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Enter the Dragon (Harry Potter/Shadowrun)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Dunkelzahn, Jul 10, 2018.

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  1. Threadmarks: Section 1.1 - In which an outsize lizard happens
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    Summary:
    It began with a quirk of timing, and it continued because dragons — such as the one which an eight year old Harry Potter had become — were very large and difficult to control.
    Fortunate for everyone he's a nice kid, eh?​

    I had put this on SpaceBattles before it got flagged for questionable content. I hadn't realized that the rules against certain things extended to the mentioning of a potential risk that those things might happen to a minor, so continuing on that site --- even if the thread gets unlocked --- is probably not advisable.

    If they're uncertain about what's been posted so far, then a few of the less pleasant bits of Hermione's character arc (in which she narrowly avoids such a fate) and their aftermath (Harry didn't like the fact that she was targeted for such) are going to raise all kinds of hell.

    In any case, my fault for not understanding their rules properly.

    That said, at the risk of reducing the dramatic tension in the future chapters, rest assured, nothing sexual involving minors is actually going to take place in this story, no matter what the situation might threaten --- though there may be some characters who suffered such abuse in their past prior to their introduction to the story.

    Seriously, getting dinged on that of all things was thoroughly unpleasant.

    For that matter, nothing explicitly sexual involving adults is going to be written in this story. The worst is going to be implied off-screen events. Sexual implications will be used in this story for plot and character development as well as a bit of good humor.
    This is an expansion and continuation of Doghead Thirteen's story of the same name. I've been working on it, with the original author's permission, for some time now and posting on the CaerAzkaban Yahoo Group where the original author is a member. Given the much larger user base here, I'm hoping to get some additional feedback, as well as a place where the entire story can be read more easily than the increasingly difficult Yahoo Groups interface.

    Well, that, and I thought some of you might enjoy the fruits of my labors as much as I do.

    In chapter 2 there are some elements introduced from another companion story by Tsu Doh Nimh, Sort the Dragon, mostly a single character and the bones of a couple of scenes. It's a well-written one-shot if you care to check it out.

    This is a Harry Potter and Shadowrun crossover, or to be more accurate it is a fusion of the settings. A third setting is also part of the mix, but it will be revealed when the characters find out about it in-story.
    Since it came up in the SB thread, note the numbers X.Y.Z denote Chapter X Section Y Scene Z. I'm posting one section to a forum post so that I have reasonably sized deliverables rather than waiting for a chapter that could run 50k to 120k words (chapters 1 and 2 respectively), and the scenes are named mostly for my convenience in my word processor (it lets me navigate easily and move scenes by dragging and dropping).
    Anyway, here goes! Hope you enjoy.



    1 Enter the Dragon


    1.1.0 In which an outsized lizard happens

    There are places in the world where reality isn’t quite so real — though it would perhaps be more accurate to say, where it’s a bit more real than usual — places where the fabric of the world bunches up like a poorly set table cloth and the dimensions are seen a bit edge-on instead of flat. In past ages, such sites were sought out, and structures were built upon them — great rings of stone and earth to enhance them, great tools to harness them.

    Most such devices have been long forgotten, knowledge of their function lost to the ravages of time and the foibles of memory, their physical forms buried by the dust of ages. Some, however, remain visible, rediscovered by Man and marked out for curious sorts to puzzle over, wondering — whatever possessed their predecessors to build such things?

    Perhaps the most famous such device lies on the Salisbury Plain, a ring of stone plinths laid out to exacting specifications known to the modern world as Stonehenge, but it is one of many that still litter the globe, most vastly more potent.

    Long before the squabbles between Rome and Carthage, the lore of the rings faded from living memory, and the skill to make use of them went likewise. With the aid of these ancient tools, the greatest of magics could be cast, relying on the edifice to amass power in the wrinkles of the world for later use. But without the knowledge to use them, the rings lay dormant, unused but still operational, faithfully storing the power and lifeblood of the world in preparation for some future masterwork, some great purpose, yet to be imagined.

    At one such location in the village of Avebury, a small family called Dursley explored the ring on the evening of the summer solstice in the year 1988. On their way home from visiting Vernon Dursley’s sister, they had stopped for a respite from the cramped confines of the family auto. The luxury saloon was a sizeable vehicle for most, but it was decidedly undersized for Vernon, who found the bucket seats pinched his sides fiercely, and it promised to soon be too small for Vernon’s young son, Dudley. In stark contrast, Vernon’s wife, an inordinately thin woman by the name of Petunia, nearly vanished into the seat cushions of the front passenger seat; perhaps a bench seat would have allowed Petunia and her husband to average out comfortably.

    In sharp contrast to their usual habit, the family of three was dragging along an unusual addition — Petunia’s orphaned nephew, Harry Potter, who stayed with the Dursleys because he had nowhere else to go. The Dursley family generally held that young Harry was the ruination of any event he attended — no matter how minor — hence his poor acquaintance with the family dinner table and his slight frame. As such, Harry would normally have been fobbed off on an equally disliked neighbor, usually one Mrs. Figg, owner of an unmanageable number of cats and a collection of odd smells. Unfortunately for the Dursley peace-of-mind, Mrs. Figg had been unavailable, and they were forced to allow Harry to accompany them.

    So it was that Harry Potter came to be at the stone circle in Avebury at moonrise on the summer solstice of 1988.

    A young boy of eight and not terribly enamored of history, Dudley saw nothing of interest in the ancient stones standing upright in the turf. In keeping with the family policy of blaming Harry for any and all problems encountered whenever he was present — and all too often whenever he wasn’t — the rotund boy felt it perfectly reasonable to assume his cousin was responsible for the tedium and should be punished for his temerity.

    So, Dudley shoved him, and Harry was set stumbling toward a fateful meeting with a decidedly ancient piece of stone very much harder than his head.

    Said meeting took place at the precise instant of moonrise and Harry’s new acquaintance happened to be the one which would, in the circle’s normal course of operation, be used to drain excess power in preparation for a delicate working. Had Harry been a normal child this would have done nothing, but Harry was not a normal child. Harry was a wizard, albeit one ignorant of his heritage and untutored in the ways of his people. A wizard who had active power of his own flowing through his veins and infusing his blood with raw potential. Some of that potent blood had been introduced to an ancient magical device — primed and ready to activate at that time — on the solstice, at moonrise, filled to the brim and beyond with the power of millennia, and that infused potential triggered the stone to do as it was designed.

    The gathering dusk lit up with a shaft of light more intense than the noontime sun, a light of all the colors of the rainbow and a few others besides, a light connecting the stone to young Harry’s wounded head. A sound beyond sound echoed across the plain, and a cacophony of more esoteric forms of noise raced around the planet and diffused into the byzantine folds of reality. More power poured through that connection between the stone and Harry’s head than had been used by every magical creature in every magical endeavor that had taken place since the stones last fell silent.

    Normally — if such events were to occur frequently enough to be able to define a norm — a young boy such as Harry would not have survived such a discharge; indeed, he would have been annihilated from existence on nearly every level that can be comprehended. He might even have been retroactively annihilated from the past; such was the amount of power that flowed into him. In this case, however, Harry’s magic, an almost sentient entity in its own right, lashed out in desperation, concocting a desperate solution on the spot to avoid dissolution.

    Harry changed.

    Power siphoned from the flow was used to spin substance from emptiness, and the young boy’s form twisted into something new — something strong, something durable, something able to withstand the current. The flow of power ended as abruptly as it began, and Harry fell — no longer a critically-underweight eight-year-old boy.

    1.1.1 A strange reaction

    Thousands of miles away, in a cave sealed long before the circles fell silent, a massive eye opened; a voice deeper than human hearing and rough with disuse spoke in a rolling language not heard in millennia.

    “What’s that racket?”

    A few moments passed with no further interruption before the eye closed heavily again — the owner dismissing the issue and returning to its rest. It was still too tired, the time still too early.

    It would investigate later.

    1.1.2 Vernon deals with the aftermath

    As the light faded and the echoes died out, Vernon Dursley blearily examined the area — bewildered by this most unwelcome surprise — and heard a young voice saying, “Huh? Um, Aunt Petunia, why are you shrunk?”

    Looking toward the voice — in the process taking in the horrified shock writ large on the faces of his wife and son — Vernon laid eyes on a decidedly terrifying-looking critter.

    Its scales were the blue-black of fine steel tooling; Vernon recognized that immediately as a proud seller of fine drills, and it was about as long as the family car — near twenty-foot — a lot of which looked to be neck and tail. The creature — were it not splayed awkwardly on the ground — would have stood at about Vernon’s height at the shoulder, and it possessed a pair of wings, one of which was flailing clumsily in the air as the beast tried to right itself in a body it didn’t seem quite able to work properly.

    More than anything, it was that wing which caught Vernon’s attention. Its flailing was taking it more than twice the height of that standing stone the boy had run into — a stone that was itself almost twice Vernon’s height — and it was moving fast. Vernon’s work selling drill tooling often took him into big, industrial facilities, and if the constant safety briefings from his clients had taught him anything, it was that when something that big moves that fast, that something is far deadlier that it really looks like it ought to be.

    When Vernon saw the teeth looking like a peculiarly stout set of butcher’s cleavers — now, where had he seen a cutter that looked like that before? — set into a jaw that could take the head off of a cow in a single bite, he realized that this critter looked like it ought to be very deadly indeed, and he made the uncharacteristically sensible decision to tread very, very cautiously.

    “Dudley, you shrunk too?” that voice piped up again.

    On top of everything else, Vernon now realized that the beast was actually talking. And that voice… that voice definitely sounded like his blasted nephew did when recovering his wits after a well-deserved cuff to the side of his freakish noggin. Did the new critter eat him or something? As long as the beast wasn’t still hungry, maybe this wouldn’t be too bad? Unless the critter was the boy… and didn’t that seem like an all to plausibly freakish occurrence?

    Wouldn’t that be horrifying?

    Vernon realized that he really shouldn’t be taking this so well. It’d probably be for the best if he confirmed the facts of the situation before the shock wore off and he started panicking.

    “Boy, is that you?”

    Vernon was thoroughly proud of that question. Here he came across an accidental dragon — because he was pretty sure that’s what this critter was — and he managed not to stutter or anything. That was premium-grade stiff-upper-lip right there. Vernon had never felt so patriotic.

    “Um, yeah. I feel kinda weird,” his now-confirmed nephew continued, “nothing seems to work right anymore.”

    Fears confirmed, Vernon manfully put off his terrified gibbering for a later time — preferably when he was out of sight of his newly-draconic nephew — while he saw to salvaging the situation as best as he could. “You keep trying to work things out there, boy, and be proper careful, you’re a lot bigger than you used to be,” Vernon was still tickled by his even tone, surely no Queen’s Guard in a bearskin could have done any better.

    After the boy responded with a cheery, “Right!”, Vernon turned to Petunia, still silently mouthing something or other in shock. “Pet, I think you’ll need to drive the car home. I need to get a van, think I saw a dealership in Marlborough on the way out.”

    “Van?” Petunia repeated, blankly.

    “A van,” Vernon confirmed, “I don’t think the boy will fit in the car, and we can’t leave him here.” Vernon’s calm state of mind was starting to slip.

    “But, what’ll the neighbors say?”

    “What’ll the rozzers say if we leave a DRAGON wandering Wiltshire?” Ah, there it went. “And what’ll the bleeding DRAGON say if we try to ditch it?”

    Whatever response Petunia had planned died on her lips, and she nodded reluctantly.

    And so it was that an increasingly not-calm Vernon Dursley made a short, sharp visit to a local car dealership in pursuit of a van. He was satisfied with neither the quality nor the price, but the dealer could sense his urgency and took shameless advantage.

    Vernon’s smarting pride as a salesman did nothing to improve his mood.

    A few hours later, the lemon of a van died as it pulled into the garage right next to the dragon, and Vernon put his family to bed. Hoping that a good night’s sleep would prove everything to be a dream in the morning.

    It would not.

    1.1.3 Petunia does nothing useful

    It had been several months since her nephew had turned into an automobile-sized dragon during their ill-fated rest stop at Avebury, and in the intervening time, Petunia had learned more about dragons and their physiology than she had even wanted to know.

    Well… except for that stint between learning her dratted sister was a witch and finding out that she, herself, was not. During that time, Petunia dreamed of being a magical veterinarian, caring for unicorns and pegasi and such — she was in her ‘I-want-a-pony’ phase at the time — back then, she would have eagerly devoured such knowledge.

    Petunia’s opinion of the magical world had soured in the intervening years, due partly to meticulously unacknowledged jealousy, but mostly due to long-buried grief-become-resentment over the loss of her sister to their secretive little world. So, Petunia now focused on the unpleasant realities of dragon feces and the problematic economics of paying for things to be turned into such, rather than the wonder of a flying, intelligent, magical, fire-breathing, and most importantly, friendly, reptile.

    Petunia’s was a sad existence.

    It seemed to Petunia that small dragons behaved in much the same way as small children, continually occupied with eating and sleeping, interspersed with bouts of defecating. It brought back memories of Dudley’s infancy and reminded her why her son was an only child. There was a reason her son had to be so sheltered — if he died, they’d have to raise another one, and Petunia refused to deal with diapers again.

    On that first night, her dratted draconic nephew had eaten the entire contents of the garage, including the van they had purchased specifically to haul his ungrateful reptilian bulk home, Dudley’s bicycles, all three of them, the lawnmower, the grill, assorted hand tools, potting compost, pots, pesticides, fertilizers, a chest freezer and its entire contents, and her lawn flamingos.

    Oh, the flamingos! She had worked so hard for those, badgering Vernon into buying them then forcing him to cart them back from Harrod’s. Even if she didn’t dare to put them out since no one else on the street had them, now she didn’t have that option because they were dragon food!

    Why, not only would Vernon have to mow the lawn himself with the boy stuck in the garage, but they’d have to borrow a mower to boot. Petunia didn’t know if she could stand the shame! It was bad enough that hiding her dratted nephew from proper folk kept her from entertaining as she wished — one of the few things for which Vernon was grateful to the boy — but now that dreadful Hyacinth woman down the street, the one married to poor Mr. Bucket, would have something to hold over her head.

    Petunia could just hear her now, “Not able to maintain your own Lawnmower, are you? How Dreadfully Unfortunate! Have you and dear Vernon fallen on Hard Times? I had Wondered when you didn’t Reciprocate after my Fantastic Outdoors-Indoors Luxury Barbecue hosted at our Glorious Bucket residence — that’s pronounced ‘bouquet’, you know — but I hadn’t Realized you were having Troubles of the Financial Sort. Simply Dreadful!” That woman would never shut up about it! She was almost as horrid a gossip as that woman at number 7 — or so Petunia had heard from her neighbor at Number 2.

    Vernon walked by with his shirt off carrying another hundredweight of coal to the garage, following the frozen sheep carcass he had toted in earlier. It was very kind of him to avoid dirtying his shirts with coal dust again, but the sight of her husband’s pale but increasingly muscular torso simply brought another problem to the fore.

    Petunia almost despaired — Vernon was even losing weight! He was down almost eight stone since Avebury, and he was such a dreadfully handsome fellow. If he lost much more weight, Petunia feared she might lose him to that secretary of his. Petunia had seen the looks that woman was giving him at the last company Christmas party, and she wouldn’t stand for it!

    She would just have to sit down with her husband and figure out what was to be done about her sister’s horrid brat. This situation was simply untenable, and Petunia refused to tolerate it!

    Vernon would simply have to figure something out.

    1.1.4 A salesman’s lament

    Vernon faced a daunting task.

    A young dragon, such as his nephew had become, seemed to live to eat, and it had fallen to him to keep the wretched beast sated, at least to the point that it didn’t ravage the neighborhood in search of victuals. The glutton had devoured the entire contents of the garage the first night — including that lemon of a van he’d been forced to purchase.

    While Vernon was not displeased to be shot of the reminder of that embarrassment of a transaction — and he certainly didn’t mind the loss of those ridiculous lawn ornaments Petunia insisted on collecting — he was mightily irritated by the loss of his sales kit from Grunning’s. Those drill bits were expensive, and explaining that he needed a new kit at work was unconscionably embarrassing — no matter how understanding his supervisor was. He couldn’t even use his nephew’s testimonial for future sales — his customers wouldn’t care that the drills were delicious! Vernon knew that Petunia had also been going on about the lawnmower and buckets for some reason, but he felt that whatever that was about, it could wait.

    It had been almost two months since his nephew became a dragon, and in the intervening time the reptile had grown almost five feet in length and put on a fair bit of girth. He was averaging twelve sheep, a quarter-ton of coal, 50 liters of petrol, another quarter-ton of scrap metal, and an unconscionably large volume of water per week. The great beast was also rapidly outgrowing the garage, and Vernon was working hard to keep the massive pile of dung he produced buried so the neighbors didn’t complain about the smell.

    At least his nephew had proven to be a remarkably polite dragon — proof that he and Petunia had raised the boy right, in Vernon’s estimation. Now that he didn’t have the excuse of physical intimidation keeping him in line, Vernon was forced to admit that the boy was quite well-mannered, if ravenous. The boy was now perfectly capable of doing anything he wished by force, and yet he still went along with Vernon’s request that he stay hidden in the garage.

    Vernon knew that his Dudley had actually grown quite fond of his newly draconic cousin. Even he, himself, had to acknowledge that the coolness factor of having a real dragon in the house made up for a lot of problems — even at his age. That the dragon was made of high grade steel was something that even Vernon found awesome beyond words, and that sort of wonder was something he thought he had stamped out of himself when he was a teenager. Honestly, at this point, he was wishing he didn’t need to keep the boy a secret. Vernon could hardly imagine a better mascot for Grunning’s Drills than a living dragon made of the same stuff as some of their best products!

    The problem lay in that appetite, though.

    While Vernon had complained before about the cost of his nephew’s upkeep — mostly because he felt like grumbling rather than any actual concern — solvency was now a very real issue. The budget for dragon feed exceeded their monthly mortgage, and the family savings couldn’t continue to absorb the strain for much longer. Not to mention the fact that Harry really needed to be able to get outside and move — even Vernon had to acknowledge that the situation was unhealthy for the boy.

    He’d have to see if his wife could remember how to contact those freaks her sister had run off with. Much as he disliked such weirdness, Vernon felt that they might be better equipped to deal with an outsize accidental lizard.
     
  2. Ataru

    Ataru (Verified Pervert)

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    Lol, did you post here because of the SB thread lock?
     
  3. darthdavid

    darthdavid That Guy

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    I'm glad I checked here, because I was just about to suggest migrating to QQ when I saw the thread lock on SB. What a bunch of prudes...
     
  4. Ataru

    Ataru (Verified Pervert)

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    Not that I disagree that SB mods are prudes, but the masturbation references were definitely pushing it.
     
    Winged One likes this.
  5. Threadmarks: Section 1.2 - Calling in wizarding assistance
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.2.0 Calling in wizarding assistance

    Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Chief Warlock of the International Confederation of Wizardry, Chief Mugwump of the Wizengamot, five-time Winner of Wizarding Britain’s Most Fabulous Fashion Competition, and carrier of far too many names, was decidedly perplexed. His potions professor, Severus Snape, had relayed to him a most curious communication from an old childhood… acquaintance of his, Petunia Dursley, formerly Evans, in which urgent assistance was requested regarding the situation of her young nephew, Harry Potter.

    Albus had placed the boy with his aunt and her family following the death of the boy’s parents in the last insurrection. It was the least he could do after they had died while following him in the conflict — particularly when they had been two of his favorite students during their school years.

    Petunia’s note was horribly nonsensical, rambling on about topics ranging from mortgages to flamingos to hyacinths to dragons of all things and sprinkled liberally with assorted capitalizations. As an educator, Albus was thoroughly disappointed with her composition — he knew Petunia was not qualified for Hogwarts all those years ago, but surely the non-magical schools could produce better results than this.

    Unable to make sense of the problem from Petunia’s note but equally certain that she was quite desperate for assistance with whatever it was, Albus supposed there was no help for it — he would have to go visit Surrey himself.

    1.2.1 A visit from a wizard

    “You’re that Dumble-whatsit fellow Pet was telling me about?” was the greeting received by Albus Dumbledore on arriving at Number 4 Privet Drive.

    “I am indeed Albus Dumbledore. You are Mr. Vernon Dursley, I presume?” Albus Dumbledore was not one to be rude, even in the face of such abruptness — though he did wonder what the difficulty was. The elderly wizard had even made sure to don a nice, subdued set of robes for this meeting to avoid just such a reception! Muggles always complained about his dress-sense.

    “I am.” Vernon disliked the idea of being even moderately polite to one of the magical freaks that had stolen away his wife’s sister — particularly one dressed so garishly — but if nothing else, dealing with a dragon for a nephew had taught him the value of restraint, if not tact. He was desperate at this point. “Come in,” Vernon finally remembered to invite the man inside, leading him into the sitting room where Petunia was waiting, glass in hand with a fancy-looking bottle full of decidedly less impressive brandy sitting next to her.

    After several awkward moments of silence, Albus decided that if he didn’t bring up the reason for his visit, no one would — despite his presence being requested.

    “Your note said something about a problem with Harry,” he prompted.

    Vernon blinked, that getup was so obnoxious he had forgotten what he was going to say, “Oh, right… you see, back around midsummer we went to visit my sister in Bristol. On the way back, we stopped at Avebury for a short break, and… well…”

    “The brat turned into a dragon,” Petunia interjected in a loud, piercingly nasal voice, pausing to take a swig from her brandy snifter. “Really, Vernon, it’s not that difficult to explain.” She turned to the wizard in the room, “We can’t keep him here. He ate the lawnmower and now we must borrow the neighbor’s, and that Bucket woman won’t shut up about it! You dumped the boy here, so he’s your problem. Deal with it!”

    “Young Harry turned into a dragon, you say?” Albus confirmed, somewhat taken aback by both the claim that a small boy managed to turn into a dragon and by Petunia’s complete lack of concern for said boy. He decided to focus on the important bit and leave the rest of the woman’s statement alone, along with her apparent drinking habit.

    Vernon was somewhat embarrassed by his drunk wife. His sister was bad enough in that regard, and he was beginning to get some rather unpleasant inklings regarding Petunia’s behavior when he wasn’t home. Deciding to ignore the problem for now and hope it went away, Vernon volunteered, “Yes he did. It’s probably simplest just to introduce you to the boy, er, dragon. Right, to the garage then.”

    Albus followed Vernon to the garage while Petunia stayed seated, not about to leave her brandy for such an insignificant thing as actually fixing her problems. As the door opened, the elderly wizard was treated to a thoroughly remarkable sight. In the middle of the garage — well, rather, sprawled across the floor taking up most of the garage — was a small black-scaled dragon of a breed Albus was not familiar with. While a dragon was an unusual sight for a suburban garage on its own, the fact that it also appeared to be reading a book was the real shocker. As the co-discoverer of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, Albus felt he could safely say that this was not normal dragon behavior.

    Had it been, he would dare say that he would not have been comfortable bleeding so many of them for that research.

    “Uh, hullo Uncle Vernon.” When the dragon spoke… well, Albus probably should have been less surprised than he was. “I’m hungry.”

    “You’re always hungry, boy,” Vernon groaned, already on his way to the large chest freezer taking up a good chunk of the back patio. They didn’t dare leave it in the garage with Harry — not after he ate the last one — and the garden shed was occupied with the other mainstays of the young dragon’s diet…

    “Uncle Vernon, could you grab some coal and petrol on the way back too, please? Thanks!”

    …those were two of them, kept right next to the pile of scrap metal he managed to scrounge from some of his customer contacts. Vernon continued on to the shed with an affirmative grunt.

    Dumbledore absently watched this byplay, still trying to process the situation, until he finally came to a rather startling conclusion.

    “Harry? Harry Potter, is that you?”

    “Yup!” came an immediate and proud response, followed shortly by a suspicious question, “Hey, how did you know my name?” accompanied by an equally suspicious look — a look that quickly changed to one of curiosity. “Hey, why are you all glowy? I never saw a glowy person before!”

    “As it happens, I was a good friend of your parents before…” Dumbledore paused, the phrase ‘before their deaths’ on his tongue, before continuing, “when they were younger.” There, that was a nice neutral phrase. “You sound rather remarkably like your father did in his youth.”

    Dumbledore had no idea what to make of the glowing question, but he did have a great deal of experience with young people due to his years as a teacher — experience which gave him a ready-made way to address such a question, pretend it didn’t happen. Hopefully, young Harry would lose track in the confusion and not think to ask again before Albus had come up with a suitable response. Now to change the subject —

    “Young man, what have you managed to do to yourself?”

    “Well, I dunno really. Dudley shoved me and I cracked my head on this really big rock, and it hurt, and then there was all sorts of light, and it was really loud, and I fell down, and then the next thing I can remember I was tryin’ to figure out how to flip back over usin’ my wings, and I saw Aunt Petunia and it looked like she’d shrunk, so I looked at Dudley, and I saw he’d done the same, and then…” Finally running out of breath, Harry paused long enough to notice the frozen sheep Vernon had dropped on the floor. Nicely distracted, Harry defrosted the carcass with a fiery snort, and then happily downed it in two bites before starting in on the sack of coal.

    “This was when the ley lines went quite berserk, correct?” Dumbledore confirmed, beginning to make a connection between Harry’s circumstance and a rather troubling anomaly reported to him in his capacity as Chief Mugwump.

    “If that’s what all the lights and noise were, then yeah, I guess.” Harry replied with a distracted shrug, already shifting over his chosen drink consisting of a five-gallon jug of petrol washed down by an old oil drum full of water, which was then put under the tap again to refill.

    Meal complete, Harry looked around, taking in the bare interior of the garage. “Man, I swear this place is so boring. One day, I’m gonna…” he drifted off, seemingly uncertain of just what he was going to do.

    At this, Dumbledore offered, “Well, I suppose we should see what we can do to get you back to your old self.”

    “Nah, I like this,” Harry declined. “I’m big, and I get to eat as much as I want, and Dudley don’t beat on me anymore. Don’t gotta worry about getting’ locked in the cupboard anymore, and if Uncle Vernon tries to hit me with his belt again, I can just sit on him till he stops tryin’.” As Dumbledore’s face turned thunderous, and Vernon’s turned white, Harry continued. “I wouldn’t mind being able to turn into a person again, well, a people-shaped person, I’m still a person now, but just when I wanted to. Being a dragon is really awesome!”

    “I see,” Dumbledore said. “Well, we shall certainly not force you, if that is your choice.” At this, Harry nodded in acknowledgement, and turned back to his reading, discussion apparently done for the moment.

    Turning toward the white-faced Vernon Dursley, Dumbledore continued. “Vernon Dursley, seven years ago, when I left young Harry with you, I expected you to treat him as one of your own. I assumed that, as your nephew — a member of your family — you would do so automatically. It seems my assumption of basic human decency was in error…”

    “Now see here, you!” Vernon interjected, face purpling with anger at the insinuation, “I looked after that boy as best as I was able, and I’ll not have you saying differently!” Calming slightly, Vernon clarified, “Sometimes you need to apply discipline to raise them right, and that’s all I did. And look how he turned out — turned into a dragon, and he’s causing no trouble at all, aside from eating. That’s proof we raised him right, right there!”

    Stunned at this unexpected rebuttal, Dumbledore stayed quiet long enough for Vernon to continue.

    “The only reason I had Pet contact you lot is because we can’t afford to keep Harry here. He’s eating us out of house and home. First night, he ate everything in the garage, including a transit van I bought to get him home from Avebury. Between the sheep, coal, and petrol, we’re spending more feeding the boy than we are on the mortgage, and I haven’t even had the opportunity to break out the extra costs on the water bill! And in any case, it’s not good for the boy to be cooped up in the garage because we can’t let him out to walk about because of your bloody freakish secrecy bollocks!” Vernon lowered his voice. “It hurts my pride to say I can’t provide for my family, but we need help with this.”

    Well, that put a different spin on things, then. “I see… while I still have reservations about your treatment of the boy, it seems that at least your intentions were admirable,” Dumbledore allowed. “In any case, you are correct that this is no place for Harry as he is now.”

    Turning back to address Harry, Dumbledore continued, “Harry, I shall see to relocating you to the home of a friend of mine who will be able to provide you with much more spacious accommodations. I dare say that he will also be delighted with your company, as he has always been fond of dragons. I shall return tomorrow with several of my colleagues to arrange transportation.”

    “…okay.” Harry said while Vernon’s temper slowly cooled on the other side of the room.

    1.2.2 Odd couriers

    He had never expected that blasted, barely legible letter to precipitate this.

    Severus Snape, Instructor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, youngest Potions Master in living memory and semi-professional curmudgeon, was gathered with two of his senior colleagues, Filius Flitwick, the diminutive Professor of Charms, and Minerva McGonagall, stern Mistress of Transfiguration, at the request of Headmaster Dumbledore to assist with a spot of extra-curricular activity.

    Coming, as the request did, just after the start of the school year — during one of the most hectic times of the academic year for a magical institution, a time when the instructors were scrambling to get their students reacclimated to magical learning before they managed to kill or maim themselves after a summer without practice — it may seem surprising that several prominent teachers were willing to give of their time for something unrelated to their jobs.

    That is, it may seem surprising unless the request was prefaced with — “There is something wrong with Harry Potter.”

    Snape himself was somewhat divided in his opinion of the child — on the one hand, the boy was the only son of his best — in truth his only — childhood friend, Lily Evans, and on the other hand, the boy was the son of James Potter rather than Severus Snape. That was a slap in the face every time he thought of it, and he thought of it often. He would just have to see how the chips fell when he met the boy.

    The rest of wizarding Britain, however, saw the boy as a larger-than-life figure, responsible for the death of the last Dark Lord before the brat was even out of diapers at the cost of only an oddly-shaped scar on his brow — credulous buffoons, the lot of them. Public opinion had inflated the boy’s reputation to astronomical levels while conveniently ignoring the role his mother played in the event. Though to be fair, Severus himself studiously avoided any consideration of the possible role the boy’s father might have played, in turn. In short, all this compounded folly meant that any news about the boy was met with rapt attention — warranted or not.

    At least Severus was fairly certain that his two elder colleagues were interested in the brat as the son of two of their former students, rather than the overstated claptrap that was his public reputation. Otherwise he might have despaired completely. Regardless of their varied reasons for participating, however, a quick portkey transit brought the four Hogwarts faculty to a street in Surrey on a cool and quiet autumn evening.

    Albus led off at a brisk walk toward one of the mass-produced, disturbingly uniform houses, his professors trailing in his wake automatically like a set of outrageously mismatched ducklings trailing after their ridiculously gaudy parent. As the odd procession approached the house — Number 4, Snape noted — he thought that the neighborhood suited his memories of Petunia Evans quite well: dull, pathologically conformist, and shockingly self-absorbed. Even the overly-large man who answered the door was no surprise. Snape wondered if he had always been so heavy or if Petunia had been fattening him up so she didn’t have to worry about him running off with someone less mind-numbingly boring.

    “Ah, Mr. Dursley,” Albus greeted the large man, “I have brought along several of my colleagues to assist in relocating your nephew.” The man nodded curtly and motioned them in and towards another door. By the positioning, Severus suspected it to be a door to the garage.

    The large man volunteered, “Right through here, then. The boy’s in the garage.” So, he was correct. “Let me let him know you’re coming first — don’t want any problems.”

    What possible problems could arise from meeting a pre-teen boy? Snape wondered as Vernon opened the door and warned his nephew of visitors. It wasn’t like they were walking into the lair of a…

    “DRAGON!” McGonagall, his normally reserved senior colleague exclaimed. “Bludy hell! Whit’s a feckin’ dragon doon in thar?” Her normal slight Scottish burr had thickened abruptly to an impenetrable brogue which, taken with her highly uncharacteristic use of profanity, was a good indication that she was rather surprised. The accent only came out when Minerva was agitated, and the swearing when she was in shock.

    Well she had a good reason, he supposed. “What, exactly, is that dragon doing in there?” Snape felt that he should back his senior colleague up in this instance.

    A quick glance to the side informed him that his other colleague, Filius Flitwick, had reacted in an altogether different manner. In the intervening seconds, the diminutive man had managed to draw his wand and move far enough away to ensure that the three of them couldn’t be caught in a single blast of fire from this new threat. The man might be a charms instructor now, but he hadn’t forgotten his roots in the dueling circuit, it seemed.

    The dragon then gave Snape his second shock for the night when it declared loudly, “Hey, my name isn’t ‘That Dragon’, it’s Harry. Harry Potter.” Oh God in heaven, it even sounded like all his old, bitter childhood memories of James Potter. He’d have nightmares about this, Snape was certain. Heedless, the dragon continued, “and, well, I’m kind of hungry again.”

    “Oh God, not again!” Petunia’s unfortunate husband seemed to echo Snape’s own sentiments — though likely for different reasons — as he turned for another door on the back of the garage. Snape presumed that it led to the back yard.

    “… this must be some tasteless jape,” Snape declared, trying to convince himself. “It must be.” Admittedly he hadn’t thought Albus had it in him, but perhaps…

    The dragon chimed in earnestly, “Um… no, I really am hungry.”

    “Not that! Blasted lizard! I meant that you cannot possibly be Harry Potter! I was acquainted — for better or worse — with the boy’s parents, and both were quite decidedly human!”

    “Sev’rus,” McGonagall began, “It disnae strike me as a guid idea t’ be hollerin’ at a dragon. Ye kin wantae be canny.” She was apparently still a little worked up.

    Despite his senior colleague’s nervousness, the dragon didn’t seem too bothered by this. “Well, I kinda was human until those standing stone thingies lit up and made all the noise,” it volunteered. “And, well, you know how easy it is to, well… misplace stuff like bein’ a human and all. No reason to make a big situation about it or anything, I’m mostly okay with it.”

    Snape was having none of it. “This is preposterous!” He rounded on the surprisingly affable dragon, “I refuse to believe that…” The potions professor trailed off, noticing a particular detail for the first time and leaning in to take a closer look. “Bloody hell, it has the scar.”

    There on the dragon’s brow was that infamous lightning-shaped scar that had so captured the imagination of the credulous wizarding public in the wake of the last war. It seemed that this bloody dragon might just be telling the truth. As Snape paused, struck by the realization, he was quite suddenly reminded that he was leaning dangerously close to a magical super-predator, friendly though it might be.

    “Why does your head smell so tasty?” The question was posed in a perfectly innocent child-like tone, but it was all the more chilling for that.

    “Er, I’ve got your sheep, boy! Delicious sheep!” Mr. Dursley interjected unexpectedly, having returned from his errand. “Don’t eat the nice freak, er, man.”

    “Thanks, Uncle Vernon!” The dragon… Harry, responded before tucking into his meal with a blast of fire and a flash of teeth — very scary, sharp, pointy, dangerous-looking teeth. The Potions Master backed off adroitly, it was a potent reminder of just how deadly the dragon in front of them was.

    “Ah, how many of those do you eat a day, boy?” Snape felt that he should make some conversation, hopefully distracting the boy from following up on the question of his apparently tasty-smelling head. He was rather attached to it, after all.

    “Dunno, I don’t count them,” the dragon admitted.

    Vernon, however, did — in great detail. “Twelve in the last week, along with six hundredweight each of coal and scrap steel, sixty-two liters of petrol, and about fifteen-thousand liters of water,” he griped. “That’s on top of him eating everything in the garage on his first night here — including a Transit van!” In the background, Harry chimed in indicating it was delicious.

    “So, you’ve had a chance to break out the water bill, then?” Albus broke in unexpectedly.

    “I have, but that’s just what goes into him.” Vernon went on, “The stuff that comes out the other end — God Almighty, the stench! Could knock a dog out a hundred yards upwind! And he craps out three wheelbarrows full every day!”

    “It’s not my fault!” The dragon sounded mildly distressed by the discussion. “It’s got to come out somewhere, and you won’t let me go to the woods. And, well, I just get so hungry.”

    “I know that, boy,” Vernon said, surprisingly not unkindly. “But the fact remains that it is an issue, and between that and you eating everything in the garage on your first day here, well… we really can’t afford to keep you here. Plus, keeping you cooped up in here — while necessary at the moment — isn’t right for you. ‘S why these folks are here.”

    Turning to the visitors, Vernon summarized, “We’re at our wits’ end, here! The boy’s eating us out of house and home, and we just don’t have the space for him to exercise properly. Pretty soon he’ll outgrow the garage, and when we run out of money to feed him, he’ll probably go on a rampage and eat half the neighborhood!”

    “I’m not that bad!” Harry protested. “And I wouldn’t eat anyone!”

    “Yes, you are, boy!” Vernon insisted. “It’s not your fault, but you are. And as for the second thing, you might not intend to, but hunger does funny things to people. Best just to arrange to keep you fed and avoid the issue entirely.”

    It was then that a rare, almost unheard-of sound rang out in the suburban neighborhood. Finally reaching the limits of his composure in the face of the absurdity playing out in front of him, Severus Snape laughed. It wasn’t a very pleasant sort of laugh, rough and grating like he hadn’t had much practice at it.

    “Ha! I suppose we are to remove the blasted lizard from the premises, then?” He asked the room at large.

    Albus replied, gloomily, “Yes, that was indeed the plan.”

    “To Hagrid?” Snape confirmed.

    “There’s no one better suited.” Albus confirmed.

    “Well, then, let us be about it,” Snape declared with uncharacteristic levity. “His expression should be amusing if nothing else.”

    “Ye’r enjoyin’ this far awfy much, Sev’rus,” McGonagall chided, “th’ boy’s in a richt state.”

    “Minerva, I take my entertainment where it can be found.” Snape intoned sententiously, “As it happens, it is far too rare a commodity to do otherwise.”

    1.2.3 In which Harry storms the castle

    It was a mismatched group that arrived at Hogwarts’ primary portkey receiving point, a deceptively friendly-looking open grassy area at the bottom of the castle lawn. Innocent-seeming though it was, the area was within easy range and clear view of the castle’s battlements in case of unexpected guests. On a magical front, the entire area was rigged as a death-trap. Detection and control wards invisibly festooned the area, and every seemingly decorative addition, from the statuary to the very paving stones of the pathway, carried enchantments of a dizzying variety.

    It was peacetime at the moment, and the majority of the defenses were quiescent, leaving the dragon they had brought with them — who was again sniffing intently at Snape’s apparently delicious-smelling head therefore — as the greatest threat to the new arrivals.

    “Stop that, you wretched lizard,” Snape objected tiredly — he really would have to do something about that.

    Even shared among four of the most powerful and well-practiced magicals in Europe, the energy required to carry a dragon the size of a small bus via portkey was significant. Snape and his colleagues were therefore understandably exhausted — though Severus, at least, refused to show it. The dragon in question was not tired in the least.

    “Um, I kind of need to poo,” the dragon said, uncertainly.

    “Then shit in the woods, you imbecile!” Snape snapped.

    McGonagall growled, “Severus…”

    Snape winced — Minerva had firm opinions on appropriate language around children. Normally this wasn’t an issue — he refused to swear as a matter of principle, judging it a mark of a lesser mind. Such language generally only slipped out when he was tired or exceedingly emotional, which meant, in hindsight, that he had revealed more about his current state than he had intended.

    Blithely oblivious to both Snape’s biting tone and the interplay between the two adults, Harry explained, “Um, it’s kinda close to the castle, and well, Uncle Vernon wasn’t lying when he said my poo stinks.” The dragon seemed a bit embarrassed at this admission, shifting his weight nervously between his various limbs — all six of them. It was an interesting sort of motion, quite novel really. “And I kinda-really-need-ta-go…” Perhaps that wasn’t embarrassment, on reflection.

    “Can you fly in a straight line?” Snape queried with a glare. If so, he could direct him farther out.

    This time, the dragon did look nervous — though how he managed to convey such expressions with such a decidedly alien facial structure, Severus did not know. “I don’t know! I never had a chance to try before ‘cause I was stuck in the garage.”

    “Well, I suggest you learn fast, then.” Snape suggested calmly.

    “Okay!” With a course of action set, Harry set about trying to fly gamely, spreading his wings and galloping down the lawn while flapping madly. Surprisingly, he managed a clumsy lift-off, accompanied by an excited chant of “I’m flying, I’m flying!” The honeymoon ended, however, with a solid thump as the young dragon crashed headlong into the tree-line, snapping several of the smaller trees like twigs before an encounter with a large oak stopped him in his tracks — eliciting a plaintive, “Owie,” as he slumped to the ground, and crushing the remainder of those broken trees to a pulp in the process.

    “Height, boy! It’s important!” Snape called out after him, manfully suppressing his own snickering. “You should probably work on your landings too!”

    “Okay!” It seemed that even a midair collision with a hundred-year-old oak tree couldn’t quash the young dragon’s enthusiasm. All set for another attempt, the immediate reason for his attempted flight was suddenly rendered moot with an immense squelching noise. “Oh, I don’t think I have to go anymore.”

    “Sweet Merlin!” Snape exclaimed, hurriedly casting a bubble head charm alongside his colleagues. “That is truly abominable. I don’t suppose you would mind if I take a sample?”

    Eye-watering stench or not, potions were Snape’s one surviving passion in life, and this was a brand new potential ingredient — eye-watering stenches were simply a hazard which came with the territory. At least this one didn’t literally turn one’s eyes into water — potions mastery could be a dangerous pursuit.

    At the dragon’s puzzled nod, Snape scooped up a small sample of the runny turd into a small crystal vial of which he kept a supply in his robe in case of just such an eventuality. Wrapping the sealed sample in a silk handkerchief, he nodded to Filius, who then vanished the rest of the mess and the stench with it.

    “Wow, that’s wicked!” the young dragon exclaimed. “Could I learn to do that?”

    “I daresay you will, my boy!” Albus seemed to have recovered his usual mien. “I daresay you will. Now, let us be off to where you will be staying. Hagrid is a dear friend of mine, and a suspect he will be quite thoroughly delighted to host you at his home! It is just this way.”

    1.2.4 Reflective Reptile

    If there was one thing Harry James Potter — currently a little over eight years old and wearing the body of a great dragon hatchling of similar age — could tell you after the last eventful day and a half, other than that trees hurt if you ran into them, it was that Rubeus Hagrid was a wonderful fellow.

    It’d been an eventful trip getting to that point for Harry. His last moments at the Dursley household had been both confusing and… well, he wasn’t sure what to call the feeling, but had he a slightly more extensive vocabulary, he would probably have called it bittersweet. On the one hand, he was going somewhere with more food and more space, where he wouldn’t stay cooped up in a garage all day, but on the other, he was leaving the only home he had ever known, and Vernon and Dudley at least, had actually started to be kind of friendly since he turned into a dragon.

    Oh, well, no point in fussing over it now.

    Then there had been so much new stuff! He met gobs of new people. Mrs. McGonagall, who sounded kind of funny and smelled a little like Mrs. Figg’s cats, then Mr. Dumbledore had a long white beard like a skinny version of Santa Claus and glowed much brighter than the others, and there was even Mr. Snape with the delicious-smelling head! He didn’t remember the name of the shortest one, but he seemed friendly enough too — Harry figured he could ask later.

    Then they did that swirly moving thingy they called a portkey, which apparently moved them all the way to Scotland! That was weird but really neat. The four glowy people just did something which made them stop glowing quite so much, and then everything was spinning really slowly for a while, and then, bam! They were somewhere else!

    So cool!

    But the highlight of the day was definitely meeting Hagrid — he was the best! Their meeting started off with the man really excited to meet such an INCREDIBLY GORGEOUS dragon! For his part, Harry thought it was really nice to meet someone who was so happy to see him — the boy decided to make a note to do that himself in the future. Then Hagrid offered Harry a place to stay in his barn, which was wonderfully large compared to the Dursleys’ garage.

