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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 3.16 - Returns
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    3.16.0 Returns

    The Granger family had spent the time between Boxing Day and the end of Christmas vacation much as they had the previous year, flitting around the isle in a whirlwind attempt to visit the entire extended family before Hermione had to return to school — an attempt which had met with a surprising amount of success, given that, prior to the previous year, it had occupied the entirety of the Christmas break. For some, like Sharon’s side of the family which had mostly settled in and around Sheffield, visiting everyone was a simple prospect, but her Tony’s side had proven a tad more adventurous in their habits, spreading out to the four winds and making for a great deal more travel time.

    They had known beforehand that the one uncle who had recently been stationed in Aberdeen for his new job would really push the schedule to the breaking point, which had led Hermione decide to return to the Lair directly rather than returning to Crawley with her parents. The choice saved her a day-long car ride back to Crawley immediately followed by a day-long train ride right back after only a few hours’ sleep. The bushy-haired girl had been eager to spend time with her long-absent parents, but there was a distinct difference between spending time with them and staring at the back of their heads for ten hours.

    To that end, before she had left the Lair, she had arranged for Harry to meet her outside a public library in Aberdeen with which he was familiar to pick her up with his usual self-charging return portkey. She was hesitant to ask why he was familiar with the location, given that he had rattled off a list of nearly three dozen such locations across the breadth of Scotland when she had asked about meeting up — which would have been reasonable, if not for the unasked-for commentary on how generous the locals tended to be when feeding pigeons.

    Some things even witches were not meant to know.

    That had all led to the present in which, a day before the Hogwarts Express was due to return the majority of her fellow students to the shores of the Black Lake, Hermione was already ensconced in her favorite chair — one of the leather-upholstered ones on the library mezzanine — with her potions book in her lap and a notebook at her side. She had finished reading ahead to prepare for her potions classes some fifteen minutes previous, and she was now simply sitting and allowing herself to rest for a time before she reviewed it again.

    After her misstep with Professor Snape during the previous term, the bushy-haired bookworm wanted to leave nothing to chance.

    In the meantime, however, she was free to simply sit and take in the sights.

    Sights such as her often dragon-shaped friend’s most recent project, which seemed to involve sculpting a steel copy of what appeared to be a stripped branch cut from one of the local bushes — he seemed to be making a good go of it, though his methods were… unorthodox, to say the least. Hermione watched as Harry heated a portion of his partially-finished sculpture with an acetylene torch only shudder as he grabbed the now-glowing metal with his bare hands and sculpted it like modeling clay.

    Magic was weird.

    When the small boy piched off a bit of excess material only to absently pop the still-red-hot metal into his mouth and eat it with every sign of enjoyment, she had to turn away. Why couldn’t he act like a normal boy and just gross her out by eating paste or something? At least that would make some kind of sense!

    She shook her head in an attempt to dismiss the thought, setting her bushy mane swaying. Best to get back to her studies, she supposed. Even after a year and a half in the magical world, she could only take so much absurdity before needing to take a break.

    Much as she loved her friend, all too often, Harry Potter made her brain hurt.

    3.16.1 Odd requests

    Seated at her writing desk in the parlor of her home, the Head of the Wizarding Examination Authority, Madame Griselda Marchbanks cocked a snowy eyebrow curiously as she reread the handwritten letter she had just received.

    While neatly written, the handwriting was obviously that of a schoolboy, a judgement reinforced by the word choice in the text itself. The missive itself was a formal request for audience.

    To the elderly witch, that seemed a rather odd juxtaposition.

    It was often the case among witches, particularly witches who had given birth, that their magic found itself well-used to being directed inward, disproportionately reinforcing their bodies and allowing them to live several decades longer than a similarly powerful wizard. Griselda Marchbanks was both a strong witch and a mother of six, which made her spry condition at the respectable age of two hundred and sixty-eight years only moderately remarkable — though she was likely approaching the end. In the recent decades, she had begun to feel the creeping onset of her mortality as her magic grew more and more strained by keeping her functional.

    Of that long life, she had happily spent nearly two and a half centuries involved with the educational field in one capacity or another. Despite that wealth of experience, the elderly witch could not recall a single time she had received such a letter. Not once!

    She had certainly received letters from children before — her numerous grandchildren, admittedly with varying numbers of ‘greats’ prepended to that title, had ensured that. She had received formal requests for audience before — her station in society made that a normal fact of life. Never had she seen the two combined, receiving a formal request for audience from a child.

    It made the letter sitting before her an interesting one, for the novelty of it, if nothing else. That the unusual letter had come from the Boy-Who-Lived was simply another piece of the puzzle. The elderly witch frowned thoughtfully at the parchment before her for a few more moments before shrugging as she came to a decision.

