from the man who was selling them.”

The other twin raised his head from where he’d been working on something at a bench. “Yeah. We’ve wanted a secret place to do our projects for ages, but all the hidden passageways at Hogwarts are at risk of being discovered by Filch. Not a problem with this baby.” He patted a wooden wall fondly. “When we’re finished, we just pop it in our pocket.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “You funded this on our arrangement? I’m surprised you found something like this for so little.”

Twin A beamed.  “Like we said, we got a good deal. And it wasn’t the only thing.” He waved to a wall. A small collection of ingredients and materials lined the wall on a shoulder hight shelf.

Harry stepped over to the shelf and ran a thoughtful eye along it. “Nice collection of basic raw material,” he commented. “Possible applications in potions, enchanting, crafting, and… alchemy?” He looked towards the twins.

Twin A sat down on a rickety looking wooden stool. “That’s what we want to talk to you about.”

Harry conjured a plush seat of his own causing a round of widened eyes. He sat down. “Go on then.”

The twins looked at each other. “Well,” Twin B started, sitting at the bench, “We’ve been working on a few projects since we started Hogwarts.”

“To begin with it was mostly how to get around the castle without being spotted by the powers that be—”

“—But last year, we also started working on ideas for… things.”

Harry tilted his head. “Things?”

“Well, pranks mostly. But they have other applications as well. When we leave home at the end of Hogwarts we want to be self-sufficient.”

“We love our Mum, but she can be a bit overbearing at times.”

“And if she had her way, the two of us fun loving jokesters would go to work having our souls sucked out by a nice clean ministry desk and a nice clean ministry badge.”

“We’ve been saving our pocket money and we figured we could get a good product line of joke stuff together to go against Zonko’s by our sixth year.”

“But half of what we’re thinking of making isn’t really joke stuff.”

“But we also know that actually mass producing stuff like Flume does takes serious gold.”

“And we wouldn’t have a clue how to go about selling stuff to big name people like the ministries or the old family businesses—”

“—So, we figured we’d stick to joke stuff.”

“Stuff we can sell to our classmates or by owl order.”

“But….” Twin A stopped tapping the tips of his fingers together from where he’d been resting his arms on his knees. “…Maybe there are other options now.”

They both looked at him, expectantly.

Harry leant forward in his chair. “Exactly what kind of ‘stuff’ are we talking about here?”

Twin B stood up, walked over to a nearby shelf, withdrew several rolls of parchment, and deposited them in a pile in Harry’s lap.

Harry unrolled the first one and whistled. “Magical listening-in devices?”

“Yeah, the idea is that the listening bit, what we call the ear, uses mundane methods to pick up the sound, then a special tube-like rune stone in the middle of the line uses magic to transport the sound to a second ear on the other end of the line.”

“That way you can get around certain wards designed to stop eavesdropping—”

“—Because there’s no actual magic being used within the ward. It’s not even ‘eclektic.’”

Harry’s eyes flicked over the many scribbles surrounding the parchment’s drawings. “And the distance?”

“We think we can get up to ten meters distance. The main limitation is the size of the runes.”

Harry nodded. This had potential. Certainly as much more than a prank toy. He unfurled the next roll. “A spray can?”

“Not just any spray can. This will be able to store and deliver any potion in a fine mist to a target up to three meters away.”

Harry frowned. “You mean like this?” He reached into his pocket and withdrew his empty spray can of drought of living death.

The twin’s faces fell. “It already exists?”

“Yeah.”

“Ah, but does it have an inbuilt stasis system to preserve the potion?”

Harry raised his eyebrows. It didn’t. That was why he couldn’t carry around living death all the time. He shook his head. “No, but the patent is owned already. I’m not sure if a stasis charm would differentiate it enough for the Wizengamot to grant a new one.”

Twin B grimaced.

“On the other hand,” he continued. “I can think of several individuals who would greatly appreciate that little innovation, and damn the patent laws, so don’t chuck that one out just yet.”

The twins perked up. “So, you do know how we might sell things other than pranks?”

Harry rolled up the spray potion parchment. “Oh, yes. What are you thinking about? A work contract? A sales contract? A partnership?”