    Even Hagrid was big! He was the first person Harry had met since his transformation that seemed sort-of normal-sized.

    The only downside had been Mr. Hagrid’s dog — which answered to the name, Fang — whimpering and trying to hide under the bed. Harry hadn’t had good experiences with his Aunt Marge’s dog, Ripper, but he’d hoped to find a dog he could be friends with — the other kids at primary had always talked about how fun their dogs were. Harry didn’t know why Fang was so scared of him, anyway. It wasn’t like Harry was going to eat him — Fang was a dog, and dogs weren’t food, they were all dirty and stuff.

    To top it all off, Mr. Hagrid introduced Harry to the wonders of the Hogwarts larder. It was this great big room which was kind of cold and there was loads and loads of venison, and pork, and beef, and even the old boring sheep, too. The best thing, though, was bacon. Harry had never had bacon before, ‘cause Dudley had always eaten it before he could get any, and boy did he learn why — it was ever so tasty! And Mr. Hagrid said he’d be able to get him coal and petrol and metal scrap too, but not until the next day.

    It was wonderful!

    Mr. Hagrid even knew what to do about those itchy spots that had been bothering Harry for months. A bit of oil rubbed in between the scales and there was no more problem. Full of the dragon equivalent of junk food from the Hogwarts larder with a promise of more substantial fare the next day, comfortably free of itchy skin, and stretched out in a room more than big enough to fit him, Harry slowly drifted off to sleep after his momentous day.

    This place was pretty all-right!

    1.2.5 A tired self-assessment

    “So,” Albus Dumbledore began, accepting a glass of firewhiskey with a nod, “the boy-who-lived has become the dragon-who-lived, and we are left with the task of determining what to do with him.”

    After introducing the enthusiastic young dragon to the equally enthusiastic campus gamekeeper, the four staff members had retired to the headmaster’s office to enjoy a stiff drink by the fire. Between learning of Harry’s newly draconic form and schlepping said form across the length of the United Kingdom in one go, the tired group felt they deserved the relaxation.

    As Filius finished passing around the rest of the liquor, Snape took a sip from his glass and offered up, “I can think of a few suggestions of what to do with him, but I am already aware that the rest of you will ignore them, so I won’t bother.”

    McGonagall volunteered, “I would think the first order of business would be to determine how to change him back to normal.”

    Filius and Albus both attempted to speak at the same time, but the charms professor nodded for Albus to go first.

    “In fact, young Harry has already expressed a desire to retain his current form, so we will respect his wishes on this front. I have already failed that boy three times over since the war — I will not do so for a fourth! Though he did express an interest in learning to take on a human form temporarily.”

    As Albus finished speaking, the charms professor spoke up, “As I was going to say, it is a good thing the boy is content with his change as there is no ‘original form’ to which to return him.” At his colleagues’ curious looks, he elaborated, “When we first encountered him, I’m afraid I cast several diagnostic charms on the boy by reflex…”

    “Filius!” Minerva chided, with as much outrage as her tired state could support. Casting on others without permission was a terribly rude thing to do in polite society — particularly if one was not a Healer.

    Flitwick colored in embarrassment, “A dragon just popped out of the woodwork in a London suburb!” He attempted to justify himself, “I was startled, and I cast on instinct.”

    “Why did you cast diagnostic charms on instinct?” Snape was curious — he wouldn’t have thought of a diagnostic charm as a reflex casting in the face of a threat.

    “It’s a remnant from my time on the dueling circuit,” the former dueling champion explained. “The situation was unusual enough that my first thought was that Harry must have been an illusion, so I cast a diagnostic charm I modified a while back to check for what the illusion was hiding. It basically looks for edges in magical constructs, because that’s where spells can be undone or modified.”

    And consequently, where other spells can be hidden, his audience filled in for themselves. All three of his fellow professors were looking interested now.

    “It’s also a very light-touch diagnostic — it looks around the target rather than at it, so it won’t trigger traps. Anyway, the charm determined that his form has no edges — at all.”

    This immediately drew a gasp from the transfiguration mistress in the room. “Without edges… that means the change is not a transfiguration. There’d be no way to undo it!”

    Albus was nodding along with her while Snape was looking puzzled.

    For his benefit, Minerva elaborated, “Any transfiguration requires magical input to maintain the change. Even ones which are self-contained or permanent have such connections, the edges that Filius’ spell looks for, they are just… tied off, so to speak. A form without edges is not a transfigured form.”

    “Not just that,” Filius interjected, “my spell looks for all edges, not just the cuts that you’re speaking of, Minerva. Harry’s form has no edges at all. I didn’t even know such shapes existed! Any spell cast on the boy will need to forge its own connection to his magic, and I have no idea how to go about doing such a thing — outside overwhelming force, anyway, but the power disparity needed for that is ludicrous.”

    The charms master shook his head, “Any magic affecting that boy is going to have to originate from the boy himself. Either he’ll need to learn the spell, or he’ll need to actively guide others’ spells in to himself.”

    “Do you mean to say the boy has perfect magical immunity?” Snape shuddered, that sort of advantage was absurd!

    The short man shook his head, “I doubt it’s perfect — I simply have no idea how to bypass it at this point. There’s no such thing as a perfect defense.” Filius drained the rest of his glass, “The fact remains, though, that no one is changing Mr. Potter’s form except Mr. Potter at any point in the foreseeable future.”

    Albus calmly reentered the conversation with a suggestion, “In that case, perhaps it would be a prudent course of action to endeavor to teach young Harry a variant of self-transfiguration so that he might transform himself into a human if he wishes?”

    Seeing that Minerva looked pleased with the idea, no doubt already planning lessons, he continued, “As we all know from Severus’ unique insight, Voldemort,” Albus took a sip as the customary flinch at the name of the last Dark Lord traveled through the rest of the group and his potions professor rubbed absently at his own forearm, “will be returning, and Harry will be at the top of his hit list.”

    “A dragon disguised as a human as a secret weapon?” Filius breathed, awestruck. “That would be an absolute nightmare to fight.” He’d have to drop a suggestion to the Brethren that they search for a way to forge an alliance with young Harry, so they would never have to face him themselves. Flitwick might only be half-goblin, but even for a half-goblin, family was everything.

    For his part, Snape was slowly coming to a horrifying conclusion, a conclusion that he desperately hoped was untrue. “Albus, please tell me that you didn’t plan this.” Everything was coming together so neatly that he felt he had to ask, but the amount of planning that would be required…

    Albus almost snorted in laughter, “Ah, no, Severus, I did not plan this. It is a fortuitous accident, as it were. However, that does not mean we cannot take advantage of it…” the old man finished, leadingly. All three of his subordinates straightened with purpose at his subtle prompting.

    Snape’s mind ran through possible avenues of research and areas of application, finally settling on one to start off with. “I shall endeavor to investigate the boy’s digestive processes immediately.”

    Flitwick — who had been running through a similar set of possibilities within his own specialty — had his train of thought screech to a halt at that apparent non-sequitur. “Why his digestive system? Not that it’s a bad topic to study, but why first on the list?”

    “In a surprise conflict with the Dark Lord, I suspect Mr. Potter is likely to eat the bastard in their first exchange. I wish to ensure that Harry’s digestive tract is sufficient to destroy him or, failing that, prevent him from taking over.” Filius nodded, that seemed reasonable. Snape continued, “The Dark Lord is bad enough now, I don’t want to imagine him as a dragon, much less one effectively immune to outside magic.” That prompted a shudder around the room, this time including Albus.

    Minerva, ever the educator, was thinking more on the practical side of things. “I will need to start working with Poppy.” Minerva elaborated, “The child is in our care, so we will need to establish a medical baseline, and he will need to have intimate knowledge of his own form and function if he is to learn self-transfiguration.” She then nodded to Severus, “I suspect the process will also aid in discovering his bioalchemy, Severus.”

    The charms professor had come to some differing conclusions. “I believe I shall investigate the transformation event itself. Perhaps we could learn how to make such a magical structure in other situations. An edgeless magical shield, for instance, would be invaluable. I suspect our other colleagues would be interested in the project as well!” Filius looked giddy, “Oh, this will be the most fun I’ve had in ages!”

    Dumbledore looked the hive of activity he had wrought with only a single sentence in the right ears at the right time and smiled. He had his own research to do, studies involving one of his mentor’s longest-running research programs on ley-line flows and ambient magics. Nicholas had contacted him regarding some recent startling changes with very suspicious timing, but that was a topic for another place and another time.

    “Professors, I commend you for your enthusiasm, but I remind you that Harry’s situation should be kept secret for now,” Albus admonished, gently. “That secrecy is an ace that I do not wish to take away from young Harry until he can use it to best advantage.”
     
  6. hyperspacewizard

    hyperspacewizard Getting sticky.

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    Hey dude good to see you post here space battles is always a risk I seen several stories get screwed over while others that seem to be to break the rules go along fine.

    I like the story so far the only major problem I've had is some of the rants like the snape and herimone dad one are kinda showy not tell and almost seem out of place. If that kind of info was dripped little by little it be fine. I don't know seems out of character for snape to talk about those subjects all in one go he more speak little say a lot kinda guy.

    thats my only problem so far love everything else I am super excited for future harry dragon shenanigans. :)
     
  7. Oddball

    Oddball Getting some practice in, huh?

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    Nice to see it here, but i kinda agree with SB in this case, it is a SFW board and it did have 16 masturbating to a 11 year old
     
    Armok likes this.
  8. Jordisk

    Jordisk Getting sticky.

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    I have seen that before on Teen rated stories on Fanfiction.net, which was once pointed out to me as a basic level for SB's rules.

    X.Y.Z actually seems less like "Chapter, Section, Scene" and more like "Book/Part, Chapter, Scene" After all, Part 1 is Pre-Hogwarts, Part 2 is Hogwarts Year 1, Part 3 is either Hogwarts Year 3 or the summer before, etc.
     
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  9. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    No need to be so harsh about the SB mods, I just apparently misunderstood the rules, I guess, and chose the wrong venue.

    When I began posting the thread over on SB, I had gone over the rules closely, and I thought I was fully in the clear --- otherwise I wouldn't have posted it.

    Abigail is sixteen when introduced (maybe 17, I've not pinned that down in her characterization because it wasn't important) and she was the only student character I thought I was presenting in an even vaguely sexual light, and even then, it was only to provide a gentle running gag, further her own characterization as a healthy young woman in her mid to late teens, and to make clear the reasons for her initial interest in Harry as a potential partner --- after he aged appropriately, a condition which I thought was firmly kept in front of everyone, but apparently wasn't. That said, the scene you're referencing could easily be reworked with no real loss to the story --- aside from the 'final station' wordplay in the next section, which I was rather proud of and was the only reason I wrote the scene that way in the first place --- even though she's over the 15 year-old cutoff, was fantasizing about an imagined adult version of Harry, and the scene itself is not in any way graphic, simply implying the action heavily and then cutting away to another scene before she does anything but snuggle under the covers. That was, in fact, the only scene I have planned for her whole tenure in the story that even goes that far. For story purposes Abigail just has to be interested enough to believably stick with the idea of Harry as an eventual romantic possibility for a few years after she graduates, and that could have been accomplished by just having her be intrigued without the setup for the wordplay. Had it only been that, I'd have just waited for the mods to do their evaluation.

    Some of the rest of the complaints, though... sheesh. How a comment about a potential future nocturnal emission (a normal, involuntary part of hitting adolescence and growing up) and how it might interact with magic to have consequences becomes 'sexualizing a minor' I have no earthly idea. I had no idea people had such dirty minds!

    The genesis of this thread came from another conversation I had with a user over PM actually brought up three other issues that were apparently borderline by SB standards. One, the wet dream scenario, I didn't think violated any issues, since the only sexual implication about Harry was that even though he was a child at the time, he'll eventually grow up and there could be a problem if he doesn't take preventative measures. The second, the bridle joke that set up the centaur alliance, was completely non-sexual for everyone involved, except for being purchased from a sex shop --- which detail was used as a joke at Snape's (definitely not a minor) expense. Those two I thought were ridiculous to get bent out of shape over, but the last one was about the conversation between Snape and Hermione's father regarding Hermione's likely fate had she not gone to Hogwarts, and the rationale behind that was concerning.

    My impression of the forum rule was that it was only an issue if something actually happened or was strongly implied to have happened, but my conversation with the other user implied that mentioning the possibility of that horrible fate which might have happened had the plot gone differently could go against the SB rules.

    If the potential threat that something sexual might happen to a minor --- even though it is presented as a horribly unpleasant, entirely-bad-and-not-at-all-good thing potentially perpetrated by despicable people and disapproved of by every positive viewpoint in the story... and which doesn't actually happen --- is enough to raise flags with the SB community, then the rest of Hermione's story arc that is coming up in chapters 3 and 4 would just be more trouble to get through than it's worth. That there's another character to be introduced in Chapter 3 that --- again without any actual sexual behavior --- who might still be borderline because of her motivations rather than her actions under those conditions just confirms the belief.

    Still not against what I thought the rules were, but there's no reason to trouble the SB moderators with trying to wade through that potential mess, so I created an account over here.

    That said, I just wish I'd realized that was the standard before posting. Would have saved a lot of trouble and embarrassment.

    Though, the biggest irony in the situation with the SB thread was that I'd planned for his currently building relationships
    to fail in various ways, and in so doing teach Harry about relationships --- what they are supposed to be and how they should be maintained. Seriously, all the stuff about harems and wank-fests and such... nope. He's a kid who needs to learn how he's supposed to behave. In order to do that I was setting him up with motivation to keep him learning --- the friendships --- and pain to teach him both what not to do and that sometimes no matter how strong you are things just don't work out.
    Then all that careful planning got written off as 'harem wank-fest' before I even got the build-up posted. Kind of disheartening, really.

    In any case, I should be able to post here, people can extrapolate what they want and then be surprised when their expectations of a crappy harem wank-fest are overturned by what I'm actually writing.
     
  10. megamiaouh

    megamiaouh Making the rounds.

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    Yeah I've noticed SB becoming more and more prudish and over the top over the years, nowadays people make assumptions that regularly take me by surprise, I guess it's a philosophy that reinforce itself.
     
  11. Ataru

    Ataru (Verified Pervert)

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    There once was a fic that got thread locked because two eleven year olds held hands. Nothing weird or sexual, just two kids holding hands. Yeah.
     
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  12. mental_shifter

    mental_shifter Getting sticky.

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    Love this story, but when is it going to catch up to where SB was.
     
  13. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    When I have a little more free time. It's during the work week, you know.

    Plus, for whatever reason this interface doesn't like me copying and pasting from Word like the SB interface did. Takes a couple intermediate steps and final editing.
     
  14. Redacted

    Redacted No

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    Thanks, SB, for making me wait till Dunkelzahn catches up with posting the story here.
     
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  15. medon12

    medon12 Getting some practice in, huh?

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    So, I just tested it and hit the preview button, looks like if you copy the chapters from the SB version you posted and paste them here, they come over cleanly with all formatting intact. Might speed things up a bit for you.
     
  16. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    Thanks for looking into it, but I've also done some editing on my copy in the meantime --- the ellipsis to em-dash exchange in certain circumstances that was suggested helpfully on the SB forum and some wording in a few of the sections that I either noticed during the re-read while fixing obscure punctuation or was pointed out in discussion.

    Particularly, I've reworked scene 1.4.2 that Rhylith was so worked up about on SB --- the new version is more clear on what I intended it to be read as (as an aid to those with irretrievably filthy minds or possibly a taste for strange pornography... 'volume' indeed *muttering*). It also works well to provide a bit more detail in world-building and helps further characterize both Madame Pomphrey and Pomona Sprout, so it's a net gain, I think --- though it did stretch out that part of the scene a fair bit more than I'd originally intended.

    Also eliminated the strong implication of Abigail's behavior at the end of scene 2.3.8 while still managing to keep both her characterization and the parallel structure of the train metaphor, though it no longer has quite the same zing to it. Honestly, the original wasn't actually necessary for her characterization --- the flights of fancy are, but not the physical actions --- and I normally try to leave the characters with their privacy when I can while still telling the story I want to tell. So that was a positive change too, on balance.
     
  17. Threadmarks: Section 1.3 - The Saga of the Greasy Hair
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.3.0 The Saga of the Greasy Hair

    It was early morning on the following day, and the Hogwarts student body was abuzz with speculation. One of the prefects had spied the Headmaster leaving campus with three of the Heads late the previous night, then the next morning they were back, looking tired but excited about something.

    Most suspicious of all, as of the previous evening, Professor Snape still had greasy hair, but now his hair was clean!

    His first class almost didn’t recognize him.

    What on Earth was going on?

    1.3.1 Eager anticipation

    As the sun rose over the Highlands to the east, Hogwarts Castle casting its long shadow over the grounds, Harry bounced animatedly in anticipation. One of Mr. Hagrid’s friends, another one he hadn’t met yet, was going to teach him how to fly without running into things!

    They were going to go up onto the moor across the lake where no one could see, and they were going to fly! Really fly! Without crashing! Well, hopefully without crashing, but there’d still be lots of flying anyway!

    Ooh, it was going to be amazing!

    But first, Mrs. McGonagall said he’d have to meet with another lady named Madame Pomphrey who was apparently something called a Healer to do something called ‘diagnostics for establishing a medical baseline’. He wondered if a Healer was kind of like a nurse, since they were doing something with the word ‘medical’ in it? Well, he’d find out, he guessed.

    Now he just had to wait. Apparently since she was a Healer, Madame Pomphrey had to stay in the castle during the day as part of her job, being ‘on-duty’ apparently. Not that he was sure what a ‘duty’ was or why she would have to sit on one all day. He’d have to ask Mr. Hagrid; it seemed a very silly thing for a nurse to be doing, and it was going to be a whole day until she was ready to see him!

    Waiting was hard!

    1.3.2 Enter, the Healer

    Poppy Pomphrey was intrigued.

    She had, of course, heard the Headmaster’s request for help with an issue regarding Harry Potter the previous evening, though she had been unable to get away to assist. As the school Healer, Poppy was required to remain available during any times students were present on the grounds. As a boarding school, that meant she couldn’t be traipsing off across the country during the school year, barring a medical emergency that couldn’t be handled by anyone else.

    She did, however, insist on looking the boy over when he was brought to campus. Poppy Pomphrey was the latest in a long, long line of Healers from the Pomphrey family — since before they had become Pomphreys, in fact. She had grown up at the feet of Healers, and she had been immersed in the mindset from her earliest memories.

    While she had known she was going to be a Healer from her earliest childhood, Poppy had chosen to become a pediatric Healer because she wanted to work with children. Between the challenges associated with pediatric magical healing and the opportunity to help shape her young charges by providing advice, she had been quite eager to begin her practice.

    Unfortunately, she had been sorely disappointed when she took her job at Hogwarts.

    Pediatric healing was a prestigious and challenging field, considered in the Healing community to be the field’s equivalent of curse breaking. Magical children often harmed themselves and others through accidental magic, and such unformed magic had no prescribed cures. Accidental magic was rarely fatal, so timing tended to be flexible, but the work was challenging and rewarding. Every case was a new case; there was no routine for the pediatrician in the magical world.

    Hogwarts, however, only took students after their intriguing accidental magic difficulties were mostly over. By the numbers, accidental magic should continue into the children’s late teenage years, but regular magic use meant that incidents were few and far between.

    Poppy’s usual caseload was not full of unique cases of accidental magic reversal, rather she had the humdrum set of poorly-cast spell backfires typical of magical schooling, problems that were based on miscast versions of known spells that had been in circulation for centuries. Almost every case she had seen during her employment was already written up in one case study or other that she had been tested on during her schooling.

    The mentoring front was even bleaker. Between the school bylaws, which interfered entirely too much with her business as a Healer for her peace of mind, and the attitudes ingrained into most of her charges before they came into her care, very few indeed were receptive to her teaching.

    She remembered Granny’s words, “Don’t use magic around the house, you might need it for something important!”

    It was a byline for any experienced Healer, and Poppy felt that it was excellent advice for anyone, but how could she teach the students to be mindful of their magic, to use it only when there was no other option? Their teachers encouraged them otherwise in every class, and their parents had been setting a contrary example from their earliest memories! Even the new-blood students, few that there were, were far too enthralled by magic at this stage to take her advice.

    “Leave it be, pain will teach better than you can.” Another of Granny’s favorites, that one was nipped in the bud by the school bylaws.

    Most of the ailments her students brought to her were minor things, and the only healing necessary was a little guidance before they could heal on their own. The bylaws required that she heal everything fully if possible before the students were allowed out of the infirmary. How was she supposed to allow nature to teach the children properly without leaving them with some lingering consequences?

    Many of those students returned again and again with the same issues! Leaving them a little reminder for a few days would teach them to be more circumspect. The best she could manage was ensuring that her potions tasted as vile as she could make them, a pursuit that the school potions master was pleased to assist with whenever possible.

    Little Harry, though, he was young enough that she could guess whatever issue brought him to Hogwarts would be fascinating. If it wasn’t, there would have been no reason to move the little fellow. She didn’t know what the issue was — she had insisted on being kept in the dark to avoid biasing her diagnosis — but it was sure to be both interesting and non-life-threatening, the best kind of problem, in Poppy’s estimation! He’d also be much younger than the rest of the students, a prime candidate to whom to pass on the family wisdom. Yes, she was looking forward to meeting the young fellow that evening.

    As it happened, she was right on both counts.

    1.3.3 The Saga of the Greasy Hair – Reprise

    Between classes that day, Severus Snape searched his private library, casting about for any possible alternative, but in the end, his search was in vain. His custom-brewed fire-retardant hair cream, a seldom-tested but still critical portion of his ensemble of potions safety gear, seemed to have no available substitute.

    As the current version seemed to have the unpleasant side-effect of causing his head to appeal unduly to the nose of the newly resident dragon, the Potions Master reluctantly concluded that the extra risk of fire incurred by eliminating the cream was more acceptable than the extra risk of predation.

    Perhaps he could acquire a hat in the same style as his robes until he discovered or created an alternative?

    1.3.4 A simple checkup, unsimplified

    As night finally fell and the students packed away to their beds with the arrival of curfew, five professors descended on Hagrid’s hut to spirit young Harry away to the infirmary for his initial checkup, joined on the way out by a gamekeeper and a dragon. The number was, perhaps, excessive, but each had their reasons for being there, either to aid in performing the medical diagnostics, or to get the results firsthand for planning their lessons for or care of the young dragon.

    In addition to the four he had met the day before, Harry met a new person, Professor Rolanda Hooch, who was a lady with a nice smile who also had eyes that looked like a cat’s. He was kind of confused, because she didn’t smell like a cat like Professor McGonagall, and Professor McGonagall didn’t have cat-eyes even though she did smell like one. Both of them just laughed when he asked about it. Madame Hooch was the friend of Hagrid’s who was going to be teaching him to fly! Harry also learned that the short man from last night’s name was Filius Flitwick when he asked. It was good to know people’s names, Harry decided, before finally turning to Professor Snape.

    The young dragon’s plaintive cry of, “Your head doesn’t smell tasty anymore! What happened?”, brought an uncharacteristic smile to the potions master’s face.

    On entering the castle and approaching the first turn on the convoluted path to the infirmary, the young dragon proved emphatically that five adult magical humans was still far from sufficient to keep him out of trouble.

    On rounding the corner, Harry’s voice sounded out with a panicked, “CNIGHET”, loud enough to knock his companions for a loop, accompanied by a blast of fire which melted one of the castle armor stands like wax before an acetylene torch, left the wall behind a mess, and blew out all of the windows in the corridor.

    As Harry slumped, panting slightly from his sudden exertion, the adults stared for a moment at the carnage, slack-jawed. The armor was splattered all over the corridor in tiny glowing droplets, which would most probably not account for even half the original suit’s mass, and the stonework was cracked, blackened, and partly molten in various spots, less so behind the armor, where the subliming metal offered some transient protection.

    Professor McGonagall was the first to recover, with a highly-appropriate, “Bludy hell!”

    “And what exactly was that in aid of, you dunderhead?” Professor Snape chimed in, his rather pedestrian insult indicative of his surprise.

    “It was a cnighet in shiny armor! I was sure it was going to hit me with a lance,” Harry looked at the assembled adults suspiciously. “You didn’t tell me there were cnighets here!”

    “It was an empty suit of armor!” Snape snapped.

    “I’m sure it was a cnighet! It looked just like the pictures in the books.”

    “Whit tha hames is a ‘cnighet’?” McGonagall muttered.

    “I assure you that whatever a ‘cnighet’ might be, there are none here!” Snape bellowed, turning pale in rage. Harry was used to Vernon’s purple rage, so he wasn’t sure precisely why Snape was yelling.

    “It was a cnighet, I’m sure of it! Cnighets wear armor and ride around on big horses and stick lances into dragons to slay them. I’m not sure what ‘slay’ is, but it sounds scary! Cnighets are the murtle enemy of dragons; it says so in all the books. Everyone knows that!” Harry delivered this in rapid fire, finally giving his audience enough context to know what in blazes was going on.

    Flitwick spoke up for the first time that night, helpfully providing, “It’s pronounced ‘night’.”

    “Are you sure?” the dragon asked. “Because it’s not spelled ‘night’.”

    “Quite sure,” Flitwick confirmed, going on to explain, “the ‘k’ isn’t pronounced anymore. It used to be in Middle English, but the pronunciation changed over the years.” At his colleagues’ odd looks, he went on, “Etymology is a hobby of mine. It mixes well with the love of old books.”

    “What’s etymology?” the dragon had been sidetracked for a moment.

    “It’s the study of where words come from and how they change. Fascinating stuff!” Flitwick enthused for a moment, before remembering the situation. “Incidentally, that was an empty suit of armor, such as a knight might have worn, it did not contain an actual knight.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Quite sure.”

    “Oh, sorry,” Harry looked appropriately abashed. “I’m sorry I flamed your armor, but it really looked like a knight!”

    “You will be forgiven, so long as you promise not to flame indoors again.” Snape thought this a reasonable precaution, and the round of nodding from his colleagues bore out his thinking.

    “Okay,” Harry nodded solemnly, promising, “I won’t flame indoors unless it’s really, really important.” Which was not precisely the promise asked for.

    At this point, Albus broke in to say, “That will be sufficient.” Regretfully cutting off what promised to be a truly impressive rant from his potions professor. They really did need to get on with the infirmary visit though, and if he knew Poppy, she would insist on testing Harry’s flame breath along with everything else.

    That woman was thorough!

    There was no reason to extract a promise from Harry and then have their colleague force him to break it a few minutes later.

    That sort of thing set a poor precedent for children.

    1.3.5 Physical examination

    With the issue of the armor suits resolved, the remainder of the trip to the infirmary proceeded much more smoothly.

    Madame Poppy Pomphrey had the distinct privilege of have the most subdued reaction to meeting Harry of any professor who had not been previously warned.

    “My goodness, you are an interesting fellow!” Poppy’s first words were anticlimactic in light of their explosive trip through the castle. An opinion that was written clearly on her colleagues’ faces.

    Harry, on the other hand, just beamed. This was another good one! Just like Mr. Hagrid, she was happy to see him.

    “Just take a seat there, and we’ll get right to business.”

    Poppy was quite pleased with this one, an accidental transformation into a dragon of a kind never seen before! This was groundbreaking! She was a little disappointed that her patient didn’t want to change back, since that meant that she wouldn’t be able to document a treatment for him, but working out how his new body functioned could be just as interesting.

    Once the Healer showed her patient how to actively allow spells to affect himself, her diagnostics proceeded apace, recording shape, composition, energy and fluid flows, even blood chemistry with a level of detail which would make non-magical medical technicians weep with envy. It was nearly an hour before she finished her preliminary diagnostics, during which time she did have Harry flame indoors again — twice.

    Snape was unamused.

    Seeing that her patient was starting to fidget a little, Poppy decided to conclude the current session. She had enough now to tell what was normal, the rest would be longitudinal studies.

    “Well, Mr. Potter,” she began in a brisk but friendly tone, “you are a very interesting young man. We’ll be going over the details of your body in later sessions, but for now I’ll touch on what you need for your flying lesson with Madame Hooch…”

    Harry listened in rapt attention. Who knew his body was so cool! He knew his wings were awesome, but he had no idea there was more to it. He had something sort of like a rocket engine built into his spine? That was so cool!

    Oh, Madame Hooch had said it was something more like the enchantments on a broom, no exhaust, huh. Harry couldn’t tell if that was more or less cool than a rocket engine, but it was still pretty cool anyway!

    It was some pretty good news to end the day.

    1.3.6 Dragon-sitting

    To Severus Snape’s experience, dragons, particularly young dragons, lived a six-mode existence.

    Those six modes could be summarized as ‘Asleep’, ‘Eating’, ‘Reading’, ‘Defecating’, ‘Flying’, and ‘Asking all sorts of dunderheaded questions’.

    Snape had no idea why Albus decided that he was the ideal dragon-sitter for those times when Hagrid was unavailable — mercifully infrequent as those times were. If not for the fact that it was Albus, Snape would have suspected that it was part of some dastardly plot to get him eaten by the dragon in question.

    The blasted lizard never failed to irritate him! If it wasn’t asleep or eating anything that was too slow to run away, the little blighter was either demanding copious quantities of reading material or bothering him when he needed to concentrate on his experiments!

    “What’s that, Professor Snape?” it asked, pointing to a bowl.

    “Cold-pressed spungle oil, a common base for many ointments and creams,” the man replied automatically. Snape sighed, how was he to get rid of the wretched beast? He would never get anything done at this rate!

    “It smells really tasty.” That was an expected reply by now.

    “Everything seems to smell tasty from your perspective. Wretched lizard.” In the few days it had so far been at Hogwarts, the damned dragon had devoured a monstrous quantity of meat, lamp oil, what little scrap metal was readily available, and an unconscionable quantity of Snape’s valuable potions ingredients. Snape had never thought to encounter a creature that could not only tolerate devouring an entire bubotuber without developing boils or any other ill effect, but would enjoy the process enough to demand more!

    The famously extensive Hogwarts larder was actually running thin, which led directly to his current predicament. Hagrid was unavailable for dragon-sitting because he was out securing contracts for scrap metal, coal, and muggle fuels to supplement the beast’s diet before it managed to eat the castle.

    Snape hoped that his laboratory would survive until the half-giant returned from his search.

    “Not everything,” Harry volunteered, oblivious to his companion’s internal monologue, “I mean, wood smells kinda yucky.”

    “Dratted beast.” Snape groused, almost automatically. Perhaps he should consider wood paneling for the laboratory? Or maybe some sort of wooden clothing? It was something to consider, in the meantime, he picked up the closest book, a dog-eared copy of Moste Potente Potions, and shoved it into the dragon’s paws. “If you simply must stay awake, read this, and if you wish to eat something, ask an elf to bring you a meal.”

    “Oh, okay then!”

    The dragon then shut up and the foul-tempered potions master realized that he wasn’t as irritated as he had been before. Was he starting to go soft? He’d only been dragon-sitting for two days, how was the wretched lizard growing on him already?

    He supposed the beast did have its uses. Its feces had proven to be a remarkably effective accelerator for potions usage — surprisingly less unpleasant to work with than the nearest alternative as well. Despite the constant questions, the dragon never repeated the same question twice, either, Snape supposed. Aside from the eternal ‘where can I sleep’, ‘can I have something to eat’, ‘have you got a book I can read’, and ‘um, where should I go poo’ type of questions. As those were easy enough to answer, ‘In Hagrid’s barn’, ‘ask an elf to bring you some food, dolt’, ‘here, read this and be quiet’, and ‘in the woods, you imbecile’, the reptile’s company was proving to be surprisingly tolerable.

    At least the little bugger knew how to keep a civil tongue in his mouth.

    “Um, Professor Snape, I’ve already read this.”

    “Then read it again, unless you’ve already memorized it.”

    “Well, I kinda remember stuff really well, right?”

    “What, then, is the twelfth step of the brewing of Veritaserum?”

    “Add the mixed ingredients to the dilute murtlesap base and bring to a slow boil until the brew begins to bubble.”

    “And the fourth step of the brewing of Skele-grow?”

    “Chop the antler finely. No piece should be larger than the forepaw of a shrew.”

    “And the seventh step of the brewing of Post-Cruciatus Potion?”

    “Add the bubotuber puss one drop at a time to the simmering mix; add each drop after the last has ceased to bubble.”

    Perhaps there was hope for him yet. Not that Snape would voice such a thing. Snape nodded, “I shall reserve judgement until we see how you can apply that knowledge you have crammed into your sizeable skull. Now, as I appear to have run out of volumes in my private collection for you to peruse, what sort of reading material do you desire?”

    “Books about dragons would be nice.”

    “Very well, I will endeavor to locate volumes that meet your exacting specifications.” Snape stood from the bench, “While I am so engaged, you must watch this potion carefully! If it begins to bubble, withdraw it from the fire at once. Failure to do so will cause it to explode most violently and, more importantly, will waste six hours of my valuable time. If that is to happen, I will refuse to allow you books for an entire week! Is that understood?”

    “When it starts to bubble, take it off the fire.” Harry dutifully repeated.

    “Only to a distance of two handspans from the flame, mind!”

    “Okay!”

    “Take care that you do it boy, and do not otherwise interfere with it.”
     
  18. Threadmarks: Section 1.4 - When Harry met Suze
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.4.0 When Harry met Suze

    Magorian raised his gaze to the stars overhead, currently occluded by dark clouds beyond the boughs of the Black Woods, known to the human inhabitants of Hogwarts as the Forbidden Forest. The elderly chief of the Black Woods Clan of centaurs was currently very worried.

    A hand’s worth of moons had passed since the last grave omen, and now the Great Wyrm had been seen flying over the forest. The ancients’ calendar, passed down through their oral histories, claimed that there were to be another four hands’ worth of summers before these events were to come to pass, and Magorian had expected to grow old and travel to the final hunting grounds before then, leaving the problem to his sons. Why had this happened now?

    Either something had changed, or something was very, very wrong.

    At least the Great Wyrm wasn’t lairing in the forest; that was the one saving grace of this situation. Magorian dreaded to think what it might mean for the Clan if that came to pass. They had enough trouble with the spider menace, and even at their best, his clan could not fight a Great Wyrm. There was precious little that could, and most of those things would be even worse news for the Clan.

    If the worst came to pass, the secret histories claimed that it might become necessary to sacrifice fillies to appease the wrath of the Great Wyrm, and it was not like the Black Woods Clan had a surfeit of them. Even his eldest son, Bane, had only three wives!

    What was to become of them?

    His eyes returned steadfastly to the skies overhead, searching for a break in the clouds and the insight the stars could bring.

    1.4.1 Inadequate rumors

    It was inevitable; lock a group of several hundred children and teenagers in a relatively confined area for months on end, and gossip lines will quickly develop, allowing rumors to resonate through the group, growing stranger with each reverberation.

    The current topic of choice was, and had been for more than a week, exactly what was distracting so many of their professors. Snape, Madame Hooch, Hagrid, Madame Pomphrey, even McGonagall, now, and there were some rumors that Flitwick and Vector might have something brewing that might or might not be related.

    Older, but still fresh, topics included what exactly had caused that scorched spot near the postern gate and why Snape’s hair was no longer greasy.

    With each repetition, the stories grew more and more outlandish, sprouting conspiracy theories left and right. More enterprising individuals attempted to tie the various rumors together into a single interrelated whole. Some even tried to tie in those shockingly nasty smells wafting in periodically from the Forbidden Forest. The theories had gotten quite outrageous after a few days.

    In an unusual twist compared to the usual course of such things, none of the outrageous conspiracy theories could hold a candle to the even more outrageous truth.

    1.4.2 Reflections after a month

    Albus and the three Heads of House had once again gathered for a discussion of the developments concerning their resident dragon — over stiff drinks of course. Things relating to young Harry tended to make more sense when ever-so-slightly buzzed.

    This time, they were joined by the fourth Head, Professor Sprout, Madams Hooch and Pomphrey, and the young Professor Septima Vector, necessitating a change in venue from Albus’ office to a little used, but still very well-appointed, staff conference room; the crowd had gotten to be a little much for the cozy sitting area in his office. The dragon of the hour was, to the best of their knowledge, peacefully sleeping in Hagrid’s barn under the supervision of the gamekeeper himself.

    As Flitwick again passed around drinks, this time shots of some sort of liqueur which looked for all the world like a perfect window into the starry night sky, Albus called the meeting to order. “So, now that you’ve all had a chance to play dragon-sitter, what does everyone think of young Harry?”

    Snape grimaced, sniffing curiously at the unfamiliar drink, “I could wish that he was a slower reader and somewhat quieter. I suppose I should be grateful that the wretched lizard never asks the same question more than once.”

    “Severus,” Minerva chided, “The boy is polite, respectful, intelligent, and friendly. What is your problem with him?”

    “A bastard with exactly the same voice as that wretched lizard tormented me through my seven years as a student in this institution; that dratted dragon sounds entirely too much like his sire for my comfort!”

    Having concluded his inspection of his glass, results apparently to his satisfaction, the potions master took a sip of the concoction. “If not for his voice,” Snape allowed, “I might find his company… tolerable, but all too often I feel that I am in the same room as a young, dragon-shaped James bloody Potter.”

    “Ah… I see.” The reply was voiced by Flitwick, but every professor old enough to remember Harry’s father nodded in agreement. The man James had become had been good and decent, but during his childhood… “That is a disturbing image, indeed.”

    After a suitable pause for everyone to down a shot and refill their glasses in an effort to put said disturbing image out of their minds, Albus continued, “Well, does anyone else have an opinion on the dragon-shaped Boy-Who-Lived?”

    “I must say, that I have never encountered another creature quite so hungry,” Minerva began. “By Hagrid’s commentary, the laddie eats more than the giant squid and whatever new three-headed monstrosity he’s been raising under the name of ‘Fluffy’, combined. I confess, I have no idea where the boy puts it all.”

    “Indeed,” Snape agreed. “Never had I thought to encounter a creature able to devour a whole bubotuber without ill effect, and I had thought that such a creature then asking for more would be an impossibility.”

    “I hadn’t realized there was anything he couldn’t eat.” Flitwick said.

    “He dislikes the flavor of wood,” Snape helpfully volunteered, “and it seems that certain muggle plastics give him the runs.”

    Flitwick snorted, “You are a very strange man, Severus. You dislike the boy, and at the same time you seem almost fascinated by him.”

    “His body is extraordinary, a marvel of materials science and magic! His stomach juices have proven their ability to dissolve anything I have been able to test them against, even glass. I have no idea how he manages to avoid digesting his own internal workings. His bioalchemy seems to be based on iron and copper, with trace amounts of a host of other materials almost never seen in living organisms. His skeleton is composed mostly of aluminum, though I confess I do not recognize the manner in which it is alloyed and structured. What’s more, he contains almost no water! The processes which support his continued existence take place in a molten iron substrate rather than an aqueous one; his bioalchemy resembles nothing so much as a furnace, burning tremendous amounts of hydrocarbons to heat and melt the metals that he ingests. It is as if he were a living machine! A being built not of flesh and blood, but rather living metal.”

    Snape took a moment to pause before snorting, himself. “I am certain that once you discover something about the dratted lizard which revolutionizes your own field you will be similarly excitable.”

    “He is a fascinating case,” Poppy spoke up for the first time. “While Severus’ description of his bioalchemy is accurate as far as it goes, the greater function of his body is amazing in its own right. He has flight organs arrayed beside his spine that work similarly to a broom, but do not push on the ambient magical field in the same manner. His reflexes are so quick I had to work with Filius to create a diagnostic spell capable of accurately measuring them. There is that marvel of a digestive system that Severus described, of course,” Poppy nodded to the man in question, “but then there is his skin as well. The boy is able to maintain an internal temperature hot enough to glow white, yet his skin is barely warmer than human norm. Truly remarkable!”

    “Do you have any idea how that flight enchantment works?” Flitwick asked, intrigued. All known forms of magical flight relied on ambient magic to work. It was the primary reason wizards had never traveled to the moon. “It might be another interesting topic to pursue.”

    “It might be,” she allowed, “but I do not know at this time. I’ll be happy to supply my measurements so far.” The school Healer’s expression twisted slightly, “There is one consideration, however, that must be addressed soon — the boy will need to learn occlumency sometime within the next few years.”

    This was unexpected enough that the room went silent for a moment, before Albus asked the question, “For heaven’s sake, why?”

    Occlumency was an advanced topic for a reason, it’s benefits were myriad, ranging from defense against mental intrusion to truly spectacular emotional control and near-perfect recall. However, teaching it to the young was always problematic — both because of the subject’s difficulty and the hazards involved. For every successful student, there were three that came out of the training as emotionally stunted wrecks.

    Albus sometimes wondered if that was why so many of his students from the darker families went so consistently and horribly wrong.

    “I am sure you are aware of the cross-species fertility of highly-magical creatures?” Poppy looked about hopefully, but, finding only blank looks at the apparent non-sequitur, she continued, “Rubeus would be able to explain it if he were here.” She sighed before continuing with the air of a teacher delivering a remedial lecture. “Magic enhances biological function in general; that is why we live so much longer than muggles do. That rule also holds true for our various parts, magic makes them work better at whatever it is they are intended to do; it makes eyes see better, livers filter blood better, stomachs digest food better, and so on.”

    The Healer sighed, clearly irritated at having to explain what she felt was very, very basic magical biology. “That also holds true for reproductive organs and the gametes they produce, which is, for instance, the reason that veela reproduce almost exclusively with wizards — despite the spotty history between our two races. Despite her near-human genetics, a veela’s association with fire leaves her body temperature high enough to sterilize a non-magical man’s contribution, making such couplings fruitless. A wizard’s magic will overcome this.”

    Poppy took a sip from her glass, fortifying herself to continue. “Taken to the extreme, it is a property that experimental breeders have been taking advantage of for centuries. Many of the more… creative magical species owe their origins to breeding two dissimilar but highly magical species together. Despite the normally incompatible biology, enough magical strength will get the job done anyway and make something new. Breeders sometimes help the process along with spells, but for creatures of sufficient strength, they are not strictly necessary. The more power involved, the looser the requirements for successful breeding become.”

    “Even with Filius’ assistance, I have yet to discern the limits of Mr. Potter’s magical strength,” Poppy said after another sip, “but every diagnostic I have used to this point has pegged at the maximum measurable result. His magical strength is at least high enough that I can guarantee that he will be able to continue his line, even if no other individual of his new kind is ever discovered.” Poppy let out a wry chuckle. “In fact, given the energy involved, should he become involved with a human, it is likely that his future wife will spend her entire married life pregnant.”

    Then her expression sobered. “However, since I have not been able to pin down the upper bounds of his magical strength, I fear that it may be high enough that it could cause… problems. Extrapolating from what I know of past experimentation, not only could he overcome barriers of species, but even distance. Male gametes in most species move under their own power, and with enough magic backing them they’ve been known to travel up to a few dozen feet. However, if Mr. Potter’s magical strength is as high as I fear, the bloody things will probably be capable of flight, and that distance could stretch miles. When the boy hits puberty he may accidentally impregnate the female half of Hogwarts if he experiences a nocturnal emission! Occlumency will help him separate his physical responses from subconscious stimulus, hopefully reducing the risk of such an incident.”

    The room fell silent for a time at that, the idea percolating through their thoughts. Their newest charge was a being strong enough to change the course of an entire generation of the population of Wizarding Britain — accidentally and while asleep.

