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"Harry? Ron? Are you here?"

"Yeah, in here, Hermione."

The two boys exchanged a grin and then sat back and waited for what was certain to be an entertaining reaction.

"Hi! I just got… what on earth?!"

The boys sniggered and lifted themselves slightly from their lazy recline on their hammocks to look at the stupefied girl standing in the doorway.

"We finally got our dream office set up.  Like it?"

"It looks like a set piece from Gilligan's Island!"

"Who?"

"It's not important.  This is supposed to be an office!"

"Yup."

"A cool office."

"I think eet iz very nice.  Eet reminds me of 'ome." Fleur opined. "My family and I used to spend weeks at ze beach every summer when we could manage eet."  She and Tom were there as well, seated in throne-like bamboo chairs.

"But…"  Hermione got distracted when a trio of bikini-clad women passed by the "window"  which appeared to look out onto a beach and a rolling ocean.  They stopped briefly to peek in the window, giggled and each threw a kiss before moving on.  Hermione's eyebrow twitched in irritation.

"Blame that on Sirius.  He's the one that designed the place.  They show up every so often." Tom laughed.

"I'm sure you protested very hard." she huffed.

Ron and Harry exchanged a glance and then just looked at her.

"We didn't ask him to put it in, but we're hardly going to complain about it after."

"Yeah, really."

Hermione crossed her arms and looked around in irritation.  The whole office looked like they were in the middle of a grass and bamboo hut, complete with hammocks. There were worktables and cabinets, bookshelves, desks--three of them, oddly enough--all of which looked to be made of grass and bamboo.    There were fake windows on all four walls that looked out onto the beach and ocean, as though they sat smack dab in the center of a very small island.   There was even a faint smell of pineapple and coconut in the air, though this proved to be due to the tropical drinks they were all happily consuming.  They'd even dressed to fit their surroundings; the boys were clad in loose knee-length shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, Fleur was in a tropical print sarong with a flower in her hair.  She and Tom were both nicely golden from their time in France.

Harry summoned another throne-like woven chair for her to sit in and Ron provided her with a drink in a coconut shell with a little umbrella in it.  Still feeling unaccountably irritated by the whimsy present--headquarters of a space program shouldn't look like a tropical hideaway, damn it!  She resigned herself to just going with it; It was still less fanciful than the office in the clouds the Enchanters group had come up with. 

"So? How'd things go with Viktor and all your parents?"

Hermione sighed.  "Well…all things considered, not too bad.  My parents are…not thrilled…but they've taken things much more calmly than I expected…sort of. I think the fact that he's going to be off playing quidditch while I'm going to be here, that I haven't dropped out of school and I'm not pregnant helped a lot.  I think they're hoping it's just a phase and will go away.   I don't think they're really buying 'we're going to get married because magic says so' as a good reason."

"Other than all that, how'd things go?"

"They went well, I think.  Mum seemed to like Viktor… maybe too much.  She raised her eyebrows and then grinned at me when she first caught sight of him.   So embarrassing.  I was just like geez, mum, down girl!"

Fleur just laughed and shared a grin of her own with Hermione.  Harry and Ron grimaced.

"Okay, wow.  TMI."

"How do you think I feel?"

"How were Viktor's parents?"

"Oddly enough, having my parents sitting there being sort of stiff and disapproving seems to have warmed them up to me somewhat."

"That's…good?"

"I guess.  What's been going on around here?"

"Well, Nott and Malfoy realized they needed to let their dads in on things before the rest of the parents…" Tom offered.

"Why… oh.  They're part of the company.  It would look pretty strange if they had no idea."

"Not to mention they'd be mad at being made to look dumb in front of the other parents."

"Susan's aunt is one of the investors.  She got a crash course too.  So, we've had the three of them wandering around here all week, looking sort of shell-shocked.  It was pretty funny, actually." Ron laughed.  "Beyond that, we've mostly just been checking over everything to make sure the launch goes off without a hitch, and getting our presentations ready."

"We've gotten several visits from Unspeakables too."

"Unspeakables? What did they want?"

"Well…it seems they were aware of what we were doing, but they couldn't offer any help because of the secrecy contracts they were under.  Loki destroyed whatever was holding those in place when he destroyed the goblet of fire.  Don't spread that around.  They don't want folks bugging them all the time."

"Okaay."

"Essentially, they asked to be part of our presentation to the ICW.  They said it might not be quite as hard to move everyone as we thought it would be, and they want the ICW to know that so they don't try to just dismiss us out of hand for being unfeasible."

"They said they have a gateway design that they believe will serve to move most of the population, as well as troublesome creatures like dragons and giants from here to wherever we decide to settle.  Each country will still have to build at least a few ships to send first stage colonists to establish a base settlement and build gateways on that end while we build them here."

"There will have to be at least one more ship beyond that, to take the gateways with us when we're done with them, as well as whoever stays behind to dismantle them. Obviously we don't want to leave anything like that behind for the muggles to find."

"They even think we can take our houses and stuff with us.  They said so long as they're in wizard space, we can just pop them open on the other side and bam! All our stuff will come with us!"

"Are they sure? I mean, no offense to the Unspeakables but… Hogwarts is HUGE.  It just seems like there should be an upward limit on that sort of thing."

"They seemed fairly certain, so we're all willing to give them the benefit of the doubt."

"It's amazing if it's true…" Hermione turned pensive then. "It also moves up our estimated departure by a couple of years at least, doesn't it?"

"You would think so, wouldn't you?" Tom agreed  "Keep in mind though that we still have to spread the word, and more importantly, get everyone to agree, then we have to actually build ships for the anchor teams and train them to use them."

"I doubt it will take as long as teaching the action figures…although, conversely it might take much longer… the action figures didn't argue, and they kept working till they got it right." Harry laughed.  "We also don't know how long it will take to get our chosen destination ready to support all of us.  We're hardly going to move the whole population unless we're certain we can grow food for all of us and any animals we bring."

"Even with the new developments, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that our timetable doesn't end up being that much different.  Getting a group of wizards to agree on something is like herding cats at the best of times." Tom interjected, his voice dry.

"Oh.  That's good, I guess.  I'm still coming to terms with things."

"Understandable."

"So… is that it then? We're just hanging out drinking piña coladas now?"

"Nah, we're just taking a break right now.  There's lots to do.  Biospheres has been putting together more terraforming bombs.  The Enchanters have been putting together a two-stage portkey with a gripper…"

"A gripper?"

"Ze idea iz to send some ice asteroids to ze test planet before sending in ze bombs.  We need to send ze portkey out to eet, 'ave it greep onto ze asteroid and zhen transport it to ze planet to provide needed water for ze project."

"I see.  Why not just choose a planet that already has water?"

"We probably will to move to one like that, if we can find a good one that doesn't seem to already be claimed by anyone.  This is mostly a test to see if their ideas on terraforming from a distance will actually work."

"That makes sense.  We may well need that knowledge in the future.  Is that everything?"

"No.  We're also beginning zero-g training.  Ron and I haven't gone yet.  We offered to wait till you three came back since it was mostly being done by department.  That reminds me, we need to add thrusters to your extreme environment suits."

"Thrusters?"

"We're going to be out in the middle of empty space with no gravity.  We'll need the thrusters to move around.  I'd suggest you watch the videos of the others that have gone in already before all of us do."

"Why?"

"To give you some idea of what not to do.  For example, the thrusters?  A few seconds burst of force is enough to send you hurtling from end to end.  No wind resistance.  Anything you shove will go hurtling, but so will you.  There's no real point of orientation, which seems to be hard for some to adjust to.  Stuff like that."

"I see.  Sounds like quite the adventure."

"Yeah.  It should be fun."

She looked around the room curiously.  "Why are there three desks?  Are you in here too, Fleur?"

"Non, I have an area in ze Enchanter's workshop."

"That's actually your area back there." Ron informed her.

"Mine?"

 "Yeah.  We realized you were never really assigned to a particular department, you were off watching SHIELD and otherwise were acting as a floater like we were, since our part, the mining equipment, was done with.  We figured that was a terrible oversight on our part, and so you have an office now…well, a corner of an office, anyway."

"Oh.  Um, thanks?"

Curious now, she went over to inspect her area.  She had a cabinet with doors that had two shelves inside and two drawers at the bottom.  She had an overhead cabinet that hung off the wall above her desk and a bookshelf.  The throne-like chair she'd been sitting in was actually her own chair.  She spotted a lever sticking out of the wall and braced herself as she pulled it down.  Given how fanciful the room was, who knew what the lever was for?

A third hammock popped out of the floor, complete with a hovering side table, just the right size to settle her drink on. 

She looked at the boys, who just grinned at her.

"Come to the dark side,  we have fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them." Harry quipped.

Hermione sighed, kicked off her shoes and carefully settled herself on her hammock.

She froze in the midst of getting comfy when several very tan young men wandered across the fake window she was facing, one of whom stopped and flexed his rather impressive muscles and winked at her.

She settled herself back, and took up her drink again.

"You know what? I take it back.  The windows are nice."

 

 

 

 

"Agent Coulson?"

"Yes, that's me.  It's an honor to meet you, Director." Coulson said, sounding a bit giddy as he shook the offered hand repeatedly.  Someone upstairs must like him; these last few weeks he'd been living the dream--keeping watch over his childhood hero, Captain America, and now meeting the infamous Peggy Carter, who was a legend in her own right.  

Peggy gently took her hand back, flustering Coulson when he realized she'd been trying to get her hand back for several moments, but he'd been too busy gushing to realize.

"I'm glad you remembered to come fetch me.  Now that I'm no longer the Director, I no longer have clearance to visit any of our facilities." Peggy Carter said briskly, her voice wry.

Coulson hurriedly tried to pull himself together and held out a hand, indicating they should start walking. 

"That…must be strange."

"Indeed.  I and a few others built this organization from the ground up.  I was usually among the first people to ever step foot in each new facility after they were built, and every one of them was open to me at all times should I but wish it.  It's rather humbling to go from total access to not even being permitted in the parking lot without an escort, I must say."

Though she tried to disguise it, a strong undercurrent of bitterness in her voice was easy to hear.

"That does seem excessive."

"Apparently Director Pierce thought I was lax on security and sought to correct that oversight as his first order of business."

"With all due respect ma'am…you left behind a rather long shadow, and Director Pierce, the little I know of him, doesn't strike me as someone who appreciates competition."

Peggy slanted a glance his way and her eyes flashed for a moment with what looked to be years of suppressed anger and bitterness, but she said nothing in response; she simply took the lead towards the medical bay--her familiarity with the place obvious. 

Coulson studied the woman unobtrusively as they walked.  Given the rumors he'd heard in the months leading up to her retirement, he'd expected a frail old woman, one easily distracted and likely to get lost in the room.  It had been whispered in most corners that her health was failing, her advanced age had caught up to her and she was losing her faculties.  Peggy Carter was indeed old, but there was nothing frail or absent-minded about her.  He had a feeling that, though she might be less likely to engage foes in hand to hand combat than she was in her youth, that if one gave her a gun she would still happily march off into a bloody fight and take no prisoners. 

 

Coulson took the lead once more as they got closer to their goal, directing her towards an observation window that looked into a hospital room.  He could hear her gasp as she laid eyes on the man within.

"He hasn't aged a day….he looks exactly the same.  I know you said as much but…"

"Seeing is believing."

"He was frozen, all this time?"

"On the edges of the Arctic circle." Coulson nodded.  "He was found completely by accident.  A survey team who were drilling ice cores for scientific research got some anomalous readings on their equipment and decided to do a bit of digging.  SHIELD was called in when they uncovered the plane he was in."

"How long until he wakes up?"

Coulson glanced at the clock.  "The doctors believe he'll wake in the next two hours, now that his sedative drip has been removed."

"Is that based on a thorough knowledge of his metabolism or is that based on what's normal for a man his size?"

"I'm…not sure."

"I'd best get in there, then.  I assure you he'll likely wake much sooner than expected…and I want him to see a friendly face." 

She sighed a bit glumly at what she could see of her reflection in the window.  She was old, wrinkled and grey.  For so long after the war was over she had mourned him.  She had moved on eventually, even married and had children.  She'd lived a long life and a good one, and yet a single glance at the man within made her feel like a giddy young girl again, for all that she now looked like she could be his mother or grandmother---and wasn't that a depressing thought to start the day on?

Steeling herself for what was to come as best she could, she strode inside and settled by his bedside, and did her best to ignore the curious ghouls at the window.

Much as she had surmised, he began waking just a few minutes after she'd settled at his side.  Anyone not in her line of work might have missed it, but she had lived for decades surrounded by dangerous, inscrutable people.  He was awake, alert, and aware that there was someone unknown close by.  Best let him know who it was before he tried battling his way out.

"Wake up, Captain.  It's the first day of the rest of your life."

His eyes snapped open and he turned to her, the beginnings of joy breaking across his face like a sunrise, only to halt in confusion and horror when his gaze fell upon an old woman rather than the feisty red-head he was expecting to see.

Disbelief and horror fought for dominance on his face before it smoothed out.

"I'm rather cross with you, Captain.  We had a date."

"Eight o' clock.  At the Stork Club." he agreed, his voice rough.

Peggy's eyes grew shiny with tears that she did her best to keep from falling.

"You're late."

 

 

"Poor lambs.  It's so sad, isn't it?" Eloise Malloy, junior Unspeakable, sniffled.

"I know.  Those two crazy kids never had their chance."  Samantha Skeeter, her mentor agreed.  "I used to watch them during the war years, you know.  Oh, my!   The sexual tension!  You could cut it with a knife!  That guy though…  There's such a thing as being too much of a gentleman!  There was a war on, he kept heading to the thick of things, could have died at any time, and now look at them!  That poor girl has been hankering for some beefcake for fifty years and she's still not gonna get a taste.  Poor thing.  It's really too bad she's a muggle.  I'd have slipped her some youthening potion right quick."

"Wouldn't that just make things worse though?  It's not permanent."

"It would have lasted long enough." Samantha tittered.

"Oh, Sam!"

"Ladies, must you?" Croaker objected.

"Oh, Al, don't be such a stick in the mud!  Look at the poor girl! It's tragic, I tell you."

"It really is." Eloise mused.  "It's like she's been standing in line, waiting patiently at the all-you can eat beefsteak buffet… starving…"

"And after a sinfully long wait, some young tart is going to cut in line and steal the last prime rib!"

"And the manager will just shrug and tell her she missed her chance."

"Tragic.

"Poor lambs."

"Say, uh, Croaker? Did anyone ever manage to figure out what Erskine did to make him like that?" Samantha asked casually.

"Hmm? Oh, yes, but we'll never be rolling it out.  It left the volunteer a squib.  We never did quite figure out why.  Poor fellow committed suicide.  We broke it down, packed it away and didn't bother working on it further."

"Damn."

"Why?" Croaker asked curiously.

"No reason." Samantha sighed, leaning her chin in her hand.  "I just had a hankering for some prime rib."

"Oh, Sam!" Eloise scolded.  There wasn't much heat behind her words.  She was disappointed too.

"Ladies, really!" Croaker said absently.  His attention was elsewhere.  It had been fifty years since any of them had looked at that research.  A lot had been learned since then.  Perhaps it was enough to make some headway. 

 

 

 

 

"Welcome to Explorer's Inc.  If you'll step this way…."

"Welcome, visitors, to the first annual Parents' Day celebration.  If you'll head towards the lift over there, you'll be directed to your destination."

It was the weekend, which would normally mean the place was nearly empty,  but that day, headquarters was alive with activity.  Parents, teachers and investors were arriving by the door and by the floos in droves and being directed to the large conference room by Garden members wearing bright t-shirts in their house colors that said STAFF in bold black letters.  The few muggle parents who had come along for the presentation were wandering around on the grounds, boggling at the massive stadium-turned-corporate-headquarters, peeking in the outbuildings and poking at the vertical farms. 

Up in the large conference room the guests were directed to the empty half of the room, the other half being already filled by Garden kids who weren't presenting or acting as guides. 

The large conference room was stunningly ostentatious, with soft leather chairs, stadium seating, deep plush carpet, gold fixtures and marble walls affixed with eight foot by six foot wood panels carved with scenes of explorers through the ages--ships pulling into port at a tropical island, with natives gathered on the shore to greet them, men on safari peering through dense foliage at a fearsome nundu in the distance, a group on a mountain peering in wonder at a flight of dragons wheeling through the sky, a group swimming towards an underwater city filled with merfolk…  There were a dozen panels in all, spaced out along the sides of the room.

The front of the room held a marble stage filled with chairs and a wide podium.  Behind the stage, high on the wall, was a large screen that took up the whole front half of the room. 

Dan and Jean Granger eyeballed their fancy surroundings and exchanged a glance.

"Our little girl is doing pretty well for herself, isn't she?"

"I'll say.  Did you notice the walls outside? In between the planters on those vertical farms?  They were gold! Real gold, If I'm not mistaken."

"Yeah, I saw that.  I wonder if we could buy one of these carpets?  It's rather like walking on a cloud."

They found a couple of empty seats.  Dan settled in to his and sunk into it with a near-orgasmic groan.

"Forget the carpets! I want one of these!"

"Oh my.  That is nice."

"That's it.  We're sending Hermione out shopping for us."

"Deal."

 

 

The north floo in the lobby flared three times in quick succession, disgorging Arthur, Molly and Ginny Weasley.  Arthur spotted Lucius Malfoy across the way, idly chatting with some of the other parents and bristled indignantly at his presence.  Molly looked around at the conspicuous wealth around her and tried not to boggle.  Ginny self-consciously smoothed down her slightly worn, slightly faded sundress and tried not to glare at the well turned-out people around her.  It made her feel marginally better when she realized all the kids her age were mostly in t-shirts with shorts or skirts.  Her second-hand dress wasn't too badly out of place, though she still felt like she stood out like a sore thumb against the gold-and-marble surroundings. 

"Hello Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, hello Ginny.  If you'll just head to the lift there, you'll be directed to your destination when you reach your stop."

Ginny snapped her head around and found Luna, in a long skirt with flowers in all shades of blue, wearing a blue t-shirt that said STAFF across the front.  She was barefoot, wearing her usual radish earrings and butterbeer cork necklace and had her wand wedged behind one ear.  Same old Luna. 

Molly's face contorted into the careful smile she always wore when she ran into Luna or her father.  The Lovegoods were rather strange, of that there was no doubt; she tried not to hold it too much against Luna, who after all had lost her mother at a very young age and so probably didn't know any better. 

"Hello, Luna dear." she said slowly and carefully, as though fearing she'd be unable to understand her if she spoke too quickly.  "So, you have a job here, do you?  That's nice dear.  Isn't that nice, Arthur?"

Arthur broke off glaring at Lucius and focused on Luna, who though she wore her usual dreamy look seemed just a tad irritated if one looked closely.

"Yeah.  Good on you.  Being responsible and whatnot." Arthur nodded.  "The lifts, you said? Where are we headed?"

"To the large conference room.  There's a staff member running the lifts, so you won't get lost." Luna assured them, before drifting off to greet another new arrival. 

"Such a strange girl.  I don't what they're thinking, letting her gallivant around the place half-dressed like that." Molly muttered as they got onto the lift.

"She looked dressed to me."

"Arthur! Honestly!  She wasn't wearing shoes! Or stockings for that matter! It's indecent, running around in public like that." she sniffed then and said grudgingly "I suppose it was nice of that reprobate Black to give the poor girl a job."

"She's going for twelve OWLs, and is usually near the top of the class rankings, mum.  I doubt she got a job here out of pity."

"You are as well.  Why didn't he offer you a job? Hmm? Answer me that."

"Mum." Ginny sighed.

She looked around in interest at the hallway they were let out on.  Her dad started bristling again when they walked down the hall and passed an office with Lucius Malfoy's name on the door.  He bristled a bit more when he spotted another door with the name "Gordion Nott, Accountant" on it and began muttering to himself under his breath about 'murderous death eaters'.

Her mother sniffed indignantly when they reached the conference room.  She had spotted Hermione, speaking to Pansy Parkinson of all people and her gang of snake bitches.  Her mum didn't approve of Hermione so much anymore, now that she'd "run off like a two-timing tart, broken dear Ronnie's heart to take up with a scheming Bulgarian dark wizard".  The fact that Ron wasn't particularly broken-hearted, and they'd never even dated didn't seem to matter to her overmuch.

"Ah.  Mum, dad, Gin.  You're all here, huh?  You should take a seat.  The presentation should be starting soon." Ron said as he spotted them.

"What sort of place are you involved with, son?" Arthur hissed quietly, his eyes darting around the room at all the people gathered.  "Working with the likes of the Malfoys, the Notts? I see the Crabbes and Goyles here as well! What sort of nonsense is this?"

"You'll see when the presentation starts. And, you know, Theo, Greg, Vince and Draco are alright.  You know, for Slytherins and all." Ron concluded uncomfortably under his parents' disbelieving stares.

Molly's nostrils flared in disquiet and she drew herself up to her full height, which was no longer so imposing now that they were in their teens.  Ron already topped her by a couple of inches.

"As much as I'm sure we're all delighted to see whatever little toys and tricks you and you little friends have been wasting your time on, I really think it's time to stop playing around with these miscreants and focus on more important things.  Like your studies.  You're going to be taking your OWLs this year and you're completely unprepared!  Straight A's for two years now! You need to bring those grades up, mister.  I'm putting my foot down, young man.  I won't stand for you flitting off to waste your time playing games any longer.  Your education, your FUTURE is more important! I've obviously been far too lenient, why in my day…"

As their mum began what was shaping up to be a truly epic rant, Ron's face lost the cheer he'd worn with such ease as he approached them and  his face went blank. 

"MUM" he interjected firmly.  Molly spluttered to a halt, radiating indignation from every pore.  "My future is set, my education is in no way being wasted, whatever you might think.  Now, if you could stop making a scene and take a seat, the presentation is about to start." He gestured to the right where a few empty seats were still left in the back row, then turned and marched off to an empty seat on the left near the front, where he settled in between Hermione and the twins.  Molly looked ready to march after him and continue ranting, but by this point the house lights were slowly dimming and Arthur and Ginny had both noted the whole room was staring at them.

 

They settled into their seats just as the lights went out and the screen up front lit up and began flashing photographs across the screen.  In the center, a photo of a first or second year Ron, Harry and Neville gathered around a small toy vehicle of some sort with great concentration. In the bottom left corner, an equally young Luna, Millicent and Theodore Nott poking at action figures with their wands.  One after another they flashed, in one spot and then another--a group of kids from all four houses gathered around a table smiling and chatting as they made piles of hats and charmed the bands to represent the three Tri-wizard schools, a group of kids in white coats like they made you wear in herbology, studying a vertical planter filled with greenery and making notes on clipboards, the Enchanter's group gathered around a table and studying plans.  A group of mud-splattered kids, with mad grins, holding various weapons, posed triumphantly in the midst of what appeared to be a dense jungle.  One of Neville turning into a giant, surprised-looking canary, while in the background, the twins in white lab coats and holding clipboards high-fived one another.  Millicent at the head of a table filled with kids.  Piles of books surrounded each of them.  On the wall behind them a world map with various animal pictures tacked to it.  On the walls to either side hundreds of papers with lists formed sprawling trees.  Dean Thomas drawing at an easel, while behind him Luna worked on a wall-covering mural.  Off to the side Colin could be seen coming out of his dark room, his hands full of pictures and looking surprised to be on the other end of the camera for once.  A large group in matching coveralls waving from the deck of a riverboat.  The same group later in the day, filthy, looking exhausted and surrounded by neatly bundled piles of trash.  Hermione, Luna, Dean and the Enchanters group constructing a table-top coral reef while fish flew around over their heads.  Lee, Bernard and Kendell building a computer, and seated in front of the mission control consoles wearing headsets and staring intently at the displays. Tom Riddle and the twins working on a stretchy looking suit, Tom Riddle alone working on a helmet of some sort.  Harry carefully pouring molten metal into a mold.  Hermione being fitted out with armor by Harry.  A mixed group that seemed to be floating in outer space, while wearing strange armor like Hermione had been getting in the previous picture.  A group of action figures on a lunar landscape saluting and holding flags while a ship that looked like a squid sat at rest close by.  One could just see the earth above the horizon behind them.  More and more photos--children working, manning booths at the world cup and the Tri-wizard tournament, children laughing together, children fighting with swords… then there was a brief pause and the last photograph came up.  It was a group photo of students from all four houses.  Behind them on the wall hung the Hogwarts' crest and the Explorer's Club Inc. logo.  Those in the front held a sign that simply said "The Garden" which showed everyone, even the latecomers like Hermione and Fleur--which was understandable as it had been taken at the end of the school year before they'd broken for summer recess. 

 

When the house lights came up, Sirius Black and several of the kids mounted the stage.  Sirius approached the podium while the rest took seats.

"Welcome everyone to Parents' day, here at Explorer's Club, Inc.  We set this up because all of you have kids that have been working as part of the Research and Development department.  Many of you know they've had summer jobs with us, many of you might know they were working for the corporation in their off hours while at Hogwarts.  Due to security concerns while awaiting patent-approvals for the many products we've been developing, most of you probably only have the vaguest idea of what all the kids have been up to thus far.  Recently the last of the patents we were waiting for was approved, and we've finally gotten to a point where the first goal that this corporation was formed to meet should be realized this very evening.  You've all been invited here tonight to learn a bit more about your very smart and talented children and share in their triumph tonight.  We have a full day planned.  Different members of R & D will be making short presentations, then there will be a short tour of their workrooms and offices, the main event which you'll learn more about in just a little while, then we'll break for lunch.  If all goes as planned, the main event part II should be ready by then.  So, without further ado, let me introduce my godson, Harry Potter, so we can get started…"

 

 

 

 

Loki watched yet another group of slightly dazed parents go by and grinned at his wards.  "Things seem to be going well so far."

Sigyn pressed her lips together and tried not to giggle at them.

"So far so good, yeah.  I hope it's enough to keep Ron's parents off his back."

"I don't think we need to worry about that.  I was watching their faces during his presentation on the mining equipment.  They looked rather like someone knocked them between the eyes with a two-by-four" Tom laughed.  "and I think the littlest Weasley is likely to start trying to find us again."

"Neville's gran and his uncle looked about the same.  Serves them right after they terrorized him all through his childhood." Harry grumbled.

"Why would zhey do that?" Fleur wondered.

"They thought he was a squib, which is almost funny in retrospect, really.  He can be mildly terrifying at times."

"It's getting close to launch time.  You might want to start gathering everyone." Loki noted.

"Mission control should be making an announcement…"  "Attention all personnel."

"Damn, I'm good."

" Please gather your guests and proceed to the viewing room.  Launch will be commencing in forty minutes."

"I guess we should head up ourselves.  We'll save you a seat." Sigyn offered.  The five of them had stationed themselves in the staging area that had been set up off the side of the deep-space simulation room with the ship, mining equipment and action figures.  None of them had wanted to take a chance on an overeager parent poking at any of it and breaking something this close to the launch.

A few minutes after Fleur, Loki and Sigyn were gone,  Vince, Greg, Sirius, Barty and Remus arrived to help check over everything one last time and get everything loaded up.

"Thirty minutes to launch.  Please proceed to the viewing room."

Tom activated the large mirror that hung on one wall.  "Can everyone see everything?"

"It looks fine from here.  Can everyone in the back see?"

"Yeah, we're good."

"Alright, begin the checklist." Sirius ordered.

"Commencing check list.  Cassiopeia I is online and operating normally."

Harry nodded to the action figures who could be seen in the "eyes" of the squid ship, and they in turn gave him a cheery thumbs up.  The ship went into "squat" position and a tube extended down, opening a ramp that led to the interior.

Vince and Greg opened the box at the end of the table and a vehicle came trundling out.  Different parts of it whirred, or groaned or opened up as mission control went through and checked each part.  As each test was successfully passed, the action figures assigned to that section would give a thumbs up or high-five one another. 

"Rock-eater one is online and operating normally."

"Twenty minutes to launch.  Please proceed to the viewing room."

 

 

The muggle parents in the crowd watched the giant mirror with bemused excitement as the action figures--who were all walking around on their own and driving mining rigs!!--loaded up the ship and then lined up in formation outside the ship, while a crowd of other action figures cheered and waved signs and hankies and a marching band played a merry tune.  The two large boys who had been unloading the boxes  started wiping at their eyes surreptitiously. Remus patted them consolingly on their backs.

"Well, boys, this is it.  The moment we've all been waiting for.  You've worked hard, and now it's finally time to put your training to the test.   Though you'll be millions of miles away, we'll be with you every step of the way.  Team Sigma, we salute you.  Make us proud, boys."

The action figures saluted back and turned to begin marching onto the ship.

"Five minutes to launch."

"This is so exciting." Dan Granger whispered.  "Now, when can we go into space?"

"Dad! You saw how big the ship is!  We haven't gotten that far yet!"

"But you will.  I want to see Pluto when you do."

"Pluto? Why Pluto?"

"Because no one's ever really seen it as more than a very faint smudge! We just know it's there because it has to be.  We can do a flyby of the rest of the planets, but I want to see Pluto."

"I'll see what I can do." Hermione replied dryly.

"Shhh! Something's happening." her mother hissed.

"Launch commencing in…10…9…"

Around the room, the whole crowd began counting down as well, eyes glued to the mirror which showed the ship now serenely hovering in the deep space simulator.

"3…2…1!"

"AND WE HAVE LIFTOFF!"

The parents and teachers all gasped as the ship vanished between one moment and the next, and as one they turned to look at the asteroid field that seemed to be hovering in the middle of the room.

"So where is it?" Molly demanded, peering at the floating rocks suspiciously.

"Arrival in three hours and thirteen minutes."

"Three hours!" Arthur sputtered, while the rest of the group went "AWWWW!" and slumped in place.

"Oh, honestly!  The asteroid belt is millions of kilometers away!  Even with magic it takes some time to go that far!" Hermione scolded. 

"Millions of kilometers? How far is that in regular measurement?" Molly demanded.

"Still millions." Ron sighed.  "It's really, really, really far away, okay?  To give some perspective, it takes six minutes to get to the moon."

The wizards in the room tried to wrap their minds around the idea of a place so far away that a portkey took minutes or hours to get there and found themselves floundering.

"Well, we've got three hours and counting until the ship arrives at its destination--  who's ready for lunch?" Loki asked cheerfully.

Chapter Text

"So many old people." Millicent muttered, as she looked out over the sea of ICW reps gathered in the massive meeting hall.

"I'm not ready for this." Neville fretted nervously.

"Most of them seem to be half asleep. It's no wonder things are such a mess." Tom grumbled.

"Are they even going to understand what we're talking about?" Lee wondered.

Judging by the look of them, most of the folks out there had been born before electric lights and indoor plumbing, never mind computers and space ships.

"Relax, everyone. The corporation and the Unspeakables are going to be doing the heavy lifting. We're mostly just here in case they want to question any of us on specifics of the space program." Harry assured them.

"What?! But, I've got a speech all ready and everything!" Hermione huffed irritably.

When Harry saw the thick sheaf of parchment she was waving around, he thought perhaps it was just as well they weren't going to be speaking today; Hermione's speech by itself would likely have used up all the available time.

"It was Dumbledore's suggestion, actually, so if you're mad go yell at him not me. He said delegates in their fifties had trouble getting themselves heard, because a lot of the folks out there assume anyone so young and inexperienced has little of import to say. He said our group, with half of us underage and the rest only just coming of age would likely be listened to politely, though even that wasn't guaranteed, as a few of the more peevish delegates would likely spend the entire time we were trying to talk demanding to know what a bunch of children was doing here and where were our mothers and blah, blah, blah. He said even with Sirius and them doing the talking rather than us that there were likely to be a few delegates not paying much attention, but as they're all adults, and Sirius and Remus at least look older than they actually are, they might actually get enough of what we're saying to make it worthwhile."

"If that's the case, I'm surprised he didn't offer to do all the talking for us." Ron noted.

"He did. Sirius thanked him politely and said no."

"Which means he might have been lying about how difficult our reception by the ICW might be." Tom mused.

"What?! Why would he lie about it?" Hermione demanded.

"He lost a lot of political capital when it came out he was being controlled by a dementor dark lord most of his life. He only managed to hold on to being headmaster of Hogwarts by the skin of his teeth, and that only because he was able to argue that by him fighting it all these years is why the wand hadn't ended up in the hands of another Grindlewald or Voldemort and that really it could have been so much worse. He was still made to give up his spot on the Wizengamot and the ICW though. He's used to being pretty much in charge of the entire wizarding world for all intents and purposes, and being the spokesman and leader on the whole space program thing would have allowed him a way to get some of that back. He could very easily have been lying, or at least overstating the likely reaction of the delegates in order to get back in the game." Tom explained. "He's a politician. That's what they do."

He beckoned Hermione forward and pointed out where Dumbledore was down on the floor, schmoozing.

"And you'll note, he still came with us after being turned down and is off working the crowd, rather than taking a vacation or doing Hogwarts related things, even though school will be back in session soon."

"Why that…that wily old geezer!"

"That's the spirit, Hermione." Pansy congratulated her.

 

Peggy glanced away from watching Steve take in the many changes New York City had undergone since he was last there when Agent Coulson's phone rang. Whoever it was on the other end both surprised and pleased him. She was about to leave him to his call, but he got a bit of an odd look on his face, though he continued smiling genially. She paid more attention when he began idly scanning the streets as though looking for danger while continuing his conversation. Steve noted her distraction and began listening as well.

"No, we haven't gone there. Steve wanted to take a look around the city. It's changed a lot since he was last here… Yes, I suppose it would be a good choice for a trip down memory lane. Are you nearby? Are you? We should have lunch. Any suggestions? Well, that does sound tasty. You know how much I enjoy a good old-fashioned greasy hamburger. I'm with them right now, in fact. It shouldn't take barely any time at all to meet you there. An hour sound good? All right. See you then."

Coulson hung up his phone and took a sip of his coffee, still smiling.

"That was a good friend of mine, May. I hope you don't think me presumptuous, but I promised her we'd meet her for lunch at a quaint little burger joint she knows. Bit of a field trip. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?"

"Sounds delightful. It's been a while since I had a proper burger and fries. What do you say, Steve?"

Steve eyed Peggy a moment and then grinned disarmingly. "Gosh, sounds a treat. A burger sounds just the thing. Everyone here keeps feeding me healthy food."

"Well then, we should head out. Don't want to be late." Peggy agreed. "In fact, we can take my car. All those silly regulations I enforced suddenly seem rather restrictive from this end, but well, we cannot abscond with an official SHIELD vehicle for a pleasure jaunt, can we?"

"You're absolutely correct. We should head back to HQ so I can drop off the car and we can head out."

 

It wasn't until they were well on their way that Peggy demanded to know "what's going on?"

"I'm not actually sure yet. May has no interest in the early history of SHIELD and the SSR…in fact she was prone to thwaping me with files or whatever was near to hand if I started going on about it too much, so for her urge a visit to a historical SSR site is strange in itself, the fact that she's put herself back in the field to do so is somewhat alarming on its own. She's been in the clerical pool since a mission in Bahrain. I was there, but I still don't know what exactly happened in there, beyond knowing she single-handedly save a whole group of our soldiers. She took herself off field work, wouldn't talk about it, and always got upset when people called her by her new nickname, "the Calvary".

"Agent May, Bahrain? That sounds…oh. That was her, was it." Peggy replied after a moment's thought.

"You were director at the time. You must know what actually happened." Coulson realized.

Peggy nodded, looking sad.

"The child you all went in there to save was the problem. She had strange mind-control powers. She had seized control of our soldiers and was pitting them against each other. Your agent May realized this and killed the child to save the soldiers. She knew she'd made the right call, SHIELD agreed she'd made the right call, but it was still a child she'd gone in to save and it never sat well with her."

Coulson grimaced. "Yeah, I could see how that might have messed with her quite a bit. It explains a lot, really."

He caught Cap's inquiring glance and hesitated a moment before elaborating.

"She was thinking of having children. We went to Bahrain and the next thing I know, her marriage has imploded, there's no more talk of children, and she took herself off field duty to be a clerk. She's not really the clerk type, and while she can use a computer it's in no way her specialty or even something she particularly enjoys. She was always action girl. It was a big change."

"But not surprising once you know the root of it. Children haunt you in a way that adults trying to kill you just don't." Peggy sighed.

"You killed a child as well?" Steve asked softly.

"No. We didn't kill her. Truthfully, we probably should have. She was a product of the Red Room, a Soviet program training little girls from a young age to be infiltrators and assassins. She was no innocent child, she was a weapon. We lowered our weapons and our guard when we found her, and were viciously attacked for our trouble. We should have killed her. She undoubtedly was gathered up soon after and taken someplace new to finish her training. She's probably caused untold mayhem in the world since then. I ran into another product of the Red Room not long after, so I know full well what she became. Even knowing that, I've no doubt that little girl would have haunted us terribly if we had. I still recall her with alarming clarity even though we allowed her to escape." Peggy explained.

"That should be the place there." Coulson pointed.

The place in question was a dive diner in the middle of nowhere. More importantly, Coulson knew there was no camera surveillance in the area, it was under an overpass, and so wasn't clearly visible from satellites, and had windows on the three sides that were open, and so allowed a good view of your surroundings if you stayed alert. The traffic around it and overhead meant it was difficult to listen in to from a distance.
Peggy and Cap obviously noted a lot of the same things.

"I have to admit, I'm now really curious about what your friend has to say." Peggy noted.

May was already there when they entered. She was dressed casually and seemed quite relaxed as she perused the plastic covered menu, but they all noted that she'd seated herself where she had the best unobstructed view of the surrounding area as well as both entrances.
Introductions were made, a sleepy-looking, grey-haired waitress took everyone's orders, and they were finally left to themselves.

"So? What's the situation?" Coulson asked once the waitress was out of earshot and the small jukebox at their table was playing a jaunty tune to further obscure their voices.

"There's a conspiracy within SHIELD."

"What sort of conspiracy? Who's involved?"

"That's just it, I don't know. All I do know is that it's big, and it has to reach pretty high if even half of what I suspect is true."

"Why don't you start at the beginning." Steve suggested.

"I started noticing oddities a few months ago. All of a sudden, agents that were known for being prompt and thorough with their paperwork all started forgetting to submit it. It wasn't just them, there were other oddities. We started getting complaints that vehicles, quinjets, helicopters that were supposed to be available and in good repair weren't there when the agents went to fetch them for missions. If it had been at one location we could have assumed whoever was in charge of things there was slacking off, but it happened at all the bases. I was kept busy contacting all these places and people trying to get the records straightened out, but then there was a sudden rash of transfers in my department. The newcomers settled in and started submitting all the missing paperwork. The few people I was able to get hold of tried blaming the solar flares that happened shortly before all this and said it was probably lost during the computer failures. I started tracking down the people that got transferred out of my department. They were all put on field duty. They're lifelong clerks and computer gurus. None of them were ever field agents, or are even qualified to be. None of them asked to be transferred, and in fact most of them are rather frightened that they might be sent out into a fire-fight that they're ill-equipped to handle. I tasked them to poking around all the bases that suffered damage from solar flare activity. We came to the conclusion that there was some sort of automated system or program somewhere that was handling the missing paperwork that had gotten taken out, which is why so much of it went awry. They didn't find any strangeness in the computers, but they did note there seemed to be a lot of twitchy people. The only place left to investigate is the Academy, but none of the former clerks was assigned there. What's more, one of them saw part of the report on the solar flare damage there and the equipment they'd asked for. Two helicopters were destroyed. A STRIKE force was sent out to search the grounds, something that didn't happen anywhere else such damage occurred. The clerk I was talking to said none of the helicopters should have malfunctioned from the solar flare activity, as they're too heavily shielded, what's more, the Academy is the least secure place on the communications network, supposedly, and yet it's the only place where an armed response went out for a possible data breach. I also was told that STRIKE has training exercises in the old SSR compound. Coulson and I were both trained at the academy as field agents, and there's some crossover between our training and STRIKE, and yet we were never taken there, and in fact were unaware that any of it was in use. So you see, I have a lot of oddities. I don't know how far it goes, or how deep. I don't know who I can rightly trust beyond the folks from my department that got suddenly transferred. I don't know who they are, or what they want, or even how long it's been going on. At this point I mostly just want to poke around at the Academy grounds and see if there is anything fishy there, just to assure myself I'm on the right track."

"I told the folks back at the office that Cap was assigned to DC, which is true, and that you had to get home anyway, so we were just taking your car. I also mentioned we were going to stop off for a greasy burger… you've made no secret of your dislike of most of the health food they've been feeding you, so no one batted an eye at that either." Coulson mused. "We have a little bit of time before anyone starts looking for us and wondering where we are. We may have just enough time to go take a quick look around."

"We'd best get to it then." Peggy decided.

"Aren't we going to eat?" Steve said worriedly. He could smell the burgers cooking, and damn it, he didn't care how often they insisted, tofu burgers were really not the same as regular burgers at all.

Peggy rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. "We'll get everything to go, alright?"

 

Head Unspeakable Lovegood settled into the comfy chair in her office with a sigh and just sat for a moment. There was a pile of paperwork in her inbox, but she'd had a busy few days, and it could wait for a few minutes more.

"Hey, chief. How'd the ICW meeting go?" Unspeakable Bode, who had been left in charge of overseeing SHIELD greeted her moments after she'd sat down.

"So much for my little break." she sighed internally, before straightening and addressing her subordinate.

"It went well, so far as we can tell. There was certainly less arguing and hand-wringing than I'd expected. We've all been so focused on the muggles and what they're up to and whether it's a danger to us, we've not been paying proper attention to our fellow wizards. Dissemination of measures to keep away pollutants has certainly eased things in many corners; the trains allowing for easier travel have as well, at least in those areas where they are available. The fact remains that their numbers are ridiculous and keep growing exponentially with every month, day and year. A lot of countries are beginning to realize the efforts to remain hidden are becoming unsustainable. What's more, each time there was a war or a dark lord, large swaths of the lands wizards claimed for themselves centuries ago were lost, and as the population rebuilt itself once the troubles ended, they found themselves having to make do with less and less room each time. As the muggle population continues to grow, so does the amount of waste they produce. Several of the smaller countries have recently found themselves being slowly buried under muggle trash heaps, because the areas where the wizards of the country are hidden look desolate, ruined…and empty. When the muggles need someplace new to stow their refuse, wizarding areas that look empty but really aren't are being targeted. A good portion of the populace seems cautiously eager to get started, and I've no doubt the rest will fall in line once word starts to spread. It's good news for us, it means things should move smoothly. It does seem to point to the fact that we might have waited nearly too long. The only real problem I see going forward is that the different nations have already started arguing about how much land they each should get. We tried reminding everyone that, as it will be an entire planet, there's really no need for such distasteful scrambling. Every nation's wizards should be able to get more land than they know what to do with. Honestly!"

"You can't entirely blame them. Our people have been stuffed into the odd corners of the world for so long now, that most folks spend their whole lives thinking of those little areas as the whole the of the world. Most don't venture out into the muggle areas if they can help it--too strange, too unnerving--and so forget just how little of this world we actually lay claim to, and how much of it is left that's unavailable to us. Think about how awed our folks were when those landfill villages opened up. They're each a nice chunk of land, but each one is but a tiny, tiny fraction of even the amount a land a smallish muggle village claims these days. Everyone's seeing the light at the end of the tunnel; they just want to make sure they've some elbow room on the other side."

"I suppose. It's still annoying. You have news?"

"Yeah. SHIELD, or at least one of its agents has noticed HYDRA, though she hasn't yet realized that's who they are. She made contact with the former Director and Captain America, and that fellow Coulson to tell them what she knows so far. She also made contact with the folks that used to be in her department and set them to digging around a bit as well."

"Took them long enough." Lovegood grumbled. At Bode's look she waved her hand to quell his chiding.

"I know, I know. They haven't the same resources we do to watch everything."

"Not to mention SHIELD has spent a lot of effort at seizing control of all known methods of communications so no one can plot against them. It made it rather difficult, and time-consuming for her to get in contact with people. It would have been nearly impossible had we not been stymying some of their efforts all these years. There would have been nowhere she could have gone unseen or unheard. Skilled as she is, she'd have been caught and taken out the moment she tried to get in touch with anyone." Bode agreed.

"Yay us then." Lovegood snorted. "Damn nosy buggers."

She grabbed the pile of papers from her inbox and began flipping through them. She hesitated on one and frowned.

"Problem?"

"I don't know yet. Croaker wants to re-open Project Rebirth. It has been fifty years, but after what happened last time I don't know how many volunteers he's likely to get."

"Project Rebirth? That's the Captain America super-soldier thing, right? A guy ended up as a squib?"

"Exactly." she agreed as she kept reading. Her eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Well, that's interesting. He might get more volunteers than I thought…"

Bode tried to read the papers upside down from across the desk where he stood.

"The Soviets were trying their own formula on some of those young girls in their assassin program. A lot of them died. One survived, but at the time it didn't seem to have made any notable changes in her. Croaker went looking for the survivor to see if he could get a second scan of her, perhaps get some idea of the long-term repercussions. He said she looks like a young woman in her mid-twenties, and she appears to be in good health with no obvious drawbacks that he's been able to find. She should be in her fifties or sixties"

"They found an immortality serum?"

"She was the only survivor, so not quite, but they found something." Lovegood agreed. "It seems some enterprising people have been adding to the files even after our project was shut down. Every time the muggles made another attempt to recreate the serum, they took scans, and got copies of the research and unsuccessful serums and added them to the files, just in case it was ever re-opened. There might actually be enough information to make some headway on it."

"We can only hope. All the folks in the big space-faring empires out there tend to be stronger, denser and much longer-lived than we are. Our magic will level the field somewhat, but only so far."

"Exactly. If we can get it to work for us without taking away our magic we might actually be able to go our own way without having to worry about being colonized any time soon. We've got everyone focused on having a planet of wizards all to ourselves. We didn't have the heart to break it to the ICW that the whole galaxy is still full of muggles, and worse, that they're generally more advanced and more dangerous than ours here at home are. If we can manage to bulk up the populace it will go a long way towards making that fact less worrisome."

Lovegood and Bode traded a look.

She tapped the proposal with her wand, making the word "APPROVED" appear on it in bold red letters before dropping it into her outbox.

 

"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" Harry grumbled irritably.

"Getting supplies to make quidditch goals." Sirius replied.

"Not with that you're not. All that stuff is spoken for."

"Surely you can spare some!"

"No can do. The Ministry stole our aluminum can collection out from under us. What we have here is all we've got. Now that I've gotten the first shipment back from the asteroid I'm going to be using it to make alloys with our remaining aluminum for more little ships and the framework for the space station."

"What do you mean the ministry stole our cans?"

"Just what I said. They removed all the charms we put on trash cans and set up machines for muggles to bring their cans to. Tom's investigating right now. He thinks we might be able to turn things around. He doesn't think it's an official move by the ministry but rather someone trying to line their own pockets, but it still leaves us rather short of materials in the meantime."

"Why's he think that?"

"Because the machines are paying the muggles counterfeit change for their cans. When a few hundred pounds of counterfeit money starts circulating the muggles are going to investigate and they won't stop until they get answers."

"Well, in the meantime just give me some of the ship stuff."

"No way. That's scandium. It's a rare-earth metal. Luckily for us, it's fairly plentiful on the asteroid we started on. Anyway, I told you I need it for the space program. Quidditch goals don't have to be fancy, just transfigure some dirt or stone or something. Why are you making quidditch posts anyway?"

"We're starting a pee-wee quidditch league among the villages."

"Pee wee quidditch? And you need my space metal for the goal posts? Little kids are dazzled if you show them an unusual bug; you don't need quidditch posts made of rare earth metals from space to do it."

There was a clatter in the next room. Sirius and Harry peeked in and found Tom there with several large blocks of aluminum cans that had been crushed together. He was tapping them with his wand to make the cans loosen into a big heap and then directing the resulting pile into the hopper of the aluminum collector.

"Oh good. You got that all taken care of?"

"Yeah. Madame Bones took care of it. I got the aluminum, the Ministry got the money the guy already made on previous sales. We're going to have to go charm up some more cans. We've been restricted to the large bins used by housing and businesses though, as there's less chance of the cans disappearing being noticed. We're not allowed to charm up any more on the streets."

"Looks like we're going on a pub crawl through London later. What a pain."

"Yeah, you do that. I'll take this stuff for the quidditch posts."

"What's this now?" Tom asked as he finished unloading the last of the cans.

"Sirius is starting a pee-wee quidditch league."

"You are? Why?"

"It was the goblins' idea, actually. A niche no one has exploited yet. They've been working with the Cleansweep broom company to make a new line of brooms that are a step above toy brooms, but not quite as functional as a regular broom. They're going to be the official broom of the pee-wee league. We've already been making uniforms and have a line of merchandise lined up to roll out once we have some kids signed up. There's enough kids between seven and ten to make two teams per village. We'll play them against each other in their villages, and hold the semi-finals and championship games in Wild Rumpus."

"Sounds like you've got it all figured out. You still can't have the aluminum. We need it. Tom went investigating because our supply dropped off so suddenly and we didn't have enough for what we needed. Even this is barely going to cover it."

"We need goal posts though!" Sirius complained.

"Look. Go with Harry and get our production back up. I'll go make your stupid goalposts. Where do you need them?"

"All the villages. There's a small field with a clubhouse-slash-locker room at either end. Penny has the specs. The kids are going to be on modified toy brooms, so the posts can't be full sized."

"All right, I'll do that then. I'll let her know you're on a pub crawl."

"A stupid one."

"No drinking. We have work to do."

"You kids are no fun. Come on. Let's get this done. I have stuff I'm supposed to be doing this afternoon, so we can't take too long."

"I'll go see Penny." Tom said as he headed for her office."

"Hang on a sec." Harry spoke up before leaving. Sirius glanced back and saw he was putting up signs around the room saying things like "NO!", "Hands off my space metal!", and "Get your own mining operation ya scurvy dogs"

"Scurvy dogs?" Sirius asked as they headed for the apparition point.

"We were watching a pirate movie at Lee's house last week."

"Ah."

 

Unspeakable Lovegood huffed and checked the time.

"Where is that young whipper-snapper? It's almost time."

"I'm sure he'll be along. He was on a pub-crawl."

"What? Idiot boy. He better not be drunk."

"He's not. He shouldn't be." Penny temporized. "It was for science."

"How does one do a pub crawl for science?"

"Hello, ladies. Ah, right on time. That was a close one. Harry kept finding more pubs…"

Lovegood sniffed at him suspiciously and eyed him to see if he seemed tipsy.

"We had to re-charm our can collectors. Some jerk at the Ministry tried to steal it out from under us so he could line his own pockets."

Lovegood's face lit with understanding. "Ah. A pub crawl for science. I see."

"So, did we get a good turnout?"

"The whole dozen showed up. Most of them were let go soon after the war ended. They've probably been bored to tears, poor dears." Lovegood agreed. "We should head in. It's time to get started."

The three of them headed inside to find a dozen grizzled old men, all of whom looked like they had stomped through hell while kicking ass and taking names, with just a few scars (and a few maimings) to show for it. Sirius knew most of them by sight. He had been training to be an auror back in the day. His career had been rather effectively halted by his long stint in Azkaban. There was a part of him that was still a bit bitter towards these old fellows for believing so easily that he was a death eater in disguise…but realistically he understood that by that point there had been so many surprise death eaters doing unspeakable things that one more would hardly have phased them. The war had been hard on everyone, but most especially these guys who had been on the front lines through it all, trying to keep society from imploding.

"Well, well. Sirius Black."

"Alastor. Or should I call you Mad-Eye? I hear that's what you're going by these days."

"The hell I am. That started getting bandied about by folks with less sense than a ruddy goose. Alastor is more than fine."

"We were real happy to hear you were actually innocent. It bugged us all for years." John "Quickdraw" McGinty noted.

"It would have been nice if you'd told the rest of the Ministry that." Sirius said with a stiff smile.

"Don't be like that, brat. Some of us did. We were retired soon after. Told we were too paranoid to be of further use. Can you imagine?" Cecil "the Interrogator" Talkalot huffed.

"So what's this all about anyway, kid?" Petie Burke asked curiously. "I've got places to go, things to do."

"Yeah, watch paint dry."

"Watch the begonias grow."

"Speak for yourselves. I've got me a hot date later." Petie scoffed.

"With who? A hag? I can't imagine who else would want your wrinkled arse clogging up her parlor." Cecil snorted.

"A lovely widow, in fact. Just because you scare them off doesn't mean I do!"

"Gentlemen, if we could focus?" Lovegood interjected dryly.