The twins looked at each other. “Well, we really don’t want to just continue accepting money from you with nothing in return—”

“—We were thinking of a partnership—“

“—Ten percent in exchange for what you’ve already said you’re giving us.”

Harry held up his hands. “Whoa, keep your feet down.”

The twins eyed him.

Harry took a deep breath. “How much time are you two planning on putting into this?”

Twin A looked at Twin B before answering. “We put in maybe fifteen hours together a week during term time—”

“—But every hour of the day on holidays.”

Harry nodded. “So, you’re going to put in…” he conjured a parchment and quill and started scribbling. “Just over five thousand hours over the next four years?”

Twin A’s eyes grew wide. “Really? I guess we are then.”

Harry continued. “Now, if I’m going to put twenty-five galleons a month into the project, that adds up to 1,200 galleons over the period…”

Twin B nodded.

“…That means that if my stake is ten percent, you’re valuing this venture at… twelve thousand galleons (£600,000), and your own labour for every hour you work on this project at four sickles an hour.”

The twins sat in silence for a moment. Then, “I don’t think Dad makes that much… I know Bill and Charlie don’t…”

“…Quite so, oh brother of mine.”

Harry nodded. “Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the project was split thirty-five, sixty-five. That would value the business at a more reasonable 3,400 galleons (£170,000), and your time at two sickles fourteen knuts an hour.

Twin A started chewing his quill.

“Of course, we could always flip those numbers, sixty-five, thirty-five, but have me putting in fifty galleons a month instead of twenty-five…”

Twin B narrowed his eyes. “You have access to that kind of money?”

“For worthwhile projects, yes.”

“Your parents—“

“—Have nothing to do with this,” he interrupted. “My money does not come from them.”

The twins looked at each other again. Then stood up. “Excuse us, Harry, we need to talk about this in private.”

“Of course.”

They left him alone in the trunk.

Harry stared at the bare wood wall. Huh. So they couldn’t actually talk telepathically? Or maybe they just needed to shout at each other a bit. He conjured another piece of parchment and started scribbling. After a few minutes, he stopped and padded over to where a familiar map lay on the table. The twins were still just outside the trunk, pacing up and down the secret passageway.

A few minutes later they returned and sat back down.

Twin A rested his elbows on his knees and put his hand under his chin. “We’ll commit to five thousand hours of work over the next four years valued at three sickles twelve knuts an hour in exchange for 1,440 galleons (£72,000) over the same period and thirty percent of the business.”

Harry tapped his chin. “And the valuation?”

“The business would be valued at 4,800 galleons (£240,000).”

Harry shifted in his seat. “That sounds fine, so long as we go with these terms.” He passed the parchment he’d been scribbling on to Twin A.

Twin B leaned over to read over Twin A’s shoulder. Twin B looked up. “We can work with this.”

Harry stood up. “Excellent.”  He smiled and extended his hand.

The twins mirrored his smile and reached out in turn.

They shook.

Twin A frowned. “I understand we’re not signing anything legal until we’re of age, but how is that going to work with you? You’re still not going to be of age then, you know.”

Harry grinned. “You let me worry about that.” He walked over to the table and glanced down at the marauder’s map. “You focus on making awesome things of ambiguous intent.”

The map showed the students who weren’t fortunate enough to be on free period all filling out of classrooms for a bathroom break. Technically that included him, but… well… Binns.

One of the twins walked over and stood next to him. “You know, Potter, you are so smart it’s actually scary. We’d never thought to think about measuring investment in our projects using time as though its just another form of money. Are you sure you’re eleven?”

In an out of the way corridor, a point marked Justin Finch-Fletchley stood alone with another marked Draco Malfoy.

Harry frowned. “Oh, yes. I was definitely born eleven years ago.”

The two points circled each other as though in a dance.

“We couldn’t persuade you to occasionally put in a few hours of your own, could we? You’re already in with us quite deep and you seem to really know your stuff.”

Draco and Justin’s points seemed to settle down a bit. He chewed his lip. “I probably will. I’ll certainly put you in touch with another group I’m working with who are similar in scope if not in spirit.”