    Well, it was a slow time of year, she thought as she reached for a quill and blank parchment. There would be no harm in humoring the boy.

    For that matter, even if it turned out to be a pointless meeting, it might be a worthwhile use of her time simply as an opportunity to take the measure of the Boy-Who-Lived. He would likely be a prominent figure in the upcoming years, and it would be useful knowledge to have, one way or another.

    3.16.2 Livid

    Inconceivable!”

    With the winter break over, Tom had returned to Hogwarts, and with his return to campus, he had finally been able to arrange an opportunity to slip away on his own for a time without arousing suspicion. Alone in an out-of-the-way corner of the labyrinthine castle, he was at last safe from observation and could vent his spleen over the maddening events of the end of term feast. After the better part of a month during which he was forced by various circumstances to stew in silence, that spleen was in dire need of ventilation.

    “That unutterable bastard murdered Charlotte!” Tom hissed as his dainty hands clenched in impotent white-knuckled rage. “How?”

    It was a good question, to be honest. Basilisks had their vulnerabilities, Tom knew that as well as anyone. Charlotte was well over a thousand years old, and there was precious little she could not best physically or magically, but her primary weakness — a cock’s crow — was both easily obtained and well-known. It was the reason Tom had insisted his old friend operate in secret at first until he had managed to ensure there were none of the pesky birds on the castle grounds.

    Potter, though, had not even bothered to use that weakness — hell, he hadn’t even known Charlotte was a basilisk! Potter had killed her by main strength, judging from the brutal injury done to the hapless girl. The miniature fiend had… had… Tom’s thoughts trailed off into an incoherent sea of rage as he spat out a string of blistering curses sufficient to make the saltiest of old sailors green with envy.

    Though, admittedly, his sweet soprano robbed the delivery of a certain gravitas.

    “That monster!” he spat as his tirade of profanity ran its course. How could anyone kill poor sweet little Charlotte? She hadn’t even done anything yet!

    Tom hardly thought two measly petrifications counted in the grand scheme of things, and he didn’t believe that cockamamie story about her raiding Potter’s pantry for a moment — what kind of pantry did the boy have that Charlotte would even fit in it? Even if she had, stealing a little food hardly rated execution! Then that miniature green-eyed murderer just waltzed into the great hall dragging Charlotte’s broken corpse behind him like… like some kind of bloody trophy!

    Petite knuckles creaked as Tom teared up at the memory.

    How dare he!

    And worse yet, he was planning to eat the poor girl! He probably already had by now. As soon as he had dared after the end of term feast, Tom had gone to examine the clearing behind the Gamekeeper’s hut where the butchery had taken place, and it had been a scene of horror. Blood everywhere, bones separated and stacked in neat piles, Charlotte’s skin stretched out over a makeshift frame of freshly-cut branches to dry, a neatly-arranged pile of processed potions ingredients off to one side, and not an ounce of flesh in evidence.

    Seeing what little remained of his oldest friend was heartbreaking.

    But that heartbreak did not last, rapidly subliming into anger. Tom was good at anger. The boy who murdered Charlotte might have evaded him to this point — Tom hadn’t been able to arrange to stay on campus where he might have been able to get access to the killer — but now he was back at Hogwarts, and he had all the opportunity in the world. It was just a matter of time.

    Potter would pay.

    Tom chuckled adorably.

    Potter would pay dearly.

    3.16.3 Arts and crafts

    The fire in the Rayburn crackled and popped as Harry added more wood, warming the Lair as the winter wind howled outside. His human damsel had retreated into the stacks of the library, pursuing at length some minor point she had come across in her classwork. He wasn’t sure what it was, since she hadn’t asked him about it, but he certainly didn’t remember anything particularly remarkable from his classes.

    For her part, Suze was busying herself with patiently and methodically carving a bow from a carefully-chosen branch — it was her frequent pauses to warm her fingers that had prompted Harry get up from his work to stoke the fire. Aside from the cold, her latest attempt seemed to be going well to Harry’s unpracticed eye, but by the displeased frown on her face, Suze seemed to have found something objectionable about her work.

    Harry shrugged. Suze knew more than about bows than he probably ever would, so he was sure she knew what she was doing. Best to leave her to it.

    Currently in his diminutive human form to make use of its highly dexterous hands, the dragon of Hogwarts made his way across the main room of the Lair to his usual workbench where he had been doing some very finicky work as part of the regard gift he was making for his upcoming meeting with Griselda Marchbanks. Well, as part of the latest iteration of the design, anyway. Making the thing had been a bit of an adventure.