"We're all ears, my dear. You know…if my widow doesn't work out…"

"You couldn't handle me." Lovegood sniffed rather primly, which of course set the rest of them to chortling and teasing Petie about losing his touch.

"Space program!" Sirius said loudly over the laughter.

"What's this then?"

"You were called here in hopes that some or all of you would be interested in joining the space program."

"We have a space program?"

"Wait, I heard something about this. My nephew's the ICW delegate. We're moving to another planet or something." Cecil realized. "Huh. And here I figured he was drunk or asleep or something and just made something up."

"Exactly. Most of the population will be taken by gateways between here and the new planet. However, in order for this to work, we need a team to go first and set up the gateway on that end." Lovegood explained.

"That's why you fellows were called. You're all former Aurors. You're well-rounded and capable magically."

"Calm under pressure. Can be counted on to actually pay attention during training, since you're smart enough to realize it may well save your lives should anything go wrong."

There was a moment's stunned silence, then slowly grins began to appear on all their faces.

"HA! Ya hear that boys? We're going to another bloody planet!"

"Well at least some folks have sense enough to realize we're not out of the game yet!"

"Yeah, damn youngins can't be trusted with nothin'!"

"I feel I should point out it was a bunch of kids that actually developed the space program." Sirius interjected.

"We were keeping an eye on them. They did a thorough job. You'll be perfectly safe." Lovegood assured them.

"Wait a second. My grandson told me Harry Potter had a secret clubhouse in Hogwarts somewhere…you mean to tell me he was actually building a space ship?"

"Ambitious little bugger. I'll give him that."

"It wasn't just him. It was a whole big group of kids from all four houses, but yeah, pretty much."

"Ha! They did that right under old Dumbledore's nose and he didn't have a clue!"

"How d'ya figure that?" Alastor asked.

"I don't care if he is your friend, you know damn well that old coot would have been off bragging on it and making it sound like it was all his work and his idea if he knew anything about it!"

"Ya got some nerve…"

"He's not completely wrong and you know it. He does manage to stick his nose in most things. It's quite a feat to keep him out right on his home turf. I like these kids already!"

"Well you'll have a chance to meet all of them sooner or later if you join up."

"Sign me up. I wasn't joking about watching paint dry." Quickdraw said dryly.

Chapter Text

"Wheeeee!" Cecil laughed delightedly.

"Ooof!  Blamin' sack of dragon dung! Watch where yer goin'!" Moody barked in irritation when he slammed into him.

"Sorry, mate, didn't see you there."

"I think I'm going to be sick…" Quickdraw moaned.

"Just imagine yer on a broom." Moody demanded.

"I never played quidditch.  I'm afraid of heights.  Hanging in a dark void with nothing holding me up is not doing anything good for my nerves!"

"How'd you get those thrusters to….WHOOOOO!"

"Turn them off! Turn them…" Moody yelled as their friend went hurtling down the length of the simulator.

THUD

"Bloody hell.  You, uh, alright there, Petie?"

A couple of the kids were already heading Petie's way to retrieve him, while one came to a stop near him. 

"Having problems?"

"Damned Cecil knocked my damn leg askew when he slammed into me." Moody admitted.  His fake leg was still contained inside his suit, so it hadn't floated away, but it was sort of hovering within the leg of his suit as a slightly odd angle to the rest of his body.

"That's going to be a problem.  Would you consent to getting a better prosthetic?" Tom asked curiously.

Moody glared down at his floating leg, and winced when he remembered how the sudden onset of gravity felt when one exited the simulator.  His fake leg had served him well enough until now, but the kid was right, it was probably going to be a problem on this mission.  Though he'd been greatly enjoying his retirement and the lack of people trying to kill him immensely, he'd been enjoying having a purpose again and didn't want to give it up---especially if it meant his lunatic colleagues were going to go haring off into space without him there to keep an eye on all of them.  That wouldn't end well, he could see that already.

"Might be for the best" he admitted.

"Good.  I'll get you fixed up once we're all out of here."

The other two kids came back, towing Petie along.

"Don't worry.  A few broken bones…" Fred announced.

"…but we got those fixed right up." George concluded.

"Shouldn't we have gotten a healer to take a look at him?" Jonas Bartleby, another of the former Aurors, asked suspiciously.

"We're licensed mediwizards.  We used to fix ourselves up after testing our prank items on ourselves." Fred reassured him.

"We couldn't exactly run off to St. Mungo's every time we had a mishap" George agreed.

"Not to mention mum would have started keeping us under 24 hour surveillance."

"Which would have put a bit of a cramp in our plans for opening our own joke shop someday."

"Tommy-boy there convinced us we should probably get licensed"

"If we were going to continue testing our products  on ourselves and others"

"Just to save a few headaches in the long run"

"And it turns out we learned a lot while studying for the test."

"Of course, getting licensed has now led dear old mum to thinking we're"

"going to run off to be healers at St. Mungo's someday."

"She wasn't best pleased to discover we're still planning"

"On running our joke shop and selling products."

"That woman"

"Never happy" the twins concluded rather mournfully.

"Anyone else feeling dizzy?" Albin Alford complained after going back and forth watching the twins as they kept switching off.

"It's best to not look at them when they're speaking and just pretend it's one person talking.  It will save you a lot of headaches in the long run." Tom advised.

"Good advice." Moody grunted.  He looked around at everyone and sighed despondently. "This here practice run isn't going too well, is it?"

"You just haven't gotten the hang of it yet." Fred offered.

"We all did the same things the first time we tried it out." George agreed.

"Now look at us."

"We can operate in here"

"As easily as in normal gravity."

"It just takes some practice."

"Even so, I think this is probably enough for your first try.  You can think about what you did wrong, and maybe watch some videos of all of us in here.  That should help you do better next time." Tom announced.

"Fair enough.  Where're we headed next?"

"Next you'll be taking turns on the flight simulators.  The ship will portkey from here to a spot a good distance from the planet.  One of you will have to guide it from there to a spot close enough for the secondary portkey to get you all past the atmosphere.  From what we've gathered from NASA and such, going through the atmosphere is a bit fiddly and tends to burn up the ships, so we're just going to skip that part.  Once past the atmosphere you'll have to guide the ship in to a good landing spot and then, of course, land.  We've had a team, with some help from the Unspeakables, put together a simulator so you can get some practice at it.  Whoever gets the best scores consistently will be the designated pilot for the mission."

"Okay.  Sounds good."

"I believe once you all get the hang of straightforward flight, they're going to start introducing some difficulties and disaster scenarios, just in case, but that won't be for a while yet.  I don't think they're done programming it all yet."

"Fair enough.  Always best to plan for the worst and hope for the best."

 

 

 "Well…  It sort of worked." Draco mused.

The Enchanters group sighed, and glared at the half of the ice asteroid that had been left behind when their gripper portkey disappeared.

"Eet iz too big to get zhe whole thing into zhe portkey tunnel before eet closes." Fleur mused.

"I guess we need to make another to grab the rest of it?" Theo suggested.

"Or we could just try to find smaller ones." Susan suggested.

"With it breaking apart like that, will the rest of it even make it through, or is it going to end up broken up and stuck in the tunnel?" Cedric wondered.

"I guess we'll find out in an hour when it reaches the planet." Cho sighed.

"We were able to scan stuff from a distance, because it was worked into the system.  If we tweak the system, could we just make the ice itself the portkey and see if that works better?" Draco wondered.

"There's still the fact that it's really big." Theo objected.

"Couldn't hurt to try I guess.  Where's Tom at?" Blaise wondered.

The group headed down the hall to Tom's workshop to find him, but he wasn't inside.  He didn't seem to be in any of the other offices either, and he wasn't answering messages sent to him.

The group eventually went topside to the metalworking shop to see if he was in there, but they only found Harry and Ron, who were busy making pieces that would eventually form new small ships for the mining operation.

 

"Tom's in hiding right now." Ron snorted once they explained what they were doing there.

"What do you mean he's in hiding?" Theo asked.

"What iz he hiding from?" Fleur demanded.

"Who.  He's hiding from Mad-Eye.  Alastor.  Whatever his name is." Harry answered.

"Why?"

"He gave him a new fake leg and now he's having war flashbacks or something." Ron explained.

"That doesn't make any sense."

"It does if you remember that Tom tends to just wander by and fix problems and doesn't always explain himself well." Harry reminded them.

"He just vanished his wooden leg and gave him a new one, didn't he?" Draco asked.  "I don't see why that would give him flashbacks though."

"He cut off the end of his stump too so the new leg would bond with his nervous system.  The last time someone cut his leg off they were trying to kill him."

"Yeah. Moody freaked out and opened fire, so he shielded himself and left, but Moody's eye can see through walls, so he kept finding him." Ron sighed.

"Tom had scanned his eye when they first arrived, so he figured out how to hide from it, but then they ran into each other unexpectedly, and Moody realized he could hide from his eye, which freaked him out all over again."

"Yeah, he started yelling about dark wizards and 'constant vigilance' and started attacking again."

"The worst part is, his new silver leg works just like a real leg, so he's pretty fast."

"Tom finally got fed up dodging the crazy Auror trying to kill him and he left."

"Mon dieu!" Fleur groaned.  "Thomas you idiot!"

"To be fair he did ask first." Harry offered.

"Yeah, he just forgot to explain he'd be hacking off body parts while he was at it." Ron snorted. 

"In the meantime, those parts over there are ready for assembly.  We need more materials coming faster if we're going to start building our space station…and, you know, the big ship for our astronauts and what have you."

"Yeah, our little guys have been working around the clock.  They've hollowed out a two mile section of the asteroid and it's now filled with ore ready to be transported back.  By the time those ships are ready to go they'll probably have cleared out another couple of miles."

"Yeah, but it does us no good up there.  We need it back here.  The sooner the better."

"Alright, we'll get on it.  What are you two going to be doing?"

"Assembling a few more mining rigs to go with them.  With the hard use the ones up there are being put to, chances are they're going to start getting worn down.  Best send replacements before operations are too severely impacted."

"Alright.  We'll whip up a few more crews of miners while we're at it then."

"First we need to see if the asteroid makes it planetside…the bit of it we actually managed to capture anyway."

"Keep us updated.  And we'll tell Tom about tweaking the globe if we see him."

"Can do."

 

 

 

"You cannot be serious! Has everyone gone mad? This is a nightmare!" Cornelius Fudge whispered, aghast.  A stir went through the rest of the people in the meeting room at the Minister's words.  The ICW delegate for Britain, Hamish Talkalot, frowned at the Minister in some confusion. 

"While I agree moving the whole population is something of a logistical nightmare, the Unspeakables assured us all that so long as everyone cooperates and does their part…"

"Personally I think it sounds grand.  Imagine! A whole new planet just for us! So much to see and explore! Oh, if only I was a hundred years younger!" Griselda Marchbanks, department head of the board of education, said wistfully.

"The Unspeakables have been keeping watch on the muggle world, and much of what they've had to say about recent developments there have been disturbing.  This organization SHIELD is going to be trouble for us if we remain." Amelia Bones, head of magical law enforcement added.

"Are you all daft? Who cares about any of that!" Fudge spluttered.  "If we leave and go to a world without muggles, we'll destroy the Ministry!  I won't be Minister of Magic anymore!"

"I'm not sure I follow" Rufus Scrimgeour, head of the Auror department, admitted.

Fudge looked around at the rest of them and threw his hands up when he was greeted by a sea of blank faces.  "Do none of you remember anything from history class?"

"I usually fell asleep, as did most people. Yourself included." Pius Thicknesse, head of international relations, pointed out.

"Well…yes, I suppose that's true.  Even so, did none of you ever examine the Ministry charter?" he demanded as he wiped his sweating brow.  "The ministry was formed by the Warlock's council, and is only empowered for governance in matters of secrecy!  If secrecy ends, so does the ministry's mandate!  Power of governance reverts, in that case, to the Warlock's council!  If we go along with this crackpot scheme we will be destroying the ministry the moment we leave Earth!  I won't be the Minister anymore! I won't have it! We're staying, do you understand me? Now, I don't want to hear another word about any space program!  Scrimgeour, I want you to send your best men and arrest those so-called astronauts, Sirius Black and that damned Potter boy.  There'll be none of this nonsense on my watch!"

"And what are the charges? We're not actually allowed to simply arrest people because you say so."

"SEDITION!  They're trying to overthrow the rightful government of magical Britain!  That's cause enough, I should think!"

"Fair enough." Scrimgeour agreed peaceably.

"Rufus! You cannot be serious!" Amelia Bones objected.

"I worked long years to become head of my department.  I'm not letting a bunch of brat kids take that away from me."

"You both seem to have overlooked something." Amelia continued.  "It was not Sirius Black or Harry Potter or the astronauts who did any of this.  It was the corporation, Explorer's Inc.  In order to get any of them to cease and desist, you will have to bring suit against the corporation.  None of the people that are part of the corporation can be held accountable for any wrongdoing, only the corporation can.  That's what a corporation is for."

"Well then I'll dissolve it!"

"Which would only mean they cannot do anything further under the umbrella of Explorer's Inc.  That wouldn't cover anything done before."

"It will still keep us out of bloomin' space!"

"We're not the only magical country on Earth, and more than that, any private citizen that wants to travel to another world to start a new life can do so.  It's not actually illegal."

"We'll see about that!  Weasley!  Call an emergency session of the Wizengamot!"

"Minister, it won't matter even if you do.  The ICW is the successors of the International Warlock's Council.  Upon joining, every signatory country agrees that its decisions will be binding for the whole magical community.  It was a unanimous decision that we move to another world.  Your objection doesn't matter.  And thank goodness for that!" Hamish Talkalot said with some heat.  "Your petty power-grasping ways would have seen us all killed within a generation! You didn't see the presentation the Unspeakables did.  Maybe we should rectify that.  I think you need to see what you almost sentenced us to!"

"A better reaction, from both of you" Bones interjected angrily "Would have been to petition the ICW to grant the Ministry leave to continue operating in the new world, secrecy or not.  The governments of the magical communities worldwide dissolving all at once is in no one's best interest.  It would be chaos on the other side.  Obviously the charter and the organization of the Ministry as it stands will need to be reworked for a new era and a new mission, but that can be accomplished simply enough with a bit of work."

"Yes, really.  I'm shocked at the both of you.  You would endanger our world and our futures to hold on to a wee bit of power a bit longer.  If you ask me, you've just proven yourselves unfit for the offices you hold." Talkalot agreed.

"You're fired!" Fudge spluttered.

"I was appointed by the Wizengamot.  I don't answer to you." Talkalot sniffed, before sauntering out of the meeting.

 

 

"Well.  You two have really covered yourself in glory." Griselda Marchbanks sniffed, giving Fudge and Scrimgeour a dirty look once Talkalot had gone.

"I've worked for the ministry my entire life.  I started in the Obliviator department right out of Hogwarts!  I'm not getting any younger.  You can't tell me none of you feared for your future livelihood or your pensions like we did!" Fudge spluttered. 

"Not really." Ludo Bagman, head of the department of games and sports, shrugged.  "Even if the Ministry became defunct upon going to the new world, well, we've not had a local warlock's council in  a few hundred years.  We'd just of had to form a new one, and really, who would be more qualified to fill it than those of us who have been running things already?  It's all just semantics, isn't it? You worry too much, Fudge old man."

"I'm glad to see not everyone at this table has their heads up their asses." Bones agreed with a growl.  "Honestly! I suppose we should all be thankful no crises have arisen during your tenure thus far, or you'd have had half the populace locked up and the rest forbidden from acting in their own defense!"

She tidied the papers in front of her until she regained her calm and then addressed Fudge once more.

"Now that we have a more useful direction to work towards, we should probably still call an emergency Wizengamot session.  We'll have until next year to restructure the Ministry in a commonsense way for a new mission and can have it ratified at next summer's ICW meeting.  I've no doubt most if not all the rest of the signatories will be doing the same.  We should probably also revise the law code while we're at it."

"What? Why?"

"The law code we have is the result of a thousand years of history and much of it is tied to times and places here on Earth.  We can strip away some of the detritus that has built up over time and leave ourselves with the parts that work."

"Does that mean we're going to have to start negotiating with goblins and such?" Bagman asked warily.

"Most assuredly.  All the magical races that had wands once and had them taken away because of secrecy are going to rightfully expect to have their wand rights restored in the new world.  They'll likely also expect to either be allowed to join our counsels or to establish their own sovereign countries." Marchbanks nodded.

"If the goblins get their own country they'll take all the gold with them!" Fudge squawked.

"We can make the banks their embassies, in that case.  Do settle down." Bones sighed.  "Weasley, send out the summons.  Tomorrow morning about ten o' clock." 

Fudge whipped around and glared at his assistant, whom he'd sent off to do just that twenty minutes ago.

Percy blanched and quickly sidled out of the room.

 

 

 

The doors to the medical wing of the palace were flung open to clatter against the wall to either side with a bang.  The queen hardly seem to notice how the healers twitched in fright at the sound; her attention was all for the pale man on the nearest bed.

She strode forward, towards her husband, who was standing quietly at the foot of it.

"What has…"

"I hope you are happy now, woman." Odin grumbled.  "Do you see what your soft heart has wrought? Did I not tell you your coddling would lead him astray?"

"Wait…what?" Frigga demanded.  She caught movement from the corner of her eye and spotted the head healer, Eir, staring at the back of Odin's head with frank disbelief, though she was quick to school her features and pretend she hadn't be when she noted Frigga's regard.

Frigga stared at him for a long moment.  "What has happened to our son?"

"He's unconscious."

"I can see that.  Why is he unconscious?"

"I blasted him with Gugnir." Odin admitted, indicating the tall metal staff that signaled his status as king.

"You shot our son?! With Gugnir? Why would you do such a thing?"

"He wouldn't stop crying.  You know how I hate that." Odin grumbled, before glaring at her reproachfully from his one good eye.  "All that coddling when he was a baby did him no favors."

Frigga's hands clenched at her sides as she closed her eyes and counted to ten in an attempt to maintain her composure.  She had to try it several more times before she was able to continue with her questioning.

"Why was our son crying?"

She thought she had managed to sound calm and composed, but realized she had failed when Odin hesitated and side-eyed her thoughtfully and those nearest to them in the healer's hall all suddenly realized they had duties elsewhere.

"I don't know." Odin grumbled.

"Well why don't you tell me what you were talking about before this happened and maybe we can figure it out." Frigga said through gritted teeth.

Odin huffed and began to explain.

"He came to me to get permission to flit off and become the king of the Midgardian sorcerers when they ascend.  I told him I would consider it since it was unlikely my original idea of putting him back on Jotunheim was going to work out, though of course I realized that years ago, once I stopped being loopy from having just lost my eye…  Still, I had to consider the matter as I wasn't sure I wanted him moving away so far from home and…what?!"

Frigga looked at him aghast.  "You told him? You told him like that?! Why would you do such a thing, after I begged you for years to tell him the truth! Why would you suddenly decide to do this after forbidding me, and in such a way?"

"I hadn't intended to! It just slipped out…and you know what the boy is like once he gets his teeth in something! He kept complaining until I explained…and then the damnable boy had the nerve to not only deny that he was my son, but to accuse me of keeping him as a relic in my vault! As though he had not been raised with every luxury and advantage! And then the damnable child accused me of raising up Thor to kill him!"

"What?!"

"I don't know.  He wouldn't explain, he was crying and wouldn't stop, so I knocked him out and brought him here to see if the healers could fix his brain, since he's obviously crazy or something!"

"He is not crazy!"

Odin gave her a look that clearly stated he was beginning to wonder if she was crazy for not seeing what was so obvious to him, which had her narrowing her own eyes at him in renewed annoyance.

"In any case, you are here now.  You can figure out what broke his brain.  I need to return to the throne."

Frigga glared at the back of his head as he turned to leave and settled herself at the foot of Loki's bed to wait.

"This whole mess could have been avoided had he not been in a such a rush to be a king." Odin growled as he stalked from the ward.  He nodded to Lady Sif and Hogun of the Warriors Three when they saluted him as he passed, then stalked off out of sight, back to the throne room. 

Sif and Hogun peeked in to the ward, exchanged a grim look and hurried off to tell Thor what his treacherous brother had done.

 

 

As they made their way down the hallway, they spotted Princess Sigyn coming towards them, frowning. When she saw the two of them, she turned her footsteps so they would intercept.

"Lady Sif, Warrior Hogun.  Has something happened?  People have been eyeing me strangely and whispering.  Has someone run afoul of one of Loki's pranks? It is quite odd, as I do not recall him mentioning that he was particularly wroth with anyone, and we had intended to leave tonight…"

"Princess" Hogun began gravely "If you act swiftly and assure the All-Father of your continued loyalty and disavow any bond or affection for the treacherous prince, I believe he will allow you to return to Vanaheim and your family.  There is no reason for you to stay and suffer the consequences of his betrayal."

"What are you talking about?"

"Loki, the worm, attacked the All-Father and attempted to wrest the throne from him.  He failed, of course.  He lies now insensate in the healer's hall.  I can only assume that the All-Father did not kill him outright so that he might stand trial for his crimes, so all may be made aware of them.  Vile usurper! To not only attempt to slay his own father, a crime that cannot be forgiven, but to attempt to steal his brother's birthright as well!  This will grieve Thor terribly, but perhaps at last he will see what I have been trying to show him all along.  Loki is vile, treacherous, jealous, full of lies and cannot be trusted.  His monstrous act this very day proves it."

Sigyn stared at them aghast, but slowly her face hardened, and she eyed both of them with furious contempt.

"I would suggest, Warrior, my Lady, that you cease and desist immediately from spreading these filthy untruths.  My husband loves his father well and would never attempt what you have accused him of.  Nor would he wound his brother this way, or his mother.  Should you continue to spread these lies you will only look the fool when the true story comes out."

"Princess…"

"Enough! I will not hear another word of it!" her voice cracked like a whip, and both were rather taken aback by the protective fury they saw on her face.  Her eyes grew flinty and contemptuous once more.  "I think if Thor needs to learn of anyone's treachery, it is yours.  You are both so eager to see Loki laid low, you take any opportunity to spew poison into the nearest ears.  Such proud and honorable warriors of Asgard."

She glared at them once more and started past them.  "Now if you will excuse me, I must go see to my husband."

 

 

 

Loki was awake and speaking quietly to Frigga when she arrived.  He seemed fine, and so the tension she had carried on her way there vanished…at least it did until he flinched upon seeing her and turned his face away.  A terrible foreboding seized her and she hurried forward to get a closer look.

"Loki, what is it?"

"Don't look at me.  I'm a monster!"

"What are you talking about.  Look at…"

"I will grant you a divorce."

Signy seized him by the chin and wrenched him around to look at her.

"What nonsense do you speak?"

"My whole life was a lie.  I am a Jotun."

"No more than perhaps 35 % , same as your brother.  Now, what ails…"

"What!"

"What?"

"What are you talking about?  Thor is not a Jotun!"

"No more than you.  You were born and raised on Asgard…"

"I wasn't.  I was born on Jotunheim."

"You were?  I had not been aware that you had joined the warriors there, my queen.  Were you kidnapped during the war?"

"Loki was adopted." Frigga said at last.  "Odin found him on Jotunheim at the end of the war."

"Oh.  Why are you not taller?"

"We know not who his mother might have been.  Given the war, she may well have been Midgardian.  The Jotuns were on Midgard to conquer it for their own.  That is why the war started after all." Frigga explained.  "He found him next to the casket of ancient winters.  He said he changed colors when he picked him up.  I still do not know how anyone could have abandoned such a sweet baby."

"Next to the casket?  He may not have been abandoned then.  They might have been attempting to bring his Jotun heritage to the fore so he could survive on Jotunheim.  He was likely born as we see him now if being taken from the casket's nearest vicinity was enough to make his Jotun features retreat.  They likely feared for his continued existence were that the case."

"Hello.  I am sitting right here." Loki said rather sulkily.

"Did you have something to add, husband?"

Loki met her eyes at last and stared at her for several long moments, until some of the tension in him bled out.

"Why are you not more upset by this?"

"It is a surprise to learn, but in truth you are the same man you have ever been.  Learning a bit more about your distant past does not change this.  And, as I said earlier, I already knew you to have Jotun heritage when I married you."

"I still do not…"

"Did no one ever mention that your grandmother, Besla, was a Jotun?  Your great-grandfather Buri also married a daughter of Ymir.  By heritage your father is more Jotun than not…"

"He's not my father."

"Is he not?" Frigga asked quietly.  "He took you in, gave you his name, raised you and loved you.  In truth, I think your father reacted so badly to your upset because you hurt his feelings, not that he would ever admit as much.  He said as much to me before bidding me discover what ailed you and stalking off.  "The damnable child had the nerve to say I was not his father.  Your father…" she looked at him sternly when he looked ready to make another objection  "YOUR FATHER loves you, though he does not always understand you.  You are both very much alike in many ways, but the ways that you are different have always confused him.  Your father deals with things that confuse him by trying to make them things he understands.  Your son prefers the library to the training yard?  Send him back till he develops some battle lust.  Your son plays pranks on those that upset him rather than challenging them and smiting them where they stand? Send him off with his brother for a few adventures so he'll see how it's done.

"Your mother is right, my husband, and I'm sure you will see it when your mind and heart are no longer so filled with confusion.  It is likely he never told you of your origins, because to him there was nothing to tell.  He took you, named you his son and raised you as a prince of Asgard, and so to him these things were true and saying otherwise would simply make things needlessly complicated and make a true thing untrue."

"You should listen to your wife.  I often tell your father the same thing." Frigga said with a bit of wry humor.  "Now, what is this about Thor killing you?"

Loki was looking sulky again.  They both knew he wanted to indulge in a huge, dramatic fit, but they also realized that he was upset enough that such a fit could easily grow far out of proportion to the upset were in not managed right, and so they were both determined to ignore his sulks and drag him through it, forcing him to use his brain and not his emotions if at all possible.  Odin was already indulging thus, but he was the king which meant Loki had to be the bigger man.

"When we were children he took us to see the casket of ancient winters and told us about the war against the Jotuns.  Thor told him when he grew up he was going to kill all the Jotuns and he told him he was proud of him."

Both women sighed.

"That was your idiot father encouraging your brother to be a doughty warrior of Asgard.  I think you will agree, my son, that were your brother to get it into his head to ever actually try such a thing your father would in fact be quite wroth with him.  We have had a treaty with Jotunheim these many years, and peaceful if distant relation with the Jotuns since the war's end."

"You are not a Jotun to him.  You are a prince of Asgard and a son of Odin.  In truth, if your mother was indeed Midgardian, he himself has more Jotun heritage than you do, but as he considers himself Asir it would never have occurred to him to take Thor's words as a threat against himself, and likely never occurred to him that you should take it as such were you to ever learn the truth."

He still looked sulky, but he was no longer furiously lashing out, which they would take as a good sign for the moment.

"Be at peace, my son.  No matter your origins, you are our son and we your family.  In truth, I wanted to tell you years ago, once you were old enough to understand, but your father forbade it.  He never wanted you to feel different or that you did not belong.  This is not how I would have had things come out if I were given the choice, but it is well that it is.  Secrets have no place in a family.  Never doubt that you are loved."

Frigga cupped his face in both hands and kissed him tenderly on the forehead.  As she withdrew, she smirked at him.  "I will take my leave now and go see to your father.  I believe your wife would have words with you."

He frowned at her in confusion and turned to look at Sigyn, only to recoil when he found her glaring at him.

"Now, what is this about divorcing me?"

"Now Sigyn…."

"Do you think me so faithless that I would simply abandon you?!"

"I only thought that…"

"You were not thinking at all!"

 

Frigga smiled and let the last of the tension bleed out of her shoulders as she reached the hallway and closed the doors to the healer's hall behind her.  Sigyn was  a good match for her son.  Indeed, she could only hope Thor married half so well.  She truly had never understood why so many people thought Loki was holding the girl against her will.  Anyone with half a brain could see they were devoted to one another.  Well…she was talking about Asir, after all.  There were times she thought crediting them with half a brain was overly generous.  The Vanir were much more sensible.   Maybe she should look for a nice Vanir maiden for Thor…it had worked out well for Loki  (and for Odin, though of course that went without saying!) 

 

She knew her son's friend Lady Sif harbored some hopes of becoming Thor's queen one day…and while she was very fond of Sif, she thought her a poor match for Thor unless she grew some backbone.   She was entirely too devoted and never even tried to temper him in any way.  She was content most times to allow him his way in all things, no matter how hot-headed his decisions or ill-thought a venture.  In fact, she often went so far as to argue for Thor's decisions against Loki when he tried to urge caution--even though most times she privately agreed with him!

With a sigh, she set aside her urge to play matchmaker--Thor would not appreciate it and would likely dismiss anyone she found out of hand.  He would feel like she was asserting that he could not find a woman on his own and take it ill.

No, she would trust to fate.  She was certain there was a woman out there who was a good match for him and he would find her when the time was right.  She had other things to worry about at the moment--like chivvying her brooding husband out of his sulk and making sure their family weathered this crisis unscathed.

She had no sooner entered the throne room when her eldest son came storming in, with Sif and the Warriors three on his heels.

"FATHER! ARE YOU WELL? THEY TOLD ME LOKI TRIED TO ASSASSINATE YOU!"

"WHAT?"  Frigga and Odin both hissed. 

Sif and Hogun began to look like they were hoping the floor would open up and swallow them whole.

Thor's face went from stormy to relieved in an instant.  "AH! YOU SEE, MY FRIENDS! IT IS AS I HAVE TOLD YOU!  WHATEVER YOU OVERHEARD, YOU WERE MISTAKEN AS TO ITS IMPORT.  I DID NOT BELIEVE IT, OF COURSE, BUT STILL I AM RELIEVED TO FIND MY BELIEF VINDICATED!  COME, MY FRIENDS! LET US DRINK TO THESE GLAD TIDINGS."

"Your celebration will have to wait, Thor.  I have need to speak with yourself and your father right now." Frigga interjected before he could leave.

"And I am afraid your friends will be unavailable." Odin added smoothly, his one blue eye narrowed at the sheepish warriors.  "The four of them will be leaving in two hours to relieve the garrison in the Bog of Eternal Stench.  For a month."

The four warriors blanched, and Fandral and Volstagg both glared at Sif and Hogun angrily.   Nevertheless, all four saluted.

"As you will, my king."

"AH.  THAT IS DISAPPOINTING.  BUT STILL, WE SHALL SIMPLY HAVE TO HAVE OUR CELEBRATION WHEN YOU RETURN!"  Thor grimaced then.  "WELL…PERHAPS A FEW DAYS AFTER  YOU HAVE RETURNED…AND BATHED A FEW DOZEN TIMES."  He was once more all smiles.  "IN THE MEANTIME, FARE THEE WELL, MY FRIENDS!"

 

 

"We about done, mate? It's just, it's really bloody hot in here." Ron asked tiredly as he wiped at his sweaty brow.

"Yeah.  We should have plenty of ships and mining rigs for the moment.  We don't have any more scandium in any case.  We can go get lunch if you want."

"Sounds good.  I'm starving."

"Okay.  We're good to go.  Everything just needs to cool down some."

They had no sooner exited the metal-working shop when Harry nudged Ron in the side and gestured with his chin towards the sky.  The two boys came to a halt and stared at the colorful figure hovering overhead and looking around.

"Aww, bloody hell.  What's he doing here? That's all we need is our own bloody Peeves!"

"You're telling me! Can you imagine the kind of havoc a bloody poltergeist will wreak on our space program?"

"Where'd he even come from? Is there a Poltergeists-Are-Us in town? And why's he wearing a cape? And what's with the eyeball?  Peeves doesn't have an eyeball necklace."

"Do I look like an poltergeist expert?"

"I guess it don't matter none.  We gotta get rid of it though."

"No one's ever managed to get rid of Peeves."

"No, but you can drive him off for a bit.  This guy's new.  If we make him unwelcome enough maybe he'll go bother someone else."

"We can only hope.   You want to do the honors?"

"Leave it to me, mate." 

Resolved, they strode over until they were directly below the hovering poltergeist, who was currently studying the biosphere research dome with every evidence of interest.  His eyeball necklace seemed to be staring at something behind them.  Harry turned and looked around, even waved his hand through the empty space, but couldn't see whatever had caught its interest.

"OI! Hey you!"

The poltergeist glanced down, then did a double take when it realized they were both looking right at it.

"You can see me?!" he asked with surprise.

"Of course.  Ain't like you're so far away.  Now, who do you think you are?" Ron demanded.

The poltergeist drew itself up rather haughtily.

"I happen to know that I am Doctor Stephen Strange.  Sorcerer Supreme."

Harry snorted, and Ron rolled his eyes in disbelief. 

"Thinks highly of himself, don't he?"

"I'll say." Harry agreed.

"Well, I'll agree you're strange alright.  See, thing is, we don't want any poltergeists here."

"I'm not a….AAAAHHH!"

Ron put away his wand with satisfaction.  He had just done a handy trick Remus had shown them to drive off Peeves when he was being annoying.  After letting out a startled shriek, the poltergeist had vanished.

"I don't recall Peeves ever apparating." Harry mused as they continued on their way to the cafeteria.

"Me either.  How'd we get an American poltergeist anyway?"

"I dunno.  I guess he decided to seek out new sights when he learned to apparate.  Still, it's weird he came so far."

"He said he was a doctor too.  That's one of them mad muggle healers, right? Do they wear capes and eyeballs? And if he's a muggle doctor, how'd he become a poltergeist?"

"Still not an expert." Harry sighed.

"Maybe Loki knows if American poltergeists are different somehow.  We should ask him.  When's he coming back anyway?"

"I'm not sure.  I actually thought he'd be back already.  Maybe his brother drug him off to go adventuring or something."

Once they'd gotten to the cafeteria and gotten their food, Harry dug out his PDA and began typing out a long message to Loki to ask about American poltergeists and to request intervention on Tom's behalf.  He was trying very hard to be good, but if Mad-Eye Moody kept popping out and trying to blast him, he was eventually going to start blasting back.  That would be good for no one.

 

 

Loki had been released from the healer's hall, and he and Sigyn had returned to their quarters so he could take a quick wash and change his clothing.  It had taken quite a bit of chivvying, but she eventually got him to agree to have a quiet dinner with his brother and parents that evening so they could all talk and get everything out in the open.  Loki was still dragging his feet a bit, and so they were left sauntering along on a roundabout path to his parents' quarters, their joined hands swinging idly between them. 

"Loki.  Continuing to stall does no one any good." Sigyn sighed.

"Fine." Loki sighed as well.  That day's emotional rollercoaster had left him drained.  Putting things off too much longer would simply leave him tired and snappish, which would only lead to more drama--and possibly another trip to the healer's hall if Odin got too annoyed.

They started back in the right direction and ran across the Warriors Three and Lady Sif, who were laden down with gear as though for a lengthy trip, and were headed in the direction of the stables.  Unlike their usual mien when heading out on adventure, all four looked rather miserable and seemed to be sniping angrily at one another as they stomped down the hall. 

Anything that caused those four such consternation was something he wanted to know about--if only so he could recreate it when they next annoyed him. 

"Going somewhere?" Loki asked cheerfully when the six of them came abreast.  "Thor not with you?"

"As if you do not know!" Sif growled.

"If I knew I would not have asked."

"An entire month in the bog of eternal stench!  All of my paramours will have wandered off to less fragrant pastures by the time I return!" Fandral said tragically. 

"The bog of…  Odin's beard! What did you do to land yourself with that duty?"

"Do not play coy with us, liesmith! This was your plan all along, was it not?"

"You dare!" Sigyn hissed.  She darted forward and planted herself in front of Loki protectively to glare at Sif, every inch of her bristling in indignation.  Loki stared down at the top of her head in bemusement, wondering what he'd missed while he was unconscious.  Sif didn't seem particularly impressed with Sigyn's fury, but then Sigyn was rather short by most measures.  There had been persistent rumors that her father was one of the dwarves of Nidavellir, though her mother Freya had never deigned to answer the rumors one way or another.   The effect was rather like a housecat threatening a lioness.

"Um…Sigyn?"

"Do not waste your sympathy on them, my husband.  I most assuredly will not!  Do enjoy your time in the bog… I will be curious to see which chokes you first-the stench or your unfounded self-righteousness!"  She fixed them all with a contemptuous glare and marched off with her nose in the air.

"Come, husband, let us find better company than these wretched, backstabbing, gossiping hens!"

Loki watched her march off, rather astonished by her uncommon show of temper.  Sigyn had always gotten along with the four far better than he had.  To see them so at odds was rather unusual.  He glanced at the Warriors and found Fandral and Volstagg staring after Sigyn rather wide-eyed.  Sif and Hogun however were both glaring at him with sullen resentment. 

He frowned thoughtfully at the two of them.  He had always known they didn't like him, but they usually managed to keep it better hidden than this--which was why he'd always had such a hard time convincing Thor that the cutting remarks they constantly made at his expense were not jests, but their true feelings.

"Do enjoy your time in the bog." he offered mildly, before striding after Sigyn, who was still bristling and muttering imprecations against the warriors under her breath.

 

 

"THEY TOLD EVERYONE I TRIED TO ASSASSINATE MY FATHER? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THOSE IDIOTS?"

Frigga, Odin and Thor all turned towards the door when they heard Loki shrieking in the hallway.  The door opened a moment later and Sigyn and Loki appeared.  Odin beamed at him.  Loki's face twisted for a moment in rueful regret; he had just squandered any hope he'd had of guilt-tripping Odin into any favors or presents with his ill-chosen words.  It could hardly be helped though; he honestly had been that shocked.  He knew Sif and Hogun didn't like him, knew they thought him a liar and felt only contempt for his reliance on magic.  He hadn't realized just quite how low their opinion of him really was that they could think him oathbreaker, kinslayer and regicide on only the most spurious basis.

"Thor, do not try to drag me off on any more adventures.  You and the idiots four are on your own from now on."

"Ah, brother, do not be wroth with our friends"

"YOUR FRIENDS.  I have told you this before.  The idiots four are your friends.  They are no friends of mine.  Fandral and Volstagg are at least neutral towards me.  Sif and Hogun quite actively despise me and I have had enough."

"You will change your mind once you've gotten over this sulk of yours."

"NO Thor.  I will not.  I am tired of it, you see.  I am tired of the disrespect.  I am tired of the constant jabs.  I am tired of how they blame me for everything that goes wrong, when nine times out of ten it was their own doing.  I tell them not to touch the cursed dragon's hoard before I've checked it for curses, they decide I'm planning to make off with the treasure and so they go rummage through it and get cursed and then they run to you crying about how I'm so very evil and cursed them!  I'm sick of it!  Unlike the rest of you idiots I research the areas we're about to go to and the local customs.  I try, EVERY DAMNED TIME, to warn all of you off of mistakes that will end up causing us trouble we don't need, and EVERY SINGLE TIME those brain-dead troglodytes that you call friends decide I'm being cowardly or something and go charging off and make a big mess that I then have to clean up! And does anyone ever thank me for getting rid of curses or breaking them out of prison or healing their festering wounds? NO THEY DO NOT.  They blame me for all of it, when if they had just listened to me none of it would have happened in the first place!  I have had enough.  If you try and drag me off with those cretins again, I'm going to blast you through a wall."

Thor looked rather flummoxed, as though he could not quite compute the words coming from Loki's mouth.  Sadly, it was a look he wore all too often.  He seemed to think so long as he could smash things, he didn't need to worry about tedious things like thinking.  Before he had fully formulated a reply, a beeping noise broke the silence.

"Brother!  Your tunic is making noise! Has it always done that?"

Loki ignored Thor's curiosity and dug out the PDA the children had given him. 

"What is that odd, puny device? Have you been experimenting with odd magic again?"  He tried to grab it, but Loki absently swatted his hand while reading through his messages.

 

"What is going on? What is that thing?"

"Well, you remember the Midgardian sorcerers we mentioned earlier that are attempting to ascend? It's a device they made to send messages with." Frigga explained. 

"I would imagine the children are wondering where we are."

"Children?  I have nephews or nieces and no one told me?"

"Nephews.  Loki adopted them.  Hmmm….seems to be a family tradition." Sigyn explained, with a little grin to her husband, who glared at her in turn.

"Why was this kept from me?" Thor demanded, sounding hurt.

"Stop pouting.  It was not done with malice.  I knew if I mentioned them you would want to visit.  The thing is though, they're a hidden group of sorcerers.  The Bifrost, while undoubtedly handy is, you must admit, a rather loud and showy method of transportation.  You would have drawn too much unwanted attention to them, something they would not have thanked you for.  More even than that, well…you do not exactly make any attempt to mask your contempt of magic and those who use it.   It would not have been appreciated to say the least.  Their entire civilization are all  born sorcerers--young, old, male, female.  Magic is part of their everyday lives--they use it for mundane tasks such as housekeeping and cooking, they use it to battle monsters, to protect their homesteads and curse their enemies.  It's intrinsic to them.  You would have had Heimdall drop you down in the center of one of their hidden villages, along with your idiot friends, drawn attention they did not want and started making fun of them, at which point someone would get annoyed and try to hex you, then you and the idiots four would have started smashing up the place!  No thank you."  He handed the PDA to Sigyn so she could read the messages as well and turned to Frigga.

"The Sorcerer Supreme seems to have dropped in for a visit.  One of the children must be playing around with dimensional portals, else they would not have caught his interest.  I shall have to discover who and put a stop to it.  Their talents lie more in sheer versatility than in the amount of power they can throw around.   There are eldritch abominations in some of the higher dimensions that they would have little hope of standing against."

Sigyn suddenly let out a tinkling laugh.

"They drove him off by shoving bubblegum up his nose?"

"They did not seem to realize it was an astral projection; they thought him a poltergeist." Loki explained with a grin to Frigga, who laughed as well. 

Thor still looked decidedly sulky.

"I still want to meet my nephews.  Can we not bring them here?"

"No, Thor.  That would still require use of the bright, loud and very noticeable Bifrost."

"You could see them." Frigga offered.  "I could make a viewing so you can see them.  You will not be able to interact with them, but it is better than nothing.  Come, let us break our fast and I will set it up."

"If you could hone in on their meeting with the Sorcerer Supreme, I would appreciate it.  Harry didn't give a lot of details about their meeting."

 

 

Frigga led the way to the patio, where the servers had set up a light dinner for all of them.  While the rest got themselves settled, Frigga busied herself opening a 'window' of sorts through which they could view events on Midgard.  She fussed with the image for a bit until finding the Sorcerer Supreme and then set the image to moving. 

"I thought the children were adopted? The dark-haired one looks just like you, brother!"

"He's a distant descendant of mine.  The other boy is his friend, not his brother.  Strange seems to be aware of us watching.  That's good.  It will save me the trouble of seeking him out."

"My nephew seems to be aware of us as well."

"No.  He saw the Eye of Agamoto looking this way.  I would think it was fairly obvious to look at him that he cannot directly perceive us."

Loki started snickering then at the affronted look on Strange's face when the boys confronted him.

"Poor fellow.  He's used to being held in high regard.  It must sting to be sassed by a couple of children."

Frigga allowed her window to continue following the boys while they had their dinner.

Thor and Odin both gaped slightly in surprise when the boys entered a building, walked down a rather plain and utilitarian hallway, only to emerge in a tropical rainforest with tables and chairs and booths for sitting in dispersed amongst the foliage.  Colorful butterflies gently wafted their wings from hanging vines and a multitude of jewel-colored birds flitted amongst the branches of the trees, singing. 

"Did they travel to another realm?"

"No, they just made the room look like that, because they could, and because it's more interesting than sitting in a plain old boring cafeteria.  This is what I meant about their magic being intrinsic and part of their everyday lives."

"He has one of those puny devices as well."

"That's likely when he sent me the message earlier.  They all have them to communicate with one another."

Harry set his PDA aside, then he and Ron picked up their menus, spoke their orders into them and set them aside when their food simply appeared on the table.

"That is handy.  I'm sure Volstagg would take up the study of magic just for that!"

"Let's not tell him.  He'll start bugging everyone to make it happen for him.  Eventually someone will give in, and then before you know it he'll have to be rolled from room to room.  Now, hush.  I want to listen."

 

 

Harry picked up his PDA when it buzzed, figuring it was a reply from Loki.  He read the message, snorted and ordered a second lunch, which he put on the empty space on the table.

"Who's that for?" Ron asked around a mouthful of food.

"Swallow first, please.  Tom.  He's been holed up somewhere all day.  He asked me to order for him so he can just eat and run."

"Moody's really got it in for him, huh?"

"Looks that way."

They were both distracted when the foliage lining the back of the booth rustled and then the padded seat between them depressed as though someone had just sat down.

"Uh, Tom?" Ron asked hesitantly. 

Tom suddenly appeared on the seat between them and tucked his wand away, before descending on the food in front of him.  Ron and Harry glanced at each other and Harry shrugged, so he went back to his meal without further questions. 

"Hey guys."

"Oh, hey, Nev.  Has there been an attack?" Harry wondered, indicating the armor he was wearing and the warhammer hanging from his belt.

"I was going to go give that guy flying around what-for, but you guys chased him off before I had a chance.  What'd he want anyway?"

"Who knows.  He was a weird American poltergeist or something."

"American poltergeist?" Tom interjected between swallows.  Ron and Harry took turns relating the whole confrontation.  When they were done, Tom frowned thoughtfully.  "Whatever he was, he wasn't a poltergeist.  They form where there are a lot of teenagers gathered in one place, full of excess energy and feeling rebellious.  One wouldn't form here.  There isn't enough of us to make one manifest.  We're usually focused and serious while we're here, and most importantly, we haven't been here long enough.  No, he was something else."

"Eh.  We can put Hermione on the case.  If he's some kind of new spiritual manifestation, she'll be all over wanting to write a paper about it." Harry decided.

Tom just nodded and kept eating; he had enough on his plate without adding research into uppity ghost-things to the list.

"Hey guys."

"Heya, Millie, Theo.  What's up?"

"Padma and Parvati and their uncles really came through for us.  We have a whole herd of elephants and a sustainable population of tigers.  The muggles will probably be in a tizzy about it for a while, but eh.  They keep hunting them and wiping out their habitats.  Even conservative estimates had them going extinct within a century.  They're better off with us.  We'll keep them in the biosphere and let them build up their numbers till we're ready to move." Millicent said cheerfully.  "We've got them all shrunk down, of course.  You should come see them, they're really cute."

"I'll have to do that."

"Why the hell are we bringing tigers with us? Don't they eat people?" Ron wondered.

"The twins' uncles said it wouldn't feel like home if there was no tigers." Millie shrugged. 

"Were you planning on going after our visitor too?" Tom wondered.  Like Neville she was in her armor.

"Nah.  I was on training duty today.  I think the old guys are finally starting to get the hang of it."

"Good to know.  Hey, what's with you?" Ron asked Theo, who had been staring into space with a frown on his face since he'd sat down.

"Can we do it? Make the asteroids themselves the portkey?"

"Eh?" Tom asked when he realized he was looking at him.

"Oh right.  We forgot to mention that.  The ice-teroid broke up when they tried to send it through."

"Oh.  I could probably tweak the system, but you'll need the Unspeakables to lend you their amplifier to even attempt it, and it might still not be enough.  They're pretty big, after all."

"Good point.  I'll text Penny and see if she can arrange it."

"How's the ship assembly coming?"

"Fabulously.  We have one of them launch ready.  We're just waiting on the last of the crew.  Once you have the rigs ready we can arrange launch time."  Draco commented as he and Pansy sauntered nearby.  Draco caught sight of his reflection and preened for a moment, before settling himself at the edge of the booth with Pansy on his lap.

"Good.  I'll let Lee know to set it up."

Several of the children suddenly tensed and whipped out their wands, putting up layered shields to guard their table.  Tom cursed and clambered over the back of the booth.  His lunch  drifted after him. 

"YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN'T HIDE! CONSTANT VIGILANCE."

"Mr. Moody, please calm down!" Millicent growled.  She and Theo drifted left while Ron and Draco went right, one defending and one attacking.  Harry and Neville just climbed over the table to meet him head on. 

"Tom's not a dark wizard, really!  He's just socially awkward and doesn't explain himself well!"

"YOU WON'T TAKE ME ALIVE!"

"WE'RE NOT TRYING TO KILL YOU!"

More children clambered out of the nearby booths and put up shields to block any stray spellfire from the rest of the cafeteria, while several more could be seen typing away on their PDAs.

A half dozen more old men came in at a run a few minutes later and joined the battle against the badly-scarred man.  He fought like a caged tiger, but was eventually knocked out. 

"Bloody hell.  What are we supposed to do with him now? We can't take him to St. Mungo's.  He got attacked by an imperiused healer once when he went in wounded.  If he wakes up in the hospital it's just going to make the flashbacks worse." Petie groaned.

"Pump him full of calming draughts and tie him up somewhere quiet.  Maybe one of the small conference rooms.  We'll contact the mind healers and see if any of them are willing to take an unbreakable vow.  They can offer him that when he wakes up and swear not to make a move till the calming draughts wear off." Neville suggested. 

"That's not a bad idea.  He has to be given right of refusal though, or he won't feel safe enough to come out of it." Harry agreed. 

"Might work.  Right now it's really the only idea we've got.  Damned shame, this.  He was doing so well." Quickdraw sighed.

While the old men left with Moody in tow, the kids spread out to fix the damage to the cafeteria, reassure the kitchen staff and vanish the spilled food.   Tom came creeping back from wherever he'd run to and hopped back into place.  The rest joined him when they were done with the cleanup.

They settled back in their booth and ordered more food and then looked at one another.

"So.  That was a nice bit of excitement." Theo muttered sarcastically.

"What were we talking about again?"

"Got me."

"Hey, so I was thinking…if we got like, dinosaur bones, do you think we could grow new ones?"

"Huh.  I don't know.  That might be kind of cool, riding around on a T-Rex."

"Nah.  Raptors." Tom disagreed.  "We could put them in an artificial moon habitat and have it hone in on any unfriendly ships that try to invade."

"Yeah! It could attach itself to the ship and open a portal into it.  Raptors everywhere!"

 

 

Back on Asgard, Odin sat back in his chair with a sigh.

"Those are definitely your children." he muttered.

"Hey, do we have any bears in the biosphere?"

"Yeah, why?"

"We could train up a bear calvary when we get to the new world!"

"Bear calvary?" Thor mused.  "I like it!"

"That would be bad ass!"

"Yes, yes it would." Thor nodded.  He turned to Loki with a thoughtful look on his face.

"These nephews, they are tiny and strange…but I like them."

"So glad to have your approval." Loki replied, voice dry. 

"Tell me more of this T-Rex.  I should like to hear it."

"No dinosaurs, Thor."

"But mother!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Hi, Harry!" a cheerful voice chirped behind him.

Harry wiped some sweat out of his eyes and turned as best he could to peer over his shoulder.

"STOP!"

Ginny jumped at his sudden shout and then glared at him angrily. He ignored this.

"Orange box! Stand in it. NOW!" his voice cracked like a whip when she continued to look huffy.

She narrowed her eyes at him and began sauntering towards the indicated box, as though to clearly communicate that he was in no way the boss of her.

Harry cursed, rolled under the machine he'd been working on, jumped to his feet and dove across the intervening space to drag the girl where he wanted her.

"WHAT THE HELL… Harry." Ginny's voice trailed off sheepishly as machinery came to life all around them, hot molten metal began pouring down into molds and mechanical arms snapped across the space she'd been standing in a moment ago.

"Look down. What does it say in the orange box?"

"Stand here, dumbass." Ginny said through gritted teeth.

"Seems clear enough to me."

"Who puts warnings on the bloody floor!?"

"Muggles, mostly. In bright orange so it will catch your eye and make you look down."

"I don’t look at the floor and I ignore bright orange. RON works here. I just figured it said go Cannons."

Harry sighed, turned to the far wall and pointed his wand at it. The words 'STOP! LOOK DOWN!' appeared on the wall. Harry considered his work for a moment, then flicked his wand again to make them flash in different colors.

"For the orange-phobic." he explained sarcastically.

Ginny crossed her arms and glowered at him.

He got distracted from the glowering girl when he noted the sounds of the machinery behind him were slightly discordant.

"Look. I'm kinda of busy. Why are you here?"

Ginny's eyes glinted. "I'm not sure I still want to ask you." she said loftily.

Harry rolled his eyes and turned as though he were going to dive back into the shop.

"HEY!" she gasped indignantly. "You're not supposed to just LEAVE!"

"WHAT PART OF I'M BUSY DO YOU…"

"Be my date for Oliver Wood's wedding."

Harry sighed and rubbed a hand down his face.

"If I say yes will you go away?"

"Yes." she bit out.