    Magic on the scale implied was something for which none of them had any personal reference. Wizarding magic had focused on hiding, subtlety, and convenience for so long that the ancient methods for large-scale magics had been lost to antiquity. Hearing about such a possibility was rather like having Merlin walk out of a history book and introduce himself. It even had the right flavor to it, if the stories of the great mage’s proclivities were accurate. There was a reason several of the muggle accounts cast Merlin as half-incubus.

    “That…” Filius paused for a moment to collect himself, “that is rather overwhelming, isn’t it?”

    “Hundreds of them!” Snape gulped down the rest of his drink. “Merlin, there’d be hundreds of the blasted lizards, and they’d probably all sound like James bloody Potter…”

    “Try it from this end, Professors,” Septima Vector spoke up for the first time, sounding more than a little dazed. The arithmancy professor was one of the youngest staff members, barely out of Hogwarts herself, and she sometimes slipped into old modes of address when distracted. “I’ve just been told that I might be accidentally impregnated by a barely-adolescent dragon — while he’s sleeping half a mile away, no less. That is not how I imagined my first child coming about! At least you don’t have the parts to be affected if it happens.”

    “True,” Flitwick acknowledged.

    “Poppy, should we look into modifying greenhouse containment wards as a failsafe?” Sprout, the staff herbologist, spoke up for the first time in the conversation, seeing an application of her professional specialization to the unusual situation. “Highly magical plants often present similar challenges, and due to the oftentimes broadcast nature of pollen they do so at much lower magical intensity. I mean, it sounds like the problem won’t end with puberty for the boy — wouldn’t the same thing happen later when our young friend is older and occupied with that hypothetical wife you mentioned?”

    “Those wards might be worth the effort, but thankfully, the latter scenario shouldn’t be an issue,” the Healer gave her first good news in some time. “Magic enhances purpose, and if he’s actively engaged with someone, then that purpose is clearly defined and directed — though for the same reason, contraception will be utterly futile. It’s going to make for an interesting conversation when he’s mature enough to understand the implications.”

    That set of another round of drinks at the idea of giving the young dragon the proverbial ‘Talk’ some time down the line. The reactions ranged from blushing embarrassment from the young arithmancer — no doubt remembering her own time on the receiving end of such a talk — through quiet amusement among the older staff, all the way to mildly vindictive amusement at prospect of the young dragon’s future embarrassment, predictably on the part of the resident potions master. In any case, it was enough to break the spell the Healer’s explanation had woven over the group.

    “While Poppy’s scenario is… honestly rather frightening, it is hardly the only reason to be cautious of young Harry. The raw strength there…” Madame Hooch trailed off and shook her head ruefully. “He’s been coming along nicely with his flying lessons, though he still has trouble with turning. The boy’s very considerate like you mentioned, Minerva,” the flight instructor nodded to her senior, “but those wings alone! I’ve seen him accidentally swipe through a tree trunk as thick as my waist, and the boy barely noticed until the top fell on him.”

    “Was damn funny to see!” she chuckled at the memory. “Still, even without magic, that boy could tear through half the wizarding world on physical strength alone. Kind of awe-inspiring really.”

    Taking her cue from Rolanda, Minerva decided to give a status report on her instruction. Hopefully it would draw the conversation back onto more comfortable terrain. “He’s been coming along nicely in transfiguration, as well. Harry has, just today, managed to change himself into a child-sized dragon. He cannot yet maintain it for more than a few minutes, but it is excellent progress. I expect he’ll manage a human form by next month. The boy is an eager and capable student — I truly look forward to having him in my classes in a few years.”

    “That is a theme I expect will continue, ad nauseum, in the coming years,” Snape said. “He seems to have an eidetic memory. Once I realized that he had read every book in my collection, I quizzed him on the contents and have done so several times since. I must say that if he were to sit his Potions OWL tomorrow he would score a perfect O on the theory section. I confess I am looking forward to discovering just what he can do on the practical side of things with all that theory stuffed into his oversized skull.”

    “I think we all are eager to discover that.” Sprout spoke up again, eager to get in on the potential academic prize, despite her absence during the dragon’s initial retrieval. Someone had had to stay at the school in case of emergency, after all.

    “I simply wish that he were a little less… annoying.” Snape spoke up again after a moment’s silence.

    “You almost sound as if you are afraid of the boy, Severus,” Minerva commented.

    “Can anyone here honestly declare themselves completely unafraid of the blasted reptile?”

    No one replied, prompting Snape to smirk before continuing, “I suspect that only Rubeus could honestly answer in the affirmative.”

    “…indeed.” Albus spoke, “Though I must say that his, ah, lack of awareness of his own potential for mayhem is simultaneously a little disturbing and heartening.”

    “How so?” Snape asked, sounding curious.

    “Well, I suspect the fact that he hasn’t realized he could lay waste to a large portion of the surrounding area implies that he has little inclination to lay waste to much of anything.” The elderly man replied.

    “True enough,” McGonagall allowed. “For the most part, his behavior reminds me of nothing more than my own son when he was young.”

    “A typical small boy in the body of a dragon — my nightmare is complete,” Snape groaned. “I do hope we survive his childhood.”

    “Yes, two tons of boisterous child is more than a little intimidating,” Poppy agreed.

    The staff settled into a companionable silence for a moment while savoring their alcohol.

    “What sort of drink is this anyway, Albus?” Filius spoke up; he had been wondering since Albus had handed him the bottle to pour.

    Albus smiled, “Ah, it is a creation of an old friend of mine who makes such brews as a hobby. He calls this one Starry Night, certainly not a terribly creative name, but that’s no crime, and I think the taste makes up for it.” He chuckled, “Since we seem to be making a habit of these meetings, I have decided to introduce you to some new forms of drink. Especially you, Minerva.” The proud Scotswoman had been looking at her glass askance all night. “I know you would never drink anything other than single malt if I don’t push.”

    “Not even water, had I my way,” said proud Scotswoman agreed easily.

    Sprout spoke up again, enthusiastically, “Oh! That sounds lovely! I do some brewing of my own, you know. Perhaps I could bring something next meeting?”

    “I’m sure we would all be most appreciative, Pomona. We will eagerly look forward to sampling your efforts!” The old man continued, “Speaking of comestibles, Severus, how goes your investigation into the conditions in Mr. Potter’s stomach?” It was a topic of some interest, after the reasoning outlined in their first meeting.

    “It is slow going,” Snape admitted, sounding not at all discouraged. His eyes gleaming with the enthusiasm of a great painter in front of his canvas, the potions master continued. “I am currently attempting to recreate the material of which his stomach lining is composed so that I might craft a vessel sturdy enough to hold for more than a few moments at the relevant conditions. I believe I am quite close, now.”

    “Good, good. Keep us apprised, Severus.”

    With that, the meeting settled back down for a moment before the young arithmancy professor, Septima, spoke up again. “Oh, I almost forgot to mention!” At her colleagues’ encouraging looks she continued, “Filius approached me about improved diagnostic spells for Madame Pomphrey after her current set failed to determine Mr. Potter’s magical strength.” She nodded to the two persons so named. “I wasn’t able to help at the time, but it later occurred to me that I could try a different approach for determining Mr. Potter’s magical strength — or at least a rough estimate of it — using aura size.”

    She took another sip of her Starry Night. “As you know, aura is not normally used to measure magical strength because it is not a very sensitive measure. Albus’ aura, for instance, would fill perhaps three-quarters of this room, were it visible, while a particularly weak new first year’s might fill a quarter of the room. Not much difference in aura size for a tremendous difference in strength. I thought it could at least give us a range to tune a more sensitive measure around. Turning aura detection spells on Mr. Potter, however, revealed that his aura is not detectable from any distance less than ten miles, for the simple reason that his aura blankets everything within that distance.”

    “What!” It was difficult to determine who had spoken, as it seemed to be a general consensus among the rest of the staff.

    Poppy, in particular, paled. That was worse than she had imagined — the potential pregnancy epidemic might not be limited to Hogwarts, or even Hogsmeade! Those containment wards would be a must, the risk was simply too great to rely on occlumency alone. Thankfully they’d probably have a few years to get them working — with that much magic, the dragon’s biology would probably take a while longer than a human would to organize itself properly— though exactly how many years was anyone’s guess.

    Oblivious to the Healer’s renewed distress, Septima nodded. “I had much the same reaction, so I attempted the determine just how much power was involved in producing such an extensive aura, and, well, I’d appreciate it if someone would double-check my calculations, but they seem to indicate that Harry currently contains more magical energy than has passed through the Hogwarts warding scheme in the last thousand years. As we pointed out before, the kid seems quite content to behave himself, so I’m not worried about him turning that power on anyone undeserving, but it concerns me that he obtained that power through whatever incident occurred at Avebury.”

    She continued, visibly distressed. “I’ve not worked out just what that much power could do — aside from transforming an eight-year-old wizard into some kind of super-dragon hatchling, of course — but, I figured it could probably be pretty scary.” On seeing the expressions on her colleagues’ faces, Septima’s voice turned sheepish. “And, well… I thought it was important that you know?”

    The silence in the room after that report was deafening. That was a chilling pronouncement, Poppy had just announced the potentially massive ramifications of magic on a much smaller scale, what could this new scenario bring?

    It would seem certain research projects required more urgent handling. Priorities would need to shift —

    Pomona would need to break out the good stuff for their next meeting; different people had different priorities, after all.

    “For future reference, Septima,” Albus’ calm tone finally broke the stunned silence, “That sort of news should generally be reported at the beginning of the meeting.”

    1.4.3 Contemplations on the meaning of life — as a dragon

    As the varied dragon-sitters were sitting down to discuss their findings, the subject of their discussion was decidedly less asleep than they had believed.

    Like many large predators, dragons tend to be rather shockingly still when they don’t have anything in particular to do, and Harry had sat down in the large barn behind Hagrid’s hut for a good think — so perhaps the confusion over his state of awareness was justified. Harry’s normal personality tended to keep him moving, but when his mind was occupied, his instincts took over — thus, his deeply-thinking pose tended to look remarkably similar to his deeply-sleeping one.

    It had taken Harry very little time to realize that the sorts of dragons written about in the various books he had managed to get his claws on through the assistance of Mr. Dumbledore’s various glowy friends were not the same sort of dragon he was. It was pretty obvious, since they didn’t eat metal and they couldn’t talk.

    This was a problem.

    Turning into a dragon was the best thing Harry could remember happening to him, and he wanted to make sure he did it right by being the best dragon he could be!

    Right now, though, Harry had no idea what it was that dragons like him were supposed to do. If he were a human, he could look to his friends at Hogwarts for examples of what to do, but he wasn’t a human. Who knew if good-human things to do were the same as good-dragon things?

    He certainly didn’t!

    Attempting to address this lack, Harry had managed to talk Professor McGonagall into getting him some books that the non-glowy people had written on dragons to see if they had any ideas, though she insisted on dismissing the books as ‘muggle fantasies’. Harry wasn’t sure why she was so dismissive because they had lots of ideas and lots of different dragons to read about. They also seemed like a better choice than the ones the glowy people wrote about, since the not-glowy ones were about dragons that knights went after, and Harry was pretty sure he was that sort of dragon.

    Was there something about people who glowed a bit that kept them from getting the right idea about dragons? Dragons seemed like pretty simple stuff to him, but maybe that was just because he was a dragon. Madame Pomphrey had been telling him about ‘perspective’ and ‘point-of-view’, and this sounded like it might be one of those things. He’d have to have another think on that later.

    The different stories covered lots and lots of different kinds of dragons. He was sure they’d help him out somehow, but — none of them really fit right.

    So, Harry had ultimately decided he’d have to figure it out himself. They might not be right in everything, but all those not-glowy-person fantasy things had to come from somewhere, right? Maybe they got bits right here and there. So, he’d read those books Professor McGonagall had given him carefully – he took notes on his findings and everything! – and he’d found some themes that seemed to be common to dragons that could talk.

    Dragons who can talk needed to have a lair, and it should have treasures in it and preferably some damsels. Harry wasn’t quite sure what the whole thing with damsels was, but the stories that mentioned them made it seem like they were really important.

    Almost every one of the books — aside from those he had discarded because they didn’t seem to be about the same sort of dragon he was — made it very clear that knights were out to get dragons, and he’d recently learned the whole ‘slay’ thing meant making the dragon dead, which sounded really nasty. As soon as he’d figured out what that was all about, Harry had resolved to flame any knights that seemed like they were out to get him, hard. He’d also keep an eye on those armor things around the castle, they seemed entirely too knight-like for comfort.

    The thing that really bothered him was that the stories always made dragons out to be the baddies. He’d only found a couple that didn’t, and they were pretty obviously not about the same sort of dragon he was. It was kind of sad.

    How much of it was real, and how much was made up? Harry couldn’t tell, but he could tell that he was determined to do this being-a-dragon thing right, and he was going to be the best dragon ever!

    So, he needed a lair, he needed treasures, and he needed damsels. Harry wasn’t sure where to get any of them, but he figured he needed the lair first. He’d need the lair so he had a place to put the treasures and damsels anyway when he figured out how to get them. The problem was where to find a lair that knights couldn’t get into.

    After a bit more thinking, Harry resolved to ask Hagrid. Hagrid knew lots about dragons, and he knew where everything was around the castle and all sorts of other awesome stuff. He was sure to know where Harry could get a lair that knights couldn’t get into!

    He also needed to let the world know that dragons were the goodies, not the knights. Everyone would be better off if they weren’t so confused about that.

    He’d have to talk to the people that wrote all those stories and let them know what dragons were really like, once he figured that out himself. It was only right to help them out, since they’d helped him with the stories.

    It was about this point that Hagrid walked in to check on his charge. “Evenin’, Harry,” Hagrid said, stomping into the barn. Hagrid was a very good stomper, made the ground go clump and everything. That seemed like something Harry would have to learn too — valuable life skill, stomping. Harry resolved to get Hagrid to give him stomping lessons someday.

    “Hi Hagrid! There’s something I wanted to ask you about…”

    1.4.4 Harry goes house hunting

    “… he wants what?” Dumbledore asked, perplexed.

    “Harry says he’s wantin’ a lair,” Hagrid repeated. “Says he needs it t’ be somethin’ he called ‘knight-proof’. I ‘spect he’s lookin’ fer a place t’ make home; ‘bout time fer the little feller, I’d say. There’s a good place up inter the crags behind the forest, big cave with ‘bout a hunnert-foot drop out the front an’ plenty o’ space up top. One o’ the burns feedin’ inter the loch runs outta it, too. Least that’s what Madame Hooch says, she had a look ‘bout a few years back. I ain’t never been up there.”

    “That would be a good idea.” Madame Pomphrey, who took the health of her young charge seriously and had been discussing her concerns about his lack of exercise beforehand, spoke up. “The poor boy needs more space to move around, and the cliffs are out of sight of the castle.”

    “Hmm, I must concur,” Albus allowed. “Rubeus, if you and Madame Hooch could show him the cave during his next flying lesson? I suppose it is close enough that his tutors could visit the cave if it meets with young Harry’s approval.”

    1.4.5 A hairy realtor

    “I’ve found yer a lair, Harry,” Hagrid said.

    The young dragon had been dozing off before that statement, but the words immediately revitalized him.

    “Really?” Harry was up and bouncing about, an action that involved all six of his limbs and his tail. Oddly enough, his head remained rock solid the whole time, gaze focused unerringly on his friend’s face. If said friend were anyone other than Hagrid, he would have been rather unsettlingly reminded of a snake focusing on a mouse. Since said friend was Hagrid, he didn’t find the reminder unsettling at all. “Ooh! Ooh! Where? Where? Can we go see? Is it knight-proof? Where is it? What’s it like?”

    “Easy there, Harry.” Hagrid chuckled. “’S ‘round the back o’ the forest, up in the crags. Big cave, lots o’ space fer ya t’ stretch out an’ move ‘round, and no way inter it but flyin’. How ‘bout we check it out t’night?”

    “Ooh, that sounds amazing!”

    “I’m glad the idea fills you with enthusiasm.” Madame Hooch had entered the barn after Hagrid. “Well, then, let’s go!” She was not eager to delay their departure any more than necessary.

    After all, a dragon the size of a small bus bouncing excitedly is a disturbing sight for people who aren’t Hagrid.

    1.4.6 New digs

    Sunlight hitting his eyes gradually brought Harry out of sleep.

    For a moment, he didn’t know where he was. It wasn’t the barn or the Dursleys’ garage, and it certainly wasn’t his old cupboard where he stayed before he turned into a dragon. There was sunlight streaming in from an opening in front of him, and he seemed to be resting on a rough rock floor. Where was he?

    He opened his eyes to have a look around, and then he remembered the wonderful lair that his friends had found for him!

    It was situated about halfway up a cliff, with the mouth shielded by an overhang. The lip was about a hundred feet off the ground, and there was about another hundred feet of cliff face above. The cave opened to the west with a view straight up the glen which climbed up to the moors and off to the sea. About half that view was taken up by the neighboring bluff to the southwest, whose light gray stone was currently reflecting the sunlight which had awakened him. The cliffs extended to the sides all the way around forming an isolated table-land separated from the rest of the plateau to the north by another steep-sided glen.

    There was a stream running by his side through the cave — it was called a ‘burn’, he remembered Hagrid saying, though he didn’t know why a stream would burn. The water flowed out of a crack in the wall in the back of the cave, travelled through the trench it had worn into the floor toward the cave opening, and Harry could hear the water splash merrily on the rocks far below. Madame Hooch had said something about an artesian flow, which he had gathered was a fancy way of saying the water ran uphill underground before coming out in the cave and acting normal again.

    He’d have to learn more about that; it seemed like a funny thing for water to do.

    Anyway, the mouth of the cave was big enough for him to take off easily, and there was a huge hollow space about fifty feet or so back from the lip which he could use to sleep in and store treasures! And, best of all, the young dragon could see absolutely no way that knights could possibly sneak in.

    He had slept, and he was now feeling just a mite peckish, but the elves couldn’t hear him out here so far from the castle. How was he going to get food?

    Harry thought about that for a while, admiring his new lair in the meantime. Boy, that rock did look really good right now — he wondered what it would taste like. So, Harry tried it, taking a dragon-sized bite out of the wall of his new lair.

    As he chewed his newly discovered food source he realized two things. One, rock was not very filling, tasty, but he didn’t think he’d ever get full on it; and two, despite the disappointing meal, he had just made his lair one bite bigger than it was before! The sheer bigness of it was already awesome, but Harry realized he could make it bigger any time he wanted.

    That was amazing!

    He could expand it to hold more treasures and damsels, and for when he got bigger, and if he wanted to make a library for all the books he wanted to get, and to make a potions laboratory, and whatever else he wanted! There was a whole mountain there, so he’d have all the space he’d ever need! The lair his friends had given him could get as big as he needed it to.

    He made such great friends since he became a dragon!

    Now he just needed treasures and damsels and his become-an-awesome-dragon plan would be well underway. He was pretty sure he knew where to get treasures, they were supposed to be at the end of rainbows, and he’d seen one of those just the other day out over the water — water which he could see from his new Lair, and wasn’t that cool? He’d made sure to memorize where it had ended, one end on the sea and one end on the mountain, and Harry thought it would be a great idea to go give those places a good looking-over later that day once he’d made sure his Lair was all set.

    1.4.7 The leading lady arrives

    They had drawn lots to decide; it was the only fair way to go about it.

    The worst case had come to pass for the centaurs of the Black Woods Clan, and the Great Wyrm had taken up residence in the forest. Worse yet, it laired above their most defensible campsite between the river and the Grey Cliffs.

    There was no help for it; they would have to sacrifice a daughter to appease the Great Wyrm. The Clan could not afford another conflict on top of the ongoing war with the spider plague, much less a conflict with a Great Wyrm. That would be hopeless under even the best of circumstances.

    When Bane, Magorian’s eldest surviving son and heir, drew the shortest straw, he wept without shame.

    It was a terrible duty, yet it was necessary nonetheless. If they didn’t do it, they’d all be dead.

    Stone dead.

    So, at midnight, the warriors of the Clan, led by Bane himself, selected the fairest of his daughters, dressed her in her finest soft furs and linens, bound her wrists with silk rope, and led her to the edge of a clearing that laid within sight of the cave where the Great Wyrm laired.

    And there, each stallion sadly glancing behind, they left her, one end of the rope tied about her wrists, and the other to a fallen tree.

    There was no choice; the Great Wyrm had to be appeased, or they all died.

    No choice at all.

    1.4.8 Harry meets Suze

    A new day dawned brightly at Harry’s lair, the sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, and the sky was blue. As the young dragon awoke, stretching widely, he marveled at the space inside his lair, for when a young dragon stretched widely, he stretched very widely indeed. After spending most of his life cooped up, first in the cupboard, and later in the garage and then the barn, the ability to move freely was a coveted luxury for Harry.

    It was a great day to be alive!

    The boy bounded to the mouth of his lair. His Lair! His home, he was master of all he surveyed! What a wonderful feeling! He looked out over the landscape in wonder. Harry felt he could see past the edge of the world from here. The foothills to his left blocked off the view of the castle and Hogsmeade from here, and the rest of his mountain blocked off the closest town. The only trace of mankind was a single distant fishing boat and rail line. The rail was empty at the moment, but he could still hear the echoing growl of the morning train to Mallaig. It must have just passed out of sight. The rest of it, though, empty forest and moor until the water began, and then open blue off to the Isle of Skye beyond. And it was all his; he had found his home, and it was just lovely!

    As his admiring gaze pulled back from the distant mountains across the sound and turned to much closer forest, Harry noticed something odd. Down there, just on the other side of the river, something was moving, something in greens, browns, and greys.

    Harry looked closer, and he realized that he couldn’t work out what he was looking at. He needed a better vantage point.

    So, he spread his wings and glided down to the forest floor some distance from whatever it was. He approached all sneaky-sneaky, because it had looked kind of horse-shaped; Harry wasn’t sure if it was a knight.

    Nosing his way through the greenery, carefully avoiding making any crashing sounds, he slowly realized that what he was seeing was some kind of lady.

    She was dressed up in all green, brown and grey, was tied up, and had most of a horse where her legs should be.

    Harry frowned a bit, trying to work out why she was tied up and had horse instead of legs.

    He wasn’t sure about the horsey bit, ‘cause the stories always had knights riding horses, but the stories didn’t say anything about the knights and horses actually being stuck together.

    Trying to get more information, Harry sniffed at the wind. He wasn’t sure how much good it would do, since he didn’t know what knights smelled like yet. Harry figured knights would probably smell like metal and person. She smelled of horse and person; he wasn’t sure if knights would smell of horse and person too. The young dragon thought for a moment, she didn’t look like she was wearing shining armor, but she might be wearing it under the furs and leather stuff he could see. But then he’d smell metal, the boy reasoned, that meant she probably wasn’t wearing shining armor.

    And if she wasn’t wearing shining armor, then she probably wasn’t a knight! That established, Harry took a closer look at the horsey-lady. Her not-horse bits, pretty much all of a lady except legs, were dressed in some sort of cloth. It looked kind of like those fancy napkins Aunt Petunia used for special guests, but thicker, and it didn’t smell the same. There were added-on fur bits and leather belts in not-belt places that seemed to keep the rest of her clothes from moving around much. The horsey bits, which were pretty much everything of a horse except its head and neck, ‘cause that was where the lady’s middle started, weren’t wearing anything. Her wrists were tied behind her back with some sort of rope that looked a lot like milky-white plastic, and that rope was tied to a tree on the other end.

    Suddenly, it clicked. A lady tied up outside a dragon’s lair — this was just like that story with the damsel and that dragon that lived in the sea! Well, she wasn’t naked like the one in the story, but he guessed it was kind of cold out, so that made sense. He’d never really understood that part of the story anyway. Harry nodded decisively. The lady with horse instead of legs was a damsel, and that made the question of what to do obvious.

    “Grr, grr, GRR. I’m a big fearsome dragon, and you’re a damsel, so I’m going to carry you off to my lair, grr!” He declared, stepping out of the undergrowth. He wished he had gotten those stomping lessons from Hagrid already. Harry wanted to do this right, and it just didn’t seem proper that the ground wasn’t shaking from his every step. He hoped the horsey-lady wasn’t disappointed.

    As Harry approached his new damsel, the thought ran through his head. Maybe damsels were some sort of treasure? If they were, then they were obviously a very important sort of treasure. The stories had always taken care to specifically name the damsels, and they never did that for the not-damsel treasures.

    1.4.9 Suze meets Harry

    Suze was certain she was going to die.

    She’d had a bad feeling for one hand and one weeks now, a feeling that she would soon face an irrevocable change in her life, the death of her current existence and the beginning of a new one. For a centaur girl of just shy of three hands’ worth of summers, that meant either death or marriage, and her father would not be presenting her to any suitors for another two summers, while the threat of death loomed constantly in the Black Woods.

    When her grandfather, Magorian, had grimly announced that the Great Wyrm had been sighted above the forest, she knew what form her doom would take. She had left it unspoken, but she was not surprised when she was chosen as the sacrifice to appease the Great Wyrm’s wrath.

    Her father had wept for her.

    She had made her father cry! Did that mean she deserved this?

    Suze did not resist when she was tied and led away to the last place she expected to ever see. This was her duty; she was chosen to protect her family, and she would see it through to the end. Death was over in a flash, but shame was eternal.

    Father had said so, and Father was always right unless Grandfather said differently, and Grandfather hadn’t said differently about that.

    When she had seen her Father’s shoulders shake, she had wanted to reach out and comfort him. This was necessary; what needed to be done, must be done, and there was no reason to cry about it. She would do her duty. Her hands were tied, though, so she could not. She was happy to see her father and brothers walk away from her. They would not face the same fate.

    When the Great Wyrm emerged into the clearing, she held herself proud. Her Father’s last words to her had been, “Be brave for me, my daughter,” and she would not disappoint him on her last day.

    “Grr, grr, GRR.,” it said. Not a growl, it said, ‘grr’, like a colt pretending to be ferocious. “I’m a big fearsome dragon, and you’re a damsel, so I’m going to carry you off to my lair, grr!”

    It sounded startlingly young.

    The fine silk rope that bound her to the tree parted like dust under the beast’s claws. It was woven from acromantula silk, the finest known. One strand of that silk could hold an adult stallion’s full weight without even the slightest stretch, and fire was the only way the Clan knew to cut it. That rope was woven from five such strands, and those claws cut through it like freshly knapped flint through a colt’s hair.

    Surely, the Great Wyrm would eat her soon?

    Again, she didn’t resist as its mighty forepaws closed around her and lifted; to quaver would be to shame her family. This was her fate, and she would face it with dignity.

    Oddly, it seemed to be holding her exceedingly gently.

    Having picked her up carefully, it then proceeded to whisper out of the side of it’s terrifying mouth, “Am I doing it right?”

    “…what?” It was the first word she had spoken since the previous night. She hadn’t quite been able to work up the nerve before.

    “Well, this is the first time I’ve done this carrying-off thing, and I want to make sure I’m doing it right,” it explained. “I’m a dragon, and I’m supposed to know about this stuff.”

    For a moment, Suze considered saying he was doing it wrong, she had been expecting to be eaten by now, after all, but she reconsidered. It was probably an exceedingly bad idea to say no to a dragon, she reasoned.

    “I think you’re doing it right,” Suze said uncertainly. “I’ve never been carried off before either, so I’m not sure how it goes, but, well, you’ve done a very convincing job so far. You may need to work on your growl, though.”

    The dragon didn’t seem at all displeased by her commentary. “Okay! I guess GRR! isn’t really fierce enough. I’ve heard dragons should be very fierce when carrying off damsels.”

    “Umm, I suppose so, but well… um…” Why was the Great Wyrm asking for advice rather than eating her? This was not what she expected at all!

    “Well,” the dragon sounded resigned but determined, “I guess I’ll just have to make it up as I go along.” With that, he took off. The ground spun dizzyingly away beneath her as Suze was carried along for the ride, and then her captor landed with a bone-jarring thud in the entrance to his lair, where, to her continuing surprise, he set her down gently.

    “…um, sorry, I haven’t quite got landings down just yet.”

    As her eyes adjusted to the lower lighting of the cave, she glanced around. The entrance tunnel spread out — about six lengths in — into a hollow which was large enough to contain the Clan’s entire Grand Encampment with room to spare. There were Great Wyrm-sized bite marks taken out of the cave walls in places, and a large pile of gold coins about two lengths across off slightly to one side of the space. The gold looked to have been recently retrieved from the sea, based on the barnacles and bits of seaweed covering it.

    “Are you going to eat me?”

    The dragon seemed rather taken aback by the question. “Um, I’m kinda not going to do that, I mean I wasn’t planning to… unless you want me to?” he finished uncertainly. When she shook her head negatively, he continued, “I mean, it’d be awfully rude to eat anything that politely asked you not to, so…”

    “Please don’t eat me Mr. Great Wyrm!” Suze blurted out, before realizing that she spoke out of turn and covering her mouth in embarrassment.

    It was about this time that another voice entered the conversation. “Good afternoon, you dratted liza… What in Merlin’s name is going on here?”

    A tall, thin human — she thought it was one of the wizards from the castle, but she wasn’t sure; dealing with them was her Uncle Firenze’s job and not for the likes of young fillies — had entered the cave using one of those flying broom thingies. The human had long black hair — meticulously cleaned, she noted — drawn back into a neat tail, a hooked nose set on a thin face, sallow skin, and voluminous black clothing which had an odd smell to it. It was the first human she had seen — she wondered how they got by with only two legs?

    Unheeding of her thoughts, the man continued his interrogation. “From where, precisely, did you steal that gold, young man? And what is this young lady doing here?”

    “Oh, hullo Mr. Snape!” The Great Wyrm seemed delighted to see this acerbic human. “I saw a rainbow yesterday, and I remembered that you were supposed to find treasure at the end of rainbows, so I remembered where the ends were, and when I checked out the one that ended in the sea, I found a really old ship that had sunk there, and there was this gold spilled all out over everything, and it was just scattered about, so I figured no one really wanted it, so I grabbed it and brought it back here. The water got kind of cold down that far, but it wasn’t really a problem. And then, today, the horsey-people gave me a damsel! She was tied up outside my lair and everything; it was just like that story with the dragon that lived in the sea, you know? And anyway, now I’ve got treasure and a damsel, and I’m a proper dragon now! Isn’t that neat?”

    The human, whose name Suze could only assume was Mr. Snape, took a moment to consider that before shaking his head in dismissal. It seemed that he didn’t want to know.

    “I see,” he said. “I have brought some new reading material for you, some of which you requested, and some provided unasked by your other tutors. I have also devised, in collaboration with Madame Pomphrey, several new diagnostic spells for use in determining the workings of your remarkable interior. If you would be willing to settle in for a little read and spare enough concentration to allow the spells to connect, I could cast the examination spells at the same time?”

    “Okay!” came the Great Wyrm’s cheerful reply.

    “And, Mr. Potter,” the man continued, “they are known as centaurs. ‘Horsey-people’ is unnecessarily impolite.”

    “Oh… sorry.”

    1.4.10 Suze meets Snape and finally gets an explanation

    Snape cast the first of his new diagnostic spells while his draconic research subject had its nose buried deep in an arcane transfiguration manuscript written in a form of English so archaic that Snape could barely puzzle out the title. The dragon seemed to have trouble with neither the language, nor the subject matter.

    If he recalled, Minerva had passed it on in response to one of the child’s more complicated questions, and he seemed to find the answer as fascinating as he found nearly everything else. Snape thought the tome so dry he felt the need for a glass of water just from looking at it. As he recalled, it was that very book which turned him away from his quest to become an animagus in his youth.

    As he completed the first of his diagnostic spells, the female centaur spoke up in a soft voice with a lilting accent that the usually-misanthropic potions master actually found quite pleasant.

    “How old is the Great Wyrm?”

    “He is a little over eight years old, in your terms, a hand and three summers, if I recall.”

    “…so, he’s just a colt?”

    “Indeed.” Snape confirmed absently, the bulk of his attention centered on the results of his spell.

    “Hmm?” Harry looked up from his reading curiously.

    “Go back to your book, wretched lizard! I am attempting to hold a civilized conversation with this fine young lady; your input is not currently required.”

    Suze recoiled, fully expecting the man to be torched before her eyes for his temerity. She was, therefore, quite flabbergasted by the Great Wyrm’s cheerful reply. “Okay!” Followed by a return to his book.

    “He is, quite frankly, a naïve child,” Snape’s voice was low as he spoke to the centaur girl. “And I do believe that it would be in both our best interests if you were to do your best to ensure that his inevitable maturation is a gentle one. I am certain that the reasons are self-evident.”

    Without waiting for a reply, he suddenly switched topics. “Ah, this is fascinating,” His diagnostic spell had returned a result. “It seems that the dratted dragon’s skeletal structure is composed of orichalcum — I wonder how it was grown?”

    “I know that if the right parts aren’t in someone’s food, they won’t grow proper. Isn’t orichalcum really rare?” she asked. “Where does he get it from?”

    Snape was pleasantly surprised, “You are quite a knowledgeable one, aren’t you, young lady? Indeed, until lately the making of orichalcum was thought to be a secret lost with the makers of your kind; the only known source was the skeleton of the drake-dog. The secrets of making the substance were rediscovered by the muggles, of all creatures. They call it aluminum oxy-nitride, a term which only makes sense when one realizes that orichalcum is in fact a quite specific phlogistonic nitrate of the ignoble metal aluminum.”

    “Really? I didn’t know that.”

    “Few did, until very recently. What is your name, young lady? You seem tolerably well-informed.”

    “I’m Suze, daughter of Bane.”

    “Daughter of Bane, you say? You have my commiserations.” Snape returned to casting, “Now, let us see what we can see about this young man’s stomach lining… hmm, a form of glass? Curious, there must be something I am missing about its structure…”

    “…you want to know how the Great Wyrm’s body works?”

    “Indeed, young lady; indeed. I see tremendous potential in discovering the workings of his body; his stomach alone holds the potential to revolutionize potion making. The lining routinely withstands temperatures and compositions which rapidly destroy every other material I have tested. Should I succeed in determining how this is done, and further manage to reproduce it, I am confident that I will become quite remarkably famous, and more to the point, quite remarkably wealthy. Of course, I will have to share that wealth with the blasted beast, as I have it on good authority that trying to cheat a dragon is an enormously bad idea for those who prefer to continue to breathe. Quiet now, I must record these results.”

    “Um, Mr. Snape?”

    “What is it this time, wretched lizard?”

    “I, um, I’ve kinda got to learn how to growl better. You’re a really good growler, could you show me how it works?”

    Snape froze for a moment, quill still in hand, before he gave a hearty snort. “Young man, if you are quiet and allow me to write these results down, I shall see to it that you are given growling lessons by the finest growler I have ever known.”

    “Okay!”
     
  19. Threadmarks: Section 1.5 - In which Harry learns his own strength
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.5.0 In Which Harry Learns his own Strength

    Time has a way of passing when no one is paying any attention to it, and that holds true whether you’re child or adult, dragon or human, magical or muggle.

    That said, when you’re young, it travels slowly. For an eight-year-old boy, a year is a very long time. For an eight-year-old who isn’t in school and doesn’t have people who insist on him doing chores, a day is a wonderfully long and full thing, and that holds true for any small child — even ones who’ve been turned into dragons.

    Between lessons from his friends on the Hogwarts staff when the weather was calm enough for them to fly out from the castle, inventing new games to play with his centaur damsel, eating over at Hagrid’s place, reading his way through his friends’ personal libraries one borrowed armful at a time, seeing what sort of treasures he could scrounge up, and just generally stomping around his new home, doing all the things that eight-year-olds do when left to their own devices, Harry was a very busy dragon indeed. And he liked it that way because it was so very much FUN! There was always something to do, and none of it made his body hurt like the chores at the Dursleys’ had, and people listened when he said he didn’t want to do something.

    It was brilliant!

    As the days turned to weeks, and the weeks piled up enough to make a month or two, winter came to the Cairngorms painting the mountains white with snow and transforming the hills around the Lair — for that had become his home’s official name, he had even added a placard to the side of the entrance — into a winter wonderland. On still nights, as they lay together and listened to the distant rumble of ships’ engines on the other side of Skye echoing over the water just on the edge of hearing, his centaur damsel shared the names of the stars and what she knew of the stories they told. It was the same way Suze had been taught, herself, and had previously taught her younger siblings in turn.

    When the wind picked up and the gales screamed in from the Atlantic, they watched as the winds tore up the water, whipping it into a frenzy of white, and blasted trees from the ground; it was an awe-inspiring sight for anyone, particularly so for someone who had never imagined such a storm before. Suze proved most glad of the heat put out by her dragon’s furnace-like body, sheltering from the cold and wind by cuddling close to his belly. For his part, Harry liked to lay out of the wind but still in such a position that he could see out of his Lair to watch the clouds racing across the moon.

    Spending so much time in the wintery forest, devoid of its obscuring summer finery, Harry quickly discovered deer — according to Mrs. McGonagall, that was the proper name for venisons that were running around — on the hills nearby and in amongst the dormant skeletal trees. After a while, he decided to find out whether they tasted as delicious as they smelled, and in his investigation, he received the second largest shock of his young life.

    1.5.1 Blood spatter

    Harry had been flying around aimlessly, just checking stuff out for a while and being disappointed at not finding any more gold at rainbow-end places when he noticed another one of those still-running venisons. He’d been meaning to give it a try for a while, just because he knew not-running-any-more venison was real tasty and the ones that were running around smelled real yummy. So he landed right in front of it, taking a moment to feel smug about how smooth his landings had gotten; he was really proud of that, especially with the amount of painful and awkward effort that had gone into it.

    He then declared, “GrrrRRrrrr!”

    The deer snorted a lot, backing away while waving its multi-pointed horns at him. Harry could smell the venison, and it smelled even yummier from up close, but he couldn’t see it. Maybe the horns were in the way? He swiped at them with his paw.

    He was surprised to say the very least when the deer’s head splattered, painting the snow bright, steaming red.

    1.5.2 The unlikeliest of counselors

    Harry’s Lair was oddly quiet that night, Severus Snape noticed as he set down on the lip of the entrance chamber. He was much less clumsy on a broom than he had been at the start of term; lots of practice flying to and from the Lair, he supposed. As the potions master walked into the main chamber, he noticed that it had grown much larger than before, new sections and passages seemingly clawed or chewed out of the solid rock.

    Blasted beast really had no idea of his own strength. He’d grown at an absurd rate over the few months he’d been here. It was now reaching the middle of December, and the wretched lizard was already nearly half the size of the locomotive pulling the Hogwarts Express.

    At least his growth had slowed recently.

    The dratted dragon was usually lounging around the lip of his Lair at this time of day, tired from a day’s worth of playing. Snape quickly schooled his features back into a scowl when he caught himself being sentimental, firmly reminding himself that the wretched beast was a dragon and therefore not worthy of such consideration from hard-working potions masters who should not be sentimental about such things.

    Today there was no sign of the dragon; though his pet centaur, Suze, was hovering worriedly about the entrance to the Lair. The girl was a smart one, very well-educated by the standards of her kind, and unlike the rest of her Clan, she was willing to learn more.

    “Where, in Merlin’s name, is that blasted dragon?” he asked.

    “He’s through there.” She indicated a one of the recently-opened passages, this one extending far enough to leave the granite of the main outcropping and enter a layer of orange and black striped gneiss from what he could see before passage bent to one side. “He’s, um… upset about something, but I’m not sure what.”

    “I see,” Snape said. He felt concerned for a moment before suppressing the impulse. That was starting to crop up more and more; he briefly considered whether he should see Poppy, then decided against it. Last time she had made some nonsensical crack along the lines of his heart growing three sizes that day.

    It was just James Potter’s brat, he assured himself. It must be something minor blown far out of proportion.

    Beyond that initial bend, the passage was pitch black, and Severus was forced to use a light spell to find his way down it. The contrasting colors of the folded layers in the rock made for a strangely beautiful walk. After a few hundred feet, the edge of the light cast by his spell glinted off gold and illuminated the dragon’s tail.

    “What in Merlin’s name is wrong with you, wretched lizard?”

    There was a moment filled with the musical rattle of shifting gold as the young dragon turned around, and then he was suddenly faced by a tremendously large eye looking at him with — was that worry?

    “…umm, hi, Mr. Snape.” It was the first time in all his experience with the dratted beast that it had not sounded excited.

    “I repeat; what precisely is the matter, young man?”

    “Um… Mr. Snape, do people squish as easily as deer?”

    “What exactly brought this on?”

    “…well, I kinda thought that I’d see if venison that was still running around was as tasty as the kind that wasn’t, but when I went to brush the horns out of the way, it kind of came apart on me and, well, it kinda went splat.”

    “I see.” Snape said, nodding as he got the idea. “I’m afraid there is no gentle way to say this, lad but the vast majority of other creatures are indeed quite fragile in comparison to you.”

    “…oh. Um… I think, maybe, I shouldn’t go places anymore…”

    “Nonsense!” the potions master snapped, utterly incensed. “Desist with your self-indulgent depression, dolt! You may be sizeable and a tad unnerving, but that is no reason to hide yourself from the world! Don’t you dare! What would your mother think, young man? I’ll tell you what she would think; she’d be disappointed that her only son proved to be a coward!”

    Snape’s voice softened — somewhat, he was still Snape, after all. “You are a large and powerful creature, but that simply means that you must use good sense and self-control. You have the strength to do a great deal of harm, but by the same token you can do a correspondingly great deal of good; it is a matter of how you use your strength, and that choice is your responsibility!

    “As a wizard, I have the power to kill with a word, the power to bring destruction without fail to any who anger me, but it is not something used casually, rather a last resort for when all else has failed. For you, it is the same with your strength, your fire, and the edge of your talons. Your physique is a weapon, indeed, and like all weapons it must be used responsibly; you must treat it with respect, but you must never be afraid of it!”

    “If you are afraid of yourself, you will never amount to anything, and that, young man, would be an astonishing waste! I have not spent days and days drumming a measure of knowledge into your oversized skull for you to squander it out of cowardice, sulking away in this cave like some reclusive ignoramus!” Snape was back to full voice. “Do you understand me, boy? Do you?”

    “…I guess.”

    “Don’t guess, boy! Know! Guessing is for those who lack drive and purpose.” Snape stopped to catch his breath. That was the most energetic speech he’d delivered in years. He shook his head, “Dash it, boy! You are a… a, a tolerable child, and I do not wish to see you waste away on account of some dead animal.”

    “…I’m sorry, Mr. Snape, but it just went splat, and I don’t want that to happen to any of my friends.”

    “An admirable sentiment, boy, but hiding yourself in the dark is not the answer.” Snape said, in perhaps the gentlest voice he had used since his childhood memories of green eyes so similar to the ones he was facing now — if admittedly, much, much smaller green eyes. “You have power, both physical and magical, and your responsibility is to use that power properly. Your intentions are in the right vein, but your course must be to learn how to control that power, not simply lock it away. Our choices define us far more than our abilities, and your power means that your choices will have greater consequences than most; therefore, I can only hope that you will be wiser about your use of power than most.”

    “Can you teach me how to use power wisely, Mr. Snape.”

    “I am afraid I am the wrong person to ask that question, my boy.” When had the wretched beast become ‘his boy’? “You should ask that of Dumbledore.”

    “I will.”

    “See that you do. Now come out here into the light; I have further diagnostic spells to cast and another load of books for you to read.”