“Who?” Twin B’s voice sounded surprised and shocked.

“Can’t say right now. They’re staying under the radar. Certain people of a dubious nature don’t approve of their existence in our world, if you catch my meaning.”

“Ah,” Twin A nodded. “Say no more, little Slytherin Harry.”

Harry snorted and looked down again. The two points had started moving erratically around each other and a third point now shot from another corridor, heading straight towards the oddly moving pair. The point was labeled Hermione Granger and it was moving fast.

Harry grinned.

— DP & SW: TFoP —

[A few moments previously]

 

Hermione wasn’t sure what had first clued her in to something going on. What she did know is that seconds after she’d passed a particularly ugly painting on the way to the bathroom, she’d found herself turning back, ducking around a corridor corner, and running franticly, wand out, towards a couple of her classmates.

Draco stood, arms folded, face smug, and making no move the defend himself against an irate Justin Finch-Fletchley, who had his wand trained on the Malfoy Heir.

“Justin! Don’t!” Hermione stopped a half dozen meters away from the hostile duo, carful not to directly point her wand at either.

Malfoy smirked. “Yes, that’s right, ‘Filth’-Fletchley. Listen to Slytherin’s attack kitten.”

Justin glared. “This scum was threatening my parents!”

“Yes, but attacking him is just what he wants.” She turned to Malfoy, giving him a dirty look. “And you have no right to goad him like that!”

Malfoy shrugged. “I was just explaining his place in our world. You at least have some understanding of that.”

“My place is up to my lord,” she ground out. “Just as yours is to yours.”

Malfoy’s eye twitched.

She turned back to her fellow muggleborn. “Justin, Malfoy can’t legally do anything to your parents, but that might change if you attack him.”

Justin scowled, wand still pointing at the Malfoy Heir.

Malfoy harrumphed. “You know, at the start of the year, I’d hoped the Gray was going to be more understanding. Now I find they’re nothing but a bunch of blood-traitors and mudbloods.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “If we agreed with you on everything, then we wouldn’t be the Gray, would we? We’d be the Dark. I didn’t see the Malfoys complaining when we blocked that bill on forcing families to open their libraries to ministry inspection.”

Malfoy grumbled and looked away.

Justin watched the back and forth, wand still trained on Malfoy.

Eventually Malfoy turned back. “Fine! We’ll see if you’re still feeling so confident after the duelling tryouts tonight. I hear Nott can smash through a second year shield charm now. Should be interesting to see you dragging yourself across the common room floor when he’s finished with you.” And with that, he turned around, swishing his long robes behind him and marched off without looking back.

The two of them watched the Malfoy heir until he turned the corridor corner.

Justin slowly took a deep, long breath and lowered his wand.

Hermione eyed it curiously. “What were you planning to do anyway?”

Justin shook his head. “Honestly? I don’t know. The only attack spell I know is the tripping hex and it’s not like that would have done anything. I was just so angry.”

Hermione nodded. “Understandable. What started it?”

“Oh, in history of magic I made a comment to Kevin about how backward some of the wizarding world’s customs were. Malfoy heard it.” He grimaced and looked down. “I think I may have offended Susan and Hannah as well.”

Hermione winced in sympathy. “Possibly, yeah. This is the kind of thing I was talking about when we first met in Madam Malkin’s.”

Justin looked up, sharply. “That’s right! You said you were going to sort out culture lessons! When’s that happening?” His voice rang with accusation.

Hermione flushed and took a step backwards. “I’m working on it, Justin, really. I’ve just been really busy and I wanted to get all the other muggleborns in our year onboard as well — to teach everyone together.

Justin frowned. “How many are in?”

“Just you at the moment.”

Justin scowled. “Well, what are we waiting for? C’mon!” He turned and walked off.

Hermione looked after the former Eton-bound muggleborn’s back with a panicked expression. She quickly made to follow him. This wasn’t in Harry’s plans until after Christmas!

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

In the library, Hermione and Justin pulled out two chairs and sat down.

“Hey, Kevin.”

Kevin Entwistle looked up from his parchment. “Hey, Justin — Hermione. We working together den?”