"Fine. Sure. When is it again?"

"Saturday. Ten o' clock in the park in Wild Rumpus."

"Meet you there?"

"Fine."

"Good."

"Fine!"

"Didn't we go over this already? Alright, scram. I have to save months of work before the shop implodes."

Ginny opened her mouth, then closed it again. Harry had already turned away; he was busy rolling, ducking and weaving through the machinery. His surprise guest already long forgotten.

 

 

Molly frowned when she heard the knock at the back door. She had been just about to call Arthur and Ginny to dinner…

Ronald wasn't home yet. Again.

"Honestly. That Sirius Black is a slave driver! I don't think my poor Ronnie has been home at a decent hour all summer! Now who on Earth is knocking at this time of the evening?"

When she opened the door, she found Luna Lovegood standing there. Her usual vacant expression was absent as she was intently watching a jeweled beetle wander across the doorframe while humming a jaunty tune under her breath. She turned, slowly to look at her as the door opened, and blinked once, slowly, and there it was--the dotty expression that made her despair of the girl every leading a normal life.

"Hello Luna dear. Did you need something? It's just…we were about to have dinner…"

"I just wanted to stop by and congratulate Ginny on not dying in a gruesome way when she ignored all the warning and safety signs on the machine shop and wandered right in. There's so many ways she could have met her bloody end, it's a bit of a miracle, really, that she was able to walk away unscathed. If the gripper arms hadn't knocked her head off, they could have at least caved in her skull. Depending on how far it sent her flying, she would have either been chopped to pieces or covered in molten metal and slammed into a mold before anyone could reach her. That’s if her hair or one of her flailing limbs didn't just get dragged in to the conveyor and get torn off. Goodness. That would have been quite the mess to clean up."

"Uh…what?!" Molly said faintly.

It had taken her a moment to really register what the girl was saying, as the whole little speech was delivered in a dreamy tone more suited for recalling idyllic childhood summers than recounting the many ways her friend might have died.

Luna blinked again and looked vaguely astonished. "Goodness, is it that time already? I was probably supposed to be home by now. I do hope daddy remembers where we live. He spent a while sniffing the ink we use in the printing presses last night. He swore it smelled a bit off to him. It always makes him go a bit funny." she confided absently."Oh. What are you doing here?" she suddenly asked, sounding vaguely startled.

"… I live here, dear." Molly answered after a beat.

"Oh, good for you. What am I doing here?"

"You were about to go home."

"Oh, that's a good idea. It's probably about dinner time."

"You do that, dear." Luna nodded and wandered off.

Molly quietly closed the door and headed back into the kitchen. Arthur took one look at her face and his eyebrows rose.

"Molly?"

"Just a moment, dear. GINEVRA MOLLY WEASLEY! GET YOUR BEHIND DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW, YOUNG LADY! HOW DARE YOU NOT TELL ME YOU NEARLY DIED TODAY! AND WHAT IS THIS ABOUT IGNORING WARNING SIGNS AND WANDERING IN TO RESTRICTED AREAS? YOU HAVE A LOT OF EXPLAINING TO DO YOUNG LADY! YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO MEET YOUR BROTHERS FOR LUNCH, NOT GO TRAIPSING THROUGH A FIELD OF DEATH!"

As the windows of the Burrow rattled from Molly's scream, Luna smiled to herself in satisfaction as she skipped across the fields to her own home.

 

 

"Viktor!"

"Hermione!"

Hermione squealed when she was lifted and spun around. She swatted him lightly on the shoulder when he set her back down, but he just grinned at her.

"It's good to see you again."

"Likevise. These trains are very comfortable. I like them. My country has begun building a station in hopes that we can get one as well, but we have not yet. My last game was in Spain. I took a portkey from there to France so I could try one out. Very smooth. Maybe we get our own soon and I can be visiting more."

"Until I'm out of school, it would still only be winter or summer break, but that would be nice. I would like to see your home country someday, before I no longer have a chance to."

"Yes, that vould be nice. Is true then? I have heard things, but it seems unbelievable that it should be so."

"It's all true. That's what we all were doing in the 'secret clubhouse' in Hogwarts."

"You say is true, and so I believe you…is still very hard to think real."

"I helped do it and I sometimes think it seems unreal."

They both squinted at the bright sun overhead as they stepped outside. Viktor looked around in interest.

"What is this place?"

"This is Wild Rumpus. It's a bit of an entertainment district. It hasn't been around for very long, but it's already become a rather popular destination. Do you remember Fred and George?" "The twins always making jokes?" "Yes, that's them. That's their shop over there. There's a public quidditch pitch you can schedule for friendly games, that over there is the paintball course. If we have time before you need to head back, after the wedding, we should do that. I think you'd enjoy it."

"Paint…ball? I am not much of an artist…"

"No, no… You get, well, sort of a fake wand that only shoots paint balls instead of spells. You run through an obstacle course and use the paint balls to duel with. All the fun of a pitched running battle through your terrain of choice, none of the danger."

"AH! I see! I shall look forward to it."

"The park here is where the wedding is going to take place. Oliver and Marcus have a flat here. I think they're in the second unit over there, the yellow one. Their place isn't really big enough to host a large gathering, so they got permission to use the park for the ceremony and I believe the reception is going to be on the green there between the blocks of flats. Given it was them, I was honestly surprised they didn't decide to use the quidditch pitch and get married on brooms. Honestly I wouldn't be surprised if they had planned that and their mothers vetoed the idea…"

She shook off her musings and pointed to a small building in the center of the village.

"That's the public floo access. I'm really sorry you can't stay with me at my parents' house, but my dad wouldn't hear of it. He seemed convinced I was going to… Well, never mind. I'm sure you can guess what he thought we'd be up to while they were at work all day."

Viktor's cheeks pinked and he had to clear his throat before he spoke for fear his voice would crack or be hoarse.

"You vill be at work most of day as well though."

"I told dad as much, but he just laughed and said 'when we were your age…'. I made him stop. Any time either of my parents starts a sentence like that I usually end up horrified at what sort of delinquents they were!"

"Delinquents? Really?" Viktor snickered.

"Well…all right. Perhaps they weren't delinquents…but they were certainly no angels." she announced primly "Why, to hear them talk, there were several years of their lives where their diet consisted of shrooms and beer, and they were naked more often than not, what with all the skinny-dipping and dancing around bonfires they got up to!"

"We are talking about the same people I meet in Greece, yes?"

"HA. You don't know the half of it."

 

 

"Hello?"

"In here, kids!"

Sirius waved Hermione and Viktor into the parlor when he spotted them.

"Oh, hello Sirius, Tom."

"Tom. Is good to see you again. Hello Mr. Black. Zhank you for letting me stay with you."

"No problem, kiddo. And it's Sirius, please. Well, come on in."

"Where's everyone else?"

"Loki's around somewhere. Fleur and Sigyn are off in Sigyn's parlor. Fleur has been learning weaving. It's apparently something the court ladies in Asgard do." Tom replied.

"And Harry?"

There was a muffled 'boom' from somewhere further in the house.

"Harry is being Harry." Sirius snorted.

 

A large tea tray appeared on the table between all of them.

"I'll be mother." Hermione offered and began pouring out the tea.

 

Harry wandered in while she was pouring the last cup for herself. He was wearing his funky headgear that he'd made himself to study rocks with. It made him look rather demented. It consisted of empty goggle frames with an array of different lenses that stuck up and off to the sides when not in use and could be snapped down and locked into place when they were.

"Oh, hiya Hermione, Viktor. Good to see you again. Hey, Tom, I need you to teach me dark magic."

Sirius, who had just taken a sip of his tea, choked and sprayed it out over the table, Hermione dropped her cup.

"HARRY!"

"Why?" Tom asked calmly.

"It keeps going boom. I think it might be like dragons, so I need an unforgivable scanner so I can get at it sideways, you know." Harry explained, helping himself to some of Sirius' biscotti.

"Ooh. These are good."

"Chocolate and macadamia nut." Tom agreed. "Alright, watch me."

"TOM!"

Harry snapped one of the many lenses down over his eyes, while he continued munching. He gestured vaguely to indicate he was ready.

"You need to find the veil" Tom explained, tapping his wand outward into the air in front of him.

Hermione and Viktor both yelped when the world around them seemed to ripple, as though all of reality was in fact merely a reflection in water. Sirius' hands clenched on the arms of his chair and his eyes darted around nervously.

"Once you find it just do the scan on the other side."

"Cool. We have more of these?" he asked Sirius curiously. "Uh…you alright there?"

Sirius just nodded.

A snifter with a bit of brandy appeared on the end table near his elbow.

He drank it down.

Harry cast him one more uncertain look, grabbed the little plate of biscotti that had appeared near him at the same time and wandered off.

"But…you…ARGH!" Hermione growled with frustration. "What goes boom? Why did the world ripple like that? How can you just sit there so calmly when Harry just wanders in out of nowhere and demands to learn dark magic?" she turned a speculative gaze on him "And why was he so certain you knew dark magic?"

"Vibranium. I poked the veil. It's Harry. I knew he likely had a perfectly valid reason to ask. I read a lot."

"What is vibranium, what veil? Good point, and so do I but…"

"I'm older than you. I've had more time to read. It's a mineral or something. Between life and death."

"Minerals don't just go boom…and how does someone even think to…!"

"That one does. Ghosts."

Hermione made an impatient noise and jumped to her feet.

"I need to get to the library!"

"Copies only. We'd like the originals to stay here."

Hermione ran off. Viktor watched her retreat and sighed.

"So, Tom, how are things?"

"Can't complain. How have you been?"

 

 

Ron came down from taking a shower, hair still wet, clad in comfy pajama pants and an old cannons t-shirt that had faded to a pale yellowish tan from so many washings.

"About time. Can we finally eat now?" Ginny grumbled.

"It's your fault." Ron grumbled back. "We had that whole array all but done before you showed up. I had to go to the bathroom, and it was getting close to lunch time, so Harry told me to just go on ahead and he'd finish setting up the last piece. He had literally just gotten done and turned everything on when you showed up and decided to just traipse right in to the middle of it. I don't know if something got jostled or what, but the timing on everything got screwed up and it left a big bloody mess for us to clean up. He missed lunch, you know. I went looking for him after I'd finished and found him removing spilled metal from some of the conveyor belts and the molds and dropping it back into the smelter. We spent the rest of the afternoon recalibrating everything and checking it over. It's almost time to go back to school. That thing needed to be up, ready and operational today so we could set it running and train up a couple of guys to look after it while we're gone. That machine is going to be making pieces for the full-sized space ship our crew is going to need to get the space program running. We've been making the pieces of the damned thing bit by bit for months! And you almost ruined it all. I half thought we were going to have to be stuck there half the night too to get everything back the way it should be. We had to push ourselves to get it done as soon as we did, so I don't want to hear it, Gin."

"Nothing was moving when I walked in there! How was I supposed to know some stupid thing was going to swing around suddenly and nearly take my head off?!"

"There's signs!"

"Harry was in there, just standing there!"

"He works there! He helped design the thing and put it together!"

"All right, both of you that's enough. It's done, no one was hurt, let's put it behind us." Arthur interjected firmly.

"I still say that man is working all of you children too hard." Molly added darkly.

"Mum." Ron sighed. "Sirius is mostly off raising money with investors, getting permits and stuff at the ministry and keeping track of all the stuff that's being done for profit in the company. The space program is our baby. We're the ones setting our hours and keeping track of stuff and volunteering for projects or helping out when it needs doing. We know we've only got so long till we're stuck at Hogwarts for months doing homework and preparing for our OWLs and NEWTs. We've all had to accept that things are going to be pretty much out of our hands this year. We're trying to get as much set up and ready as possible so it doesn't get screwed up once we're out of it."

"Except for that one time you haven't gotten paid, I've noticed. He's taking advantage of all of you!"

"Mum… some of the mining rigs we designed got sold here on Earth. Me, Harry, Neville and the company all own parts of the patents on them. I got a chunk of the sale put in a trust fund for me. All the kids who worked on making the vertical farms are getting part of the profits for every module sold, and they're also getting a cut of the sales on the produce. Everyone who helped work on the trains, the computers, what have you, they're either making a bit on each sale, or pulling in a regular salary when they help make stuff. Also, you forget, we've been mining asteroids all summer. We made more ships and decided to diversify our ores. We got a load of silver, gold and platinum just last week. It was only a little bit, we were more concerned with getting more scandium, beryllium, titanium and what have you for use in the stuff we're building…but from here on out we're going to be getting all sorts of stuff. Some of it will be sold on the muggle market for straight profits minus the goblins' cut for fencing it, the rest we're keeping for our own use. Once the goblins sell our fancy metals we're all getting a chunk of it. The gold alone, I was told the goblins could sell two pounds for about eight thousand galleons on the muggle market. We brought back ten pounds of the stuff."

"F-Forty thousand galleons?!" Molly said reverently.

"Split between all of us and the goblins." Ron reminded her. "Most of my cut'll be goin' in my trust fund, minus whatever I keep for Hogsmeade." Ron nodded. "So don't worry about me. I should have enough to be plenty comfortable once I'm out of school. "The silver we got won't fetch as much. It's only about five hundred for every two pounds. So we might make three thousand total on what we got, before it gets split. The platinum a bit less. Still, a nice return considering once we sent the ships off the miners did all the work. Those little guys are so damned happy. The first bunch, I mean. They were really chomping at the bit to get started, and once they had their chance they just went to town, you know? Every time we peek in on them they're just working away, singing songs, pushing carts and high-fiving each other. It's really adorable."

"Ron… I don't want to rain on your parade here…but if you're all depending on the muggles to make the bulk of your money…what are you all going to do once we've moved?"

"Oh, no worries about that. Now that the universal translators are up and running, we've had folks in the company and some of the goblins investigating different places to get an idea on who needs what and what kind of prices different things fetch. The goblins have also been working on a plan to rework our whole monetary system to be more in line with the wider universe so we can buy and sell stuff more easily. We've got time yet. Even once the ship is made and the first astronauts head out, it's going to be a while. We've got a couple more years yet before we need to worry about any of it. We should have some kind of solid plan in place by the time we move. And even if it's not the case, I can pull a small regular salary as part of R & D once I'm out of school and just collect bits on whatever stuff I help design that gets marketed by the company to our own people. I'm sure it'll be fine. Plus, you know I was thinking… Oliver is gone this year, which means Gryffindor needs a keeper. I might try out, see how it goes. I might be good, might get scouted and I could do that a few years before heading back to R & D. Even if it doesn't work out, I've got other options. It's all good."

Judging by Ginny's glum face, she was dearly regretting chasing him off when he tried, repeatedly, to recruit her. Which reminded him…

"Say, what did you stop by for anyway? I got so distracted by the mess, I completely forgot to ask."

Ginny scowled a bit when all three of them stared, waiting for an explanation.

"Harry's going to be my date to Oliver's wedding."

Arthur frowned. Molly smiled, as did Ginny. Ron started laughing. Ginny began scowling again.

"What?!"

"He said yes so you'd go away, didn't he?"

"Ronald!" Molly snapped.

"It doesn't matter why he said yes…what matters is that he did. I've got my in now. Plus, you just said yourself you'll all not be off in your secret clubhouse this year. You'll all be regular students, which means that now that I have my foot in the door, I can actually make use of it. He was around so little before, I never had a proper chance to snag him. I have my chance now, and I mean to make the best of it."

Ron shook his head. "I hope, for your sake, that you're prepared for disappointment, Gin. Harry's a bit of a workaholic. I wouldn't be surprised if after we left HQ today that he just went home to start puttering around in his workroom for a bit longer. It's both because he genuinely enjoys what we're doing, and because he started the whole thing and it's gotten so big, with so many people involved that he feels like he has to keep pushing or it will all fall apart and everyone will blame him. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. Even if he's just being a regular student this year, chances are he's still going to be tinkering and designing new stuff. That's what he does."

"Try to have some faith in me."

Ron just shook his head again.

"Your funeral, sis."

 

 

"Unspeakable Skeeter, reporting."

"You've been gone much longer than expected." Head Unspeakable Lovegood noted.

"I made contact with the Mer-chief and told him about the move. He then organized his people to start contacting the other colonies and the folks of Atlantis. Most of them are keen to go with us, and they've agreed to start gathering plants, eggs and coral to seed the oceans with."

"Good, good. That will be a tremendous help. Still, that shouldn't have taken so long."

"I was getting to that. It turns out Prince Namor of Atlantis has been missing for decades. They've been searching for him, but they still don't know what happened to him. They asked if we would try to search for him. They wanted to know if he was alive or dead and what had happened to him before making any agreements with us. He's supposed to be king, I guess they didn't feel right making such a big decision till they knew for sure. Well, we agreed, naturally. We even found him. He was on land, wandering around without his memory and he'd been given a terrible fear of water. Some guy used a magical artifact to mess with him. We took care of it, sent him back to his people. The Mer-chief has agreed to meet with him once he's had a chance to settle back in and he and his people have had a chance to discuss matters. That's what took so long. We had to jaunt off to bloody America to retrieve the fish prince, find the stupid muggle that cursed him and retrieve the artifact. It's been sealed and put in the vault. We got there just in time too. The silly man was planning to run for President of America and using their military to conquer the planet. Honestly! Muggles, right?"

"It does seem to be a recurring problem…though to be fair, we've certainly had our share of idiot would-be-conqueror wizards. It might just be because there are so many more of them that it seems to happen so often."

"Could be. In any case, I'm done, the oceans are being secured as we speak. We'll have to add seeding the oceans to the training regimen for our astronauts.

"There are twelve of them. Plenty to have doing different jobs during the time they're there. We'll have to write up detailed instructions and get good coordinates of seeding grounds to direct them. You've taken lead on the oceans, do you want to take care of it?"

"Sure, I can do that. Not today though. I'm taking a day off first."

"That's fine. I'll leave a reminder in your inbox."

 

 

"Pet! Hurry up, or you're going to miss the news. The commercials are almost over."

Vernon Dursley bellowed.

"Coming Vernon! I was just checking up on Duddy. Do you know he told me he didn't want a triple-chocolate cake for dessert? He said it would interfere with his diet! I just don't understand that boy anymore. I think those weirdos at his school have been filling his head with nonsense." Petunia complained as she bustled in to the living room with coffee and snacks for the two of them.

"It's all these new-fangled bleeding heart sorts interfering in education. We're churning out a generation of pansies. Bloody menaces."

"Oh, the news is starting."

"Maybe that fellow Tonks will finally lose it. Something not right with that one."

"In other news tonight, here's our own Ted Tonks…"

"Reports have been coming in from parts of India this week that the Bengal tiger population has suddenly plummeted, along with the Indian elephant population. Both animals have long been on the endangered species list, so this sudden disappearance of the bulk of the remaining creatures has sent shockwaves through the nation."

Tonks managed to keep his composure for a few seconds, but then he began giggling as he continued.

"Local wildlife officers have been rounding up volunteers to search the area for any sign of poachers, but thus far have had no luck."

As a clip began to play, showing an obviously distraught ranger talking to the news, one could hear Ted Tonks fighting laughter in the background.

"It is a mystery! We took the count earlier this week. Half the tigers that should be here are missing. There were not many of them to begin with, but now with half their population gone so suddenly, it will be catastrophic to all efforts to revive their population. To take so many at once…if it was poachers, there must be a massive coverup in place to hide their activities! I cannot imagine how else it could be accomplished. We are all devastated. We've worked long and hard for many years trying to preserve their habitats and keep them living free in the wild as they were meant to. To have all our efforts undone all at once like this, it breaks the heart."

"Reports from India aren't the only ones pointing to wide scale poaching of endangered animals. Similar reports have come in from parts of Africa, China, Russia, Canada and the United States."

Tonks had to bite his lip to keep from chortling out loud. He managed to recover himself, but one could still clearly hear the desperate desire to laugh in his voice.

"They're just gone. We don't understand it! There's no tracks, no bent down greenery from the passage of large trucks…no unauthorized planes were reported anywhere. They just vanished, as did the tags we had on them to track them in the wild. The bear population has all but vanished overnight!" "The lions, they are gone! So many, just 'poof!' We do not know where they have gone. We beg of you, poachers, however you have accomplished this terrible business, please return our lions! They will vanish from the Earth for all time if you continue!"

As the view focused back in on the news anchors, the other two sharing the desk with Tonks spoke up, as he was sitting there, shoulders shaking, trying to keep his chortles somewhat contained.

"A terrible business indeed. Those poor elephants…"

"Not to mention the pending loss of the lions, tigers and bears…"

"OH MY!" Tonks quipped, before falling sideways out of his chair as he was laughing so hard.

Tonks was quickly removed from the frame, and his co-anchors did their best to ignore the chortles that could be heard fading into the distance as he was hustled off the sound stage.

"In other news…"

"What did I tell you, Pet? Mad as a bloody hatter, that one."

"It's a disgrace, is what it is."

"Too right. All those bleeding hearts, made it so you can't just throw an obviously mad fellow into the loony bin where he belongs, or he'd have been gone years ago."

"Shameful." Petunia sniffed.

 

 

Harry stepped out of the public floo behind Hermione and Viktor, and blinked in the bright sunlight. Seconds later a high-pitched squeal sounded near his ear and an octopus attached itself to his arm and began immediately cutting off his circulation.

"Uh…Ginny. Hello?" Hermione said with some surprise, only to turn to Harry with the beginnings of a smirk of amusement on her face. "When did this happen?"

"Wednesday." Ginny replied glibly.

Harry didn't answer; he was trying to get his arm back.

"You, leetle girl, let go of 'arry so we can go." Fleur said imperiously as she arrived. "You are blocking ze door."

"What's the hold up?" Tom asked a moment later when he arrived.

"Who are you calling little girl?" Ginny demanded hotly.

Harry yanked his arm out of her grasp and gripped her elbow to tow her along.

"We just got here. Don't start." Hermione turned to the rest of them.

"I'm guessing Harry didn't suddenly fall for Ginny?"

"Hardly. She nearly destroyed the ship machine and got herself stupidly killed. He agreed to go so she would go away."

"She…what? Harry and Ron spent months on that!"

"Why would she do such a thing?" Viktor wondered.

"She iz very bad tempered leetle girl and very spoiled." Fleur sniffed.

"That's why he missed lunch that day and was holed up in his work room when you and Viktor arrived. He was so distracted by the mess he didn't think about what he'd agreed to till he got home. He likes the work we're doing, but he also likes to take a break from it all at the end of the day."

"That's why you asked him why he wanted to learn dark magic, even though you figured he had a valid reason." Hermione guessed.

"For work, and to rid one's self of a red-headed menace are both valid reasons, but I only would have answered if it was the first." Tom nodded.

"I 've sent word to Gabrielle. She will sort her out."

"Gabrielle? What does she have to do with anything?"

"She enjoyed her date with him. She asked me to 'elp keep ze field clear until she can make her debut. What kind of seester would I be if I did not?"

"You realize if they get together they'll probably team up against us to be nuisances." Tom felt he should point out.

"We can take zhem."

"I suppose you have a point. Elder siblings for the win."

Fleur nodded and they bumped fists.

 

 

"Damn. Looks like they invited most of Gryffindor and Slytherin to this thing." Angelina said in surprise, eyeing the sizeable crowd that had already gathered in the park.

"I spotted the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw quidditch teams here as well." Fred gestured to where several of said members could be seen posing for pictures that Colin was busily snapping.

"Makes sense, I guess. Most of their time in Hogwarts revolved around the field. Who else were they going to invite?" Lee shrugged.

"Sirius seems to be here with Madame Bones. Are they a thing?" Katie Bell wondered.

"I don't know. I try not to worry about parent-types love lives." Alicia replied, wrinkling her nose.

"The head of law enforcement and the ex-con turned savvy businessman. I don't know…that sounds like a cheesy romance novel waiting to happen." George mused.

"Hey guys." "Oh. Lookie here. It's our seekers, past and present."

"And they seem to be here…together?" Katie asked questioningly as Ginny yanked her elbow from Harry's grip, crossed her arms and turned her back to him.

"So it would seem?" George said, equally confused.

Daphne Greengrass wandered over soon after. Her dark hair was in a classy upsweep and she was clad in a dark green strapless gown with layers of filmy skirts that drifted like a cloud when she moved.

"Hello everyone. You'll save me a dance later, right, Harry?"

Ginny turned around and glared at her in outrage.

"Wouldn't miss it. Who're you here with?"

"Terrence, actually. Blaise had a prior commitment. One of his cousins from Italy is visiting, so he brought her along so she wouldn't be stuck watching his mum reel in her latest conquest. I think he's afraid she'll get ideas."

"Ah." Harry replied, because really, what else could he say? "I'll see you later then."

Ginny glared at her until she'd gone, then punched Harry hard in the arm, only to wince.

"What the hell?"

"I put my armor on after you almost ripped my arm off earlier with your octopus grip. It's your own fault for trying to hit me."

"You're here with me!"

"And she's here with someone else, and asked for a single dance."

"Oi, Harry! You and me for the cha-cha! I already asked the band to play it later." Millicent called from a short distance away.

"You live to hurt me, don't you, Millie Vanilli?"

"Yup." Millicent laughed as she and Vince went to find seats.

Ginny shoved at Harry's arm again.

"Just how many girls are you planning to dance with, huh?"

"I usually dance with all the girls. I normally come to functions alone."

"You didn't come alone this time!"

"Well, they don't know that."

"I'm standing right here!"

"With the rest of the quidditch team. I doubt it honestly occurred to anyone that we were here together."

"You didn't tell anyone?!"

"I didn't even properly realize what I'd agreed to till I got home that night. I was too busy trying to salvage the large manufacturing array we'd made small piece by small piece over a period of months, because we couldn't do anything on a large scale until we'd made it."

"But you did agree." Ginny pointed out "and I expect a certain level of decorum from my dates."

"If you want to make sure your dates live up to your exceedingly high standards, maybe you shouldn't find them by tricking them into it." Harry riposted, voice mild.

"We should probably find our seats. It looks like they'll be starting soon."Alicia interjected.

"Sirius? Where are you going?" Harry wondered. "What? I was invited by the Flints. They're cousins of mine."

"I was invited by Marcus as well." Tom pointed out.

"Oh. I was invited by Oliver." Harry replied ruefully.

"So was I. I helped him study for his OWLs when Percy was busy." Hermione agreed.

They spotted the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw quidditch teams in deep discussion and watched as the two teams split into uneven groupings and then swapped half their members so two full teams of mixed house were created, then the two groups split to each sit on opposite halves of the park.

"I guess we just split up then. I'll sit with the quidditch team." Harry shrugged.

"Where'd Ginny go?" Hermione wondered. "Oh, wait there she is. She's sitting with Ron, Lavender and her parents."

"That works." Harry said cheerfully.

"Harry. Do try to be nice." Hermione scolded as they went and found empty seats near the quidditch team.

"I haven't hexed her and I actually showed up. I am being nice."

"He does have point, you must admit." Viktor commented.

Hermione just changed the subject. "Did you know Ron was bringing Lavender?"

"I knew he asked her, but last I heard she wasn't having it. I guess he talked her around."

"Great. I'm not really looking forward to the return of Won-Won and Lav-Lav."

"No one is, Hermione. We still have nightmares about the last time." George told her seriously.

"Hush. They're about to start." Alicia warned.

They all heard Fred quickly muffle snickers when Percy--Oliver's best man, and fellow they were informed was Marcus' older brother, Julius, stepped into place up front to await the grooms. They were both dressed in silver (not light grey, but silver) tuxes.

Percy had a red tie and cummerbund to go with his, Julius green. Given that they were out beneath the late August sun, both men sparkled.

Oliver and Marcus trooped down the aisle together hand in hand. They were both in gold tuxes, with ties and cummerbunds to match their best men. Both looked slightly self-conscious, nervous…but also happy, which everyone was glad to see. If the best men sparkled, the grooms glowed, like two dim suns fallen to earth, bracketed by stars.

"Friends, loved ones, well-wishers…we are gathered here today to unite these men…"

 

 

"Hey there, captain my captain. Congratulations, both of you. I wish you all the best."

"Thanks Harry. Who'd have guessed, huh, back in your first year?"

"Katie. She swore you two had UST. The other girls agreed with her."

"Sounds like a disease."

"Not so much. Let me put it this way…the girls were not surprised that you ended up making out against the greenhouse and alternately thrilling and traumatizing a generation of first years."

"Would have been nice if they'd told us. Saved us a lot of trouble." Marcus muttered under his breath.

"So…these suits are something else."

Marcus beamed and turned to Oliver triumphantly. "See? I told you!"

"Your idea, I'm guessing?"

"It's a new fabric design I spearheaded. You really like them though?"

"Yeah…though, no offense, I think they'll work better as evening wear. Direct sunlight makes them a bit too much of a good thing, you know?"

He was quick to add something complementary when Marcus began to frown in disappointment "but they're…cheery? Celebratory? Yeah, that'll work…or maybe festive? Yeah, that's what I meant. They're very festive."

"There you are, silly. You keep getting away from me! Oliver…Flint, congratulations. It was a lovely ceremony." Ginny said winsomely as she stepped into line and latched on to Harry's arm.

"Thanks, but it's Wood now."

"Huh?"

"It's Wood now."

"Marcus has an older brother to carry down their name. I just have a sister and my da doesn't have any brothers." Oliver explained.

"Marcus Wood. Has a good solid ring to it." Harry nodded.

"Yeah, sorry. I wasn't thinking…though, does it matter? You can't have kids together."

"Sure we can. In fact, we've got a deal already worked out with a nice couple, Octavia and Laureli."

"Neither one of us is good with potions." Marcus nodded.

"It won't be for a year or two, but we're all very excited about it."

"Yeah? Good on you. I'll keep an eye out for the birth announcements."

Ginny just smiled and nodded. "Well, we've held up the line long enough. We'll see you at the party later."

 

As they walked away, Harry turned to Ginny curiously. "Given that, of the two of us, you're the pureblood, how did you not know they had options if they wanted to have kids, and I did?"

Ginny shrugged. "It never came up. Weasleys aren't like that."

"Never ever?"

"Nope."

"I really don't think it works like that."

"It does for us."

He briefly considered arguing, but it really wasn't that important to him--that, and Ginny had a mulish look on her face.

He shook his arm free of her grasp instead and stepped a bit away from her, ignoring her displeased huff and narrowed eyes.

"You're stronger than you look. I think you cut off my circulation again--even through the armor."

"Ha. Ha."

"Who's joking?"

"Oi! Wait up!"

Harry turned and saw Ron and Lavender headed towards them.

"Ron. Lavender--looking lovely as always."

"Oh, you!" Lavender giggled, preening just a bit. "It was a lovely wedding, wasn't it?" she gushed.

She gave Ginny a rather cool look before saying hello. No doubt she'd gotten an earful about all the extra work she'd caused them from Ron.

"It was nice." Ron agreed "though I think the gold and silver suits were a bit much. I've got a headache from all the sparkling."

"I told Marcus they were probably better as evening wear." Harry nodded as they fell into step.

Ginny gritted her teeth, as somehow she ended up on the far end of the line from Harry, with Ron and Lavender between them. She dropped behind them and went to Harry's side, taking his arm again…trying to at least.

She couldn't understand it at all. All she'd ever had to do with Dean was rub his arm and bat her eyes a bit and he was all over her. Could it be Harry really was gay after all? She turned a speculative glance on him, but then shook her head.

"Nah. That's crazy. He kept telling that prat Malfoy to get lost. Of course, it was Malfoy, so that doesn't actually prove anything." she realized, frustrated once more.

She glanced around at the rest of the guests who were all slowly making their way to the open stretch of grass near the blocks of flats where a large party pavilion had been set up. She suddenly stiffened and made a noise like a stepped-on cat.

Ron, Harry and Lavender all looked at her.

"Something wrong?"

"Dean's here with one of the snake bitches. How'd the stupid bint manage that?"

"Who? Tracey you mean? Of course he's here with her. They've been dating for a couple of months now." Lavender said hesitantly.

Ginny stiffened and her eyes blazed with fury.

"Excuse me? That bastard was cheating on me? I only dumped him at the end of exams!"

"Well…yeah. That's when they got together. That evening, I mean. We had a party." Lavender explained. "Seamus and Terry made up some weird punch. I don't know what was in it, but it hit you like a mule kick. Things got pretty crazy." she laughed.

If anything, Ginny just looked more furious.

"He took up with that stupid snake bitch a few hours after I dumped him?!"

"Yeah. What of it?" Harry asked. "Like you said, you broke up with him. If he'd broken up with you and an hour later was with another girl, I could see you being mad about it. You broke up with him though. He was a free agent at that point. If he hooked up with someone else at that point it's really none of your business."

"It most certainly is my business! He should have been wallowing in misery and pining for a few weeks at least! Not just… just… running off to hook up with some slag as if all the months we were together meant nothing!"

"He was upset, but Tracey cheered him up and made him realize it was probably for the best." Harry nodded.

"For the BEST?!"

"Yeah. You were always fighting because you wanted his undivided attention. You made things difficult for him. He was always falling behind on his projects and missing meetings because he was trying to placate you." Lavender said, matter of fact.

"He kept fighting with Seamus too. They'd make plans, but then he was trying to keep you happy and then scrambling to finish work for the Garden and for school he'd fallen behind on, so he'd end up cancelling on Seamus. Once he realized how much easier his life was going to be he cheered up some." Ron nodded. "Personally, I think it's great. I don't have to see you humping his leg all the time. Him and Tracy do all their humping in the dungeons." he concluded cheerfully.

"HUMPING his LEG?" Ginny growled through gritted teeth.

"Yeah. You know what they say…if you need to wear shoes, buy them."

"Huh? Shoes? What?"

"It's if the shoe fits, Ron." Harry laughed.

"If it's your shoe, why wouldn't it fit? That's the part I never understood." Ron grumped.

 

 

 

"Good ol' coffee, black. Good for what ails you." Nick Fury, regional director of SHIELD, South America, mused quietly as the black liquid sloshed down into his cup. All at once, everything got quiet.

Fury's gaze darted around warily, and froze at the sight of two of his subordinates frozen mid-word and mid-gesture just outside the door. His eyes dropped to his coffee, and saw it too had frozen in place and was no longer gushing down into his cup. His shoulders tensed and he began to inch his fingers down to his weapon when he felt someone else in the room with himself and saw something red undulating in the corner of his eye.

"I come in peace, Regional Director Nicholas Fury."

Fury slowly eased his gun loose from its holder as he turned his head to take in his visitor.

Dark hair, greying at the temples, neatly trimmed goatee, eyeball necklace…and the damned eyeball was looking around on its own, long red cape that seemed to move on its own as well.

He'd seen a description in the Index once that fit: triple x threat that was to be assumed to be helping unless proven otherwise. Strictly hands off.

"Dr. Strange, I presume?"

"Ah, you've heard of me. That makes things simpler. And you can put your weapon away. I'm here to help you with your little infiltration problem."

Fury's face twisted, leaving him looking wary and sour at once.

"Please tell me that no fucking demons are behind the weirdness I've been noticing."

"No, strictly terrestrial and human, I'm afraid."

"If that's the case, what are you doing here? I thought you just stuck to, you know, weirdos, cults and oogity-boogities."

"Actually, my job, if you will, is to keep extra-dimensional incursions from this universe and to protect its denizens from such. I do not have much reason to interact with …oogity boogities."

"Same difference, and my question still stands."

"While doing my usual job, I'm came across a Norse God who informed me about what was going on with your organization. You've been infiltrated by HYDRA."

"HYDRA? They were taken out during WWII!"

"Many of them. Many more were brought in to join the ranks of SHIELD as it formed."

Fury's face creased with thought, then he cursed. "The scientists?"

"Yes. One of them, Arnim Zola, was actually HYDRA's second in command. When he was captured and questioned he readily admitted he was terrified of the Red Skull. From this is was assumed that he was only with HYDRA under duress and was not actually in line with the things they were doing. This was, sadly, false. He seems to have been recruiting HYDRA agents and placing them within SHIELD right from the start."

"Bastard. Though it doesn't matter much now. He's been dead for nearly twenty years."

"Not quite. He came into contact with a unique item, and was in close contact with it for many years. It seems to have changed him; fundamentally so. He somehow figured out how to upload himself into a computer. He's been working from within your systems to keep HYDRA hidden in plain sight. Happily, for your sake, the computer that held his consciousness was destroyed a few months ago."

"Solar flares. I knew there was something screwy there."

"Indeed, and now without Zola to coordinate things, HYDRA's presence has been noted."

"I still don't get what your interest in all this is."

"I've been informed that I'm one of the people on HYDRA's hit list. In order to save myself the long term aggravation of having to dodge assassination attempts, I've decided to help root out the infection before it gets that far."

"And your Norse God? What's his interest? He on their hit list too?"

"Not quite. It was his son I took note of while doing my job. He'd been experimenting, unwisely so. No harm was done, but that might not have been the case for much longer. In exchange for leaving his son alone and not bringing him to the attention of any of my benefactors, he gave me information he thought might be of interest to me, that's all."

"Some Norse godling is opening the doors to the oogity boogities and he doesn't even get a slap on the wrist?"

"I've been assured he was going to put a stop to any further experiments. He has no more desire to see an influx of eldritch abominations into this universe than I do, and the boy is really quite young by their standards, little more than a child, just one too clever for his own good. Rest assured, should he continue now that he's been warned I'll not be so lenient a second time."

"Hmph. Back to HYDRA…"

"Yes. Rest assured that you are not the only one who has noticed that something is amiss. There are others. They've been moving carefully, trying to find others that can be trusted. When I offered my help, they asked me to start investigating the regional command centers. I chose to start with you. Now that I've ascertained that you yourself are not a HYDRA agent, I've chosen to make contact to make you aware of your allies. I had to do all this" his vague wave indicated the eerily still world around them "so that our conversation would go unnoticed. You're under surveillance."

Fury just nodded grimly.

"For now, I have two things for you. This" he handed over a small thumb drive "will give you the means to contact the rest of them. This" he handed over a paper on which a list of names had been scrawled "are the compromised personnel under your command. Three of your records clerks, one of your scientists and eight of your resident STRIKE team. You've been lucky. Incursions elsewhere have been far more severe, though I've yet to go through all the bases--it's possible I just stumbled across their strongholds within SHIELD."

"We can hope; I'm not going to count on it being the case."

Strange just nodded. "I need to go recharge for a bit. I've been quite busy the last few days. You might want to grab your cup."

Fury blinked and grasped the mug that had remained frozen in mid-air, a stream of coffee frozen in mid-pour leading down to it. Strange's odd red cape flared as though in a sudden wind and he was gone. All around him the world lurched back into motion; one minute silence, the next an ordinary day.

 

 

 

"CHA CHA CHA!" The crowd cheered, as did the dancers, some of whom began drifting off the dance floor to take a break, the rest began doing a traditional wizarding dance that was often performed at weddings.

Ginny handed Harry a glass of punch as he approached, her smile slightly stiff to anyone looking closely.

"That was the fifth dance in a row. Each of them with a different girl." she growled quietly, though to anyone watching she was still smiling and fussing over the collar of his robe.

"What can I say? Just call me dancing queen."

Ginny's grin grew just a bit stiffer.

"Don't you mean dancing king?"

"Who ever heard of a dancing king? Dancing queen. It's a muggle song. An old one. I guess you've never heard it?"

"It's dad who's into the muggle stuff, not me."

The dance ended and odd music began to sound, seemingly from everywhere at once. The party canopy seemed to grow just a bit dimmer, and then it was suddenly awash in scintillating lights that seemed to dance around the room.

"That song… And where the heck did the disco ball come from?"

The dancers out on the floor, seemingly of their own accord, all backed away, leaving the center of the floor empty, but for the dancing disco lights drifting across it. A man and woman, dressed like something out of a seventies movie, were suddenly there, boogieing down as the song began to play.

You can dance,
you can jive,
having the time of your life
ooooo
See that girl, watch that scene,
digging the Dancing Queen…

 

"Hey…I remember those two!"

"Sirius?"

"Lily took us all to a disco one time… Remus! Come here a sec! Do you remember them?"

"No, I… Wait…yes I do. They were the local champs at that disco Lily took us to. They had a contest every month. They won it three times in a row, from what I'd heard." he explained to Harry and Ginny. "They look exactly the same…"

"A bit older, but yeah, just the same. I think they're even wearing the same clothes!"

Sirius watched them a minute and then grinned at Amelia.

"What do you say, 'melie? Still got it?"

Amelia sniffed, and transfigured her rather staid dress robes into a shiny jumpsuit and platform shoes.

"I never lost it."

Sirius just grinned wider and changed his own clothes to match, and gave himself long sideburns.

The next the kids knew the two of them were out there getting down as well.

At that point the floodgates were open, and folks whose teenage heyday had been in the seventies were flooding the dance floor, wearing funky clothes, funky shoes and funkier hair. Some of them even started to sing.

You are the Dancing Queen,
young and sweet, only seventeen
Dancing Queen,
feel the beat from the tambourine
Oh yeah
You can dance, you can ji-ive,
having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl, watch that scene,
digging the Dancing Queen

 

All at once, Remus seemed to catch whatever had infected the crowd, because, the next thing they knew, he was in a white suit with a shiny black shirt, open to show most of his chest, out on the floor and pointing to the ceiling while waggling his hips like a champ.

"Atta boy, Moony! Show them how it's done!" Harry laughed delightedly.

Ginny cringed.

"So gross. Old people shouldn't be wiggling around like that."

Oliver and Marcus seemed a bit bewildered, wondering what had come over the crowd, but everyone was having fun. They joined in with little hesitation, and in their gold suits, they rather looked like they belonged there.

Dancing queen ended and the Hustle began. The dancers cheered and a few more joined in.

"Well. I guess now we know what Loki and Sigyn get up to when they're not with us." Tom murmured nearby.

"Do you think they make a habit of crashing weddings, or are we just lucky?"

"Well…he's the god of mischief, after all."

"Why aren't the Wyrd Sisters playing any of their hits? I know how to dance to those." Ginny complained. "Instead it's all this weird stuff."

"I wouldn't mind if they picked things up a bit. Disco isn't really my favorite era." Tom shrugged. "Although maybe I spoke too soon…"

"What…?" Harry began, but then he saw the same thing Tom did. The "disco king" was now wearing a familiar smirk.

"What is he up to now?"

Loki waved his hand as the hustle ended.

"Good lord. What are McGonagall, Sprout and granny Longbottom doing?" Ginny hissed.

The three women had joined the band on stage and were now gathered around the mike, next to one of the band members, who looked slightly confused as to why he was suddenly blowing a bugle.

"Looks like that's our cue." Tom murmured as he pulled Fleur out on the floor.

"Come on!" Hermione urged Harry as she grabbed his arm and drug him after them.

 

He was a famous trumpet man from out Chicago way
He had a boogie style that no one else could play
He was the top man at his craft
But then his number came up and he was gone with the draft
He's in the army now, a-blowin' reveille
He's the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B

 

"I didn't even know Professor McGonagall could sing!" Hermione said breathlessly as he spun her around.

"Well, this night is just full of surprises, isn't it?"

Off on the sidelines, Ginny shuddered as a whole host of old people, Minister Fudge and his wife among them, went careening by. She was seeing far more granny panties than any sane person should ever have to.

"Ha, ha! We still got it!" "

Too right we do! Let's show these young 'uns how it's done!"

"This is so unfair." Ginny lamented as she watched Hermione get flipped "he's supposed to be here with me, and yet here I am, standing on the sidelines like a chump.,,though I suppose things aren't much better for you." she added, eyeing Viktor.

"I don't know how to do this kind of dancing. It must be a muggle thing. Hermione enjoys it, and I want her to enjoy herself. I will have my chance. We had much fun at the Yule Ball. Letting her dance with her friend so she has a chance to be flipped through the air and act crazy for a bit is no hardship…though I will be learning this dancing so that next time I can be the one out there with her."

"It's not just one crazy dance though. It's been every dance so far!"

"Well…perhaps you should not have tricked him into taking you? I don't understand why you would need to…you are pretty girl. I'm sure there are plenty who…"

"Tricked? I did no such thing! I walked right up to him and asked him to go with me, and he agreed. If he wasn't listening or paying proper attention that's on him, not me! I figured I'd been waiting around long enough for him to notice me, it was time to club him over the head with it. He has to be the most clueless boy ever."

"Ah, I did not realize. Well then, I suppose he concurs, which is why he honored the agreement you made."

"I wouldn't call this honoring the agreement. He owes me another date. A proper one."

"Ah, well… I do not know what to tell you in this case. I suppose you find him at time when he is not distracted and simply talk to him and tell him how you feel."

"I tried that already and this is what I ended up with."

"Which is why I said when he was not distracted. You should have just waited with others until he comes for lunch and talk to him then."

"The whole stupid crowd was there. I knew I'd lose my nerve if they were all sitting around listening, so I tried to catch him alone."

"In that case, maybe wait till lunch was over and ask to speak to him alone would have served you better."

"I guess. Too late to change it now. Everything just got so messed up. I was nervous, then embarrassed and kind of mad that he yelled at me, and maybe I reacted badly, but you know, he wasn't exactly making it easy."

"Well…maybe you should focus on someone else."

"I have, repeatedly, but it always comes back to him." Ginny shrugged, her smile a bit rueful. "I figured dating other boys didn't work, all that was left was to date him. He wasn't making the first move, so I had to."

A look of steely determination took over her features.

"I'm not giving up. He'll be mine, even if I have to tie him up to make him sit still long enough to realize it."

Viktor eyed Ginny a moment and shook his head.

"I cannot tell you what to do, but I would advise that trying to tie him up would likely be counterproductive, as well as go very badly for you. Try to stick to talking, yes?"

 

The crowd cheered as the wild swing dancing came to an end. The older folks who'd been dancing were out of breath, but their faces were shining--even if a few were rubbing at their backs a bit as they cleared the floor.

"That was great, everyone! Let's give a big 'round of applause for our guest singers the…uh… Huffindor Trio! Yeah, they were amazing! Now, for those a bit younger in the crowd, get prepared to DO THE HIPPOGRIFF!"

"Finally!" Ginny said triumphantly. She wasted no time getting out on the floor and latching on to Harry before he could wander off. Harry looked around at all the weirdly gyrating Hogwarts and post-Hogwarts students.

"I don't know how to dance to this!"

"You'll learn! Now come on!"

Harry halfheartedly tucked his fingers into his armpits, flapped his elbows and gave his booty a shake.

"I feel like an idiot…"

"Get with the times." Ginny scoffed.

From there the Wyrd Sisters launched into 'Reparo my heart' and 'Magic Carpet Ride'. They had just started in on their latest hit, 'Your Wicked Charms', when Harry's robe pocket began to beep.

Ginny, who had been jumping around and waving her arms about with every evidence of enjoyment, got a sour look on her face when Harry pulled out his PDA.

"What've you got that for? In case you haven't noticed…"

"Bloody Hell. Where's Tom?"

"Harry! You can't just leave!" she hissed, hurrying after him.

"Gotta. Problem. Sorry." he added as he continued leaving.

Tom was already with Oliver and Marcus and seemed to be making their apologies. Lee, Kendall, who was on the Ravenclaw quidditch team, Vince and Greg, Draco and a few others were also extracting themselves from the crowd and making their way towards the public floo. Harry waved to Oliver and Marcus, mouthed 'Sorry, gotta go!' and hurried after them.

Ginny's hands clenched at her sides and she began grimly marching after him. If he thought for one moment he was just going to ditch her and get away with it he was sadly mistaken.

She turned in a fury, pulling her wand, when a heavy hand clamped down on her shoulder, halting her in her tracks.

Her father just raised his eyebrow, looking very unimpressed, and plucked a rubber chicken out of her hand. Ginny stared at the rubber chicken uncomprehendingly.

"Harry swiped your wand earlier and gave it to your brother, who gave it to me for safe keeping. He said you have a bad habit of hexing people whenever you get annoyed. Your wand was replaced with a trick one the twins made, that changes into a rubber chicken when you try to use it." he added pointedly, waving the chicken. "Now, just where did you think you were going?"

"With Harry! We're still on a date and…"

"There's something wrong with their mining operation. They had to hurry in to go fix it. After what happened last time, I'd think you'd know better."

"He's not allowed to just ditch me!"

"Real life doesn't work as neatly as storybooks, Gin-Gin. In the real world, people sometimes have to work when they'd rather be playing, or at home with their families. Now, come on. You can sit out the rest with us. Most of your brothers are still here. Not Ron, but the rest of them are. You can dance with one of them."

Ginny sighed tiredly. "Oh joy."

Hermione and Viktor were still there. Hermione looked to be fretting a bit, and Viktor seemed to be trying to distract her. Just like that she got annoyed all over again. She went out to the dance floor and began bopping around next to them.

"You're still here?" she asked sourly. "Didn't run off like certain stupid boys I can name?"

"I was going to, but they know Viktor's not going to be here for long. They said if they really need my help on something they'll send word, but otherwise I should just stay and enjoy the rest of the wedding."

"Harry had a date too." she pointed out.

"Harry's our leader. We don't know what's wrong yet--the message wasn't entirely clear, just that Bernard wanted Vince and… that is, Crabbe and Goyle, and any free Enchanters, to help out. Until we know what's wrong and whether or not we can fix it, of course he's going to be there. Tom and Fleur went because she's an Enchanter and he's our resident genius fix-it guy. They might be back if whatever it is that's wrong is easily taken care of."

"Ugh. I am going to give him such an earful when I see him next! He'd better be the perfect date when we go to Hogsmeade together."

"You're going to Hogsmeade together?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"Damned right we are. He owes me a proper date after this fiasco."

Hermione looked ready to interfere, but Viktor squeezed her elbow and shook his head when she glanced at him. Upon thinking about it, she decided he was probably right. If she tried to help Ginny, Harry was likely to end up mad at her, and if she helped Harry, Ginny would be. Probably best stay out of it.

"Oh…well, um, good luck with that."

 

 

"Good morning, children. You all arrived back rather late. Is everything well with your mining operation?"

"Yeah, what happened with that?" Sirius echoed Loki curiously as a very tired looking Tom, Harry and Fleur settled at the breakfast table.

"I should like to know as well if it is not a secret. Hermione continued to fret for most of the evening, though we still managed to have fun." Viktor added.

"Eet was 'orrible. There were strange snakes eating ze miners and making a mess everywhere. Zhey were not programmed to react to such a circumstance."

"Yeah. Kind of a drawback of using action figures." Harry mumbled through a yawn.

"We had a disaster scenario already written for an attack from outside the base, not for anything within. We had to alter it on the fly, program the miners remotely to start taking action against the snake-alien things, get them to take the fish-eyes down through the tunnels till we found where they'd originated. There was a bunch of eggs, and one of the tunnels made an opening to where they were, the things hatched and went looking for things to eat. We had them destroy the rest of the eggs, clear out the snake things after cutting them open to release the eaten miners. A lot of them got damaged, so we had to then program them to gather up all the damaged ones and send them back with the next shipment so they can be repaired and replaced. Even after all that we had to run extensive system checks to make sure none of the equipment got damaged and we had to have a crew search the ship and the ore to make sure none of them made it that far and were lying in wait for the crew." Tom explained as he poured himself a generous cup of coffee.

"We were there trying to fix things till 3 a.m. We don't even know if it was enough, or if there's more eggs lying in wait. We're going to have to upgrade the scanners on the mining equipment to look for the things. Honestly I'd rather still be asleep now, but we still have to do our stupid school shopping, or we're going to be in trouble when it's time to leave for school. I knew I shouldn't have gone to that wedding. I could have gotten that out of the way yesterday if I hadn't, and I could have slept in today." Harry muttered from where he had his head laid on the table. "I won't be able to sleep in tomorrow because we have to leave for school, and I can't sleep on the train on the ride up because I'm a bloody prefect, so I'll have to be wandering around patrolling the train."

"I'm in the same boat. Head Boy, remember?" Tom pointed out.

"Yeah, but you're excited about that, and you don’t have to patrol, just get everyone's reports. Are you sure I can't deputize Ron and send him in my place? His mum did his school shopping for him the other day. That lucky bastard is probably sleeping right now."

"No, Harry you cannot deputize Ron."

"And honestly, with his mother, I wouldn't count on him being allowed to sleep in." Sirius added.

"Bleh. Logic bad."

"Eat. You'll feel better." Sigyn ordered, nudging his cheek with a plate full of food until he sat up.

"Ah, that's much better." Tom announced, sounding far perkier than he had a moment ago. "Here, drink this." he added to Harry, handing him a vial with a murky brown potion within.

"Uh…" Harry tried to ward it off. Most potions looked very nice but tasted vile. This one looked vile, so he was quite afraid to know what it tasted like.