    Without any outside direction on what to give the woman, he’d been forced to come up with a plan himself which had seen several revisions. His initial idea had proven impractical, but he’d taken parts of it to try something else… which also hadn’t worked, but which had in turn inspired another iteration, which showed some promise. However, promising ot not, it required some very simple but extremely repetitive rune work, which had led him to his current task.

    Returning to his seat and picking up his chosen tool, a fine needle-file, the currently human-shaped dragon set to work once again, filing a minutely-detailed negative of a runic scheme into the narrow end of a piece of steel drill rod. After he was done, a bit of time with the torch and a quench in his fuel oil drum would give him a hard punch suitable for transferring the runic scheme to the surface of the work proper.

    It also gave his fuel oil a delightful smoky aftertaste, which was always a bonus in the young dragon’s book.

    In any event, Harry hoped this iteration would turn out well. The meeting was scheduled for later in the week, and he was short on time already.

    3.16.4 Suspicious characters

    “Thank you for your attention today,” Gilderoy Lockhart told his class with a broad smile. As half the class sighed dreamily, he continued, “Remember your reading for our next class! We will be covering my adventures in combating the undead, so you will need to be familiar with the first three chapters of Gadding with Ghouls.”

    When the class gave a general murmur of acknowledgement, the blond dandy dismissed them, and his students began the noisy process of packing up to leave for their next class.

    Hogwarts had been back in session for a week, and true to his resolution during the winter break, Gilderoy Lockhart had been on full alert. So far, nothing of interest had caught his attention, just the normal business of teaching and learning, but he kept a casual, if unusually attentive, eye on the children, regardless. Today, however, something caught his eye in the back of the class.

    It seemed that his careful vigilance might already have paid off.

    One of his students, a sixth-year boy, had just passed a note to another of his fellows while trying to be sly about it. Being a teenager, he was naturally not very good at subtlety, and Lockhart’s practiced eye had focused on the attempt like a hawk sighting a rabbit.

    Of course, there was nothing inherently suspect about teenagers passing notes, but context was important. Class had already ended, and passing notes outside of class time was not forbidden — for that matter, it wasn’t even frowned-upon. It begged the question of why on earth would one of his students be trying to pass a clandestine note now? There was no need to hide it so assiduously.

    When the recipient exaggeratedly glanced about to ensure no one was looking his way before surreptitiously opening the note below the level of his desk to read it, Gilderoy found his interest firmly piqued.

    There was definitely something suspicious going on here, and given the circumstances, he wasn’t going to give it the benefit of the doubt. It might well turn out to be something innocuous — some teenage foible that would prove embarrassing at the worst — but with the person behind the basilisk attacks still on the loose… well, it would bear further investigation.

    As the former obliviator kept an unobtrusive watch much more artful than the efforts of his students, his suspicions were all-but confirmed when his student made the effort to vanish the note entirely on his way out of the classroom.

    How irritating.

    As the classroom had now emptied, Lockhart indulged in a thoughtful frown. That vanishing charm had eliminated his most obvious means of investigation. It was possible to reverse a vanishing charm, but doing so required one of two things — utterly monstrous amounts of power skillfully applied immediately before the magical traces had a chance to dissipate, or a combination of prior knowledge and preparation and skillful timing.

    Gilderoy entertained no delusions that he possessed such such power and skill, and it was already too late to ask the Headmaster to turn his talents to the issue — though the famous author would have been reluctant to do so in the first place; asking for help wouldn’t play nearly as well in his future detective story. However, he was much more confident in his perfect timing, and he could certainly prepare to take advantage the next time his students tried a similar tack.

    He nodded decisively before pasting on his usual winsome smile as he heard the first students of his next class approaching the door. That would be the path to pursue. He didn’t know whether this particular conspiracy was related to the unknown behind the basilisk, but there was only one way to find out.

    Now it was a waiting game.

    3.16.5 An impromptu defense

    Small.

    The scheduled time for the formal audience had come, and her guest had arrived in the manor’s main receiving hall. For her part, Griselda Marchbanks was taking advantage of the viewing mirror hanging on the wall of her parlor to spend the last few minutes before the scheduled meeting time examining the child that had come to call. ‘Small’ was the first adjective that had sprung to mind. Despite being well into his second year at Hogwarts, the Boy-Who-Lived looked the part of a boy three years his junior.

    If not for the faded traces of that notorious scar on his brow, Griselda would have suspected someone was trying to play a trick on her.

    The last of the Potters stood in the manor’s entry hall fidgeting slightly as he patiently waited — as patiently as a young boy could be expected to wait, in any event — for her elf to announce that she was ready to receive him. He wore formal robes of a slightly unusual but still quite acceptable cut; though the elderly witch had to wonder at the reserved color palette and simple lines — the boy was far too young to be so stiff, in her considered opinion. Youth was the time to live a little with some bright color and loud patterns.