“Actually,” started Justin, “I wanted to talk to you about something.”

Kevin put down his quill. “Sure, what’s up?”

“I just got out of a sort-of fight with Malfoy—”

Kevin’s eyes hardened.

“—He was trying to get me in trouble with wizarding laws and things we don’t know about. Hermione says she’ll teach us, but she wants all us muggleborns in together. To make sure we don’t give them all excuses to get us in trouble.”

Kevin’s look turned pensive.

“So, you in?”

Kevin looked towards Hermione. “You can also teach us to transfigure swords like you used on dat troll, yeah? Dat was way cool.”

Hermione smiled. “Thank you. Maybe we’ll have some time leftover, although you really shouldn’t be waving swords around unless you know how to use them.”

Justin looked sideways at her. “So, you know how to use them?”

“Ah,” Hermione blushed slightly, “Well, my lord says that when facing something very large all you really need to know is ‘pointy bit goes forward.’”

Kevin and Justin both snorted with laughter.

Kevin picked his quill back up. “So, when’s dis happening den?”

Hermione looked towards Justin. “As soon as we get all the other’s to say yes, and I get something to help from my lord.”

Justin raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“I don’t want to say in case I can’t get it. But if I can it will be help a lot.”

“Oh, okay then.” Justin pushed his chair back. “Let’s go find Sophie and Dean.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Just a few meters away, Harry, invisible under the Perverell cloak, passed Hermione chatting to Finch-Fletchley and Entwhistle, entered the library’s restricted section, made his way to his fidelius charmed area, pulled his shrunk trunk out of his pocket, enlarged it, and climbed inside.

Daphne sat in one of the trunk’s armchairs, book open in her lap, palms under her chin, fingers resting on her cheeks, looking utterly fed up. She looked up. “This is hopeless.”

Harry moved to sit down in the chair opposite Daphne. “Still no luck?”

Daphne flipped the pages of the book. “Every single reference I’ve found to anything that might help leads nowhere. Missing books, erased text, pages torn out… The spells all sound really helpful, but they just aren’t there! Listen to this one! ‘Eye of Kilrogg — Summons a floating eyeball that allows the caster to see through it and direct its movement. Passes through all known solid objects… Invisible to unaltered human sight.’ That—“ She jabbed her finger at the page “—is just the kind of thing that might not trip the fidelius tripwire around the stone, but the page with the casting details is gone!”

Harry chewed his cheek. “Looks like they purged the sources quite thoroughly then.”

“I’ll say.”

“Hmm….” Harry leaned back and brought the tips of his fingers together. “Then we’ll just have to extend our search to sources that might have survived the purge.”

Daphne paused while idly flipping more pages. “Sources like what?”

“My first thought is the paintings around the school. The one’s painted before the statute of secrecy, and therefore before the purging of divination.”

Daphne’s eyes widened.

“I don’t know if there’s a seer among them, but if there is we might be able to persuade it to teach us.”

Daphne slammed the book shut. “Would you like me to handle that?”

Harry nodded. “Yes, thank you, Daph — and I’ll write an owl to Luna. She and Alex sound like they’re getting on quite well these days. Who knows? Maybe the Black Library will furnish us with a solution.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Hermione indignantly stared at the eagle-headed bronze knocker guarding the entrance to Ravenclaw tower. “What do you mean you won’t let us in? We answered correctly!”

The eagle-headed knocker stared back. “You didn’t honestly think that answering a riddle was the only thing you had to do to get in here did you? I can see you’re not a Ravenclaw from your crest!”

Hermione huffed. This situation felt annoyingly familiar.

Beside her, Justin snickered.

“Yes, well, laugh it up.” She turned to the browny-blonde haired muggleborn “I guess we’ll be here until someone comes that can take a message.”

Justin pointed behind her.

She turned. “Oh.”

An older Ravenclaw prefect walked towards them, arms full of books.

They exchanged greetings and the prefect agreed to take their message.

“Just let me do the talking,” Hermione said, as they waited for Sophie to arrive.

Soon after, the door opened and Sophie emerged, followed closely by Padma, Lisa, and Terry Boot.