"It's pepper-up potion made with coffee as the base rather than water and then mixed with an invigorating draught."

Harry eyed it a moment, then shrugged, opened it and downed it. Tom clamped a hand down on his shoulder and held him in his seat as he stiffened, his eyes bugged out and his mouth opened in a soundless scream. He let go when Harry slumped in place.

"Damn."

"See? Much better."

"I think I understood the secrets of the universe for a second there. Did I just die and come back?"

"Uh…" Sirius said worriedly.

"Hmmm. Next time you take one, remind me to take some scans."

"Uh…" Sirius whimpered again.

Tom offered one to Fleur who shook her head.

"I will pass, zhank you."

"Wish I could remember it all. I need a pensieve or something." Harry muttered.

"That's unsanitary. Here." Tom offered, tapping him on the temple with his wand. Harry got a bit of an odd look on his face.

"What did you do?" Barty wondered.

"Carved runes on the inside of his skull."

"Uh, what?!" Sirius demanded.

"Why would you do that?" Barty asked, sounding both horrified and intrigued.

"I would think that would be obvious. Taking thoughts out of your head is unsanitary. They can get contaminated with any number of things. It's best they just be left in your head as nature intended. It's easy enough to carve the pensieve runes in your skull with just a bit of concentration."

"Thomas…perhaps you should refrain from doing any more medical procedures without warning, hmm?" Loki suggested.

"Why does everyone keep harping on that damned Moody and his stupid leg? I told him I was going to give him a new leg. I used a numbing charm, so it's not like I hurt him. It's really not my fault he's oversensitive or something." Tom muttered, pouting just a bit.

"I still can't figure out the heart of a dying star thing. Damn. I suppose I could… There's still the question of timing. And how would I get a few hundred tons of metal to the bottom of the ocean without any nosy people wondering what I'm up to?" Harry mused beside him, not paying any attention to the rest of them.

"Finish your breakfast." Sirius sighed.

Loki glanced at Sigyn and saw she was watching the children with bemused affection, like she wasn't quite sure what to make of them, but couldn't help but like them anyway.

"You're very fond of them" he whispered quietly.

She glanced at him, remembering when she'd made a similar comment to him upon first meeting the children. She remembered his response as well, and it seemed entirely apropos.

"Sentiment. You'd think I'd learn." she agreed, ruefully.

Loki's hand found hers beneath the table and squeezed. Neither of them had any doubt now that the wizards would succeed in their ascension…but even then there was no telling how they'd be changed by the process.

There were other races than their own that lived for thousands of years, but there were also countless races that did not.

There was no way of telling ahead of time which path the wizards would follow. Even ascended, they might still be forced to watch all these bright, charming children wither and die in a century or five…and they themselves would not be even halfway to middle aged.

"Oh, just listen to me. I'm getting as maudlin as Loki."

She squeezed his hand back and smiled with all the optimism she could muster. "Don't make mead before the goat is weaned."

"Huh?" Sirius asked, catching the last of their conversation. "What do goats have to do with mead?"

"Our goats produce mead rather than milk from their udders." Loki explained.

"Huh." Tom said thoughtfully.

"chocolate sauce." Harry said a moment later. "Body heat should be enough to keep it soft, right? It'd be pretty painful otherwise."

"Would people want candy from a goat's udder?"

"They eat candy made from a cauldron of unknown potion with a dirty sock thrown in."

"True. Caramel too. Diversify. Table condiments. Catsup, mustard…"

"How do you even get it in there…and does it have to be a goat? I think sheep are more plentiful in Scotland…"

Sirius groaned quietly and glared at the two Asgardians as though saying "Do you see what you've done?" He groaned again when he saw Barty was practicing carving runes on the table top.

He was suddenly overcome with horror.

Somehow…he wasn't sure when or how….

he'd become a RESPONSIBLE ADULT.

"NOOOOOOOOOO!" he suddenly wailed, clutching at his chest.

Harry and Tom blinked at him, rather startled.

"Okay. Geez. No vanilla. Keep your shirt on."

Barty looked at him, rather puzzled.

"I thought vanilla was your favorite? Personally I think the peanut butter is a bad idea. It's so thick…seems like it be a bit of job getting back out, you know? Why food though?" he then asked the boys. "We have food. Have them make…well…maybe not firewhiskey. Rum. Rum would be good. Or you know, just stick to mead."

"I've never tried brewing alcohol, but Seamus has, and it's apparently much harder than it looks. I can cook just fine." Harry explained.

Beside him Tom just nodded. He wasn't much of a drinker anyway. Neither of them were.

 

 

 

With all the changes and excitement the kids of the Garden had experienced over the last few months, seeing the Hogwarts Express and the platform so unchanged was both strange and comforting all at once.

"Harry!"

"Hey, Hermione."

"Is Viktor gone already?"

"Yeah, we saw him off at the train station before heading here. He's going to head back to France and take his portkey from there. I was surprised he didn't want to come along to see you off."

"We said our goodbyes last night before he dropped me off. He knew my parents would be coming to see me off and thought it would be awkward trying to have a proper goodbye while my dad was glaring daggers at the side of his head."

"Yeah, probably for the best."

"Where's Tom?"

"He's on the train already with Fleur, probably sucking each other's faces off as we speak. They act like he can't just pop over on the weekends to HQ to see her whenever."

"You'll understand when you're older." Hermione teased. "I understand how they feel, though for me I actually won't be seeing Viktor unless he comes by for the holidays or something."

"You'll live. So will they."

"Doesn't mean we have to be happy about it."

"You know, I just realized, this year is going to be the last normal one for us. Next year half our crew will be gone. The space program will probably start kicking in in earnest. It'll still be a while till the rest of us go anywhere, but come sometime next year most countries will start sending a provisional government to the new world to keep things organized, and a prep the new country crew to get things ready before the bulk of the population starts heading across. Who knows how long it will take from that point for the rest of us to get word it's time to move. We may well end up being the first graduating class of Hogwarts to be on the new world. If not us, probably Luna and Colin's class. Weird, huh?"

"Yes, it is. It's all rather daunting to think about, isn't it?"

"Yeah. I hate that it's all out of our hands at this point. I want to be involved."

"So do I. So do all of us. We have done quite a lot already though. Best leave the rest to people who can devote their whole attention to it."

"I guess. I don't have to like it."

"There's the warning whistle. I should get on. Don't forget we have a prefects' meeting first thing."

"Yeah, yeah. Let me just say goodbye to everyone."

Chapter Text

"Nice job, Thor. You're at war with Nornheim." Loki sighed as he finished marking off the test he'd given him.


"What? No I am not!"


"The people of Nornheim have a common allergy to thornberries. In fact, it's such a common and severe allergy that Alfheim has a side business in making thornberry cake to send to Nornheim. People order them special to be made and delivered to their enemies in response to dire insult. It's a death threat." he explained. "What you should have done was offer them corbla."


"I like corbla! If we gave it all to Nornheim, there would be none left for us!"


"I see you didn't take into account the amounts gathered of the various items in this fictional harvest."


"The amounts?"


"It says right here that the harvest produced forty thousand tons of corbla. What is the amount of corbla normally used by Asgard in a year?"


"… A lot?"


"Twenty thousand tons. The harvest produced twice as much as we use in a normal year. Nornheim's people like corbla, nearly as much as the people of Asgard do. You could have offered them part or all of the remainder of the harvest in trade and they would have been willing to give concessions to do so. Corbla is also popular on Nidavellir, but as they also like thornberries, quite a lot in fact, it would have been better to offer the excess to them."


"There is only a small amount left once Asgard takes its share."


"All the better. They don't grow on Nidavellir, and as they don't usually provide overly plentiful harvests they are usually in short supply, meaning we can get quite a lot for even just the small amount available given how much they like them."


Loki handed back the test and Thor winced when he saw how much of it was covered in red ink.


"Thor, you have to do better than this. These are the sorts of things a king is supposed to know."


"Father is not likely to step down sooner than another decade at least…and given how spry he still is it may be far longer!"


"You were supposed to be learning this stuff during our lessons as children, Thor."


"This sort of nonsense is what advisors and diplomats are for."


"For much of it, but then how would you know they were trustworthy or giving good advice if you do not know any of what they are dealing with?"


"I do not get my prize, I take it?" Thor demanded, sounding just a bit sulky.


"No, for you did not complete your quest to my satisfaction."


"This is not a proper quest. Proper quests do not require one to spend hours each day in the library."


"That's where you are wrong, Thor. Successful quests do. The thing is, you and the idiots four always had me around to take care of that part. Now that I'll no longer be travelling with you you'll have to do that part for yourselves, or I guarantee the successful ends to your quests will start being rather elusive things."


"You said the book you wrote for me on the uses and powers of Mjolnir would help me be a better king as well. Should I not still get it even if you are not satisfied?"


"Thor. I am not so easily swayed as your idiots are. You'll not be getting it so long as I can use it as a goad to get you to complete your studies before the idiots get back from the bog. I've no illusions that you'll be off drinking, carousing, and thirsting for adventure the moment they return. If I must hold you as a captive audience while I have leave to do so in order to ensure Asgard's future, that's what I'll do."


Thor's face darkened, and worse, his guileless blue eyes filled with hurt.


"You have no faith in me. You think me incapable of being king."


Loki sighed. "No, Thor, quite the opposite, in fact. I think…no, I know that you have it in you to be not only king, but a great king. That's what's really so very frustrating about all this. You have taken to following your friends' lead too much."


"I do not! I am the leader of our band of warriors and…"


"You pick where the next adventure will be, it is true. You are also the first to charge into battle, and you always have the highest body count by the end…"


"Exactly!"


"The rest of the time you follow their lead, and think of nothing but the next feast, the next chance to boast, the next loose woman to cross your path…"


"And what is wrong with that? Life is for living, brother!"


"Because you will one day be king of Asgard. You have responsibilities that they never will. They are simple warriors. So long as they are in fighting trim and can follow orders, they have no further worries. You will one day be leader of the nine realms, your word will be law. If the realms fall into chaos, should trade and peaceful relations fall apart, at the end of the day the fault will be yours. I am not saying do not enjoy your youth and freedom. I am saying that cannot be all that you do. A simple warrior can afford to look no further than the next drink, a king cannot."


Thor sighed, and Loki plopped several large, dusty texts down in front of him with a slightly sadistic smile.


"Your prize still awaits and you have, hmmm, four more days until the idiots return. Let's see if you can successfully complete your quest by then."


Thor's shoulders slumped and he eyed the texts the way most would eye a rampaging bilgensnipe bearing down on them in a murderous fury. He eyed the grey skies and their gentle downpour of rain, and the swaying trees outside the window with longing before turning back to the books. Four more days and then he would be free, and the secret powers of Mjolnir would be known to him.

If he were lucky, there would be a non-fatal but very painful little-brother-smiting function that he could use on Loki for torturing him this way.


As he pulled the first dusty tome towards himself, a horrible, horrible thought occurred to him. Outside, thunder began to rumble ominously in the distance.


Even when he successfully finished Loki's torturous quest to his satisfaction, in order to gain his prize, mastery of his warhammer, he was going to have to read another book.


Outside the gently falling rain turned to a furious downpour.


Loki eyed the sudden downpour and sat back with a small grin to read his own book. Several people who had pissed him off recently were all on patrol duty. Outside.


"Ah. Life is good."

 

 

 

"Minerva. Coffee?"


"Aye, thank you, Filius."


The transfiguration professor settled herself with a groan and plopped the pile of scrolls she had with her down on the table. She accepted the hot mug of coffee Flitwick offered her, dug in her robe for a bit, withdrawing a flask. She poured in a generous measure, then held it up to see if anyone else wanted some.


"Give it here, Minnie." Sprout held out a hand.


Snape looked at his own coffee, sighed and held it out to have some added to his as well. Flitwick took what was left when he returned to the table.


"So, what has you reaching for medicinal brandy already?"


"The fifth and seventh years. I'm going to have to change what we're doing in class for both of them I think."


"Oh? I haven't had either of them yet. Was there some problem? Are they terribly far behind?"


"In their practicals? Hardly. The whole lot of them has an ease with transfiguration that I could only wish my other classes showed. It's their essays that are the problem. They all have obvious experience in doing, it's the explaining that seems to be difficult for them. Their knowledge on what different transfigurations are called, the laws and means behind them are all rather spotty. I'll not see the lot of them fail their transfiguration OWLs because their written portion is sub-par."


"I suppose it's to be expected, really. They've all be hidden off together doing magic, not discussing it."


"They've also been handing in the absolute minimum required on their written work for some time, the twelve-OWL students at least. We all knew there had to be a downside to them being so surprisingly brilliant." Sprout mused.


"Exactly. I ran them through their paces and had them do all the transfigurations we did last year. They all did them with such ease that, on a whim I asked them to do many of the sorts we'd be covering this year. They were able to do quite a few of them already. I've no doubt I can tighten up their technique--there were a few I saw adding too many flourishes and getting inconsistent results because of it, but I think for the most part they're more than on track for the practicals. It's the written portion I think they all need to worry about. I'm going to have to focus on that part until they're all up to speed. I'll need to whip up a few dozen practice tests to throw at them so I can be sure they're where they're supposed to be."


"Hmm. I should probably do something similar--focus on technique and the written part of the tests. If it was a problem in your class, it likely will be in my class as well." Flitwick mused.


"Hmph. At least the little brats are behaving in your class." Snape muttered wrathfully.


"They're misbehaving in yours?"


"They're using my class to experiment in! The absolute cheek of the brats!"


"Experiment?" Sprout asked curiously.


"Several of the little brats decided to make something other than the potion we were supposed to be working on. They said they'd already made the draught of Peace, because they've been feeding it to a 'crazy old auror' all summer."


"Didn't you explain to any of them that's what the potions club is for?"


"I don't take anyone below sixth year, and of those I only take the upper half of those that manage to make it into my NEWT class. I can't be bothered wasting time on dunderheads who don't even know the basics."


Sprout eyeballed Snape, looking rather unimpressed.


"And of your experimenters? How many of them would have been graced with such an invitation?"


"None of them." Snape admitted. "Well, perhaps Draco. None of the rest of them."


"SEVERUS!"


"I was forced to run the blasted club. I said I would agree if, and only if, I had discretion on who got to attend." Snape sniffed, completely unrepentant.


McGonagall fumed for a moment longer and then brightened.


"If you dislike it so much, why don't you see if Horace will take it up again? He's no longer a head of house, so he has more free time than he used to."


"I tried. Albus shot me down." Snape muttered.


"What? Why?"


"Oh, isn't it obvious? He thinks that by forcing me to regularly interact with the little dunderheads I'm going to one day learn to love small, messy children, embrace a re-bloomed love of my fellow man, and I don't know, shoot rainbows from my arse or something. It's Albus. You know what he's like."


"That's ridiculous. I'll see if Horace is amenable and I'll get Albus straightened out, otherwise a generation of future potions master may well be lost to us."


"Excuse me. I manage to churn out a handful of future potions masters every year." Snape sputtered, sounding affronted.


"And how many more might there have been?"


"Too many, perhaps. Did you ever think of that? There isn't enough work to support more. Everyone that's been churned out in recent years is already working in St. Mungo's, the local apothecaries or doing research, then there are those like me who are teaching and making potions for the Ministry's use. There's no need for more potions masters than what I turn out, and I only turn out the best of each year's crop."


"Between the corporation and the twins' shop I think the economy can support a few more."


"Not to mention there's likely to be a population boom once we've all moved. While it's true our numbers wouldn't have matched the muggles' even without secrecy limiting the amount of livable space we have, we likely would have still had a far larger population than we currently do. Already with the new villages being up and running, there are quite a few families now expecting their second, third, even fourth child! You mark my words, in a few more years there will likely be a need for far more potions masters than we've been churning out."


"Charms masters too. There's certain to be a building and construction boom."


"Which means transfiguration masters will be in demand as well."


"Herbologists. They're already trying to round up masters to be part of the pre-colonization on the new world. I've been debating on whether to take a sabbatical so I can be part of it." Sprout admitted.


"What?" the other three exclaimed.


"You're going there? You didn't say anything about that! I thought you were just going to be taking the NEWT students on jaunts throughout the year to areas you'd been assigned to search for wild magical plants!"


"I only got the notice a few days ago. Now that they have a list of herbologists willing to help out-- we've all been assigned areas all over Britain to search over the course of the next year, but I think I told all of you that… Anyway, now that they have a list of interested folks, they've been sending out further notices. They said they're going to need people to be on site to check how things are going before they try to start moving any of the population over in force. The Unspeakables, and I believe some of the children, have been seeding the planet from a distance. They said that as far as they can see, the planet does seem to be getting greener, but they need folks there on the ground to take an up-close look. We don't know what has been growing, or in what amounts, just that something is. They did say they tried their best to not include any weeds, but it's the nature of weeds to sneak in where they're not wanted. We need to make sure it isn't weeds that have all blossomed and choked out any other growth. We need to see if there are enough trees in each area to ensure a plentiful supply of oxygen when we start filling the planet with people and animals…that sort of thing. They don't have a firm timeline yet, they just wanted people to know so that when the time comes, anyone interested has had ample time to make arrangements."


"Do you think you're going to go?"


"I haven't rightly decided yet, but I'm leaning towards going. It's a bit of a once in a lifetime opportunity, after all."


"It is. I'm sure they'll be needing charms masters to start helping out with building, maybe I should inquire." Flitwick mused.


"While I'm sure they will eventually, the plan, so far as I know, is to bring our villages and such with us, so there won't be much call until after everyone is there and they want to start expanding and gussying up the place. I think what they're looking for right now is people who know a lot about the ocean."


"The ocean?"


"Well, yes. Someone has to make sure the ocean is livable before we dare bring any of the merfolk across. Say there wasn't enough oxygen to sustain them, why, the poor things could all suffocate down there, and we'd never know there was a problem until they started washing up on beaches! No, the whole thing needs to be checked over, filled with plants and coral and sea life bit by bit to make sure it's all sustainable. Once there's a stable environment, the merfolk will be rounded up and sent through."


"We've a bit of time. I could certainly start reading up and familiarize myself with oceans, and I'm sure charms to test with will be in use. I could be a very valuable asset. A year's sabbatical for a bit of an adventure might be just the thing!"


"Couldn't hurt to inquire, I suppose. I guess just send word to the Unspeakables that you're interested and go from there."


"I might just do that."

 

 

 

 

"Man, every year it gets harder to adjust to being back here. I can't say I'm digging be in classes from early morning until evening every day either."


"You've gone the distance so far, Ron. After this year it should ease up considerably. Hold the course." Hermione replied absently as she checked over her summer charms homework.


"Ooh, mail's here. Witch Weekly should be out today. I wonder if there's any of the pictures from Oliver and Marcus' wedding." Lavender said cheerfully.


"There should be some at least." Parvati answered as she watched the flock of birds grow closer. "I know Luna and Colin were planning on selling the coverage they did on the wedding to them and Quidditch Weekly."


Harry, who had been doodling sketches on his napkin while eating, glanced up in surprise when an owl he didn't recognize landed near his plate.


"Oh, hello. Well, you're lovely, aren't you?" he asked the owl, petting it lightly before taking the scroll from its leg. He then made a little bowl on a stand that she could easily reach and filled it with some water and offered her bacon, both of which she accepted with the airs of a queen accepting her due.


Ginny, who was seated across the way, sniffed the air suspiciously and glared at the pink scroll.


"Is that perfume?" she demanded. "Who is that from?"


"Gabrielle." Harry answered absently. Ginny glared a bit harder. She remembered that little pipsqueak smirking at her while she hung from Harry's arm in Hogsmeade. Well, the joke was on her. The little brat was stuck in France, and she was here with Harry.


Harry laughed and showed Hermione, who was next to him, the letter.


"Still not the goddess-empress of France, more's the pity?" Hermione read.


Harry just grinned. "Trouble with a capital T."


"She's certainly something alright."


"Sounds like a psycho." Ginny said airily.


"You're not one to talk." Harry muttered quietly under his breath.


Hermione nudged him sharply in the side with her elbow, and Ginny looked up from her food with an affronted glare.


"Excuse me?"


Gabrielle's owl had finished her water and her bacon and launched herself into the air.


Ginny suddenly shrieked as the bird passed overhead, and jumped out of her seat, flailing and waving her arms around.


"What's with her?" Harry asked curiously.


"I think Gabrielle's owl…pooped on her."


Harry started snickering. Hermione elbowed him again, but she was having a hard time not giggling herself.

 

 

 

Peggy hefted the box she carried a bit higher and reached for the doorbell. She gave it three solid presses and stood back to wait.


"I do hope he's here. Given what I've been reading in the papers…."


She smiled in relief when the door began to swing open, but it was not who she expected; rather, it was a young woman about twenty or so, with strawberry blonde hair.
Peggy gave her a discreet once-over. She didn't look like a bimbo…


"Yes? May I help you?"


"I was looking for Anthony. You are?"


"And what is your business with Mr. Stark?"


"I'm an old friend of the family and…"


"Sir, I believe that is Sir Aunt Peggy. She works for the phone company…"


The young woman was about to answer the hidden speaker, but she found herself lunging to steady the old woman on the doorstep, who had paled, dropped her box and swayed when the AI had spoken.


"Jarvis?" she whispered. "Oh, god, Anthony Stark, what have you done?"


"Pepper? Did something fall? You okay out there?"


"We're fine, Mr. Stark. Do you have an aunt Peggy by any chance?"


"Aunt Peggy? Yeah, I…Whoa! Aunt Peggy, you okay?"


"What have you done? I distinctly heard Jarvis and…"


"Oh, geez, not this again. I swear, between Obie, Rhodey and now you... I DID NOT MAKE A FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER, OKAY? I'm a tech guy! That's just my new AI, who yes, does in fact happen to have the same name as our old butler, though not really, since it stands for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, because he is a thinking computer and not a person…well, no, he's totally a person, he is not an organic human being, and I completely know the difference, and have not lost my mind, okay?"


Peggy straightened, patted her hair and stepped inside.


"Ah. Good to know. Get that for me would you? It's yours, actually. It's some things that were left with me by your father before he passed. Bar still stocked?"


"Always."


"It shouldn't be. You have a drinking problem." Peggy chided, while she dug out a bottle of rather expensive whiskey, poured herself a generous amount and tossed it back like a champ. "Now, are you going to be a gentleman and introduce me to your new friend?"


"Aunt Peggy, Pepper"


"Virginia Potts" the girl interjected.


"My new assistant-slash-babysitter, sicced on me on me by Obie when he thought I made a Frankenstein monster." Tony quipped.


"Miss Potts, lovely to meet you, Margaret Carter, but do just call me Peggy. I do hope Mr. Stane is paying you well. He's a handful, even on a good day."


"So, I've already learned."


"Still in the room here!" Tony whined.


"You can leave if you need to. Was there anything else, Mr. Stark?"


"No, that will be all, Miss Potts. You can run along. I'll be here talking to aunt Peggy about why she's only showing up now, two years since my parents died. I was beginning to think you didn't like me."


Peggy frowned and reached up to cup his face in her hands and brought him in so she could kiss his forehead.


"For a clever fellow, you're quite the idiot."


"So I keep being told."


Pepper eyed them a moment and smiled. "It was very nice to meet you Ms. Carter."


"Likewise, Miss Potts."


Pepper nodded and made her way to the door. Once she was gone, Peggy turned to Tony with a grin. "I like her. I think she'll be good for you. I am rather surprised you don't seem to have slept with her yet."


"Obie hired a muscle guy to beat me up if I tried to. Might be worth it…"


"I do believe you are worse than your father ever was."


"I do try." Tony said with false modesty. He settled himself at the bar and poured himself a drink as well.


"So…two years. You don't call, you don't write…"


"I am sorry about that. I'm afraid events have rather gotten away from me these last two years. Much like your father, I was busy saving the world…trying to, anyway."


"Uh… Come again?"


"You know that your father worked with the SSR during the war, correct?"


"Yeah?"


"The SSR was slowly dismantled and reworked post war to be a responsive civilian-oriented protection agency. SHIELD. Your father helped build it and I worked as a field agent. In time I was put in charge, so your father could focus on his companies. He remained involved. He was our resident tech genius. He designed much of our equipment. I never worked for the phone company. I also wasn't a nurse during the war. Unfortunately, because so much of what I've done is highly classified, none of it will be released until long after I'm dead, and perhaps not even then."


"Are you trying to tell me you and dad were secret agents?"


"Yes, that's exactly what I'm telling you. What's more, I need your help. I need you to take up your father's mantle. It has been recently discovered that HYDRA infiltrated SHIELD right from the beginning. The Sorcerer Supreme got word of it from a Norse God. They were hidden in plain sight for many years because Arnim Zola, former HYDRA scientist who was brought in to the SSR after serving his prison sentence was mystically changed by a cube of unknown origin and somehow managed to put his soul into a computer. Some entity or entities unknown destroyed that computer, and now without him hiding their tracks their infiltration has started to become more obvi…. Yes?"


Tony just stared at her. "What the hell are you smoking? I want some. Sounds like some pretty potent stuff!"


"Open your box. We'll talk more then." Peggy sighed, pouring herself another drink.

 

 

 

"Your landings are getting better." Head Unspeakable Lovegood noted as she walked among the simulators and noted everyone's scores.


"Still not quite enough. It says I woulda ripped up some of the bottom. We still need to use the damned thing once we get there." Quickdraw muttered.


"Same here." Albin nodded.


"We're supposed to be living on the thing for a while too, right? I'd much prefer not to have my bed smashed and set on fire the moment we get there." Petie complained.


"Improve your own landings then. I scuffed the bottom, you caved in the whole front!"


"You all used to crash more often than not. You've all improved dramatically, and we've still time." Lovegood interjected serenely.


"So, what next? More zero g?" Alastor wondered.


"No. You've all managed to get the hang of maneuvering in there, and from here on out the simulator is going to be in use to assemble the ship. In place of that you'll be getting a crash course in oceanography."


"Oceanography?" Cecil muttered.


"The ship's being built?" Petie perked up in interest.


"It's only the basic framework so far, it doesn't look like much."


"Can we see it?"


"I don't see why not. A peek won't hurt. This way, boys."

 

They all gathered around in mission control and peered out into the void. A handful of fellows in protective gear were out there, carefully maneuvering pieces together and securing them in place.


"It's bigger than I pictured."


"It has to hold twelve adult men with room enough to hold everything you need to take with you. We tried to find a nice balance between actual and expanded space. Our calculations have shown that if the expanded space is too much in excess of the actual space that it causes some oddities while in transport."


"And one of us is going to have to fly and land something that size."


"The simulators were calibrated to give the illusion of flying something that size, for all that it's just a chair and a viewscreen and some controls. Once you all start getting full marks, any one of you can in theory hop into that ship and do exactly the same."


"We'll have to take your word for it."


"So…oceanography, was it?"


"Yes" Lovegood nodded, as she began to lead all of them to their next location. "You'll be given a quick and dirty introduction to how the ocean systems, when they're working as they should, behave. We have been seeding the oceans and adding more water to the planet via asteroid, and our distance scans indicate that everything seems to be on track, but we really need an up-close look before we start adding any sea life. We need to know that optimal conditions are present so that we don't kill them all. Don't worry, you're not all expected to become experts overnight. Once you've put up the gateway, others will be coming through. We mostly want you lot to do a preliminary spot-check and take some readings on areas we direct you to. And of course, once the British pre-colonization crew arrives, we want you to help them get to the places they need to go to insure our new country and oceanside are ready for when the rest of us get there. The pre-colonization crews will be mostly herbologists and experts in oceans and underwater plants and animals, so they'll take the lead on all of that. Once conditions are somewhat stable is likely when the provisional government reps from each country will start going through, to maintain order as we begin the transition."


"And when is this all going to be taking place?"


"At the moment, if your training continues to go well, and the assembly of the ship proceeds apace, we think you boys at least will be sent off this summer."


A stir went through the former aurors.


"Once you're there, take the preliminary readings we want, and of course assemble the gateway, we figure the first pre-colonization crews will start transitioning this fall. As we expect a lot of people and materials to be going across for each country, that part of things may well continue in fits and starts until the following summer. At that point the provisional governments will likely transition, and then will begin the final migration."


"You think the actual move itself is going to take upwards of two years?"


"We're terraforming a new planet and moving an entire civilization to the other side of the galaxy. Clearing out China, India and Russia alone will likely take a good portion of that time. That's the best case scenario, where we have a smooth and orderly transition with no problems. Any setbacks along the way could see the final migration taking five to ten years. Now, obviously, we all hope that will not be the case, but we have to be realistic here. This is no small thing we're doing. I've already had strong words with the ICW about the need to come down hard on anyone causing a ruckus or trying to take advantage of the chaos of the move. Such delays endanger everyone who has yet to cross over, since every such delay pushes the whole timeline back."


The old aurors looked at one another as it really began to dawn on all of them how much was riding on their mission.


"Right. No pressure or anything." Petie said mournfully.

 

 

 

"Hey, Ron. So? What's the verdict?" Harry asked curiously as the quidditch team and hopefuls trooped in at breakfast time.


"Don't know yet. There's a couple people tried out. Angelina said she'd post the results tomorrow."


"He did pretty good, better than the others that tried out. I'm sure you're a shoo-in." Ginny assured him.


"Are you going to manage alright? Twelve classes and practices and games?" Hermione asked worriedly.


"Ginny's managing alright…"


"I dropped my extra classes." Ginny admitted.


"You did? Mum know?"


"I may have forgotten to mention it. I was having trouble keeping up all of it last year without quidditch. I'm not going to let my game slack to keep up with classes I don't care about. My goal is and has always been to play professionally. It's dumb to do all that extra work I'll never need."


"What about once you can't play anymore? What're you going to do then?" Hermione wondered.


"I could just get a job with games and sports, or cover sports for the papers or something. Well, that or marry a rich man who will keep me in comfort." Ginny added sarcastically.


"I'm sure you and Draco will be very happy together." Harry said with a laugh.


"Malfoy! Don't even joke about that." Ginny spluttered.


"Theo then?"


"No!"


"Blaise? Justin? Huh, picky."


"Are you going to be able to manage?" Hermione asked Ron.


"Should. Won't be any more busy than in the past, it'll just be quidditch instead of Garden stuff…and Draco did alright, and he was doing both."


"He wasn't taking extra classes, just reading ahead in charms." Neville noted.


"Either way. I should be fine. Worry about your own stuff. I might have practices and games to deal with, you two have all those stupid patrols."


"Don't remind me."


"Harry! Being a prefect is a privilege."


"They just tell you that so you'll be excited about being a glorified hall monitor." Harry told her seriously. A slight commotion further down the table drew their attention. Several of the second years were flinging spoonfuls of oatmeal at one another.


"OI! Knock it off. You should all be ashamed. There are children starving in Africa who would be thrilled to have oatmeal, and here you are wasting it. Hang your heads in shame." The kids all looked at Harry like he was insane.


"Do I have to come down there? HANG YOUR HEADS IN SHAME."


The kids looked at one another uncertainly and hung their heads. Harry nodded in satisfaction and went back to eating.


A few minutes later Lavender nudged him.


"Harry? The kiddies want to know how long they need to do that for."


"Huh? Are you sufficiently shamed? Carry on then."


"Harry, honestly." Hermione sighed.


"What? Works, doesn't it?"


"Better than yelling or assigning detention, you must admit." Ginny agreed, laughing.


Harry's PDA beeped. Ginny stopped smiling and glared at the thing when he pulled it out, checked it, stuffed the remainder of his breakfast in his mouth, and rose to go.


"Where're you running off to now?" she demanded.


Harry's mouth was still full, so he mimed an explosion with his hands, then made a vague gesture towards where the Garden was, then hurried off without a backwards glance.


Ginny huffed and looked at Ron expectantly.


"He's been poking at some weird boomy stuff. It took him awhile to figure out how to deal with it, but now that he knows, he's eager to get his hands on some more so he can play with it. The piece he's got is just a little tiny bit of stuff, not really enough to do much with but study, which is really why Loki gave it to him. He designed a new mining rig just to deal with the stuff, and had Vince and Greg train up a special group of miners. He's been waiting for one of the ships to get back so they could add a stop to a boomy-stuff asteroid and drop it all off. He's running off to make sure that happens, and to check on things, 'cause he's obsessive like that." Ron explained.


"You got all that from him wiggling his fingers?" Ginny asked skeptically.


"Well, yeah, 'cause I know what he's been working on lately."


"Vibranium?" Hermione asked curiously.


"I dunno. Is that what it's called? I've just been calling it the boomy stuff." Ron shrugged.


"Yeah, that's it." Neville nodded.


"Is it interesting in some way? All I really know about it is that Harry wanted to learn dark magic to study it."


"WHAT?" Ginny said angrily.


"He just wanted to learn to cast a scanner to act beyond the veil the way the unforgivables do. He's not learned anything bad. Maybe I should have said he wanted to learn a specifically dark magic method of casting, because that's what he actually asked for, not spells." Hermione explained.


"Yeah, apparently it absorbs and rebounds energy, which is why it kept going boom. He had a time trying to figure out how to mine the stuff without it messing up the rig or the miners. He thinks he found a solution though, so he's sending up a test group." Neville added.


Ginny sighed disgustedly and poked at what was left of her breakfast.


"Is he going to be gone long?"


"Dunno. Depends on how long it takes."


"In any case, the rest of us still have homework to finish. We should get on that."


"It's Saturday. Bloody teachers. They all keep giving us those long-arse question and answer sheets that take forever. It's Saturday! What's with them?"


"Practice for our OWLs, obviously. These are all likely questions that might appear on the OWL, or at least stuff we're supposed to know by OWL year. They're just gauging our progress. Weren't you listening? McGonagall and Flitwick both said we're more than on track for the practical portion of the exams, so they're focusing on the written part. You don't pass unless you do well on both."


"Bloody teachers. Bloody OWLs." Ron grumbled.


"I'll come with you, I guess. I've got homework too…and I've nothing better to do. Stupid Harry." Ginny complained as the dishes began vanishing from the tables.


"I tried to tell you, Gin." Ron shrugged. "And could please not talk about doing Harry right in front of me? I mean, geez…"


Ginny shoved him as they all headed from the great hall. "I said I had nothing better to do at the moment, jerk! Don't put words in my mouth!"

 

 

 

"You really are quite extraordinary, Anthony." Peggy remarked. "Most people, even genius engineers, need extensive plans and blueprints before they renovate parts of their house, build and install supercomputers and create a heat sink-slash-extra electrical power generator. You just ordered parts and started ripping up the floor. The only change you made was to add an extra something when Miss Potts reminded you that local environmentalists might not appreciate you funneling heat directly into the ocean and killing all the fish. You simply noted her objection and ordered a few extra parts."


"Well, I do stuff like this all the time. I know this place, know what I need and what changes I need to make."


"I don't think you realize how unusual it is, even with that."


"I'm nothing special. No matter what I do, my dad was not only there first, decades ago, but I still find things now and again even now that blow me away because of how far ahead of his time he was. I'm not on his level. I'm not even in the general vicinity of his level. I don't think I ever will be. Sorry to disappoint, aunt Peggy, but you're getting the defective Stark here."


"Anthony." Peggy said aghast. "How long have you believed that and been carrying it around? It's not true. You are certainly not defective!"


"Science has advanced a lot since my old man was my age, but stuff he did back in the science stone ages is still miles ahead of what we can do now, even if he never managed to get some of it to work right."


"Anthony… Listen to me. Your father was indeed a brilliant man, but… Remember the tesseract I mentioned?"


"Glowy cube full of energy that the guy in the computer used to make energy weapons with?"


"Yes, that. I told you Arnim Zola was changed by it in some way, which is what allowed him to do…whatever it is he did to become a computer consciousness. Arnim Zola was creepy, and evil…but he was brilliant, quite brilliant, in fact. He wasn't able to recreate the energy weapons he made during the war because the machine that charged them got destroyed during a raid. He built the machine, but he didn't know why it worked, only that if he made it, he would be able to make the weapons the Red Skull wanted. Dr. Erskine, another brilliant man ahead of his time, developed the super soldier serum while being held captive by the Red Skull. He told him it wasn't ready, that it was unstable and he didn't know how to fix it, but the Red Skull didn't want to wait and took it anyway, and became the villain we all know and loathe. Dr. Erskine, like Arnim Zola, spent a long period of time exposed to the tesseract. When he escaped HYDRA's hold, he built a machine that shot something he called "Vita Rays". He didn't understand how the machine worked, what the vita rays were or how they would stabilize the serum he created, only that they would. I often wondered, in the years since his death if he didn't write any of it down not just for secrecy, but because he honestly couldn't, because he didn't actually know what he'd done."


"That's… how could you just build stuff and not have any idea how they work?"


"That's what I'm trying to tell you. It's the tesseract. It changes you, or puts information, far beyond what we're currently capable of making or understanding directly into your head, I'm not sure which, or perhaps it's both. I honestly don't know. Your father, much like Zola and Erskine was a brilliant man ahead of his time, but he was also exposed to the tesseract for a good long while. He built the arc reactor after studying it, but wasn't able to get the last part he needed to make it work. He started making all sorts of things after he came in contact with the cube. He told me he had no control over what he made, just what he sold. He often didn't know what he was making until after it was finished and he'd had time to study it a bit to find out its function. A lot of it was small, portable super-weapons. He was often horrified by the things he made and locked them away, but they would get stolen and used regardless, often to terrible effect. He was haunted by this."


Tony felt his world tilt just a bit on its axis. For so long now he measured himself by his father's accomplishments and found himself wanting. The idea that he was a brilliant but normal scientist until a glowy cube started dumping advanced tech into his head made him feel strangely better about things.

"It's a large part of why he was so obsessed with finding Steve." Peggy continued.

Tony went back to assembling the computer parts he'd ordered, as his shoulders and back grew tight. Captain America had been a sore spot with him most of his life. His father never had time for him, but he had all the time in the world to go on endless searches for Captain-Perfect-America-who-is-in-every-way-better-than-you, Tony.


"He told me once, not long after the war ended, that helping create him was one of the only truly good things he'd done. Steve's efforts to rescue our soldiers and drive back HYDRA helped make up for all the evil he'd inadvertently done with the things he kept making that kept getting into the wrong hands. He thought if he could just find and rescue him and set him loose in the world to do good again, and help stop the people who kept trying to get their hands on the things he made it would help balance the scales a bit."


Tony halted in his work again as that sunk in. That was…not at all what he'd been expecting.


"Now I also wonder, if he was in fact getting information from outside himself, if that was why he was so very certain all these years that Steve was alive. If he knew it, it's no wonder he kept going out again and again." Her gaze grew distant and troubled "I loved Steve very much, once upon a time. I believed him dead, and I mourned him terribly. I eventually healed, moved on and lived my life. If I had a certainty, deep in my bones, that he was alive, out there trapped, and needed help, I would never have been able to do that."


Tony stared into the middle distance and imagined if it was Rhodey in that scenario, downed in a plane during a military action, but he himself knew...knew, he was still alive and needed him… that was… Rhodey was-- Rhodey was his best friend, one of the pillars of creation, his rock, his kemosabe! They were Batman and Robin, Tarzan and Jane…no. That would be weird…though he had no doubt Rhodey could rock a fur loincloth if he needed to, but that wasn't the point. What was the point? Oh, right… The point was, if that happened, he'd never be able to walk away and just leave him there either..


Okay, wow. His world view had taken one too many hits that day. Time to venture back onto safer ground.

"So, hey, you never said why you guys needed a super computer. You don't have them already in spy land?"


"Lots of them. Unfortunately, all the key positions to watch over the network and take note of large amounts of information moving around and being gone through are all being staffed by HYDRA. Our loyalist techies have been very carefully poking around, but they can only do so much without it being obvious. I don't really understand all the specifics, but they want a supercomputer that can handle and data mine large amounts of data that isn't on SHIELD's network, so that all the records can be sifted through for evidence of what all HYDRA has been up to. They have some plan to shift bits and pieces around in some fashion so it doesn't look like unusual traffic and sending the bits to you in small batches or something. Arnim Zola has been sitting like a fat, bloated spider in the center of our network for at least twenty years, spreading corruption and rot through the whole organization. We need to move to get hold of whatever information we can before HYDRA makes it all disappear somewhere."


"I figured it was something like that. Just checking. Alright, these bad boys are ready to go…just as soon as I build the electric supply station-slash-heat sink in such a way that the ocean doesn't boil, kill the fish and make the environmentalists sad." he quipped, rolling his eyes.


"It's not really a joking matter. Haven't you been watching the news? Animals large and small have been disappearing world-wide, and no one knows what happened to any of them…not even us. In fact, there are a number of animal lovers amongst our loyalists that are hoping HYDRA has them, still alive, in a secret base somewhere so we can rescue them and return them to the wild."


"You think there's much chance of that?"


"It's a possibility, I suppose, though chances are, if they are behind the disappearances, they've been slaughtered and their parts are being held until the world demand for them causes the black market prices to rise."


"I'm not really a big fan of animals myself. Too…chaotic, messy---fur, slobber and pee everywhere. Ugh. Give me a robot any time. Pepper's upset about it though. I don't know why, really. There's no room for them in the modern age."


"What a terribly sterile world you live in."


"If by sterile you mean no slobber and pee on my shiny floors, then yes. Yes I do. Give me skyscrapers, blinding lights, straight lines and clean surfaces. Race cars, not horse carts."


"Lovely. If you want us all to die. Nature is a bit required so we can all breathe."


"Bah. Hippies have been saying for years that we were all going to die if the trees got cut down. Look around, Aunt Peggy. Most of the forests are gone, gone, gone. I've run the numbers, the bits that are left are in no way enough to actually allow all of us to breathe. They were wrong. It's some other mechanism we haven't discovered yet. Cut them down and put up something useful. That's what I say."


"I don't know…living in a world with nothing but towers of glass, chrome and the cold glow of electric lighting everywhere… it would be rather like living in a refrigerator. Maybe it's simply that I spent my youth in a different era, and in the green rolling hills of England…but the world you paint doesn't sound like a proper place for living beings to flourish."


"Maybe not for the squishy, superstitious troglodytes of ages past. A world of chrome and steel is the world for smart, savvy, technological, superior humans of the future. All the pretty flowers in the world won't get you to the moon and beyond. As for trees…ugh. Have you ever actually tried to walk through a forest? Bleah. I did. Once. Never again. There are bugs in there. Eat you alive. The plants tear at your clothes, try to rip the hair out of your head. Can't walk very far without tripping or needing a machete. Horrible things. Glad we got rid of them. It's really humid in there too. Give me air conditioning or give me death!"


"Have you never looked out over a magnificent view and been awestruck and humbled by the grandeur of nature?"


"Not really. I look out over the ocean, you know what I see? Human progress. The ocean used to be the big, scary unconquerable thing out there. We built boats, we built submarines, we built better boats and subs that could go deeper. Mountains…standing there all smug and impassable. Hah! Humans climb them, level them, hollow them out, every day. Swamps? Drained. Forests? Cut. Lakes, rivers and streams? Dammed, diverted, bent to our will and made to serve us. No, I look out on the grandeur of nature and see a nation conquered. It's all about the future, upwards and onwards."

 

 

 

 

"Okay, you lot, that's enough for tonight."


Across the room, the very tired first and second years fell out of their battle stances and let their swords drop.


"OW. My arms feel funny."


"That's because you just did a thousand reps. I'd be more surprised if they didn't. Now…are all of you going to be little shits again?"


A few of them hurriedly shook their heads no. One little girl frowned thoughtfully and then looked Harry in the eye.


"Probably." she said.


Harry snorted. "Points for honesty. Keep your spats to the common rooms from now on. No duelling in the hallways. If you absolutely must hex each other take it to an empty room so you don't catch innocent bystanders in your scuffles. Leave the door open so you can call for help if you need to. Learned your lesson?"


"Yeah."


"Alright. Take one of the potions on your way out. It'll keep you from being unable to move tomorrow. Put your swords back in the rack on your way out. Go to bed."


"Yeah, yeah."


"Goodnight."


"Can I keep my sword?"
"No. Learn to make your own. You're in magic school for a reason."


"Bye, Harry."


"Goodnight, brats."


"Harry? Are you in…here…" Hermione trailed off as she saw the subdued, exhausted children trooping out one after another.


"HARRY! Have you been running a boot camp again?"


"More like a short prison sentence for little brats that won't stop hexing each other in the hallways. Much more effective than taking points or issuing a standard detention."


"Honestly. For all your griping about us being 'glorified hall monitors' you sure seem to love abusing your new privileges."


"I checked the rule book. There's nothing in there saying I can't put the kids in boot camp for working my last nerve."


"Let's just do our patrol."

 

 

"So…did you get your new mining test group sent off alright?"


"Yeah. I hope my scheme works. I only have a little tiny piece of vibranium, so I had to do a lot of guesswork."


"It absorbs energy, huh?"


"Absorbs and rebounds energy, kinetic energy. So you can imagine that pounding on it or trying to drill it, which would shake everything, wouldn't go well. Even the little piece I have makes quite a boom if you drop it."


"How are you going to get it out then?"


"Unforgivable rock crusher."


"Why that?"


"You come at it sideways and it sort of channels mystical energy--magic. Hit it with a spell meant to shatter rock, it channels it, breaks free of its bindings, the miners carefully pull it free and feed it to the rig and melt it down into manageable bars, then load it in a vibration absorbing cart for transport. We'll see how it goes."


"You should probably stop calling the spells unforgivable whatever. You need a new name for them."


"Why? It's simple, and I can make the test guys, if my scheme works out "Unforgivable Mining, Inc." and dress them all in black and give them little spiked collars. They'll be the bad boys of the mining world. They only mine asteroids that can explode if they make a misstep…they live life on the edge."


"You've thought about this far too much."


"Nah. Top of my head. I'm a disciple of Loki. I'm trying to develop a silver tongue."


"I don't think you need to worry about that."


"I do according to Ginny. She said I'm a grumpy misanthrope that needs to learn to use his words and communicate."


"Oh? And…that's important to you?"


"No. I'm just showing you that you seem to be alone in your estimation. I'm actually quite fine with being a grump, though I don't know that I'm a misanthrope. I like people just fine, except when they're stupid or mean, or working my last nerve, or being evil, or trying to shoot me in the back so they can dump me in a lake because they have a grudge against my dead father. You know, the usual… Why, hello Professor Snape. And how are you this fine evening?"


"Ten points from Gryffindor." Snape sneered as he stalked past.


Hermione waited till he was out of earshot and slapped him in the arm. "Ten points! Why do you provoke him?"


"Check the point tallies in the morning. There won't be any taken. Haven't you noticed the points don't actually go down for half the crap he supposedly takes them for? That's why he gets away with it. He's an enormous troll. Breathing, being a Gryffindor, and existing are not worth points taken, but they're all among his favorite point-taking offenses. Once I realized that, I went and checked the logs. None of that stuff makes it to the count, just actual offenses like being late, missing homework, talking back to a teacher, running or doing magic in the hallways. I had wondered for years why Dumbledore let him get away with so much crap, then I realized Dumbledore is an enormous troll as well."


"What…but…ARGH! That's so unprofessional."


"Eh. Inflicting emotional and psychological trauma on students is a time honored tradition. I suppose teachers have to get their fun somewhere."


A muffled thud reached their ears.


"And speaking of finding one's fun…"


Harry grinned at Hermione, threw open the door of the broom closet and used his wand to make a small 'toot toot toot' like a horn, and then shot out ribbons and confetti that rained down in front of the surprised, embarrassed couple.


"Congratulations! You are the lucky recipients of tonight's dose of…public embarrassment."


"Oh, fuck off, Harry." Seamus groaned. Terry just smiled a bit sheepishly at both of them.


"Curfew started a few minutes ago." Hermione reminded them.


"Go to bed, boys. Your tongues will still be there tomorrow."


Hermione pretended to stare at the nearby portraits in interest as the boys shuffled off to their own dorms, and Harry cleaned up the confetti, then the two of them continued on to the end of the hall.


"And that's it for another night. Time?"


"We're three minutes early. Flitwick should be passing by soon."


"In that case, I'm absolute certain I heard something in here. We'd best investigate."


A few minutes later, Professor Flitwick peeked his head in the door and found them using their wands as flashlights and peering suspiciously into the corners and behind the dusty, stacked-up furniture.


"Everything alright, children?"


"Fine, professor. We were just finishing up our patrol, when we thought we heard something. It must have just been a mouse though. There's no one in here."


"Fair enough. Run along then. Goodnight."


"Good night professor." they chorused.


Flitwick left and saw them cleaning dust off their uniforms in the hallway as he turned the corner to head down to the teacher's lounge for a nightcap. They waited a moment longer and began to saunter off towards Gryffindor, only to turn off and duck behind a tapestry which led to a secret passage down to the third floor, where they emerged behind a statue.


They cautiously peeked their head out into the hall, looked both ways and listened for the patrolling teachers, before darting across the hall, into an empty classroom with an upstairs. They darted across the dusty floor, erasing their tracks as they went and into what had once been the sitting room of teacher's quarters when the classroom was last in use.


The other prefects, head boy and girl were already gathered. Tom had a visor on his head and was shuffling cards. Eugenie Wilks, head girl that year, handed them both a box of Bertie Botts' Every Flavor Beans and a Butterbeer.


"Sorry we're late. Had to wait for Flitwick to leave."


"The rest of us just got here." Padma assured them.


"So, tonight's game is five-card stud, deuces are wild." Tom announced as everyone emptied their box of beans to use for betting.


"Why do we keep having nightly poker games anyway?" Hermione wondered.


"Because we're allowed out after curfew and it would be a waste if we used that privilege only to patrol the halls. It's the principle of the thing." Draco explained.


"To bending the rules." Ernie McMillan toasted, holding up his bottle.


"To bending the rules!" the rest chorused.

 

 

 

"Ah, there you are Filius. The elves brought us a rather delightful hot toddy and some chocolate dipped biscuits tonight." Sprout greeted him upon arrival.


"Lovely." Flitwick responded as he took his seat.


"So, are the prefects at their secret nightly poker game that none of us know about?" Dumbledore wondered. Remus chuckled nostalgically.


"Safe and sound." McGonagall replied, voice dry.


"Oh, good. I do so like to see children having fun."


"Little brats." Snape grumbled from the corner.


"Ah, Severus. Always so charming." Slughorn sighed.

Chapter Text

"I really am sorry, guys. I didn't think about chain reactions. Don't worry though. Vince and Greg are the best in the business." Harry said mournfully.

"Yeah, They'll have you all fixed up before you know it." Ron nodded, solemn.

Vince and Greg nodded, and smiled reassuringly.

Whoo oo whoo oo whoo oo

"Ah, look, there's the ambulance now. Just let them take care of you from here." Vince told them.

A dozen medic action figures poured out of the back of the newly arrived ambulance and began loading the battered and traumatized miners onto gurneys so they could be loaded for transport. As the last were loaded in, the ambulance took off, to the other side of the large table on which the action figure village was kept, stopping in front of the building marked 'hospital', which was actually a machine to swipe the action figure's memories, store it, and imprint it on new, functional bodies. The damaged bodies were melted down and reforged into new action figures and loaded into the machine to be reused later. Elsewhere in the village, workmen were putting up a memorial to the 'mining disaster of '95', (next to one that commemorated the other mining disaster of '95, when alien snake-things attacked and ate several miners on 'the one that has Scandium'). They hadn't thought to think of actual names for the asteroids they'd been sending the miners to.

The crowd that had been gathered around the table drifted off once the action figures started being loaded into the 'hospital'.

"So…what exactly happened to them?" Hannah wanted to know.

"I'm an idiot, that's what. I didn't think things through all the way...or I was thinking like a muggle rather than a wizard. Yeah, the vibranium channeled a spell to break it free from its surroundings, but the kinetic energy from the explosion then hit the rest of the vibranium, which it absorbed and flung back out, which caused a chain reaction, and long story short, a section of the asteroid exploded, along with all of them."

"You should have had them channel a vanishing spell on the surrounding rock."

"Well, yeah, I realize that now. Now, the good news is that the disaster protocol kicked in on the ship and sent out the call to gather the miners-- Good work on that, Hermione. They were so focused on 'get vibranium' that it worked out strangely well, so it wasn't a wasted trip, even with the explosion."

"What did they do?"

"They all latched on to the nearest chunk of vibranium as it went hurtling by them as they all tumbled through the void. When the ship called them back, several good sized chunks of vibranium went with them. Now, I say it worked out well, and it did, but at that point they were supposed to be focused on containing the disaster as best they could, but once again we've kind of run in to the limits of their capacities. It seems a lot of the other stuff we tried to add it got lost when a whole new way of mining was put in. Has there been any progress on making them a group mind of some sort that has more capacity?"