    1.5.3 The circle of life

    It took a great deal of discussion with both Dumbledore and Hagrid to get across to Harry that dead deer was where the no-longer-running venison came from, but they managed by early January. After that, Harry found enormously, if briefly, surprised venison to be thoroughly to his liking, though it never became the mainstay of his diet. That remained the province of Hagrid’s scrap-dealership contracts and large quantities of fossil fuels.

    Suze was able to brush up on her food preparation skills as some of her dragon’s regular catch provided a welcome taste of home to supplement to her diet of human food supplied regularly from the castle, and Harry also became quite fond of meat cooked over a wood fire, both because the smoky flavor suited his palate and because of the associated memories of spending time with his damsel. As the occasional slowly became the customary, the Lair took on a much cozier appearance with the addition of myriad deer-leather household goods; Suze was always taught not to waste such things, an attitude she managed to pass on to her dragon.

    It was another couple of months before Mr. Snape, Mrs. McGonagall and Madame Pomphrey finished their preliminary analysis of his body. According to them he was made mostly of all sorts of metals with interesting names, but he burned petrol and coal to keep the fires inside him blazing. That was so cool! It sounded like his tummy worked like a cross between a jet plane and a steam train, and Harry couldn’t think of many things cooler than jet planes and steam trains!

    Madame Pomphrey had said something else about an ‘energy defect’ which he gathered meant there was something more going on that they weren’t sure of yet, but the jet plane and steam train explanation worked for him so far. The comparison was pretty good since things that got in the way of jet planes and steam trains tended to go squish, and the same went for things that got in the way of dragons.

    Slowly, winter turned to spring, which brought with it tremendous sheets of rain that washed away the last remnants of the winter snows as gales rattled the land. The forest came alive from its winter hibernation, green flowing as new leaves spread across the trees and bracken covered the hillsides. Harry added the pungent meal of wild goat to his menu as the deer proved more adept at hiding in the undergrowth than they had at hiding in the snow, and the goats had the unfortunate habit of climbing things making them much more visible from the air. From time to time, he’d manage to take a stray sheep for a fluffy snack. The things almost seemed to keel over in fright before he even touched them.

    The tremendous growth spurt which had defined his first few months at Hogwarts had tapered off for a time. He was no longer putting on an inch every night, and his appetite trailed off accordingly, in keeping with his more sedate rate of growth.

    Spring turned to summer, bringing with it a plague of midges. The tiny menaces seemed to find Harry irresistible, but they dropped dead, exploding in minute puffs of steam after the first bite. Again, Suze took shelter by sticking very close to his flanks. She might be constantly brushing dead midges out of her hair, but she knew from bitter experience how irritating the swarms were without such a shield.

    As his ninth birthday approached, Harry finally managed to acquire a human form, or rather, he managed to transform into an outward copy of his last memory of what his body had once been. As a consequence, his human form looked rather small for his age, lacking almost a year of development during what would have been a time of major growth. Learning to transfigure himself had taken forever from his perspective, but by any objective measure, his progress was remarkable.

    With his new form quickly came the discovery of a new game he could play with his damsel called ‘horsie’, a game that the pair took to with gusto.

    As July drew to a close and his ninth birthday approached, for the first time in his life, Harry had trouble getting to sleep because of his anticipation for the day.

    Birthdays were special, and everything was more special for dragons!
     
  20. Threadmarks: Section 1.6 - In which Harry makes an alliance
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.6.0 In which Harry makes an alliance

    “She still lives!” Bane said.

    Ronan had to admit he was a little worried about his eldest brother. His chieftain’s heir hadn’t been the same since his daughter had been sacrificed to appease the wrath of the Great Wyrm. The life had seemed to drain out of him with each step he took away from the clearing where she had been left, and his eyes had not left her direction until long after she was no longer visible. By the time the party had returned to the Grand Encampment, Bane had been a shell of his former self, black fur dulled and shrunken in on himself in despondence.

    Then, just this morning, Celestine had galloped into camp, eyes wide and face ashen, and immediately rushed to Bane, asking for a private conversation. Though he could not hear what was said, Ronan could see the life returning to his brother’s form. Now Bane was standing next to Celestine by the great hearth, and the fire was back in his brother’s eyes.

    “Your pardon, Bane?” Tiberius said.

    “Suze.” Bane replied, and suddenly Ronan knew what had happened.

    “I swear it is true,” Celestine said. “I saw her half a day’s swift run from here, not just alive but playing like yearlings with the Great Wyrm, itself; though, the beast has managed to hide its nature. It walks in the form of a young human colt of perhaps one hand and three summers, but its scent is unmistakable, and I witnessed its transformation.”

    “Impossible,” Julius scoffed.

    “Nay, brother, it is true, on my blood I swear it!”

    “We must watch the stars carefully.” Magorian pronounced. “What omen this may portend I cannot say, but we must decipher it, lest we learn the hard way.”

    “Agreed, Father.” Bane agreed with a fierce nod. “I suggest that we maintain a close watch on the Great Wyrm, that we may discern its habits and nature. And, I pray, that we might learn how to avoid its wrath.”

    “I concur.” Magorian agreed, and with the chieftain’s agreement, the rest of the warriors nodded in assent. Authority had spoken.

    1.6.1 Post-party musings

    It had been, Harry decided as he lounged atop his gleaming, slightly less water-stained, golden hoard, a wonderful birthday indeed.

    Mr. Flitwick had come by the previous afternoon and given him precise instructions on how best to enjoy a birthday, the most important part being that he was to lounge around and relax, maybe doing some lazy-but-fun things like polishing his gold until the sun came out from behind the Cairngorms. The tiny man had been adamant that birthday mornings were something best savored, and after that day Harry reckoned he knew what Flitwick meant.

    That morning had been really quiet and relaxed and stuff. He’d spent the morning polishing up his gold with Suze, removing all the barnacles and bits of seaweed that had been stuck to it for the last seven months since he had fished it out of the sea, and it gleamed like nothing else now. Plus, that faint rotten smell was gone, which was awesome! He figured he’d guessed right about damsels being a very important part of a dragon’s hoard, what with how good Suze was at making his gold gleam properly. It was nice! Plus, the waiting for presents was even better all stretched-out like that, it felt sort of like chores, but good, since there was something brilliant waiting at the end of it.

    When the sun was shining down from directly over his Lair, he and Suze set out for the castle. He wasn’t sure why the sight of his centaur damsel galloping had been so weirdly cool, but it had been weirdly cool, so that was cool. He’d been a bit worried that a knight would jump out and try to steal her, but there had been not a speck of shining armor in evidence, and she’d stuck right to his shadow the whole way down the glen without any problems.

    When he got down to the castle, he was pleased to note that there weren’t any suits of armor scattered around anymore. They’d apparently been replaced with metal statue things that looked like the stone ones on top of that old church he had seen that one time, and they glowed a little bit. Harry wondered what they were for. Then he got to the Great Hall, and the thought had slipped his mind, for there had been presents!

    And, oh, what presents they were!

    Mr. Hagrid had given him a special kind of petrol drum that never seemed to run out of petrol. He’d apparently worked with Mrs. McGonagall to make it, and she had said it filled from a big tank somewhere else down by the Hogwarts rail depot through something called a portal, so it actually needed to be refilled sometimes from a train car, but trains were cool too, and now he’d have a reason to go look at them more often.

    Just because she’d helped with Mr. Hagrid’s gift, though, didn’t mean Mrs. McGonagall didn’t get him something else. He’d never imagined so many presents in one place just for him! He’d been very careful not to count them, though, that would have been behaving like Dudley used to, and he didn’t want to do that; Dudley was nasty.

    Mr. Dumbledore had given him a barrel of some sort of reddish watery-stuff that smelled really tasty. He said he’d gotten it with the help of his friend Mr. Flamel, and that if you put steel in it, it would turn to real gold! Apparently, it wouldn’t work for too long, but Harry figured when it stopped working it would probably taste very nice.

    Mr. Flitwick had given him lots and lots of books, all kinds of books, story books, books on magic, books about different sorts of metal, books about dragons, and lots of other books about all kinds of weird stuff that sounded really cool. He’d even put them into a big chest like the sort of chest pirates buried their treasures in! Harry figured books were another kind of treasure, they had to be if they were packed into a treasure chest, right? He’d have to make another part of his Lair just to house them proper.

    Mrs. Sprout had given him a cauldron packed full of gems that she said were the fruit of a very special tree that grew rubies instead of apples or something, and he figured they’d be just the right thing to scatter through his hoard to gleam all red and shiny. It kind of made him wonder what other sorts of plants were around, if there was one that grew rubies; he’d never really thought of plants as being interesting before. Mrs. Sprout got a very odd smile on her face when he’d said as much.

    Mrs. McGonagall had given him a great big shiny sword she called a claymore and this little metal Rolls-Royce lady that flew and everything, made out of proper silver. She said the flying lady was for fun, but the sword was something every responsible young man should have, and she was happy to provide him with his first one.

    Mr. Snape had given him two things, one was a great big chest of gold coins he said were something called ‘royalties’. There was a lot less real gold in them than the ones in his hoard, but Mr. Flitwick said it was normal for coins to be a mix of metals, and the mix sometimes changed over time. The other was a special saddle and harness for his centaur damsel, which would make playing horsie ever so much more fun. It even had reins!

    Harry wasn’t sure why several of his other friends seemed so angry about that; maybe they were disappointed that they hadn’t come up with such a cool idea?

    Looking back at it, he did think he’d have to find a different way to attach the reins, though. That piece that was supposed to go in Suze’s mouth looked like it would be uncomfortable, even if it was the right size, and he didn’t want to hurt his damsel. Plus, that would make it attach to her head, and Harry still remembered how fragile heads were after the first time he splattered a deer, better to tie them on somewhere else less likely to splatter if he got a little excited. It would also make it really hard for her to talk, and he liked talking to her — maybe they could make some kind of harness or something? Ooh… that gave him another idea! He’d have to talk to Hagrid later.

    He got other presents too, books and paintings and treasure and stuff, but none was as cool as the stuff his good friends gave him.

    And there had been cake!

    He resolved then and there to get his friends good things for their birthdays, even though he wasn’t sure when they were and didn’t have many ideas. He’d just have to think about it more.

    1.6.2 Snape’s nefarious plan is revealed

    As soon as the birthday dragon was out of earshot, the questioning began.

    “Whit in Merlin’s name whair ye thinkin’, Sev’rus?” Minerva was quite wroth with him, it seemed.

    He supposed that she had good reason in this case; it would bear explaining.

    He saw Albus off to the side, eyes twinkling merrily. The old man must have thought everyone would miss his gift of a reagent that could have originated from nothing other than the philosopher’s stone. For a moment, Severus considered throwing him under the metaphorical bus to save himself an explanation, before he decided to let Albus have his victory — for now. He would probably be able to wheedle a sample out of the old man in return for letting things go in front of the rest of the staff; even the possibility of that would assuredly be worth his troubles.

    Back to the angry Scotswoman, then.

    “I shall assume that you have never had the displeasure to encounter the tremendous waste of skin known as Bane of the Black Woods Clan, else you would like as not already have determined my purpose in this,” Snape said. “You should count yourself exceptionally fortunate for that, Minerva.”

    “Yer met Bane?” Hagrid asked, surprised.

    “Indeed. I encountered the poltroon during one of my ingredient gathering expeditions into the Forest.” Snape confirmed.

    “…I’m nae getting’ yair drift.” Judging by her tone, Minerva seemed to be reaching the limits of her self-control. “If ye cannae gimme a guid explanation fur daein' that tae th' lassie then ah will gie ye a proper seein’ tae!”

    “Frankly, Minerva, Bane is the most unutterably narrow-minded, anally-retentive, cretinous, self-important, objectionable, twinkle-toed dunderhead I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, which is no mean feat considering that I formerly associated with the likes of Lucius Malfoy.” Snape informed her. “He is repulsive to the degree that, were it not for our friendly hyperactive reptile’s pet, I would believe that the Ministry might have a point regarding centaurs. More to the point, young Suze has the grave misfortune of being one of the blowhard’s daughters.”

    “Punishin’ a wain fair tha sins o’ tha faither isnae becomin’ o’ yeh, Sev’rus!” the transfiguration mistress hissed.

    “What kind of imbecile do you take me for, Minerva? It has nothing to do with that! You know as well as I do that there is not the remotest possibility of our resident lizard using that gift in a way that will harm the girl; there is not the slightest risk of that.” Snape dismissed the possibility out of hand.

    “However, I would gladly forfeit a month’s salary to see Bane taken down a peg or two,” the sallow-skinned man continued, “and in light of the rant on centaur superiority I was subjected to upon our meeting, I can see him objecting quite strenuously to his daughter being, to quote a certain lizard, ‘played horsie with’. Especially when the game involves a saddle and reins. Considering just how extraordinarily resilient that lizard happens to be, I foresee Bane promptly receiving the attitude adjustment he so richly deserves.”

    “So, the point is to get Harry to beat Bane up?” Dumbledore asked.

    “Indeed, Albus, it is.” Snape smirked.

    “Severus,” Poppy interjected with an artfully innocent tone, “where exactly did you manage to acquire that bridle? The size was suspiciously appropriate for a human female’s head, and I’m fairly certain no tack shop would carry such a thing.”

    As Severus shifted uncomfortably, the Healer continued mercilessly, “I think I recognized the maker’s mark, in fact, from a certain shop in Hogsmeade that patrons are reluctant to be seen entering. A pair of overly-adventurous seventh years managed to get themselves stuck in one of her creations just last year; I had to go speak with the proprietor to determine how to release them. Very peculiar establishment, indeed.”

    “It was a special order,” he temporized.

    “A special order? From her? You weren’t joking about being willing to part with a month’s pay for this, were you, Severus?” Poppy was obviously not going to let this drop, judging by her amused tone. “Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for that meeting!” She laughed mockingly, “Especially when you quoted sizes fit for a girl in her mid-teens, I can just imagine her expression!”

    “Severus,” Minerva sighed, apparently having put together the clues from Poppy’s questions, “did you actually go so far as to spend a month’s pay on…” she grimaced as if she had a bad taste in her mouth, “sex toys custom-fitted for a fifteen-year-old girl in pursuit of a prank on the girl’s father?”

    “Yes.” Snape ground out, grudgingly. Tuning out the varied reactions of the rest of his colleagues, he turned to Poppy. “Did you have to point that out, Madame?”

    “If you’re going to play a prank, you should be prepared for some backlash,” the Healer said, sententiously. “It’s no fun unless there is both give and take; without that, it is simply abuse, picking on those who cannot defend themselves.” Her tone turned arch, “Rather similar to a teacher taking advantage of their position to torment their students, I’d say. This Bane is unlikely to be able to step up to the occasion, so I did in his stead.”

    “You never do change, do you, Severus?” Minerva groaned. “How on earth did you get out of that shop without being cursed? You are a teacher, for Merlin’s sake, you know how that must have looked!” Then she shook her head and changed the topic without waiting for his answer. “What happens, then, when Harry accidentally kills this Bane? That will not sit well with Suze, if he is her father. Are you willing to put the boy’s friendship with his damsel at risk over a petty grudge?”

    “I sincerely doubt that will happen,” Snape scoffed, putting his embarrassment behind him with an act of will. “When all is said and done, he is a remarkably responsible young man. Or hadn’t you heard what happened when he managed to knock a stag’s block off? It took his pet centaur a week to persuade him it was safe to pick her up again. He will be appropriately moderate in his actions, never fear.”

    “Severus, you are not the only one who is fond of young Harry, and…”

    “I am not fond of that dratted dragon!”

    “Severus Snape, stop lying to yourself. It doesn’t become you.” Minerva said, making Severus feel like a naughty first-year again.

    How did she always do that?

    “Dash it, Minerva! I want to hate that wretched lizard! I’d love to hate James Potter’s bloody spawn!”

    Everyone went quiet, watching as his face screwed up into a grimace.

    “But,” he concluded with an aggravated sniff, “I quite inexplicably do not, and not merely because he represents the best chance for a more-or-less peaceful resolution to the goals I have been working toward my entire adult life.”

    “Do you really think he can manage to stop the Ministry’s bigotry?” Flitwick boggled.

    “Indeed, I do, Filius. You’ve recognized his kindly nature; how, precisely, do you think he will react to learning the current way of things?”

    “Violently.”

    “Indeed.”

    1.6.3 A visit to Hagrid

    Over the next few days, Snape’s gift saw heavy use, indeed. Despite the trouble the potions master had gone through to acquire them, neither Harry nor Suze proved terribly enthusiastic about the bit and reins, usually leaving them out from the ensemble. Both were, however, quite fond of the saddle. Harry liked the extra realism it added to the game, and Suze liked the extra comfort of having some purpose-made padding between her aching spine and the enthusiastically — and perpetually — bouncing young boy.

    After a week or so, though, when the initial gloss wore off the new gift, Harry remembered his idea from his musing on the evening after his birthday party. Games were always more fun when everybody could play, and he remembered how it felt to be left out from back before he turned into a dragon.

    He didn’t want that for his damsel! When he was dragon-shaped, he was more than big enough to give Suze rides too! He did it all the time carrying her in and out of the Lair, after all.

    How was she going to ride, though?

    He could carry her in his forepaws, but that wasn’t in the proper spirit of the game. Her horsey-bits weren’t really shaped right to sit on him, either, and even if they were… well, he had really big and kinda pointy scales on his back, and they moved back and forth a lot when he flew. Harry was pretty sure that sitting on them while that went on would really hurt!

    He was equally sure, however, that Hagrid would know how to get around that problem.

    This was the thinking that led Harry and Suze to approach Hagrid for advice on how to make a carrying harness, so Harry could carry his damsel on proper horsie rides. Hagrid would prove quite capable in this regard, eventually producing a carry-harness which would prove amazingly useful for this purpose and a wide variety of others over the coming years. The end product would be comfortable and durable and useful for all sorts of things beyond just hauling centaur damsels about.

    Hagrid’s expertise was often undervalued due to his rough appearance and humble mien; a veritable diamond-in-the-rough, Hagrid was.

    Unfortunately, Hagrid would not have the opportunity to shine on this particular visit.

    1.6.4 Murphy’s Law interlude

    Murphy is a cruel but fair overlord. He makes no exception to his Law; it is enforced without pity or discrimination. Young or old, rich or poor — none are safe, regardless of identity, or even species.

    Sometimes, Murphy appears to take great glee in smacking down anyone or anything that gets cocky.

    Thus it was that, as a young dragon-in-human-guise and his centaur damsel approached a certain gamekeeper’s hut and knocked on its oversized door, a party of centaurs was patrolling the edge of the forest in the same area.

    The fact that Bane was among this group of centaurs was, in hindsight, seemingly inevitable. After all, whoever you are, Murphy knows where you live.

    1.6.5 The rash actions of a concerned father

    Catching sight of the Great Wyrm and the young beauty the Clan had sacrificed to it, Celestine signaled to the rest of the patrol group to approach cautiously. Keeping a discreet eye on the Great Wyrm was a standing duty for all warriors of the tribe, after all. While the rest of the party closed in, the Great Wyrm dismounted from the back of his prize, knocked on the gamekeeper’s door, and was answered promptly by the large man inside.

    As one of the finest warriors the Clan could boast, Bane was posted on the side of the patrol deeper into the forest in hopes that he would be the first to intercept any of the spider menace that detected the group. When the call came, he was therefore the last to arrive, and he did so just in time to hear the words, “I need help making a harness for Suze.”

    On hearing those words from an apparently-human child and seeing his daughter wearing a saddle, Bane immediately forgot everything Celestine had said about the Great Wyrm’s ability to hide his nature. He lost his senses and saw only red.

    Seizing up a stout branch to use as a bludgeon, the towering centaur stallion went storming out from the tree-line and charged directly for the wretched human brat that was daring to treat his daughter as some beast of burden! Bad enough that it was forcing his daughter to wear a saddle, now it was trying to hitch her to a cart? He’d show that little bastard who not to mess with!

    As he bore down on them, he barely noticed the human brat going “HEY!” or his daughter’s strangled gasp of horrified surprise and frantic warding gestures when he abruptly found himself no longer looming over a small human brat.

    Instead, he was nose-to-nose with the largest, scaliest, and most unutterably dangerous-looking creature he had ever seen in his life, and the frantic warnings Celestine had been yelling registered far too late. All of a sudden, he was no longer holding the cudgel, rather he was skidding along the forest floor with his ears ringing and thoroughly unable to determine a great many very important things, like what day it was, which planets were ascendant, or which way might possibly be up.

    Peeling himself off the ground, Bane found himself once again nose-to-nose with the hot end of the Great Wyrm —

    And it was inhaling very, very deeply.

    It was then that he heard his daughter yell, “Please don’t kill him!” and the Great Wyrm paused.

    “...oh, um, well, he kinda jumped out and tried to get me — are you sure he isn’t some kind of knight?” it said.

    Odd, it sounded like some sort of… colt?

    “Well, he wasn’t one of those the last time I saw him.” Suze told the Great Wyrm, coming up to stand beside him. She still had that demeaning human-made thing on her back, but oddly, she didn’t seem to feel terribly demeaned.

    “Are you sure? I mean, I still haven’t figured out what knights smell like, but from the descriptions of them, they’ve gotta smell like armpits and horse, and he fits that pretty well. Since all those books are so wrong about dragons, I thought they might be wrong about what knights look like, too.” An utterly massive eye peered at him from a distance far too small for comfort. “You’re not a knight, are you?”

    “No!” Bane declared. He resolved to cease his attempts to stand up until everything stopped spinning.

    “Oh! Then you’re just a big bully.” The Great Wyrm’s eyes narrowed. “Well, if you try to pick on my damsel I’ll sit on you until you wee yourself!”

    “Harry…” Suze said, “This is my father.”

    “…oh.” The Great Wyrm glanced between the two of them several times. “Are you sure? I mean, I’ve heard dads and their kids are supposed to look at least a little like each other. I mean Dudley looked a lot like Uncle Vernon. And you don’t look anything like this big meanie.”

    “She looks like her mother.” Bane said. The world was starting to settle down, and his head no longer felt quite so much like it was packed in wool.

    “Please be quiet, Father. You’ve already done enough damage for today.” When had Suze become so outspoken?

    “Damage?” Bane asked, blankly. “The only one damaged is I!”

    “Father!”

    “Well, it’s not my fault you came at me with some big hitting stick like some kind of knight or something! I thought you were trying to slay me!” The Great Wyrm snapped, sounding oddly defensive.

    “You are the one who treats my daughter as some kind of common riding beast!” Bane countered.

    “Father! Be silent!”

    “It’s fun and she says she thinks so too!”

    “You disrespectful…” Bane bellowed, once again attempting to stagger to his feet when he cut short and froze when Suze slapped him.

    His daughter had been gentle and kindly since her first steps. She’d never raised her voice, much less her hand, to anyone before. The slap left him sitting, wide-eyed, on the grass with his jaw slack.

    “Father, the Great Wyrm is one hand and four summers old. He is a child, Father, and I will not stand for you to raise your voice to him for a child’s games.”

    Bane opened and closed his mouth several times, trying to process this shift in his reality.

    “…we had thought that he would eat you,” he said, utterly befuddled. “When will he return you to us?”

    “It’s not my fault you’re a poo-poo head!” the Great Wyrm declared, leveling a truly fearsome glare at Bane, despite the childish vocabulary. “And it’s not my fault you don’t know anything about dragons! I don’t eat anything that politely asks me not to eat them, and I never will! And you gave her to me anyway, and I don’t see why I should give her back just because you were being wrong and silly! And you obviously didn’t care about her anyway if you gave her away even thinking she was going to get eated! That’s not very nice at all!”

    Bane drew a breath, eyes bulging, as he prepared to explode into another vitriolic rant about this insinuation that he didn’t care for his daughter’s welfare, when he was cut off by an unexpected interruption.

    As the Great Wyrm’s heated tirade was starting to spew smoke alongside the childish outrage, Magorian, who had been retrieved at a dead run by one of the more level-headed centaur warriors as soon as Bane started his ill-considered charge, stepped in. “This is neither the place nor the time, son,” the elderly centaur growled, highly disappointed in his heir’s judgement at the moment. The hotheaded brat had almost gotten them wiped out by a Great Wyrm, one that was at least willing to pretend to be friendly, at that!

    Bane nodded, grudgingly submitting to his father’s command. He still glared at the Great Wyrm, though.

    “I apologize for my son’s actions; he often acts without thinking.” Magorian apologized to the Great Wyrm after shooting another withering look at his eldest.

    The Great Wyrm didn’t reply to that, still glaring at Bane while slightly smoking, so Magorian continued speaking.

    “We meant no offence by our actions; the ancient auguries foretold of a time when the Great Wyrms, such as yourself, would return to this world, bringing with them the eldest of magics. Perhaps the timing of the prophecy was in error, for they predicted your coming to occur some four hands’ worth of winters hence at the shortest night. The ancients foretold that the Great Wyrm would have a terrible hunger for the flesh of maidens, thus, when we sighted you dwelling on the fringes of our lands, we feared you might perchance have come to destroy us.”

    Something in his speech had finally torn the Great Wyrm’s attention away from his idiot son. It looked like he might not have his effort in raising the boy go to waste just yet.

    “…I guess that’s another story that doesn’t get it right about dragons,” the Great One said, sounding mightily perplexed. “And, um, they might have gotten the magic thing backwards because I became a dragon last year at midsummer when the moon just came up, and those ley-line thingies went all glowy when that happened.”

    “Hmm, we must look to the stars to discern the meanings of these omens.”

    “Father, why are you…” It seemed he might have spoken too soon about not wasting his effort.

    “Bane, we gifted her to the Great Wyrm to do with as he pleased, for better or for worse. Let it rest; what is done cannot be undone. Instead, be grateful that we were mistaken about his intentions toward your daughter and rejoice that she still lives.” The centaur chieftain sighed, “If we were in error about that omen, what other misinterpretations we might encounter?”

    “That, I cannot say,” Bane admitted, before glaring again at the Great Wyrm, this time with his best father-glower, the one he reserved for lusty young stallions that came sniffing about his daughters. “Just do not dare mistreat her, Wyrm, or I swear on my life there will be a reckoning!”

    “Okay.” The Great Wyrm sounded not at all perturbed by the threat. “And don’t you go picking on her neither, or I’ll sit on your head!”

    “Peace, Great One, peace.” Magorian said, and Bane was quite frankly astonished when the Great Wyrm reacted like any colt would have to a warning word from the great centaur chieftain.

    “…sorry. He, um, he just kinda made me cross.”

    “He will atone,” Magorian assured, shooting a commanding look at his eldest son. “And naught more will be spoken of Suze dwelling within your lair.”

    At the Great Wyrm’s puzzled look, Suze spoke up. “Chief Magorian means that I will stay with you, Harry, no matter what my father might think on the subject.”

    Its eyes lit with understanding. “Oh! Well, it isn’t like anyone could make me send you away,” it declared. “You’re really nice and I’d miss you if you weren’t here.”

    “I… thank you, Great One,” she said while blushing prettily. Not that Bane was in any state to notice, he was still boggling at how very obvious it was, in hindsight, that the Great Wyrm was still just a child.

    “Great One, would you object if we were to return to our holdings near your lair?” Magorian voiced the question. The Clan had lost another three to the spiders in the past month, and remote possibility or not, this was perhaps their best chance to avoid losing more. “Our current lodgings are frightfully close to the spider plague, and the hunting is poor there.”

    “Well, since you were there before me, it wouldn’t be very fair if I tried to make you go away,” the Great Wyrm said, thoughtfully. “And I won’t eat neighbors, that would be rude, and Mrs. McGonagall says that you shouldn’t be rude, because being polite doesn’t cost none and it makes everyone’s day better.”

    “Wise words, Great One.”

    “And if you’ve got neighbors who aren’t poo-poo heads,” At this it shot a pointed glare at Magorian’s eldest son, “it’s a very good thing, because then they might be friends, and friends are the best thing ever, apart from treasures and damsels, because you need those to be a proper dragon!” A thoughtful look crossed its massive face. “Maybe friends are another kind of treasure? That would make sense. And… I guess it’d be nice to have more people to talk with; my friends at the castle are real busy so much of the time…”

    Was this daunting behemoth in fact merely a lonely child?

    1.6.6 When Spiders Attack

    Scant hours after the nearly-disastrous encounter with the Great Wyrm of the Black Woods, the centaurs returned to their Grand Encampment, packed with the practiced efficiency of a race that had been universally nomadic for longer than written history, and set out for their campsite between the river and the Grey Cliffs, not far from the Great One’s lair. Chief Magorian was not one to waste time when the lives of his people were on the line; with the spider plague, this meant that he scarcely remembered what the word ‘leisurely’ meant, at that point.

    “Father, are you certain this is wise?” Bane asked. He and his best warriors were now escorting the bulk of their people in hopes of fending off spider attacks even as they walked toward the lair of the Great Wyrm, a place that not even eight hours ago had been believed to hold an even more certain death than the spiders. It was not a situation he relished.

    “Nay. I am not certain, Son, but what choice have we?” his father asked in return. “It was merely a matter of time before the spider plague discovered our encampment so close to their nest, and we do not have the strength of arms to fight them from such a poor defensive position. All would have been lost!”

    Bane sighed and nodded. The camp near the cliffs was a supremely defensible position, situated on a spur of land between the river and the loch, it left only a single approach, for the spiders could not swim because of their size. It was defensible from all approaches except the air, which was why they had been forced to flee at the Great Wyrm’s appearance.

    The Black Woods Clan had been caught between a rock and a hard place, but now it seemed the rock was a little friendlier than they had believed. They could only hope that the seeming was true.

    If the mighty wyrm had hungered for the flavor of centaur flesh, then surely Size would have been devoured long ago? Or was this some scheme to ensure a ready supply of such delicacies?

    Just as Bane was thinking that, the other terror of the Black Woods descended on them in a wall of chittering chitinous, far-too-many-legged death. Just before they could reach their hope of safety, the one thing the Clan had dreaded for months had occurred; the spider plague had found them, and it found them on the march when their defenses were nearly nonexistent.

    In a flash, half his warriors were struck down, paralyzed with venom and bound with silk. If the menace could be fought off, they could be saved, the venom acted slowly enough to be treatable, though recovery would be long, but the situation looked bleak, a pitifully small group of brave centaur warriors arrayed against a seemingly-endless sea of chitin and waving limbs.

    “YOU LEAVE MY DAMSEL’S DADDY ALONE, YOU BIG CREEPY MEANIES!”

    Following that unexpected bellow, a thunderous jet of blue-white fire exploded across the clearing, striking the largest spider, one more than thrice the size of a centaur, dead on and turning it to vapor between one instant and the next. Nothing was left but the stench of burning hair and embers floating in the wind.

    “AND HER GRANDPA TOO!”

    Bane’s eyes threatened to burst from their sockets as the Great Wyrm barreled into the fray with all the grace and power of a living landslip, that is to say with no grace at all and with absurdly overwhelming power. It slammed another of the spider plague from its web with a single blow from its mighty forepaw, splattering the nightmarish creature against a tree trunk with a wet crunch. The impact was energetic enough to splash Bane with arachnid viscera from four lengths away. He had been fortunate indeed, it seemed, to survive a blow from those talons.

    “AND HER FRIENDS!”

    Another blast of that shattering flame issued from the Great Wyrm’s maw, and Bane would, ever after, swear he had seen rings of greater intensity rippling through the jet of beautifully deadly fire…

    …and then, suddenly, the spider plague was fleeing. His daughter’s captor had saved the Clan from certain doom…

    “Mmm, tastes like scrunchy chicken in diesel, yummy!”

    …and was now eating the fallen instruments of said doom with all evidence of relish. Bane had to chuckle at the irony, the plague that had hunted them for so long was now prey for their new ally.

    Perhaps Great Wyrms weren’t so bad, after all.
     
  21. Threadmarks: Section 1.7 - In which Harry gets to know the neighbors
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.7.0 In which Harry gets to know the neighbors

    The trailing bits of summer rapidly faded to autumn, the change of seasons bringing with it yet more rain and copious piles of dead leaves to jump in. Students returned to Hogwarts with the start of term, leading to less company from Harry’s friends at the castle. Fortunately, Harry had new friends in the form of his centaur neighbors with whom to keep company.

    Despite their new ally breaking the spider plague, and with it the bulk of the restrictions on their movements, the Grand Encampment remained on the headland below Harry’s Lair for the winter, the glow of cooking fires and the whiff of wood smoke providing a pleasant, homely touch to the glen below. By the time winter solstice rolled around, the Clan had almost gotten used to the comings and goings of the Great Wyrm, whether in the cute-but-hyper small human-looking colt shape or as dozens of tons of slightly unnerving scales and muscle.

    In his human-looking shape, he was as agile as a mountain goat; in his true shape, he was like a gale and a landslip and a river in full spate all rolled into one. In both, he was cheerful, usually excited, playful, enthusiastic, helpful, full of questions, completely fearless, and energetic to a degree that rapidly exhausted anyone of more than a hand of hands’ worth of summers, yet he was always almost exaggeratedly careful that no one got hurt.

    He’d swiftly taken to listening in with evident interest when the elders taught the Clan’s children, joining in outright when they lost the last vestiges of nervousness around him — predictably somewhat in advance of their elders. He also joined in with the children’s games or inviting them to join him in his. The language of childhood play proved to be universal whether it took the form of various games of chase, in which Harry was declared to have an unfair advantage on account of being able to climb trees, or various derivatives along the lines of Cops-and-Robbers, Cowboys-and-Indians, Playing Soldiers, or whatever local variant is appropriate in any given time period, but essentially boils down to running about brandishing make-believe weapons and declaring “Pow, pow, you’re dead!”, “No, I’m not!”, “Yes, you are!”, and so on and so forth.

    The Great Wyrm had introduced the “Cowboys and Indians” and “Playing Soldiers” variants to the Clan youngsters, and with them had come the horrors of cap guns and sucking-cup arrows acquired by said Wyrm from the toy shop in the local wandless human town of Mallaig. Despite the near-universal adult exasperation with the results of this parting from tradition, Bane couldn’t find it within himself to be angry for long. After all, it had now been a full season since the Black Woods Clan had last lost a warrior to the spider plague, and it was the Great Wyrm’s enthusiastic friendship which made that miracle possible. Seeing his friends and family come home safely from each patrol was well worth any quantity of stray suction-cup arrows and inordinately loud play from the children.

    It had been a full season since the spiders had even tested their defenses, and that had been the full-scale assault which the Great Wyrm had so handily crushed before gorging itself on the corpses of the fell beasts.

    He wasn’t really sure when standing here, on the bluff that offered a clear view of the only approach to the current location of the Grand Encampment, had changed from a matter of tense sentry duty to a matter of form, but he was certain that they had the Great Wyrm to thank for it, when he taught the spider menace the true meaning of fear. The thought brought a grimly satisfied smile to Bane’s face. Everyone in the Clan had lost siblings to the spider plague. His own father had once counted ten strong warriors as his sons, of whom only Bane and two of his brothers remained.

    It seemed shameful that the changing times could perhaps be a good thing, but Bane had never been one to shy away from the truth, at least, not from truths hammered into him as thoroughly as this one was. He winced at the disjointed memory of skidding across the clearing in front of the gamekeeper’s hut like a flat stone skipping across a lake before shaking off the memory.

    As Bane returned to the formality of sentry duty, he steadfastly pretended to ignore the way most of the children in the Clan were snoozing in a played-to-exhaustion heap piled up against the young Great One, who looked to be in a similar state, the heat of his immense bulk fending off the chill of the highland winter from his much smaller playmates. When it came down to it, those children were in perhaps the safest place they would ever know, for Bane had no doubt that were something to harm even one of its playmates, the Great Wyrm’s wrath would be terrible to behold. It was truly a mighty protector.

    In the end, it mattered not. The Black Woods Clan owed the Great Wyrm a debt of gratitude, of blood unspilt, which would guarantee its welcome among them until the stars grew old and dim. He let his gaze stray to those stars for a moment, examining their positions behind the scudding clouds, trying to discern what futures they might foretell.

    “Venus is bright this eve.” That was his younger brother, Firenze.

    “But Mars is rising,” Bane said, “and the North Star shines strong.”

    “I will stand watch the rest of this evening, brother,” Firenze told him. “You have stood far too many of late. Go and partake of some of the warmth by the fire.”

    Sighing, Bane rose, giving his little brother a companionable clout on the shoulder, and jogged off toward home, Wyrm, strong drink, good cheer, and strange portents of things to come.

    Despite its appearance from a distance, he noted the Wyrm was, in actuality, wide-awake and listening raptly as Magorian told the eldest saga of them all; the tale of the birth into bondage of the centaurs, of Alpharias He-Who-Is-First-Among-Brothers, of the War of Gold and Ivory, of the patronage of the Darkened Mountain, of the fading of the Great Ones, of the disappearance of the Sun Elves, and of the once unfamiliar taste of freedom. It was told once per year, on the Solstice, yet all knew it by heart.

    He accepted a stein of mead from a comely lass — one of his nieces, Firenze’s eldest — and settled himself close to the Great Wyrm as Magorian drew to a close.

    “Thus it was, and thus it shall be, until the lines awaken and the skies burn with blue fire when the Great Ones return to our world,” the old centaur finished.

    “These times are upon us, are they not?” Ronan asked.

    “Perhaps,” Magorian nodded. “I believe so. When summer comes, our clan shall host the Great Conclave, and we shall see.”

    “It is indeed an interesting time to be alive.” Ronan said.

    “Our kin from the farthest east would tell you that living in such times is a curse,” Bane remarked.

    “Yet does joy not hold the root of sorrow and sorrow the root of joy?” Celestine asked.

    “Perhaps.” Bane allowed.

    “Then perhaps a blessing might hold the root of a curse, and the curse hold the root of a blessing.” Celestine pushed.

    Ronan scoffed, “Our Eastern kin look too closely at their navels.”

    “Perhaps, instead, they pay too little attention to the stars,” Bane offered.

    “Bane may have a point,” Magorian said. “Mars has shone strongly these past few nights, but Venus grants us her light by evening, and the North Star is strong.”

    “That means that a time of lots of strife is coming, and there’s humans involved, but there’s hope in it, doesn’t it, Mr. Magorian?” the Great Wyrm asked.

    Magorian chuckled. “You have listened well to the Elders, young Great One. Aye, that would seem to be what is to come. I cannot say with certainty as we have not had a truly clear night in half a season.”

    “Maybe when me and Suze get her harness worked out, we can make another one for you, and I can take you up above the clouds, so you can see?” the Great Wyrm offered.

    What was this? Bane hadn’t heard anything of a harness for his… oh.

    “You mean, the harness you were asking about when we first met was one to allow you to carry my daughter safely, so you could take her flying?” Bane confirmed.

    The Great Wyrm nodded, enthusiastically. “Yep! Well, it started out as a way to let me carry her when we played horsie, ‘cause playing’s not so fun unless everyone gets a proper turn, but Mr. Hagrid managed to build it strong enough for flying too! We’re still trying to get the straps right, though, so Suze don’t hurt herself if I have a bumpy landing. Mr. Hagrid had examples to work from, but they were made for humans; centaurs are way harder to keep safe while your carrying ‘em.”

    Well, Bane certainly felt like an ass, now.

    His humiliating defeat at the hands of the Great Wyrm came not in a valiant but futile attempt to defend his daughter’s dignity, but rather because he objected to the Great One trying to keep his daughter safe during their play. He might need to work on looking before he charged into things in the future. His father’s sidelong, knowing look reinforced that notion, much to Bane’s embarrassment.

    “Enough of this heavy talk, Father.” Stars, shine good fortune down on Ronan for his obliviousness! “This is the longest night, let us warm it!”

    “I concur, we have all been too solemn of late.” Celestine agreed.

    “Then let the revel commence!” The chieftain said, smiling in approval.

    1.7.1 Christmas at Hogwarts

    Following hard behind the longest night, Christmas had been the most wonderful Christmas Harry could remember. Not that he had many to compare it to, really. The previous year’s holiday had been during such a chaotic time of transition that it had passed him by almost unnoticed, and before his transformation, the ones at the Dursleys’ weren’t really worth mentioning from Harry’s perspective.

    This year, though, had been amazing! Apparently, all his friends at the castle had been busy with the kids who couldn’t go home for Christmas until they had gone to bed, but then they’d all met at Hagrid’s house for a very special private Christmas.

    His friends had gotten him tons of gifts, but he wasn’t sure exactly how many. Present counting had been right out, as Harry still didn’t want to be Dudley-ish.

    He’d mostly got treasure for Christmas, and he’d been really glad for Mrs. McGonagall’s help with picking gifts for his friends. He thought it was really neat how Mr. Snape struggled not to look delighted with the flask of big-spider poison; Harry couldn’t blame him; the stuff was delicious! Mr. Dumbledore was the same way with all those sweets he had ordered from that one kid he met in the toy store at Mallaig who’d been selling them for something at his school.

    There hadn’t been many of his centaur friends who’d come, just Suze really, but that was okay. He understood that most of the centaurs didn’t get on too well with glowy people on account of all the stuff Mr. Magorian had said poems about at the Solstice celebration, and that was fair enough because it sounded like the glowy people’s ancestors had been really mean to centaurs.

    Why would anyone want to do that, though? Centaurs were cool.

    Harry relaxed in his Lair with Suze by the new Rayburn, a black and white fireplace-cooker thingy that Mrs. McGonagall had gotten for him which was nice and warm with a wood fire that smelled really nice, even if the smoke vented out through a really long pipe through the mouth of the Lair. Suze really liked it too, ‘cause she didn’t like the smoke so much from cooking inside before.

    Mr. Flitwick had given him a dragon-size bed that fit in with his hoard, which was really nice of him! It was comfy, but he wasn’t sure how long it would last. Harry could see whatever it was Mr. Flitwick did to make it strong enough to hold him, and it flickered every time he sat on the bed. He’d just have to enjoy it while it lasted! It was a really nice thing to do after all.

    Glowy people were cool and so were centaurs, but dragons were definitely the coolest!

    His life had gotten so much better since he turned into a dragon. He had friends and treasure and a damsel and a home. And he could defend himself; his centaur damsel had said that before centaurs were afraid of the big-spiders because big-spiders ate centaurs, but because Harry was a dragon he could eat the big-spiders instead, and they tasted yummy!

    As he listened to the quiet duet of the crackling fire in the Rayburn and the shallow breathing of Suze dozing next to him, he idly picked a piece of something out from between his teeth. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it smelled kind of like that huge tasty roast that Hagrid found, and the little floppy-eared squeaky people Mr. Snape called house-elves had cooked. It had gotten tangled up with some of the little colorful wires that ran all through the Toyota he ate earlier. Harry sighed, the brightly colored parts of those melted off fast, but the copper bits took a little longer, and in the meantime, they got wrapped around everything! Tasty though, and when mixed up with some prime beef, it made for just the thing for a before-bedtime snack.

    He had to admit he felt kinda sorry for other people who weren’t dragons. They’d never know how yummy a Toyota was since their teeth couldn’t get through it.

    This was definitely life the way it should be lived. He’d spent the day celebrating with friends, had plenty to eat, and now he was relaxing by the fire on a cold winter evening. He could do with a bigger lair, but that was easy because he just needed to bite off the right bits of rock. He could do with more treasures, but he just needed to find the right rainbows. He could do with more damsels, but he figured they’d come in their own good time.

    For now, relaxing on his hoard, his centaur damsel cuddled into his side, her hair glinting in the orangey light from the Rayburn in his now toasty-warm Lair, at the top of a few hundred feet of cliff face to keep knights out, and belly full of good food, Harry was a very contented dragon, indeed.