“Hey, Hermione, what’s up?” Sophie asked.

“Hi.” She glanced at the other three Ravenclaws. Padma and Lisa had been friendly yet cautious to her and Daphne after the troll incident, but she was still hesitant to talk to Sophie about delicate matters in front of them. “I was wondering if we could talk to you about something in private?”

Padma stepped in front of a surprised Sophie. “Anything that needs to be said can be said in front of us.”

Sophie looked between Padma and Hermione, confusion showing on her face. “Um… I really don’t mind—”

“Sophie,” Padma interrupted, “right now it’s really not a good idea. She can speak with us all together.”

Hermione frowned. “I only wanted to talk about wizarding culture.”

Padma and Lisa both narrowed their eyes.

Lisa laid a protective hand on Sophie’s shoulder. “Even more reason then, and shouldn’t Heiress Greengrass also be here for this?”

Hermione looked between the two hostile witches, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “What reason would Daphne have to be here? This has nothing to do with her.”

Behind the four Ravenclaw witches, Terry urgently mouthed something to her, although she couldn’t quite make out what.

“Wait,” Padma tilted her head. “This isn’t about the troll?”

Hermione stood in front of them, nonplused, feeling like they were all reading from completely different scripts. Then the lightbulb switched on. Her eyes widened. “You thought I was going to call in a life debt!”

Padma and Lisa’s face went completely blank, instantly confirming her realisation.

“What’s a life debt?” asked Justin and Sophie in unison.

Hermione threw up her hands in exasperation. “This is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.”

Padma and Lisa took a tiny step back.

Hermione turned to Justin. “A life debt is a magical debt created between two people when one of them puts their own life at risk to save the life of the other with no expectation of future benefit.” She turned back to the Ravenclaws. “I just caught Malfoy trying to goad Justin into attacking him so he could make things difficult for him and his family, but I stopped him. I want to get all the muggleborns together for wizarding culture classes to put a stop to that kind of exploitation going on.”

Padma’s eyes widened. “That’s what you wanted to ask? Why the secrecy then?”

Hermione lowered her eyes for a moment. “Well, you’ve always said you didn’t trust me. I figured you’d think I was trying to pull something.”

Padma had the grace to look ashamed.

Lisa tapped a finger on a thoughtful chin. “Culture lessons aren’t actually a bad idea. I wonder why no one’s done it before.”

Padma muttered. “Maybe because certain families would kick up a stink?”

Lisa pouted.

Sophie edged around her friends. “Ah, Hermione?”

“Yes?”

“Can they really hurt my Mum and Dad?”

“If you did something sufficiently extreme, yes.”

Sophie looked towards Padma and Lisa, the question obvious in her eyes.

They both nodded, awkwardly.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Sophie’s voice sounded somewhat hurt.

Padma rubbed her arm. “It’s not the kind of thing that’s pleasant to talk about so no one really does, and your situation isn’t nearly as bad as some of ours.” Her voice lowered so only the girls could hear. “At least you don’t have to worry about being married off to someone.”

Sophie put a horrified hand over her mouth.

Justin stepped into the circle. “So, are you in?”

The girls all looked at him for a few awkward moments.

Then Sophie nodded. “Yes. I suppose I’d better do it.”

“And I’d like to sit in on the first lesson, at least,” added Padma.

Hermione nodded, slowly.

Lisa shifted uncomfortably. “I’d like to join too, but it’s probably not a good idea… all things considered.”

Hermione nodded again. The Turpin’s attempts to court the Dark were well known.

Terry waved to them from the doorway to the Ravenclaw common room, a large grin firmly attached to his face. “Well, I’m getting back to our potions essay. Take care of Sophie, you two!”

Sophie’s cheeks reddened.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

Daphne climbed the grand staircase looking for what would hopefully be the next puzzle piece in Harry’s plans. She’d found and checked out a book from the library on the castle’s paintings and quickly identified what she was looking for. Now she just had to find it.

She arrived at the fifth floor corridor, turned down a side passageway, ducked under a tapestry, walked up another corridor, stopped at a particularly large suit of armor, turned around in a circle three times while humming, then walked back the way she came to find a completely different tapestry and a completely different corridor.