"Well, not really. We were working on it for a while, and we did get the 'give them new programming on the fly' part to work, but we still had to do it manually, it didn't just kick in as we'd kind of hoped we could get it to do." Cedric admitted.

"What we had worked well enough for the moment, so we ended up setting it to the side to focus on getting the mining operation underway and for me, watching SHIELD."

"We can start up again…though I'm taking my NEWTs this year. I won't have a whole lot of time to work on it." Cedric added.

"I'm taking OWLs, but I can try to devote some free time here and there as well." Hermione offered.

"You should see if you can get leave to scan the Sorting Hat. You looked at portraits some. Maybe if you can find the commonalities it will give you the key to a responsive, large-capacity, learning system." Luna suggested.

"That's not a bad idea. If we can figure out the mechanism by which they share information with one another, we might be able to get the disaster scenarios to kick in on their own, without need for us to manually reprogram them in the middle of the night." Lee mused. "Damn NEWTs. I'm not going to have a lot of free time to devote either, but if we take turns when we can…"

"We'll hopefully have the system we wanted before too many more disasters strike." Bernard finished.

 

"Hello everyone. Who wants to see our latest merchandise?" George asked the crowd as he and Fred rolled a covered cart out.

"Sure. What've you got?"

"TA DA!" the twins chorused, whipping off the cover. Underneath were a bunch of small cages, each with a different colored furball inside.

"Pygmy Puffs! Get them in your favorite color!"
"They're fluffy! They purr…"
"…they won't run off, you can always find them where you left them!"
"They'll eat your bogies while you're sleeping!"
"Some people don't consider the last a selling point…"
"…but just wait till allergy season, and you'll change your mind!"

Several of the girls went 'AWWWWW!' and hurried forward to see. Tom pursed his lips.

"Did you get a license for experimental breeding?"

"Yeah. Dad took care of it. The guy that runs the office owed him a favor."

"Oh good. In that case, I want the pink one."

"I want it!" Parvati complained.

"We do have more of them."

"Yeah. Keep your knickers on. We have that one which is medium, bubblegum pink, we have a hot pink one, and a light."

"I want the light pink." Tom spoke up first.

"I'll take the hot pink." Parvati asserted.

"Poor little guy. First they're fighting over you, then you just get passed over. Don't worry, you'll like it in Hufflepuff." Susan told the pink one on the table, before glaring at the other two.

"Gabrielle?" Harry asked Tom curiously.

"Yep. Fleur was complaining that she had no idea what to get her for her birthday."

"You never bought me any cute furry animals." Harry complained.

"We've a whole biodome full. Get yourself a little tiger. We have plenty."

"Here you go. One light pink pygmy puff." Fred said as he returned. He handed the small cage to Tom before heading over to give Parvati hers.

"Have you brought me a snack?"

"I'll get you a nice, juicy mouse later, Nagini"

"It smells juicy. I want that."

"No."

"Mean."

"What is this? Gang up on Tom day?"

"Don't be silly, my Tom."

"Yeah, really. Every day is gang up on Tom day." Harry added.

"SssSsssSsssSsss"

"Hee hee."

Tom glared at them both as they started giggling.

Draco pouted as he turned away from the three of them.

"It's not fair. It's supposed to be a universal translator."

 

"Tomorrow and finally, Hogsmeade weekend is here." Ginny said cheerfully as she bounced into place and settled beside Hermione on the floor near the fire. "I can't wait. We'll have the game, in which I will utterly crush and destroy Malfoy once and for all, and then we can all go down to the village to celebrate Gryffindor's victory."

"Personally I can't believe the first one is here so fast. It doesn't seem possible that we've been here for nearly eight weeks already. I guess it just shows how busy they've been keeping us. I was hoping to spend the day with Viktor, but he has to leave early, and I don't know when I'll be getting there, what with the game and all."

Ginny grunted sympathetically. "At least you'll actually have your date, even if it isn't long."

"Not going with Harry?" Hermione asked neutrally.

"He said he had other obligations that day. One of Loki's kids is having a baby or something and they're throwing her a baby shower. I told him I could come with him, but he said it was family only." she complained, while watching Hermione deftly fill in her homework. "You know, I'll be glad to be done with essays next year, but I can't say those long question sheets look like much more fun." Ginny noted, grimacing when Hermione turned to the last page and she saw there were a hundred questions in all.

"They're not. They take for bloody ever, for one thing." Ron added.

"You have to look up a lot of stuff. More than you do for the essays they usually give you, which are usually about just one thing or a narrow subject." Lavender agreed. "And they're long. I'm going to have ugly claw hands long before the OWLs actually get here."

"Tell me about it." Parvati grumbled from nearby on the couch.

"And….done!" Hermione chirped "I'm free and clear for the weekend!"

"Wish I had your memory" Parvati sighed.

"Or cared what stuff was called so that good memory would be of use." Ron agreed.

"Get a pensieve brain." Harry suggested. He had just arrived from his latest boot camp, in time to hear their complaints. He plopped down in the empty seat on the couch, between Parvati and Neville.

"Hey, mate. How was boot camp?" Neville asked.

"Ah, it was good. Oh, spread the word that I had to put a row of stepping stones through the middle of the swamp in the training room; apparently the water is over the first years heads otherwise."

"Harry…" Hermione sighed.

"What?"

"What's a pensieve brain? If it's some kind of magic item it won't do us much good for OWLs; you're not allowed to take anything in with you." Parvati noted.

"No, well, yeah, a pensieve is a magical item, but Tom thinks they're unsanitary so he just carved the runes directly into my skull."

There was a long beat of rather appalled silence.

"Damn, mate, you guys are hard core." Ron noted.

 

 

"Well met, good Heimdall, valiant watcher of the bridge! Have you seen our wayward prince by any chance? We have sought hither and yon, and yet no sight of him have we had." Fandral announced mournfully.

"Tis true; he is nowhere to be found! He dwells not in the feasting hall or the tavern…" Volstagg agreed.

"Nor yet in the training yard or amongst the beauteous ladies of the court." Fandral added.

"Nor does he stand in attendance upon the All-Father." Hogun agreed gravely.

"Was he send upon some quest or errand that we were unaware of?" Sif demanded.

"He's in the library." Heimdall replied, his golden gaze never leaving the far reaches of space.

"We are not looking for Loki, we wish to find Thor!"

"My hearing is as good as my eyesight; the crown prince is in the archives, where he has been since your band was sent to the bog. Seek him there if you would find him."

"Thor? In the library? With Loki, I assume?"

"Nay, the younger prince is visiting elsewhere, as is princess Sigyn."

"I see. Thank you, good watchman."

The warriors began the trek back to the city, puzzled in the extreme.

"Why would Thor be hiding in the library of all places?" Volstagg wondered.

"Loki probably cursed him and refused to remove it." Hogun the grim said, well, grimly.

"Were that the case, would not the queen simply do so?" Fandral sighed.

"Peace, friends! We shall simply ask when we see him." Sif said with determination.

 

All four were rather uneasy in the library--it was quiet as a tomb, with naught but a few old scholars, and a few clerks of the court shambling amongst its confines. They, in their armor and weaponry were, they sensed, an unusual and unwelcome intrusion into this world of the bookish and cowardly. Fandral made inquiries and they were led by a soft spoken, soft-footed maiden to the deepest archives. They found Thor there, ensconced at a table, surrounded by books. He looked as unhappy to be there as they might have expected; his head was in his hands as he bent over the large text he seemed to be primarily focused on, though he stopped occasionally to consult one or another of the other large tomes that lay spread across the rest of the table, open at different sections.

"THOR!"

"SHHHH!" their guide hissed in affront. "You stand now in a house of learning. Have some care for the other patrons!"

"That will be all, woman. We've no further need of you." Sif said impatiently, waving her off.

"No need to be rude, Sif. Thank you, my lady for your gracious guidance. We will try to be quieter from here on out; we were simply cheered to see our beloved companion after a lengthy separation. Do forgive us." Fandral simpered, before bowing with elaborate courtesy over her hand and kissing the back of it.

"Do spare me your flattery, sir, simply behave with more decorum whilst within these halls, and there should be no need of forgiveness. Are you in any need of assistance, my prince, before I go? It is just that, your brother asked all of us to look in on you from time to time…"

"Mayhaps you can indeed. Do you know what this is? I have looked, but I know not where in this maze of paper and ink to begin my search. I have skimmed the books it says are needed for understanding but…"

"May I?" she inquired, taking the book he'd been reading and turning it to face her. Her eyes skimmed lightly over the text, which the Warriors Three and Sif could all see was a thin block of words, while the remainder was all arcane symbolism. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open in a small 'o' and she eagerly continued reading, flipping to the next page.

"You understand it. Can you explain it to me? Simply?"

The librarian blinked, glanced up and smiled sheepishly.

"I do beg your pardon. Oh, yes…to explain simply… Um, before I do so, might I enquire what wondrous item of power this tome describes?"

"Tis Mjolnir." Thor explained, hefting his warhammer.

Her shoulders slumped and her face fell into a disappointed pout. "I do not know why I am surprised. Tis truly a one-of-a-kind item indeed."

"Why did you wish to know?" Hogun inquired suspiciously.

"I wanted it for myself, of course! Why, if these calculations are true, in my hands… think what grand workings I could do, secrets I could discover, with such a tool!"

"Speak plainly, woman!" Sif sighed impatiently. "Answer your prince's question!"

"Patience, Sif." Thor reprimanded quietly. "My lady, if you would continue?"

"O-of course. My apologies. These equations are representations of power capacities and fatigue trajectories for an average sorceress unaided… while this represent the power capacity of Mjolnir, and as you can see…"

"What nonsense do you speak?" Sif interrupted again.

The librarian visibly restrained her annoyance. "Though warrior I am not, such an item in my hands would give me the power to lay waste to an army."

The Warriors Three blanched, while Sif simply scoffed and started looking annoyed. The librarian rubbed her head and tried to think of another way to explain.

"If you were to head into a battle, Lady Sif, against a fearsome army that stretched to the horizon, tell me, would you charge in directly and in a frenzy, spend all your stamina in the first minutes of the battle?"

"Of course not. Even a novice in the arts of war knows better. Tis no shame to die in battle, but you must give your all and do your best to achieve all objectives first, not heedlessly throw away your life and your sword."

"Tis no different for a sorceress. Though it may not be as obvious from without, a sorceress bleeds away her strength in proportion to the amount of power she channels and the strength and complexity of the workings she creates. In order to accomplish some great working, one needs to roughly calculate how much of one's strength it will require to achieve it, and if that lays beyond one's ability to accomplish in a single sitting, one must then figure out how to break it down to smaller parts that can be accomplished more easily. Items of power are sought and coveted because they allow one to channel far in excess of what one could normally accomplish, and thus achieve great feats without cost to one's self, nor need to endlessly rework one's plans and wishes until they can reasonably be accomplished. The Bifrost is a prime example of a great work that was created with the aid of such an item. It is for this reason they are not easily found or acquired for the most part."

She glanced down at the book again, and ran her hand lightly down the page she'd just read. "An item such as this, which has not only the ability to channel power in such excess to the wielder's own abilities, but has numerous and specific functions already built in is a rare treasure."

"How do you know it has such powers?" Hogun demanded.

The librarian sighed. "Mjolnir is well known to allow the wielder to channel lightning and allow one who holds it to fly. Those are simple enough powers to explain, simple enough that it would not take a tome of this size to list them, therefore it has other powers beyond that." she explained impatiently, riffling the pages. She stopped halfway through the book and read what was within with curiosity. "Such as warding off the undead, apparently."

"Thor! You know what this means! We can safely brave the caverns of the Necromancer

"A worthy quest!"

"To battle!"

"Please! You are all still in the library!"

 

 

"And it's another save by Gryffindor's new keeper, Ron Weasley. This is his debut game, but he is on fire!...Slytherin has the quaffle, Gryffindor saves, nice teamwork from Gryffindor's lovely chasers Johnson, Spinnet and Bell…"

"Who knew forcing Ron to make all those speeches would have this kind of effect." Dean marveled.

"Yeah. His stage fright used to be really terrible, but look at him now. If he can sustain this kind of performance for his remaining years in Hogwarts, I could easily see him getting recruited for a reserve position somewhere right out of Hogwarts." Seamus agreed.

"He'll probably only do it if it's the Chudley Cannons. He'd be too conflicted to play a good game for anyone else." Harry noted.

"Has anyone spotted the snitch yet? I would like to get to Hogsmeade before it gets too late." Hermione sighed.

"Not yet. It's over by the Slytherin goals right now. Draco's circling up high and Ginny circled past right before it got there."

Hermione peered over at the goals in interest, but couldn't spot the elusive golden snitch.

"How'd you even see it?"

"I've been keeping track of it most of the match. Habit, I guess."

"Oh! I think Ginny's seen it!"

"Just in time. Looks like Draco did too."

"It just darted off. That turn is going to cost him…"

"He recovered pretty quickly; they're almost neck and neck…"

"No, Ginny's got the lead there, just enough."

"REACH HARDER!" Hermione growled.

"And Gryffindor gets the snitch! Gryffindor wins, 380 to 100! Gryffindor WINS!"

"Finally!" Hermione huffed, as she cheered along with the rest. "Ron really did very well, didn't he?"

"Yeah. He's probably going to be insufferable for a while." Harry laughed.

Hermione groaned and laughed as well. "He really will, won't he?"

"Be prepared to hear a blow-by-blow account of the game from now until the next one."

"Joy. Why do you have your broom with you?"

"I'm going to Hogsmeade. I told Ron earlier I wasn't going to bother waiting for the carriages. Why? Want to come with?"

"Yes. Viktor should have arrived by now, but he can't stay for too long--he has another game soon and has to meet his team by two."

"Ah. That's why you were so impatient. This wasn't a particularly long game. I had wondered about that, though I should have guessed--Bulgaria is playing England today. Well, hop on."

 

As the two of them drew near the village, Harry spotted a photographer and what was obviously a reporter. The reporter nudged the photographer, who began snapping photos, while the reporter began hungrily scribbling notes.

"Bloody hell."

"What?"

"What do you want to bet she's writing something like "Viktor Krum: betrayed?"

"She'd better not be."

Harry brought them in to a landing nearby, where they were immediately accosted by a woman who was obviously planning to follow in Rita Skeeter's sleazy footsteps.

"Why hello children. Hot date? Ah, young love, so impetuous, caught up in the moment, no concern for consequences." she gushed, sounding almost giddy.

"I wouldn't know, given I'm currently unattached. If you want to know about young love, talk to my friend here, and Viktor of course…her fiancé. In fact, there he is right now. Hey, Viktor."

"Hello. I vas not expecting you to arrive so quickly. I heard the cheering and thought it would be another hour." Viktor greeted, while side-eyeing the reporter. "I vas window shopping and saw the broom."

"Yeah, took the short cut. Oh, hey, these nice people want to know about impetuous young love that fears no consequences, from the two of us, for some strange reason." Harry said brightly.

"Yah, so I figured. We have such vultures in Bulgaria too." Viktor nodded, before plucking the reporter's notes from her hand and offering Hermione his arm. "Zhey always forget they have to sign contract if they want to report on me outside of quidditch. Is bad idea, just so you know. My manager, he hates lies and loves lawsuits. Very expensive."

"Sounds like quite a guy. Well, you two impetuous kids have fun now."

Hermione just waved goodbye as she was giggling too much to talk.

"Thanks a lot, brat." the reporter sniffed.

"You should be thanking me." Harry nodded. "I just kept you from making a mistake, printing a pack of lies and becoming the target of a lawsuit-happy Bulgarian quidditch manager."

"You owe me a story."

"I'm still underage. If you want to write a story about me you can ask dear old dad, who it turns out also likes lawsuits and is standing right behind you, along with my sister and brother in law…and of course my future niece or nephew. Say hi, why don't you?"

The reporter glanced behind her, rolling her eyes, obviously believing him to be lying for some reason. She blanched and backed up a few steps when she found Hela--complete with new elaborate headdress, seven foot tall and visibly pregnant, and of course Gurg, her hubby, who was probably about eight foot tall and had horns, and of course Loki who while only about 6'4 made up the difference with his own horns…his helmet, that is. All three were smiling pleasantly, but with that group, it wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring.

The reporter smiled nervously, turned to her photographer, then blanched when she realized he'd decided to make his escape while no one was watching him.

"Hah, hah…lovely day, isn't it? I just remembered I had an appointment. Maybe another time, yeah? Lovely to meet you all." she laughed, before making her own getaway.

"Goodness, doth we offend?" Loki said sarcastically.

"I think you doth intimidated. That was fun." Harry chortled.

Tom landed with his own broom a moment later--unlike Harry he'd taken the time to go preen in the mirror and splash on a bit of cologne since Fleur was going to be there. He looked around at all their grinning faces.

"What did I miss?"

 

"Team Alpha, are you ready to go?" the portrait of former Unspeakable Bode (grandfather of the current Bode) asked the group of Unspeakables currently dressed like SHIELD field agents.

"Yeah, chief."

"Good. Captain America and his strike force have just about cleared the HYDRA base. You all know where you have to go and have your checklist of things to retrieve. Everything you get now is one less thing we have to retrieve from SHIELD before we leave."

"It's real nice of that Pierce guy to send his folks out to do most of the work for us. I don't get it though-- I thought he was HYDRA."

"He is, and he's a true believer in law and order--his brand of it, of course. He's a bit of a control freak, that one. That's how they recruited him. They promised that their ultimate goal was to restore order to the world and destroy the chaotic elements ruining it for everyone else. What they didn't tell him was that yes, that was their goal, to instill their brand of order--but in order to do so they've been funding all the "chaotic elements". Most of the cruel dictatorships, the terrorist cells that seem to pop up everywhere, the mad scientists, you name it--all or most of them find their ultimate origins in HYDRA. We simply arranged for him to find that part out, some of it at least. We hope to keep this going for a while, after all, to give ourselves time. He's gotten a certain ironic thrill from sending Captain America out to take out his HYDRA rivals, while he himself, another HYDRA agent, calls the shots. He thinks it is just someone trying to undermine him and take the glory for themselves though. He still doesn't seem to quite accept that this is simply their modus operandi, and that he only knows the smallest portion of their misdeeds thus far."

"If they want to bring order why do that?"

"To justify the spread of SHIELD, of course. More soldiers, more weapons, more surveillance, because they need them to find and put down the chaotic elements before innocent people are hurt. The innocent people are worried and afraid and so say --yes, build more weapons, take our freedoms, just keep us safe-- until one day they'd realize that they created a monster whose ultimate goal was not their safety, but their own power. Sadly, the innocents that handed them the means to do so are now just disposable cogs in their world-domination scheme; only valuable in so far as they are useful fodder for their own ends, but otherwise disposable. It's despicable, but it's hardly new or innovative. It's the same stale, old evil-overlord tropes on a grand scale, with higher-tech weapons." Bode sighed. "Ah, there's the signal. You know what to do."

"We're on it."

 

The group portkeyed out to a protected location, where they met their inside man, who directed them to hurry into the transport that was waiting. Actual SHIELD agents were waiting within, all with glassy eyes and a vacant look on their faces.

"They'll remember that you all got on the truck with the rest of us at the base. Don't worry about it."

The new arrivals shrugged and took seats among those waiting. After a few minutes of travel, the SHIELD agents seem to come out of the fog they'd been in. One or two of them frowned and shook their heads as though trying to dislodge a stray thought, but the rest just sighed and settled in for a long ride to the hidden HYDRA base.

"This is so weird, isn't it?" one of the recruits spoke up as the base came in to view a good hour later. "HYDRA, I mean. They were supposed to be dead and gone."

"So was Captain America."

"Yeah. I guess. It's like the frickin' end times-- folks coming back from the dead, along with the evil organizations they fought."

"Relax, bro. If it was the end times, a lot more shit would be on fire."

"Or frozen."

"Heh?"

"The world ends in fire and ice."

"Just fire. Armageddon, man."

"Fire and ice. Ragnarok."

"Ragnarok. You some kind of freaky pagan or some shit?"

"My ancestors were Norse. Just following the teachings of my people."

"The Norse cast aside their false gods and repented and sought the true god."

"Not mine. My family were…traditionalists, I guess you could say. Both sides. My mum's family are Druids."

"Fucking heretics! What the hell, man? Hey, Sarge, since when do we recruit heretics?"

"Don't look at me. I'm Muslim. As far as I'm concerned, you're a heretic too." The Sergeant said calmly.

"I'm Jewish." one of the other men added.

"Buddhist here."

"What about the rest of you?"

"Christian."

"Same here."

"Me too."

The remaining wizards shrugged.

"Sorry, mate. We're pagans too."

"WHAT? WHAT! That can't be right! How the fuck do we have more heretics in this group than God-fearing men? You lot were defeated and laid low by the one true god of all, saw the error of your ways and came into the light."

"I'm sure many did." one of the wizards agreed mildly. "Though considering the alternative was to be burnt as a witch, I suppose you can see why that might have been. In any case, for the majority of the uneducated masses, not much changed--Christianity adopted many of the same holidays and practices that their pagan forebears already had. For the rest of us, well, we've never been as enamored of martyrs as the early Christians were."

"Your people were cowards you mean. If you believe you should shout it from the rooftops; the fact you don't means even you know you follow false gods."

"If one is content in one's beliefs and practices, they have no need to shout it, nor has it ever been our way to convert by fire or the sword. There are many gods, and to us a difference of opinion is not a killing offense."

"You listen here, you heretic bitch…"

"Yo, god-boy. We're here. Save it for church on Sunday." Sarge called out.

"This isn't over. We're going to finish this when the mission is done."

"We'll all be leaving once the mission is done. It's Lughnasadh, after all."

"The hell you say? Loo-whatsit?"

"MOVE OUT!"

 

"Time for presents!"

"I like presents." Hela agreed.

"Here you go, my dear." Loki offered up his gift first.

Hela opened the box and smirked, rolling her eyes as she withdrew a tiny horned helmet.

"Thank you, mother."

"Loki, really." Sigyn sighed quietly. Her own gift was a protective amulet that drove off evil influences for the first year of life.

Remus and Barty both offered cute stuffed animals.

"It's not much, but it does give off a calming aura to help a fussy baby get to sleep." Remus explained as Hela examined the plush wolf.

"Mine does a squiggly dance." Barty bragged.

"A squiggly dance?" Tom asked with a sigh.

Barty's gift was a large plush snake that slithered and looped on command.

"See? Squiggly dance. It also plays music."

He tapped in on the head and the sound of drums and a wailing guitar sounded through the room.

"Is that the Dire Warlocks?" Sirius asked.

"Yeah, "Lullabye of Death" from their last album. Seemed fitting."

"Nice."

Hela took the snake, petted it a bit and let the sound keep playing--it was kind of catchy.

"This is from me and Tom and also the folks at the Garden." Harry offered up the next gift. This time the box had an expanded inside and was full of baby clothes with matching blankets and furs.

"We and the enchanters group worked on those. Since we're not sure which side of the family the baby will favor, they've been spelled to adjust quite a bit."

"Yeah--horns, horse, giant snake or wolf, humanoid with no horns…there's quite a bit of variation to consider." Harry agreed.

"We tried to find zhe nice balance between practical and stylish for zhe leetle prince." Fleur offered.

Hela held up a fur-trimmed onesie with a hood and cooed.

"This is from me." Sirius offered. He presented a very large bassinette that hovered in place and would rock gently upon a baby being set inside.

Luna, Colin and Dennis who had also been invited, presented a mobile that sparkled, played soft music and changed shape.

"Well…thank you, everyone. I really appreciate it, as I'm sure will the little one, whenever he or she decides to finally make an appearance."

"You're quite welcome. Can I ask, though, are you not at all concerned with bringing a child into the world with Ragnarok looming over everyone? I'm sure our readers will like to know." Luna inquired.

"Ragnarok is a bit further off than that. Odin stopped by last week and smashed the ships of the dead. We're going to have to start all over."

"Is he allowed to do that?"

"Eh. All's fair when the end of the world is at stake. He stops by every two hundred years or so. It's going to take a while to even get started again this time. The finger and toenails of the dead make for fairly robust building material, though of course we have to do a lot to them to make them into pieces large enough to build with. We're going to have to build up a new stockpile before we can start building again though. Odin and his warriors completely pulverized the ships. Darn…if only the my own warriors hadn't of been on the other side of the realm when they arrived, perhaps we could have salvaged something. Oh well." Hela said wryly.

"Good to know. I'm sure our readers will be relieved as well."

"No one's actually looking forward to Ragnarok. We know it will happen someday, because it has been spoken…but just because you have a destiny doesn't mean you have to march off immediately to your doom. That would just be silly. All is well in the nine realms; it would be a terrible waste to destroy it all just because some old nasty head said so."

"I couldn't agree more."

"Hmmm…you should probably warn your readers not to go experimenting with shipbuilding with nails. Destiny is a funny thing sometimes. Let them know I'll be quite put out if they accidentally set off Ragnarok while my baby is still a baby."

"Good point. I'll be sure to mention it."

 

 

"Full marks. If you can do that consistently for the next month, we may have found our pilot." Head Unspeakable Lovegood said with satisfaction.

"Good work there, Quickdraw."

"Albin, your marks are nearly as good, so if you can keep it up, you'll be the designated co-pilot."

"Atta boy, Albie."

"The changes you lot made to the simulators made all the difference. We were flying 'em like we were on a broom, not like we were guiding a monstrous huge jellyfish."

"Manta ray, actually."

"Whatever. Some kind of sea creature. What's with the ocean theme anyway?"

"Children designed the ships. I thought it rather poetic, myself--sailing off into a sea of stars and what have you." Lovegood chuckled. "In any case, between this and how quickly the ship is shaping up, we might actually be able to launch all of you in late spring, and start sending the first teams across this summer rather than this fall, which is good news for all of us."

"Spring, really?" Mad-eye said in surprise.

"Given how quickly the ship is coming together, we've recalculated the completion date. You've all done so much better on the upgraded simulators that we see no reason you can't set off once it's up and ready. You've all been quite diligent in your studies and practices so far and have mastered everything we've put before you more quickly than estimated. Yes, if all continues on track, I could actually see you heading out in the spring. We'll see. Now that you've all gotten the hang of piloting the ship in optimal conditions, we're going to start introducing a few disaster scenarios. If you can keep your scores high even in less than optimal conditions, then yes, I'm quite ready to give you the go-ahead once the ship is completed, which it seems will be sooner than we'd dared to hope."

"Damn. Will all your teams be ready in time if the schedule has been moved up so much?"

"They should be. If they're not, it just means you'll have more time to test the place before they start showing up. With that thought in mind, let's get another run-through on setting up and programming the gateway. Practice makes perfect."

"Again? At the rate we're going we'll be able to do it in our sleep."

"Exactly. The better prepared I can make all of you, the more smoothly this entire undertaking should go…which reminds me, you'll be taking classes with healers from St. Mungo's for a bit. It will be just all of you and the ship until the gateway gets set up and operational. We want you all to be as safe and prepared as we can make you. Whoever does best in the classes will be the designated medic, but we want to be sure that you all can fix up any injuries or sickness just in case. Now that you've gotten the hang of piloting I'll scale back these sessions to once a week and your medical training can take the empty slots." she noted, making a notation on the clipboard she always seemed to have with her. "Once that's done, we might send you out to practice testing the air, soil and water--some hands on experience to go along with your classroom time…. I should probably have you all spend the day with some of the farmers working on the vertical farms, and have some of the enchanters go over the schematics with you, and maybe do the same with the ship. If anything should go wrong with either, it would be best if you had a good understanding of them and were able to do repairs on site. I wonder if I should have the machine shop make you a smaller version of the machines manufacturing the ship parts to take with you so you can make new parts on site if necessary?"

The would-be astronauts traded a glum look with one another as they listened to the Unspeakable mutter to herself. It seemed that, even with the timeline possibly moving up a few months, that their course load wasn't going to get any lighter; if anything it seemed they were going to have as much crammed into their skulls between now and liftoff as the Unspeakables could manage.

"Bloody hell. Spring can't get here soon enough."

"Hear, hear" the rest muttered.

Chapter Text

"Unspeakable Croaker? You have news?"

"We just concluded the squib trials for project rebirth part two. We'd like permission to move on to wizard trials."

"You've had some success?" head Unspeakable Lovegood asked hopefully.

"I think these will speak for themselves." Croaker grinned, handing over several files.

Lovegood opened the top file and gasped at the before and after photos, then fell to reading eagerly.

"This is incredible: overall increase in physical health and fitness…" she trailed off and reread the section she was on just to be sure she wasn't imagining things.
"The squibs are now able to use magic?" she asked quietly. If it was true, Croaker had found the holy grail of wizard kind.

"Yes." he agreed. "They're not the strongest wizards and witches, any of them, but they can use magic, enough for basic charms and the smaller, easier transfigurations. All of them are able to understand their kneazles and half-kneazle cats better as well. They already had magic, that's why they're squibs not muggles, but it was too weak to really do anything with. The serum strengthened that weak base enough to push them up to the category of low-end wizards rather than squibs."

"Amazing. What about the personality warping noted in the other serums the muggles used?" she then demanded.

"There was some amplification, but it was very minor. We kept the trials going on for a few months to track any long term alterations. It seems the personality warping was because the muggles were using an incomplete serum. The perfected serum seems to lack that aspect, at least so far as we were able to ascertain in our study. They're fitter, healthier, show increased memory retention and stronger magic. If it works the same on wizards, we may have actually done it."

Lovegood nodded. "Do it…but try to recruit low-end wizards. I don't want us to unleash a Voldemort level wizard on the populace during these trials."

"I was thinking of recruiting from among the nomads. They're poor, mostly unschooled, generally of low or average magical strength."

"Aren't a lot of them thieves? Do we really want to give folks like that such a boon?"

"They're not bad people, not really. They're poor wanderers--most can't afford to go to Hogwarts, so they would pass down the odd bit of knowledge along with any spare wands they had lying around to their children. Ministry OWL tests cost money, which they don't have, and they don't see the point of spending so "the man" can tell them they're allowed to be wizards. The ministry cracked down on them a lot in the years since Secrecy. Most of them had their wands confiscated at one point or another, so there were fewer wands to pass down, fewer jobs they could do… it's a cycle they can't really get out of. They do odd jobs, the odd bit of poaching and the occasional petty thievery, but they don't really have many options. I was thinking of offering a choice of a small stipend or a chance to take ministry OWL tests free of charge to any applicants. Anyone who opts for the OWLs can get wand rights, a better paying job if they want, and can fix up their battered old motor homes and wagons, give the rest of them a slightly better life."

"If they're as poor as you say, they'll all likely opt for the stipend."

"Most will, but they travel in family groups, usually an extended kin network spread across five or six conveyances. We need both males and females of all age groups for a good test group. They're uneducated for the most part, but they're not stupid. I'm certain they'll recognize the opportunity being offered to them. I've no doubt they'll put forth whichever candidates they think have the best chance of passing the tests, while the rest collect the stipend."

"Alright. That covers the pureblood wizards. To have a proper wizarding trial, we need to recruit a group of halfbloods and muggleborn as well. If there is to be unexpected side-effects or variations, it could be expected most among them, I would think. How certain are you of your serum?"

"I'm very confident. After what happened to that poor bastard the last time we tried this, I wouldn't be willing to open it up to wide human trials if I wasn't."

"Very well. Make it so."

"Thank you, chief."

 

 

Ginny slowed to a halt as she entered the common room and tried not to laugh at all the fifth years that were draped across the floor and the furniture, groaning, looking shell-shocked or asleep on one another's shoulders and drooling.
She settled on the arm of Hermione's chair--she was both awake and seemed to be feverishly checking a stack of books for answers.

"Good lord, what's with you lot?" she asked.

"Exams, obviously. We had practice OWLs to see how prepared we are for testing at the end of the year. Damn it! I did use the wrong kanji there…" Hermione muttered distractedly.

"They were really that bad?" Ginny asked slowly. "Where are the NEWT kids?"

"They crawled up to their beds, crying, an hour ago." Hermione answered absently, checking a new book.

"They were actually crying?" Ginny laughed, sounding dubious.

"Some of them, aye." Seamus Finnegan murmured from where he was splayed out in front of the fire. "Poor bastards."

"Damn."

"All I can say is thank goodness I'm not going for twelve. I'm exhausted with just nine." Lavender said petulantly. "You know, I was going to spend some time at headquarters over the break, but I'm not sure I will now. I think I need an actual vacation."

"You and me both. We're going to India anyway. I wouldn't be able to even if I wanted." Parvati agreed.

"You can see how they've been preparing for the move. I'm kind of curious about that. We know some of what's been going on here. I have no idea what any of the other countries are doing, if they're doing anything." Neville said in interest.

"I'm sure China and India must at least be doing something. They're to be the two countries vacated first." Hermione objected.

"What? Why? Why aren't we going first?" Ron wondered.

"Because there's a lot more people in those countries. They'll take the longest."

"I thought we were going this summer though?"

"The pre-colonization crews are going, not the whole population. We're going to have to go to China to leave, and we'll come back to China when we return and have to travel back here to get to school in the fall." Harry spoke up.

"You're all going to another planet this summer?! How do I get in on this?!" Ginny shrieked.

"We might be." Harry cautioned. "Originally it was all set for fall, but they think the time-table can be moved up a bit. If there are any setbacks, or if things don't go as quickly as they're hoping, the crews will still be going in the fall, and we'll all just have to wait until it's our turn to cross over with everyone else."

"You can't go, Gin." Ron scoffed.

Hermione put a hand on her arm to stop her when it looked like she might go over and kick her brother.

"You can ask Professor Sprout or Flitwick if either of them needs another pair of hands. If their crews are already full, one of their colleagues might have an opening left."
Ginny nodded and rose to go.

"I'll do that."

"It will mean more studying…and you'll have to get your parents' permission to go." Harry warned her on her way out.

"I'd like to see them try to stop me." the girl muttered as she marched out.

"Is she actually going to be able to find a spot with anyone? Our group, if we actually get to go, is a bit of an oddball. Sprout and Flitwick, and likely the rest, are all stocking their teams with folks studying for masteries, or newly graduated with lots of NEWTS." Parvati wondered.

"If they tell her no, it's them telling her no, not us." Hermione shrugged.

"Ah. Good point."

 

"Nice slippers."

Hermione glanced down at the cat-head slippers she was wearing and grinned.

"Present from my dad for my birthday. I like your bear feet." she added, laughing.

"Present from Sirius. I guess it's no real surprise they seem to have become buds."

"Did Sirius tell you he and Amelia went on a double date with my parents?"

"Yeah, he did mention that. Dinner and dancing. I wonder if they all dug out their polyester suits and their platform shoes again?"

Hermione giggled so hard she nearly tripped going up the stairs and dropped one of her shoes.

"Careful there. Say…what did you think of our illustrious head boy's latest crackpot scheme for us prefects? First the poker games--you know, which were fine, though I had more Bertie Botts' every flavor beans than I knew what to do with some weeks--now this. He's not going to make us do this every night, I hope."

"Maybe just at the end of the year. It's something they do in Japan, I've read--public bathing in hot springs. The giant tubs in the prefects' bathrooms aren't exactly hot springs, but the intent was the same, I'd imagine. Hard to hold grudges with someone you've seen naked, I guess. It's a way of team bonding. Why? Was it awful? We didn't have a problem. We just soaked in the hot water and gossiped. I had no idea how much of what goes on in this school I've missed because I've had my head buried in my books."

"It wasn't awful, just weird…you know, sitting around in a circle with a bunch of naked blokes."

"The showers in the dorms are communal."

"Yeah, but you can get in and out, stare at the wall in front of you in between. Instead, we're all just sitting in a big circle with a bunch of naked blokes. It was, I dunno, awkward at first. Not just me either, everyone. Well, not Tom. I don't know how he manages it, but he manages to be naked with the same aplomb he has when he's dressed. It's very annoying."

"So what did all of you do? Did you gossip like we did?"

"No, of course not…well, okay, there was some manly chat which was totally not gossip, but mostly we did what any random group of naked, or at least pantsless group of blokes do. We held a contest. I came in third, by the way. Quite respectable. I was tied with Malfoy, and Clegane from Ravenclaw so I guess we all came in third."

"Okay…who won? Just curious."

"Ernie bloody MacMillan. It's completely wasted on him too. Pompous blowhard… heh. Blow hard. I guess it would be. Hah. Damn. Can we talk about something else please?"

"Was this by year or all of you together?"

"All of us. Three out of four is hardly respectable. Duh."

They reached the portrait hole and stepped through.

"Hi guys! Good patrol? Good! Harry, a word?"

Hermione closed her mouth and swallowed her answer as Harry was drug off towards the window seat by Ginny.

"Rude." Hermione muttered before heading upstairs to drop off her clothes.

"What's Ginny bugging Harry about now? We were supposed to play chess when he got back." Ron complained.

"I can spot you a game." Dean offered.

"Step up then."

"Why do you still play him so much? Doesn't he always lose?"

"He actually won once. He's been playing Tom and Loki during the summers on a muggle set. He said it helped him get better since he wasn't distracted by all of the players shouting advice at him and could just focus on the game. Seems mad to me, but it works for him. He grew up muggle, so I guess he's still weird like that."

"Yeah. Sounds boring. So…the pieces just sit there? And don't do anything?" Neville wondered.

"Weird." Lavender chimed in.

"You all still find it weird, even with as much exposure as you've all had to muggle stuff by now?" Dean wondered.

"It's a fundamental difference in our respective cultures." Parvati offered. "We have vastly different expectations, so of course whenever we're exposed to some new facet on which those expectations diverge it would still seem strange to us."

"Wow. All that studying is paying off. That sounded all steeped in wisdom and stuff." Ron congratulated her.

"Yeah? Good. My mother will murder me if I don't ace my OWLs…and don't even get me started on all the mocking I'd have to put up with from Padma."

Hermione returned and joined the rest of them watching Ron and Dean's chess battle. She glanced over at Harry and Ginny as she sat down and frowned.

"They're still talking, huh? I really thought she'd have given up by now."

"She's not going to give up so long as he's so resistant. I don't even know if she's actually interested in him anymore, it's all about the chase now. Her ego is on the line, and she's not going to quit until she makes him fall for her so she can string him along for a little while and then dump him in a very public and humiliating way." Lavender said quietly.

"What? Did she tell you this?" Hermione hissed quietly, looking outraged on her friend's behalf.

"No, that's my guess is all, but I'll bet I'm right. Her chasing him all this time has been too public. She's not one to give up gracefully, and she won't feel her pride has been soothed unless she turns the tables."

They all watched unobtrusively as Ginny stood, looking triumphant. She picked up the pile of booklets and papers in front of her and pranced off to her dorm, smiling. Harry sighed and rubbed his face tiredly when she left, before rising and coming to sit with the rest of them.

"So, what was all that about?" Ron demanded.

"We're going on a date over the break, to make up for the lousy one at the wedding and the fact that I didn't reorganize my Hogsmeade weekends to accommodate her. Maybe she'll give up after this."

"Or you could just admit you're gay and get it over with." Hermione said firmly.

"No I'm not, Hermione. I really wish you would just believe me when I say that. If I was I'd just admit it. No one in my family would care."

"Are you sure, mate? It's just…she's not the only one wondering. Ginny's practically humping your leg every chance she gets…" Neville began, only to be cut off by Ron's indignant "Oi! That's my baby sister you're talking about!" "and you just seem uninterested. It's not normal, mate." Neville concluded.

"Except that I'm pretty sure she's at least somewhat psycho. Sorry Ron. That, and she's not really interested in me, she's interested in some fictional character she made up in her imagination when she was little. Mostly when she's around, I'm left sort of feeling like she's got a script in her head that I'm not following and it leaves her annoyed and frustrated. I don't want someone who seems to be trying to turn me into someone else and making me live out her weird imaginary romance. She's not interested in me, not really, she's interested in him, except he doesn't actually exist, see?"

"Not really." Neville admitted.

"She's a very pretty girl. I'm not blind." Harry sighed. "and the leg-humping is admittedly distracting." he admitted, ignoring Ron's scandalized "Oi!"

"Then why don't you just honestly date her?" Hermione wondered with some frustration.

"Because she doesn't want a boyfriend, she wants a toy. She expects me to spend my every waking hour thinking about her or doing whatever she says, and then going away or ceasing to exist when she's got something else to do. Anything I like, or anything I have to do is just something that gets in her way, whereas her stuff is important and I should be more understanding. I want to see the whole space thing really off the ground before I start worrying about dating, but even if I was keen to start dating now, I really can't because she's there in my face every time I turn around, and she's vengeful enough that she'd go after anyone else I was interested in. I figured my best option was to humor her when she gets too insistent and wait till she gets bored, then wait till she finds someone else to be her toy. Once that happens I'm free to go looking if I want to."

The rest of the fifth years digested this in silence until Seamus finally said "Damn, mate. It's kind of a shame you're not just gay."

"Tell me about it." Harry agreed despondently.

"So what was that stuff she had anyway? It didn't look like schoolbooks." Hermione asked, changing the subject.

"Stuff Remus gave her. If she can pass some tests and demonstrate mastery of a list of spells he gave her, he's going to let her come with us this summer, provided her dad gives permission. Thanks for that, by the way."

"I didn't think anyone was actually going to let her." Hermione admitted. "She hasn't even taken her OWLs yet."

"It's not your fault, it's mine." Harry sighed.

"How'd you figure that, mate?" Ron asked curiously.

"It's Remus. I should have kicked his ass or something. He seems to think me and her are 'James and Lily part deux', but with "Lily" doing the chasing rather than "James". He gets all misty-eyed whenever he sees us in one another's vicinity. I've tried talking to him about how wrong and crazy he is, but he just gives me this smug, knowing look that makes me want to smack him really hard."

"Tough luck there." Seamus commiserated.

"You poor bastard" Dean laughed without remorse.

 

 

"Afternoon Brunhilde, Olaf, Kreacher, Winky. The whole gang's here, huh? So, how are things? And where is everyone?" Harry asked sleepily as he stumbled into the kitchen of Grimmauld Place.

"Master Barty and Misters Siri and Remy is being at work. Mister Tom and Miss Flower is being in the parlor making kissy faces. We keeps telling them to save it for when they is married but they is not listening!" Winky lamented.

Harry snickered and thanked Kreacher when he handed him some food.

"You is sleeping long time. Shameful that. Bad master Sirius who broke his mother's heart is ordering Kreacher not to be waking you. My mistress would never allow it. Oh how the house of Black is fallen!"

"Give me a break, Kreacher. I'm up early and usually up late every day and have been for years. Besides, I'm supposed to be on holiday. I'm sure sleeping in one time won't bring civilization to an end."

"I is sure you likes to think that." Kreacher warned as he wandered off.

"So, what's going on this week? Anything I should know about?"

"Day after tomorrow is being gala at the work place. Yous is all going. Is going to be lots of ministry stooges there to gawp at the shippy and stick their big noses into everything." Winky informed him.

"Well, golly, that sounds like a laugh riot."

"After that yous all going to Christmas party at the Malfoy's so Mr. Lucy can ponce around and show off how rich he is."

"Sirius can complain all he likes, I know he actually enjoys their parties." Harry snorted.

"Missy Flower's family is coming after Christmas to be staying till new year's. We is having party here for that."

"Fleur's family is coming? Damn. I'm going to have to grab presents for them. Wish I'd known sooner. I'm going to need new robes for all the damned parties too. Crap…Ginny's expecting a make-up date as well. What time is it?"

"Is being eleven."

"Oh, okay. That's not too bad. She wants to go somewhere new and exciting…wandering around the muggle world for a bit should cover that. I can do my extra shopping and then swing by Diagon after so she can floo home and I can go get fitted for new robes. Sounds like a plan."

He dug out his PDA and sent a message to Ron, who answered a few minutes later.

"Thanks for the food, everyone. I'm going to go get dressed. Ginny Weasley should be flooing in within the hour. Bring her up when she does, would you? Oh, and could one of you go exchange some gold for muggle money for me?"

"Sure thing!" Brunhilde assured him. "I puts it in your room when I gets back."

"Thanks."

 

Harry found a wallet on his dresser when he got out of the shower. Peeking inside he saw a wad of pound notes, as well as a card in one of the slots with a note on it, and laid across the inside a leather wristband with another note.

He looked at the wristband first. "Emergency portkey, just in case. Activation phrase. Seems in order." He fastened the band to his wrist and peered at the card and note.

"Muggle credit card. For emergencies, don't splurge too much. Sweet."

He grabbed the wallet and bounded downstairs, hearing voices as he neared the bottom. He peeked into the parlor and found a stiffly smiling Ginny perched opposite a slightly ruffled Tom and Fleur, having tea and biscuits.
Ginny looked quite relieved to see him.

"Harry! There you are! We ready to go?" she demanded, bounding to her feet.

Harry smirked at Tom.
"You know…we could just hang out here, the four of us, and talk…wouldn't that be nice?"

Tom narrowed his eyes and Fleur tried to look like the possibility didn't distress her at all.

"But…I did promise you a day out, so I guess we'll have to pass on that. Another time, maybe?"

Now that Tom was assured they were leaving, he was already rubbing slow circles on Fleur's shoulder and eyeing her like the last drink of water in the desert. Fleur elbowed him lightly in the side and kept a cheery smile pasted on her face, trying to maintain some decorum in front of "ze cheeldren".

"'ave a nice time in zhe city. Don't be out too late."

"We won't, don't worry. Shall we?"

"Please."

Harry led the way to the front door. Before they'd fully left they could already hear a growl that sounded rather like Tom, followed by a "Oh, Thomas!"

"Geez. Someone needs to hose them down."

"You're one to talk. How many times did I walk in on you and Dean? Half the time at meals you looked like you were trying to climb into his robes with him. They at least have the excuse of not having seen each other much the last few months."

"Geez. We weren't that bad."

Harry's disbelieving snort said what he thought of that.

"We weren't!" Ginny insisted, hurrying after him.

Ginny wrinkled her nose slightly at the rather run-down neighborhood that surrounded no.12 Grimmauld Place. Harry looked for traffic coming and hurried them across the way to the park across the street.

"We'll cut through here. There's a tube station down that way."

"Tube?"

"Never been? It's an underground train, there's stations all over London."

Ginny shrugged and kept pace with him. "Well, if nothing else dad will be jealous. Are you wearing something funky? Every time I look at you I keep finding myself thinking that you're definitely old enough, which is weird."
"I've got a necklace on with an 'I'm definitely old enough for whatever I'm trying to do' field on it. Present from Tom for my birthday last year."

"Brilliant. I need one of those."

 

Hermione glanced at the placard by the door, consulted the ad she'd ripped from the Daily Prophet and headed inside, only to stop dead at the sight of a crowd of slack-jawed yokels already gathered there. She smiled at them stiffly, stepped out to double check the placard, and then seriously considered whether or not she still wanted to participate. "It will give me an edge-up on the OWLs--with so many people going for twelve it's going to be hard to distinguish myself from the crowd. A bit of extra cash in time for the holidays is nothing to scoff at either… oh, bother! Here goes nothing."

"Weeee--eeelll. Jest lookit miss fancy pants. Whatsa'matter, darlin, ye think yer too good fer the likes o' us? Is that it?"

"Oh, leave her alone Grampy. She was prolly jes lost or sumthin'."

"I think she's a mudblood. I heard tell they steal yer soul iffin they kin a'hold of it."

"I thought mudbloods stole magic? I ain't never heard tell o' them stealing souls. Hain't that vampires?"

"They eat yer blood, eejit."

"Magic is in yer soul, dummy. They steal yer magic by stealing yer soul."

"I'm pretty sure it's in yer hand. That's where it come out of. An how's that little fancy pants gonna steal my soul anyhow? I kin overpower her. She's tiny."

"EXCUSE ME! You're all being very rude, using words like that, and honestly, MUGGLEBORN don't steal magic or souls! The very idea. It's all just a pack of lies made up by awful people."

"Well now, that's just what someone here to steal our souls WOULD say!"

"Well really!"

"Hermione?"

"Dean! You're here too, huh?"

"Extra money, free power-up. Seems win-win."

"Tell these rude men that muggleborn don't steal souls!"

"You another mudblood?"

"Wow. Rude. Keep it polite, buddy. I don't go around calling you inbred. The least you could do is return the favor."

"Exactly!"

"And it's dementors that steal souls, not muggleborn. Okay, the head dementor was supposedly a muggleborn, so I suppose technically there was at least one muggleborn that stole souls, but only because he was a dementor. Any pureblood who became a dementor stole souls too."

"Right. See? Your argument is invalid. And it's muggleborn. MUGGLE BORN, not mudblood."

"I see… Why they's going around saying y'all do it then?"

"Well…I think the dementor guy was supposedly the first muggleborn, so I guess folks got confused. In any case, we are obviously not dementors, so it'd be real nice if you stopped accusing us of wanting to steal your soul."

"Weren't trying to be mean or nuttin', but heck, if someone in the room might try an steal yer soul, ye'd want yer kin to know about it so's they kin be on guard, right?"

"So long as it's all cleared up, no hard feelings."

"As long as you stop calling us mudbloods."

"Yeah, that too." Dean nodded.

 

"So, where to next?" Ginny asked curiously.

"I figured we could just wander around for a bit. If you've any last minute Christmas shopping to do, you do that. I need to get something for Fleur's family. They're coming after Christmas and staying till new year's." Harry replied with a shrug.

"That sucks. You'll be stuck with that brat kid underfoot for half your holiday."

"Eh. She's been away from Fleur for a few months. She might actually look close to her real age by now."

Ginny's smile grew rather stiff. "Really? How nice for her."

"I know she was looking forward to growing up, but for her own sake I hope the process takes a bit longer. She was a cute kid, even if she was a brat. I hate the thought of her being mobbed by drooling idiots. I know Fleur found it intolerable at times, though it would be a lie to say she never dug her power to turn men into drooling cavemen with a toss of her hair. Heck, I'm pretty sure a good part of the reason she's so hung up on Tom is because he's practically immune to her power and likes her anyway."

"Why's he hung up on her then?"

"She's a hot girl who thinks he hung the moon with whom he can have meaningful conversations about world politics and magical theory."

"Oh I'm sure." Ginny scoffed.

"She was one of the best students in her school, remember. She was chosen to be a Tri-wizard champion. The fact that you don't like her doesn't change that. She's actually rather sweet once you get to know her."

"Yeah. I'll have to take your word on that. So where are we anyway?"

"Picadilly Circus. There's shops, theatres, restaurants and what have you in the area."

"It's all decorated. Do muggles do this all over?"

"Lots of places. Places where lots of people congregate, their homes."

"The muggle world always seemed so drab and boring to me. This is actually sorta pretty."

 

They wandered in and out of shops, all of which were decorated for the holidays. They were given a sample of gingerbread from a woman standing outside a savory smelling bakery. It was tasty enough that Harry bought a batch, hot out of the oven, along with some hot cocoa laced with spices and topped off with a generous dollop of whipped cream. They stopped and listened to some carolers, all dressed up like something out of a Dickens novel, and Harry got Ginny a photo of her sitting on Father Christmas's lap to commemorate the day.

"Dad'll get a kick out of the picture, but I'm not sure it was worth it. I'm pretty sure that old perv groped me."

"Thank you for not hexing him."

"I did something better. My knee just happened to nudge a sensitive area while I was getting up. I'm such a klutz." she laughed.

"Ah well, serves him right." Harry laughed as well. "Oh, hey, there's a liquor store. People like liquor. I can get something for Fleur's dad there. I didn't get the impression any of them spent much time among muggles. It'll be unique."

"I've got the rest of my family covered, but I'm still out on dad. I was hoping I could find something while we were out, but no luck."

"If you don't have enough I can cover the extra. Just keep it reasonable. No top shelf. He'll probably be plenty thrilled just by the fact it's muggle."

"Damn it! Where the hell's a homeless guy when you need one?!"

Harry glanced up at the strange exclamation and then did a double take.

"Dudley?"

"Harry?"

"You two know each other, I take it?"

Dudley tore his stupefied gaze away from Harry to glance at Ginny, then took a longer look.

"Well, hello. Who might you be?" Dudley asked in a voice that was obviously trying for suave but fell a bit short.

"Oh, geez, Dud, knock it off."

"Aren't you going to introduce us?" Dudley asked, still grinning at the red-haired girl, who was preening just a bit.

"Dudley, Ginny. Ginny, Dudley. Dud here's my cousin."

"Oh, wow. You two haven't seen each other for a while, huh?"