    She would probably suggest something in purple, perhaps with orange accents? It would set off his eyes nicely…

    No — the matron of the Marchbanks family shook her head to clear such fanciful notions. While he certainly looked the part of the adorable little boy, her visitor was the Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Potter. He was not one of her grandchildren — though, to be perfectly accurate, the proper comparison would have had a few ‘greats’ involved, considering his age — and receiving a guest of such station required a certain level of sobriety.

    Now was not the time to be playing dress-up, no matter how much her grandmotherly fingers itched at the thought.

    Aside from his dull wardrobe, the diminutive Potter carried a small parcel which Griselda strongly suspected to contain his regard gift for her. It was an old custom which was all too often neglected in the rush of modern society, and it was nice to see one of the youngsters paying some regard to the old traditions — even if the choice to wrap the gift was a tad unusual.

    The elderly witch nodded approvingly. So far, all signs pointed to her visitor being a fine, upstanding young gentleman. Initial appraisal made, a quick word sent her elf to show the young man in to her parlor.

    Now she would see if he gave the same impression in person.

    When the boy walked through the door and came into view, the answer was immediately clear.

    No, no he most certainly did not.

    Griselda swallowed nervously as she attempted to put her thoughts in order. Neither the boy’s appearance, nor his demeanor had changed — aside from the addition of a warm and enthusiastically cheerful smile. The young Head of the Potter family still gave all indications of being a fine, upstanding young gentleman as he stepped into her parlor.

    No… the change was in that general impression.

    The elderly witch had been in the business of wizarding education for significantly longer than most of the population of wizarding Britain had been alive, and she had been Head of the Examination Authority since the time of Queen Victoria. She knew how to evaluate wizards, and the skills she had developed for that purpose over the years had become near-instinctive after so long. She was well-accustomed to seeing past both modesty and braggadocio to get to the heart of things.

    It appeared that she had not, however, been able to see past the layer of separation imposed by the viewing mirror. In person, the physically small boy now seemed to fill the room entirely, leaving her almost surprised that she was looking down to meet his eyes.

    ‘Small’ was not the word, not by any stretch of the imagination.

    The young child had an absolutely overwhelming presence to him which the viewing mirror had simply been unable to convey. Griselda was no shrinking violet; she was a strong witch, but she paled in comparison to the likes of that. In all her years, she had felt that sort of presence only a handful of times, and never had it been associated with someone so young.

    Albus Dumbledore had given such an impression, that feeling of standing far too close to a giant, but he had only done so during the height of his NEWT examinations when she had managed to persuade him to truly throw his all into things. When he had, he had done things with a wand that she had never seen before, things she had never even imagined were possible. Another lad by the name of Riddle had had a similar feel to him back in the forties, and his performance had been quite nearly as remarkable.

    Albus had gone on to become the de facto ruler of wizarding Europe, even if he seemed rather reluctant to throw his weight around, and though Griselda hadn’t heard much of Mr. Riddle, she strongly suspected he had gone on to join the Unspeakables, given the unusual knack he had shown for resurrecting obscure magics thought long lost and the fact that he seemed to have dropped out of circulation after graduating.

    The key point, though, was that both of those men had been NEWT students, wizards on the verge of adulthood and deliberately pushing themselves to the limits of their ability. They were not prepubescent children simply standing around running through the motions of a formal greeting — not like Mr. Potter was.

    It begged the question of exactly what this wizard would go on to become.

    Then Madame Marchbanks blinked as she realized her visitor had reached the end of his portion of the greeting and was now awkwardly scrubbing at the shaggy hair on the back of his head as he waited for her response.

    It seemed she had lost herself in thought while in front of her guest, how embarrassing!

    “Be welcome to my home, Harry of House Potter,” the elderly witch completed the ritual greeting. She gestured to the couch across from her own favorite chair, “And please, feel free to sit down.”

    “Thanks!” the young boy favored her with a brilliant smile before bouncing over to plop down on the couch in the somewhat-rougher-than-strictly-necessary manner of young boys everywhere.

    “I see that you are still holding your parcel, Mr. Potter,” Griselda said leadingly after a few moments of silence, prompting her visitor to continue with the forms when he seemed to have forgotten it was his turn in the proceedings.

    “Oh, yeah!” the young Potter said, looking at the package in his hands as if he had forgotten it was there. His face screwed up in exaggerated concentration as he continued, “Um, Madame Marchbanks, in recognition of our meeting, I would like to offer you this token of my regard.” He then reached forward to set the wrapped offering down on the low table between them. “May our meeting be fruitful and our dealings just.”