    1.7.2 Harry learns a new trick

    The Solstice celebration was a scant few hands of days gone and was still warming the hearts of the Clan when Bane found himself once again on watch. As usual these days, he was using it mostly as an excuse to study the sky.

    Venus was subsuming herself in the light of the moon when the Great Wyrm landed nearby.

    “Hello, Mr. Bane,” it said as it seated itself beside him.

    “Well met, Great One.” He couldn’t go allowing the young ones, whatever their kin, to go without learning proper manners.

    “Watcha looking at?”

    “Venus hides in the light of Selene. It is a conjunction seldom seen, and its meaning is thus far hidden.”

    “Oh,” the Wyrm looked wistful. “You know, I’d really like to go there someday, but I’m not sure I could fly high enough.”

    “…pardon?”

    “To the moon.” The Great Wyrm said this absently, as if it were a perfectly reasonable thing to have said. “The not-glowy-people flew rockets to the moon. They had to wear these big, puffy white things so they wouldn’t go squish because there’s no air up there, and they called going there ‘Apollo’.”

    “A fitting name,” Bane breathed in wonder. He was astonished that the wandless humans would have the respect and good sense to give such a portentous title to the grand endeavor that traveling to the moon must have been.

    “Yeah, I think it’s kinda cool that they give such good names to space missions.”

    “Indeed, travel such as you speak of must have been a grand undertaking and it bodes well to give it a title of such strength.” Bane’s imagination was caught by the idea as he gazed up at the moon in question. “What sort of conveyance could do such a thing?”

    “The rocket ship they used was called the Saturn Five, and it was a bit more than twice as tall as the towers on the castle. I looked it up because it was neat to think of something that was still so much bigger than me flying. Rockets are really cool!”

    Bane had trouble imagining an object of that scale which was designed to move at all, much less fly into the heavens. As he struggled to imagine it, the Great One had already continued.

    “But I think the best part of it had to be looking down and seeing all the world laid out like a treasure in the sky.”

    “I cannot begin to imagine what it must have looked like…” Bane admitted. “What brings you here this night?”

    “There’s something I wanted to show you,” the Great Wyrm said.

    “And what might that be?”

    “This.”

    The Great Wyrm’s form flowed as swiftly as ever; Bane was long used to seeing it by now, as the Great Wyrm was wont to pop between forms as the mood took it. This was the first time, though, he had seen it take a form other than its own or its human guise.

    Standing near the edge of the bluff was a centaur colt, looking to be perhaps one hand and three summers of age, with features like those the Great Wyrm wore when wearing the shape of a human.

    “…remarkable,” Bane said.

    “Um, you ain’t gonna be angry right?”

    “Of course not.”

    “…well, Mr. Snape kinda thought you might get a bit, um, annoyed…”

    “Your choosing the form of a centaur merely assures me that the ancient stories are correct, and that Great Wyrms are truly wise beings.”

    “Huh? I’m not sure I get it.”

    “Don’t worry yourself about it, lad.” Bane winced at how the Great Wyrm’s new form had affected him. It wouldn’t do to let his manners slip, even if the lad was unlikely to care.

    “Okay. It’s only the second form I’ve tried, and I wanted to show it to you.” He nodded, “I’m not sure what I’m going to try next…”

    Bane nodded, before volunteering, “Your friends shall soon be done with their lessons; perhaps they might wish to play?”

    “Oh yeah, it’s that time, isn’t it? Bye, Mr. Bane!”

    Bane chuckled; it seemed children would be children, regardless of what form they wore.

    1.7.3 Springtime interlude

    With Christmas naught but a fond memory, the rest of winter passed in an odd juxtaposition of icy weather and warm companionship. The threat of the spider plague was no more as Harry had hunted them quite heavily during the winter, and the vicious arachnids were now quite scarce. Harry was idly considering developing a way to farm the things.

    The Black Woods Clan wintered below the Lair, and there was always much playing to be done. However, time passed as time always does, and winter melted into spring. With the melting snows and the revel celebrating the spring equinox, the Clan moved on with many thanks and promises to return again as the season allowed, as was their nature.

    Now free from the spider threat, Harry’s winter neighbors busied themselves with the myriad tasks of spring and summer which spread the Clan throughout the Woods and made visiting them a much more occasional activity for the young dragon.

    With his professor friends busy with the winter term and his centaur friends scattered while foraging in the suddenly much less dangerous forest, Harry found himself with a surfeit of time and no ready-made distractions to fill it. There were always new things to explore, new rooms to excavate in his Lair, new rainbow-ends to search for treasure, and his damsel was always good company, particularly with the completion of the harness Hagrid had been working on.

    Even so, Harry was quite glad for the diversion of Mr. Snape’s arrival at the Lair in early May carrying a puzzling message from a Mr. Slackhammer ‘cordially inviting’ Harry and Snape to attend a meeting at Gringotts Merchant Bank in Diagon Alley, London, to discuss greatly important matters of business that might prove ‘most lucrative’.

    Once Harry learned that ‘cordially’ meant ‘in a friendly manner’ and ‘lucrative’ meant ‘profitable’, he was quite enthusiastic about attending, as he figured that it would probably involve new friends and treasure.

    Snape’s exasperated offer to buy him a dictionary proved his current meeting to be most lucrative, as well.
     
  22. Threadmarks: Section 1.8 - In which an industrial giant takes its first steps and Harry learns about lies
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.8.0 In Which an Industrial Giant takes its first steps and Harry learns about lies

    It was a rare sunny day in early springtime, and Harry, currently in his human-looking shape, hurried to keep up with Mr. Snape’s longer strides as they walked through Diagon Alley towards the broad steps of the grand building called Gringotts. Harry wasn’t sure why he needed to be in human form, or why he couldn’t bring Suze, or why Mr. Snape insisted he wear a headband, but Mr. Snape rarely yelled about things that weren’t important. It wasn’t like it was a major hardship for Harry. The form might be a little cramped, but hands were handy, and Suze hadn’t wanted to come anyway.

    The building was all done up in white and gold, occupying a prominent corner in the heart of the busiest wizarding shopping district in all of magical Britain with a grand set up steps leading up to the main entrance, though Harry noted that lot opposite those grand steps was oddly empty. The main entrance at the top of those broad steps was flanked by columns and a pair of what Mr. Snape called goblins dressed in highly visible, very colorful uniforms and armed with big spear-axe-thingies that Harry would later learn were called halberds.

    He was understandably surprised when they saluted him.

    “Hi,” he said. Mr. Snape had told him before they came that it was very important to be polite to goblins, but they didn’t reply, just standing there all silent and guard-like. They reminded Harry of those soldiers in the red jackets and tall, fuzzy hats outside the Queen’s palace in London, except they were, you know, goblin-shaped rather than human-shaped. Uncle Vernon had always made sure to point them out whenever they passed the area, and he had always seemed very impressed.

    “Leave them be, young man,” Snape admonished. “They are soldiers and they have a duty to fulfill.”

    The resplendently uniformed pair of guards remained stoically at attention; they didn’t so much as blink. It was kind of impressive how still they could stand.

    Inside the bank, Harry and Mister Snape joined a queue, and as Harry soaked in the appearance of the bank lobby, he figured goblins had the right idea. There was gold everywhere. There were even glittery bits mixed in, taking the form of massive crystal chandeliers and glass-encased lamps and candles.

    Harry did wonder why they put everything on the walls rather than in a proper hoard, though.

    Harry could recognize Mr. Snape’s look as one of surprise when, rather than waiting for the queue to move along, they were approached by a well-dressed goblin in a three-piece suit who, once having confirmed that he was speaking to Severus Snape and Harry Potter, ushered them into a hallway off to the side of the big room where various goblins were doing bank-type stuff for various glowy people.

    The room they were eventually shown into was a comfortably-appointed office with a big desk in the middle covered with important-looking paperwork. There were several chairs sitting across from the desk around a small table, and various shelves and filing cabinets lined the walls. All in all, it looked much like any executive-level office in a major company, albeit one from the previous century, done up in dark woods, green glass, leather, and brass while lit via gas lamp. The only major differences were the combined gun rack and ammunition locker on one wall and the office’s occupant.

    Behind that impressive looking desk sat a rather portly goblin dressed like an old-fashioned gentleman complete with collared shirt, necktie, and vest; the outfit would normally be completed by a tail-coat and stovepipe hat, both of which were adorning the coat rack just inside the office door. On looking up and seeing his guests, the well-dressed goblin immediately stood.

    “Your guests, Mr. Slackhammer,” their sharply-dressed escort introduced them.

    “Aha! Mr. Snape, Mr. Potter, come in, do.”

    “Thank you, mister…” Mr. Snape prompted.

    “Slackhammer, Crackjaw Slackhammer.” The rotund goblin introduced himself. “Before we begin, may I offer you congratulations on behalf of the Brethren, Mr. Potter, on your most singular achievement of transforming into a Great Wyrm?” He respectfully inclined his head, “We were most impressed when the news was passed to us by our mutual acquaintance, Master Flitwick.”

    When Harry smiled and nodded proudly, the dapper goblin continued, “Take a seat then, gentlemen; there is much to discuss.”

    “Indeed?” Mr. Snape asked, “And what, might I enquire, would this business entail?”

    “Ah, Severus — do you object to my usage of your given name?” At Snape’s negative reply, Slackhammer continued with a somewhat shark-like grin, “It seems that your formula for the materials used for high-temperature cauldrons, based, no doubt, on Mr. Potter’s quite remarkable interior, has fallen into the hands of the muggles.”

    “Oh dear,” Mr. Snape said.

    “Am I in trouble?” Harry asked.

    “Yes, most unfortunate.” Slackhammer agreed with a small, commiserating nod. “It seems that a group of colonial muggles going by the term ‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration’ have expressed quite the interest in your formula, Severus my dear fellow.”

    “And what kind of interest might that be?” Mr. Snape asked.

    “What Mr. Snape said,” Harry agreed, nodding.

    “It appears that the muggles have contrived a method for catapulting an object so far up that there is no more air, and things forget which way is down. I understand that it involves placing the object on top of a very large pile of explosive materials and setting it off.”

    “You mean, like spacemen and moon-rockets and stuff?” Harry asked.

    “Precisely. I am, of course, speaking of spaceflight.” The goblin tilted his head to the Great Wyrm. “And it transpires that when things are dropped from such a prodigious height, they become quite astoundingly hot.”

    “…and thus, they must be protected from that heat, correct?” Mr. Snape checked, obviously starting to get the idea. “Otherwise they would burn to a flinder.”

    “Indeed, Severus, indeed,” Slackhammer confirmed with a nod. “It appears that their finest exo-atmospheric vehicles have to date used a silicate material for this purpose. The material performs quite well under heat, but it is quite brittle and fragile under impact or vibration and must be replaced frequently. It is also quite startlingly expensive.”

    From what Mr. Snape had said, if a goblin said something was ‘startlingly expensive’ then it must really cost a pile.

    “So, stuff made how Mr. Snape copied my guts is cheaper?” Harry asked.

    “These muggle space-men believe that coating their vehicles in Mr. Snape’s formula,” Slackhammer elaborated, “based on your internal workings, Mr. Potter, would reduce the costs per launch of their exo-atmospheric vehicles by a substantial margin. They would gladly pay for the honor of utilizing a copy of your entrails to coat their vehicles, and pay to the tune of a thousand Galleons per hundredweight used. I am given to understand that the material in question will prolong the life of their current ‘orbiters’ by at least a decade and quite possibly hasten the development of improved successor vehicles which they are, in fact, designing around the material in question.”

    “So they want to use a copy of my tummy to coat spaceships, huh?” Harry asked, gob-smacked. “Wow, that’s wicked!”

    “I propose the three of us become business partners within this, ah, endeavor, shall we say?” Snape ventured. “To me, it falls to uncover further improvements upon this substance and others, to Mr. Potter it falls to inspire new improvements through his remarkable biology, and to you, Mr. Slackhammer, falls the distribution and production financing of these remarkably profitable materials. I suppose we should split the profits three ways, eh Mr. Slackhammer?”

    “I’m good with that,” Harry nodded agreeably, visions of great, gleaming stacks of gold and treasure filling his mind’s eye. He almost expected there to be an audible ka-ching cash register noise, as he remembered from one of the TV programs Dudley used to watch that there were tons of just paint on a space rocket.

    Slackhammer’s grin got even broader.

    “It seems to me, gentlemen,” the dapper goblin remarked, “that everyone within this room is about to become quite startlingly wealthy.”

    1.8.1 An Odd encounter

    It was about two weeks after the meeting with Mr. Slackhammer, and Harry was passing the time with his damsel enjoying the early-morning sunshine on the bluff opposite the Lair when Suze’s eyes narrowed, and her gaze fell on something on another escarpment to the north.

    “What’s wrong, Suze?” Harry asked when he noticed her shift in attention.

    “I think I see something on the other bluff,” she pointed it out with a frown. “It looks like there’s someone there, and he seems to be watching us.”

    Harry took a look in that direction and saw. “Well,” he said matter-of-factly as he hauled himself up from his reclining position, “I guess I’ll have to go make sure it’s not a knight, then. Be back in a mo’.”

    With that said, he threw himself into the air and made a direct line for the cliffs in question, part of the formation that wrapped around behind the isolated butte that contained the Lair.

    As it turned out, there was a man up there, and he had apparently been there for some time, judging from the tent and associated campsite. The man had one squinty eye that seemed to be looking at his nose while the other one looked normal, scraggly white hair with a receding hairline, and he was wearing the most absurdly bright overcoat Harry had ever seen, a major accomplishment for Harry who routinely associated with the likes of Albus Dumbledore.

    “Oh dear!” the man declared as the bus-sized dragon he had been observing dropped down right in front of him, eyeing him with an eyeball significantly larger than his head.

    “Hi, what are you doing up here?” Harry asked brightly before his voice shifted to a suspicious tone. “You’re not a knight, are you?”

    “Oh, heavens, a talking dragon! How remarkable!” the scraggly-haired man exclaimed. “In answer to your question, I find myself in these hills in pursuit of the species Haggii scotia trundulus, the Three-Toed Mountain Haggis, quite a delicious species in fact, and no, I am not a knight, I’m a zoologist. Er, um, you’re not intending to devour me, I hope?”

    “No, I don’t devour anyone that politely asks me not to devour them.”

    “Oh, well, that’s a relief, and I’d be much obliged if you would refrain from devouring me, please?” The man continued, “I say, are you by any chance a member of the species Draconis majoris tricornae, popularly known as the Three-Horned Hammer-nosed dragon?”

    “Well, I’m not sure. Y’know, I’ve been trying to figure out what sort of dragon I am for absolutely ages — um, what do Three-Horned Hammer-Nosed Dragons eat? ‘Cause I’m the only dragon I know of that likes the taste of Toyotas.”

    “I cannot say for certain,” the man replied, “for you see, no one has ever seen a living example of the Three-Horned Hammer-Nosed Dragon, and its dietary habits are therefore still unknown. We only know of them from a single fossilized skull, and I must say, their cranial structure bears a marked resemblance to your own; the layout of your horns and the structures around your eye sockets are quite distinctive. I have no idea how in the world fossilization managed to transform a skull into orichalcum, but that’s quite beside the point.”

    “Orichalcum, huh? Hey, I think maybe I’m that sort of dragon,” Harry was positively delighted, “because that’s what my bones are made of!”

    “Remarkable, remarkable,” the man muttered while scribbling furiously in his notebook. “Perhaps your species has some relationship to the drake dog, a member of the same phyla? I say, would you mind if I asked you a few questions about your eating habits, behavioral tendencies, preferred habitat, that sort of thing? Just out of professional curiosity, you see; I confess to having been quite fascinated by the examination of the skull of an apparent member of your species reported in the Journal of Cryptozoological Studies some years ago.”

    “Well, me being here is sort of a secret, so only if you promise not to tell anyone where I am or what my name is,” Harry said.

    “Well, that wouldn’t be a problem; as you are a member of a species which can readily be presumed to be endangered, it does of course behoove me to keep the details of your territorial range strictly confidential, and as I cannot say I know your name, it would be very difficult for me to relay it to anyone, wouldn’t it?”

    “Oh, yeah, well, I guess, but just between you and me, my name is Harry Potter,” Harry said.

    “And I am Xenophillius Lovegood, but everyone seems to refer to me as ‘Odd’ and I can’t say precisely why — are you, perchance, named after the famous Harry Potter? You know, the Boy-Who-Lived? Or is he named for you?”

    “Well… I dunno,” Harry admitted. “I mean, Mr. Dumbledore seems to think there’s something really important about me, and according to The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts someone with the same name and scar as me who was born at the same time as me squished that Voldie-morts guy, and I almost think I’m him, but you know, I thought I got my scar in a car crash.”

    “Hmm… most intriguing, but, well, according to the on-scene reports, the Boy-Who-Lived is a member of the species Homo sapiens sapiens, popularly known as the human race,” Odd said, making another note. “And, well, not to be rude or anything, but how in Merlin’s name did you fit in a car? You’re larger than most of them! Was it a very stretchy car?”

    “Uh, well, no, y’see that was before I turned into a dragon. I used to be human.”

    “Turned into… Remarkable! That must have been a truly exceptional event, I cannot ever recall mention of a human somehow becoming a dragon of any species, much less one thought to be extinct… Extraordinary! What did it feel like?” Odd enthused, still scribbling rapidly.

    “I dunno, I’d banged my head on a rock, and by the time I woke up, I’d finished turning into a dragon, and I was really hungry, so it was hard to notice much else about what it felt like.”

    “Ah, well that’s a shame. It would have been quite fascinating information.”

    1.8.2 Scoldings

    Two hours later, mind all awhirl from the million-and-one questions fired at him by his new acquaintance, Harry came in for a landing back at the closest of the Black Woods Clan summer encampments, where he had tracked Suze to after finding she was no longer on the bluff. They had been intending to visit her family anyway. There he found his centaur damsel waiting, worriedly pacing while checking the angle of the sun.

    “Harry! There you are. Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Was that human a knight? Will we have to move?”

    “…um, no. He was a zoologist called Odd Lovegood,” Harry said, rather taken-aback.

    “Oh, thank Selene!” she declared, hugging Harry about the neck — well as much of his neck as she could hug, the whole thing was rather beyond her arm-span. “I was so worried! Don’t do that to me again!”

    Bane, who’d been lounging in the sun nearby waiting to find out whether they would have to do something to help their ally — as unlikely as that seemed, given his strength — was treated to the rather startling sight of his slender-and-lovely daughter sternly telling off forty tons of dragon while said dragon acted like a colt who’d been caught out late after dusk.

    His brain half-melted, the usually-stern centaur beat a hasty retreat.

    1.8.3 Breakfast surprises

    Two weeks later, picking up the latest issue of his favorite unintentional humor column, The Quibbler, Severus Snape spent several minutes staring blankly at the photograph on the front page before he declared, “Oh hell.”

    The potions master then beat a hasty retreat to the Headmaster’s office to see what could be done, issue jammed firmly into his robe pocket.

    1.8.4 Not so severe fallout

    “Ah, Severus, what’s the rush?” Dumbledore asked, popping a lemon drop as the man burst into his office.

    By way of answer, Snape slammed the copy of the Quibbler down on his desk.

    The cover photo of the conspiracy-theory-and-weirdness periodical sported a photograph of Harry, in dragon form and wearing one of his attempts at a friendly smile, against a background of heather and rock. Above the image was emblazoned the title ‘Interview with a Dragon’.

    “…oh dear.”

    “That is significantly milder than my own reaction, Albus.”

    “Yes, well, I’m politer than you are,” Dumbledore said, leafing through the article to have a quick read.

    “Didn’t you read it?”

    “I came straight here the moment I saw the cover.”

    “Ah, well, there’s no mention of location or Harry’s identity; however, the editorial appears to contain hints and speculation that, reading between the lines, gives the game away. And,” Dumbledore grimaced, “I must say Odd is quite cunning, for a lunatic; he’s arranged it so the last letter of each line in the article about Harry, if read in reverse order, spells out ‘This dragon is named Harry Potter; the Boy-Who-Lived is missing. Coincidence? I think not.’ It’s a shame Odd’s so crazy; he’d be brilliant if he were sane.”

    “Why that…” Snape’s rant came to a screeching halt before it even got going. This was Odd Lovegood they were talking about. The man lived and breathed conspiracy theories and rumors — trying to run damage control on this would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

    Instead, he decided to take a different approach. “It seems it is time for a discussion with the dratted dragon on journalists and why it is prudent to avoid them.”

    1.8.5 A journalist burns his source

    “But he said he’s a zoologist, and that means someone who knows lots and lots about all sorts of animals!” Harry complained, sounding a touch defensive.

    “Odd Lovegood, you… you…” Snape trailed off in a huff, rapidly shaking his head.

    “Harry, some people are… not entirely honest,” Dumbledore said, “sad as it is. Odd Lovegood is indeed a zoologist, and that does indeed mean someone who studies living creatures of all kinds, but his income comes from a magazine he publishes, thus he is also a journalist.”

    “He told you a half-truth, in other words,” Snape explained. “That is, he told you the truth, but left out parts so as to lead you to an erroneous conclusion. At least his paper is primarily composed of wild rumors and conspiracy theories, and your name was only mentioned in code. It is unlikely that anyone who could cause problems for us will take the information seriously.”

    “He said my name?” Harry was troubled. “But he promised he wouldn’t do that!”

    “As I said, Harry, some people are not entirely honest,” Dumbledore repeated, sadly. “In this case, it is unlikely to cause any major problems, but it is always a cause for caution. To be fair, Odd only stated your name in an anagram he worked into the text, so the argument could be made that he kept his word, technically. The man is oddly brilliant in his own peculiar way.”

    Flitwick, who had been silent to this point alongside his fellow Heads, Minerva and Pomona, spoke up in an attempt to distract Harry from this troubling development. “What was Odd doing up there anyway?”

    “He said he was looking for the territory of the three-toed mountain haggis.” Harry began, picking up enthusiasm as he remembered that part of the conversation. “What’s a haggis? Is it tasty?”

    “Och, well,” McGonagall said, “the wild haggis is a terribly difficult creature to find; they only come out at night, and they live very high up in the mountains. That’s why their legs are longer on one side than the other; it’s so they can stay upright when they’re running ‘round the side of a mountain. To catch a haggis, you have to get it to turn ‘round so it loses its balance and rolls down the mountain into a well-placed net.”

    “Really, Minerva, stop having the poor boy on,” Snape complained with a glare.

    “…huh?” Harry asked, bewildered.

    “A haggis,” Snape explained, “is a dish of Scottish origin, prepared from the less-than-appetizing portions of a sheep, mixed with oatmeal and spices and then cooked inside the sheep’s stomach lining. The Scottish have all manner of shaggy dog stories to tell in an attempt to confuse the unwitting and English.”

    “Och, well that’s what they want you to think,” McGonagall remarked, conspiratorially.

    “Drat it! Minerva, can’t you see the boy is getting confused?”

    “Mrs. McGonagall, can I get a haggis? It sounds tasty!” Whether it was actually some fantastic creature or just a Scottish dish like Mr. Snape said, Harry was game to try one.

    “Of course, laddie, I’ll arrange ye tha finest haggis in aw Scotland, whi’ neeps an’ tatties an’ aw!” McGonagall told him, positively delighted in this interest in the heritage of the beautiful land he now called home. “It’ll be Burns Nicht soon, we’ll make a proper nicht o’ it!”

    “…oh God, why did you have to set her off?” Snape groaned.

    “Awa whi’ yeh, Sev’rus, yeh wee chewchter.”

    “Minerva, I am still quite unable to understand a word of your native accent; would you please stick to the Queen’s English while speaking to those of us not of Scottish descent?”

    “Wassock.”

    1.8.6 Musings on lies and liars

    As it turned out, Mrs. McGonagall had made good on her promise of a haggis by the end of the summer, and it had been a celebration to remember at the Lair, replete with bagpipes, whiskey, poetry readings, and good company under the summer night sky.

    The haggis was just as tasty as it sounded, though Harry found it to be very small, indeed. That was normal for human foods, he noted. Fortunately, he had eaten heavily before the celebration, and he was quite satisfied by the time the party wound down and his guests left for the castle.

    As the fire in the Rayburn died down to embers and Suze dozed against his side, Harry thought back on the events that led to the evening’s celebration — and his conversation with Odd Lovegood.

    It had been the young dragon’s first encounter with a person who deliberately played him false, and Harry found the encounter left a bad taste in his mouth. The man had seemed so nice, but then he had misled Harry about his profession and broken his promise not to reveal Harry’s name to anyone.

    Harry knew that the name was only published in a hidden code, but in a way, that made it even worse. He could have almost understood a slip revealing the name accidentally, but taking the time and effort to encode it like that meant that he had to have done it on purpose. The man had lied to him, and that made Harry kind of angry.

    Harry sighed, his irritation slipping away with a light puff of smoke. He’d talked about it with Madame Pomphrey before, and while she had been sympathetic, she had also introduced him to something she called ‘commensurate response’. So, even though Mr. Lovegood had been very rude by lying to him and breaking his promise, it would be too much for him to eat the man next time he saw him, because the man’s broken promise wasn’t as bad for Harry as devouring him would be for the liar.

    Harry was not sure what to think of that.

    It was even more confusing when he thought about what else he had found out. Mrs. McGonagall had been lying to him too, about the haggis being a special kind of animal. It really was a dish made out of sheep and oatmeal like Mr. Snape said. But that kind of lying didn’t make him angry, because she was just joking around, and it was kind of confusing for him to think about.

    What was the difference between funny lying and lying that made him mad? Was it because Mr. Lovegood had intended to deceive him, and Mrs. McGonagall hadn’t? The problem was, she had intended to deceive him, but she intended it to be a joke that he would laugh at when it was revealed.

    Did Mr. Lovegood mean to have it be a joke too? Maybe, but Harry didn’t think it was very funny.

    How could he know who he could trust to tell the truth about important stuff, now? He didn’t know what to look for to be able to tell that Mr. Lovegood was lying. Was there a way to figure that stuff out?

    It was all so complicated, and Harry decided he didn’t like it very much. As the final embers died in the stove, leaving the faint moonlight as the only illumination for the Lair, the young dragon finally settled in to sleep, settling his head down on his forepaws, turned so he could see his damsel with one eye, taking comfort in her presence. His scales had grown thick enough to make cuddling very difficult on his side of things; he couldn’t actually feel her there, so he had to make due with other reassurances.

    He hoped none of his friends ever turned out to be the bad kind of liar. Harry didn’t know how he’d handle that.
     
  23. Threadmarks: Section 1.9 - In which Harry makes an enemy
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.9.0 In which Harry makes an enemy

    Perhaps a month after the impromptu and unseasonable Burns Night celebration at the Lair, the seasons turned and with the coming autumn the students returned to Hogwarts and Harry’s professor friends’ free time dried up like rain puddles on a warm summer day.

    His centaur friends were still in the middle of their Grand Conclave which was interesting for a while, because of all the new people visiting, but quickly devolved into the elders just yelling the same things back and forth in slightly different ways. Harry thought the whole thing got very boring very quickly. Worse yet, all his young centaur friends had to be quiet, so they couldn’t play like normal.

    To complete his dilemma, Harry had managed to run through everything from his friends’ personal libraries, so he had run out of things to read. There was still a lot in the Hogwarts Library, but those were enchanted so they couldn’t be removed from the castle grounds, and his Lair was too far away.

    With nothing to do and nothing to read, the young dragon had gotten so bored he had even started to read the dictionary Mr. Snape had gotten for him.

    This last item was the final straw which had driven Harry to return to Diagon Alley for the first time since his travels with Mr. Snape. It’d be hours before anyone could come over from the castle, and the weather was too rainy to go flying with Suze.

    After their first trip to see Mr. Slackhammer, Mr. Snape had left a two-way portkey behind in the form of an old brick. He’d said it was easier than trying to power one to carry them both himself, since it recharged on its own from the ambient energy, and afterwards he’d left it with Harry after explaining how it worked. Leaving it near Harry would apparently make it charge faster because he was so awesome.

    This meant that Harry had a way to and from the Alley.

    “What are you doing, Harry?” Suze asked. She’d been kind of clingy since the thing with Mr. Lovegood.

    “Well, I’m bored, and all the others are busy and it’s ages until anyone’s going to come up from the castle, and I haven’t got anything to read, so I reckon I’m going to go to Diagon Alley and buy some more books,” Harry said, picking up the headband he’d worn on his last trip with Mr. Snape.

    Suze frowned. “I think I’d better come with you.”

    And thus it was that the pair, human-form Harry and his centaur damsel, found themselves wandering, somewhat lost, down the main street of Diagon Alley when an unpleasant and thoroughly unwelcome voice came from behind.

    “Boy! Why is your pet not on a leash?”

    With a growl that carried over surprisingly well from his dragon form, Harry answered, “She’s not my pet, she’s my damsel,” as he whirled around to face the unpleasant voice.

    Said unpleasant voice belonged to an equally unpleasant-looking woman. Her appearance was startlingly toad-like for an ostensibly human woman, and she seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with a shade of pink that reminded Harry of a certain bottle his aunt had always pulled out of the medicine cabinet whenever Dudley would eat himself sick.

    “She’s your what? Never mind; filthy beasts like that should not be let loose in the Alley.” With that offensive declaration, the squat woman drew her wand in a threatening action that was echoed by the three nondescript men accompanying her.

    At this clear threat, Harry almost flamed them; he almost returned to dragon shape, but he remembered Mr. Snape, Mr. Dumbledore, Mrs. McGonagall, and Mr. Slackhammer had all been quite adamant that, although there would be a time when it became appropriate for him to reveal his nature, that time was still off in the future. He wasn’t sure why, but just about everyone he respected who wasn’t a centaur said so, and even the ones who were centaurs didn’t say differently, they just didn’t have anything to say on the subject. Harry figured he’d take their word for it until he was sure he knew what the deal was.

    Without the option of reverting to dragon form and annihilating the threat that way, Harry and Suze were ill-suited to dealing with the situation, so there was only one option left.

    “Run, Suze!” He grabbed her hand and bolted for Gringotts, half-dragging her behind him with his disproportionate strength. The woman’s nondescript companions moved to block the pair, as their course took them close to the toad woman and her group anyway. Had they been selected for skill rather than political reliability, they might have realized something was wrong with the picture of an apparently nine-year-old human child dragging around a centaur, but they were not.

    Suze immediately cottoned-on to what little plan her dragon had come up with, and she used her hold on his hand to swing him up onto her back, charging at a full run straight through the group of wand-brandishing wizards, bowling them over like ten-pins.

    She didn’t stop until she was in the Gringotts lobby and she calmly came to a halt in front of a half-dozen halberd-toting guards-goblins who had moved to intercept.

    “We gotta hide, there’s crazy glowy people, and they wanna do something nasty to Suze, and we gotta talk to Mr. Slackhammer!” Harry declared.

    As if to emphasize his point, the doors crashed open behind him, and the pink toad woman and her plain-clothes security detail, now accompanied by a number of blue-overcoated official-looking people came barging into the building, only to skid to a halt in the face of the business end of a dozen of those nasty-looking halberds. There were now dozens of uniformed goblins flooding the foyer and separating Harry and Suze from their pursuers. Some were the brightly-uniformed ceremonial guards, but the majority were now in drab green and carrying a far different armament.

    Out of almost everyone on the scene, only Harry recognized them immediately for what they were: guns. Hefty, great Army-looking things of a type he’d seen in pictures in one of the not-glowy-people history books Mrs. McGonagall had gotten for him back when he asked about dragons, pictures about a war in the Falkland Islands.

    “Easy, you maggots!” bellowed an exceptionally ferocious-looking goblin who seemed to have traded in the rifle-or-halberd for a sword and an unnecessarily-large pistol, and was resplendent in what Harry recognized as the dress uniform of a goblinish Sergeant-Major. “That’s the feller Vice-Chairman Slackhammer’s been conducting business with!”

    Much to Harry’s relief, the goblins stopped pointing their weapons at him and Suze, saluted Harry, saluted the Sergeant-Major, and joined in with pointing weapons at the pink toad woman and the people with her.

    “What is the meaning of this? Don’t you know who I am?” The pink toad woman sounded a little freaked out. “I’m the Secretary of Wizarding Defence, and I demand that you immediately turn that filthy animal over to…” The woman trailed off in the face of a loud, intimidating, interruption.

    “Are you,” the Sergeant-Major roared, turning an oddly-brownish purple with rage as he seemed to inflate at a downright alarming rate, “personally responsible for a full nine-point-seven percent increase in Gringotts profit within the last calendar month? No, Madame Umbridge, you are not! The young gentleman here, as it so happens, is! Is that quite perfectly clear?”

    The pink toad woman, apparently called Umbridge, turned very pale indeed. The blue-overcoated official-looking people started to whisper among themselves as well. Her security detail remained oblivious.

    “Ah, Great One, if you and your lovely companion would accompany me?” That was a voice Harry was very glad to hear, and turning that way, he found himself looking at Crackjaw Slackhammer.

    “What about them, Mr. Vice-Chairman, SIR?” the Sergeant-Major bellowed, snapping off a salute before angling a thumb in the direction of the pink toad-woman.

    He was a very good bellower, Harry wondered if he would be willing to give lessons?

    “Politely ask them to vacate the premises, Sergeant-Major.”

    “And if they don’t, Vice-Chairman, SIR?”

    “Then it will be time to be impolite, Sergeant-Major.”

    “Sir! Yes, Sir! At once, SIR!” The Sergeant-Major bellowed, saluting again before he whirled around and fixed the goblin soldiers with a ferocious glower. “Alright, you miserable maggots! You heard the Vice-Chairman, jump to it!”

    “SIR!” the swarm of goblins barked, “YES SIR!”

    “Gentlemen and lady, please be so kind as to vacate the premises AT ONCE!”

    For that matter, was this goblin capable of not bellowing? Ooh, and how did he do that cool inflating thing? Harry wanted to learn that too!

    The pink toad woman and her coterie beat a hasty retreat.

    1.9.1 Umbridge fumes

    “Those miserable beasts!” Umbridge muttered, glancing nervously at the doors to Gringotts as she and the three plain-clothes Aurors who’d been accompanying her withdrew alongside the group of uniformed Law Enforcement Patrolmen who had joined them.

    “All due respect, ma’am, but what happened back there?” Auror Dawlish asked.

    “Weren’t you briefed on ‘fire-arms’?” Umbridge snapped.

    “…um, should I have been?”

    “Yes!”

    Auror Flint spoke up, “They’re a form of muggle wand. They launch a small metal thing so hard and fast it’ll go right through a wall and kill the bloke hiding behind the wall.”

    “So, I take it they’re dangerous?” Dawlish asked.

    “Very.” Umbridge said, thinking back on the briefing she had first received when she had been promoted to Secretary of Wizarding Defence. Something about the goblin rebellion of 1899. It was information not readily available to the public. Nobody wanted a panic on their hands.

    In 1899, after whatever had set those wretched goblins off, the Ministry had, as usual, expected to kick the doors down, fire off a few spells, slap a few more sanctions on the upstarts, and wash their hands of the matter. That was how it had always gone before.

    But, it hadn’t gone anything like that. Every Auror or Hit-Wizard who’d attempted to storm the bank had died on the receiving end of an infernal, not to mention loud, device of at-the-time unknown origin. After the second attempt to storm the bank, the then-Director of Magical Law Enforcement, along with a guard detail of fifty-five Aurors, had been cut down by another team of five goblins wielding more of the contraptions.

    Based on circulating rumors, Ministry research into the devastating new weapons being wielded by the goblin rebels had revealed said gadgets to be muggle devices known as ‘fire-arms’, in specific a ‘Maxim machine-gun’ and a number of ‘Lee-Enfield Magazine Rifle’. The astonishing destructive power that tests showed these peculiar contraptions to possess had scared the then-Director of Muggle Relations so badly he’d taken his entire family into hiding. It hadn’t been long after that the Ministry had sued for peace.

    That had been the first time in known history that a goblin rebellion had ended, as uncomfortable as it was to say such a thing, in victory for the wretched beasts. Worse yet, reports from the Unspeakables showed that the goblins had taken to the ‘fire-arms’ with tremendous — one might even say diabolical — enthusiasm.

    She’d seen photographs of the ‘fire-arms’ those goblins had threatened her with today. Apparently, they were a type known as ‘Ellwunehwun Self-Loading Rifle’, and although of a shorter effective range than the bewildering assortment of ‘Lee-Enfield’, it could cast its projectile faster and more accurately than even the finest duelists, and like all such ‘fire-arms’ that projectile traveled far too fast to be effectively blocked or dodged.

    With an attempt at a face-saving sniff, she made tracks for the Ministry.

    1.9.2 Of guns and Goblins

    “Where’d you guys get all the guns, Mr. Slackhammer?” Harry asked. “I thought guns were kinda hard to get.”

    Slackhammer smiled a little smugly. “Ah, Mr. Potter, that is courtesy of Gringotts holdings in the muggle world. As it so happens, Gringotts owns a small but significant portfolio of stocks in several firearms manufacturing concerns: the Birmingham Small Arms Company, Vickers Defence Systems, Heckler and Koch GmbH, and Fabrique Nationale de Herstal, to name those in which we hold the most substantial interest. As such, it is quite remarkably easy for us to acquire both weapons and munitions whenever we so desire, a situation that has proven most fortuitous on occasion.”

    “But how do you manage that with the not-glowy-people. I thought they watched that pretty closely?” Harry asked, puzzled. “I’d think they’d notice the guns were going somewhere.”

    “That is a story part and parcel to our winning independence from the wizards in the 1899-1900 financial year.” Slackhammer explained. “You see, just prior to that time, the non-magicals were facing a rather unpleasant war in far southern Africa, and our leadership saw an opportunity. We offered our assistance in dealing with the native shaman, who had been wreaking havoc on the muggle command structure, and in exchange we were allowed to join the British Empire as an autonomous state. The only ongoing requirement is that we maintain a regiment that can be called upon by the Empire in magical conflicts.” Slackhammer chuckled, “We would have done so in any case, as we will certainly treat our allies with respect commensurate with their own treatment of ourselves, so that is no trouble.”

    “Wow!”

    “Indeed. That most lucrative deal led to our acquisition of firearms, and thence led to the events of the 1899-1900 financial year in which the Brethren won our autonomy from the wizards by force.” The dapper goblin smiled proudly, “I confess that those events have caused the gun to attain significant cultural meaning within the Goblin Nation, to the point that no goblin with any sense would permit himself to be seen dead without at least one firearm within easy reach. Even the ceremonial guards at the doors to this bank carry decidedly non-ceremonial sidearms concealed upon their persons. It is courtesy of those magnificent devices that we were not utterly subjugated and likely nationalized by the Ministry of Magic almost a century ago.”

    “I guess that means you’ve got a gun, right Mr. Slackhammer?”

    “Naturally; I never permit my Enfield Number 2 Mark 1 to leave my side,” the goblin said, withdrawing a nicely-polished revolver from beneath his desk. He showed it to Harry with a proud smile before returning it to its place. “It is of course merely one weapon within my private armory, some of which you can see behind you.” At this, he nodded to the gun rack on the office wall which was fairly bristling with rifles. “At my rank within the Goblin Nation, I am expected to maintain a fitting collection of weaponry, both to equip myself and provide for my subordinates should they be unable. Our law holds that it is not merely the right of all to bear arms, but rather the duty of all to be armed and ready to defend the freedom of Gringotts as a corporation and the Brethren as a people. And, frankly, with our less-than-stellar magical gifts, without the gun we would be quite easily overwhelmed by the ranks of the wizards.”

    “I know a bow is more accurate, and an arrow flies far faster and is deadly at a greater distance than any spell,” Suze joined the conversation. “Is the same true for these ‘guns’, Vice-Chairman?”

    “Quite correct; a competently-trained shooter could put every bullet in a well-maintained revolver into a wizard before the wizard could cast but a single spell. Their magic does have the advantage of flexibility, a wand can heal as easily as it can kill after all, but for defense of one’s home, kin, and livelihood, a well-tuned gun is a far superior weapon. And, no offense intended, Lady, the gun is significantly more powerful and vastly easier to learn to operate than the bow.”

    “None taken,” Suze said. Today had not been the first time she wished her people had developed something with more punch than a short-bow. She still remembered the sound of her arrows bouncing off the chitinous armor of the spider that had dragged down her younger sister years ago.

    Slackhammer steepled his fingers as he considered something. “Hmm… On that subject, Mr. Potter, I do believe it might be prudent to see that you and your companion acquire a fitting armament. The humble gun scares the gold out of magical law enforcement and poltroons such as that Umbridge creature for a very good reason, after all.”

    “Y’know, I think that might be a good idea,” Harry said. “And, ah, look, Suze is really good with a bow, but I was wondering if there weren’t any better bows than the kind her uncle Ronan makes, not that Mr. Ronan’s bows are bad or anything.”

    “There are indeed a number of bows of significantly more advanced construction than those made by centaurs, works of beauty though their traditional bows might be,” Slackhammer confirmed. “Might it be possible to grant myself and a small number of my staff permission to visit your home? I can but guess that you lair in a significantly more remote location than here in London, especially considering you have a centauress for a companion; they are known for their liking of solitude, and it would be better to instruct you in the usage and upkeep of firearms in a secluded place.”

    “Well, my Lair’s up in back of the woods behind Hogwarts; I guess you know where that is?”

    “Naturally,” Slackhammer confirmed with a sharp little nod.

    “Mr. Vice-Chairman,” Suze began, “I get the idea of being armed with something that scares the wizards, but isn’t there some way I could accompany Harry to Diagon Alley without some sort of mess like today happening?”

    “Hmm… I cannot say for sure. Perhaps one of my family solicitors could advise you on that, one moment…” Slackhammer wrote a quick note, rang a small bell, handed the note to the goblin who immediately came into the room, said “Take this to Madame Axetalon please, Mr. Steelhammer.”, nodded his satisfaction when the other goblin rushed off with a cry of “At once, Mr. Vice-Chairman!”, and sat back.

    “I have taken the liberty of requesting the company of my family’s most prominent solicitor, one Madame Shredblade Axetalon,” he told Suze. “She is blessed with an eidetic memory, and her knowledge of law, both magical and otherwise, is without peer. She should be with us shortly. Now concerning travel to your most excellent lair, Mr. Potter, my people can be on the outskirts of Hogsmeade within eight hours by motor vehicle, and we can easily arrange a meeting place thereafter.”

    “Um, Suze, does your dad get angry about goblins?” Harry asked.

    “No, Father admires them,” Suze told him. “There’s only a handful of Namers who have managed to get wizards to treat them with any respect at all, and goblins are the most recent.”

    “Respect from a wizard,” Slackhammer chuckled, shaking his head. “That is indeed quite the undertaking.”

    “What do you mean?” the young dragon asked.

    “I mean, pitiful as it is, most wizards are quite astoundingly bigoted,” Slackhammer told him. “Exceptions do, of course, exist, such as Mr. Severus Snape, who treats all with matching honest dislike, or Mr. Albus Dumbledore, who is a fine gentleman as wizards go, but the vast majority have naught but disdain for any being who is neither human nor magically gifted. Why, most of their number look down on those members of their own species born without the genetic quirk of magical talent!”

    The dapper goblin shook his head disparagingly before continuing, “There are only a handful of Namers, to use the centaur term, also known as sapient beings, who have managed to beat some respect out of the wizards. My kin managed that under the glorious leadership of Chairwoman of the Grand Board of Directors, Ragnak Shatteraxe, during the revolution often termed the Bold ’99, when we introduced the wizards to the power of the machine gun. Our dear friends, the Veela, were able to achieve that same great and noble undertaking centuries ago due to their incredible talent for the manipulation of fire. Vampires and werewolves have won some modicum of regard, simply due to the immense difficulty of killing individuals of either species, but they have yet to win themselves the same rights veela and goblins hold. The centaurs chose to hide themselves away from the wizards, a wise choice given that they lack the blessing of the honest gun.”