"Couple of years, yeah." Dudley nodded, finally tearing his gaze away. "You got taller."

"So did you. It seems to happen at our age."

"Not a speccy git anymore, huh? You get those lasers on your eyes or what?"

"Or what."

"Oh, you uh…" he wiggled his fingers.

"Someone else did, but yeah."

"Does she, uh…"

"She goes to my school."

"They all look like that?"

"A lot of them do."

"Lucky."

"So why are you looking for a homeless guy?"

"I figured I could get him to go in for me. He buys two, we each get one, see? Only there's no damned homeless around when you need them. Hey, wait…you're obviously old enough! Wait a minute… I'm older than you…" he trailed off looking confused.

Harry wiggled his fingers meaningfully.

"Really? Damn. I didn't know it was useful. Hey, be a pal, would you?"

 

"…and I can't go home for the rest of the holidays! and goodbye stipend! I'm going to have to use it toward buying a whole new wardrobe a..a..and new shoes! And what will my parents say? Or Viktor! He likes to pick me up and spin me around whenever we see each other again after a long time, a..and he's been learning swing dancing! He probably won't even be able to pick me up anymore! I'm huge and probably look like a man!" Hermione wailed.

The two Unspeakables who were overseeing the testing on the ladies that day traded an exasperated look.

"Can you believe her? Instant goddess with anti-gravity teats and she's crying!"

"I know. You just can't make some people happy."

"Well excuse me! I haven't seen my parents for months and now I can't go home! Too many people saw me earlier and last night! No one will ever believe all this was the result of a growth spurt that happened since this morning! Honestly, I think a lot of people will have a hard time believing it happened between now and next summer!" Hermione wailed, before covering her face and settling in for a good, hard weep.

"Calm down, girly. There's options. You and your parents can all go on a little trip till school's back in session, go visit relatives that haven't seen you yet. You could go stay at a hotel or with friends and they can visit you there. Maybe you can't go back to your muggle neighborhood right now, but that doesn't mean you can't ever see them again!"

"Yes, really. Stop crying and make a plan."

"Honestly. You're lucky you're so young. Next summer, folks will be startled, but they'll eventually believe it. I'm in my forties. I have a job in the muggle world. I'm going to have to fake my death and find new employment and a new place to live!" one of the other testees said sourly. "I do hope I can count on some help from the Ministry to see that done?"

"We'll take care of it. If you give us a list of your qualifications, we'll even see if we can steer you towards new employment. Are you qualified to teach? There will be some temporary openings at Hogwarts next fall…"

"That doesn't do me much good in the meantime."

"Well, no worries. I'm sure we'll be able to come up with something."

"Minor setbacks." murmured another woman, who still hadn't gotten dressed, and had spent the last twenty minutes staring enraptured at herself in the mirror. "I look twenty years younger…and I wasn't so perky even in my twenties! I need to get back out on the social scene. A string of young studs to warm my nights sounds just the thing. Youth is wasted on the young. I'm going to make good use of this second chance. I need to go shopping."

"Well, at least someone's happy."

"Ladies, I realize some of you are still shell-shocked or…distracted, but we really need to get the second battery of tests done before we worry about anything else. This is a study first and foremost, and it's useless to us unless we get the data in. Now, if you'll all follow me, we'll be doing the same things as last time so we can get readings on any changes you've experienced."

They were all directed to don the bandeaus and hip-wraps they'd worn the first time through--expanded for their comfort, of course--so they could be modestly photographed, then they were directed to a strange machine and made to grasp the handles sticking up, then to another which took a deep scan, and then they were put through their paces physically and magically, and then asked a bunch of questions. By the time the whole process was over they were all exhausted and eager to get home…but for the little problem that any of them living in the muggle world couldn't. The reminder got Hermione weepy again, and she wiped angrily at her eyes while she typed out a long message trying to explain things and sent it out to the whole Garden group in hopes that someone would take pity on her.

A message from Dean popped up a few minutes later stating that he'd taken part in the same study, but hadn't seen anyone close up enough outside his family that he couldn't just pass it off as a growth spurt that happened during the school year. Hermione sighed despondently. She hadn't seen Dean yet, but it was true he had actually had a series of surprising growth spurts--he'd actually edged out Ron who up until then had been the fastest growing boy in their year, and had shot up a few inches since summer.

Replies began coming thick and fast, from those wondering how extreme the change could really be that she just couldn't go home, to Tom demanding scans and pictures, to an offer from Harry for her and her parents to all stay at Grimmauld Place for the remainder of the holidays, along with a note stating that he was currently in the Auror's office because of an 'incident'.

Naturally this brought another flood of replies -- was he hurt, what happened, was the other guy hurt, was he going to prison. Harry's too concise reply - was getting a bite to eat, nearly died -- really didn't help at all.

Hermione hurriedly dressed in the clothing the Unspeakables had scrounged up for her to wear and stuffed her feet into the monstrously large, to her eyes, boots.

"All the cute shoes are in the smaller sizes. I should have splurged on cute shoes when I had the chance. Oh, why was I such a fool?" she lamented to herself.

There was still some exit paperwork and follow up appointments that had to be arranged before she could leave. She was dancing in impatience by the time they let her loose, half-fearing Harry would leave in spite of her numerous messages to stay put until she was done and came to meet him.

 

"Harry!"

Harry turned and only had a chance to say 'holy shit', before he was staggering backwards beneath an armful of hurricane Hermione.

"Oh, Harry, it's so awful! I can never go home again."

"Awful is so not the word I was thinking. Bouncy maybe. You ever consider playing volleyball, you know, with the… jumping?"

"Lots of jumping. That'd be brilliant." Dudley agreed fervently as he glared at Harry in pure jealousy. "Lucky bastard."

"Volleyball? What are you talking about?"

"She's engaged." Harry told Dudley.

"What a waste."

"Ow." Harry then said reproachfully to Ginny, who had just socked him in the arm, and was managing to glare baleful death through the stupefied expression that was still on her face.

She glared at him a moment longer and then turned her glare on Hermione and crossed her arms self-consciously. Two days ago when she'd last seen Hermione they'd been the same height, and both sported a slim, girlish figure. Hermione was now at least half a foot taller, had an hourglass figure and gravity defying breasts that Harry and Dudley both seemed unable to look away from. Her hair was longer too, her skin was clear, her eyes seemed larger and more expressive, her lips fuller and poutier. She even cried prettier--no snot or blotchy skin on her, just sparkling tears swimming in her sparkly eyes and clinging to the edges of her too-long eyelashes.

Ginny clenched her jaw and began counting backwards in her head and kept her arms firmly crossed. She was standing in the Auror office. It probably wouldn't go well for her if she hexed Hermione…even if she really, really wanted to hex her right now.

She uncrossed one of her arms long enough to punch Harry hard in the arm again. He was still staring at Hermione's boobs, as was his cousin. Their heads were bobbing around like the stupid toys they'd seen in the shops earlier, following every jiggle as Hermione dabbed delicately at her pretty tears.

 

"Oh! Harry, just listen to me, going on and on…you said you'd nearly died! What happened? Are you hurt?"

"Huh?"

"Harry? What is wrong with you? Oh, goodness are you concussed? Do you need a healer? Oh, Harry!"

Harry tried to focus, but it was difficult with Hermione jiggling and patting him down, rubbing at his arms. Another sharp jab from Ginny cleared his head enough that he stepped back and tried to get his brain working again.

"Oh, right, I died! No, the other guy died. We were just nearby. There were guns with muggles. Reverse that. I had a portkey."

"Are you sure you don't need a healer?"

"A cold shower would probably do me good."

"I think you're supposed to get warm if you're in shock."

"Forget him. I don't think I got your name." Dudley said in his 'suave' voice again.

"And you are? I don't think I've ever seen you at Hogwarts…"

"I go to a different school, but that's not really important. I'm Dudley, but my friends call me Big D." he explained, trying to flex and show off his thick, slabby muscles to best effect.

"Settle down there, Big D." Harry scoffed.

"Dudley… Oh! Are you Harry's cousin? Goodness, you don't look anything alike."

"We both take after our dads. It was our mums that were related."

"Nice to meet you, but goodness, however did you end up here?"

"We were getting a bite to eat together when all the muggles started killing each other for some reason." Ginny shrugged.

"Mug… Oh! Do you think it was HYDRA? It was on the news the other night…"

"Yeah, that's what I figured. I would have gone out to fight, but Harry grabbed me and drug us off before I had a chance."Dudley bragged.

"As he should have! You might have been killed! In fact, didn't you say someone died?"

"Yeah. Some poor sad sack's face exploded all over his date. Stray bullet to the back of the head, Harry said. The big window at the front of the restaurant shattered. All the folks that were sitting there got cut up, more of them probably got shot, other than that one guy, but his death was kind of, you know, dramatic. And gross. It was really scary." Ginny admitted, rubbing her arms.

"Surely you didn't use a portkey right in the middle of a muggle restaurant though!"

"Sure we did. No one saw us, at least I don't think they did. We were in a booth and climbed under the table. Everyone was panicked and running and screaming…that one poor lady was scraping bits of her boyfriend out of her eyes. She probably would have just kept sitting there screaming and covered in blood till she died too, but one of the other patrons grabbed her and drug her towards the back with them. That was pretty brave, really. They were right by the window, and the dead guy wasn't providing much cover since he was slumped over the table by that point. The gun fight was still going on. Anyway, with all the commotion, it's highly unlikely anyone saw us, and even if they did, the Aurors knew pretty much moments after the attack happened, so they can clean up any strays if necessary." Harry assured her.

"How awful. My parents told me it's been crazy. HYDRA has just been laying low since World War II, slowly infiltrating every country in the world it seems. They were discovered and came out of hiding, guns blazing. Attacks have been happening all over--in the streets, in different government agencies, in research facilities. It's a terrible mess."

"Huh. If that's the case, there might be a silver lining to you and your parents being forced out of the muggle world for a bit." Ginny noted.

"Well…yes. I suppose there is that. Look at the bright side and all. I still have to get a whole new wardrobe and new shoes… it's just so strange. I hardly recognize myself in the mirror."

Hermione started looking teary again. Dudley was quick to offer a shoulder to cry on and a nice back rub.

The various Aurors that were stationed around the room eyed Dudley with jealousy.

"Lucky bastard."

"OW." Harry growled through gritted teeth. "I didn't say anything."

"You were thinking it. You DEFINITELY owe me another date after all this." Ginny growled back.

"Oh come on!"

"Oh no! I just realized I need new dress robes as well as regular clothes. Oh, this couldn't have happened at a worse time!" Hermione cried.

"If you want we can swing by Diagon before heading to my place. I can spot you an outfit or two to hold you over until you have a chance to do more in-depth shopping."

"Oh, I couldn't ask you…"

"You didn't, I'm offering. I need new dress robes anyway. I was going to be heading there with or without you."

"Why do you both need dress robes?" Ginny asked suspiciously.

"The company's having a party the day after tomorrow." Hermione answered, ignoring Harry's frantic 'ABORT! ABORT!' motions.

"You should get me something while we're out. A company party sounds like a good make-up date." Ginny decided.

"Sorry. No can do. Viktor's not going to be in town, so Hermione and I were just going to go together." Harry said glibly, glaring at Hermione when it looked like she was ready to bow out in Ginny's favor.

"I'm sure Hermione doesn't mind. Right, Hermione?"

Hermione looked helplessly between them and wrung her hands.

"You'd best get me something nice."

"I'm not buying your stinking dress."

"You're buying hers!"

"Yeah, because she's my friend, who literally has no other clothing that fits anymore, because that's what friends do. Also, I offered, she didn't demand I buy her stuff!"

"OH! I don't know why I put up with you!"

"Go find someone else then. Please!"

Ginny glared at him a moment and then turned back to Hermione. "What time does the party start?"

"Um…eight?"

"I'll be there at a quarter till and I will knock your socks off. You'd best be ready and waiting." she warned Harry before stalking off.

Harry threw up his hands and then glared at his friend.

"Yeah, thanks so much for your help and support, Hermione."

"Well what was I supposed to do?"

"Take my side!"

"You're both my friends! And, lest you forget, she shares my dorm. I have to sleep sometime!"

"Why are you complaining?! Most guys would kill to have your problems!" Dudley howled in outrage.

 

 

"Obscuration ward is up. Unpack her."

"The obliviators on scene already?"

"Yeah, they'll make sure everyone remembers this bird buying it the same time that poor sap by the window did."

One of the men held out a bag, while the other reached in and pulled out the corpse of a woman in her forties and set it up at one of the tables, then unpacked a half-eaten lunch, used silverware and a half-drunk, cold cup of coffee and set them up on the table, as well as a bag from a nearby store under the table.

"Everyone to this side. We want her blood to spray nicely. She's got a niece at Uni; says she'll need proof of death to collect her life insurance."

All of them obediently moved to one side as the remaining man tapped the corpse and the side of her neck exploded, spraying blood and bits of gore everywhere. A second later the side of one of the booths 'cracked' as a bullet impacted on it and stayed imbedded in the wood.

Once the blood had settled they all eyed the scene and nodded to one another.

"Looks like most of the blood hit the floor and the booth wall, which is high enough that no one on the other side should have been sprayed. We shouldn't have to spatter anyone's clothing."

"Good. That's always such a pain, and it makes more work for the obliviators if you don't get it all just right. Bunch o' whiners, that lot."

"Why's this bird faking her death, anyway?"

"Potions cock-up or something. She looks too different to go home or back to her job."

"Still in the muggle world, was she? Just as well. She'd of had to be doing this sooner or later in any case."

"Anything else?"

"Yeah, we're supposed to grab a Gryffindor scarf from under one of the booths. The kid that was there left it behind when their portkey went off."

"Can do. Dry that blood, get the scarf, and then let's get out of here. The muggles should be swarming this place any minute."

"Hurry up, I think I hear them."

The obscuration ward fell as the group apparated out. The crime scene units that had been standing around in a fog swarmed the scene, taking photos, collecting bullets and bagging bodies.

Back at the Ministry, they found the living version of the corpse they'd just laid out--though looking like she'd done a supermodel transformation in the interim--along with an Unspeakable and an Auror.

"All done?"

"Yeah. Dead you should be well on her way to the coroner as we speak."

"Will it hold up under autopsy?" the woman asked the Unspeakable nervously.

"Surprisingly yes. It's an exact copy of you, it just doesn't have a soul and isn't technically alive. They might not even bother with the autopsy with the very obvious cause of death staring them in the face. The muggle authorities will contact your remaining family, possibly your job as well, and we'll make sure the proper forms are sent to your niece so she can collect your life insurance."

"Thank you. Any progress on the other matters?"

"How do you feel about managing a public quidditch field in Wild Rumpus?"

"I was never much of a quidditch player."

"Doesn't matter. You'd be keeping track of scheduling, maintaining the facilities, collecting fees for equipment rental, that sort of thing. It doesn't pay as much as you were making before, but it comes with a flat on site."

"I'll take it. When do I start?"

The Unspeakable handed her a set of keys. "After the holidays, though you can move in tonight. We already sent a team to clear your flat and settle things there. Your stuff should all be waiting at the new place."

"You were real confident I'd take it."

"Employment is at an all-time high, even with downsizing in several sectors. It was this or barmaid in a Knockturn alley dive."

"Ah. This is good."

"We thought you'd agree."

 

 

"Is this a pity party for one, or is there room for one more?"

Ginny glared at Luna, and slumped back in her seat. "Yeah, thanks for that. It really makes me feel so much better."

Luna settled herself into the empty seat across from her and handed her the second cup of punch she had with her.

"So why are you sitting here all alone and miserable anyway? Are you not enjoying the party?"

"In case you haven't noticed my date, the jerk, is off dancing with someone else. Again."

"There are other boys in the room. If you really want to dance I'm sure you'd have no trouble finding a partner. In fact, I saw several who looked like they were going to approach to ask, but you keep glaring at everyone, grinding your teeth and playing with your wand. They all seemed to decide there were safer prospects."

"Yeah, like miss wonder boobs over there." Ginny said bitterly. "I don't think she's sat down once since the music started."

"She's afraid to leave the dance floor, I think. She tried going to the bathroom earlier and she got pinned to the wall by a drunken file clerk."

"What?! Is she alright?"

"Oh yes. Fleur has been keeping an eye on her. She blasted the guy down the hall and stayed with her till they got back here."

"Bastard. Serves him right."

"She's been rather shaken by her whole transformation. She doesn't like the pervy attention she's getting, and she's also frustrated that people don't seem to listen to her like they used to either. She values her mind above all else, so this really hasn't been a happy couple of days for her. You should be more sympathetic."

"I'm sorry she's getting perved on, but for the rest she can go hang. Harry wouldn't get me new robes when I asked, but he splurged on a fancy bloody ball gown for her."

"Oh, Harry didn't buy that. There were trunks full of old stuff that belonged to Sirius' cousins in the attic. He let us dig through them and keep anything we liked. Fleur and I had to do some alterations, more so than Hermione, anyway. Sirius' cousins are all taller than us. That dress she's wearing actually used to belong to Bellatrix Lestrange, oddly enough. Fleur and I raided Narcissa's old stuff. We all have the same coloring, so her stuff looked better on us."

"Why were you there?"

"I stopped by to visit. I was going to go shopping with them, but then we ended up raiding the attic. The stuff all of us are wearing came from there. Harry's got some of Regulus' old stuff, Tom has Sirius', Fleur and I have Narcissa dresses, and Hermione swiped most of Bellatrix and Andromeda's old stuff. Her parents were relieved. They only had to update her muggle wardrobe a bit and get shoes."

"Wish someone told me. My mom cobbled this thing together for me from a bunch of old dresses, and you lot are all prancing around in fancy ball gowns."

"I guess they thought you had something already." Luna shrugged.

Dean and Tracy Davis went swirling by, and Ginny started grinding her teeth again. If she'd known Dean was going to turn into a bloody Adonis, she might not have been so quick to toss him overboard. Harry was pretty fit, but right now Dean made him look like table scraps in comparison. Maybe she should see if Dean was up for some side action. It would be nice to have someone to work her frustrations off with. She had to pretty much tackle Harry to get him to stay in place long enough to get any satisfaction from him.

"I'm going to go graze the buffet again." Luna announced.

"I've been doing nothing but eating since I got here. If I have anything more I'm probably going to puke."

"Ah. Well. Have fun then."

Luna wandered off towards the buffet tables. Ginny sighed and shifted her weight, then looked around to see where Harry had gotten to. He seemed to be stuck talking to some stupid Ministry people. Boring.

"Hey there. Ginny, right? Want to dance?"

Ginny glanced over at the speaker and frowned.

"Aren't you gay?"

"Yeah."

"Why are you asking me then?"

"Because my boyfriend is off talking shop and I was getting bored."

"Fine. It's not like I have anything better to do."

"Geez. Aren't you just a little ball of sunshine."

 

 

"Things are getting rather messy, huh? Fucking HYDRA. Hey, let's shoot up a busy street in a major city a week before Christmas! Good plan!" Tony Stark griped as he flipped through a stack of crime-scene photos and then tossed them on the table disgustedly.

"Anthony. We're doing all we can. You have to focus on the people we save, not the ones who get caught in the crossfire, or before you know it you won't be able to sleep at night." Peggy Carter sighed.

"It's just messed up, you know? I mean, look at this! This guy proposed to his long-time girlfriend the day before. They're out doing the last-minute Christmas shopping, making plans, looking towards the future and BAM! The guy not only gets his head exploded, it explodes all over his brand-spanking-new fiancee. Instead of visiting the family and telling them the happy news, and opening presents while sipping some choice eggnog, she's going to be burying her Mr. Right six feet under. I guess they were still better off than this poor lady. Lived alone, not married, no kids. Only surviving relative is a nineteen year old niece who's in college, and now doesn't have anywhere to go for the holidays. Nice."

"Anthony. It might sound callous, but people die every day, all over the world. If you start obsessing over each and every one of them it will destroy you." Peggy said firmly.

"This is wrong."

"Uh Yeah. Isn't that what I've been saying?" Tony scoffed.

"No. I mean, yes, it's wrong that these people were just trying to have a meal in peace and died for no good reason, but that's not what I was talking about. This is wrong. There was no woman there." Steve Rogers pointed.

"Uh, Cap? There was obviously a woman there, and now she's dead."

"No, there wasn't. That's the table Captain Britain was sitting at as he transformed. I looked over because I saw a bright light coming out of the restaurant. I saw it, and there was no woman with him."

"Well, maybe she was in the bathroom."

"He transformed and came to join us after this guy here was already dead. If she'd been in the bathroom and came out after he'd left, she was hardly going to go sit down in the middle of the danger zone. She got added later."

Tony looked dubious, but he started poking around on his computer nonetheless.

"How certain are you?" Peggy asked.

"A brief glance at a map with every HYDRA base listed certain."

"That's not certain at all." Tony scoffed.

"He got such a glance while rescuing the 105th and was able to recreate the map from memory. It was what we used to find all the rest of the HYDRA bases throughout the rest of the war. He was spot on every time." Peggy disagreed.

Tony grunted and kept typing.

"Maybe you should get your memory checked, oh Capitan. She's on the video feeds in the area, her blood was found at the scene. Some of the eyewitnesses that were in the restaurant mentioned seeing her neck explode. Ballistics guys found the bullet that did her in."

"She's not the only thing wrong with the scene. There was a red and gold scarf on the floor there."

"So someone picked it up."

"After everyone fled."

"It got kicked under the table while they all ran away. Someone was hiding under the table and grabbed it when they thought they could leave without getting shot."

"There's no interview with the kids that were sitting there."

"Kids? What kids?"

"Kids. Two boys--one blonde, one dark haired, little girl with red hair. I caught a glimpse of them as I was travelling past."

"There's no kids on the video feed. No scarf removed from the scene. No one mentioned any kids running off, or you know, seeing any, and there was only one order in the back, for this guy, who said he'd just ordered a few minutes prior when everything started. Sorry Cap, but you're wrong."

"He's not wrong."

"So…you two think some kids what? Erased all the video footage, teleported out, came back for a lost scarf of all things in the middle of a battle zone, got rid of their orders and their bill to hide their tracks and altered everyone's memory so they'd forget they were there?" Tony snorted. "Oh, and dropped off some poor lady in the middle of the crime scene, along with her blood and a bullet. Have I gotten everything? Come on. That's crazy talk."

"The dead woman. What do we know about her?" Peggy wondered.

"Well… give me a sec…. Wanda Jones, 162 cm, 130 pounds. Single, no children. Huffington elementary, Grey Friars Academy, Pembroke College, Cambridge. Worked in a variety of government positions, most recently in the ministry of education. Colleagues say she was a 'sweet girl, very efficient, ran a tight ship in the records department'."
Cap and Peggy looked at each other.

"Grey Friar's Academy?" Peggy asked.

"Yeah. Never heard of it. What's with the secret eye conversations?"

"We met a kid, years ago, went to Grey Friar's Academy. He was an orphan. He and some of the other kids used to set up the tables and chairs at the USO for sandwiches. Most of them went to the local school, but this one kid had gotten a scholarship--the other kids seemed to resent him for it. Real smart kid. In fact, your dad tried to find him after the war was over. He was going to send him to college and bring him on board to work for him. He left the orphanage the moment he was 18. They didn't know what happened to him. He just packed up the minute he was able and left."

"Must have made quite an impression."

"Like I said, smart."

"What was this smarty pants' name? I'll see what I can find."

"Tom Riddle."

"Huh. Got a hit already…oh, wait, not your kid. This is recent. Grey Friar's Academy though. There's a picture."

"My word."

"That's uncanny. Slick his hair back and put him in period clothing and he'd be identical."

"Not quite. This kid's face is softer. Our Tom had kind of a mean glint in his eye, and his smiles were kind of fake. He didn't smile like that, so naturally, in the brief time we knew him."

"Maybe he was just uncomfortable around new people?"

"Maybe. What do you have on this Tom Riddle?"

"Let's see… mother died when he was two…father was in an accident when he was twelve. He was in a coma for a while, then died. Got adopted a couple of years later by Loki Odinson… weird name. Hang on. Loki Odinson. Born in Iceland. Moved to UK as a kid. Huh. He owns a bit of stock in Stark Industries. Founded several businesses… they all seem to be run by others. Huh. Guy likes orphans. He's listed as adopting a "Harry Potter" a little while before he adopted the Riddle kid."

"What's Potter's story?"

"Let's see…orphaned at age 1…car accident, both parents died. In care of aunt and uncle till age twelve, adopted by Loki Odinson, who went on an orphan collecting spree soon after. Also goes to Grey Friar's. Another smarty pants. Kid knows more languages than the UN. Both of them do. If grandpa Riddle was like these kids, I can see my dad might have been impressed."

"Well, this isn't at all strange or unusual." Peggy quipped.

"This is going to bug me. I'm going to go meet this kid."

"Why?"
"Tony, no."

"Tony yes, and why not? I've got an address for this Odinson guy. I'll take a quick trip, poke around, and report back. Easy peasy."

"Don't be ridiculous. You're not trained for undercover."

"Pshaw. I'm sure I'm a natural. Anyway, private citizen here. You are not the boss of me, and also I have a private jet. So there."

 

"So zhen I said, you should have seen ze size of ze turnip!" Fleur's father's finished off his story with a grand wave of his hand. All of them laughed, though Harry heard Gabrielle muttering to Fleur that 'papa is so embarrassing! He always tells that story.'

"Enough of your crazy adventures, cherie, I want to know what our daughter has been doing."

"I 'ave been working, mostly, while Thomas iz at school. Oh! I 'ave learned 'ow to make a tapestry! I shall show you later. I theenk it turned out rather nicely for my first try."

"Oh, how delightful!"

While everyone chattered, Loki tapped Sigyn twice on the thigh. It was their signal that something was going on elsewhere and she needed to make a clone to leave behind and come with him. Sigyn laughed along with the others and took his hand. Moments later they were in his flat in London.

"JUST A MOMENT!" Loki called as a sharp knock sounded at the door.

A few discreet spells decorated the room with Christmas cheer--garlands, some mistletoe, nicely decorated tree, cheery fire burning on the grate. The house filled with the smell of fresh gingerbread and eggnog. Sigyn flicked her hands at Loki and left him in an ugly Christmas sweater and slacks. She considered the picture he made and added felt reindeer horns with little bells on them to his head. Loki returned the favor. Sigyn retreated to the kitchen, while Loki went to the door.

"Hello?"

"Hi, you probably don't know me…oh, who am I kidding? I'm Tony Stark, everyone knows me. And you're Loki, nice horns, by the way. Anyway, you're probably wondering what brings me here…ooh, smells good. Mind if I come in, thanks. This your family?" he asked, pushing past Loki to pick up a picture frame from the mantel. "Wow. He's like pirate santa. Cool. And I guess that's Missus Claus… wow."

"My mother is quite lovely, I agree. You were explaining what you wanted?" Loki replied, taking the frame and setting it back in place.

"Ah, and these are the kiddies. Cute kids, which actually brings me to… Wow. Big horn. What did that come off, a dinosaur or something?"

"Rhinocerous, actually. I found it in a bazaar in Africa a few years back. Rhino hunting is frowned on these days, of course. This is from the early 19th century when they were more lax about such things.

"Ah. We have a guest. Would you like some eggnog and gingerbread? I was just getting us some. It's hot out of the oven."

"Well. Hello. You look like that and you bake. You're a keeper."

"Yes. She is." Loki agreed, smiling dangerously.

"Married? Of course. Good ones are always taken. Reader, I see. Lots of books. That I can't read. What language is this?"

"Hold it up. Ah. Pictish inscriptions of the British Isles. It's a dead language. I'm not surprised you don't recognize it."

"You read books in dead languages."

"Everyone needs a hobby. Though that book is actually in German. You just happen to be on a page with an inscription."

"Huh. So I am. German huh. Multi-lingual. Very European."

"I suppose. For me it's a bit of a hobby. Linguistics that is."

"Come get your gingerbread!" Sigyn gushed as she trotted out of the kitchen, tray in hand.

"Hate the stuff. Never touch it. My dad tried to make some for me once. He nearly burned down the house. I almost died. The last thing I remember before passing out was my teddy bear going up in flames..."
"Eggnog?"
"Please. Mmm. Good stuff. Lots of nog, not much egg. Just how I like it. Another?"

"So, what brings you to our neck of the woods?"

"Favor for a friend, actually. It's kind of a long story. Captain America…you may have heard of him. He's back from being a capsicle, and all his friends are dead. We've been looking up different folks he knew, and he mentioned a kid he met once that my dad knew too. I looked up his name and out comes your kid. One of them. Anyway, we think he might be the other guy's grandkid, so I came to say hi, find out what happened to grandpa, see the sights. You know, the usual."

"A mission of mercy! How exciting!"

"That's me. Mr. merciful." He wrinkled his nose at the smell of the gingerbread and refilled his glass a third time.

The phone rang. Loki answered it, glanced at Tony and covered the mouthpiece.

"Do you perchance have a 'weird muscle guy' with you by any chance? It's just, he seems to be lurking near the door, listening in."

"Don't know him." Tony lied.

"He's expected. Perhaps he dropped something. He wears contacts. No need for security."

Sigyn frowned at Tony reproachfully. He had to bat down the strangest urge to shuffle his feet and say 'aw shucks, ma'am, we didn't mean no harm'. Which was weird. And oddly specific.

Sigyn opened the door, and there was Captain Steve Rodgers in all his awkward six foot glory. He caved like wet tissue paper when the lady of the house turned her reproachful glance on him.

"Sorry to intrude, ma'am. My friend and I got separated. I wasn't sure I was at the right address."

He really needed to teach him to lie better. His face got all red and he shuffled like an awkward schoolboy.

Sexy hausfrau turned a look on her husband that seemed to say 'is this guy for real? Is it safe to let him in?'. Mr. "I read dead languages for fun" must have nodded, because she let Cap in.

"Captain Steve Rodgers, I presume?" Loki asked.

"Yes, sir. I do hope we're not imposing."

"Not at all. The more the merrier, I always say. I'm afraid the children aren't here at the moment though. That is who you were looking for?" Loki asked pointedly "My children?"

"One of them. I just wanted to know what happened to a guy I knew back in the forties. Tony kind of took it from there."

"This stuff is really good." Tony remarked, as he refilled his eggnog for the fourth time. "Oooh! Shiny!"

The missus wrung her hands as Tony continued staggering around, rifling through drawers and picking up all the knicknacks. The man rubbed her shoulder and kept a smile pasted on his face, though it began looking rather strained as it continued.

Steve did his best to sink into his chair.

"I'm really sorry about this."

"Who's up for cake? I could bake one. It's no trouble." Sigyn asked with a desperate seeming smile, before bustling off to the kitchen. Probably so she didn't have to watch her lovely home get wrecked by the drunken billionaire that just pushed his way in to the middle of their holiday.

"Really sorry."

 

"…so yeah. That's what happened." Steve finished with an embarrassed sigh.

"Did you ever actually find out the information you wanted to know?" Coulson wondered.

"Well…sort of. The kids showed up after we'd been there about two hours. They'd been at a neighbor's house watching movies or something. Seemed like nice kids. They had on matching Christmas sweaters and reindeer horns like their dad did. They were real disappointed that there wasn't any cake left. Tony ate it all. But yeah, I got to ask. The kid couldn't tell me much. He said 'he died 'cause he was way old', and he thought he traveled and maybe worked with antiques or something. His little brother wondered if he went on safari, and that's why no one knew where he was, since apparently that what folks did in olden times."

"I'm not sure I follow…"

"Tom Jr. thought his grandpa went to India. There's jungles and tigers there." he explained when Peggy looked confused as to how being an antique dealer translated to going on safari in the mind of a teenage boy.

"I see. Was there anything else of note?"

"Not that I noticed. They all seem to be well read, good with languages, but normal for all that. They care a lot about the environment, but we already knew that."
"They were a bunch of freaks. Twee little Christmas tree. Hot mom who bakes. Teenagers that willingly wear ugly Christmas sweaters that match their parents. They didn't have a tv! Who in this day and age doesn't have a tv? No computer either. Tapestries and books. They're not a real family. They're a fake holiday movie family. You know, those really schmaltzy ones that Hallmark puts out that no one would ever watch if there was anything else on tv. Who buys tapestries in this day and age?"

"If you hadn't of drunk several gallons of egg nog you'd know Mrs. Odinson made those. She sells some of them, uses the rest to decorate their house. She's in to arts and crafts."

"What? I didn't seen any room full of fancy machines!"

"It's a low-tech hand loom, and you did see it. It was the wooden contraption you were poking at that was disassembled and propped in the corner. Like they used to use in the middle ages. Smaller though. That's why those tapestries were all smallish. She does them on a human powered low-tech hand loom. You almost knocked it over."

"Geez. Why would anyone do that?"

"Maybe she enjoys it."

"Bah. I still say there's something wrong with those people. Real people don't act like that."

"Yes they do. My grammy used to knit all of us sweaters and we'd go caroling…"

"You were born in a time before tv was a thing. Your childhood doesn't count."

"I…"

"Yours either, Cap."

"Before we get too far off the subject. Was there anything odd about Grey Friar's Academy?" Agent May interjected.

"Well, it was empty. Closed for the holidays and all. We looked around, but it seemed a pretty ordinary school. There was no sign of any training facilities or anything. Regular classrooms. The student dormitories were pretty ordinary two-to-a-room set-ups. The library seemed to just have the usual stuff expected for a school library. There was a swimming pool and a field for lacrosse and soccer…"

"Football."

"We're in the USA, aunt Peggy. It's soccer here."

"The place is old. It used to be a monastery. They used to accept boys from among the nobility as students, and then opened it up to co-ed general education in the eighteen hundreds. They seem to have a high rate of graduation, as well as a high number of their students continuing on to college. They apparently have an excellent foreign language program, as a number of their students end up working in the diplomatic corps and for the UN as translators. Other than that there's the usual spread of students going into the arts, the media, medicine, business and government. We actually have several graduates of Grey Friar's among our number. They've all been vetted as not being HYDRA by Dr. Strange. Most of them have been with us for years and we've had no complaints or incidents from any of them. Because the school curriculum stresses community service as one of its tenets, all of the graduates are heavily involved in social movements while in school--everything from cleaning up the environment to volunteering in refugee camps or spending summers with habitats for humanity." Coulson expounded.

"I know what I saw, even if I can't explain how or why." Steve sighed.

"Oh, we know. We found our mystery children on camera about four blocks away from the restaurant." Coulson nodded.

"What's more, one of the boys in question is our young Mr. Potter, the other boy is his cousin, Dudley Dursley. So far we haven't been able to find any records on the girl who was with them, but she was in fact wearing a red and gold scarf." Peggy agreed.

"I don't get it. If there is some kind of cover-up in progress, why go to all this trouble? And where does the woman fit in to things? If they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, why not just run out with everyone else?"

"I can think of one. Look what's just beyond our kiddies there, and then look at the bag the one boy is carrying. Our clean-living kiddies got themselves some illegal hooch." Tony chortled.

"If they don't have priors, the worst that might have happened is that the liquor gets taken and their parents get called." Steve objected.

"Well, maybe the boy didn't want his clean-living new family to know about his trip to the wild side. All I can figure is that the aunt and uncle must have been much more permissive."

"Yeah. Both boys did terribly in school, and Potter had a disciplinary record. Dursley had a disciplinary record his first year in his new school after they were separated, which means he probably should have had one before, but Potter got the blame for everything for some reason. He's younger and smaller than the cousin, which probably explains it. They get back together, they fall back into their delinquent ways. Maybe new momma and poppa don't want him hanging out with his cousin." Tony agreed.

"So, what are you saying?"

"We think the girl might perhaps be a mutant and it was she who removed them from the scene, and may have come back for her scarf later."

"We tried questioning Dursley about it, but he insisted he hadn't been in London, didn't see anyone get shot, wasn't with his cousin, who he hadn't seen for 'years'. We tried to lean on him but he refused to speak to us after a while and wanted to call in the police and his parents."

"He's a kid. Don't you have to have parents involved?"

"In a possible criminal matter…"

"What criminal matter? The most we can really say for certain at this point is that a girl, who may be a mutant, may have gotten herself and two other kids away from a gun fight they had no part in. Unless there's evidence linking any of them to the death of the woman that I don't know about?"

"No. No one would have questioned that her death was a result of the battle if not for your insistence." Peggy admitted.

"Say she did pop them out of there. She might very well have saved all their lives. Do you really expect the kid to repay that by pointing a couple of government heavies her way?"

"She can't just be allowed to…" Coulson began.
Steve's eyes flashed, his lips thinned and his jaw firmed.

"Excuse me? She can't be allowed? If she and the other mutants were in fact born with their powers, then they are as god made them, and it is not for you or anyone to decide if they are allowed to exist. Only in a case where said powers were abused or used to commit crimes or hurt someone should it even be a matter for law enforcement at all."

"There is still an unexplained dead woman." Coulson pointed out, sounding a bit snippy.

"That we have no evidence has anything to do with the kids." Cap retorted, equally snippy.

"She and Potter both went to Grey Friars."

"It's a school. I'm sure lots of people went there. Is there anything else linking them?"

Coulson pursed his lips and looked vaguely unhappy.

"I'll take that as a no."

"Steve. We're looking in to this because you insisted. You can't just get mad if you don't like what we're telling you." Peggy sighed.

"I haven't heard anything that points to kids needing to be chased down by SHIELD. The dead woman was in Captain Britain's booth. What do we know about him?"

"Well…he says he was approached by the wizard Merlin and given the choice between an amulet and a sword. He chose the amulet and was empowered to be a champion for Britain."

"Do any of the witnesses remember a man being in that booth, or seeing him transform, or do they only remember the woman?"

"Only two people noticed enough around them to comment. Both remember a woman."

"That would seem to point to the cover-up being linked to Captain Britain. Possibly to safeguard his secret identity."

"That's your thought? A wizard did it?" Tony asked, outraged.

"A wizard perpetrated an elaborate cover-up to protect an empowered champion, or a trio of kids with some hooch did it. I know which one sounds more likely to me."

Those gathered looked at one another.

"Well, yes. I suppose you might have a point."

 

"…so that's what brought them to rampage through my flat like that. If it weren't so annoying, I'd be impressed with his recall." Loki mused.

"Likewise, but as it is annoying, not to mention damned inconvenient, I'm going to save my regard." head Unspeakable Lovegood grunted sourly. "Especially now. We're so close to our goals, but we still need time. Steve Rodgers has perfect recall and a tendency to put small details noted over time into a big picture. Nicholas Fury and Agent Coulson, for all they believe themselves to be SHIELD men through and through, share a certain appreciation for expediency and the ends justify the means with HYDRA. Tony Stark is too clever for his own good, and can whip up more and more supercomputers to sift and rearrange the frankly frightening amount of data SHIELD has collected on every corner of the earth touched by technology until he jiggles every loose end free, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Agent May is sharp as they come, sneaky, not to mention dangerous. Peggy Carter is a damned fine investigator, and she's relentless. Even with ongoing HYDRA massacres popping up all over the globe, attempted coups and terrorist actions, they still spent time, effort, and computing power pursuing the children and the cover-up in the restaurant. We've lucked out so far in that they decided the kids were a dead end beyond possibly knowing a mutant, and they've decided to focus their efforts on Captain Britain and Merlin for a while. Is that likely to be trouble for us?"

"I shouldn't think so. Captain Britain is an empowered champion, but it is unlikely he knows more than he's already told SHIELD. As for Merlyn, the truth is he may not even notice them calling at all, and if he does he isn't likely to consider them worth answering. He isn't just your historical Merlin, he's every Merlin that ever was across all time and dimensions fused into a single being. He gets to decide if universes are worth keeping around or not. His concerns are so far beyond their petty worries that the chances of them forcing him to even acknowledge them are slim to none. That being said, on the off chance they annoy him enough to actually notice and get snippy, I'll be taking my boys and leaving."

"He's that powerful?"

"The All-Father doesn't mess with him, I tend not to mess with the All-Father if I can help it. That should give you a clear idea of just where we stand in relation to one another in the cosmic hierarchy."

"Good to know. Let's hope he's not feeling too chatty." Lovegood sighed.

"So what are your plans going forward?"

"We've considered sending out word for our muggle living wizards to start finding lodgings in a wizarding area, and start slowly having our liaisons start putting in their two-week notices. We've put together a secondary crew so the ship can be worked on around the clock. We're hoping to push the launch date further forward. Ideally, by the time we start sending the first pre-colonization crews across we'll have achieved full separation. We've also started putting together four more gateways. We were originally planning to do a nice, orderly retreat, one country at a time. We're going to try to empty out China, India and Africa at the same time instead. There's no real reason we can't. We're leaving from all over the globe to settle all over the globe. If we redeploy the gateways to the next three most populous areas each time they empty out, we should accomplish the whole move in a third the time. In fact we may make more than that, and try to move six areas at …. Well, if we're going to go higher, I suppose we should just do seven. Hmmm. I'll have to tell the tech boys. I hope we've enough room in the ship for everything we're trying to pack in there…"

"Or you could just send one like you planned and send the rest with the teams once it's deployed."

"That would make more sense. I'm trying to keep track of too many details. I'm starting to miss the obvious." Lovegood sighed tiredly.

"Your liaisons, are they all listed as going to the same school?"

"Yes…" Lovegood frowned in consternation and rubbed her head "Definitely starting to miss the obvious. If a whole bunch of graduates of 'Grey Friar's Academy' all start jumping ship right on the heels of their investigation, they'll never let it rest. I'm glad we didn't send word out yet. I'll tell them to hold the fort until the day we leave. Let the muggles wonder where their people have gotten to. By then we'll be beyond their reach. I hope."

"Get some rest and hold your course. So long as none of you panic and just follow your plan, all will be well."

"Yes, but for how long? They're catching up to us far quicker than any of us dared imagine."

"Not to worry, my dear. Just follow your plan and you will have time aplenty to get yourselves settled, no doubt."

Lovegood looked at him and seemed to relax suddenly.

"Know that for a fact, do you?"

"Oh, my dear, now that would be telling."

Chapter Text

"Hello, everyone! Good holiday?" Dean greeted the group gathered in the dining car of the train.

"Not as good as yours. When are they making that stuff you took available to the open market?" Seamus demanded.

"I told you that probably depends on several factors. " Hermione huffed impatiently. "First, for the study to be complete. They want to be certain it will work the same on everyone. Honestly, I'm not sure whether or not it has so far--from what I could see it did, but if there was some hidden differences, they're going to want to figure out why and how they can fix that. Secondly, there has to be enough of whatever is in the serum to make it in large batches. I don't know what's in it, so I don't know how difficult or expensive that's going to be. Most importantly, they'll have to decide if they even want it to be widely available. I wouldn't like to think it, but they might restrict it to aurors and hit-wizards."

"They can't!"

"That's not fair!"

"You two got it!"

"Because we took part in the study, and they didn't know if there would be side effects amongst the diverse group that took it."

"They'd better put it on the market. If I had known, I totally would have taken part in the study." Lavender said bitterly, eyeing Hermione's expanded bustline with envy.
Parvati was busy watching Dean effortlessly arm-wrestle guy after guy.

"I hope they do. It would certainly make the scenery much nicer. Hopefully once they do, all the boys will have the same aversion to buying new shirts that Dean has." she giggled quietly to Lavender, who took a moment to appreciate the too-tight long-sleeved shirt stretched tight over Dean's rippling muscles and heartily agreed.

They tuned back in to the conversation going on around them when it went back to the HYDRA gunfight that took place the same day as their transformation.

"No, I didn't hear about any of that. My parents and I stayed at Harry's place for the remainder of the holiday, not to mention I was a bit preoccupied with what happened to me."

"What's this then?" Lavender spoke up.

"I was just saying that the muggle world is getting weird anymore. Apparently there were more folks out there hiding than just us." Dean explained.

"There were? Like who? And how did we not know about them?" Parvati wondered.

"Maybe they just weren't looking? I don't know."

"What kind of people? And why were they hiding?" Neville asked.

"Probably the same reason we were, though some of them came out to help out against HYDRA. In fact, there was a guy in the same restaurant as me, Ginny and Dudley were that did some kind of transformation because of a magical amulet or something. We didn't even see him, we were too busy hiding under the table to portkey away." Harry spoke up, voice wry.

"Was that the guy in the Union Jack costume?" Dean asked.

"Probably. Loki called him "Captain Britain". It seems actual historical Merlin, not dementor Merlin, as well as the actual Merlins of every dimension or something, fused into some kind of superbeing that gets to decide whether universes are worth keeping or not. He's still called Merlyn, he just spells his name different. He hands out these amulets to heroic type folks that empowers them to fight. He tells them it's because they've been chosen to be a hero to their people, but actually it's so they can protect the amulet. It collects magical energy from whatever universe it's in, and he has a deal like this going on in every universe he was once a part of before he became super-Merlin. It sends the magical energy it collects to him. In order to defeat him or take him out, you'd have to find and defeat his empowered champion in every universe and destroy the amulets, probably at the same time, and then fight him until whatever magic he's already collected runs out. Scary stuff."

"We're going to find this guy and scan the amulet, right?" Terry said eagerly.

"We can't." Harry grumbled. "Loki made Tom, Fleur and I all swear a solemn vow that we wouldn't. Merlyn is stronger than Odin and he doesn't want us to be obliterated. He said we can figure out how to make an amulet to collect magical energy on our own without bringing the wrath of a supreme magical being down on our heads."

"Ah. Well…he kind of has a point." Seamus agreed.

"Yeah. So who else was running around? You made it sound like there was a lot of weird people." Neville asked.

"Well, there was a guy with an American flag suit too, but he's just a super soldier. He was given the same kind of stuff Hermione and Dean got back during WWII, and later got frozen in the Arctic or something for a couple of decades before he was found and thawed out. He's out battling HYDRA again, because that's what he was made for." Harry explained.

"The flag guys were cool but pretty ordinary, all things considered. The helmet guy was way weirder." Dean objected.

"Helmet guy?" Hermione laughed.

"No, really. He had a funky helmet and a big cape and he was just flying around, flipping over cars, stopping bullets, ripping guns out of people's hands and stuff. He's a mutant. He was born with magnet powers or something. He was in a concentration camp during WWII, so he really hates Nazis, and HYDRA started out as Nazis, so he came out to fight them. There was another guy running around with claw hands who kept getting shot up and then he'd just get up fine and keep fighting. He's another mutant. They're not wizards, they're muggles who were just born with weird abilities. They're all different too. There was something on the news about a guy with laser-beam eyes running around fighting HYDRA in America who's supposed to be a mutant too, and some lady in Egypt who can control the weather or something."

"They might live to regret showing themselves so publically. Once HYDRA is defeated, governments all around the world are going to turn their attentions to rounding all of them up so they can either control or experiment on them." Hermione fretted. "Maybe we should take them with us?"

"No. If they're the next group to emerge for Ascension, they'll have to fight their own battles. That's how it works. That seems to be Earth's role. According to Loki, all the alien civilizations in our galaxy actually started on Earth. A group emerges that's different in some way from the normal humans at the time, they get hunted or ostracized, eventually come together as a group and leave to found their own civilization on another planet. We're doing it now, the mutants will eventually, if they can come together as a group in time." Tom objected. "Even if they're born with some specific unique power, they're still muggles not wizards and have no reason to be loyal to us, our people or our goals. We might just end up with a resentful group in our midst that eventually tries to take our new planet for their own. If they ascend we can open trade or something, but the only people coming with us are us."

"Tom's right. We have enough going on just getting ourselves and our stuff off planet. We don't even know how many of them there are. It would be a hell of a thing if our whole plan went to hell because a mutant who didn't want to leave because of their ties here decided to sell us out in the final hours in hopes of clemency of some sort for themselves and their family. They're on their own. That's how it works. Same goes for the flag-suit guys." Harry agreed.

 

 

 

 

Location: Charles Xavier's School for the Gifted

Charles Xavier, better known as Professor X, sighed when he felt a familiar presence coming towards the school.

"It seems Magneto is coming for a visit." Jean Grey, his assistant and second in command said idly. "Scott and I were going to go out to dinner. Do you need us to stick around?"

"That shouldn't be necessary, Jean. He's approaching openly, so that means he's just coming by to talk."

"Are we going to get more involved in the fight against HYDRA, professor?"

"My thoughts on that remain unchanged, Jean. Scott's involvement in that attack last month was unfortunate to say the least."

"Professor, what was he supposed to do? He was right there, and there were civilians being shot and killed everywhere he looked. He could no more have stayed out of it than I could have."

"It will be difficult to convince the ordinary humans that mutants are not much different from them and can live among them in peace when they have footage of Scott vaporizing HYDRA agents and their guns playing on the news nightly for weeks. HYDRA may be a dangerous and evil organization, but it is an organization made of ordinary humans, which makes it the job of ordinary humans to deal with it. Had there been obvious mutants amongst their number it would have been different."

"Still singing the same old song, are you Charles?" Magneto chuckled as he settled on the balcony nearby, his long cape billowing about him.

The door to the office swung open, revealing a twenty-something young man with bright red hair and a strange contraption over his eyes. He froze upon seeing their guest.

"Ah, Magneto. Nice work in England."

"The same to you, Cyclops. I still chortle every time they replay the footage of you vaporizing those HYDRA agents. During the war it was them doing all the vaporizing, but they don't seem to have their old weapons anymore. Serves the Nazi bastards right." Magneto snickered. His grin only got wider when Professor X glared at both of them reproachfully.

"We were just about to head out." Jean interjected, moving to cut off Scott from Xavier's line of sight. They'd been arguing lately and she didn't want him in a bad mood through dinner. "Good night, Magneto, Professor."

She put a firm hand on Scott's chest and nudged him back through the door, closing it firmly behind her.

"Let me guess. You saw the news and instead of telling that boy 'well done' you pulled a guilt trip on him and tried to make him feel badly about trying to protect all the innocent humans that were being killed. Ah, Charles, you never change, do you?"

"Yes, I did and you well know why, Eric. A show of overwhelming force like you've both done will only cause us problems in the long run."

"There would be problems regardless, Charles." Magneto said tiredly as he moved into the room and settled on a nearby chair. "I at least am enough of a realist to know it. You can talk about peace and togetherness all you like, that doesn't mean it's ever going to happen. What's more, all those children you have here at your school are going to grow resentful in time."

"They need to learn control."

"I agree. They don't need to learn to be ashamed of themselves from their own community. Most of them got enough of that from their families when their powers first manifested. You made the same mistake with Mystique."

"She's blue. She needed to learn to blend…"

"You wouldn't allow her to don her true form even when in her own home. You made her feel like she should be ashamed of being different and she got tired of it, as will they one day." he nodded towards the open balcony.

Dotted across the lawn could be seen some of the students gathered around a small fire, warming their hands and laughing together, courtesy of one of the students, while another was gathering up the snow and ice and making benches for everyone to sit on. Xavier's mouth tightened and moments later a statuesque black woman with long white hair approached the students, scolded them and chased them inside.

"You never learn, do you." Magneto said with some asperity.

"They need to learn to keep their powers hidden when in public, not go about flaunting them without care."

"A wolf might don sheep's clothing, but it will never truly be a sheep." Magneto scoffed. "What's more, you're giving those children a very mixed message. You're telling them with your words that they can live in peace and harmony with the humans. With your actions you're telling them that dream is a lie and that the only way they'll ever be safe is to be ashamed and hide and pretend to be something they're not for the whole of their lives."

"I'm teaching them that acceptance and assimilation are an incremental process. Real change doesn't happen overnight. They need to see our similarities before they see our differences. They need to see that we'll police our own and keep them safe. What they don't need to see is those of our number rolling over ordinary humans like an unstoppable storm that none among them could hope to defend against." Charles grated.

"It is the nature of humanity to hate and fear that which is different. You see it every day, all over the world, generation after generation. Different color, different ethnicity, different religion, different gender." Magneto sighed tiredly and waved a hand as though to banish the conversation. "Enough. We already know we disagree. I don't think you called me to rehash this same tired old argument."

"No, I didn't. I was hoping you'd let me view your memories of the battle in England."

"Hmmm. No." Magneto quipped.

"Eric."

"I don't wear this just for show." Magneto replied, tapping his helmet meaningfully. "I don't actually enjoy you traipsing through my mind whenever the fancy takes you. Telepath or not, it's just rude."

Xavier glowered at him, but Magneto remained unmoved.

"What are you looking for? Maybe I can just tell you whatever it is."

Xavier sighed and stared off into the distance pensively as he gathered his thoughts. "There were several unusual presences on the edges of the battle that I want to know more about. I've encountered their like before, but I can't get a firm grasp on any of them, even with CEREBRO."