    “Um, did I get that right? I’ve been practicing.”

    Griselda smiled kindly as she reached forward to take the offered gift from the table. “Quite acceptable, if a tad stilted, young man,” she assured him. “I take it you learned from the goblins?”

    “Yeah, Mr. Slackhammer taught me,” Harry affirmed absently before his eyes opened wide in realization. He asked, in an astonished voice, “How did you know?”

    “The ‘may our meeting be fruitful and our dealings just’ phrasing is one that tends to be used almost exclusively by goblins, in my experience,” the witch explained. “Wizards tend to use a great deal more variety in the benediction clause — it tends to be much less businesslike.”

    “Oh. Um, it was ok for me to use, though, right?” her visitor asked, sounding concerned that he might have messed up.

    The Marchbanks matriarch nodded graciously even as she worked at the knot of twine her guest had used to secure the wrapping of the gift. “It was certainly acceptable, Mr. Potter, simply unusual. You have done quite well so far; though, for future reference,” she stated as she reached for her wand to cut the wrapping open, “you needn’t wrap your regard gift. It tends to make things more awkward than they strictly need to be.”

    “Oh, sorry! I guess I just assumed after all the gifts at Christmas time,” Harry apologized sheepishly before offering, “Would you like some help?”

    “No, thank you,” she declined, “I’ve just about…” Then the wrapping fell away, and she was struck dumb as the room was bathed in an eerily beautiful light.

    The gift her young visitor had seen fit to bestow on her appeared to be a sculpture of a small tree, similar to those highly cultivated dwarf trees from the Orient — bonsai, she believed they were called — wrought of burnished steel, inlaid with fine gold wires running the length of the trunk and branches, and set in an exquisitely carved and polished wooden base. In place of leaves, the piece sported tiny puffs of fog which glowed gently in an ever-shifting array of colors. The miniature clouds swayed gently in place, presumably with the air currents in the room, separating from their anchor points on the steel branches from time to time to waft away and dissipate in ethereal swirls of fading color.

    “Magnificent,” Griselda breathed, finally managing to find her voice after nearly a solid minute of awestruck observation. Turning to her guest, who was looking mightily pleased with her reaction, she asked, “Wherever did you find this?”

    “I made it,” the young Potter said proudly before hurrying to qualify, “Well, Suze made the wood base — she did a real nice job, didn’t she? — but I did the steel bits and all the rune-work.”

    “Rune work?” How had she missed that? The wizarding educator turned back to the marvelous piece of art and gave t a closer examination, soon identifying numerous tiny yet finely-detailed runic inscriptions at the base of each of the colored clouds. She could just make out a hint of gold inlaid into the deepst parts of the markings.

    “I see,” Griselda mused, examining the fascinating piece in detail. That level of detail and precision… it was the sort of work she saw in masters’ theses, and this was coming from a twelve-year-old? It practically begged for further investigation, and the long-term educator found it all too easy to fall back on her habits. “This is a remarkable piece, young man. Might I ask what went into making it?”

    “Um, well, I guess it kinda started with Mr. Slackhammer,” the boy began. “He told me about the regard gift thing, so I thought about it, and the first thing I thought of was some of the meat from that big snake I killed back at the end of term. It’s pretty tasty, and everyone likes to eat, right? But then he said it shouldn’t be something you use and then it’s not around anymore, ‘cause it’s supposed to commemorate the visit, so it needs to stick around, and food doesn’t do that.”

    “Solid advice,” the elderly witch nodded approvingly.

    The boy nodded in return before continuing, “Well, then I thought of some of my gold coins. They’re pretty old, so that’s kinda memorable, but Mr. Slackhammer said it probably shouldn’t be something like money, ‘cause even though I don’t mean it like that, people might think it was a bribe, and since I’m here to ask you for something, that’d look bad.”

    “Also good advice,” Griselda approved. “It is always a good idea to mind appearances. Saves time and effort in the long run.”

    “So, then I was kinda stumped for a bit, until I was reading about something else, and I ran across a mention of holography,” Harry continued. “When I did, I got thinking, you’re supposed to be really big on school and stuff, so maybe you might like a hologram of all the students coming back to campus after break, so I started looking into making one of them, right?”

    “Excuse me, Mr. Potter,” the elderly witch interjected politely, puzzled, “but I am afraid I am unfamiliar with the term ‘holography’. To what does it refer?”

    “Oh, um, well, a hologram is like a picture,” her visitor explained, smoothly switching mental gears to provide the requested explanation, “but instead of being flat, it shows a full three-dimensional image, so you can walk around and see it from different sides and stuff. Um, anyway, I thought I could use that process with the film you use for magical pictures to make a moving hologram, ‘cause that’d be really neat! Real memorable, like Mr. Slackhammer said the regard gift is supposed to be, since I don’t think anyone’s done that before.”