Now, if she was right, it should be right around here. She stopped and let out a satisfied breath.

“Good day there, Young Miss.” The portrait of an older man sat at a small round table, cluttered with crystal balls, rods, and other divination paraphernalia. “And how might this old wizard help such a pretty young thing as yourself?”

Daphne controlled her combined flush of embarrassment and annoyance. She opened her mouth, but the self proclaimed old wizard beat her to it.

“—I hope you haven’t tracked me down just to try to wheedle the lost secrets of divination from me.”

Daphne shut her mouth.

“You wouldn’t be the first, you know. Every decade or so, someone new tries.” The portrait eyed the book she carried. “But you’re a bit young for that, so maybe you’re just an appreciator of fine art, eh?”

Daphne opened her mouth again. “You say they try? Why doesn’t it work?”

The portrait sighed. “Because I can’t. Yes, I have the knowledge, but I was bound never to speak them — just like every other portrait you’ll find. All portraits are connected a little bit, you know — least the ones in Britain are. It’s part of the Albion Family Magics.”

Daphne’s eyes widened. “Someone cast a spell that affected all the portraits in Britain? Who could possibly do something like that?”

The portrait looked back at her. “Why, the Wizengamot, of course.”

Daphne groaned. Of course. The Wizengamot did have a small amount of control over the Albion magics.

“Now, was that all you visited me for?” the portrait asked, waggling its eyebrows. “Or did such a pretty witch have something else in mind?”

Daphne blanched, turned, and stalked away without a backwards glance. At least she now knew why this portrait was so well hidden.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

On the other side of the castle, Hermione waited awkwardly outside the portrait of the Fat Lady. This wasn’t exactly Slytherin home turf and the looks from passing Gryffindors were decidedly hostile. It was probably only the presence of a yellow and black Hufflepuff tie on Justin’s very obviously muggleborn school uniform, looking so different from her own traditional styled robes, that stopped glares turning into something more confrontational.

Eventually, the portrait swung open.

“Hi, Dean.”

Dean Thomas looked surprised. “Hey, Hermione, long time no talky. So you’re the snake that wants to see me?”

“Well, me and Justin here.” She gestured towards the Hufflepuff.

The two boys exchanged introductions.

Dean leaned against the wall. “So, what’s up?”

Justin stepped forward. “Malfoy was trying to pull some stunt with me earlier and I nearly fell for it. Me and Hermione are putting together a group to teach all us who are new to this world how it works so we don’t get trapped by people like Malfoy.”

The dark skinned boy chewed his lip. “Doesn’t sound like a bad idea, although I’ll need to be carful. No offence, Hermione, but Slytherins aren’t exactly liked in Gryffindor.”

Hermione waved it away.

Justin nodded. “So you’re in.”

Dean nodded back. “Sure, just don’t tell any of my classmates, especially not John Potter. He leads the Slytherins-aren’t-to-be-trusted brigade.” He kicked off the wall and turned to Hermione. “I really don’t want to know what he’d do if he found out.”

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

John Potter lounged in the middle of the Gryffindor common room’s largest sofa, Lilly Moon, on one side, Fay Dunbar and Lavender Brown on the other. Across from him sat Ron, Parvati, Neville, and Sally-Anne. John was buried, nose-deep, in an advanced defence against the dark arts book, only occasionally looking up to way-in as the discussion bobbed and flowed from school work to holidays to quidditch and duelling.

The portal opened and Dean stepped back in.

John frowned. It didn’t look like there’d been trouble.

The boy passed halfway between the portrait and John’s sofa.

“Hey, Dean!” he called out. “Who was the snake, then? Need any help with anything?”

Dean got to the couch and shrugged. “Nah. Yeah there was a snake, but it was mostly about the puff with her. A homework help thing I’d agreed to. You know, gotta help the puffs out, right?” He grinned, exchanged a few more pleasantries, and left, heading for the spiral staircase to the boys first-years dormitory.