Magneto's eyes widened slightly. From what he knew of Xavier's 'telepath machine', it magnified his own telepathic power to such a degree that it allowed him to monitor the whole earth at once to aid in his search for mutants.

"No wonder you're so tetchy." Magneto quipped, a tiny smile lighting his face for a moment.

Xavier glowered at him again, but it had as little effect as it had the first time. "These presences appear and disappear randomly, but even when present I only know they're there, I can't get any further hold on them. What I do know is that their appearance heralds unusual activity."

"What sort of unusual activity?"

"Do you remember Beast?"

"Big blue hairy fellow? Very intelligent?"

"That's him." Xavier agreed. A knock sounded at the door and a rather ordinary looking man in a lab coat peered inside when Xavier called out to him.

"You needed me for something, Professor?"

"Hello, Hank. I just wanted my colleague here to get a look at you."

The man sighed and came further into the room, looked at Magneto, held out his arms and did a slow spin. When he was done, he glanced at Xavier.

"If that's all, Professor? I was in the middle of something when you called."

"Yes. Thank you, Hank."

Magneto stayed lost in thought for a moment before glancing at Xavier. "He found some way to deactivate the mutant X gene?" he asked quietly, though his voice heralded danger if he didn't like the answer.

"He didn't do that. He was travelling in Europe to speak to some colleagues of his. I was passively monitoring his travels. One of the presences I mentioned crossed paths with him briefly. When he returned he looked like that. He still has his strength and agility, his enhanced senses and intellect. The only thing that really changed is that he looks like an ordinary human. That, and he doesn't remember being blue and hairy. He still recalls being gorilla-like and having oversized hands and feet as a boy, but he rationalized it away and decided he'd just grown into his body. It wasn't until he returned here, saw footage of himself as he was and read through his notes that he believed us that he'd changed substantially. He has no memory of what was done to him to make him like that, and all of his memories of being blue and hairy were removed somehow at the same time. The encounter with the presence lasted but a few minutes at most."

"So…he's still a mutant, he just looks human?"

"Yes. He's not the only one who has been so altered. There was another that was born with wings. His family made him keep them strapped down and kept him hidden. He encountered one of the presences while out flying. They removed his wings, but didn't substantially alter the rest of his physiology--he's still stronger and faster than the average human. He remembers praying for his 'curse' to be removed and having the wings disappear. Sadly, both he and his family were so pleased with this development that when I had him approached to see if we could study him and figure out how to bring his wings back, they refused." Xavier looked rather bitter about this, but after a moment his face cleared and he continued. "With more searching I discovered fifteen other cases where a mutant was substantially altered, and three where the violent awakening of a mutant's powers was cleaned up and simply made to go away."

"What do you mean?"

"In the previous instances, in each case the mutant in question looked decidedly non-human--fur, scales, horns. It was different in each case, but their mutant form manifested in a decidedly non-human appearance. They were made to look human once more. Most still have whatever powers came with the transformation. In one case the mutation seemed to have simply been the altered appearance. In the other three, the children in question either destroyed their family home and badly injured their family members who were nearby, or their powers awakened while in a crowd in public, causing widespread injuries and property damage. The damage was fixed, injuries healed and memories of the event were removed. I gathered up all three of the mutants in question before there was a repeat. In every case one of the presences intersected the mutant in question. What little information I have on the events was gathered from bystanders and the mutants themselves before their memories were removed. There were several presences in the vicinity of your battle with HYDRA, though no memories were altered while they were there, nor were any of the mutants present changed. They were simply there and then vanished. I was hoping you had seen them or had more information to give me on what they'd been doing there."

"Strangely enough, I do know something. There were three children, teenagers really, in one of the restaurants when the battle broke out into the street…" Magneto explained what all Captain America had told him about the incident. "SHIELD has decided that the girl is a mutant with teleportation powers that got herself and the other two away from the scene."

"She was no mutant."

"I didn't think she was. I did feel a small twinge in the electro-magnetic field that I couldn't quite place. It wasn't until Cap told me this story that I realized what I must have felt. I know what mutant teleportation feels like. This was different, though I'm at a loss to say how exactly. I didn't tell him that, of course. The whole reason he told me anything was so I could possibly spread the word to the mystery teleporter and let them know to lay low. SHIELD has taken an interest and he dislikes the idea of a child being forcibly recruited into a war zone." Magneto studied Xavier for a moment and frowned at him. "I would suggest you keep whatever you know to yourself as well. These people, whoever they are, have seemingly been self-policing, or at least thought they were when they came upon mutants. That means they're hiding in plain sight, possibly have been for years. It would seem our mystery people agree with my own belief that true assimilation is never going to happen. Whoever they are, they are not mutants, and so are none of our business. If nothing else, they've taken the targets off the backs of the most visible of our number, made the violent awakenings of some of our number less traumatic, and possibly saved a future relationship between the mutant and their family and neighbors, which you must admit will only help your quest to assimilate. My advice is forget about them. No meddling, Charles."

"I do not meddle." Xavier scoffed.

"HA. Pull the other one my friend, it has bells on. You do meddle. Incessantly. You can't stand not knowing something."

"In this case I have good reason. Your point about them removing the targets from the most visible, and therefore the most vulnerable among us is well taken. Have you forgotten that we have whole communities of mutants that cannot blend living underground like animals?"

"Still bitter that there's a whole subset of mutants who will not listen to your talk of peaceful assimilation? They know firsthand that being different comes at a high price sometimes."

"Would it not be better for them if they could rejoin the human race?"

"For them or for you, Charles? As it stands they're more open to my own message that we should have a place for mutants where all can be accepted just as they are, without need to hide or pretend to be something they're not."

"Which makes it sound like you don't even want to give them the option in case it makes them less open to your message." Xavier pointed out. "Should it not be their choice?"

"And what of this hidden community you want to lure into the open? Shouldn't it be their choice as well? They may not be mutants, but I still dislike the idea of putting a target on any group of powered people. By the sound of it they've gone to great lengths to keep themselves hidden. It isn't our place to interfere with that." Magneto riposted.

"Another group of people, perhaps with a different mutation than ours! They could be of great use to us in our quest for mutant rights."

"From what you've told me, I highly doubt they're going to be open to your idea for assimilation. By the sound of it they've been going to great lengths to erase anything that hints at their existence. We don't know who or what these people are. It may well be that they tried assimilation and were persecuted for their trouble, have you thought of that? It may be the only reason we never heard of the events is because they erased all memory of their people from those who knew. If they can hide even from you with CEREBRO, you may well bite off more than you can chew if you try to force the issue, my friend."

 

 

 

 

 

"Uh…JARVIS? I asked you to tag "Grey Friars", a phrase, not anything with 'grey' or 'friars'… I mean, yeah, it's great to know that FAB HAIR for men will take away my grey hairs…which I don't have, by the way… and what's this? Friar Tuck? If he existed, he's long dead by now. Get with the program here." Tony Stark said with some exasperation.

"You're leaving the data mining to JARVIS? Is that wise?" Peggy sighed. "No offense, JARVIS."

"None taken sir aunt Peggy."

"Jarv, buddy, I keep telling you, I'm sir, she's just aunt Peggy. As for the other, yeah, of course I am. He's a learning system. How's he supposed to learn unless I give him a chance to do so?"

"Why are you still looking for information on Grey Friars? I thought we agreed it was a dead end? Surely there are other things that we should be investigating?"

"He is. He can multitask. I know we all agreed the kids with the illegal hooch probably didn't have anything to do with that woman, but it still bugs me. I mean, what are the odds that one of the kids there just happens to be the adopted brother of the grandkid of some guy you, cap and my dad all knew in the forties…and even if a wizard did it, why did the kids get covered? Protecting his masked champion, sure, I guess I could see that, but a couple of teens out for a day on the town? Plus, I still say there was something odd about that family. Even grandpa was an oddball. White hair, one eyed, built like a tank. There's something odd there, I just know it. And what made that Odinson guy and his sexy hausfrau go on a sudden orphan adopting spree anyway? They both looked young enough they should still have a few years to try for youngins of their own…plus, he just happens to know where to find orphans that are both geniuses or something, and look enough like him that they could be mistaken for his actual, not-adopted children? How lucky is that? Then there's the weird names… I suppose that can be attributed to the guy being from Iceland. Loki and Sigyn Odinson. What kind of names even are they?"

"Loki, son of Odin is the Norse god of mischief. His wife, Sigyn, is known as the 'goddess of fidelity'." JARVIS interjected.

Tony froze and blinked a few times before turning to Peggy.

"Uh, didn't your sorcerer guy tell you a Norse god clued him in to HYDRA?"

"Yes. Yes he did."

"You find any other connections, Jarv?"

"The cosmic cube which aunt Peggy mentioned before was believed to once have been the crown jewel of Odin's treasure vault, left on Earth for mankind to study. The Red Skull apparently retrieved it from a temple dedicated to Odin in Norway."

"This would be the same Odin, father of Loki, god of mischief?"

"Indeed, sir."

"Tell me something, Jarv….this Odin guy…does he look like pirate santa?"

"I don't understand the question sir."

"What does Odin look like?" Peggy asked.

A picture of an old drawing, showing an old man with one eye, riding a massive horse with eight legs appeared on the screen.

"Huh. Pirate santa…who apparently doesn't have eight flying reindeer, but a single, flying, eight-legged horse. Was its mom a spider or something?"

"No, his mother was Loki."

"Okay… Really not seeing the family resemblance." Tony commented, disturbed. He sat up straighter, eyes wide.

"Portals! Your sorcerer guy said the Norse god gave him the heads up because he was being all PTA dad and trying to get his baby godling off the hot seat for playing with dimensional portals that could let in Lovecraftian horrors from the booga booga dimension, right? Little red might still be a mutant…or maybe her parents are just hippies that believe in living off the grid, but what if the kids vanished because baby godling opened a portal? Your sorcerer guy intervenes to keep freaks and monsters from outside coming in…he probably doesn't care about strictly terrestrial this-dimension portals though--not his jurisdiction. If Reindeer games and sexy hausfrau are actually Norse gods…those super genius kids that look like him might actually be his kids or grandkids or something. I don't know about Norse mythology, but Greek has gods traipsing around knocking up the locals all the time. So…wow… I might have ransacked a god's home. Cool. I gotta say though, being a deity doesn't seem to pay well. Or maybe it's just because they're older than they look. Everyone knows old people don't understand technology. If your old age is millennia rather than decades, I can see suddenly why the weird family don't have a tv. No…it's still weird. I'd think Norse deities would be more fur, warhammers and quaffing ale and less matching ugly Christmas sweaters and gingerbread. I'm still lost…unless that was them trying to blend? That would certainly explain why they acted like a Hallmark movie family rather than a real family…"

"The question is though, what on Earth are they doing here? I'm not sure I believe they're actual gods…perhaps aliens, they would have to be from a rather advanced civilization if they're able to not only travel interstellar distances, but do so without anyone on Earth being any the wiser, even with the strides we've made in recent decades. I would dearly love to know the answer…but, given that, so far as we know, they haven't done anything, we'd be best served just focusing on HYDRA and leave investigating them until we've finished cleaning house."

"Yeah. If they can make portals just whenever, getting them to stand still and answer questions if they don't feel like it is going to be a bit of a job most likely…though that begs the question of why they let me ransack their house and drink all their eggnog."

"They seem to be attempting to blend, that's if they're even actually aliens and not just a random Icelandic couple with mythological names."

"Maybe they were messing with us. Loki is supposed to be god of mischief. He might just be having a laugh at our expense."

"I suppose we can't rightly rule that out. Ugh. This is going to bug me now! You might be the first human to knowingly make contact with extraterrestrial humanoid life forms and we have too much else on our plate to properly investigate!"

"Knowingly. That might be the key word there, aunt Peg. They looked human enough, beyond him being on the tall side and her being a super hottie."

"How tall was he?"

"I dunno…6'4" or so. Lean build. She was about 5'8" or so. Looked tiny next to hubby but she was actually on the taller than average side as well, but both well within normal limits. Pretty average all things considered--as in no tentacles or extra eyeballs or anything. Above average otherwise--tall, wouldn't kick either of them out of bed…. Hey, Jarv, what does mythology say about their stance on open relationships?"

"Inconclusive, sir…"

"Enough. JARVIS, don't answer. Tony, you are not running off to try and seduce a couple of aliens that are lurking on Earth for reasons unknown."

"Again, not the boss of me. Besides, what says 'welcome to our planet' better than a threesome?"

"TONY, NO."

"Why does everyone keep saying that? Hasn't anyone noticed yet it doesn't work?" Tony huffed, sounding aggrieved.

 

 

 

 

"What's all this?" Penny asked Sirius curiously. Several employees were carefully stacking what looked to be a pile of large screens and securing them in place on pallet. When the last was loaded on and secured, the whole thing disappeared.

"View screens. One is being sent to each of the nightclubs, and each of the Ministries in the countries that we have train service to. We're going to be doing media coverage of the space program, the astronauts, a tour of the ship, the gateways and what have you in the lead up to the launch. We'll be broadcasting the launch, the trip to the new planet and, god willing, the landing when it happens."

"Why only to them? I would think everyone would want to watch." Penny objected.

"Mostly because we already have a relationship with those places. I'm sure other Ministries will get on board, we're just waiting to hear from them." Sirius explained. "This is really happening, and even if everyone cooperates, moving all of us is going to be a big job. Sadly, wizards being wizards, quite a few will probably not cooperate, and complain, and possibly do something hare-brained at some point that will make it a bigger job than it already is. We're hoping having all this so people can see and hear about what's going on will keep everyone on the same page long enough to keep the problems to a minimum."

"It probably won't be that easy, but hope springs eternal." Penny laughed. "Are you going to send screens to the schools? Having them in the nightclubs and the ministries is fine for the adults, but the kids will probably be more interested than even most of the adults are."

"The kids have one. Our kids, that is."

"Other kids will probably appreciate it. Want me to compile a list of wizarding schools worldwide?"

"Hmm. Probably not a bad idea. Maybe write up a standard letter to send to all of them. No sense making them if none of the schools want them. We should find out how many are interested first."

"I can get on that. In the meantime, you have a meeting with Fudge in, uh, twenty minutes."

"Damned pompous blowhard."

"He's been wanting to meet with you a lot lately. Is there something I should be concerned with?" Penny wondered.

"Hardly. It's all just a big waste of time, really. From what I heard he had a meltdown when the ICW agreed we should move. He didn't want to stop being important." Sirius scoffed with tremendous disdain.

Penny looked puzzled for a moment, but then her eyes lit with understanding.

"The Ministry is empowered by secrecy. No muggles means no ministry."

"Yeah, and the ICW doesn't meet again until this summer, which means the Ministry's new mandate won't be ratified until a few months after we've already gotten people to the new planet. He's been throwing his weight around, making people come to him so he can waste their time nattering on about nothing, just to keep himself relevant or something. It's annoying as hell, but I have to keep playing nice. Fudge is exactly the sort of petulant brat who would have a tantrum and screw things up for us, and at this late date we really can't afford it." Sirius grumbled.

"I still don't understand how that blowhard became Minister."

"He's easily manipulated and controlled. Anyone who had an agenda to push, which let's face it is everyone, looked at him and thought "he's perfect! He'll do whatever I say if I just butter him up enough!"

"That's depressing."

"Welcome to the real world, kid. Where's Lucy, anyway?"

"Um… He's currently in his office." Penny checked.

"Good. If I have to suffer through a meeting with Fudge, he's going to suffer with me. I can guarantee he's one of the idiots that elected him."

 

 

 

 

"How does everyone feel?" Head Unspeakable Lovegood asked the retired aurors curiously.

"Twenty years younger. At least twenty. You don't quite realize how many aches and pains you accumulated until they're gone." Albin said, sounding giddy.

"Tell me about it. I usually have to have a couple a' shots at least to feel this good." Jeremy Jones laughed.

"Who are you kidding, Jonesy? When have you ever stopped at a couple?" Petie snorted while doing knee bends. "Crimeny, I haven't been able to do this in years!"

Quickdraw was busy studying himself in the mirror. "I think my thinning hair grew back. This was worth it just for that."

"You think that's neat, look at Alastor." Cecil noted, dipping his head Mad-Eye's way.

"You don't have to tell me twice. It's weird. I've gotten so used to looking at his ugly, noseless mug I almost didn't recognize him." Petie noted, laughing when Mad-Eye flipped him off before going back to running his hands over his face.

"Shame it didn't grow back your eye or your leg." Quickdraw noted.

"Grew back my nose, my cheek and my left buttock. I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth." Alastor snorted. "In any case, idiot boy's silver leg works as good as the original, and my "mad" eye works better than the original, so I'm not complaining anyway." He glanced over to where the remainder of their group were busy stretching, or ogling themselves in the mirror. "What about you lot?"

"I feel great! I'm gonna have to get new clothes though. I've gotten taller! At my age!" Daniel Deneuve snorted.

"We all did. Pain in the ass if you ask me." Cecil sighed.

"I haven't gone clothes shopping in twenty years!" Petie griped, agreeing.

"Then I'll consider forcing you fossils to get new shorts before your old ones disintegrate off your wrinkled old tushes my good deed for the day." Lovegood huffed, wrinkling her nose just a bit, which just set them all to laughing.

"All right, you lot, if you're all done preening, let's put you through your paces. We're going to test you physically, magically, run you through the simulators and give you an exam of sorts on everything new you've been learning. Depending on how you all score we'll make a determination for our launch date."

The former Aurors grew still and quiet at her words.

"That a fact." Alastor said finally. They'd been looking forward to getting on with things, but now that things were moving forward they were all getting anxious.

"Yep. The last section of the ship is being put together as we speak. It should be a week until the last bit is assembled."

"Why so long?"

"The pieces are made as needed, remember, and each piece goes through a thorough inspection before being cleared for use. " she reminded them. "After the last piece is assembled, we'll likely spend another week going over every inch and making sure everything looks like it should. Each section was inspected as it was assembled, so this is a formality more than anything, but better safe than sorry. If all of you pass your tests to my satisfaction over the next two weeks, launch could be at any time after that, once we have the ship stocked and get all of you your new armor--your extreme environment suits should still fit. So, yes, barring any unforeseen setbacks or problems, I'm going to tentatively schedule the launch for three weeks from now."

"Hear that, boys?" Eddard "Big Ed" Lannister chuckled nervously "Three weeks from now we might be on another ruddy planet."

"Yeah. Imagine that. Damn."

"That reminds me. We've a photo shoot and a press conference to schedule. I hope you like being in the public eye, boys, you'll be world famous soon."

 

 

 

 

"What's going on in there?" Luna asked curiously, seeing the crowd gathered outside the great hall and trying to peek in.

"From what that guy over there said, they're installing a giant tv." Dennis replied with a shrug.

"The view screen is here? Good. I can't wait to see what they've done." Daphne said eagerly as she and the rest of the Slytherin 5th years approached.

"You know what's going on?" Dennis asked.

"They're going to start the media blitz for the lead-up to the launch. Draco's father wrote him about it, and then we bugged Lupin till he gave us the details. They're going to do a tour of the ship and interviews with the old guys. I think they're also going to be doing commercial spots for some of the nightclubs, you know, trying to drum up some tourist trade for the off season, that kind of thing."

"We're going to have commercial spots too." George Weasley announced cheerfully as he and his twin approached. "We'll be promoting not only our shop here but also all the shops worldwide that carry our stuff."

"Father said they're also going to be doing fly-overs on the new planet and checking in with the different teams once they're on the new planet, so everyone back here can keep abreast of how things are going and have some idea of the time-table for the move as it evolves." Draco added.

"So…we're going to be watching tv spots during dinner or what?"

"I guess it depends on what the staff decide. From what I understand, they're just going to keep playing whatever they have around the clock until they have something new to show, so say everything takes two hours, then every two hours it just starts over. When they have new stuff to play, they'll give the new show times so everyone who wants to can tune in to watch. They'll keep it up until launch time, and then they'll broadcast that and the first view of the new planet for everyone. That should be something, huh. We'll finally get to see the place up close." Pansy said excitedly.

"Lupin said there's going to be another screen in the Ministry atrium, and one hanging over the entrance of Gringott's that will be viewable throughout Diagon Alley, from the street anyway." Theo added.

A stir in the crowd ahead drew the kids' attention. They could see the crowd parting to let a man in a coverall that said "Explorer's Inc." on the left part of the chest making his way out of the great hall and from there out of the castle. Once he was gone the crowd ahead pushed its way into the great hall. The rest followed, curious to see what was so interesting.

A massive view screen was mounted on the wall above the teachers' table up front. It looked rather out of place against the medieval splendor of the rest of the room. The teachers were all gathered at the front of the room, looking up at it unhappily. Dumbledore, who was up on the dais right below the screen was poking at it and humming happily to himself. He finally seemed to have poked at it enough, because he walked to the center of the screen and tapped the frame sharply.

"…IF YOU'LL BEAR WITH US JUST A MOMENT, YOU'LL GET YOUR…"

The students screamed and clapped their hands to their ears. Dumbledore hurriedly began poking at the frame again and the sound gradually lowered till it was bearable.

"…first view of mission control, and of course the ship and our valiant crew." Head Unspeakable Lovegood was saying up on the screen.

Dumbledore smiled cheerfully when he saw all the students staring and motioned for them to step back. He made the house tables vanished and left the great hall filled with rows of chairs with an aisle down the center. The seats quickly filled up, with not only those who were already there, but also anyone who had heard the loud, booming voice and come to investigate.

The Garden kids stayed standing at the back of the hall, watching the crowd as much as the broadcast. Everything up on the screen was old hat to them, so it wasn't quite as exciting as it was to the rest of them.

Pansy looked out over the enthralled audience, noting how they gasped and chattered and then looked at the rest of them with a slightly bemused look on her face.

"You know, most of the time, I don't really feel like we did anything special. We were all usually just hanging out, doing our part and then going to classes and doing homework like usual. Then, I look at all of them…"

"And you suddenly realize we were all part of something amazing." Luna concluded.

Draco suddenly straightened up, seemed to realize he was being obvious and then slouched back against the wall once more while nonchalantly smoothing his hair. Pansy narrowed her eyes and then glanced over to see Hermione approaching. She elbowed him rather viciously in the stomach, causing him to double-up slightly with a pained 'oof'. She gathered the other girls with her eyes and stalked off, her posse in tow to go sit in the chairs with the rest of the school.
Hermione stopped, looked awkwardly between the angry Slytherin girls, groaning Draco and the snickering Slytherin boys, sighed and went to find a seat away from all of them.

Luna shook her head at Draco before heading over to join her.

Chapter Text

 "Why the hell is Harry off with the snakes? What gives?" Ron wondered idly.   

Ginny, who had been idly scanning the doorway looking for the aforementioned Potter, snapped her head around to the Slytherin table and scanned its length, stopping among the second years there.  Harry was seated comfortably next to a small redheaded girl and they seemed to be chatting quite amiably. 

"Why is he talking to her?" Ginny asked with a surprising level of hostility.

"Who? Mafalda?" Hermione asked hesitantly, surprised at how Ginny was acting. 

Neville on the other hand studied the girl a moment and then his eyebrows rose in understanding. 

"Yeah, Mafalda." he agreed.  "Mafalda Prewett." he added pointedly.  Ginny just gave him a flat look for his trouble and went back to staring at Harry and young Mafalda in consternation.

Hermione looked between Neville and Ginny in confusion, but then suddenly Lavender gasped. 

"OH! I get it." she exclaimed, turning to Hermione, her face alight with glee the way it always was when she had hot gossip to share.  "Their mum's a Prewett.  I remember her mentioning it.  She and some old guy and some really old lady are the only ones left.  The old guy and the old lady are both rich, and they both hate the Weasleys, but with Molly being the only other Prewett left she seemed a shoo in to be their heir when they kicked it …until she showed up, I bet.  Her dad's a squib, but she's a witch and she has their name, unlike this lot."

Hermione looked horrified.  "That's horrible."

Ginny just rolled her eyes.  "Trust me.  If you'd been forced to suck up to that horrible old bat for years, only to discover it's all been for nothing, you'd hate that little brat too."  she scoffed.  "Why is he talking to her though?"

Hermione, who was still radiating disapproval, answered curtly.  "She's his cousin, that’s why."

"Yeah? How's that work?" Ron scoffed.

"He wrote to the squib registry a few months back to try and trace his mother's family line once he discovered she might have been descended from the Blacks on one side.  He was curious to see if there were any other squib lines in there.  It turns out there was.  Prewett, Selwyn and Gaunt.   He just heard back from them.  He knew Mafalda was descended from a squib too, so he went to chat with her about it."  Hermione then sniffed disdainfully and gave Ginny and Ron a very unimpressed look.   "I'm sure it's been a great joy to her to find a cousin that's actually happy to meet her."

"How about you?" Neville wondered.  "Did you write them as well?"

Hermione got a rather disgruntled look on her face. 

"You did, huh? Well? Let's hear it."

Hermione sighed.  "Well, there's Black, but we already knew that.  It turns out I am actually related to Hector Dagworth-Granger…you remember Professor Slughorn asked me that?  It was quite a ways back.  I'm descended from a squib son.  The only other child at the time was a daughter, so she hyphenated the name when she married since he was no longer able to carry it on, in the wizarding world at least."

"That's not so bad.  So what else was there?"

"Scrimgeour"

"A Scrimgeour is head of the Aurors right now.  Was that everything?"

Hermione huffed and mumbled something.

Ron blinked a few times.  "I must have misheard you…but it sounded like you said you were related to Professor Trelawney."

The aggrieved look on Hermione's face set them all to laughing.

 

 

 

 

"Oh, come on! PLEAAAASE!" Pansy whined before draping herself dramatically against Harry's back and resting her chin on the top of his head.  "Stupid jerk.  You should be down on your knees, thanking your lucky stars for such an opportunity!"

"Again, no."

Pansy straightened with a huff and moved so she could see his face. 

"I see.  Making out with me is a hardship, is it?"

Harry sighed, set aside what he was working on and leaned back in his chair before tugging Pansy to sit in his lap.  He had to grin at her in amusement once she'd done so.  She perched there primly, ankles crossed and arms folded, before sniffing disdainfully at him and turning her face away.

"I'm not getting involved in your little domestic.  It's just not happening, alright?  You and Draco are both my friends, and you're still dating.  It would be kind of a shitty thing for me to do, even if it's to teach him a lesson.  Now, if you two break up for good and always, let me know the time and place and I'll make out with you in any public thoroughfare of your choosing, just say the word…. but otherwise, no." 

He tugged lightly at her hair to make her turn to face him.   "Has he been treating you badly? Has he given any indication he plans or wants to break up with you, or is he just being rude and stupid?  If that's all it is, I gotta say that you should have expected such behavior once in a while.  Rude and stupid tend to describe him…not so much lately, but definitely a few years ago.  Also, speaking as a teenage boy…they're just kind of right there, you know?  It's hard not to look…and I should point out that I've seen you and the rest of the girls ogling Dean.  It's kind of the same thing."

"I may have looked, but I didn't start primping or falling all over myself! And, for all you've said you can't not look, you DON'T."

"I did when it first happened." Harry admitted.  "I've made myself stop…or at least not do it when she's looking…because she's my friend first and I could see how much it bothered her.  She values her mind above all else.  She wants to be known and respected as a knowledgeable and capable witch.  She works and studies so hard to make that happen. Being reduced to 'Miss Wonder boobs' is like, her nightmare scenario."

Pansy sighed tiredly.  "I know.  That was always something I respected about her."

"Didn't you used to make fun of her a lot?"

She shrugged, unrepentant.  "She was still an annoying know-it-all with beaver teeth.  What do you want from me?"

"Fair enough.  If it makes you feel any better, I have it on good authority that all of us going to the new planet this summer are going to be given our own doses of the serum about two weeks before we leave, to give everyone a chance to get kitted out with new clothes and shoes and what have you."

Pansy's face lit with glee.  "Really? Hah! I'm going to get myself a really skimpy outfit-cut down to the navel and slit to the thigh and then I'll hex him stupid if he tries to handle the merchandise.  That'll show him!"

"Yeah? Huh.  I'm quite looking forward to that."

"Planning on ogling my wonder boobs?"

"Hell yeah. I will give them a most thorough visual inspection.  There may even be drool.  Wonder-boobs aside, I promise to continue thinking of you as a knowledgeable and capable witch." 

Pansy leaned against him and patted his cheek. 

"You say the sweetest things."

"What are friends for?"

 

 

 

 

 

"I can't believe it.  The launch is in just a few more hours!" Padma said breathlessly.

"Twelve, not really a few, but I know what you mean.  None of us ever thought this would be happening while we were still in school, let alone while we still had a couple of years left to go.  It's exciting, isn't it?" Anthony agreed.

"I had thought it was going to be two weeks ago? What was the hold up?" Michael wondered.

"A  bunch of seers called them up soon after they set the first launch date and told them it was inauspicious.  They pushed it back to the first day of spring because it had better vibes or something." Luna informed everyone.

"Why was the first date inauspicious?" Morag asked.

"It turns out there was a small, for an asteroid anyway, rock fragment that would have been right where the portkey let out if they'd gone with the initial date.  The ship would have crashed right into it on exit.  No one had any visions after they set the next date, so we should be good." Luna explained.

"Goodness.  I guess it's good there are actual seers out there." Anthony said reluctantly.  He didn't quite approve of divination.  It had always seemed a bit wooly to him.

"Professor Trelawney was one of them.  She spoke a prophecy about fiery death for all involved.  Luckily Professor Flitwick was with her at the time and sent them the memory of it.  Her prophecy was the seventh they received, so they knew better than to disregard all the warnings." Padma added.

"Wow.  I guess it would have been pretty bad then to get that many warnings." Su Li said nervously.

"Ship destroyed, astronauts all killed, and in a few months, big impact crater on the new planet.  Big mess all around."  Luna nodded.

"Yikes." Michael said, sounding sick.

"Tell me about it."  Terry agreed.

"There should be a massive audience for the launch when it happens.  From what Sirius said, they've been making viewscreens pretty much around the clock for the last few weeks.  I think all the major wizarding schools, the ministries, the nightclubs, a few pubs and such, and all of our landfill villages all have one, all the train stations too, I think." Mandy noted.

"Wow.  It's kind of inspiring to think about, isn't it? The whole world will be watching, won't they?" Morag said quietly.  "It's kind of humbling, isn't it? We made this happen."

"Humbling…but also kind of depressing if you think about it.  How are we ever going to top this?" Mandy wondered.  "Kind of sad, reaching your peak awesomeness before you've even sat your OWLs."

"There's like, eighty people just in the Garden that all contributed, plus another hundred at least among the Unspeakables and then the company that did as well.  I'm sure everyone will have a chance to individually do something awesome…or at least sorta cool between now and the end of their lives." Terry scoffed.

"Huh.  That actually makes me feel better.  Thanks, mate." Michael said, cheered.

"No problem."

"I have a feeling I'm not going to get a lick of sleep tonight.  I'm too nervous." Padma admitted.

"Not me.  I'm going to sleep like a log." Su objected.  "I've been a nervous wreck for weeks now.  It's exhausting.  I'm probably going to sleep like the dead now that it's really happening."

 

 

 

"You're all spending the night on the ship?" Unspeakable Lovegood asked curiously.

"I can't help it.  I have a terrible feeling I'm going to oversleep and miss it if I don't.  I've been having trouble sleeping as the date grew closer." Petie Burke admitted with a wry grin. 

"Same here.  Plus, I've locked my place down in preparation for all this.  It's simpler to just stay here.  It's going to be our home for the foreseeable future in any case.  Might as well get used to it." Quickdraw agreed. 

Lovegood peeked in the various rooms as the men unpacked.  Alvin was hanging photos of his grandchildren on the wall, Alastor had replaced the plain, no-nonsense bedding with an old homemade quilt and extra pillows.  Petie added a colorful rug, and a bookshelf full of books.  Some of the others had shelves of knickknacks,  decorations or other small touches of home.  The common room now had an assortment of favorite armchairs from each of them, the odd potted plant, deck of cards and old battered chess set.  On the counter waited a selection of favorite mugs lined up next to the tea pot and coffee urn, and piles of snacks stuffed in the cupboards.  A small smile crossed her face at the sight, and she continued on, restless and nervously double-checking anything she could think of.   She headed down into the hold and carefully perused the checklist and inventory that had been hung by the door for easy retrieval.  She heard someone moving around down there and went to investigate.

"Alastor?"

"Evenin' Alcmene.  Just taking a look around, familiarizing myself with the place.  I didn't have a chance earlier when they finished loading all this crap up."

"It's easier if you have the inventory." she noted, holding up the lists.

"I didn't realize everything was going to be packed away in identical crates with letters or numbers on 'em."

"Easier to pack, easier to keep track of."

Moody perused the list as they wandered, eyeballing some of the crates as they passed them.

"More bugs."

"Larvae, but yes, essentially.  People may not like bugs, but many of them are actually quite essential to a healthy biosphere. There were some of each in the terraforming bombs that we already carpeted the planet with, and depending on what we find when you get there, you as well as each of the teams that come through after this will may be asked to seed more--only in our own countries.  Don't worry about having to circle the whole planet dropping bugs.  You'll be concentrating on New Britain.  Luckily, such things reproduce quite rapidly, which means it shouldn't be too long before we can start introducing more complex organisms."

"Heh.  The kiddies are gonna be sad to lose their miniature zoo."

"They already have.  I guess you haven't been out there lately.  We've been shipping them to the countries that will be taking charge of them and introducing them to the planet as the time comes.  We just needed them to make habitats for them and arrange animal experts to oversee their care until we're ready for them."

They finished their tour of the hold and then headed back upstairs, coming out in the center of the ship.  It was a large, round room, lined on all sides with vertical farms holding a variety of fruits and vegetables.  One of Tom's air filtration trees, ringed around the base with a circular bench held pride of place in the center of the room.  As it was night time, the room was filled with the soft glow of simulated moonlight; during daylight hours, simulated sunlight filled the room so that the plants would grow.

"Nice as all this is, I still say it seems a might extravagant.  We're going to be on a planet soon enough."

"But we don't know in depth yet what conditions are like.  We don't know which plants thrived and which may not have.  We sent seeds for fruit trees along with the more usual assortment, but they may not be in season, or it may be that none of them took root.  We just don't know.  Until we do, we wanted to make sure you had fresh food to supplement the storable food in the hold.  It also will give all of you a comfortable place to take your ease if the planet's surface should prove less welcoming than we hope.  You're all going to be living cheek by jowl for the foreseeable future; you may come to appreciate this place in time.  While we certainly made every effort to make this ship as hospitable as possible, space was limited and there was only so much we could do.  Accept this place for the gift it is and stop being a curmudgeon." Lovegood replied somewhat irritably.

 

 

 

The Shunpike family emerged from their wagons, which served as home and conveyance both for all of them.  The wagons were camped deep in Sherwood forest, or at least the hidden magical part of it, and formed into a circle, as they always were when they stopped for the night.  The cook-fire was already merrily burning in the clearing in the center.  Granny and Ma and Aunt Enid were gathered around, tending the cauldron with their breakfast in it and chivvying the youngins out of bed.  Grampy was yawning and drinking hot coffee, and cousin Zeke was wandering around the circled wagons, a book hovering at his side while he poked here and there with his wand. 

"What are you doin', child? Get your fool-self dressed.  It's cold as the very dickens today.  Not fit for man nor beast."

"I'm tryin ter fix the heatin' charms, Granny.  They's supposed to kick in when we circle 'round like this, but they've been goin' wonky lately.  's why it's been so bloody cold inna mornins."

"In that case, keep on with what yer doin.  My old bones caint take mornings like this no more.  What are you doin', Stan?  Ye've gotta get to work soon enough.  Get dressed."

"I'm tryin ter get the picture a bit clearer, Gran, leave me alone.  I wanna see them astronauts leave today.  I cain't wait, how 'bout choo?  Sounds a right treat, don't it? New places ter travel, no muggles about.  I'm right lookin' forward to it!"

"Ye kin see that from there? What'd you do, boy?" Grampy asked in interest as he wandered over.

"I tried ter copy that there view screen thingy they put up in the Leaky, but couldn't make much of it.  I had to put a charm on the lantern on the wall 'cross the way so's we kin see what it does.  See? Ye kin see most o' the common room, and the screen thingy on the wall there.  I'm tryin' to get the view in closer so's we only see the thingy."

"Let me see, Stan!"

"Leave me be, Lerlene, I'm workin' on it.  Haint nuthin' of note goin on yet anyhow.  It's just that idiot Fudge running his mouth again."

Lerlene drew her own wand--newly acquired from the windfall they'd all gotten for taking part in that Ministry study--and poked at the mirror Stan had in his lap a few times as well. 

"There.  That should do it, right enough."

"You got sound on that thing?"

"Naw.  Too many folks in the way.  Didn't seem worth the trouble.  'asides, we don't need to hear all them blowhards yakking, we jes' needs ter see the ship and the planet when they gets there, right?"

"Alrigh' you lot, food's up.  Come an' git it!"

"What we got today, Granny?"

"Gruel with squirrel bits an' apples."

"Hot diggity!"

"Hey lookit! I think's somethin's happenin!"

"Make it bigger, Stan!"

"You were right, Zeke! They're getting ready to do somethin!"

"They's all in the ship, why ain't they movin?"

"Prolly some blowhard's busy runnin 'is mouth, but we cain't hear it.  Golly, but this is takin some time!"

"Oh, wait! Lookit at it now!"

"WHOOSH!"

"And there they go!"

"Goodbye, muggles!"

"WHOO!"

"What's that? I thought yew said they was gonna show us the new place? Why's there just a bunch o' numbers now?"

"Lookit 'em, Granny.  The numbers keep changing.  I think they're countin' down time or sommat."

"Yer right, auntie, lookit 'em now."

"What? Twelve hours till we see somethin? What's this?" Grampy demanded.  "They want us to be all dead by the time they get anywhere? Why's it takin so long?"

"Too right! My great-granny kin move faster…an she's dead!" Granny harrumphed irritably.

"I heard everythin's real far away from each other.  It takes a while to get anywhere."

"Yeah? Well….  There goes that idea."

"What idea's that, Zeke?"

"I was thinkin after we leave, we could maybe go wanderin from planet to planet instead of just like we do now…but if it'll mean just bein' stuck in portkey space for hours each day it doesn't actually sound too invitin'."

"Huh, yeah.  It don't, do it?"

"Don't nobody fret none.  It'll still be an adventure the likes o which we haint seen since our ancestors even so."

"What'dya mean, grampy?"

"We'll be able to activate the flyin' charms on the caravan agin!"

"Flyin?"

"The caravan kin fly? Why haint we been flyin then instead of stuck travelin with all the muggles?"

"Back when the stinkin ministry of berks…" he halted a moment so everyone could spit on the ground to show what they thought of them "…was first founded, our ancestors were told they had a choice--deactivate the flyin' charms or go to Azkaban.  Those of us still keepin what we kin of the old ways all descend from those that agreed, however unwillin.  There used to be more of us.  Lots more.  There were three families got wiped out 'cause they wouldn't agree.  Two back then--they said no, they was subdued by the ministry of berks…"  Everyone spit  "and sent off to their devil prison.  All of 'em--from their elders down to a coupla babes in arms.  They all died.  The rest, seein that, agreed and kept their heads down.  The last family was just a few years back.  Muggles started flyin all over the damned place, so they figured, hey, we kin live our lives proper now, right? Well, that haint how the ministry of berks…"  Spit  "…sees things.  Bastards.  Said they was causin a disturbance and worryin the muggles.  'parently it's all good an fine fer muggles to fly, but wizards do and it's a problem, even though we was doin it first!  Well, it's all gonna be different now! No more bloody muggles! We kin be free agin!"

"FREE AT LAST!"

"GOODBYE, MUGGLES! WE WON'T BE MISSIN YA AT ALL!"

"MAY ALL THE GODS BLESS HARRY POTTER!"

"HEAR HEAR!"

"FOR HE'S A JOLLY GOOD FELLOW…."

"….WHICH NOBODY CAN DENY!"

 

 

The kids of Hogwarts glumly watched the slow wind of the countdown as they ate lunch .  The bell rang, and everyone groaned.

"Might as well get to class.  Sitting here staring at the countdown isn't going to make the time go any faster."  Susan said reasonably. 

"This is excruciating! It's going to be hours yet!" Zacharias Smith griped miserably as they grabbed their bags and began heading towards the exit.

"Gods above, I swear! Purebloods! You're so spoiled!" Justin Finch-Fletchley scoffed.

"Excuse me?"

"Be bloody well thankful you're a wizard, mate.  You wouldn't have been able to deal if we were muggles.  Considering how far that ship is going to be travelling, we should be damned well amazed it's only going to take twelve hours!  The muggle space program sends stuff out, knowing full well it won't get anywhere near its destination for YEARS.  They just don't have the right level of technology yet.  YEARS, mate, actual bloody YEARS.  I think you'll survive eight measly hours."

 

 

 

"How are we on time?" Moody asked as Quickdraw gathered up everyone's cards to reshuffle.

"Six hours and counting.  Another game?"

"Bloody hell." the rest of them all groaned.

"Enjoy the quiet while it lasts, boys.  We'll be busy soon enough."

"I should have taken a nap like Petie and Alvin did."

 

 

 

In the depths of the Ministry of Magic, the full Wizengamot, ministry workers and members of the press were gathered in courtroom ten, the largest they had, eyes peeled on the viewscreen as the time slowly counted down.

 

The students of Hogwarts finished their dinner, one eye on the countdown, a ripple of excitement going through them as the numbers slowly wound down.

 

At Explorer's Inc., the three conference rooms were filled to capacity, as was the seating in Mission Control.

 

All across planet Earth, in all the hidden corners where wizards dwelled, crowds gathered in tense anticipation.

 

 

The clock wound down and there was a long moment where the screen remained black, but then it was suddenly filled with blue and white and the voices of the astronauts and mission control could be heard.

 

"Explorer I, do you copy?"

"Yeah.  We're all present and accounted for.  Can you see it?"

"You might want to adjust the view somewhat."

The vision on the screen jerked a few times, and then everyone could see a blue-white ball hanging before them, surrounded by a thin, bluish corona, surrounded by blackness on all sides.  A silvery - grey moon could be seen in the far distance, hovering just above it.

"That's perfect, Explorer I."

"You all probably can't really experience it like we are now, back home… even when looking through the galaxy in a globe, you don't get a proper appreciation for just how…"

"Vast"

"Massive"

"Humbling."

"Yeah…all that and more.  We're just tiny, tiny specks, hanging in the void.  I don't even properly have words for it."

"Humbleness and awe aside, we've got work to do.  Pretty as she is, the folks back home don't want to just stare at her, let's get moving so we can see our new home properly."

"I hate to break it to you, folks, but it's going to be a little while yet.  We've gotta get closer and match orbits before portkeying down to the surface.  Be patient a while longer, and we'll get a proper look."

"You know, I never even though to ask.  What are we calling the place? Earth 2?"

"Valinor."

"Valinor? Why Valinor?"

"Lotsa Tolkien fans in the Garden."

"What's a Tolkien?"

"You uncultured swine."

"OI!"

"Enough.  Let's get moving.  Next stop, Valinor."

 

The next few hours were an exercise in frustration for everyone watching.  The blue-white sphere seemed to creep closer with such slowness, those in the audience were ready to rip out their hair, and the staff of Hogwarts (and other schools around the world) began debating whether they should shoo the children off to either sleep or do something productive, depending on the local time.  Luckily for those at Hogwarts, the announcement that they had matched orbits and were ready to begin the second portkey came just moments before Dumbledore was about to shoo the children off to bed. 

The second portkey only needed to take the ship from orbit to just below the atmosphere, and so only took about thirty seconds.  Up on the screen the view of the planet, once more filling the whole viewscreen disappeared, to be replaced with the swirling rainbow light of the portkey tunnel. 

The kids began counting down when the clock reached 10. 

 

"3…2…" Harry whispered.

"One" he and Tom said together.  They gripped one another's hands, eyes peeled on the viewscreen as the view changed. 

 

Water, sparkling in the sun as far as the eye could see.

The ship sped along, stirring eddies in the water as it passed.  In the distance, land. 

A rocky shore, with waves crashing into the air, shining in the sun like a shower of diamonds. 

Beyond that, trees and flowering bushes, craggy mountains with long waterfalls tumbling down them.  Tall grasses, a land-bound ocean of them, bending and rippling in the breeze. 

 

Always before, when a ship would launch or make landfall, the kids had cheered and cried and celebrated.  This time, a waiting reverent silence held their tongues as they drank in the vistas of their new home. 

Overall, Valinor was a bit ragged-- large swaths of the planet were carpeted in greenery, but in between was a lot of dirt and rock that was empty but for a smattering of small green shoots that had just recently taken root, born from seeds carried on the winds.  It was also eerily silent--no swarms of insects, flocks of birds, no chattering squirrels or lounging cats to be seen. 

 

 "Bit of a fixer-upper…but you know, she's got real potential."  Moody's voice sounded out over the screen into the silence.

"You don't have a poetic bone in your soul, do you?" Petie commented with exasperation.

"What the hell was  I thinking, agreeing to be stranded with you idiots for the foreseeable future?"  Quickdraw lamented.

"Would you numbnuts be quiet and try to be professional? We're making history here!"  Alvin whined.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Will you all please concentrate! Our OWLs start tomorrow!" Hermione shrieked, slamming the sizeable tome in her hands on the table.

"And we've been revising, on your orders, oh dark lady of education, for what…eight weeks now?" Harry answered absently, still watching the viewscreen.

"Eight weeks of torture. I swear, between your damned color-coded schedules and the teachers…" Ron chimed in, watching as well.

The rest of the fifth years mostly ignored the shrieking and continued watching. They'd all been expecting Hermione to have a meltdown at some point; mostly they were just surprised it had taken this long.

"GAAAH!" she cried, frustrated, and pulled at her hair. She hated being ignored. As thrilled as she was with the ongoing coverage of the new planet, the viewscreen had become the bane of her existence in recent weeks; everyone was too busy gawking at it to buckle down and study like they were supposed to be doing! Even she herself had been tempted to skive on some of her study sessions so she could watch. She, at least, had more self-control than that. She had ruthlessly stamped down her curiosity and kept her nose in her books. She was getting her twelve O OWLs if it killed her.
Still growling a bit under her breath, she turned to glare at the viewscreen to see what had everyone so enthralled.

"Oh! Is that the gateway?"

"Yup." Seamus replied.

"It's been completed?"

"Yup." Seamus repeated. "The first teams should be heading through any minute now."

"It looks like something's happening!" Colin said excitedly.

Up on the screen, the gateway began to glow. The symbols around the edges lit up one after another, then the space within the circle began to ripple like water. Even from the distance it was being recorded from, they could still hear the deep thrum of the gate as it opened. Dark shadows formed within the rippling light and then the surface broke, disgorging first one, then a trio, then a group of five on brooms, then another group of three, then a dozen more in an uneven clump. These were followed by several large flying carpets laden with goods, and then a bunch of hovercraft that looked like lorries without wheels, then a few more folks on brooms and a few more laden carpets and then more hover lorries and yet more folks on brooms.

"Gosh, look at them all. That's the Chinese team, right?" Lavender inquired.

"Should be. They're going to have to cover a fairly large area, and we know from the flybys that there's a lot of bald patches all through the new Chinese territories. They had to send a pretty sizeable team to have any hope of getting things done in a timely manner. I think the Indian team is supposed to be deploying in a few hours." Hermione agreed.

"I heard that the team there actually has groups of wizards from all over Asia. None of the smaller countries really trusted China to have free rein over the whole region without oversight. They all made a big stink in the ICW and demanded the right to all come through together." Parvati added.

"What probably ended up happening was each country started complaining about their traditional rivals getting the chance to take all the good stuff for themselves. I won't be surprised if the whole world sends teams through over the next couple of days to stake their country's claim on whatever territories they've been granted. Everyone's so afraid they're going to get gypped." Dean snorted.

"Can you blame them? It's a big part of the reason we all wanted a crack at heading over this summer. We all want a chance to stake out a good spot to settle." Neville huffed.

"Well, in our case it's only fair. We made all this happen. As it stands we're going to be getting there a month or so after everyone else. All I know is the ministry better not have claimed all the good spots before we get there." Ron added.

"Well, if they try something like that, we'll just have to persuade them to be more considerate, won't we?" Harry said with a grin. The rest of the group smiled as well--even Hermione, who'd had a much lower opinion of the Ministry since their run-in with Umbridge.

 

"Speaking of the Ministry…" Neville spoke up, his eyes on the entryway.

"Huh?" Seamus asked, following his gaze. The rest of the group looked as well.

"Who are they, I wonder?"

"Obviously they're the OWL and NEWT examination board! They're here to oversee testing!" Hermione huffed, eyeing the group nervously.

"I can't believe it's finally almost over!" Ron said happily, beaming at the examination board. "No more time travel! No more endless classes! It'll be beautiful!"

"Did you say…time travel?" Dean demanded.

"It's highly overrated." Harry noted. While Hermione smacked Ron about the head with a newspaper and scolded him.

"HARRY! I don't believe you two! We signed a non-disclosure agreement!"

"Well…the thing's back at the Ministry, and you know, Ron didn't keel over dead or anything…so it's probably alright." Neville shrugged.

"ARRGHH!"
"Aye, matey?" Ron quipped.
"Hermione Granger, everyone. Queen of the pirates!" Harry was quick to add.

Hermione threw her hands up in the air and stomped off while the rest of them laughed.

"So…seriously? Time travel?" Seamus asked once everyone settled down.

"Zero out of ten. Would not recommend." Ron nodded.

"Huh. That's dedication." Lavender mused.

 

The following morning at breakfast, the students were frazzled with nerves as they waited for either their regular exams, or for the fifth and seventh years, the dreaded OWLs and NEWTs to begin. A few here and there were simply eating their fill and talking quietly with friends, having reasoned that if they didn't already know what they needed to, no amount of cramming at this point was going to help. The rest were frantically pouring over notes, flipping through textbooks and practicing wand movements while trying to eat their breakfast one-handed.
Professor McGonagall stopped by the table about halfway through breakfast to hand out the testing schedules to the OWL and NEWT students. Hermione snatched hers from her hand, gave it a quick glance and then put away all the piles of notes she'd been trying to look at but for those relevant to the day's testing and began frantically scanning them and murmuring along with her reading under her breath. Harry took his and grimaced slightly, then went back to finishing his breakfast.

"Bloody hell. We're going to be stuck in testing practically around the clock all week!" Ron griped.

"Don’t know why you're surprised. We do have twelve tests--written and practical--to get through." Neville

"So, in reality, twenty four tests. Joy." Harry added.

"Why did I ever agree this was a good idea?"

"Keep your eye on the prize, man, it's almost over."

"Yeah, just think, NEWT years should be a breeze after all this. We'll probably hardly know what to do with all the extra time on our hands. Most people usually only go for 3 to 6 NEWTs at most."

"That sounds brilliant. So much free time." Ron said dreamily.

The bell rang, signaling the end of breakfast. Everyone traded grim looks and rose from the table.

"Looks like it's showtime." Parvati said nervously.

"Good luck, everyone." Hermione said grimly, before straightening her back and marching off.

The crowd eventually found themselves outside of a large classroom on the ground floor with a sign outside: OWL test: Charms written exam. They were made to line up in alphabetical order outside. Professor McGonagall met the fifth years outside the classroom.

"I do hope everyone listened when they were told to not bring anything but themselves to the testing room. Now, I must warn you that the most stringent Anti-Cheating Charms have been applied to your examination papers. Auto-Answer Quills are banned from the examination hall, as are Remembralls, Detachable Cribbing Cuffs, and Self-Correcting Ink. Every year, I am afraid to say, seems to harbor at least one student who thinks that he or she can get around the Wizarding Examinations Authority’s rules." she said with some aspersion, giving every one of them the stink eye as she ticked names off the list. "You will be given a standard no-cheating quill upon entrance to the exam room. Do not turn over your test papers until the alarm sounds. When time ends, you are to immediately cease writing and sit back so that your test papers can be collected. Failure to comply with these rules may result in being marked down. If you come across something you cannot answer, move on to the next question and go back later to fill in anything you may have missed. Be as concise and clear in your answers as possible, and write carefully! You cannot receive credit for answers that the examiners cannot read! Most of all, relax, take your time and do your best. You are all as prepared for these tests as I and your other teachers could make you. Good luck."

 

Once everyone was seated and had their quills, the examiner flicked his wand at the stack of test papers on the desk up front so that each got one, face down. He then flicked his wand at the large clock at the front of the room. "Eyes on your own papers, be sure to sign your name to every page. You have two hours. You may begin….NOW."