    “No, I do not believe anyone has,” Griselda agreed, familiar with the concept of such a display, if not the methodology proposed. “Omnioculars provide a similar effect, as I recall; however, your description of a hologram seems quite a different undertaking. Though more to the point, it also seems a rather different undertaking than this remarkable tree, Mr. Potter.”

    “Yeah, I know,” the boy nodded. “I was getting to that; you see, it turned out I ran into a bunch of problems with it. First thing was the lighting, and it turned out to be really hard to do.”

    “The lighting?” she prompted, curious. “I’d think lighting would be fairly simple to accomplish, allowing for magic.”

    Harry grimaced. “Well, the thing is, holograms work based off interference patterns in the reflected light — the film gets exposed to light reflected off the target, then you develop the film and you can shine the same kind of light through the film to make the image visible. The thing is, though, you’ve gotta use the exact same kind of light — exactly the same color, and it’s gotta be single-phase.”

    “Phase?” Color was straightforward enough, but phase was a property of light she was unfamiliar with.

    “Yeah, um…” Harry began, smoothly shifting conversational gears once again. “Well, light acts kinda like a wave a lot of the time — except for those times when it doesn’t — and the phase is associated with those times when it does. You see, when you’ve got a couple of different waves…”

    Sensing that she had tripped on a conversational rabbit hole, Griselda quickly withdrew her question, “Nevermind, Mr. Potter. I am certain I can look that up on my own time. Please return to your explanation. I believe you were talking about the need for special lighting.”

    “Oh, yeah, sorry,” her young guest apologized, sheepishly scrubbing at the back of his head. “I’ve been trying not to, but sometimes I still blather on when I get excited about something.”

    “It is no trouble, Mr. Potter,” Griselda assured him kindly. “As an educator, I am always happy to hear such enthusiasm from the youth; however, we only have so much time scheduled for this meeting. If you could return to your explanation?”

    “Right! Um, I’ll try to remember to send you the title of a good book on modern optics after I get back home, if you want,” Harry offered before getting back to his explanation. “Anyway, for a hologram, you need a coherent light source, which means it’s all one color and all in the same phase. Usually, people get that by making a neat kind of lamp called a laser, which basically pumps a bunch of energy into some stuff to make it glow, except you pick it so it that it doesn’t glow right away. Then you can set up some mirrors so that when the first bit glows, it’ll bounce the light back and forth and trigger the rest to glow too, and all the triggered glow will be coherent.”

    He took a deep breath before continuing, “Anyway, I decided to use runes to make one of them that ran off magic, but it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it’d be. Turns out, it’s easy to push energy into stuff using magic, but it’s really hard to keep the stuff your pumping magic into in an excited state so it can do the self-stimulating thing. I think the magic makes the energy transitions easier or something so the usual metastable states aren’t metastable anymore even though that doesn’t quite fit what you see. Basically, it usually just ends up glowing. Which is really neat, don’t get me wrong; but it’s not a coherent light source, so it won’t work for a hologram.”

    Griselda had encountered so many unfamiliar concepts in the past few minutes that this meeting was starting to feel more like sitting as a guest for a thesis defense rather than the simple audience she had expected. Though, to be honest, the long-time educator was finding the boy’s description of the process of its creation almost as fascinating as the sculpture itself by this point.

    “Anyway, after I figured out that one, I also figured out the magic film stuff doesn’t hold anywhere close to the amount of detail you need for a hologram, either, and by then I realized I didn’t have near enough time to get the hologram idea working for our meeting,” the young Potter sighed disappointedly before continuing. “So, then I thought about what else I could try, and I had that neat glowy rune thing I’d just made when I was trying to make a laser, and I thought, ‘Christmas trees are really neat looking, and they need neat glowy things, maybe I could use the runes to make one of those!’, but then I remembered the gift was supposed to last a long time, so I couldn’t use a real tree, ‘cause it’d die eventually, and then I thought about making one, and I’ve got loads of steel around the Lair…”

    The Lair, huh? Griselda, listening closely to her guest’s rambling explanation, chuckled inwardly at his term for what she supposed was his home. It was exactly the sort of name she would expect a pre-teen boy to come up with if given free rein to choose. In fact, thinking back on it, the elderly witch could have sworn one of her grandsons had named a treehouse precisely that.