John glanced behind him to see Dean vanish from sight. He turned back to his book, eyebrows furrowed. Something about that conversation seemed off, although he couldn’t put his finger on what. The last time that happened he’d almost missed the troll and he couldn’t afford any more near misses like that. He’d better keep his eyes and ears open. Especially with the first quidditch match this weekend and the Gryffindor duelling tryouts the day after tomorrow.

He put his book back down and stared into space.

Of course, the Slytherin tryouts should be happening today, shouldn’t they? Who competed last time? Nott wasn’t it? But Harry beat Greengrass in DaDa, and his draw wasn’t bad at all.

His face hardened. If Harry somehow slithered his way onto the duelling team, he’d annihilate the bastard.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

The Hogwarts duelling arena stood, proud and firm, a round colosseum of solid oak, far away from the normal hustle and bustle of the school, at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Its complex sets of privacy and safety wards made it ideal for the violent sport held within. The roof could be closed and opened at will, to better accommodate the ever changing and volatile Scottish weather. In three years time it would be used to host the first event of the triwizard tournament, but it wasn’t dragons that Hermione Granger, standing as she was in a group of other Slytherins, would be facing today.

No, today she would be facing Harry — her lord, her best friend, the boy who had introduced her to the wizarding world, the most amazing person in the world, and the wizard who she knew would triumph over evil and usher in a bright new age… his age.

Oh, and Nott too.

Romulus Volf walked up to a raised platform and turned to look down at the group. “Alright! Listen up!”

The group stopped talking among itself and gave Volf their attention.

“I only take the best, so just because you made the team last year, doesn’t mean you’ll make it this year! And don’t think that just because you have powerful friends that means you’re going to get a free pass!” Volf glared at her.

She blanked her face and stared back.

“The duelling team will be made up of one person from each year. In the tournament, the first years will face off against each other and the winner will then face the other team’s second year duellist, and so on, until one side has all seven team members defeated.”

The assorted Slytherin’s watched, stoney eyed.

“Each year’s slot will be decided by a straight knockout tournament. We’re going to work our way down from the top. Since the seventh and sixth year slots have already been decided, fifth years will be first.”

Some of the older boys straightened, fingered wands, and generally gave the impression of chomping at the bit.

“One last thing.” Volf’s eye’s became hard. “Memories of the tryouts are not to be gifted or traded to anyone! Not even your lord or head of house. If I find anyone has done so, they’ll be kicked from the team, the club, be in detention for the whole year, and be liable to have an accident.”

The group collectively nodded their heads.

“Right, fifth years! Let’s go!”

Hermione made her way up the rows of seats that lined the lower arena. A moment later, she was joined by Heir Nott, much to her surprise. Nott hadn’t taken the news of her being a muggleborn well. It was hardly surprising, given the games she and Daphne had played with him on the Hogwarts Express.

“Feeling confident, Mudblood?”

She turned her head to look into the boys eyes, then turned back to arena where the first bout was about to start. “That depends on what you mean.”

Nott growled. “I mean, do you really think that a faking mudblood like you stands a chance against a real heir of a noble house?”

Hermione didn’t look back at him. Instead, the lights and shouts of the combatants below, now fighting for the coveted year slot, held her gaze. “Yes,” she answered.

Nott didn’t reply for a moment. “If you didn’t have Lord Slytherin protecting you, you’d be nothing.”

She again slowly turned to Nott and smiled. “But I do, which must mean I am something.”

Nott scowled. “So why aren’t you all confident then?”

Hermione frowned and let her eyes travel past Nott to where Harry sat a third of the way around the arena, alone and isolated.

Nott turned to follow her gaze. “Potter?” He sounded incredulous. “What in Merlin’s name are you worried about him for? He was raised by muggles! The Potters thought he was a squib! He hasn’t been to a single duelling club meet-up!”

She raised an eyebrow.

Nott rolled his eyes. “You’re different. Everyone knows you and Heiress Greengrass receive secret training from Lord Slytherin.”

“And yet, he beat Daphne in DaDa.”

Nott frowend.

Hermione turned back to the duellists below. “I have my suspicions about Potter. Something about him feels different. Maybe you’ve missed it, caught up in the drivel that Professor Snape spouted at the start of year.”

Nott said no more and turned forward to watch the older duellists, occasionally shooting furtive glances towards Harry.