The rustle of numerous test papers being flipped over at once filled the room, followed shortly thereafter by the soft 'scritch scritch' of quills busily writing. Harry flicked a glance towards the front. Hermione was already bent over her paper, oblivious to the rest of the world. Half her first page was already filled with paragraphs of small, dense writing. Neville was nervously biting his lip, but otherwise seemed fine. He too was busy writing, though he seemed to be writing just a few words for each question, not the novel Hermione was. Ron was slightly behind and to the right of him. He was pale and mouthing along to the words as he read the questions. His brief inspection had taken but a moment, but the clock was already ticking down. It would be a hell of a thing if he ended up failing because he ran out of time to finish because he was too busy checking up on everyone.
Harry filled in his name and began steadily working his way through the test, all twenty pages of it.

He still had a bit of time left once he'd finished, so he went back and re-read his answers, filling in some extra detail and correcting a few spelling errors here and there. He'd just finished adding a bit to the last question when the alarm sounded from the clock.

"Quills down now! Thank you. Hands off and sit back, please."

The examiner flicked his wand and all the test papers soared off everyone's desks and began stacking themselves on his desk at the front of the room. Harry winced when he saw Hermione left a long streak across her last page because she'd been trying to keep writing when time was called. He couldn't imagine what she'd had left to add-- from what he'd seen her entire test was covered on each page front and back with writing. The white pages looked nearly black when she was done with them! He didn’t envy whoever was stuck reading her test at all.

He caught up with his friends outside. Most of them just looked relieved it was over. Hermione, being Hermione, was practically vibrating with post-test energy and talking a mile a minute as they headed for the practical portion of the exam.

"I'm not sure I said quite enough about movement charms…oh! And I think I might have left out a few things on the essay portion…Oh! Where are my notes?" she fretted as she got into line.

"Alphabetical order now! Hannah Abbot, Susan Bones and Millicent Bulstrode step inside."

"Geez. I should have brought a chair and a book or something. I'm going to be out here forever." Blaise Zabini griped.

"Tell me about it." Ron sighed in commiseration.

Harry sighed and leaned against the wall, waiting for his turn. The line crept along slowly. It was nearly an hour later that his own name was called. He was going to follow Zabini's advice and bring a chair next practical.

When he stepped inside the classroom, he found a long table at the far end with three examiners seated across the length. He was directed to the end where there was an empty spot. Beside him Sally-Anne Perks was in the middle of demonstrating movement charms.
"Mr. Potter? Very good. I remember your mother's exam. She was quite gifted with charms. I look forward to seeing how you compare." the man said cheerfully.

"Great. So no pressure or anything."

 

"Finally! I'm starving!" Ron cheered as he threw himself into his seat and began loading his plate.

"How'd it go?" Harry asked.

"Okay, I think. Well, I choked a bit on the vanishing spell. I vanished the examiner's quill instead of the paper I was supposed to."

"That's nothing. Hannah turned her ferret into a flock of flamingoes." Neville interjected.

"I think I did alright." Hermione added cheerfully. "No misfires."

"I did okay too. I might have gotten extra credit as well for the patronus charm. The examiner seemed pretty impressed until I told him there was someone who was able to do it since first year." Harry laughed. "It should do Tom some good though, if he still wants to be DADA teacher someday. No one can say he isn't a good teacher with a record like that."

"Is that what he wants to do?"

"Used to be his goal. I'm not sure about now. He really enjoys lurking about in his workroom poking at stuff. Maybe he'll stick with the company for a few years and then teach for a bit…or maybe he'll teach at the company. That might be ideal. Best of both worlds and all that."

"What about yourself? Are you going to stick with the company?"

"Probably. I like making stuff and figuring out how to do new stuff like we've been. I could definitely see sticking with R and D for a good while… though I might change my mind now that most of the excitement of the space program will be gone. Plus it might be different if it's, you know, a job rather than our secret clubhouse."

"Oh Harry, honestly!" Hermione huffed.

"What about you, Hermione? Are you sticking with the company?" Ron wondered.

"Swallow before speaking." she sighed, before poking thoughtfully at her lunch. "I don't know. On the one hand I've rather enjoyed it, but part of me still wants to go to the Ministry. I'd like to clean up some of the corruption and have a say in shaping society."

"If you ask me, the company's been shaping society much more than the Ministry lately." Seamus noted. "I mean think about--the move, we're promoting international trade and tourism…"

"Environmental clean-up, new villages…" Dean added. "Plus we've brought the computer age to wizards."

"I still have a couple years of school left before I need to decide."

"Yeah, we are all kind of getting ahead of ourselves. Let's finish OWLs before we worry about the rest of our lives." Lavender snickered.

The bell rang, signaling both the end of lunch and the next round of testing.

"Come on. Potions next."

"Oh, bloody hell." Ron and Neville both griped.

Neville seemed deep in thought as they all headed to the testing room.

"You alright there, Nev?" Harry asked curiously.

"Yeah. It's just… if I do well on the Potions OWL, I'm likely stuck with Snape for two more years. There's no way gran would let me skip out if I actually do well enough to qualify. I might, too. All those calming charms during class time really did me a lot of good."

"Me too, actually."

"So there's the conundrum--for both of us, I'm guessing. Do well and get stuck with him longer, or do badly and justify every nasty thing he's said over the last five years?"

"It's really very simple, Nev. Us doing badly would make him happy. In what universe would either of us ever want to do that?" Harry said finally.

"Two more years of Snape." Neville whimpered.

"Yeah." Harry agreed glumly. He suddenly brightened though. "Hey, if we both do well enough to qualify for NEWT potions, he might be so enraged that he just has an aneurysm and drops dead."

"That's true, isn't it?" Neville agreed with a happy smile. They traded a grin and bumped fists. "LET'S DO OUR VERY BEST!"

"Honestly! You two are awful! Joking about someone dying like that!"

"Ah, shut it, Hermione. Those two have the right idea." Ron laughed, holding out his own fist. "Let's make it three for three. He'll have an aneurysm for sure!"

"Ronald!"

Professor Flitwick, who was checking everyone off the list this time, looked up.

"That's the spirit, mate!"
"O's for everyone! Onward and Upward!"
"NEWT potions, here we come!"

"Good attitude, boys! That's the spirit!" Professor Flitwick told them all cheerfully as he ticked their names off.
Hermione spluttered while the boys grinned angelically.

"Just trying to stay positive, Professor." Neville managed to say with a straight face.

 

"Figures, doesn't it? Just when we all got used to the quiet…" Mad-Eye huffed as he looked around at the circus that had newly arrived on the planet.

"Stop acting like you've got a pogrebin in your pocket, Alastor. Personally, the quiet was starting to get to me. Plus, less work for us. This is a good thing." Petie told him with some exasperation.

Albie, Quickdraw and Jonesy joined them, Quickdraw with a clipboard in hand.

"Well, that was the last of them--Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillippines, and New Guinea. The last of the folks from Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania are coming through now. In fact, from what they were saying, there aren't a whole lot of Tasmania wizards, so they just packed up all their stuff and are just coming through to stay. None of them are planning to go back at all." Quickdraw noted.

"From what the folks from Malaysia and Indonesia were telling me, they would have done the same except their territory still needs a bit of work before they're certain it'll support their population. They said they have just enough people that it might have been dicey. They're probably not going to wait long though. From what the one fella was telling me they've been preparing ever since word came down. They're downright eager, the whole lot of them."

"I doubt they're the only ones. I'm certain our own folks are chomping at the bit themselves."

"Yeah. We should probably head off to our own territories and start getting them ready as much as we can until our own transition groups come through. I doubt the folks at home will thank us for making them wait any longer than they have to."

"We could probably head off now, really. This here is Chinese territory now, I'm sure we can trust them to watch over the gateway here once all the expected folks come through. Our job here is done. We just need to pick up Unspeakable Skeeter and the ocean group she brought with her and take them with us." Petie noted.

"Let's do that then. Let these folks worry about all this here." Mad-eye decided.

It was still a couple of hours until they were able to set off. Skeeter and her group brought more supplies, which all had to be stuffed onto the ship, before they could set out.

"What's all that stuff you lot brought with you, anyway?"

"Food, tents, boats, salt…"

"Salt?"

"Yes. We bombarded the planet with salt and other minerals while we were terraforming it from a distance, but the oceans aren't salty enough yet. Every country with a coastline will have its own ocean team, of course, to look after local conditions. We did extensive calculations, and we believe the few hundred tonnes of salt we're bringing along should be enough to get things to proper conditions."

"You brought a few hundred tonnes of salt?"

"Not just us, course. Like I said, every country with a coastline is going to be looking after their own local waters. It was a bit of a job, gathering all this from salt mines all over earth to supplement the asteroids, but we need it, and earth is our home too, so we're just as entitled to its fruits as the muggles are." Skeeter shrugged.

"We seem to making free with a lot of the fruits of the earth lately. I heard about a world-wide kerfluffle because of all the animals disappearing…"

"If the muggles were so concerned with their fate, they should have taken better care of them." one of the Unspeakables said with some heat. "I was on a team that was gathering sea birds. We had to spend weeks after we gathered them vanishing trash out of most of their bellies that they swallowed while hunting for fish. I heard similar tales of woe from most of the other teams as well. Deformed turtles that got caught in some muggle trash when they were babies that stayed on them as they were growing, leaving their shells warped, thin cords wrapped around different fish and sea lions that left deep gouges on their bodies or flippers, and don't get me started on all the lead and arsenic and other poisons that so many of the fish were full of. What was intended as a quick gather and grab ended up being several weeks of healing and decontamination! And those were the regular, unendangered animals! For the endangered ones, there's barely enough of most of them for a viable population. We've got rooms and rooms of butterflies that only exist in our habitats, because the worldwide population were killed off. If we don't take them with us, in another generation or two most of them are simply not going to exist anymore."

"Good lord." Ned said with horror. "I had no idea the situation was so dire. I don't really venture into muggle areas much if I can help it, now that I'm retired. Even before then I usually only did when I had to for work."

"England is a fairly wealthy country on the muggle side, and we've benefited from that, even if just indirectly for the most part. We've been hearing horror stories since all this began, of wizarding populations that are stuck in countries that are poor on the muggle side. They tend to become dumping grounds for other, wealthier countries. It's been all the local wizards could do to keep themselves safe. There wasn't much of anything they could, or were allowed to do because of secrecy, for the muggles they share the country with. It's terrible in some places. Muggle factories spewing poison into the local air and water, and the muggles that live nearby have children born without brains or without limbs because of it… For all the complaints some of our folks have about living cheek by jowl with muggles…we've been lucky. Extremely so. Why, one witch told me she saw a little muggle boy trying to surf off the coast, but there was so much trash, the poor thing was being pelted with the stuff every time a wave rolled in. If that's the world the muggles want for themselves, I say we leave them to it and save what we can."

"Exactly." Skeeter agreed. "And the sooner we get the oceans here functional, the sooner we can start doing that."

The astronauts all traded grim nods. "You heard them boys. Let's get to work."

"New Albion is just ahead. We should be seeing the eastern coast any minute now."

The Unspeakables all headed for the nearest windows.

"Those islands…?"

"There's hundreds of the damned things all over this area, but we're headed for the five largest ones. Alcmene thinks it was all one large landmass at one point that got broken apart due to seismic activity long ago, and the smaller islands were made due to volcanic activity at the same time or afterwards. Each country gets their own big island, and a bunch of smaller ones. Hogwarts gets its own right in the middle. That's the plan, anyway." Mad-eye explained.

"I guess all the kiddies are going to have to start heading to Hogwarts by boat once the move is complete?"

"Maybe. They might just start arranging group portkeys to some spot, then load them all on the Express as usual so that tradition isn't lost. I couldn't say." Petie mused.
"There we are. New Albion just ahead."

The Unspeakables all peered out in interest.

"Ah. Needs a bit of work." Skeeter said with some of disappointment.

"Just a bit, yeah."

"It looks better as you get further north, then it tapers off again. Founder's Isle, where Hogwarts is going to be got lucky. It's smaller than the rest, so it actually has pretty complete coverage. We're going to set up there as our base camp, I think."

"Alright, sounds good. Leave us near the coast. You lot can go wherever."

"We might as well stick together. While you lot are poking about in the oceans, the rest of us can see to evening out the rest of the islands."

"There's twelve of us all told. Three man teams for each island. That should work."

"Sounds good."

 

"What's going on now?" Hermione asked curiously, peering at the viewscreen after settling herself at the table. She watched for a moment and her eyes widened in surprise.
"Is that new China? They didn't waste any time, did they?"

"Yup. It was pretty neat, really. There was a team that just kept flying back and forth over that whole area, and when they were done they had all those terraces. They flooded them all, and then another team came and put stuff in the water. I dunno what they're doing it all for…" Ron explained.

"They're rice paddies. They planted rice. Rice is a staple in most Asian countries, so they need a lot of it." Hermione said knowledgeably.

"I guess that explains why they've got so many folks flying around and carving up their new territories and flooding everything." Neville mused.

"They've been planting tea too. There's another whole big group that's been doing that. They showed them earlier. There's another bunch that seems to be sowing grass seeds across some of the empty spots. They fly over after and spray it down with something that seems to quick grow the grass." Lavender added.

"A mixture of fertilizer and ageing solution, most likely. Professor Sprout uses it sometimes to quick grow plants so she can get seeds." Neville explained. "If that is what they're doing, most of the grasses they plant will sprout seeds. They'll probably go back and collect all those for the next bald patch and so on."

"On top of the big groups they have filling in the ground cover and planting fields and terraces full of tea and rice, there's a bunch of smaller groups roaming around that seem to be the aesthetics committee or something." Harry noted. "They get to an area, look around and then rearrange the boulders, or the plants and add a few new ones. Bit of moss here, a few jutting rocks in the path of a waterfall here, few flowers here, hanging vine there. They do a bit and move on, but each area they leave looks prettier. You have to hand it to them, they definitely came prepared."

"I hope professor Sprout and our herbology teams are taking notes." Parvati agreed.

"Things are really moving on that end rather quickly, aren't they?" Hermione said uneasily.

"Yeah. In fact, a large enough section of new China is green, that there's talk of starting their transition as soon as they're ready. They're kind of chomping at the bit. There are 13 million Chinese and twelve million Indian wizards that need to be moved, a lot more than places like here, where even if you count all of Ireland with our total we don't quite have a million, let alone twelve or thirteen. That's why they're focusing on agriculture as well as just trying to make the place look nice. They know moving their population is going to take time, and the more folks they have on hand on the new planet to help out, the quicker and easier it'll be to make sure they're prepared for when the rest come across. Now that the planet's been opened up, folks are eager and don't want to wait any longer than they have to."

"Your parents still have no idea you're planning to move to another planet, do they?" Ron guessed.

"No. No they don't." Hermione admitted. "Every time I try to bring it up, I chicken out. I kept telling myself I had time. I guess I keep hoping something will happen that will let me leave and still keep my family. Is that really so much to ask?"

"No. It isn't." Neville sighed.

"I had heard that the serum trials were used on squibs first, and it made them wizards and witches. Is there any truth to that? Does anyone know? Because…if that's the case, can't you just get your parents serumed up and take them with you? I mean, yeah, it'll be a bit of a job for them, learning magic at their age, but…" Seamus suggested.

"That's all very well for her. My mum and stepdad are muggles, and so are my brothers and sisters. I'm going to be leaving my family behind no matter what. There's no convenient squib solution for me." Dean added sourly.

"Not for me either." Seamus reminded him. "My da's a muggle. I took mum aside once the launch was ready and laid things out for her. I still don't know what she's gonna do."

"In a case of a muggle spouse with magical kids involved, they should probably be allowed to come…but it should be left up to the muggle whether they want to. I think if it was me, I might not be too keen if I knew I'd be one of only a handful without magic in the whole world." Harry mused. "Does anyone know if there's a simple test we can do to see if someone registers as a squib though? If there is, we should probably test everyone's muggle family members before laying out their options. If your mum and step-dad, or your dad really are just muggles without any magical blood at all, it would probably be in their best interests to stay behind. If any of them do register as squibs though, giving them the option to have magic might make the difference in what they ultimately decide."

"Are you going to test your muggles, Harry?" Lavender wondered. The rest just looked at him when he started laughing.

Hermione began getting irritated when he just continued to laugh and snapped at him.

It took several moments, but he finally calmed down enough to answer.

"No. Just no. Besides, even if Aunt Petunia is, I doubt Dudley is. I doubt that magic would survive contact with Vernon's genes. Even if all three of them were squibs, it doesn't matter. They're not getting the option to come."

"That seems pretty cold." Parvati said with some disapproval.

Harry let out a tired sigh. "I'm only going to say all this once, so listen up, and don't bother fishing for more information later. This is the one and only time I will ever publically discuss the Dursleys. They hate wizards, they hate magic. They consider all of us freaks. If anything, they'd be offended if I offered one or more of them a chance to be wizards. They don't want anything to do with us, and the thought that we're all going far, far away from them and their planet will make them happy. No Dursleys. Period."

Other than Ron, Hermione and Neville, who'd heard variations of this before, everyone looked like they were full of questions. Harry held up a hand to stop them before they asked.

"That's all I'm going to say about any of them. The day Loki took me away from those people was the happiest day of my life and it's only gotten better from there. They are my past, and they're going to stay there, thank you."

"Did they really…"
"No. Done."

"But if…"
"Subject's closed."

"Can you really…?"
"My god. You people really don't know how to take a hint, do you? Right. I'm going to go sit with Tom and complain about all of you, and then he'll tell me that's what I get for being a Gryffindork, and I'll tell him to shut up and then he'll tell me some weird theory he's been thinking about. That sounds like just the ticket. I'm out of here, and when I see you later, if any of you brings up the bloody Dursleys, you're getting hexed. Fair warning."

 

"Time's up!"

As the history of magic OWL--the last test any of them had to take--finished, test papers began flying off everyone's desks to be collected at the front, the students cheered.

"It's finally over!" Ron cried. "My poor hands. I can't even feel them anymore."

Hermione ignored the cheering going on around her. She was already headed out to grab her notes so she could double-check her answers. Harry, Neville, Draco, Millie and Theo indulged in a group hug to congratulate each other on surviving till the end.
All the fifth years streamed outside to enjoy the warm weather, and get some sun after weeks trapped inside studying.

"The poor bastards taking the NEWTs are still trapped for another two hours." Millie noted, before taking a deep breath of the fresh air.

"Don't think about it too much. That'll be us in just two more years." Theo said with a shudder. "The OWLs were bad enough."

"Time really flies, doesn't it? We're getting close to the end." Neville said, sounding surprised. "It seems like just yesterday we were lining up, everyone scared to death, waiting to find out if we really needed to wrestle a troll in order to get sorted…"

"Wrestle a troll? What the hell, Longbottom. What kind of idiot would even…?"

"Ron." Harry laughed. "The twins told him that before he got on the train."

"What's this then?" Ron asked as he joined them.

"Potter was just telling us what an idiot you are."

"Oi." Ron said indignantly.

"He's lying." Harry said, sounding wounded.

"Malfoy you bastard…"

"This is awful! I think I mixed up Gulnik the Improbable and Gnarish the Unlikely, and I'm not sure I added enough details about the treaty of 1765…" Hermione was already chattering as she joined them beneath the tree, frantically flipping through her notes.

"Hermione, relax, would you. I'm sure you did fine." Ron groaned. "It's done now in any case. Worrying about it isn't going to change anything."

"When do we get our results? And when do we sign up for our classes for next term?"

"We probably won't get our results until August, and we sign up for classes the first day of next term. We have to have our classes approved based on our OWL score, so we can't do it till we know how we did." Millicent interjected.

"Ugh. The wait is going to be terrible."

"We'll be on another planet this time next month." Draco reminded her.

"That's right, isn't it? I hope the gateway is less disorienting than portkeys are. I wonder if it takes a long time? Do we have to fly brooms through? What should I pack? Do I need to bring a tent?"

"I hope so too, I have no idea, might as well, then we have them for later to get around with, clothes and your wand, and no. Sirius is lending us his, the one we had at the World Cup, Draco's bringing his family's, Cedric is bringing one and so is Roger Davies. Between the four of us we should have ample room for the whole Garden." Harry replied.

"We're really doing it, aren't we? Look at all of us. Just a few years ago we were sitting in our secret clubhouse, tossing the idea of space travel around…and look at us now."

"I know. It's amazing, isn't it?"

"We rock."

"Hell yeah we do."

 

"Looks like we might have missed a few HYDRA bases." Tony said idly as he scrolled through a world news feed on his phone.

"There's been an attack? I hadn't heard anything…" Peggy said with some alarm.

"Not an attack, no, just another mass animal theft."

"More endangered species?"

"Um…I'm not sure. It doesn't say if they were. Basically a bunch of animal reserves in Tasmania were gutted, and a lot of local farmers have found their storehouses and cattle pens raided. It's all very mysterious. Just like the others, there's no sign of how it was accomplished, just a lot of missing animals."

"We've still found no signs of mass animal poaching at any of the bases we've raided thus far. You'd think there'd be some sign…" she trailed off, deep in thought. "Have you found something else?"

"Huh? No. I was just reading the wikipedia article on Tasmania. I don't actually know anything about it except that the Tasmanian devil is probably from there."

"Anything interesting?"

"Well…I guess it depends on how you define "interesting". The native people were genocided by British colonists. Wiped out the whole aboriginal population, which granted, there weren't all that many of them… I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse, really." Tony replied with a grimace.

"Genocide is terrible, no matter how large or small the population. The only real difference is that the massacre is more likely to attract attention and outrage if it's a larger population." Peggy sighed. "It's a monstrous thing, but I doubt it has any bearing on the theft of the animals. Australia and Tasmania were colonized in the 1800's."

"Not to mention dead people can't steal animals." Tony pointed out.

"Yes, there is that." Peggy agreed, voice dry. "Anything else of interest?"

"A bunch of UFOs converged on China's Bayankala mountain range two weeks ago and then disappeared."

"UFOs?" Peggy said in interest.

"Yeah. A bunch of blips got caught on radar by a whole bunch of countries, all of them eventually headed for the Bayankala mountains and disappeared. Planes and helicopters were sent out to look around, but they didn't spot any aircraft of any sort. One of the airmen said he saw a bunch of weird distortions in the air, but the tone of the article seems to dismiss his claims."

"But no one found anything?"

"Nope. Nada."

"Still worrisome. I'll pass word on to Nicholas. I've no idea whether SHEILD has heard rumors of China developing some sort of new stealth technology or not. It's something that bears watching. It's enough to warrant increased surveillance of the area."

"Whatever floats your boat, I guess."

 

"Last night at Hogwarts."

"Yup. I hope everyone enjoyed our quiet time while it lasted. We're all going to be busy from here on out."

"First stop, the company to get ourselves serumed up." Seamus said cheerfully. "Terry and I are both looking forward to our make-overs. Should make things interesting." he added, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

"TMI, mate, TMI." Dean groaned.

"Don't want to hear it, mate. I had a front row seat for you and Miss volcano britches" he nodded down the table to where Ginny was seated with her roommates "and your mating octopus impression. I at least have the decency to keep my shenanigans behind closed doors."

"Oi. My little sister." Ron growled.

"Just calling it like I see it." Seamus shrugged.

"Anyway… next stop, new wardrobes to accommodate our hopefully fit new bods…" Ron said with a grin.

"Don't forget dress robes. Tom and Fleur's wedding is in a week."

"Right, so trip to France after, a nice wedding… think there'll be a lot of veela there?"

"And why do you want to know that, Ronald?" Lavender asked sweetly.

"No reason. Just curious." he was quick to assure her.

"Tom and Fleur have a short honeymoon… Then we're off to China." Parvati said excitedly.

"I hope we'll have a chance to look around at least a little bit, either before we leave or when we get back. This is probably the only chance I'm ever going to get to see it." Harry said wistfully.

"And after that…off to the new planet!" Neville concluded with a smile. "I can't wait. We've been stockpiling terraforming bombs all year. Our whole group has been making them a few at a time whenever we had a few free moments. We've also got packets of individual seeds, as well as gallons of ageing solution after watching the Chinese at work."

"Good work, Nev." Harry nodded. "Now I feel kind of like a jerk. All I did was make some ward stones."

"Ward stones?" Hermione asked.

"Well, yeah. I'm going to set them up around whatever spot I choose for myself so no Ministry flunkies steal it while I'm stuck at school."

"Damn it. Why didn't I think of that?" Ron groaned.

"Do they take very long to make?" Seamus wondered. Hermione was already sketching out ideas and muttering to herself. Harry looked around and found the rest of them were all watching him intently. He sighed.

"All right, you lot. Come on. We don't have much time before curfew."

Chapter Text

Harry knocked lightly on the door to Tom's room and then peeked inside when he received no answer. Tom was laying spread-eagle on the bed and staring at the ceiling in true diva fashion.

"Tom?"
"Harry."

"I'm getting ready to head out. To France. For your wedding."

"There's probably not going to be a wedding."

"What are you talking about? Yes there is. I got a message from Fleur just an hour ago asking me to grab some stuff she left behind by accident."

"See? She's clearing out her room." Tom said hopelessly.

Harry rubbed his face and checked the time. He would be cutting it close, but he had a feeling that whatever this was probably couldn't wait.

"Alright, out with it. What's with you?"

Tom sighed and pulled himself upward to sit slumped in a pitiful dejected heap in front of him.

"I did something really stupid."

"What did you do?"

"I told her."

"Told her what?"

"About me. I told her everything."

Harry's eyebrows raised in surprise. "You did? Wow."

"I didn't really want to, you understand. I just had this overwhelming feeling that if I didn't I was going to end up regretting it. Most folks have accepted the whole 'it was an East European refugee with delusions of grandeur…but there are several who know or suspect the truth. I realized that if any of those people talked and she didn't hear it from me first…"

"You did the right thing." Harry reassured him. "And you're right, worrying about it and keeping it a secret from her would just end up being a problem later. By telling her, you get to tell your side of the story first. So, what's the problem? Did she react badly?"

"She said she had wondered… she said the story seemed strange and she suspected there was more to it. She still seemed surprised to have it confirmed."

"Okay… Still not seeing the problem."

"Isn't it obvious? She's had time to think about it now! She's a smart girl. She's going to realize she can do better and run for the hills." Tom groaned, before flopping back to lay in a dramatic sprawl on the bed once more.

"Voldie wasn't active in France, for all that he had a pretentious French name and quite a few followers with French names. The reign of Voldemort is all rather academic for her and didn't affect her personally, and is sort of ancient history on top of that. She's crazy about you, and she is not running for the hills. You're not giving her enough credit you know. If she did decide to end things, she'd have the decency to tell you beforehand. She wouldn't have you come to her parents' house and wait around looking like a fool waiting on her. Unless she either told you to your face that it was over or sent you a tear-stained letter, she's still planning on going through with it." Harry groaned before rising. "I need to get going. I'll see you tomorrow. You'd better show up. If I have to go hunt you down because you've decided to run off and stare broodingly off into the stormy sea contemplating the futility of love and truth or some other dramatic Slytherin bullshit I will make you regret it." he added warningly before rising to leave.

 

Harry popped out of the public floo in Wild Rumpus, checked the time again and cursed, hurrying across the village to the train station. He dodged through the crowds and slid into place on the platform as the train opened its doors to take on passengers.

"HARRY! There you are! We were beginning to worry!" Hermione said in relief.

"Cutting it a bit close there, eh, Harrykins?" Fred laughed, ruffling his hair as he climbed aboard.

Harry, Fred, George, Hermione and Penelope Clearwater all settled into their seats, taking an appreciative look around the interior of the train as they did so.

"It's rather mad, isn't it? We helped get the whole train system set up, and yet this is the first time any of us has been on one." Penny laughed.

"I know. Even Viktor's been on one. He made a special point to ride one last time he was in town. He's hoping Bulgaria will get a station. He said they've been talking about it."

"Speaking of Vicky, any word on whether he's going to be able to make it to the wedding?" Harry wondered.

Tom and Fleur had in fact asked Viktor to be one of Tom's groomsmen--at least one of the witnesses needed to be of age, and sadly neither Harry nor Gabrielle qualified. He had declined, regretfully. He was unable to guarantee any dates, and so urged them to find someone else. Hermione had agreed to stand with Fleur, but that left their number of attendants uneven. Tom had gone back to his first choice for extra groomsmen, the twins, but that still left things uneven. Fleur had become friends with Penny over the last year working at the company while the rest of them were in school, so she'd asked her to be her third bridesmaid. Penny had happily agreed. The wedding was going to be held at Fleur's parents' house in France. The five of them were heading there early so they could be on hand to help set up, greet the guests and of course help Fleur get ready.

"He's going to miss it, but he said he should be in time for the reception at least." Hermione replied. "Oh! Did you bring the tiara?"

"Yeah. It was right where she said it would be. Apparently Sigyn gave it to her and then she got a floo call before she could put it with her things she was taking, so she set it aside and then forgot she hadn't packed it."

"Cockaigne, France. Please gather your belongings and exit to the left."

"Wha… We're here already? I didn't even know we'd left!" George said in surprise.

They followed the crowd out the door and found themselves on another platform. They handed over their passports one by one to the clerk sitting by the exit. He scanned them and handed them back as soon as the machine beeped and let them go through the door, which led outside to a covered patio. There were a number of carriages lined up, waiting, as well as several hopeful fellows with magic carpets for hire.
It was hot; much hotter than it had been back in England.

"Oh! That's us over there. It looks like they hired a carriage for us." Hermione pointed, before heading right over. There was a fellow holding a sign that said "Riddle-Delacour wedding" who was scanning the disembarking passengers hopefully.

In no time at all they were loaded up and looking around curiously as the carriage pulled out into long road that ran alongside the station. The driver clicked a few times and the abraxans began to trot and then run. Just when it seemed they were about to run out of road and would crash into the buildings beyond, the abraxans snapped out their wings and soared into the sky. The area right around the station was lovely, with wide boulevards and shops, but once past it, it became rather congested.

"Wow. It's really crowded." Harry said with some shock as they began soaring. "Is the whole province like this?"

"It varies quite a bit." the driver answered. "This area around here is where most of the manufacturing is done. The families that have jobs in the area tend to stay close, and most times their children follow them into the same work. The commercial district, which we just left, has space and is laid out to look very lovely. They want to be sure any customers want to stick around and spend their money, naturally. The governmental district has lots of space. It's become a bit of a protest point with many who live here and similar places, where everyone is stacked on top of each other. A lot of folks feel that some of that unused space should be used to build more housing, but so far nothing has happened. A lot of the families that tend to work in the ministry have homes out that way, and none of them want to give up their fancy yards, or have to see ordinary people while on their lunch hour when they can be strolling around the gardens and lawns around the ministry buildings instead. Where we're headed is I guess the middle class area. They live on top of each other to some degree, but they all have a bit of space around their houses, and a nice view of the lake out that way. The folks with the most space are of course the farmers, but it's all taken up with crops and grape vines." he concluded.

They left the crowded piles of flats and factories behind and passed over a stretch of forest that separated the manufacturing district from the next. Beyond were large stately homes, each with extensive grounds. Past these was a large open space--wide lawns, decorative hedges trimmed to look like different animals, flowers and decorative trees. At the very center was a small cluster of fancy buildings. They could see well-dressed witches and wizards strolling about the gardens, and several having leisurely lunches in the fancy gazebos that dotted the area. There was more forest beyond this area--it seemed to serve to keep all the different districts separate, as well as provide shelter for whatever magical creatures called France their home, Harry guessed.
When they spotted the lake in the distance the carriage began its slow descent. This area was dotted with modest single-family homes, each with a modest front and back yard. There were a dozen or so homes that circled the lake itself, though they were set back quite a ways from it. It was to one of these that the carriage flew and landed in front of.

While Harry was digging out a galleon to tip the driver, a pretty blonde teenage girl raced out of the house with a big smile on her face.

"'allo, everyone! Welcome to our 'ome! Eet is just us for zhe moment. Fleur and maman 'ave not returned from 'er fitting yet." Gabrielle greeted everyone
.
"She's just getting her gown fitted now?" Hermione demanded.

"Eet will only take a few minutes eef any alterations need to be made." Gabrielle waved her hand, unconcerned. "I theenk she is probably also making zhe rounds of zhe caterers and zhe florist and zhe musicians to make sure everyone weel be here and ready on time. I told her she should 'ave come last week razher zhen yesterday eef she wanted to do zhat, but she did not want to leave 'er precious Thomas for so long." she laughed. "So now she is running around zhe day before and fretting 'erself sick zhat somezhing will go wrong."

Harry joined the rest of them as the carriage flew off once more.

"Come. I weel show you to…"

"Gabrielle!"

Gabrielle huffed and turned back to the street to see who was calling her. "Ah…Armand."

"I brought these for you!" The weedy boy said desperately, his voice cracking. He pulled a dozen roses from behind his back, his nervous smile growing hopeful when Gabrielle squealed and clapped her hands together happily before taking them and smelling them with a blissful smile.

"Oh! I love roses!"

"Does that mean that you'll go out with me?" he insisted, trying to grab her hand. She loosened his grasp with a twist of her wrist and patted him on the cheek.

"No. Zhank you for zhe roses! I must go now. I 'ave guests." she said airily, making a little shooing motion before turning to head towards the house.

"As I was saying, I'll show all of you to your rooms. We can go over zhe schedule for tomorrow after you all settle in and zhen…"

"Gabrielle!"

"Mon dieu! What do I have to do for some peace!" Gabrielle muttered under her breath, even as a loud argument broke out between Armand and the boy that had just arrived.

"She is mine!"
"Never! The fair Gabrielle will be mine!"

She stomped back, looking annoyed, though she was all smiles a moment later when she spotted the box in the new boy's hands. She handed her roses to Penny.

"'allo Pierre."

"Gabrielle! My sweet angel! Please accept this small token of… um…Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle was already squealing over the diamond necklace and earrings. "So sparkly! How pretty. Zhese will look so nice with my dress tomorrow. Zhank you, Pierre. I 'ave to go now. I have guests."

She gave the two boys a little wave, reclaimed her roses and flounced off into the house.

 

"Oh, hey you three. I didn't know you'd be here." Ron said in surprise as he came into the large conference room at Headquarters. The room was dotted with a half-dozen or so employees of the corporation, but the three girls were the only other Garden members present.

"Won-won!"

"Please don't start that up again. I just ate." Parvati grumbled from nearby.

Lavender pouted at her, but she just got a flat look in return from her and Padma as well.

Ron joined them and glanced up at the screen. "So what are we watching?"

"Wizarding Russia right now. They've had a couple of groups on site for a few weeks now, planting trees and grass and what have you--same as everyone else. The planet's changed quite a bit even in just the week since we've been out of school. They've started sending in small animals now. I guess all the bugs, bacteria and small lizards and all must have settled in okay. They're ready to start building up the food chains now. By the time we get there, it might actually seem like a living world. It's been kind of weird, really, watching all this time, it's so quiet, never so much as a bird to be seen. I was really wondering if it was going to be really awful staying there all summer. It'll still be strange and empty when we get there, but if there's at least some life in the trees it might not be so bad. So, what brings you here anyway? I thought you were going to hang out at home, except for the wedding, till we were ready to leave?"

"Ginny. She's been having fits that she's not going to the wedding. She's been complaining that, as Harry's girlfriend, she should automatically be his plus-one."

"His girlfriend? He changed his mind then?"

"Not so's I've noticed. I wish she'd get a hobby or something. There's nothing around the house to distract her besides chores and they're all done. She's just been stomping around in a bad mood and complaining about how bored she is. I'm gonna sleep in my office tonight and go to the wedding from here. The hammocks are actually pretty comfy. I can just eat in the cafeteria. I'm gonna see if Harry'll let me stay at his place the rest of the week. It'll only help so much. She's going with us. That's going to be a nightmare."

"Your parents gave permission?" Lavender sighed. "Damn it."

"Dad did, yeah. Thinks it's a great opportunity. Mum wasn't too pleased, but as he already said yes, she's not going to contradict him, though she did give him an earful about it. I tried to get him to change his mind, but he said he'd already said yes and Ginny was looking forward to it, and he wasn't going to disappoint her. Personally, I think he just doesn't want to have to deal with Ginny in a strop all summer."

"Probably. Damn it."

"Don't worry about it, Lav. We're all going there to work. If she isn't as well, we'll all just have to set her straight is all." Parvati commented.

"There'll be plenty of volunteers." Padma giggled.

"Even if I kind of want to hex her myself, I can't just stand by while the rest of you hex her."

"Then we'll make sure to do it when you're not looking. Witches' business. It's not for you to interfere." Lavender scolded gently. "Now, on to more interesting topics. Have you gotten everything you need for the trip? Have you had a chance to update your wardrobe?"

"I'm wearing some of Bill's old stuff. It mostly fits." Ron shrugged.

He started getting nervous when he realized the three girls were all now looking at him with gleaming eyes.

"Oh, Won-won, that will never do. Do you have your vault key?"

"Yeah…"

"We're going shopping. I know you want to save most of your money, but you're nearly of age, and we're going to be working hard all summer. You need your own clothes that fit you properly and aren't going to start splitting at the seams both because they're old and they don't quite fit right. Do you know what kind of budget you have to work with?"

"What? No! I'm not blowing all my money on clothes!"

"Don't be silly, Ronald. None of us is swimming in money. We'll get you properly kitted out for a reasonable amount." Padma scoffed.

"We should go through what he has already and see if any of it's salvageable, even if just to work in."
"Yes, and we should make a list…"
"I think Gladrags is having a sale."
"Twilfit and Tattings is too, though they're pricy enough they might still be overbudget…"
"You know, I heard Jeremy Boot just got a whole new wardrobe."
"Oh! He was always very stylish, and he's tall and lanky like Ron. We should hit the second hand stores and see who got his old wardrobe."
"It's about the time of year Madame Malkins dumps her off-season pre-mades as well. We might be able to find some stuff for fall and winter as well."
"Excellent! Let's go!"

"Don't I get any say in this?" Ron grumbled as the three girls manhandled him out the door.
"No."
"Nope."
"Hardly."
"Bloody hell."

 

"Can we really do it? Should we? Give up everything we've worked for, our whole lives, everything and everyone we know?" Jean Granger asked her husband seriously.

"The alternative is losing our little girl forever. We both know we haven't been happy about this whole magic thing since it happened. It was strange and kind of unsettling… and with each year that's passed, we could feel her slipping away from us little by little. We both were pretty certain that one day she was just going to vanish off to some hidden magical place to live a life we had no place in. We can change that."

"At the cost of everything."

"Everything but our family." Dan corrected her gently. "We'll be a part of our little girl's life again. We'll get to see her kids grow up. How many people get an opportunity like this? We're going to get a chance to fly in a space ship, visit other planets! Magic, Jean. We might be able to use magic."

"To do what though? We're dentists. From what Hermione's told us they don't even have dentists!"

"So we learn something new. Yeah, it's kind of scary. There's no guarantees. We might hate it… But what if we don't? Isn't it worth it just for that?"

Jean grasped Dan's hand tightly and let out a shaky breath. "I don't want to lose our little girl." she agreed "but I also don't like the idea of throwing away our whole lives on a whim either."

"Then don't think of it as a whim. Think of it as an adventure. We used to have those, and then we settled down and became staid, boring dentists to make our parents happy."

"It wasn't a bad life." Jean protested.

"No, it wasn't…but don't you miss it sometimes? Just taking off with a few of your mates to a place you've never been? We used to creep off at the drop of a hat to break into abandoned houses that were rumored to be haunted so we could take a look around. We never found anything…but if we do this we could! We could meet an actual vampire! We could see dragons and unicorns! Fly around on broomsticks!"

Jean laughed and swatted Dan's arm as he began getting excited, but then grew sober once more.

"Can we do this?" she asked again, needing the reassurance.

"We'll all be together, no matter what happens. Isn't that the important part in the end? We can go, keep our family together and have an adventure…or we can stay here, wondering what's become of our only daughter…and being spied on by a creepy, invasive government agency and possibly rounded up to be experimented on at some point."

"When you put it like that…"

"We'll have to sell the practice…"

"And the house…"

"Actually, we might be able to take it with us."

"Really?"

"Yup."

"Huh. That… That might make it easier, if we still had something familiar from our old lives. But really? The whole house?"

"That's what she said. I brought it up as she was leaving, wondering where we were supposed to live if we did this."

"You know, for people trying to hide themselves…"

"She said they'll put it in a pocket dimension, put up some wards so that the folks in the area sort of become uninterested in the house. When we're ready to go, she said they'll take the pocket dimension with us. Once we're gone, the wards will gradually fade, and I'm sure that will cause some consternation to say the least…but by then we'll be on another planet, so it hardly matters."

"Well… I guess we should start feeling out prospective buyers for the practice then."

Dan nodded, and then a cheerful, boyish grin split his face nearly in two.

"The Grangers are going to space." he giggled.
"God help us all." Jane agreed, giggling as well.

 

"Looks like that's our cue. Geez, look at them all." Fred whistled. Outside the Delacour's home, a large carriage, like what had brought all the Beauxbatons students to Hogwarts for the tournament, had just arrived, and was currently disgorging a ridiculous number of passengers. Two more carriages were in the process of landing. The neighborhood children were pointing and gaping at all the people. The three boys were kept busy for the next little while directing everyone to their seats.

The last to exit, from the last carriage, were Loki, Sigyn and Tom. Harry left George and Fred to oversee the last of the crowd while he directed the groom and their adoptive parents to the very rear of the garden where everything was set up for the wedding and out through the small gate in the rear.

"Where are we going? I still need to get dressed." Tom complained.

"I know. They rented a specialty tent for the wedding. It has an entrance on both sides with a fancy bathroom in each. The Delacours only have the one, as I'm sure you know, but the girls are all using it already. We've got about a little over an hour, so you can even take a shower if you want to."

"It might not be a bad idea. It might help relax you." Loki said pointedly.

"Are you still angsting?" Harry complained. "She's upstairs getting ready. She's excited. She's not going to come out and then run screaming for the hills."

"What's this?" Sigyn asked worriedly.

"He came clean about his past." Harry said quietly after checking to make sure no one was in earshot.

"Well done, Thomas. We're proud of you." Loki said quietly. "Things like that have a way of festering, and coming out in inconvenient times and ways. Mother was right about that much. Secrets have no place in a family…and in a little more than an hour that's exactly what she will be."

"She loves you. I've no doubt about that." Sigyn assured him with a gentle smile.

"And do you know what love really is, at the end of the day? It means you hand another the power to destroy you, and they don't use it." Loki added.

"Are you going to make hatchlings now?"

The somber atmosphere was effectively derailed by Nagini's innocent question. Tom's face went red, Loki and Sigyn snickered, and Harry grinned in amusement.

"Not just yet, Nagini." Tom replied with a groan.

"What is taking so long? Your mate will find another if you keep dallying."

"She's got a point, you know. Time's a-wasting. Go get dressed. It'd be a heck of a thing if, after all your angsting, you were the one who ends up leaving her stranded because you still haven't gotten your damned robes on."

Out of everything, it was this that seemed to snap Tom out of his funk.

"Bloody hell. How are we on time? I'd never make it out of the country alive!" he said nervously as he bustled towards the shower.

 

Harry, Fred and George took their places at the appointed hour. Harry took a last look around and grinned at how festive the place looked. A large canopy that covered the whole yard had been erected to shield everyone from the exuberant sun overhead. The flowers lining the outer edges of the garden provided a colorful and fragrant backdrop. The roof of the canopy was filled with hundreds of tiny fairy lights, and garlands of flowers hung overhead, with large vases filled with more flowers hanging from each of the tent poles. A flower-bedecked arch held pride of place at the very front of the garden, backed by a standing curtain to hide the toilet tent and slightly rusty garden gate. The three boys wore green dress robes with gold accents. They had all jokingly complained about the Slytherin colors, but truthfully they hadn't been expecting anything else.

Appoline Delacour, Fleur's mother, hurried from the house, signaling to the musicians as she took her seat. Penny was first down the aisle, followed by Hermione and then Gabrielle. The three girls were in gold gowns that rippled like water when they moved. The girls took their places opposite the boys, and all turned to face the rear. Tom and Fleur appeared soon after, hand in hand. Tom looked rather dashing in his gold and green ensemble, and Fleur was a vision in white. They'd both been attractive before taking the serum; now they were both stupidly beautiful. "In fact" Harry thought as he looked around "between the veelas and all the folks who just got serum, this has to be the most beautiful non-movie wedding ever"

Tom and Fleur smiled at each other, and made their way down the aisle hand in hand. As the happy couple drew closer, Harry idly scanned the crowd and spotted Albus Dumbledore watching the young couple with the air of faint bemusement he seemed to wear often whenever he looked at Tom since his reappearance. Harry almost felt sorry for the old guy. Even after all this time, he must still be terribly confused about the whole Voldemort thing.
Oh well.

He spotted Pansy again and had to work not to roll his eyes. She had done as she'd said she would--her gown was slightly low cut and slit high on each leg. Draco seemed to be splitting his time between peering down her dress over her shoulder and ogling Hermione as she came down the aisle.
"Poor thing. I'll have to see what I can do later to help her out."
He caught Tom's eye briefly as they drew near. He was looking pretty zen compared to earlier, and Fleur, of course, was radiant.
The officiant, an elegant, stately witch who was a distant cousin of Fleur's father, smiled at the young couple when they reached her.
"Gentlewizards and witches, we are gathered here in community to join this man and woman in the bonds of love…"

 

The party afterwards went long into the night, even after Tom and Fleur left to go on their short honeymoon before the trip to the new planet. Fred and George had brought a whole host of brand-new wedding themed fireworks. Harry spotted Remus dancing most of the night with Nymphadora Tonks, who was apparently his date for the evening--he hadn't seen that one coming. Barty seemed to be getting cozy with Penny. He hadn't seen that coming either. Sirius was once more with Amelia Bones; he was beginning to wonder if there was going to be another wedding in the offing. Harry himself spent an enjoyable evening with Gabrielle, who was still as funny and cute while somewhat grown up as she had been as a little girl, but was if anything far more troublesome. This was something she seemed to know and was inordinately proud of.

As for Pansy, Harry didn't even need to actually help her out. Several men asked her to dance over the course of the evening. Her bruised ego was soothed quite a bit from the attention, though not completely. Draco wasn't happy with the attention she was getting, but he was still distracted, and then somewhat sulky after Viktor showed up. At this rate, Harry was becoming certain they likely wouldn't last past the end of the summer, which would probably make prefect meetings a nightmare.

Susan Bones and Greg Goyle seemed to be at odds as well. He wasn't sure what was going on there, but had heard rumors that Greg's dad was trying to arrange a marriage with a pureblood girl--Susan was a halfblood. He wasn't sure how true the rumor was, as he was certain Susan would have broken things off if he was betrothed to someone else.

Cedric and Cho Chang seemed to be quits at the moment as well. From what he'd heard they'd started fighting because she'd kept complaining he wasn't spending enough time with her while he was stressing out over taking his NEWTs. Most folks were on Cedric's side of the dispute. It had been rather unfair of her to demand he risk his entire future so they could make moon eyes at each other. Whether they'd get past that was anyone's guess.

On a more positive note, Astoria Greengrass seemed to be in both high spirits and good health. She'd always had a weak constitution, to hear her sister tell it, and was easily tired and tended to get sick a lot. Working for twelve OWLs had been hard on her, and her family had urged her more than once to take fewer classes so she wouldn't be under so much strain. She'd stuck it out thus far, and now that the serum seemed to have bolstered her health to such a degree, they were tentatively hopeful that she'd be able to go the distance next year without doing herself harm.
Millicent had confided to him that common wisdom said it was the old Greengrass bloodline curse. It had been dormant for generations, and the family had hoped they'd seen the last of it, until Astoria was born. Because of the serum, the whole family had hope for the first time in years that they weren't just going to lose her one day to something as simple as a common cold that she just couldn't fight off.

All in all, it was a merry, though rather inebriated bunch that left the wedding hours later to catch the last train back to England.
They had to make a quick stop at Headquarters to get Ron's stuff. He was installed in Tom's old room across from Harry on the fourth floor--his stuff had already been emptied out and put into his and Fleur's new suite on the third.

Fleur and Tom's return a week later was greeted with much cheer and a bit of salacious teasing. Both were tanned, relaxed and seemed to have settled into being an old married couple with cheerful abandon.
The train station was rather crowded with the whole Garden there. Thankfully, all their stuff had already been loaded into the tents for the trip, so they only had those, their brooms, and themselves to worry about.
Everyone was giddy and nervous when their train was announced. It was hard to believe it, but they'd finally get a chance to see the new planet up close and personal in just a few hours.
"Kunlun Mountain, China"
"I gotta say, I am loving these trains. We should have done this years ago." Ron laughed. "This is definitely much better than a regular old portkey."
The whole group hurried through the passport booth, eager to get their first glimpse of China.

Kunlun station was in a large red pagoda-like building. Outside of it was a massive, bustling marketplace. Everyone was trying to look everywhere at once, so it soon became obvious that something strange was going on.

"Are we…inside the mountain?" Hermione asked curiously.

"We are, actually." Remus nodded. "If you look around, you can see that it looks like we're in the bottom of a bowl almost, with tiers of buildings all around us. They hollowed out the mountains here and built housing and shops as their population grew. They charmed the inside to look like the sky, so no one would get claustrophobic living underground like this. I believe there are actually four or five hollow mountains, this is just one of them. There's a rail system that travels between the mountains underground. There are actually people living on the outside of the mountains too, and they grow some of their food out there. I think they actually started something like your vertical farming initiative years ago to maximize space since so much space is taken up by rice paddies--and they still end up having to import some rice from the muggles each year since they don't have enough space to feed their whole populace on their own. This whole section of the mountain range is in wizard space, of course. The muggles think this range is hundreds of miles smaller than it actually is. From what I've heard, even with expansion and hollowing out the mountains, everyone in these parts lives pretty much right on top of each other--though that's certainly true for other parts of China as well." He looked around at the group carefully. "Do we have everyone?"

They did a quick head count. "All present and accounted for."

"Alright then. Stick together. We need to head to that side chamber there. That's where the gateway is."

The side chamber was about five hundred feet away, carved like so much else, into the interior of the mountain. The wide doorway leading in to it was carved with animals--a dragon, phoenix, tiger and turtle, it looked like, so it was easy to keep sight of as they tried to navigate through the dense and bustling crowd.

The chamber was bigger inside than they'd been expecting, and empty but for the large, circular, rune-embossed gateway, and a couple of unspeakables. Remus did another head-count once they were all inside and then turned to the unspeakables to nod that they were ready.

"Once the gateway is opened, mount your brooms and fly straight forward. You may feel like you're being stretched a bit. I've been told some people find the sensation unsettling. Ignore it and focus on continuing to fly straight forward. The end of the trip is rather abrupt, I've been told, but folks on the other side have been instructed to keep the area clear, so you shouldn't run into anything. Are you ready?"

As the runes on the gateway lit up one by one, a deep bass thrum seemed to travel through the room and set everyone's bones to vibrating. The center of the gateway rippled like water.

The unspeakables nodded to Remus, who signaled the first group to head through.

Ron, Harry, Neville, Hannah, Luna, Hermione and Ginny had all been unlucky enough to end up at the back of the crowd. All of them were practically dancing in impatience by the time their turn finally came along.

Neville and Hermione weren't big fliers. By unspoken agreement the rest of them formed up around them when their turn finally came.
They had all honestly expected it to feel wet when they went through, given how the gateway rippled, but instead it just felt kind of warm and tingly, and they were all left feeling for a moment like they were both frozen in place and being stretched out over miles at the same time. None of them was actually sure how long the trip took, as it seemed between one moment and the next that they started moving normally again, snapped back together and were suddenly flying at high speed under an unfamiliar sun.

They reined in their brooms, got hold of Hermione and Neville and steered them to where the rest of their group was waiting and chattering with one another excitedly.

Remus was the last one through the gateway, which shut down once he was clear. The sudden cessation of noise from it left everyone's ears ringing in the resulting quiet. Once they were all together once more, they just looked at each other in silence for a moment.

"We're on another planet." Hermione said in shock, as though it had just really set in.

"We did it!" Fred crowed.

"Who's number one?" George added.

"WE ARE!"

It took a while for everyone to settle down once they started cheering and dancing and jumping up and down, but the astronauts, who'd come to meet them to take them to new Albion, finally got tired of waiting and waded into the group to start thwaping heads and getting everyone loaded into the ship.

"Alright, you lot, get moving."
"You can dance on the ruddy ship if you really must."