    “…and then I figured out that all those little needle-leaf thingies are really, really annoying to try to make outta steel, so I decided to make a simpler sort of tree, and I went out to find a neat-looking branch, and I squished some steel into about the same shape as it was. I was gonna make it bigger, but I realized I was kinda running out of time, so I figured it’d have to do, and then I put the runes on, and then Suze offered to carve a base for it, and there you go!” he gestured to the stunning, ethereal tree sculpture.

    The Head of the Wizarding Examination authority knew it wasn’t the main focus of the meeting, but after that, she couldn’t quite resist inquiring further. It was all too easy to fall into the role of a mastery committee member after so very many years in the business, and unlike the discussion of lasers and holograms, runes were something she knew well enough to comment on.

    “How on earth did you carve so many runes so quickly? In iron no less!” Griselda asked. Having reviewed many runes projects before, she would have expected him to have spent months on just that portion of the sculpture based on the usual way of such things. This sounded like he’d managed to throw the entire thing together in the course of a week or two — including all the missteps. “And for that matter, how did you make iron work as a rune substrate at all? It generally resists magic flow, as I recall.”

    “Um, well, I figured, since it was a really simple set, I’d just make a punch with the rune-set on it,” Harry explained. “You cut the inverted form of the runes into a piece of tool steel, harden it, and then you can apply the whole thing with a tap from a hammer!”

    “I see,” she nodded. She had heard of many attempts to speed up the application of runes, and that seemed reasonable — in fact, she vaguely recalled several papers written by others who had tried a similar embossing approach — but this was the first time she had heard of one being successful. It certainly fit the novelty criterion for a mastery, not to mention managing to work with the material involved. Speaking of which, “And the iron?”

    Harry smiled proudly as he explained, “You know, the only bits of the thing that strictly have to move magic are the runes, so I just put some gold leaf between the punch and the steel. It basically inlaid the runes with gold, and it’s dead easy to do!”

    “That is quite impressive, Mr. Potter,” the long-time examiner said appreciatively, and it was impressive, to be sure. A cheap and simple way to apply runes without compromising their effectiveness? That was the sort of breakthrough that turned heads! It was also the sort of thing for which advanced degrees were awarded. “Did you run into any problems along the way?”

    “Well, there were a couple,” the last Potter admitted. “For one, the lights were really dim at first, but I figured it was ‘cause of the steel keeping them from absorbing much magic, so I tried adding the gold wire inlays as a sort of receiving antenna, right?” He gestured to the delicate lines of gold running along the length of the steel branches, which Griselda only then noticed intersected with each of the runic clusters she had examined earlier. “I figured they’d conduct more magic into the runes, and I think they did, since everything got a lot brighter, though it still flickers a lot — I think it’s the amount of magic in the room that causes that bit. Before I added the wires, though, you could only just barely see the lights in the dark.”

    “After that,” he continued, “the only other problem is the runes are producing all different colors now. I designed the runic system to light up red, just straight red, and even with air, rather than the single gas I was planning to use, it ought to come out to one uniform color since air is really well-mixed. It shouuldn’t be changing all the time.”

    “Do you have any ideas on what might be causing it?” she asked. So far, her guest had shown remarkable academic versatility and admirable curiosity, but Griselda felt the need to see how he would respond to new challenges.

    “I think it might be ‘cause of the differences in depth with the punch and the thickness of the gold leaf — maybe something to do with how the gold stuck to the iron, too. The runes are pretty sensitive to size. I’ve got some ideas, but it’d take a while to check.”

    “Understandable,” she nodded at the response. It was a workable set of hypotheses. “And what do you make of the drifting mists?”

    “Oh, that’s actually what the runes were designed to do!” the young Potter answered brightly. “They’re supposed to pump energy into a volume of ‘stuff’ in front of them, and here the ‘stuff’ is just air, and then that makes the air glow. Most of the time, it fades really fast — that’s the big problem for making it into a laser, right? — so the air doesn’t move much before it stops glowing, and the glowy cloud bit stays put, but every once in a while, you get states that take longer to decay. That’s what I’d been aiming for originally, since you need it for the laser thing, and it was all supposed to be that way, but it didn’t work that way all the time — when that happens, the air glows for a while even as it travels away from the runes, just a lot dimmer, since it’s the same amount of energy released over a longer period. The color variation’s a lot harder to explain.”

    “A fascinating account, Mr. Potter,” the matriarch of the Marchbanks family complimented her guest, who practically preened under the praise, “and an eminently memorable regard gift, as well. Though, loath as I am to stifle your creativity in the future, I feel the need to point out that such gifts need not be quite so remarkably unique in the future. You needn’t develop entirely new magic simply to commemorate a visit.”

    “So, I messed up?” The boy practically deflated at the question.