    Harry considered that for a moment before setting it aside for further consideration later. “Um, if you’re coming to visit, you should know that my Lair’s up on a cliff, so I’ll need to carry you in. I can pick you up, but if there are a few of you, that’ll take a few trips.”

    “That is not a problem, Mr. Potter. We would be honored by such travel arrangements.”

    “Harry, the harness…” Suze prompted.

    “Oh! Yeah, we made a carry-harness, so I could take Suze out flying with me without dropping her, so if you’ve got harnesses or something which we could clip on securely, I could carry all of you with that, I bet.”

    “I am certain we can arrange something, Mr. Potter.” Mr. Slackhammer seemed pleased at the consideration.

    “Mr. Vice-Chairman, Madame Axetalon to speak with you,” a goblin in a sharp suit stated, sticking his head in the door.

    “Ah, Madame Axetalon, come in, do.”

    The goblin who entered was smartly-dressed and almost completely indistinguishable from the males of her species; if Harry hadn’t been forewarned, he would never have realized she was female.

    “A profitable day to you, Vice-Chairman Crackjaw,” she said with a broad, toothsome grin. Her voice didn’t betray her gender either. “Congratulations on your promotion; I can but say you’ve worked long and hard for your new rank, and it’s about time your efforts were rewarded.”

    “Thank you, Solicitor Shredblade, and a profitable day to you too,” Slackhammer said, his grin just as shark-like as ever, “but there is no need for you to butter me up. The chance of my aunt allowing you to be dismissed from your position with the Slackhammers is thin indeed.”

    Axetalon chuckled. “Director Hellblade Slackhammer has always been a superb judge of character, Crackjaw. So, I understand that you require my services?”

    “Indeed, or rather my young associates here do. Madame Axetalon, the young lady is Miss Suze, daughter of Bane of the Black Woods Clan, and the young gentleman is Harry Potter, Great Wyrm of Hogwarts. Mr. Potter, Miss Suze, this is Madame Shredblade Axetalon, finest of the solicitors in my family’s employ.”

    “An honor,” the female goblin said, inclining her head politely.

    “Hi!” Harry said with a big smile firmly in place.

    “Well met,” Suze intoned with a polite bow.

    “Mr. Potter and Miss Suze face a perplexing conundrum that you might be able to provide an answer to,” Slackhammer told Madame Axetalon. “You see, they seek a way that Miss Suze, being as you see a centaur, might accompany Mr. Potter to Diagon Alley without falling foul of the unashamed bigotry of the Ministry of Magic.”

    “Ah yes, the Wild Animal (Control) Act of 1847. I see, that is quite the perplexing conundrum, isn’t it?” the solicitor mused, her eyebrows collapsing into a deep frown. “Hmm… it supersedes the Sapient (Mobility) Act of 1612… no, the Wartime Expenditures (Mobility) Act of 1941 does not present any loopholes for centaurs… Aha! Under the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, centaurs may, if sufficiently controlled, be regarded as Steeds under the letter of the law. Miss Suze, Mr. Potter, tell me, did the wizards successfully verify your identity?”

    “I dunno,” Harry said, looking to Suze.

    “Well, I don’t know either,” Suze said.

    “They most assuredly did not,” Mr. Slackhammer asserted.

    “Excellent,” Madame Axetalon declared. “Under the Criminalibus Iustitia Decretum of 438, any person, being, or creature suspected of a crime but not of verified identity may only be listed as a suspect for a maximum of two full seasons. Despite the conflict with the Criminal Justice (Identification) Act of 1837 which lists one year and one day as the maximum term, the older Decretum has not been repealed, so the more restrictive option takes precedence. Therefore, if you were to avoid Diagon Alley until the day after summer solstice, and thereafter pay any necessary regard to the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, there is nothing beyond alteration of the letter of the law which they may do. And for all acts committed prior to said alteration of the law, you are of course covered by the Charter of Succession (Rights) of 1380.”

    “…um,” Harry said, confused.

    “In layman’s terms,” Axetalon elaborated, “Under the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, in accord with the Charter of Succession (Rights) of 1380, with no alteration made by subsequent revision of said Charter, any creature regarded under the law as a Being, has, where not in contravention to the Servants (Control) Acts of 1394, 1440, and 1502, the legal right to possession of a Steed, defined as an animal, creature, or device utilized for personal transport. This definition covers horses, ponies, brooms, velocipedes, motorcycles, pegasii, cottages with animated chicken legs, and other more unusual creatures and devices, including, I might note, centaurs. The only exception to said right concerns flying carpets and automobiles fitted with more than three wheels, which are listed as Items of Muggle Origin under the Muggle Separation (Artifacts) Act of 1984. The steed or device must be, and I quote, ‘controlled in an adequate and safe manner’ as per the Animal Control (Domesticated) Act of 1422 and may be left outside any building within wizarding territories for a maximum of twelve hours.”

    At this point, Harry was very glad he had been bored enough to read the dictionary in the past few days. “Can I see the Animal Control (Domesticated) Act of 1422, so I can see what we have to do?”

    On reading the Act in question, Suze muttered worriedly, “I get the feeling that Father won’t like this.”

    Half an hour later, having gone over details of future travel arrangements, the young Great Wyrm and his damsel left for the portkey transition point which would take them home, accompanied by ten of 2 Company’s biggest and meanest looking infantry-goblins. Back in his office, Vice-Chairman Slackhammer spent a moment checking financial reports, nodded his satisfaction, and then began to pen a note addressed to the Grand Chairman of the Board of Directors herself.

    No foolish human would get away with threatening a business partner as profitable as Mr. Harry Potter on Slackhammer’s watch, no SIR!

    1.9.3 Umbridge faces Consequences

    About an hour after she arrived back at the Ministry, as she was sulking in her office plotting revenge for her embarrassment at the hands of that boy, his centaur and the dratted goblins, Dolores Umbridge was thoroughly surprised to be summoned to the Minister’s office.

    “You wanted to see me, Mr. Minister, sir?”

    “Dolores, just what in Merlin’s name have you been doing?” Cornelius Fudge complained. “I have no idea what brought this on, but Gringotts just sent me a letter declaring one Mr. Harry James Potter and all his dependents and associates to be, and I quote, ‘an important financial asset of Gringotts’ and, well, threatening sanctions if anyone within the Ministry is to, and I quote, ‘interfere’ with him. Your name is mentioned in a most unfriendly manner several times. Just what in Merlin’s name have you been doing?”

    Umbridge blinked, positively gob-smacked. She’d only been near Gringotts once in the past week, and that was… chasing that filthy centaur and the boy it seemed to belong to… Oh dear!

    “I… uh… I,” she stammered before swallowing a few times, “I encountered a child allowing his pet centaur to run riot in Diagon Alley, Mr. Minister, sir.”

    “And how does that relate to Gringotts?”

    “Well, as per the Wild Animal Control Act of 1847 I moved to apprehend the uncontrolled animal, and the child immediately ran off with it. We gave pursuit, not using any spells so as to avoid injuring the child, you know how sensitive small children can be to stunners, and the suspect and his animal attempted to hide in the bank. We followed them, assuming our job was over, but we were shouted at most coarsely by the goblins, threatened with those infernal ‘fire-arms’ of theirs, and summarily ejected from the building. I returned directly here.”

    Fudge sighed, pinching his nose. “Dash it, Dolores, that boy’s the Boy-Who-Lived, he must be. I wondered why the goblins were on about him now; no idea why the goblins are so up-in-arms about him and his pet, but they’ve got us by the financial throat. How do you think the voters would react to another goblin rebellion?”

    “Surely it wouldn’t come to that?”

    “There’s a financial breakdown attached to the missive I received, and somehow they’ve attributed a two-million Galleon profit in the span of a single month to the Boy-Who-Lived. That’s no less than nine-point-seven percent of their profit over the last month. For Merlin’s sake, the last Goblin Rebellion blew up over taxation reducing their profits by a tenth of a percent!”

    “They’d go to war over a tenth of a percent?”

    “Go to war? Merlin’s sake, Dolores, they massacred seventy-eight Aurors, twelve Hit-Wizards, two Unspeakables, four innocent bystanders, and a Director of Magical Law Enforcement over a tenth of a percent! They kicked in the front door of the Ministry over a tenth of a percent! Imagine what they would do over nearly ten percent!”

    “…oh dear, I didn’t know that…”

    “Blast it, you’re the Secretary of Wizarding Defense! Knowing that is your bloody job! And now, you’ve nearly started a war over a leash-law violation…” Fudge’s eyes turned cunning, “scratch that, you were the Secretary of Wizarding Defense.”

    “Sir!” Dolores gasped, “You can’t be serious?”

    “Of course I am, Undersecretary. I need to be seen doing something after all,” the man finished smarmily. “Now I can contact Gringotts with an apology over the deplorable behavior of a member of the Ministry and report that she was punished, and you don’t even lose much in the way of your salary. Everyone wins!”

    But she would lose status! Oh, the humiliation. There would be blood for this! Though she raged internally, outwardly, she bowed her head, “Yes Mr. Minister, sir.”

    She would get even with those miserable goblins and that brat of a Boy-Who-Lived if it was the last thing she did.

    And with his little pet, too!

    1.9.4 Suspicious vans

    On a deserted stretch of road winding through the coastal moors of the western Highlands, a quartet of white Transit vans slowed to a stop, miles from the nearest town, and a pair of unusually short figures, dressed in drab uniforms and toting very businesslike rifles hopped out of the back of the lead van, examined a cut in the hillside then waved the vehicles to follow them.

    The odd procession quickly disappeared from sight into the sea of flowering heather, heading in the general direction a stand of trees below a cliffside some distance away, and leaving the road to its lonely existence, keeping company with the wind and the distant crashing of waves on the shore.

    1.9.5 Hospitality

    Harry was quite satisfied with the day.

    A small platoon of goblins had arrived around noon on the second day after his overly exciting abortive shopping trip with Suze, bringing with them a selection of various firearms and complicated bows. They came in those same white vans that the plumber always used when he visited the Dursley house, and Suze led them into the forest where he had waited in dragon form with his harness so he could carry them to the Lair.

    Along with the guns and the trainer, they’d also sent along another soldier, Corporal Hookknife, who was an engineer who was supposed to ensure their harnesses worked together and set up a proper and safe firing range. Harry got along with him famously, since he was impressed with the Lair and the improvements Harry had already made — calling it an ‘eminently defensible home’ — particularly since they had been made using only Harry’s teeth and claws. The young dragon and the corporal had engaged in a rather animated discussion of possible future changes and the methods that could be used while the rest of the platoon unpacked and set up a temporary camp in one of Harry’s recently-excavated side rooms. It was a discussion that would spawn an almost endless series of home-improvements for years to come.

    As it turned out, the Sergeant-Major — whose name was apparently Hooktalon — was able to talk without bellowing. When Harry asked, Hooktalon had explained that bellowing was an absolutely necessary talent for all Sergeant-Majors as it was required to maintain discipline and respect of the soldiers under his supervision. Since it was their job to be grunts, and it was their Sergeant-Major’s job to think for his soldiers, it was thus the duty of any Sergeant-Major to bellow to get the message through their thick craniums; otherwise, the Sergeant-Major would be forced to give them firm kicks around their posteriors.

    One of the other goblin soldiers, a grizzled old Color Sergeant called Griphook, had privately told Harry that the Sergeant-Major was in fact a big old pussycat whose bark was worse than his bite, but Harry decided it was probably safer not to risk it, especially since Corporal Mantrap said that anyone who messed with the Sergeant-Major was asking to have his or her lungs extracted via their nostrils.

    Okay, so maybe there was a chance that Sergeant-Major Hooktalon bellowing was like Mr. Snape growling, but there was a chance it wasn’t, and Hooktalon was scary!

    After the squad had unpacked and gotten set up, the lessons on proper safety and handling began. The beginning consisted of seemingly endless repetitions of what Sergeant-Major Hooktalon called ‘golden rules’, all of which sounded very cautious but eminently sensible. Once he had seemed satisfied that Harry and Suze had gotten the message on the ‘golden rules’, the Sergeant-Major had them repeatedly take apart and put back together the guns until he was satisfied with their performance, and then he finally allowed them to riddle a number of targets with bullets.

    Harry had to admit Suze was a far, far better shot than him. She’d demonstrated with her shortbow, showing enough accuracy to get a sniff and ‘adequate’ out of Sergeant-Major Hooktalon. Then she’d had a go with two rifles and received a brusque nod and a ‘Well, young lady, looks like we’ve found something you’re good at’, which was high praise indeed coming from a Sergeant-Major, according to Corporal Mantrap.

    It’d been fun, and there were now a pair of rifles stacked in a nicely-polished wooden gun rack just to the side of the entrance to his treasure chamber. One was what the Sergeant-Major had called a ‘Rifle, Short Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Mark Three’ — a name which Harry had thought sounded kind of back-to-front, and the other was one of the Falklands-looking guns, which Harry now knew was called an ‘L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle’, which sounded like it was the right way around.

    Suze had her own set, though her gun rack was empty as she had immediately set to making a harness and ammunition bag using the copious quantities of tanned deer hide they had left over from Harry’s winter snacking. Suze was most insistent that she would carry them on her at all times; the trip to Diagon Alley had made a big impression on his damsel.

    It was funny really, when Harry’d seen the way the rifles slammed into Sergeant-Major Hooktalon’s shoulder, he’d expected them to knock him flat, but they hadn’t kicked at all. From the raised eyebrow and the comment of, ‘Strong little whippersnapper, aren’t you?’, this had also surprised Sergeant-Major Hooktalon.

    In addition to her new guns, they had also had a new bow for Suze. It was a weird-looking thing with a string that looped back and forth several times and pulleys at the ends of the bow. Bane, who had come by to pay his respects to Harry’s goblin visitors, had taken one look at the thing and muttered and grumbled about ‘new-fangled’, but he went quiet and calculating after he’d seen it demonstrated.

    The addition of the gun rack had also seen to the first real bit of organization in the Lair. Harry made a room specifically for his toys, because confusing one of his toy guns with the real thing would be a really bad idea.

    You really needed to guard your guns as closely as you guarded your treasures and your damsels, Harry mused.

    He’d long since worked out that damsels were an especially valuable sort of treasure since they were so hard to get ahold of, and, as he drifted off to sleep listening to his guests staying in the new guest quarters he had dug the previous day, he came to realize that the same held true for guns.

    Anything difficult to get a hold of was probably a treasure, and swords counted as treasure too, so that meant weapons were treasure, and a gun was a sort of weapon. Sergeant-Major Hooktalon’s statement that Harry should make certain that anyone who wanted to take Harry’s guns away was forced to attempt to prize them from Harry’s cold, dead fingers just served to reinforce that conclusion. Anything you had to put up a big fight to stop knights — or Bagginses or any other sort of baddie — taking away was obviously a treasure.

    1.9.6 The world according to Dumbledore

    “Mr. Dumbledore, I think there’s kinda something wrong with the whole Wizardy World thingy,” Harry said.

    It had been five days since his overly-exciting visit to Diagon Alley, and one since his goblin visitors had left, leaving him with plenty of ammunition, firm instructions to practice every day, and a reading list from Corporal Hookknife on things to help him figure out how to do the stuff they had talked about. That was for later, though, for now, Harry and Dumbledore were lounging at the entrance to the Lair after Harry’s latest Occlumency lesson.

    Occlumency was apparently an important thing for him to learn; Madame Pomphrey had insisted, though he wasn’t sure why. According to Mr. Dumbledore, it was supposed to keep people out of his head, and it helped with remembering things well. Harry figured getting into people’s heads without permission sounded incredibly rude, so that was a good reason, but he already remembered things really well. Madame Pomphrey had insisted, though, so he figured there was some other reason they hadn’t shared yet.

    In any case, Harry figured it was entirely possible that memories were a kind of treasure because of that whole ‘treasure the memory’ thing people talked about sometimes, and so he figured he’d treat them as such until proven otherwise. It wasn’t like the Occlumency lessons were difficult or anything anyway.

    “And why would you think that, my dear boy?” the old man asked.

    “Because, well, because that pink toad-woman said Suze isn’t a person and because the goblins say they had to do lots of shooting before the glowy people stopped saying goblins weren’t people,” he said. “And, uh, Mr. Slackhammer kinda sounded like it wasn’t just goblins and centaurs — he mentioned veela too, and it’s got something to do with why you don’t think people oughtta know I’m a dragon, hadn’t it?”

    “Ah,” Dumbledore said with a resigned sigh. “Indeed, Harry; I regret to say it, but you are in fact quite correct. I have been able to, in my lifetime, make some small improvements here and there, but like all change, it is a slow process. And, indeed, that is why your transformation must remain a secret for as long as possible. The last thing the wizarding world needs is a civil war coming so close on the footsteps of Voldemort’s last insurrection.”

    Harry nodded, his expression distant. “I guess,” he said. “Mr. Dumbledore, how bad is it, really?”

    “Not as bad as either Severus or the goblins would have you believe,” the old man assured him. “Severus has had a rather rough ride of things, I’m afraid, and the viewpoint of the goblins is that of outsiders and outcasts. It is true that changes must be made to bring the cycle of war and destruction — of which Voldemort was but the latest repetition — to an end, but I do not hold that said changes should be made through bloody revolution, as Severus espouses.”

    Dumbledore shook his head sadly, setting his long beard swaying, “He cannot see it, but to tear the wizarding world down would be to destroy what good remains in it. He would, as the idiom goes, throw the baby out with the bathwater. I have, in my lifetime, made many changes. For instance, the Declaration of Brotherhood of 1920, which established the legal rights of muggles as people, was passed through without any bloodshed, and I have since managed to abolish slavery as a legal institution as of 1963 with the Magical Slavery (Abolition) Act.” The old man continued proudly, “I am currently working to gather support for another Act which would make the hunting of several species, including centaurs, illegal. We have already managed to paint the hunts in an unfavorable social light, and we feel that we may be able to pass the Act soon as few want to do it anyway.”

    As Harry frowned at that, the elderly statesman continued, “I confess I have had to make some quite difficult decisions in my time, and I am well aware that there are further difficult decisions yet to come my way, but someone has to make those decisions for the greater good of all.” He grunted as he levered himself upright, “Now, I must return to the castle; I shall see you the same time next week.”

    “…okay,” Harry said absently, still frowning. Something about that discussion seemed wrong, and it really hadn’t answered anything.

    He resolved to keep niggling Mr. Dumbledore about it, and to see if Mr. Snape were more willing to explain things.

    1.9.7 Snape’s interpretation of the same

    “Mr. Snape…”

    “What is it now? Blasted reptile.” This time, two days after Dumbledore’s disappointingly evasive conversation, it was Snape who was at Harry’s Lair.

    “I’m really starting to think the wizarding world really isn’t fair,” Harry said.

    “I see…” Snape muttered. His customary sneer vanished to be replaced by a frankly rather worried look. “And what, precisely, has brought you to this conclusion, young man?”

    Harry gathered his thoughts for a few moments before he haltingly explained the events of his last visit to Diagon Alley. The potions master listened in complete silence, frown deepening the entire time.

    “I see,” he repeated once Harry had explained his attempt to get an answer out of Dumbledore. “You have indeed arrived at a quite incisive conclusion; there is indeed something quite wrong with this world we live in, and I confess I had hoped to protect you from those unpleasant truths for a little longer.”

    A wry, if grim, smile spread itself across one side of Snape’s face — Harry was somewhat sad to note this smile looked as if it had settled comfortably on his older friend’s face, unlike the happier one he had seen on a very few occasions which looked terribly out of place.

    “I suppose I should have expected you to work out the basics of the situation; you’re as sharp as your mother was. And, indeed, there is something deeply and horribly wrong with any so-called civilization that would treat any thinking being as an animal."

    “How bad is it really?”

    “Bad,” Snape firmly stated. “Bad to the degree that even those wizards and witches not born of magical parents are considered little more than animals. Albus would have you believe in gently reforming it all over the course of decades, or more likely centuries. I believe that the goblin’s example is the one that we should be following.”

    “You mean we oughtta machine-gun anything that tries to shove us about, right?” Harry confirmed.

    “In a manner of speaking, yes,” Snape confirmed. “Our target, my boy, is the government of this cesspit that calls itself a civilization, but it would not do us well to act without suitable preparation, and we are as yet unprepared. I know well the consequences of marching off into the fray unprepared…” The potions master trailed off, his eyes focused into the distance as his right hand rubbed absently at his left forearm.

    “Mr. Snape?”

    “My apologies, Mr. Potter,” he visibly pulled himself back to the present. “I was lost in memory for a moment. In any case, I judge that we would be best served at this moment to keep our heads down and endeavor not to draw attention while we make the necessary preparations.”

    “I’m a big part of your plans, aren’t I?”

    “Indeed, you most assuredly are,” Snape said with a firm nod. “And not merely because you represent our best chance of an alliance with the goblins and our best source of the substantial quantities of capital our mission shall surely require. When the time comes, I suspect you shall find yourself at the forefront of this.”

    Harry nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll need to get stronger, won’t I?”

    “Indeed; the flames of freedom must be lit, and the torch will someday in the not-so-distant future be handed to you. It would be best for us all if you were prepared for that day.”

    “I know my kin will fight alongside you in this, Harry.” Suze spoke up for the first time from her place at her dragon’s side.

    “How so?” Snape asked, curious why they would do so.

    “We owe the Great Wyrm a debt of blood unspilled; a year has passed since last we lost any to the spider plague, and we no longer need fear them, for now it is they who know fear,” Suze told him with conviction. “We owe him a debt which can never be truly repaid, and when the time comes that he makes battle upon his foes, my grandfather has declared that we shall go forth beside him.”

    “I see,” Snape frowned. He then let out one of his dry and not-very-pleasant chuckles. “Then I suppose I should welcome you both to the revolution.”

    From then on, Thursday evenings were spent studying potions and plotting to overthrow the wizarding government, both of which Harry found absolutely fascinating and, in fact, quite fun.
     
  24. Threadmarks: Section 1.10 - In which certain truths are uncovered
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.10.0 In which certain truths are uncovered

    As the first month of the fall term drew to a close, the usual group of Hogwarts professors met for their now-customary ancillary staff meeting regarding the young Great Wyrm resident in the adjoining forest.

    “So, we meet again to discuss our progress with young Harry,” Albus began, again accepting a drink from his charms professor, Flitwick, who seemed to have developed a penchant for tending bar. The drink of choice this time was a faintly-glowing golden brew provided by Pomona Sprout, served in a beer stein; the brew was apparently a derivative of mead, smooth, sweet, and, the woman assured her peers, kicked like a mule.

    Albus continued, “I, for one, have been amazed at his progress with Occlumency. We proceed slowly, for I am loath to push too hard or too fast, but he has taken to the practice like a duck to water. I daresay he will come through the learning process unscathed.” He took a celebratory draught of his glowing liquor, joined in doing so by Madame Pomphrey, who looked eminently relieved. Both then nodded their appreciation to the herbology professor. “What other progress is there to report?”

    There was some back-and-forth among the group clustered about the staffroom fireplace to see who would report next. The group had expanded once again, this time, in addition to the four Heads, the Headmaster, Madams Pomphrey and Hooch, and Septima Vector, they were joined by Bathsheda Babbling, Professor of Ancient Runes, and the perpetually-intoxicated Sybil Trelawney, Divination instructor, the latter drawing an unpleasant look from Minerva McGonagall even before any words were exchanged.

    “He’s reached the end of what I can teach him,” Madame Hooch began, apparently chosen as the first speaker by unspoken acclamation. “We’ve got him able to take off and land smoothly, and he can avoid stationary obstacles. The rest will simply have to come through practice, which he can do on his own. Teaching precision means close quarters flying, and I for one am not willing to risk my neck there.”

    That prompted an understanding nod from her colleagues. No one wanted to be in that position. Albus stroked his beard thoughtfully, though. Perhaps he knew someone who might be interested in helping…

    “I take it that it that Mr. Potter’s flying lessons have come to an end, then Rolanda?” Minerva confirmed.

    “Indeed, that slot on his schedule is now open, at least until broom lessons next fall.”

    “I suppose I should continue then,” the transfiguration professor said. “Mr. Potter has mastered transfiguring himself into a human form, as I am sure you have all seen. Additionally, he has extended his repertoire to include a centaur form as well as two bird forms, a seagull and a common pigeon,” she relayed proudly. “I must admit, I was somewhat concerned about his choice of animal forms, as both are quite vulnerable to various predators, but it seems he maintains his strength in any transfigured form.” The woman chuckled, “I was quite horrified when a hawk stooped on him in pigeon form, until he rounded on the bird and beat it senseless with his wings before proceeding to eat the creature.”

    “I believe my lessons with the boy will taper off into periodic sessions to check on his progress with new forms as he chooses,” Minerva concluded. “At least until next school year, of course. I look forward to seeing what he can do with transfiguration outside this narrow application.” Her voice turned challenging, “What news do you bring, Sybil? I have difficulty imagining young Mr. Potter taking an interest in divination of all things.”

    At this, Flitwick stepped in before Sybil could pull herself out of her glass, she was already on her second serving, and she had been deep in her sherry before the meeting began. “Sybil is actually here because she was helping with a joint project I’ve been working on with Septima and Bathsheda.”

    As Minerva backed away from her aggressive stance, he continued, “In our last meeting, Septima sprung that aura estimate on us,” while everyone chuckled, the young arithmancer’s was somewhat sheepish, “so we set out to examine the stone ring at Avebury.”

    The small man spoke further, “The device is surprisingly elaborate, and analyzing it has proven fascinating. As it happens, the standing stones are only the smallest part of the whole, the magical structure extends deep into the bedrock of the site — deeper than my spells can penetrate, in fact. There are inscriptions carved into the bedrock, on many levels of it, which led us to bring in Bathsheda. The languages involved are ancient even by her standards, so they have thus far defied translation, but examination of the rock that young Harry encountered allowed me to pull traces of the energy flow from the incident.”

    Flitwick’s eager expression turned somber. “If anything, Septima’s estimate was conservative — understandably so, since she was measuring the end effect rather than the causative flow from the incident itself, and there will always be losses. The energy transferred during that incident, if it were to be channeled into an equivalent blasting curse, would have left a crater, miles deep and stretching from Dublin to Paris.”

    His audience gasped, stunned at that scale. Before they could speak, he continued, grimly, “That is the effect if the energy were channeled into a purpose; left unchanneled, the blast would have been smaller — still large enough to annihilate an area the size of London, mind — but the wild magic effects would have been devastating.” His knuckles whitened as his grip on his glass tightened, “Everything from Iceland to the Urals, from the Arctic to Tunisia, would have been just as magical as the less pleasant portions of the Forbidden Forest! A full fifteenth of the world would have been rendered effectively uninhabitable.” The half-goblin paused to take a drink.

    “And what is the bad news?” Snape asked.

    “Severus, this is no joking matter!” Minerva exclaimed.

    “If we had dodged such a fate cleanly, Filius would be back to his usual cheerful self, as he is still attempting to fortify himself to continue, the explanation must indubitably get worse.”

    “Well reasoned, Severus,” Flitwick acknowledged. “During our examination, Septima noted that the entire ring occupied a convergence of ley-lines and was intimately entwined with them, and Bathsheda thought to ask whether this was the only one. It seemed a decent question to ask, so we approached Sybil to scry for the other such intersections nearby.” He nodded to Minerva, “No matter what you might think of divination as a means to predict the future, there is no denying its utility in learning about the present, and magical flows are some of the easiest things to scry.”

    He took another drink, glass nearly empty. “With Sybil’s help, we visited three such ley-line intersections within the Isles, there are several more, but those three were enough to give us an idea of what was going on.”

    Snape took a swig of his own, “I take it there were more of the things?”

    “Of course there bloody well were! Every intersection we checked was home to one of those devices, all of them holding back tremendous amounts of energy. I have no doubt whatsoever that there is one of them at every intersection, at least in the Isles, probably around the world.” The half goblin knocked back the rest of his drink. “Every single one can potentially end civilization as we know it and there are hundreds of the blasted things!”

    “Do you have any idea what triggers the rings?” Albus sounded troubled, and everyone in the room knew to be nervous when Albus sounded anything other than grandfatherly.

    “No, and I am supremely reluctant to putter about with the things when a single misstep could annihilate Europe.”

    “We do have a single example of a safe activation and draining in the form of young Mr. Potter,” Albus mused. “Can anything be gleaned from his experiences?”

    “I have already approached Mr. Potter, and he was willing to share his memories of the event,” Flitwick spoke again, “but his memories are fragmented due to the great strain he was under at the time. I was unable to glean anything useful. Anything we learn from Mr. Potter is going to have to be found by examining his transformation.”

    “It seems that Poppy and I will have a new project, then,” Minerva spoke up, accompanied by a nod from the school Healer.

    Snape spoke up again, “There are three witnesses remaining in the form of Mr. Potter’s relatives.”

    “Will they be willing to share their memories?” Minerva asked doubtfully. “They did not seem terribly accepting of their nephew, nor of magic in general. I doubt they would agree to sharing memories.”

    “They will,” Snape assured her. “One way, or another.”

    On that ominous note, the entire group finished off the remainder of their drinks. That hinted at things they felt they would be better off forgetting.

    “Severus, be cautious,” Albus cautioned. “We can ill-afford undue attention at this juncture.”

    His only answer was a dismissive scoff.

    1.10.1 Reunion

    The neighborhood had not changed in the last two years, it was still dull, pathologically conformist and shockingly self-absorbed. The houses were still disturbingly similar, to the point that even long-term residents would need the house numbers to tell them apart, but the atmosphere was quite distinct from that of his last visit, as Severus again approached Number Four, Privet Drive.

    Where before the atmosphere had been stultifying, crushing those around it into its own pedestrian normality, now the house seemed to exude a sense of unassuming but still warm welcome, despite remaining otherwise indistinguishable from its neighbors. Had the boy’s family moved? Or, and this was a horrifying thought, had he softened this much?

    He supposed there was only one way to find out. Severus knocked on the door before retreating several steps away from the entrance. He could hear a cry of ‘I’ll get it’ followed by the heavy clamor of a sizeable body roughly navigating a set of stairs, only for his knock to be answered by a young boy who was quite large for his age. The young man was heavyset but appeared to be in decent condition if his even breathing after his apparent hurried traversal of the house was any indication.

    “Is this the Dursley residence, young man?” Snape asked. The question was only a formality, as the resemblance between the boy and his father was patently obvious, but even Snape felt the need to observe certain social niceties, particularly with those who had yet to do him any wrong.

    The boy nodded, wide-eyed, as an irritatingly familiar female voice rang from deeper within the house. “Don’t open that door!” Another, significantly lighter clamor followed before the voice sounded again, this time much closer. “Dudley Vernon Dursley! What have I told you about answering the door without waiting for me to come with you?”

    The young boy, apparently named Dudley — an inward shudder of sympathy passed through Snape at the name; he’d thought ‘Severus’ was unfortunate — quickly turned to face his mother, a look of horrified contrition on his face.

    “I’ve told you not to, that’s what!” Petunia Evans’s voice continued. Well, it was Petunia Dursley now; Snape had to remind himself. At her son’s apology, she bent to give him a hug, before continuing, “Son, we ask you to do these things to keep you safe. Who knows who might be coming by? You should wait until your father or I are there before you open the door, do you understand?” He nodded. “Good! Now then, who is it at the door?”

    “I don’t know yet, he’s just finished asking if this is the Dursley residence.” At his mother’s encouraging gesture, Dudley asked the obviously-practiced question, “May I ask who is calling?”

    “I am Severus Snape,” he could see Petunia pale at the name, her eyes snapping to meet his through the partially-opened door, “and your mother and I were acquainted in our youth. I have come to ask some questions about a certain incident, some two years passed, involving your cousin, Harry Potter.”

    On hearing this, the young boy’s eyes lit up with an enthusiasm to match the magnitude of his mother’s apprehension. “You know Harry? How is he doing?”

    “He fares quite well, young man, and has adjusted to his new home. I will inform him that you asked after him; I am certain he will be appreciative,” Severus said before turning to Petunia, “As I mentioned to your son, I have some questions for your family, both you and your husband. Is he available at this time?”

    “It will be a few minutes before Vernon gets home. May I offer you tea in the meantime?” The offer only came after a glance at her son. Presumably she realized that she had to set a proper example of hospitality for the boy. Severus got the impression that, had she her druthers, Petunia would throw him out on his ear. Though, judging by her whitened knuckles, she might settle for wringing his neck as well.

    Naturally, Severus accepted her offer; tweaking Petunia’s nose was a reminder of older, more pleasant times.

    The tea was a tense affair. Dudley had rapidly realized that this was going to be one of those boring adult things and retreated up the stairs, declaring to anyone interested that he was going to finish his homework. Meanwhile, Snape sipped his tea after discreetly checking it for any deleterious additives; he was a potions master, after all.

    The time before Vernon’s arrival passed in tense silence with Petunia managing to show a truly prodigious degree of antipathy without actually saying anything. It was rather impressive; Snape hadn’t known she was capable of expressing herself so effectively.

    He was tempted to take notes.

    It was this scene that an unfortunate Vernon Dursley encountered on his arrival home after work.

    1.10.2 Unpleasant reminders

    It had been a good day at work, Vernon Dursley thought as he pulled into his driveway. Ever since his nephew had moved to new accommodations, everything had been going his way on the job.

    Despite taking almost a three-month sabbatical to look after his nephew the year before last, Vernon’s sales figures since had more than made up for the loss. The additional contacts he had made while scrounging for scrap to feed the insatiable young dragon had expanded his customer base threefold, many of whom were small machine shops willing to deal with him almost exclusively because they were impressed by his character, and that he would go so far to look after his nephew’s interests — he had presented it as feeding a hobby for the boy, rather than a thoroughly unbelievable medical issue.

    His supervisor was impressed for much the same reason. Any man willing to take the time to look after his family despite financial hardship was a straight shooter in his boss’ mind, and he’d made sure that Vernon would go far at Grunnings. I

    It helped that it was the truth from Vernon’s perspective as well.

    Life at home was another matter. Vernon’s eyes had been opened by his enforced time at the house, and he was deeply disturbed by Petunia’s behavior. She had misled him regarding both Harry’s and Dudley’s behavior, and in his ignorance, Vernon had almost done irreparable harm to both boys. Thinking back on his treatment of his nephew before the incident at Avebury still turned his stomach.

    He had nearly filed for divorce until he had a solid man-to-man talk with Richard from down the street who had similar problems with his wife, Hyacinth. Richard had suggested counseling, and he and Petunia were able to work things out. Pet had been getting counseling of her own as well. It was expensive, but Vernon figured it was worth it to have a happy family. Dudders was healthier and happier than he’d ever been before, and Pet was much nicer to be around.

    As he opened the door, his wife called out in that brittle voice she used when she was straining to keep from lashing out at something, “Vernon, we have a visitor.”

    As Vernon entered the sitting room, he understood why Petunia was having such difficulties. One of the freaks who had helped move his nephew had shown up and was seated, drinking tea. Vernon had decidedly mixed feelings about that sort, and Pet was much worse off than he was.

    “Pet, would you like me to handle this?” he offered.

    “Please,” came the flat reply.

    “You just go try to relax, Pet.” As his wife walked stiffly out of the room, Vernon turned back to the dark-haired man. At least this one was dressed sensibly, if a bit old-fashioned.

    He held out a hand, “Not sure if we were properly introduced last time, given all the bustle. Vernon Dursley.”

    “And I am Severus Snape,” the now-named man replied, giving his hand a firm shake.

    “You were one of the fellows who moved my nephew, right?” Vernon confirmed. When the visitor nodded in confirmation, he asked, “How’s the boy doing?”

    “The young man is doing quite admirably,” the man said.

    “That’s good to hear,” Vernon sighed explosively, “was afraid you were here to tell us something had happened to him.”

    “I am somewhat surprised to hear your concern,” Snape remarked, “given my conversations with the boy and his recollections of his time under this roof.”

    Vernon had been afraid of that. His treatment of his nephew was a lingering source of shame. “I can understand that. I’m not proud of how I treated the boy back then. I… I was misinformed about the boy’s behavior and was trying to correct things my son was doing, and my wife was blaming on Harry.” He leaned back heavily in his chair. “Obviously didn’t work since there was nothing to correct, and I’m sure it drove the boy to distraction as much as it did me. It also let Dudders get away with all kinds of things. I just got more and more frustrated, and I was starting to turn into a person that I really don’t like very much, looking back on it.”

    “I see.”

    “That thing at Avebury was probably the best thing that could have happened, really,” Vernon mused. “Pretty sure a few more years would have ruined all of us… By the way, I apologize for my wife’s hostility. She’s been working through some things, a lot of grief over the loss of her sister that she’s just coming to terms with. She’s got a lot of anger bottled up over your lot for stealing her away, right or wrong.”

    “I see; that is a depth of emotion that I had not anticipated from Petunia Evans,” Snape remarked, surprised. “Congratulations on your wife’s development as a person.”

    “Now see here! Where do you get off making remarks like that?” Vernon demanded.

    “I grew up down the street from the Evans household, in my youth,” the dark man replied calmly. “The sister you speak of was my best, and truly only, childhood friend. I knew Petunia quite well when we were younger, and it seems that she is much matured since then, if your statement is true.”

    “Oh,” Vernon said, mollified. “I see.” This was awkward, perhaps a change of subject?

    “Ah, to go back to Harry, you see him often?” The man nodded, and Vernon continued. “Do you think you could give him a letter? I’ve been working on it for a while, so I could try to apologize. I would have sent it, but I don’t know where to address the thing. Pet still breaks down every time I try to ask.”

    “I would be pleased to carry such a missive,” it was hard to tell, but Vernon thought there might be a glint of approval in the man’s eyes. “Perhaps, though, we should go on to the reason for my presence here?”

    “Right!” Vernon was mightily embarrassed. That should have been the first thing he asked! Where was his professional demeanor? Business first, then personal talk.

    1.10.3 Pleasant surprises

    “I have come seeking additional information regarding the events which led to Mr. Potter’s transformation,” Snape began. “While Mr. Potter is perfectly sound, issues have arisen regarding the means which made his change in nature possible.”

    Snape had come to this house expecting to find a pair of at least semi-hostile dunderheads, instead he found a couple struggling through their preconceptions and repentant for past actions. This was rare enough in Snape’s experience to warrant significant surprise, and he was impressed enough to offer more information than he otherwise would have.

    “My colleagues have investigated the amount of energy which was discharged during that event, and it could have quite severe consequences if released incautiously,” the potions master began, “Consequences to the tune of rendering Europe uninhabitable.”

    “My God!”

    “Indeed, Mr. Dursley,” Snape agreed. “It seems that the stone circle at Avebury was, in truth, a device intended to store tremendous amounts of energy for future use. If it were the only such device, there would be little cause for concern, as it has safely discharged with the only consequence being a rather oversized lizard who is thoroughly pleased with his new circumstances.”

    “Sounds like you’ve found more of them, though,” Vernon said.

    “Quite right. At least three more confirmed in the Isles, and possibly several dozen, with potentially hundreds or thousands worldwide,” Snape elaborated. “With such a clear and present danger, we are investigating just how the things work, but we are reluctant to meddle with any of them when the potential consequences are so high. I have come to attempt to convince you to share your recollections of the event, so that we might have a first-hand account of the activation of one of the devices.”

    “I’d like to help you, but I don’t know how much I can tell you; I don’t really know what you’re looking for.”

    “With your consent, I can extract a copy of your memories of the event which we can then examine in great detail using a device available in our world,” Snape offered. “The process is painless.”

    “I get keep my memories, right?” Vernon’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “I know Pet said something about removing memories before…”

    “That is known as obliviation, the process of blocking memories from future recall,” Snape volunteered. “I find it to be a generally detestable practice, but this, I assure you, is a completely different process which copies the memories in question leaving your original memories fully intact.”

    “I’ll help you out with that, then.” Snape was pleasantly surprised by this development.

    After an anticlimactic exchange in which he filled one of his ever-present sample bottles with Vernon Dursley’s memories of that evening in Avebury and received an envelope to go with it, Snape thanked the man briefly and stood to leave.

    “I must say, Mr. Dursley; I went on this errand expecting a distasteful chore based on what I had understood of Mr. Potter’s past situation, but I find myself pleasantly surprised. You have recognized your own failings and are making admirable efforts towards correcting them, a quality that is all too lacking in most.”

    Snape nodded to the man, “I daresay you may well be able to repair your relationship with your nephew, as he is an agreeable sort. As the product of an… unpleasant family situation, myself, I can assure you that those willing to make such an effort as you have are rare, indeed. My own father was certainly not one of them. I offer my heartfelt felicitations.”

    With that, he swept out of the house and away to a secluded spot for his portkey transit. Vernon was left gaping on the doorstep.

    1.10.4 New reading material

    Time passed as it usually did, and Harry once again had a great deal to occupy his time. In addition to his games with Suze, he now had his first taste of letter writing, as the correspondence from his Uncle Vernon touched off a regular exchange among Harry, his uncle, and his cousin, who Harry had now learned was no longer nasty. His Aunt Petunia was apparently still working through things, but Uncle Vernon held hopes that they might eventually accept Harry’s offer to host a Christmas celebration at the Lair someday.

    Uncle Vernon said she was still working through guilt over how she behaved before. Harry didn’t really understand why that would make you spend less time with the person you behaved badly towards rather than more trying to make things up, but he eventually accepted the explanation at face value. Aunt Petunia had never made sense before, so he figured there was no reason for her to start now, even if she was apparently nicer.

    With his new experience at letter writing, Harry also struck up a correspondence with Corporal Hookknife, the engineer who had visited a while back. Harry hadn’t yet been able to get the books on the list that the good corporal had left for him, and since he couldn’t go to Diagon Alley until after summer solstice, Harry was at something of a loss on how to proceed.

    The return letter got him all fired up for a new project.

    It seemed that the books on the list weren’t magical books at all. Apparently, the best books for the sorts of things he wanted to do to the Lair were written by the not-glowy people, and Corporal Hookknife suggested he go visit a public library. They might have the books there, and if not, Hookknife said they’d probably know where he could order them.

    His glowy friends were really busy with the students, and they didn’t have any new books for him to read in any case, not ones he could bring home, anyway. This new idea meant Harry would be awash in new reading material for years ‘cause there were libraries all over! And he could fly all secret-like using the seagull and pigeon forms he had worked on over the summer for just that purpose, so that meant he could go anywhere in Scotland and back in a day. There were loads of libraries within that distance!

    A quick bit of work gave the boy a second human form, this one an older gentleman who looked to be a little into retirement age modeled heavily on Magorian’s human bits with human legs tacked on instead of horse — Hookknife had suggested it for actually going into the library, since they’d insist to see his parents if he went in looking like a kid, but people tended to ignore older people for good or ill. Harry soon found himself winging halfway across Scotland to Inverness, much faster than a pigeon could normally go on account of Harry’s much greater strength.

    1.10.5 An old Scotsman is surprised

    It was looking to be a cold winter this year, he thought looking out at the steel-gray sky above the rooftops of Inverness.