Eventually, the first years were called down.

Volf motioned to them. “Granger and Nott first. Then Potter versus the winner.”

Hermione couldn’t fail to notice the look of intense dislike on Volf’s face when addressing both her and Harry, although more for her than her lord. She walked back until she and Nott were approximately twenty to thirty meters apart, turned, and waited.

Volf held up a hand. “Standard duelling rules… Begin!”

Hermione moved left.

Nott ran right.

Spell chains flew between the two, flashes of lightly shaded reds, blues, pinks, and greens dancing between the two combatants, combatants who skilfully dodged and shielded to avoid the hostile magic.

Nott tried to quickly close the distance, but Hermione kept running further away, occasionally making use of an arena obstacle to frustrate the Nott heir.

All too quickly, Nott’s casting speed slowed, and now Hermione went on the attack. For a full three seconds, Nott was pummelled by an opponent twice as powerful as himself, barely able to hold on, before Hermione too slowed, and the match became a war of attrition, a war that Hermione had the clear advantage in. Not only was there a mild power difference between herself and Nott, it was also clear she was superior, not only in skill, but also in physical endurance.

Less than a half dozen spell chains after she’d exhausted the magic in her wand and body, and started drawing magic straight from her core, Nott fell to the ground, and didn’t get up.

Volf raised his hand, scowling. “Winner, Granger.”

Hermione let out a breath and turned to the stands to rest up.

“Where do you think you’re going, Granger?”

She turned. Volf was grinning, while Nott, now revived, nursed a bruised arm.

Behind Volf, Harry shrugged apologetically.

Oh, so that’s how it was.

She turned back and sighed. It wasn’t like she had any real chance to win anyway, but it would’ve been nice to duel Harry on fair terms. Apparently Volf wasn’t as confident in Harry as she was.

She retraced her steps to the starting position.

Harry faced her, holly wand at the ready.

Volf raised his hand. “Standard duelling rules. Begin!”

Hermione sprinted towards Harry, throwing spell chains as she went. She knew full well that to beat a more powerful opponent you had to close the distance quickly or be defeated in a drawn out struggle like Nott had with her.

She didn’t have very long. Eighteen seconds, exactly. That was how long she could cast at full power for. During that small timeframe, she could go toe to toe with a full adult wizard, and be at no handicap. In fact, given the high attunement she had with her wand, against many, she’d even be at an advantage.

Harry however, didn’t retreat like she’d done with Nott. He matched her spell for spell, and when she got within the duelling dead zone, the range at which dodging became nigh-on impossible, Harry flicked his wand at one of her invisible tripping hexes, and swotted it back at her.

She didn’t even have time to curse. The hex hit her, she tripped, red filled her view, and she knew no more.

When she came to, Harry offered her his hand. She took it, looking annoyed on the outside, but secretly cheering within. Volf raised his hand, looking very smug. “Winner, Potter!”

Harry nodded.

“—And now!” Volf continued without missing a beat. “I distinctly remember you, Potter, saying you could take on the ENTIRE Slytherin duelling team.”

The other Slytherins who’d secured their places ambled over. One idly twirled his wand.

“Time to put your money where your mouth is.” Volf turned to the assembled group. “You’ve heard it people! Potter here thinks he’s better than us! He’s been boasting for months!”

The group scowled.

“He’s going up against the lot of us, extended class B rules, one after the other, no breaks, if he faints, we revive him, if he gives up, he’s off the team. We stop only if it looks like he might die!”

Hermione looked to Harry who was smiling. She barely succeed in not smirking herself.

 

— DP & SW: TFoP —

 

A little while later, in the Slytherin common room, Daphne sat in the armchair that was the unofficial throne of the Gray. In front of her, two sofas sat at acute angles to her, producing a long diamond shape with a low table in the middle and her at the tip.

On the other side of the room, Draco Malfoy sat with the Dark in an almost identical set-up. Their armchairs were such that she and Malfoy could see each other with a turn of their heads but weren’t looking at each other all the time.

In front of her sat Tracy, Blaise, Flint, and a few other children of the Gray, spread out over all seven year