    In his youth, Aengus Leith had moved to Inverness to work in one of the distilleries, and over the course of his career there, he’d developed a liking for their product that was perhaps a touch excessive. Aengus had never found the right lass, and he was now the only member of his family still kicking, though he was proud of the wealth of good friends he had to his name. He now spent his twilight years in a miniscule flat one of those good friends was willing to let him use for cheap, freeing up the bulk of his retirement income to fund his lifelong love affair with single malt. He spent his days drinking and watching the birds as they flitted about the town.

    He had just seen one particularly quick pigeon — male to judge from the iridescent green throat feathers — swoop down to a landing on the roof below his flat and walk with an odd sense of purpose to the edge of the roof, looking down the street towards the local library. It was odd but unremarkable, aside from the fact that its path took it perilously close to the local alley cat which was sunning itself on the roof in the autumn afternoon.

    Aengus took a sip as the cat, a grizzled old tom, smoothly picked itself up and slinked off in pursuit of the bold grey bird. It looked like the old cat was going to eat well tonight. The old drunk lifted his glass in salute to the poor bird, only to be surprised when the cat’s pounce ended with the cat falling flat as if it had jumped face-first into a fence post. The bird’s head turned halfway around to stare with unnaturally green eyes at the bewildered cat half-draped over its back end before it let out a coo — a call that somehow managed to sound threatening even to Aengus’ ears — and turned around with a deliberate stomp.

    As the cat was shaking off its surprise, it was sent for another tumble as the odd bird puffed up threateningly before belting it with a wing, sending the old tom flying off the roof and into the alley with a yowl. Again, the pigeon surprised Aengus by following after the airborne feline with a deliberately predatory gait before gliding down into the alley and out of the old man’s sight.

    Perhaps he should have saluted the cat instead?

    Old Aengus looked down at his glass before looking back out the window at the edge of the roof where the pigeon had disappeared. There was now a collection of other birds looking down into the alley with a sort of avian awe as a loud yowl echoed up from the alley until it was abruptly cut off by an unpleasant crunching sound.

    That did it. The old man finished off his current glass before carefully capping the bottle and levering himself up out of his chair by the window. As he went for his coat, he shook his head. There’d be no more drinking alone if he was starting to hallucinate about god-pigeons that ate cats that tried to eat them. It was time to go down to the bar, where at least a story like this one might get someone to buy his drinks for the night.

    Properly attired for the evening, Aengus left the front door to the building just as a young lad who looked about eight years old ran out of the alley and almost bowled him over.

    “Watch whaur ye’r gaun thare, young un’!”

    The boy turned back to offer an apology, and then sped off toward the library after Aengus nodded in acknowledgement. The old man chuckled at the boy’s enthusiasm before he was struck by just how unnaturally green the lad’s eyes were…

    He turned back to the alley next to his home that the boy had run out of, the same one the cat and the weird pigeon had disappeared into, before looking back toward the boy who had already disappeared from sight.

    He shook his head. “Na, thay wull ne'er hawp it.”

    1.10.6 Schooling approaches

    Harry’s new library card soon took a proud place among his treasures, and he used it to its limits, quickly filling it with due date stamps as he read through dozens of books every week. He began with Hookknife’s suggestions, but the public library stocked very few of them. The librarians were happy to direct either the friendly older gentleman or his eager young grandson — depending on whether he remembered to change before entering the library — to publisher’s catalogues and book clubs that he could order books from — a service that Harry was quite willing to take advantage of — but order processing and shipping took six to eight weeks, and Harry needed something to read in the meantime.

    Harry’s horizons broadened considerably during that free reading time, and eventually he came to be almost grateful for the delays. There were so many things he never would have thought to look for if he’d been able to get just what he wanted exactly when he wanted it, and his almost random walk through the library were expanded in his book orders. Books on philosophy, religion and ethics shared shelf space with the Machinist’s Handbook and a soft-cover DIY hydroelectric book. Architectural studies joined biology texts which sat next to physics treatises and political discourse, and books on every subject under the sun followed along in time.

    Suze discovered just as much of a love of reading as her dragon did, though her pace was much slower, and many lazy autumn afternoons saw the pair lounging in the sun at the mouth of the Lair reading something esoteric and enjoying each other’s company, but time passed as it always does, and with it, autumn passed into winter.

    It was a stormy one that year, enough that Harry’s offer to dig out a shelter for the Black Woods Clan at the base of the cliff around behind his Lair and out of the worst of the winds was gratefully accepted. Suze and Harry had to move their reading sessions inside, lest the winter gales steal their books from them, and the firelight proved decidedly inadequate for the task which brought Harry full circle to the reason he had gone on that trip to the library in the first place.

    Much banging and frustrated book consultation ensued until eventually, there was a small waterwheel — built from a salvaged furnace fan and an alternator he picked out of his most recent lunch — installed at the mouth of the Lair which powered a small reading lamp for the two of them. After that, the violent weather became much more pleasant.

    The winter gales continued to hammer the land through the solstice and Christmas and eventually transitioned into heavy rainstorms in the early spring. It was about this time that a new visitor began to appear at Harry’s Lair.

    On one of his visits, Mr. Dumbledore had brought along a phoenix by the name of Fawkes. The bird, a red-gold creature about the size of a very large swan and looking for all the world like a roiling mass of animated flames took an instant liking to the young dragon and his damsel and soon became a regular visitor.

    As was his habit, Harry soon worked out a new game with his avian friend, tag. Fawkes was a wonderful flier, and their games of chase filled a gap in Harry’s schedule that he hadn’t realized he missed after his lessons with Madame Hooch ended. Harry was significantly faster than his new friend when traveling in a straight line, but Fawkes proved devilishly hard to catch, particularly when he did fiendishly devious things like changing direction. When the young dragon was all played out, Fawkes would often join the pair in the Lair for times filled with song and companionship.

    Fawkes particularly enjoyed being bathed in Harry’s fire for one reason or another.

    As the heavy rains of spring gave way to the heat of summer, the school year came to a close, and the time for contacting new students approached. Several of Harry’s professor friends came to his Lair for important discussions.

    These discussions entailed important arrangements for Harry to attend Hogwarts as a student, starting with the subject of keeping his dragon-ness quiet and rapidly spiraled out of control after Harry apologetically explained his inability to sleep in any shape but his natural one, or rather, his tendency to spontaneously revert to his natural form if he was in any other shape when he went to sleep.

    Considering that such a reversion would spell instant death to any of his roommates if he were to live in the standard accommodations, the school rules were quickly consulted to find some way of making alternative arrangements. Once that little wrinkle had been resolved by citing a rule about permitting students who live close enough to the castle to attend as day-students rather than boarding — it was a rule which was rarely exercised in the five hundred years since room and board fees had been lumped with tuition rather than charged separately; this coming year was unusual in that there would be a few other students in addition to Harry making use of it — they got on to the subject of where Suze was supposed to stay.

    Harry got rather cross at the suggestion that it might be better if she were to stay with the other centaurs, and he got even more worked up at the suggestion that he might not be allowed to go to his Lair whenever he needed to make sure those nasty but tasty spiders weren’t going after the centaurs again. After some snarky remarks from the resident potions master, who had once gotten rather ill from some badly-cooked acromantula, this was again resolved by reference to assorted entries in the mind-bogglingly complicated, not to mention huge, book of Hogwarts school rules. The thing was the size of a dinner table — one that could seat a family of five.

    Predictably, Harry asked if he could read it. A question which was answered, “Yes, but not until later.”

    From there it devolved into chatting about all sorts of stuff ranging from what to do about Harry’s dietary requirements to what to do if Harry found any more damsels at Hogwarts. This particular point raised a hullaballoo until Harry put the kibosh on the discussion by declaring that it wasn’t ‘if’ but ‘when’, and when he did he would just carry her off as was good and proper, thank you very much, and they had all better stop being so silly about it at once — or else.

    With that put to rest and the thin curls of smoke accompanying Harry’s last declaration still lazily rising through the air, the topic of guns was raised, and with it came another uproar. Once again, Harry had to snap a bit to get everyone else to start being sensible. As guns were hard to get, it was obvious that they were a kind of treasure, and anyway, Sergeant Major Hooktalon said that if anyone wanted Harry’s guns then they should have to prize them from his cold dead fingers, so everyone had better stop being silly about it at once.

    Once Snape had got done with his snigger-fit — it wasn’t giggling, for Snapes never giggle; Snape had made that very clear — they started poring over the rules to work out how to make that not break the rules. The thing about guns was solved by citing a rule about carrying swords that never specified the sort of weapon it was talking about, and the thing about damsels was solved by the same bit of the rules they were using to let Harry stay at his Lair during the school year. Nothing said students couldn’t go stay over at a friend’s house overnight if they were invited, so that was okay.

    Some further discussion later, Harry wished his grown-up friends a cheerful good night as they departed for their own homes.

    He had trouble getting to sleep that night because he was excited, and he spent the following few weeks counting the days until July 28th when the Hogwarts letters would be sent out.

    It arrived in its own good time.
     
  25. Threadmarks: Section 2.1 - A friendly shopping trip
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2 Harry goes to school


    2.1.0 A friendly shopping trip

    Diagon Alley was weird.

    The first clue had been the terrible pun in the name, but his first visit had made the state of affairs eminently clear.

    It had started with the way they couldn’t see the entrance until their daughter towed them there, and even when they could see the place, it was just a dingy hole-in-the-wall pub. What kind of society put forth that as their public face?

    Then there was the entrance to the alley itself, which had been a plain, even grungy, brick wall behind said run-down pub. The bricks of that wall had folded away revealing the third clue in the form of the architecture, which not only looked to have been lifted from several centuries previous and not cleaned since — to be fair, a state which was not unusual for London — but also looked to be in need of drastic reconstruction. Half the buildings appeared to have somehow been halted right in the process of collapsing in on themselves. Fourth, there’d been the wares on sale which did nothing to dispel the image, nor did their prices. Fifth there’d been the population, and their absurd sensibilities regarding attire.

    However, in the face of all that, the thing that grabbed, and held, Anthony Granger’s attention was the centaur loitering outside what seemed to be a second-hand shop near the entrance to the alley.

    She was a gorgeous creature, not that he was sure any of those were the right term. From the bits that humans used as hips on up, she was the very picture of classical Grecian beauty, only departing by being somewhat wider and more muscular. From there down was what looked to be one of those mobile slabs of lean muscle that people who know about horses bandy terms like ‘thoroughbred’ about. Her hair and fur were a deep russet, and every part of her human-equine mish-mash anatomy was tightly defined.

    And if he’d thought that was strange, her clothing and the assorted equipment she carried on her person really took the biscuit, in large part because she was quite visibly armed to the teeth.

    Attached to the web-work of leather straps she had fitted tightly to most of her body — the interaction of which with her human-bits had held Tony’s attention for longer than he was strictly comfortable with — the centaur carried a military-looking gun, one of those with the bullets stored in a little metal box forward of the trigger, a disturbingly large number of extras of those little ammunition boxes, a second gun that looked like a hunting rifle with a very long barrel, yet another gun that he recognized as a shotgun from the westerns he used to watch as a child, a sizeable variety of knives of various makes, and a very modern high-powered pulley-operated compound bow — he was pretty sure he recognized it as a top-of-the-line Browning — complete with a quiver full of equally modern carbon-aluminum arrows.

    In short, she looked like she was carrying enough weaponry to field a full squad of modern infantry in a combat zone.

    Underneath that leather harness, her upper human-like parts were clad in a greenish-brown shirt of what looked like linen, cut in an unusual, vaguely-Asian, style with a deeply plunging neckline and accented by what looked to be carefully chosen furs of a soft grey-brown. She wore a brightly-polished choker around her slim throat which carried an intricately engraved seal on its silvery surface centered under her chin. Her lower, equine, parts bore a western-style saddle and associated tack with several canvas shopping bags slung over it and, now that he’d gotten a better look, yet another pair of guns attached to it, partially hidden under the bags. This time some sort of old-school bolt-action rifle and a revolver. She also had some sort of bridle, complete with reins, strapped around her head, though the bit was currently missing from the ensemble.

    It was about that time that Tony realized something very important; the oddly-dressed people around him in the alley — the ones he’d been very busy being unsure how to react to — very obviously didn’t know how to react to the centaur either.

    “Okay Suze, now we gotta go get a wand!” said a cheerfully energetic, and very young, voice, and the centaur visibly perked up as a small boy — perhaps two or three years younger than Tony’s daughter by the look of him — came running over in that hyper-small-kid-running kind of way, carrying another well-packed cloth shopping bag with him. “Mr. Dumbledore says the best place for wands is a place called Ollivander’s Wands Shoppe; he says it’s just down thattaway past the expensive potions place.”

    “Okay, Harry,” the centaur said, calmly taking the new bag from him and hooking it to her saddle alongside the others before giving the boy a hand up into said saddle and ambling off in the direction the boy had indicated, though Tony noticed that the reins remained looped over the saddle horn rather than in the boy’s hands.

    Then the boy seemed to actually notice the Grangers.

    “Oh, hi!” he said in a bright, friendly tone. “You look kinda lost, ‘bout as lost as me and Suze were the first time we came around here.”

    “Well… actually, yes,” Tony admitted, dubiously glancing from centaur to small boy and back again several times. The centaur noticed his expression, giving him a wink and a shrug that did nothing to alleviate his confusion.

    “Aw, don’t worry about it, Diagon Alley takes a lot of getting used to at first, but once you’ve gotten used to it it’s cool. Um, have you swapped out your pounds for galleons yet? They’re not proper gold, but that’s because goblins are sensible, and they keep most of the gold to themselves.”

    “…well, no.” This time it was Sharon, Tony’s wife who spoke up.

    “Okay, then you gotta go to Gringotts. That’s the bank; they’re just over there.” The boy pointed out an imposing white and gold structure at the central intersection of the shopping district directly across from an oddly empty lot. Given how crowded the rest of the alley was, Tony would have thought someone would have snapped up such a prime piece of real estate. As Tony frowned contemplatively, the boy offered brightly, “Hey, you want me to, you know, show you around? I’ve been here like six times, and I know the way everywhere here. Oh, but we haven’t been introduced! I’m Harry, Harry Potter, and this is my centaur damsel, her name’s Suze. Hi!”

    Well, the kid was certainly friendly. “I’m Anthony Granger; call me Tony, everyone does. This is my wife, Sharon, and this is our daughter, Hermione.”

    “I’m the first witch in our family,” Hermione volunteered. Tony had to smile at how pleased with herself she sounded.

    “Wow, that’s awesome! I didn’t know not-glowy people could have kids who glow!” Harry enthused, obviously beyond delighted. “Hey, c’mon, there’s all sorts of awesome stuff I’ve gotta show you! But first off, we gotta go to the bank. Let’s go!”

    Closer inspection showed the bank to have a set of broad steps leading up to an entrance guarded by a set of imposing silver doors and a pair of brightly-attired guards carrying very nasty looking halberds. The guards were short, broad men with yellow-brown skin, protruding chins, neatly-cropped white hair, long noses, and beady black rodent-like eyes. Those bright uniforms looked to be painstakingly-maintained, and there was something about their manner which was reminiscent of the guards at Buckingham Palace as they stood there, alert and keeping a sharp eye on the passers-by.

    “Are those goblins?” Tony asked as they approached.

    “Hmm… Yeah, they sure are,” Harry replied. “The one on the left is Corporal Mantrap, and the one on the right’s a private, though I don’t know his name.”

    “They’re kind of fierce looking,” Hermione muttered.

    “G’morning, Corporal Mantrap!” Harry enthusiastically greeted the guard on the left, who promptly saluted.

    “Mornin’, Mr. Potter,” the goblin growled. “Here to speak to the Vice Chairman?”

    “Nah, I’m just showin’ these guys around; they were kinda lost.”

    The corporal nodded politely and touched his cap, “Mornin’ ladies, gentleman. A profitable day to yeh all.”

    “Morning,” the Grangers said in a ragged chorus. Sharon, Hermione, and Suze immediately followed Harry into the building, while Tony paused to read the inscription on the silvery doors warning against thievery.

    “Has anyone ever been stupid enough to try to steal those doors?” he asked.

    Corporal Mantrap let out a rough chuckle. “A time or two,” he said. “That’s why the lot across the street is empty, the Bofors and Vickers guns make a bit of a mess.” There was another dry chuckle. “Being un-magical and all, you’d know well what that means, eh lad? Head on in, yer missus’ll be wonderin’ where yeh’ve gotten to.”

    “…right,” Tony said and entered the bank. The name ‘Bofors’ was vaguely familiar from his father’s war stories, and ‘Vickers’ rang a bell too.

    Weren’t those the names of some very large guns?

    “Okay, now you gotta go queue,” Harry was just saying as Tony caught up with the rest of the group. “It shouldn’t take too long because you picked the right sort of day and time to come. It’s always quietest on Wednesdays and halfway between when people start work and lunchtime.”

    Business in the bank was swiftly concluded; goblins and non-magical bankers seemed to have similar ideas on the equivalence of time and money. There were odd looks from the rest of the clientele when those other customers realized how polite the goblins were being to the otherwise unremarkable group of muggles and muggle-born.

    “I’m guessing there are male and female goblins,” Sharon suddenly said, just after they’d left the bank.

    Tony was wondering when she’d ask that, Sharon had been big into the feminist thing at university, though she’d calmed down a lot since graduation. He’d figured she’d feel the need to say something after the bank visit and its strangely uniform staff.

    “Well of course there are,” Harry said, shrugging matter-of-factly. “Where’d you think little baby goblins come from?”

    “…er, right. So where are they?” Sharon asked.

    “Where’s who?”

    “The lady goblins.”

    Harry snorted, “Didn’t you smell? The goblin you changed your money with is a girl. I think her name is Meatshred Slackhammer; she’s my friend, Mr. Vice-Chairman Slackhammer’s, niece, I think. Oh, of course you didn’t smell! Your nose ain’t as good as mine or a goblin’s.” The boy nodded sagely at that odd statement. “You know, I think she might be going into heat, that’s the only time it’s easy to smell if a goblin’s a mister or a madam, normally they just smell of goblin.” The boy’s face screwed up in confusion. “I’m not really sure what going into heat means, Mr. Vice-Chairman Slackhammer got all sorts of embarrassed when I asked, but I think it’s got to do with that kissy-face making-babies stuff some grown-ups are into.”

    “…oh,” Sharon said. “I suppose I shouldn’t have expected them to be like humans, should I?”

    “It ain’t real important anyway,” Harry continued. “When I asked, Colour-Sergeant Griphook said that if you ain’t certain whether a goblin’s a boy or a girl, the proper thing to do is call ‘em ‘Mister’ and if they’re bothered by it, they’ll tell you, and there ain’t many that’re bothered. I think Madame Axetalon’s the only girl goblin I’ve ever met who makes a point of it, and I know lots of goblins.”

    “I take it you’re quite familiar with goblins then?” Tony asked.

    “Yeah, they’re my friends,” Harry said with a firm nod. “They’re all sorts of fun, and treasure ’s got to come from someplace, right? Anyways, I’m guessing you gotta get everything, right?” This last question was addressed to Hermione. “’Cause half the places on the school list are kinda expensive, and I know a couple of real neato shops where you can get half the school stuff for like half the price. ‘Specially the potions stuff, the big place is a real rip-off.” He indicated the bags hanging off Suze’s saddle horn. “I’ve got my potions stuff already, an’ I was going to head to get a wand next.”

    With that decided upon, they set off for the wand shop. All three Grangers were given quite a fright by the thinning-haired man who seemed to appear from nowhere, only for Harry to ask why he smelled like fish, and the rather crestfallen man, who introduced himself as Ollivander, explained that small quantities of cod liver oil were used in the making of the glue used to hold the different wand components together and the finish used to polish them. Thereafter, each child was subjected to a seemingly excessive battery of measurements of odd pieces of anatomy — why on Earth was the distance from left eye to right thumb with arm extended important? Particularly considering it would change as the owner grew, or even as the owner shifted posture for that matter — before being offered a whole string of wands to try.

    Here, Harry became quite visibly concerned at the comments about the usage of ‘dragon heartstrings’ in wand construction, and he became even more concerned about Hermione being told that she was well-suited for wands constructed therewith, only to just as visibly calm down when Hermione — who had remained completely oblivious to his concern — spurred Ollivander into a twenty minute explanation of the behavior of various wand-construction materials including the various different heartstrings from different breeds of dragons. Apparently, Hermione’s new wand contained a heartstring from a female Hungarian Horntail, a breed renowned for their strength and stubbornness under pressure and suited to people with the acumen to stand up for their beliefs even through immense difficulties.

    With Harry relieved for reasons that escaped Tony, and Hermione pleased with the implications of her new wand, Harry was then subjected to a similar set of measurements before going through even more wands than Hermione had in the process of selecting one which was apparently the ‘brother’ of the one that had put the scar on his forehead; a scar that the Grangers hadn’t noticed on account of it being hidden by the boy’s immense mane of scruffy black hair.

    After the wand shop, bags securely secured in either Tony’s hands or on Suze’s saddle, they headed towards the place Harry claimed had the best price on potions supplies. The trio of Grangers were somewhat nonplussed at the ‘Oh no, not again’ reactions from the staff on seeing the young boy marching in the door.

    They were confused, that is, until they discovered how much of a skinflint he could be. He pissed, moaned, bitched, complained, criticized, questioned quality, and haggled the sweating shopkeeper down to a third of the stated price.

    “We could have afforded, heck, probably thirty cauldrons at the price he was asking,” Tony remarked.

    “Sure you could,” Harry allowed, “but money’s gotta come from somewhere and why go spending more than a cauldron’s worth when it’s a cheap cauldron that ain’t hard to melt, and you’ll probably go through like a dozen of them? Especially when he was asking like twice what it was worth; it’s just pewter and the bottom’s kind of thin, and anyway, if you don’t gotta spend another knut on something then your hoard’s a knut bigger, isn’t it?”

    The boy finally paused for a breath before continuing, “Plus, Mr. Snape always says you should pay exactly what something is worth because if you overpay for things, then you’re encouraging bad habits in the craftsman who made it, and if you underpay for something, then you’re cheating an honest man out of the fruits of his labors. Those cauldrons were cheaply made, so you shouldn’t pay too much, or you’ll encourage people to make things even cheaper.”

    “Harry, how old are you?” Sharon asked. Tony could guess from her tone that she was getting rather irritated with the pint-sized boy’s rambling.

    “I’m going to be eleven next week.”

    “You’re not very big for your age,” Tony remarked. Then he winced as he realized how offensive that could sound.

    Not that Harry was phased by any such implications. “Well, that’s because I’m between growth spurts,” Harry explained with a pragmatic shrug. “I grew real fast for ‘bout eight months before I was nine, then it really slowed down; I only grew like an inch in the past year. I figure I’ll catch up next time I have a growth spurt, so that’s okay. Y’know, I’ve been a lot hungrier the past couple of weeks than since my last growth spurt stopped; me and Hagrid and Mr. Kettleburn think that means I’m gonna start growing real fast again pretty soon. It’s gonna be a pain ‘cause I’m gonna have to start eating tons again, but oh well, you can’t grow without enough to eat, so that’s okay, I guess.”

    No more was said on the subject as the group tore through the remainder of their shopping lists with little to remark on aside from Harry tearing huge chunks out of the list prices through unashamed haggling until the visit to the book store provided Tony with a revelation. His daughter was going to be a long-time friend of the boy for their shared love of reading, if nothing else. The two children had identical reactions to the store.

    Hermione quickly blew through all the extra money Harry’s skinflinting had shaved off their supply budget by loading up on even more books than those named on the school lists, while Harry, declaring that he already had most of the books on the list, headed off to load up on more esoteric books in languages and covering subjects that left Tony thoroughly bewildered.

    Once they’d finally managed to drag the kids out of the bookshop, there was a brief upset with what seemed to be a family of Neanderthals in robes, during which Tony found his attention very firmly drawn back to the bewildering assortment of firearms Suze was carrying, specifically the old-style bolt-action rifle which had been attached to her saddle and which Harry had now shoved up the left nostril of this ‘Crabbe’ character.

    As the group of troglodytes moved on in an uncharacteristic fit of prudence, Tony asked, “Mind if I have a look at that gun, Harry?”

    “’Fraid I can’t do that, Mr. Granger,” Harry sounded apologetic. “Sergeant-Major Hooktalon would have my nadgers for boot-leather if I let anyone he wasn’t sure knew how to safely handle a firearm handle it, and anyway, Mr. Slackhammer says that it’s the duty and privilege of all thinking beings to have weapons and if anyone thinks different they can have our guns when they pry them from our cold dead fingers, and the same goes for swords and knives and such.”

    “…nadgers for boot-leather…?” Sharon sounded vaguely nauseated.

    The clangor of a bell rang out over the alley and Harry froze, raising a finger.

    BONG, one finger, BONG, a second, BONG, a third, BONG, a fourth, and silence.

    “Four, phew, it’s not five, so I’m not late. Um, I think that’s everything you need for school, and I really oughtta go. I’ll see you guys outta the alley, then I gotta go get my bum into gear. I’ve gotta be back to the Lair at half-past four so I can meet with Mr. Ronan to talk about seasons at a quarter to five, and then once it’s six, I’ve gotta meet with Mrs. Sprout and Mr. Snape to go harvest potions ingredients that it’s the right sort of time to harvest now.”

    Hermione checked over her shopping list.

    “Yes, I think we’ve got everything,” she said, “Did we remember the potions supplies?”

    “Yes,” Tony confirmed, “that was the third shop we visited.”

    “Oh, I must have forgotten to tick it off. In that case, that’s everything.”

    “Okay, then I’ll see you at the end of the month!” And the whirlwind that was Harry blew out of the alley with his centaur in tow.

    2.1.1 Professorial speculation

    Albus Dumbledore settled comfortably into his favorite armchair, a soft, velvety number that was tailored to his posterior — he wasn’t a master of transfiguration for nothing, after all — and came complete with a matching footstool on which he rested his stockinged feet. He was seated across from the fireplace, currently dark on account of the summer weather, in the sitting area of his office, joined by the four Heads of House for the school.

    This had been a meeting nominally about planning for the next school year, and the majority of the normal crowd that assembled to discuss their resident dragon was still off completing their various summer projects. Of course, this didn’t keep the remainder of group from their usual ritual of passing around a drink, though it did influence the variety. Today’s drink of choice was chosen by Minerva, and it was, predictably, a single-malt whiskey brewed and distilled not far from her family’s home. Filius again volunteered to serve the drinks. Albus idly wondered whether he should introduce the charms master to his brother, Aberforth. They might strike up a friendship over a mutual love of tending bar.

    The five professors had finished the necessary administrative tasks and were now lounging about, relaxing while they could before the halls were flooded with the noisy, hormonal gaggle of teenagers that would be descending on the castle in a few short days. The room was dimly lit by flickering flames in the gas lamps, and the companionable silence was broken only by the occasional clink of a glass against the table until Pomona Sprout spoke up.

    “Hufflepuff, I think,” she stated before taking another sip of whiskey.

    “Hmm?” Albus said, echoed nonverbally by the inquisitive looks from her fellow Heads.

    “I think Mr. Potter will be one of my Badgers.”

    It seemed that the young dragon would be a topic of conversation after all.

    Albus had finished off his glass and retrieved his pipe, filling and lighting it in lieu of refilling the liquor. After he took an initial puff, he asked, “What makes you so confident, Pomona? Not that I disagree, I am simply curious.”

    “I stopped by Mattias’ shop at the start of August to pick up some mandrake seedlings for the second years. A young muggle-born witch was there with her parents trying to shop for her supplies, and they were looking a tad overwhelmed with the sights, particularly a certain well-armed centaur. Young Harry noticed and took them under his wing — metaphorically speaking,” she clarified at Severus’ worried look. “The lad almost drove Mattias’ poor apprentice to tears with his haggling over their potions ingredients. Last I saw, Potter had dragged the family into Flourish and Blotts. Any such good Samaritan is prime Badger material.”

    McGonagall gave an unladylike snort, “The boy stands up to authority and leaps to the defense of his friends in an instant,” she countered. “He’s as much one of my Lions as either of his parents. His constant talk of rescuing damsels speaks to his innate nobility. Mark my words, he’ll be in my House come the Sorting.”

    “Ah, but he has an incredible love of learning, even an obsessive one at times,” Flitwick interjected mildly. “I believe the boy’s library is already larger than my own, and it continues to grow unabated. When he gets access to the school library, I’m sure there won’t be a volume outside the Restricted Section he hasn’t memorized by next summer. He takes the time to think through what he learns, too, and he is proving quite adept at logic and philosophy. I am convinced he’d do quite well as one of my Ravens.”

    Four heads turned expectantly to the potions master, the only Head who had yet to speak up. The man was quietly sipping at his whiskey. At their looks, he calmly asked, “What?”

    Albus covered a smile by gripping his pipe stem between his molars. “I believe they are expecting you to claim that Mr. Potter is destined to be a Slytherin,” he said before issuing another puff of blue smoke.

    Snape snorted a far more impressive snort than that issued earlier by his colleague; his substantial snout giving him a decidedly unfair advantage in the contest. “That dratted dragon is about as subtle as, well, a dragon in a pottery shop — as ironic as that simile is. He has so little grasp of anything so much as resembling cunning that he answered every question put to him by Odd Lovegood last year without giving any thought to why the man was asking questions or what he was going to do with the answers. He didn’t even bother to try to persuade you all to let him stay in his Lair or to continue expanding his collection of damsels from the student body; he just made the declarations and you scurried to distort the rule book in order to allow it. Your mental gymnastics in those attempts would not have been out of place in the muggle Olympics. The boy has developed nothing in the way of cunning because he has had no need of it.”

    His earlier snort was reprised in even more impressive fashion, “The boy has little ambition other than to be the best dragon he can manage to be, and while he may accomplish some very impressive feats along the way to that admittedly laudable goal, given his natural talents he will require little in the way of ambition to succeed at them. With neither cunning nor ambition, there is little to warrant the wretched lizard’s inclusion among the Serpents, despite his scaly integument.”

    “Here I thought you had come to rather like the lad, Severus,” Filius chimed in.

    “I do not like the blasted lizard, Filius,” Snape insisted flatly. “I will admit that the boy is tolerable company, and he is far and away the most interesting individual I have ever encountered. I could happily spend the remainder of my career exploring the functions of his bioalchemy, and I daresay I would expire before I ran out of new material to examine.” Snape took another drink. “But for that very reason, I refuse to misrepresent the boy’s capabilities. I would not do that to an enemy, much less someone I find passingly acceptable to deal with.”

    “I suppose that the large pile of galleons you have made from those studies does nothing to influence your opinion then, Severus?” Minerva asked archly before she savored another sip of her precious single malt.

    “I will not deny it,” Snape shrugged. “It was implausibly satisfying to buy a lifetime membership at Barret’s and eat a celebratory meal there while Lucius and Narcissa waited impatiently to be seated. Though I honestly have no idea what I am to do with the rest of it. My laboratory is already superbly equipped, and I can only eat out so much before it eats into my research time in turn.”

    “I’m sure something worthy will come up eventually, Severus,” Pomona assured him, “perhaps it will even be someone, hmm? It’s not healthy for you to mope for so long after that blow-up with Lily; it’s been over a dozen years, Severus. But regardless of his House, are you not looking forward to teaching the boy? Beyond the tutoring you have given him so far?”

    Severus deliberately ignored Sprout’s dig about his lack of a love life; she did that to everyone, and it wasn’t worth the trouble to complain about anymore. He was firmly convinced that Pomona Sprout wouldn’t be happy until everyone of an appropriate age for such things was paired off and happily turning out sprogs by the dozen; he suspected she might also insist on the ones still too young having someone already lined up for the job, too.

    “I do look forward to exploring his capabilities with the practical side of brewing when we can finally get him into one of the safeguarded laboratories, yes. He has memorized all of the common potions books, and many of the less common ones in my own collection. Should he prove able to live up to my expectations, I would be willing to grant him access to my private notes in hopes that he might prove to be capable of attaining his own mastery and advancing the state of the art even further.”

    Snape then paused, taking another drink. “I am not, however, looking forward to the chaos that will inevitably dog his steps through these halls.”

    “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Severus, Harry is nothing like his father,” Minerva said exasperatedly.

    “I know that,” Snape said, rolling his eyes. “And I feel the need to thank you for recalling that mental image, Minerva, I had almost managed to put it out of my mind. Merlin knows what the world would come to were it to house a dragon with James Potter’s attitude! More than half the school would have been levelled by now, I am certain. I shall need to be cautious around boggarts in the future, for surely the next I encounter shall take the form of James Potter as a bloody dragon!”

    “James was…” Minerva began.

    “He was a bully,” Snape interjected flatly. “And I was his favorite target.” He held up a hand to forestall Minerva’s counterargument, “I am not interested in debating ancient history, Minerva. I can admit that he may have changed somewhat after he and I no longer interacted, if for no other reason than respect for Lily’s judgment — I checked her for love potions more than once, I assure you — but that does nothing to change my impression of the man. The last few years have convinced me that young Mr. Potter is nothing like his father; if not for his voice and choice of human form, there would be nothing to link him to the man. I will always hate James Potter, but I can accept and respect that his son is very different. His nature is all too painfully like his mother’s.”

    “Is the comparison between father and son fair then?” Pomona asked.

    “It was not I who made the comparison,” Snape said as Minerva looked away in embarrassment. “I merely said I was not looking forward to the upheaval his presence will cause. You must admit we have contorted the spirit of the student rulebook and interpreted the remaining rules in a bizarrely creative manner in order to accommodate the blasted beast. I saw the draft of the acceptance letter for the first-year students, ‘a cat, owl, toad, or centaur’ as a pet? Until the students send their first letter home, I’d wager a month’s royalties that the parents of the older students will have thought it a joke.”

    Pomona held out her glass for a refill from Filius, who obliged with a superbly smooth levitation charm without bothering to retrieve his wand — the undersized man was feeling lazy that evening. “If he is not like his father, then why do you expect him to cause so much chaos, Severus? Lily was one of the most even-tempered witches I have ever met — I mean, she was vicious when she finally got her dander up, but that took a great deal of doing.”

    Snape sighed and drained off the remainder of his whiskey. “Believe me, there is no comparison between the kinds of havoc the father raised and those his son will raise. Potter, that is James Potter, tormented other children under the guise of playing pranks for his own amusement. Harry Potter will turn the school on its ear by virtue of his species, not his attitude.”

    Albus puffed again on his pipe, eyes distant in thought. “Come now, Severus, surely it won’t be that bad…”

    “Have those execrable muggle sweets of yours rotted your brain as well as your teeth? Pomona just told us the boy has already made friends with a muggle-born first-year witch. I would not wager against her be becoming his newest damsel before the end of the year. If the boy’s pedigree breeds true, and he is sorted into Gryffindor, someone like young Mr. Malfoy will see him and his blasé attitude towards blood status as a natural enemy. And because of the wretched lizard’s relative immaturity, any malicious pranks played on him or his friends will be met with a direct response that will no doubt be swift, shocking, and most of all, childish, but it will be a childish response backed by enough force to level a small town! What do you suppose will happen when the son of a Governor ends up as a pile of malodorous fertilizer somewhere in the forest?”

    “I doubt things will go that far, Severus,” Albus assured him affably.

    “Indeed,” Minerva agreed, “If young Draco is anything like his father was at that age, young Draco will probably be unpalatable even to Harry’s digestive tract.”

    “Minerva!” A trio of shocked voices drowned out a quiet snicker from the fourth.

    “Oh, come now, I was being facetious,” Minerva paused just long enough for her audience to calm down. “Harry drinks fuel oil like water, if anything the Malfoy propensity for oily hair products would make the young lad irresistible.”

    This time she was met with groans, to which she continued, “Seriously though, Severus has raised a good point. We have no idea how or at what rate Harry will grow. Intellectually he will certainly be capable of completing his schooling — even were he to stay just as he is now — but his emotional maturity seems to be several years behind his forthcoming classmates. If he continues to mature slowly, we may be faced with a situation in later years where his classmates are entering adulthood while he is still a young child, an exceptionally powerful young child.”

    “That’s true,” Sprout agreed. “If they survive their mating contests, dragons can live into their sixth century, but despite Lovegood’s observations, we have no idea what species Harry is or what his expected lifespan might be. “If he’s going to live for several centuries, he might well still be a child by the time he takes his NEWTs.”

    Flitwick chuckled aloud, to the surprise of his colleagues. “What?” he asked, taking in their expressions. “I’m beginning to suspect that young Mr. Potter will usher in a new era of civility at Hogwarts, at least when his fellows come to realize that they have the choice between being civil to each other and being sat-upon by a dragon the size of the Hogwarts Express engine.”

    Dumbledore echoed his charms professor’s chuckle. “Indeed. Mr. Potter is quite fond of threatening to sit himself down upon those who annoy him. I think we shall have to impress upon the lad that sitting on his classmates is not a valid form of retribution.”

    “What would be a valid form of retribution, then?” Pomona asked, pointedly. “For a student who could, with little effort, lay waste to the entire school should he so desire, what is acceptable?”

    Snape shook his head. “As usual, you have missed my point. I was not referring to the difference in maturity between the boy and his classmates. That will certainly be an issue, but it is not one that we are inexperienced in dealing with; our other students are hardly uniformly mature in any case. Though that does promise some small amount of amusement as well.” He paused thoughtfully before continuing, “But no, I was referring to the boy’s propensity for disproportionate physical responses. While I unfortunately missed the actual encounter, his centaur pet was, once suitably persuaded, willing to recount it to me. Those monstrous acromantulas happened by the centaur colony in search of a quick meal of horse-flesh. Instead, they met several thousand degrees of dragon-flame face first and have since almost been hunted to extinction.”

    Flitwick gave Severus a sly glance, “You wouldn’t happen to have insisted on the story being recounted to you because of what happened immediately prior, would you?”

    A smile of heroic proportions made itself known on Snape’s normally stoic face. It was self-satisfied. It was smug. It proved beyond a doubt that even pleasant expressions were made thoroughly irritating by being displayed on the man’s face, but it also indicated the success beyond even his wildest expectations of a well-laid plan. “Filius, I have no idea what you mean.”

    “The expression you wear suggests otherwise, my friend.”

    Pomona tilted her head to the side, “I appear to be missing some context…”

    “Do you recall the gift Severus gave young Harry some two years ago, on his ninth birthday. The first birthday he spent in his Lair?”

    Sprout frowned in thought, “Wasn’t that the saddle and harness contraption for Miss Suze? The one he got so… oh dear!”

    Snape’s thoroughly smug smile looked like it wouldn’t be shifted by anything less than a major tectonic event. “Oh yes, though the final trigger was not, in fact, my gift. Rather it was a thoughtful addition Mr. Potter came up with himself. In any event, when Bane encountered Harry in the process of asking about his new addition for Suze while she was wearing the saddle, the blowhard went berserk, snatched up a cudgel and charged in to attempt to beat the stuffing out of our young dragon.”

    “Oh, dear,” Sprout repeated.

    Nothing could convince Snape not to recount the story at that point. “Potter transformed back into his native form and backhanded the arrogant poltroon so hard that he skidded for some thirty yards across the forest floor and saw naught but his precious stars for the next several hours,” the potions master sighed happily. “As attitude readjustment tools go, there are few more effective than the back of Mr. Potter’s hand.”

    “What does Bane’s humiliation have to do with the acromantulas?”

    “After Bane could regain his feet with the help of fewer than two of his compatriots, Magorian, the centaur chieftain, persuaded Mr. Potter to allow them to relocate under his Lair, and not halfway through the move, they were assaulted by the spiders. The centaurs were trussed up almost without exception before Potter arrived on the scene. He hit the arachnids so hard that sympathetic resonance has probably instilled a mortal fear of dragons in spiders all across the globe.”

    Pomona looked concerned, “Does Bane still hold some ill will for the lad?”

    The smugness in Snape’s expression dialed back a few notches, but the man still looked inordinately pleased with himself. “No, oddly enough Mr. Potter’s attitude readjustment backhand seems to have worked exceptionally well. He is still antisocial, of course; I expect nothing short of a complete lobotomy would change that, but Potter’s hand seems to have instilled a new sense of caution and a reason to deliberate before taking action.” His expression sobered, even turning a little grim. “If Potter decides to provide an encore of similar attitude readjustments to the student body, there is little beyond careful verbal persuasion that we could do to stop him.”

    Dumbledore glanced down, noting that his pipe had gone out. A quick flexing of magic remedied that, and the pipe flickered back to life. He absently blew a few smoke rings while he considered the account. “You may be right,” he eventually acknowledged. “We will need to guide Mr. Potter gently and very, very carefully.”

    “Of course, I am right!” Snape once again proved his reputation for irritating abrasiveness well-earned. “I already plan to warn my Serpents against any action towards Potter, no matter what House he ends up in. Most will accept it, but I’m afraid a few die-hards will insist on learning the hard way.”

    He issued another of those very impressive snorts. “Having him here only during class time will help immeasurably, if only by reducing the number of opportunities for covert mischief by removing him from the halls and dormitories in the evening, but I hold little hope that the infirmary will not be heavily occupied with a number of long-term residents by the end of the year.”

    Minerva winced, but she nonetheless nodded, acknowledging the point. “Much as I am loath to admit it, I can easily envisage Mr. Potter inadvertently injuring a student enough to put them in Poppy’s care for the long term. Even with his,” she paused, her eye twitching, “exhaustively merry attitude, he won’t let bullying slide. We will need to be even more vigilant for, and intolerant of, intimidation amongst the student body.”

    Dumbledore nodded, absently puffing at his pipe. “It is a fine line to walk. You know how much our society prizes secrecy, and how difficult it is to establish the truth. Even for children, without delving into restricted potions or legilimency, establishing a chain of evidence is often impossible; bullies don’t generally act with unfriendly witnesses about. If we start punishing infractions on the basis of hearsay, I foresee a torrent of accusations from students with no true cause for complaint.” He paused for another puff, “How to separate the kernels of truth from the chaff, though — that will require some thought.”

    “Perhaps we should not be too hasty,” Snape said thoughtfully. “I find myself morbidly fascinated by the idea of how Potter would react to those insane Weasley twins. Perchance a single, sanctioned, attitude adjustment would be appropriate?”

    “Severus!” Minerva protested, “That is beneath you!”

    “Perhaps a smaller adjustment,” the potions master mused, seemingly not noticing his colleague’s protest. “But not too much smaller — yes, that would be most welcome.”

    “Severus!” This time it was Albus’ turn to protest.

    “Oh, settle down, Albus; I am only stirring the cauldron. I am sure those twins will fall afoul of Potter at some point, however. They will not be able to help themselves, if past experience is any guide. I am certain they will make a point of it, if only because their usual fare of prank potions will not influence Mr. Potter in the slightest. The two brats will likely take it as a challenge. It would be best, though, if Minerva, Pomona, Filius, and I impress upon our charges the magnitude of this shift. We are already warning them away from the third-floor corridor, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to include a new standard of behavior.”

    Dumbledore nodded, still absently puffing away at his pipe. “I suppose that is a reasonable course of action. Whichever of you is fortunate enough to have the opportunity, please ask Mr. Potter to see me after the welcoming feast so that I might discuss it with him personally.” He sighed, breath laden with fragrant blue smoke, “I do agree though, that we must impress upon the students that from this year forth, any hint of intimidation tactics will be met with a swift response.”

    “From us, or from Potter?” Filius asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Ah.”

    A few more moments passed in companionable silence before Albus’ office clock chimed marking the transition from very late night to very early morning. Filius took this as his prompt to get some sleep.

    “Well, I believe that I will seek out my bed. Good night to you all!”

    Minerva and Pomona quickly followed along, leaving Albus and Severus alone. Albus slept less and less as the years passed and his magic took over more functions from his failing body, and Severus was long used to the irregular hours required of a potions master. When a brew required seven hours of stirring before introducing a critical ingredient, it didn’t care if that seven hours would mean stirring until three in the morning.

    “There is a possible solution,” Snape offered, “though it smacks of using a flame whip to swat an annoying fly…” He paused as a thought struck him before clarifying, “…a normal fly, not one of Hagrid’s.” There were flies, and then there were flies, Snape thought with a shudder.

    “Oh?”

    Snape nodded, deep in thought. “A time turner and an invisibility cloak, if any student is injured or makes an accusation, one of us could use them to verify the events in question, unnoticed. It would likely take only a few incidents before the students learned to behave themselves.”

    “You are right, that does sound excessive,” Albus agreed. “What is wrong with engaging the portraits to assist?”

    “Aside from the fact that the portraits sleep and move around? There is a significant fraction of the school which is free of portrait frames. Despite their perennial dunderheadedness in my classroom, the students are not stupid, Albus. If they get caught every time they are near a portrait, they will soon learn to avoid them.”

    “Perhaps a compromise then? We recruit our pigmented spy network, and I will fish out my time turner for those situations in which the portraiture fails.”

    Snape raised an eyebrow, “You are actually going to use my idea?”

    “It is a bit drastic,” Albus shrugged, “but it is certainly feasible. And the consequences of failure are quite… unpleasant. There has not been a violent death among the students during my tenure as headmaster, and I would prefer to keep it that way, particularly when the death would likely fall on the conscience of young Harry.”

    “Agreed.” Snape nodded emphatically, thinking back on the first man he killed. That had been accidental too, but at least the man had richly deserved it.

    “That should definitely not be on the boy’s conscience if it can be avoided. Combat is one thing, but accidental killing eats away at you.” He finished off another glass of Minerva’s whiskey. “I confess that my Slytherins will likely be difficult to rein in. Perhaps four out of five automatically translate ‘do not do something’ into ‘do not get caught doing something’.”

    “Hmm, it sounds as though you have a challenging year ahead.”

    “Indubitably.”
     
  26. Threadmarks: Section 2.2 - Encounters on a rail
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.2.0 Encounters on a rail

    The platform was thoroughly intimidating.

    Hermione Granger was on her own for the first time in the magical world; her parents were unable to navigate the concealed entrance the Platform Nine and Three Quarters, and unlike the Alley, she could not lead them through. She had had to go in on her own. Between the trauma of having to walk face first into an apparently solid brick wall — out of curiosity, she had kept her eyes open, and she was still cursing herself for that decision — and being alone among a massive throng of new people while attempting to manage her absurdly heavy trunk, Hermione was more than a little nervous.

    She was certain everyone else on the platform knew more about what was going on than she did, an intolerable state of affairs for someone who prided herself on her intellect. Unfortunately, she had no idea of what to do about it. The introductory packet she’d picked up at the bookstore had been thorough only in its inadequacy.

    “Huh, that’s interesting…”

    Hermione perked up at something she recognized. That was the voice of that hyper gun-nut boy that had shown her and her parents around Diagon Alley back at the beginning of August. He’d been a bit irritating to be around, what with how energetic he was, but… well, she was sort of adrift at the moment, and any familiarity was good at that point as far as she was concerned.

    Plus, anyone who liked books that much couldn’t be all bad.

    “What’s interesting?” Hermione asked, wandering over in his direction. Suze was there too, informing her that the letter was probably not joking when it said ‘cat, owl, toad, or centaur’. She also found herself wondering absently how it was that Harry was visibly taller than he had been the month previous.

    Kids didn’t grow that fast, did they?

    “Hello, Hermione,” Suze greeted her while Harry was still musing over whatever it was that had caught his imagination.

    The centaur was, oddly enough, on a leash, which seemed rather strange to Hermione, but that was quickly overwhelmed as she was once again struck by how impressive a creature the centaur was. Suze topped out at eight feet to the crown of her skull — delicate for a centaur, not that Hermione knew that — and for a pre-teen girl, eight feet oozed ‘wow’.

    “Hmm, oh hi Hermione!” Harry finally managed to take note of her presence. “This train’s interesting, that’s what.”

    “Why? It’s just an old train.”

    “Yeah, but everything else here is magic one way or another, and the train, well, it ain’t magic. I mean, there’s some fire magic in there, and I think it’s sorta partway alive, but not the rest of it; it’s just a big old steam engine, and I’m tryin’ to figure out how you sneak a big old steam engine from London nearly to Mallaig.”

    “What’s a Mallaig?”

    “It’s the muggle town a little way up the coast from Hogwarts. There’s lots of boats and a really cool toy shop there, and it all sort of smells of kipper.” Harry frowned thoughtfully at the train engine and failed to notice the amused glance from the soot-covered man who was watching from the locomotive’s cab. Nor, for that matter, did he notice the dubious look Suze directed towards said soot-covered man when she noticed his interest.

    “We’d better get on the train, Harry, or it might leave without us,” Suze prompted. She seemed heartily amused by something about her own statement.

    “Hmm, oh yeah, I guess we should,” Harry agreed and followed along towards the carriages. He glanced back at the engine again, “Y’know, it’s funny, but it still seems like that engine is supposed to be black.”

    Hermione, trailing a little behind the duo while she struggled with her book-laden trunk, found herself wondering why the driver had responded to this by bursting out laughing.

    2.2.1 Trouble boarding

    Hermione had allowed herself to be swept away by Harry’s exuberance. There was little choice, he looked like he knew where he was going, she didn’t know anyone else on the train, and it would have been rude to leave without some sort of excuse, so she hurried along behind the boy and his centaur.

    As the trio approached the train, they tried to board through the side door.

    ‘Tried’ being the operative word. As a centaur, even a petite centaur, Suze was pushing eight feet in height, and she was literally as big as a horse. Passenger trains, even magical passenger trains, would pose a bit of a challenge for the girl.

    “Um, Suze, could you duck down a little?” Harry asked after looking at the situation with a puzzled frown for a moment.

    As the centaur maid obligingly contorted herself in an effort to fit through a door designed for creatures of at most a third her size and of quite different proportions besides, Hermione stared incredulously.

    “Harry,” the frizzy-haired witch protested, once she had managed to register what she was seeing, “Suze will never fit through there!”

    The small green-eyed boy scratched at his unruly mop of shaggy black hair. “Umm, maybe? What do you think, Suze?”

    “I can manage,” the centaur replied in a voice muffled by the fact that her body was currently filling the entirety of the entrance stairwell of the train car. “It’s a bit of a squeeze, but I can manage.” With that, she gave a final push and forced her way into the train, looking for all the world like one of those wildebeest she had seen on those television specials struggling to force its way up a steep muddy riverbank. Her abrupt passage prompted a chorus of protests from the other passengers displaced by her energetic entrance.

    “Well, there you go,” Harry said, his usual good humor back in evidence. “I’ll grab Hermione’s trunk and follow along.” With that, and without even a by your leave to the owner of said trunk — not that she would have responded, gaping as she was at the spectacle of a centaur forcing her way into a passenger train — Harry hefted the monstrously heavy thing over his shoulder and followed along after his centaur.

    Finally tearing her eyes away from where Suze had disappeared into the train when she felt the handle of her trunk pull away from her slack grip, Hermione was struck by yet another odd spectacle. Harry who, despite his recent growth, was still an inch or so shorter than her, had picked up the heavy trunk — the weight of which Hermione had been struggling to drag across the platform despite its wheels — with one hand as if it weighed nothing at all, slinging it over his shoulder casually and setting off after his centaur.

    Her father had struggled, red-faced, under the weight of that trunk when he pulled it out of the boot of the car. It was heavy enough to squeeze an assortment of unrepeatable words from the usually well-mannered man regarding the sheer volume of books she had packed away for school which she was certain he hadn’t intended for her to hear.

    In the moment it took her to process the scene, Harry had bounded up the stairs and disappeared around the corner, at which point she thought to call out, “Wait, Harry! You don’t have to carry that; my trunk’s got wheels!” while hurrying after the boy who had just absconded with the sum total of all the supplies she had brought for school.

    As she rounded the corner into the central corridor of the passenger carriage, she absently took note of the various scrapes and tufts of hair that stood in mute testimony to the passage of an equine body rather too large for the vessel it was being shoved through.

    Hermione had to wonder whether she’d be able to hold on to her sanity if this was what passed for normal in the magical world.

    The somewhat frazzled girl finally caught up to her companions — and her trunk — only to be struck by a new spectacle. Suze had found an empty compartment about halfway through the carriage, only to get rather firmly wedged in place when she tried to enter through the door.

    The centaur had managed to get her human-part into the cabin and the shoulders of her equine part before the tight quarters and her lack of lateral flexibility caught up with her, leaving her in quite the awkward predicament. The corridor was too narrow for her to twist her body the rest of the way around, and the polished wooden floor was too slippery for her hooves to find purchase to force her way through the door.

    Harry was between Hermione and the discombobulated centaur maiden, and every cabin Suze had passed sported at least one curious soul peering out the door at the unusual sight of a centaur attempting to board the Hogwarts Express. It was a sight that was probably a historical first.

    Just when Hermione thought she had reached her quota for surreal sights for the day, Harry once again proved her judgement to be hasty.

    “Hang on, Suze,” the boy said, setting down Hermione’s trunk with a dull thud that belied any thought that he might have used magic to reduce the thing’s weight in order to handle it so easily. He ran up behind the centaur maid and placed his arm under her barrel before calmly stating, “Ready? One, two, three…” and lifting Suze’s entire back end just as easily as he had Hermione’s trunk, using the height of the corridor and his own strength to realign the centaur’s back end so she could pull herself into the passenger cabin with a flurry of thrashing hooves.

    With the hallway now cleared of half a ton of centaur, the rest of the corridor became visible, revealing a half-dozen or so other students sprawled in a steaming red and angry heap where they had apparently been pushed back by Suze’s passage. They did not look happy in the slightest.

    Even though she technically wasn’t responsible for the debacle herself, between the spectators and the angry glares, Hermione was flushed red with mortification. Once again, though, Harry’s obscenely cheerful attitude seemed to turn the situation on its metaphorical ear. Despite the fact that the angry students had obviously been forced back and bodily piled up in the corridor, Harry simply picked up Hermione’s trunk once more and gave a cheerful wave and a friendly, “Hi there! Thanks for letting us through!” before disappearing into the compartment after his centaur pet.

    Left alone facing the glares of a corridor full of angry older students, the highly embarrassed first-year girl could only stand there, cheeks flushed.

    One of the larger students who had been barreled over by the centaur on her way to the compartment finally regained his equilibrium enough to clamber to his feet and storm up to the cabin door, yanking it open and storming in with a blustered shout of “WHY YOU LITTLE…” before he was cut off mid-sentence by a mule-kick from the centaur he had previously been unpleasantly acquainted with. He skidded across the corridor, slammed into the opposite wall, and folded up on the ground with a pained grunt. Bent double, the upperclassman clutched low on his belly, curled up in a private ball of pain on the floor beneath the spiderweb of cracked paneling on the wall where he impacted.

    Harry stuck his head back out the door with a concerned expression on his face. “Are you alright? You shouldn’t sneak up behind a centaur, you know. It’s not safe, ‘cause they can’t see back there and their first reflex is to kick first and ask questions later. It’s instinctive, they can’t help it.”

    Another older student from the tangle on the polished floor of the corridor — this one a girl with a pale complexion, dark chestnut hair, and matching eyes, whose green and silver-trimmed robes bore some kind of official-looking golden badge pinned to the breast — also struggled to her feet and approached the downed boy. She waved her wand a few times then nodded, seemingly satisfied with the results of whatever she had just done before she rounded on Harry with a heated glare.

    “What is that creature doing on the train?” the witch demanded.

    Hermione watched with bated breath as the affable cheer faded from Harry’s face in an instant, replaced with something the frizzy-haired girl couldn’t properly identify, “She’s not a ‘creature’, she’s my friend! And she’s allowed on the train; it’s not her fault this poo-head yelled at her from behind!”

    Hermione had quailed at the older girl’s tone, particularly coupled with that official-looking badge, and she was quite thoroughly impressed that Harry didn’t so much as flinch. It seemed that the older girl was impressed too, since she quickly backed off from the much smaller boy.

    Seeing the opportunity to temporarily remove herself from the spectacle of the hallway — and not incidentally, reunite herself with the comforting weight of her trunk and the books held therein — Hermione made a break for the doorway Harry was standing in. Harry almost automatically shifted to the side to allow her entry while keeping his oddly intimidating gaze on the older girl in the green and silver-trimmed robes until she finally turned away with an exaggerated huff and busied herself with the injured boy still leaning against the wall.

    Shutting the compartment door behind him, Harry turned back to his friends. “Well, Suze, it looks like there’s a bunch of grumpy bums here on the train.”

    In the meantime, the centaur maid had claimed one of the bench seats for her own exclusive use, settling with startling grace for such a large being with her legs tucked up underneath her on the cushions, her human-like torso twisted at the waist so she could lean back into the wall, hair just brushing the bottom of the luggage racks.

    “We’ve only met a couple people, Harry,” she offered. “The rest may be nice.”

    “Maybe,” he said doubtfully.

    Feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the entire sequence of events, Hermione began, “Um, maybe I should go…” before she took note of the dark looks on the faces peering in through the glass of the door to the hallway, “stay right here for a while.”

    Harry dropped Hermione’s trunk onto the free seats opposite his centaur. “You can stay as long as you like!” he said cheerfully. “Did you bring anything to read?”

    “Of course,” she said, mildly scandalized at the thought. Hermione had not willingly gone without readily available reading material since she had grown old enough to hold a book unaided. “Didn’t you?” She looked at the boy more closely, wait… “Didn’t you bring a trunk with you?”

    “Nah,” Harry grinned at her cheekily. “I live near the castle, so I’m just going to classes during the day. The train ride’s a tradition, though, so here I am. You should get out the books you want now, though, and I’ll put your trunk up on the rack for you. This is the book I brought along to read.” He pulled out a tiny box which rapidly expanded into a book the size of his torso with a tap from his finger after he set it on the leather seat next to her trunk.

    Hermione opened her mouth to object that her trunk was too heavy for someone his size before she remembered the way he had manhandled it down the hallway as if it were weightless. Shaking her head, she quietly undid the latch, removed the four books she was currently reading, then paused for a moment and thought before she picked up a fifth and closed the trunk. Again, she was amazed as the slight boy picked up the trunk with no apparent effort — this time grabbing it by one end and lifting it by the handle as if it were no heavier than an empty cardboard box — so he could rest the other end on the rack and then slide it the rest of the way because he was too short to reach the rack normally. The fact that he pushed it in the last few inches using a single finger at full extension did nothing to diminish her amazement.

    As she settled into the familiar comfort of her books, Hermione could only come to one singular conclusion.

    The Wizarding World was mental.

    2.2.2 All aboard!

    James Coates, the regular driver for the Hogwarts Express, was still chuckling to himself as he hauled on the chain hanging from 45401’s cab roof and the ever-faithful Stanier Class Five’s strident whistle blared across King’s Cross.

    How that young whippersnapper with the pet centaur — must be a rule change — had known that a Black Five was supposed to be black without knowing what a Black Five was, well, that was anyone’s guess, but given the chance he’d enjoy finding out.

    “Wotcher laughin’ at, Jim?” Michael ‘Mac’ McDonald, Jim’s fireman, asked, his query punctuated by the responding whistle from the guard. As if it had been waiting for that sign, the starting signal dropped.

    “I’ll tell yer later, Mac,” Jim said, patting the drake-dog who kept the fire nice and hot. “Okay, Smaugey, give the old girl a touch o’ hellfire.”

    Smaugey gave out a happy little gronk and blew a jet of blue-white flame into the firebox. The drake-dog knew his business — he’d been part of the Hogwarts Express crew since its inception nearly a century past, and by human standards, he’d been old then. The little critter had fired dozens of engines in his day, and he’d likely stay on for a great many more — no one knew how long drake-dogs could hang around for.

    Smaugey had picked up his current nickname from Jim’s predecessor back in the forties, named after a character in some book or another, but he didn’t care what they called him; so long as he had good company, good food, and a good job to do, the little drake-dog was happy as could be.

    Jim’s smile broadened as he gave the whistle another blast, heaved 45401 into gear, and began to ease the brakes off and the regulator open. Jim was of much the same mind as his drake-dog partner.

    No railman, and very few others outside the profession, had ever been able to stand next the hissing, spitting iron monster that is a steam locomotive without half believing that the mighty steel behemoth is somehow alive, and Jim Coates was no exception. He’d been driving the Hogwarts Express since before any of its current passengers were so much as a funny glimmer in their parents’ eyes, and he fully expected to man her footplate for decades to come. As long as his heart held out, he’d be right there at the regulator when the kiddies needed their ride, and between times he’d be right there keeping the supply runs going to keep them fed at their great drafty castle of a school.

    Steam burst from her chimney like the hissing of a gigantic snake as the sixty-odd-year-old iron horse began to move with a great groan of bearings and a nice, solid clang as her pony truck battered across a rail joint. Mac grinned and slung another shovel of coal into the firebox in time with the chorus of clangs from her driving wheels hitting the place marked by a fishplate, and Smaugey gave it a good huff and a puff as the brakes came off completely and the first proper chuff burst from the faithful old locomotive, making the fire roar as the steam blasted its way through her smokebox and into the summer air.

    The world had changed out from underneath the steam locomotive; the modern diesels had become cheaper and easier to run. It didn’t take so much skill to drive a diesel; a diesel didn’t need a talented fireman who knew when you’d need more steam and had her coaled up and ready to deliver. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry could have a diesel up and ready to roll easy as starting a car. The pragmatic side of Jim Coates knew that a Class 37 was a good, efficient locomotive, but that ‘tractor’ just wasn’t the same.

    It wasn’t a hissing, spitting metal beast; it didn’t have the pounding white-hot heart and soul of a good old Black Five. You couldn’t hear every part respond to the rails — it just wasn’t proper.

    Real locomotives, in his considered opinion, were seventy-odd tons of British iron, steel, and engineering with a hand-stoked fire, at least two big pistons, six or more driving wheels, and no fewer than two honest, highly-skilled working men paying her the attention she deserved from the footplate.

    And, for as long as steam ruled the wizarding rails, as long as some bright-eyed kid from down south would pay for a ticket, he would be right there amidst the fire and the fury, listening to the wheels clickety-clack across rail joins and the exhaust hammer away like a machine gun with no need for any nancy heater as the roaring fire at her heart lifted sweat from his wrinkled brow.

    This was most definitely life at its finest.

    2.2.3 Awkward kids

    An hour or so into the ride, Hermione was startled out of her reading by a knock on the door of their compartment, followed almost immediately by the knock being rendered irrelevant when the door was opened from the outside.

    The interloper was another boy of about the same age as her, only this one actually looked like it. He sported orange-red hair, a threadbare checked shirt, patch-kneed denim trousers, and a rather baggy, dilapidated corduroy jacket.

    “Heya!” he said in a cheerful voice. “Everything else is full, mind if I sit here?”

    “Sure, c’mon in!” Harry’s reply was immediate and equally cheerful.

    Hermione gave a smile and welcoming nod before she frowned as a thought occurred to her. “Wait, the train’s been moving for an hour now, what were you doing before if you hadn’t found a compartment?”

    The newcomer colored in embarrassment, fidgeting a little, “Ah, well, I was sitting with a couple of my older brothers, but their friend brought a tarantula, and they got it out in the compartment, and I kinda don’t like spiders, so I thought I’d go somewhere else…”

    “Oh, that makes sense,” Hermione said, nodding.

    “Yeah, spiders are the worst,” Harry agreed with Suze nodding emphatically. “Though some of the big ones are real tasty; just make sure you cook ‘em up right, or you can get food poisoning. Mr. Snape says they taste a lot like shrimp, but I always thought they tasted kinda like chicken.”

    “Harry, blathering,” Suze interrupted. The new boy had been turning steadily paler during Harry’s discourse on fine arachnid dining, and Hermione couldn’t say she blamed him.

    “Oh, sorry, I have a problem with that sometimes,” Harry apologized sheepishly.

    “…I just hope that my brothers don’t put that tarantula in my trunk while I’m gone. It’d be just like them to do something like that,” the redhead said, obviously just wanting to put the topic of spiders behind him. “My name’s Ron Weasley, by the way.”

    “I’m Harry,” Harry said immediately and enthusiastically. “And this is Hermione, and this is Suze. Suze is with me.”

    “Hi,” Hermione offered.

    “Well met,” Suze said.

    The newly-introduced Ron finally took in the centaur in the room as he looked up, and then further up, to see the source of the latest voice. “Wow! I guess they weren’t kidding about centaurs in the letter this year. I thought the twins were just having me on.”

    “Well, actually that’s ‘cause of me. I said I weren’t gonna come if Suze couldn’t come-with, and Mr. Dumbledore said he couldn’t be having that, so, well, Mr. Flitwick said he twisted some arms, but that doesn’t sound like something Mr. Dumbledore would do, so I guess that’s gotta be one of those ‘idiom’ things, and anyway, that’s why they added centaurs to the list,” Harry explained. “I mean, Mrs. McGonagall says there’s more allowed than what’s written down; she says that rats and hamsters and stuff’s okay too, and she said a kid was once allowed to have a chicken, and Madame Pomphrey said there was apparently a girl who graduated a couple years back named Mindy that brought her collie named Buttons who was always getting himself hurt which was why Madame Pomphrey remembered them specifically, but they added centaurs just so there weren’t gonna be any arguments.”

    “Yeah, I sorta knew that,” Ron volunteered, digging a rather mangy-looking rat, greying with age, out of his coat pocket, “because Scabbers here wasn’t against the rules or nothing when Percy had him.”

    “Huh, that’s weird,” Harry said, sounding puzzled. “Is that some sort of magic rat or something? Because it don’t smell completely of rat.”

    “I don’t think so,” Ron said glumly. “All he does is sleep, eat, and, you know, widdle.”

    “Oh,” Harry scratched his head, “I guess it musta just picked up your pocket smell.”

    “Hey, I don’t smell!” Ron protested. “I had a bath this morning, and my clothes are right out of the wash.”

    “I didn’t mean it like that,” Harry protested. “You had bacon and eggs for breakfast, right? And I think, pork sausage with… sage.”

    “How’d you know that?” Ron asked, giving a suspicious look to his shirt-front.

    “Because I got a really good nose, see,” Harry said, scratching his head. “I can smell the last few things a person ate for a few hours after they ate it, and everything smells of something. I mean, you smell like a person who had fried grub for breakfast and whose laundry got dried on a line close to an herb garden, and Hermione smells like someone who uses lemon-scented soap for their washing and handles books a whole lot, and Suze smells of person and horse and gun-smoke and that special kind of wax they use on composite bows, and this carriage smells like linseed oil and warm wood, and the engine smells like axle grease and coal smoke and hot metal, and the air ‘round here smells like exhaust pipe and dead pigeon, and I guess I smell like Harry what slept in and didn’t have time for a bath this morning.”

    “Huh,” Ron said, “that’s gotta be pretty awesome.”

    “Yeah, sometimes it’s real good,” Harry agreed. “Like when you’re up on the moors and you can smell all the plants and where there’s rabbits and deer and sheep and stuff, though deer poo kinda pongs, and then there’s when the wind comes in off the sea and you can smell the salt and the seaweed and maybe a bit of engine oil from the fishing boats or the trains. Mallaig’s nice, it all sorta smells of kipper and fishing boats when there ain’t too many tourists around, but the seagull poo can get a bit much. London stinks though. I think it’s because there’s too many people what ain’t washed and all them exhaust pipes and jet planes and somebody else’s rotten kebab in the gutter and all that chewing gum and dog poo and things what died and went manky and all them stinky pigeons…”

    “Harry, you’re blathering again,” Suze interrupted again.

    Harry stopped halfway through opening his mouth to continue, considered that for a moment, then looked highly embarrassed, drew several deep breaths, and sat back down. It was at that point that Hermione realized she didn’t know when he had stood up and started pacing the crowded compartment during his rant.

    “…sorry,” he apologized. “Like I said before, I kinda tend to blather when I get worked up about stuff.”

    “I’d noticed,” Hermione said.

    “Er, yeah,” Ron said, obviously unsure what to say in response to that. “Hey, what Houses do you reckon you’ll be in?”

    This was something Hermione had thought of, so she chimed in, “I’m hoping for House Gryffindor! I read all about the Houses in Hogwarts, A History, and it sounds best.”

    “Well, my friend, Mr. Snape, says that there aren’t any good Houses really,” Harry said, frowning. “I mean, he says Gryffindors are mostly blood-crazed dolts who don’t know how to identify a fight they can’t win, and Hufflepuffs are mostly half-witted dunderheads who likely don’t know how to tie their own shoelaces, and Slytherins are mostly degenerate sophisticates who can’t get over some ancient foolishness about bloodlines, and Ravenclaws are mostly ivory-tower intellectual snobs who can’t tell the difference between theory and practice, but Mr. Snape’s kinda sarcastic like that.”

    “…oh,” Hermione said in a small voice, her initial impressions crashing and burning.

    “Well, so long as I don’t end up in Slytherin, I’ll be okay!” Ron chirped. “Mum says there ain’t a wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin House, and they’re all slimy gits, and everyone knows Gryffindor is best because they’re all heroes like Dumbledore and Harry Potter.”

    Harry looked at him for a moment before he started reeling off a list of names, starting with ‘Roderick of Fife’ and ending with ‘Sirius Black’.

    “…huh?” Ron asked.

    “Well, those are all the Gryffindors I can think of that went all murderous and dark-magicky,” Harry said, scratching at his head again. “And, y’know, Mr. Dumbledore was in Slytherin, and Harry Potter ain’t been Sorted yet, so who knows where he’s gonna be, so I guess your mum’s either dumb or making stuff up, and making stuff like that up is, well, a pretty dumb thing to do. I mean there’s already a billion-and-one stupid reasons for people to look down on other people, so why would you make up another one because of what a hat said to ‘em?”

    “…uh,” Ron began uncertainly, “what? Hey! Mum’s not dumb! You take that back!”

    “Well, if she’s not dumb, then why’s she making stuff like that up?” Harry asked, crossing his arms stubbornly. “Only other reasons I can think of for someone to do that sort of thing are a whole lot worse than just bein’ dumb.”

    “I don’t have to listen to this rubbish!” The ginger one beat a hasty retreat back to the hallway.

    “Yup,” Harry said, exasperatedly. “Dumb.”

    2.2.4 Serious conversations

    “That was kind of rude, Harry,” Hermione said.

    “Mr. Snape says being rude to people who are being rude to you is perfectly fair play as long as they aren’t goblins or teachers because being impolite to goblins is bad for your financial status, and being impolite to teachers is bad for your academic standing,” Harry said with a shrug. “And I don’t like people assuming dumb stuff about me; it takes loads more than just not being dead to be all hero-y. If you ain’t never had a rank to go with your name, then you ain’t a hero, ‘less you got something like a Gee-Cee tacked on instead.”

    “Gee-Cee… rank… wait, what? You mean you’re that Harry Potter?” Hermione finally registered the implications of that statement. “That’s what that strange Mr. Ollivander meant about wands and scars? Your wand is a copy of You-Know-Who’s wand!”

    “Well, if you mean that Voldemort guy what bounced a killing curse off my face, then yeah, that’s me, and yeah, I guess that’s what Mr. Dumbledore’s friend, Mr. Ollivander meant, and yeah, that Voldemort guy’s wand had a feather in it what came offa the bum of the same phoenix as my wand’s feather came from, and that phoenix is Mr. Dumbledore’s friend, Fawkes. He hangs out with me and Suze sometimes.”

    “Headmaster Dumbledore hangs out with you?”

    “Well, sometimes,” Harry allowed, “but I was actually talking about Fawkes, the phoenix.”

    “Oh, okay.”

    “But, anyway, the only way anybody knows about what happened to that Voldemort guy is because Mr. Hagrid — you’ll like him, he’s nice — says so, and he’s real bad at lies, and he found me in what was left of Mum and Dad’s house, and there was squished Voldemort-guy all over my bedroom, and I had blood all over my head, and my Mum was dead on the floor, and I don’t remember any of that stuff, so I really can’t say what happened.” As Harry’s monologue continued, his voice got more and more agitated. “And how’d people know he bounced a killing curse off my face, anyway. I mean me and that Voldemort guy were the only not-dead people there until that Voldemort guy splatted, so how’d they work that stuff out? For all I know, Mum coulda jumped in the way and killed him back. I mean, sometimes when I useta get bad dreams, I’d remember this sorta green light coming for me and this really crazy voice laughing, and then I can’t remember anything else, and there weren’t anyone else there, so it’s kinda weird that everyone assumes that that Voldemort guy bounced a killing curse off me.”

    “Harry, blathering,” Suze broke in once again.

    “…drat.”

    A freight train passed in the opposite direction. First announced by its brisk, twin-tone horn, the heavy roar of the diesel locomotive followed, and then there was the rapid-fire repetitive, slam-slam-slam of air hammering between the wagons and the carriages. All told, the encounter shook the entire Hogwarts Express and its passengers, serving as a nice punctuation to their conversation.

    “You know, it said how they worked out what happened in Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts,” the interruption had also given Hermione a chance to think on what was said. “It says they used the Reverse Spell on You-Know-Who’s wand, and it came up with the killing curse as the last three spells cast. It also says the Killing Curse leaves a distinctive residue of dark magic on the victim, and you had that residue.”

    “Yeah, I know,” Harry nodded, “but the Killing Curse leaves that same residue on everything nearby, so if he used it to kill Mum, then I’d have gotten it on me at the same time. And all the spells out of the guy’s wand were killing curses as far back as they could read — which is seven according to some arithmantic principle I still ain’t wrapped my head around proper, according to Mr. Flitwick — but that’s not really saying much, ‘cause when you cast one of those things, it blurs out over everything so you can’t really tell if something else was cast or even how many of ‘em were cast. And anyway, don’t go believing stuff you read outta Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts too quick; it says stupid stuff about me what ain’t true,” he scratched his head. “I mean, I know that’s what the government says happened, but governments are governments. Being stupid is what they’re there for.”

    “You should respect the government!”

    “Government’s made of people, and Mr. Snape says they tend to attract the worst sort to ‘em, usually the sort of people who want to run a government because they get an erection when they boot people around,” at this point, Hermione started blushing madly; Harry, of course, didn’t notice, “at least that’s what Mr. Snape says, and I guess he’d know even though I still ain’t sure what that means, and no one’ll tell me because they say I ain’t old enough if I don’t already know, which is real dumb because how’re you gonna find out in the first place if nobody explains it?”

    “I guess…” Hermione said uncertainly.

    “Anyway, you’re gonna want to get over that automatic respect for the government, at least in the Wizarding World. I’m not really up to snuff on the current not-glowy-people’s government stuff, but the one here ain’t very nice at all,” Harry elaborated. “Lot of bad sorts in there, and they do what the people with money tell ‘em to do, and a lot of the people with money are even worse sorts…”

    Hermione wasn’t sure how to answer that; she had trouble believing that the government was as corrupt as Harry was implying — that sounded more like some sort of third-world tin-pot dictatorship than any sort of government that could possibly be tolerated in the British Isles! Instead, she decided to change the subject, “Harry what do you think happened with You-Know-Who, then?”

    “Well, I dunno, do I?” Harry said. “Whatever happened, it left dark magic gunk all over everything, left a bleeding bit on my face, left my Mum and Dad dead, blew the wall off my room, and made that Voldemort guy go splat, and that’s about all I’m sure of. I mean, they found that Voldemort guy’s wand in its holster, so he couldn’t have been pointing it at me when he went splat, and whatever they did with it, they couldn’t have checked it out too well ‘cause it got nicked by someone two days later — and if I ever find out who did it, I think I oughtta nick it right back, ‘cause I figure any weapon somebody tried to slay me with is worth keeping — so that’s a pretty big hole in the whole ‘bouncy killing curse’ idea.”

    Harry took a breath, continuing before Hermione could say anything, or for that matter, think of anything to say. “I know I didn’t do anything, ‘cause I was just a little kid, and what’s a little kid gonna do if he’s got that Voldemort guy screaming ‘I’m gonna make you a dead little kid’ in his face? And I don’t think that Voldemort guy did extra stuff to make himself go splat because, well, what kind of rampaging dunderhead makes himself go splat on purpose? So, I guess Mum musta done something, but I don’t know what, and all the books I could find made it out to be something special about my face. I mean, my face is special because it’s my face, but not the making-Voldemort-guys-go-splat-when-they-Killing-Curse-it kind of special.”

    Hermione thought about that for a moment before deciding that she wanted to do more research. Harry’s arguments made sense, once she was able to parse through his colorful phrasing, but they were in direct contradiction to her books — in contradiction with multiple sources even! She decided to change the subject, “What was that you were saying about ‘Gee-Cees’ and ‘ranks’ earlier?”

    “What? Oh, the stuff it takes to be heroes, right?” Harry checked. He was now walking a bronze coin, a knut if she remembered correctly — Hermione rarely paid attention to money, leaving it to her parents for the most part — across his knuckles.

    “Yeah, that.”

    Well, I was talkin’ about soldiers and stuff,” Harry said, flicking the coin up in the air, and then catching it with the same hand before it could hit the floor. “I’ve been reading a lot of stuff on history and wars, and I’m pretty sure hero-ing is part of being a soldier nowadays, especially if they’ve got medals and stuff, well, unless they’re Nazis or Soviets or some-such. And I threw in the Gee-Cee bit cause that’s the best they give to non-soldier types who manage to do the same kinda stuff. All the history books are way clearer on that than they are on any of the stuff I’ve managed to find on dragons, that stuff’s hard to work out, and everybody seems to get bits wrong.” Harry was then balancing the coin on one finger before the train hit a rough patch and dislodged it.

    While the boy was recovering his coin, Hermione considered that. “I don’t know, Harry. I mean, all that killing and, you know, bombs… it just can’t be good.”

    “Well, that’s all well and good if you ain’t got some giant spider or something charging at you and wanting to eat your face,” Harry said with a shrug. “Then if you ain’t as awesome as me, you’re gonna be real glad if you’ve got a well-tuned Ess Em Ell Ee or Ess Em Ell Arr or something else what’s good at making holes in stuff.” He held up his bronze coin at eye level and contemplated it for a long moment, “Or what if some barking-mad little guy with a stupid mustache went ‘I’m gonna invade Poland, and you’re next’? Then, well, you’ve either gotta really do for anything that tries to get you, or you’re gonna get proper squished,” there was a loud wrenching sound as he crushed the bronze coin between his index finger and thumb, “like that.”

    “It would be nice if we lived in a world where bad things only happened to bad people,” Suze chirped up, giving Hermione an intense side-on look and reminding her that the centaur maiden was in the compartment with them.

    It was amazing how Harry’s presence seemed to overwhelm even that of a full-sized centaur stuffed into a train compartment, Hermione thought.

    “But we do not,” Suze continued. “The acromantulas have treated my kin as prey, as a tasty delicacy, for longer than I have been alive. Are you saying that we should allow them to devour us because they are thinking beings? Do not try to tell me that we should attempt to talk to them; that attempt was made in a time when I was but a pleasant thought in my father’s head, and it is quite difficult to talk reason into any being that simply will not listen.”

    “It weren’t my centaur friends that started the fire, and it weren’t me neither,” Harry said, flicking the mangled coin onto the floor, “but I’m sure gonna fight it, ‘cause there ain’t nobody what messes with my friends. There’s this real good saying Master-Sergeant Griphook told me a while back, ‘let he who desires peace prepare for war’. I reckon it makes sense, ‘cause if you’re ready for bad stuff to happen, then if it does happen, it’s way likelier you and your friends are still gonna be alive when it’s over.”

    “I guess…” Hermione said uncertainly. What was it with this conversation that brought up all these uncomfortable topics?

    “That’s what soldiers are for, Hermione,” Harry solemnly continued, “That’s what they do, it’s their job to save the world.”

    Hermione paused while she digested that, before she picked up the coin Harry discarded. It was twisted and crushed to the point where it looked like a small piece of modeling clay someone had squeezed in their fist.

    “…how strong are you, Harry?” she asked.

    “Way stronger than I look,” Harry replied matter-of-factly.

    “He can pick me up without strain,” Suze helpfully added, affectionately ruffling Harry’s great black mop of scruffy hair.

    Looking from the pint-size boy to the much, much larger centaur, Hermione found that hard to believe — temporarily forgetting the earlier incident where he did just that to get her into the compartment in the first place — so she said so.

    “I find that hard to believe.”

    Harry shrugged, not at all put out, while Suze stifled a snort and wryly shook her head.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione asked, slightly put out. Were her new acquaintances having her on?

    “I apologize, it is merely that Harry seems to have that effect on people. The legend and the reality are so far separated that few know how to respond.”

    “Oh…” the cabin fell silent for a time with Harry playing with another coin and Hermione contemplating everything she had just heard.

    “Hey, Harry?” Hermione asked.

    “Yeah, Hermione?”

    “What was that you said about something a hat says to someone?”

    “Well,” Harry began, “it’s supposed to be a big secret because someone ages back thought that keeping everyone guessing was funny, but first-years get sorted by having a magical hat named Donald sat on their heads, and he has a talk with them in their heads and figures out what House they’re gonna be in. I tried to get him to tell me how he works that stuff out, but he just laughed and told me he’d let me know if I ever needed to know.”

    This time, Hermione couldn’t keep herself from stating it out loud, “The Wizarding World is mental!” to which her cabin-mates could only nod understandingly.

    2.2.5 A boy and his toad

    It was about this time that their cabin was visited by another boy who appeared to be about Hermione’s age, this one in a kind of dumpy-looking tan-and-red-striped sweater who looked nervous to even be knocking on their cabin door.

    “Um, hello? Has anyone seen a toad around here?” the newcomer asked.

    “Nope,” Harry said as cheerfully as ever.

    “Did you lose one?” Hermione asked.

    “Yeah,” the boy said, sounding depressed. “He was a gift from my uncle for getting in to Hogwarts, and now he’s run off…”

    “Maybe we can help?” Hermione offered.

    “Ah,” Harry sounded uncertain for once, “I probably shouldn’t; animals always run away from me — except those stupid midges in summer — I’d probably just make things harder for you, sorry.”

    “That’s okay,” Hermione said brightly, “I’ll still help you look… Um, I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name?”

    The dumpy-looking boy now looked mortified that he’d forgotten to introduce himself, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I’m Neville Longbottom.”

    “Charmed,” Hermione said in a perfunctory sort of voice, “I’m Hermione, this is Harry, and that is Suze,” she said, indicating the relevant persons as appropriate. “Now let’s go find your toad.” With that Hermione briskly marched out of the cabin.

    2.2.6 Coasting in to the station

    It was nearing the last light of day when 45401 came pounding her way down the glen towards Hogsmeade station, the beat of her exhaust hammering off the mountains and echoing across the moors, the elderly carriages of the Hogwarts Express clattering along the well-beaten rails of the West Highland Line behind her as Jim Coates closed her regulator and eased her brakes on. Steam hissed from her glands as she drew to a stately halt in the branch station that marked the sole ingress of the so-called ‘muggle world’ into the village of Hogsmeade across the loch from Hogwarts, and she sat, simmering, as her passengers poured from the coaches.

    She was a notorious locomotive amongst the railway enthusiasts of Britain; her Midland Railway-style livery had drawn a lot of critical remarks, but her owners — an oddly hard-to-contact conglomerate known as Hogs Haulage, PLC — had so far proved unavailable for comment and had failed to return her to her proper livery despite myriad scathing letters from fans and old hands of the London, Midland, and Scottish.

    Her haunts were hard to pin down, too. A lot of enthusiasts had tried to book a ride on the daily workings undertaken by Hogs Haulage from the far northwest to London and back without success; whatever the run they hauled those trains for, it was decidedly private indeed, as was the exact location where their locomotives were stabled and just why their owners had seen fit to paint them in such unprototypical livery.

    Tut, tut!

    At least 45401 and her stablemates had been saved from the cutter’s torch. The number of fine old locomotives that had dwindled down to nothing in the scrap-lines was all too large as it was; for every locomotive that reached preservation, dozens had been met with the ignominious fate of being cut up for scrap.

    Some had been less than twenty years old when they were withdrawn, a terrible waste of a perfectly good locomotive.

    Most of the people who kept a weather eye out for the Hogs Haulage trains would have been quite scathing in their disbelief if told what the purpose of those trips was, but not all; one tiny handful knew what those trains stood for.

    And the majority of that handful could use magic.

    To the bulk of her passengers, 45401 was beneath notice; just the engine that hauled the Hogwarts Express today, nothing special.

    To the few, she was a slice of history in carefully-preserved steel, and in her time, she’d transported her fair share of fellow slices of history; the Boy-Who-Lived was merely the latest on that list.

    Thirty feet from her smokebox and completely oblivious to the significance of the simmering sixty-odd-year old locomotive, Rubeus Hagrid was busy bellowing, “Firs’ years this way, firs’ years this way!” at the top of his lungs. To him she was just a big old lump of red-and-black metal.

    Her crew was already checking her over in preparation to return her to her place in the Hogsmeade motive power depot as the first-year students boarded the boats at the nearby jetty. Mac was unfastening her couplers as Jim went ‘round seeing that the guard, Ivor McIver, had the coaches prepared for the shunter — an Andrew-Barclay 0-4-0 saddle-tank, formerly the property of a Speyside distillery — to haul them back to the carriage sheds for cleaning and for the Hogwarts house elves to transport the children’s luggage up to the castle. The children always made a heck of a mess on the train, and the small contingent of Hogs Haulage house elves always tut-tutted about the drifts of sweetie-wrappers, soft-drink bottles, used chewing gum, and other such detritus.

    By the time Hagrid was calling for the first years to mind their heads as they passed under the low entryway for the tunnel that led to the Hogwarts docks, more normally used to transport the food that those children would eat, Jim was backing 45401 past the coaches towards the point that led to the turntable and engine shed; as the students filed into the Great Hall, they were seeing that old Smaugey was fed and settled into his kennel; and by the time the Sorting began, they were leaving the shed on their way down to the Hogs Head Inn and a well-earned pint of Honest Abe’s Old Peculiar.
     
  27. DuskAtDawn

    DuskAtDawn Of the Thousand Faces

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    Oh, geez. I remember reading bits of this... it must be almost ten years ago, now, back when Doghead Thirteen first posted it on FFnet. Good to see someone's keeping the classics alive.
     
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  28. Jordisk

    Jordisk Getting sticky.

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    They have decided to Reopen the SB thread, with a couple infractions handed out to Author and commentators. I got 25 points for a joke about his next harem member. (Yes, I know this is not a Harem story, hence it was a joke)
     
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  29. Syphi

    Syphi Making the rounds.

    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2016
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    I was completely heartbroken when the thread locked a few days ago over on SB, but I could see where the mods were coming from...Those rules, man...

    Anywho, glad I checked on the thread otherwise I wouldn't have known to pop over to here for a bit, Have a carpet like bomb.

    Now then, about the most recent up there content, When you described Suze getting stuck in the doorway into a car, how exactly was she stuck? I know it was by a the width of her horse half, but was it her front or back? Was seriously bugging me....
     
    Ame and mental_shifter like this.
  30. medon12

    medon12 Getting some practice in, huh?

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    I think it's an angle thing, in the narrow corridor she doesn't have enough room to meet her turning radius.
     
    loatroll, Least Devotee and Syphi like this.
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