    “Not precisely,” Griselda hurried to reassure him. “You simply overdid things. During a particularly busy season, someone of your stature might engage in multiple visits such as this in a single day; there simply would not be enough time to do as much as you have done for this. In the future, a small piece of sculpture — even another iteration of this tree — an interesting painting, perhaps even a poem would be more than sufficient.”

    “Oh, okay!” and just like that, the young Potter was back to his normal cheer.

    “That said, I do strongly encourage you to continue such pursuits as this in the future,” she said, gesturing to the tree. “The description you have given of your creative process — written up properly, of course — would easily serve as the backbone of a mastery project in runes. I would be most remiss were I not to encourage such talent.”

    “Really?” her guest asked.

    “Such experimentation is the soul of academic inquiry,” Griselda assured him, “and I firmly encourage you to pursue it whenever possible.”

    “Okay!” the young man said with a firm nod, a thoughtful look already on his face. “I’ll do that.”

    “See that you do,” she nodded in return before looking up at the timepiece on the wall.

    Oh, dear!

    “Alas, it seems that my curiosity has eaten up most of our meeting time, Mr. Potter,” the elderly witch said apologetically, “so I fear we may have to rush through what was supposed to be the meat of our discussion here. Your letter mentioned a request?”

    “Oh, yeah! I almost forgot, sorry,” Harry apologized in turn. “Um, anyway, Mr. Slackhammer told me you’re the head of the Wizarding Examination Authority, so you oversee the NEWTs and stuff, right?”

    “That is correct, Mr. Potter,” she confirmed.

    “Well, my friend, Abigail, she’s in her seventh year, and she’s been really worried about not learning what she needs to in Defense, since Mr. Lockhart doesn’t seem to be teaching much.”

    “How so?” Griselda asked intently, her attention immediately captured at the implication that one of those responsible for teaching the youth of wizarding Britain was not living up to his responsibilities.

    “Well, as near as we can tell, he’s teaching the same stuff to all seven years’ classes, and since her other classes are really big on reviewing for the exams, she figures he’s probably not teaching everything he should,” the young Potter explained. “Anyway, I’ve been helping her study, but I figure it’d be real helpful to get a copy of what she’s supposed to know for the test — like different topics and stuff she’s supposed to be able to do for it. Umm, what’s the word?”

    “A syllabus, you mean?” Griselda offered.

    “Yeah, that’s it!”

    “That is easily provided,” she offered. “I will have my staff send you one immediately after our meeting.”

    “Thanks, Madame Marchbanks!”

    “Mr. Potter,” she began, “might I ask your opinion of Mr. Lockhart’s instruction?”

    The boy frowned thoughtfully as he considered the question. “Well, he’s got all those books and stuff about things he’s supposed to have done, so I guess he’s probably pretty good at Defense, but the classes never seem to teach much. I figure he’s probably just not very good at teaching what he knows. Mostly I study on my own, anyway, so I never really paid much attention after I figured that out.”

    “I see,” she said. “Well, I thank you for your insight, Mr. Potter. And I thank you for your wonderful gift as well!” she gestured to the tree still softly glowing on her table. “I look forward to seeing how you grow in the future.”

    “Thanks for meeting with me, Madame Marchbanks!” her guest replied before seeming to catch himself. “Ah, and ‘I wish you peace and prosperity until we meet again’.”

    “Until then,” Griselda nodded in acknowledgement of the traditional goblin take on the wizarding farewell.

    With that, her elf appeared to show Mr. Potter back to the travel room where the wards were configured to allow magical travel.

    3.16.6 Good intentions

    As her boisterous young visitor disappeared through her parlor door, Griselda Marchbanks settled back in her chair, her eyes returning to the hypnotically beautiful sight of the steel tree sculpture her guest had given her. It truly was a remarkable piece of work.

    Oh, the fit and finish left quite a bit to be desired. Now that she looked at it more closely, it was easy enough to see tool marks and fingerprints marring the surface finish. The gold inlays were sloppily done and uneven, and, now that she knew the runes had been made with a punch, it was easy to pick out stray indentations where he’d had the tool misaligned with the uneven surface of the branch. The piece, while beautiful when viewed from a distance, was certainly no master-work of fabrication.

    The design of the runic system, the ingenuity displayed, and the deep understanding of the concepts involved, however — those were what made it a master-work of rune-craft.

    From the moment she had felt the boy’s presence in person, the elderly witch had suspected that Harry Potter would go on to do great things — to become one of those great wizards in the same vein as Dumbledore.

    Now, after he conversation with him, she was certain.

    Dumbledore had been a scholar, prone to pulling out the most arcane and involved bits of magical knowledge and executing them to perfection, and Riddle had been remarkable in his penchant for bringing half-forgotten magics back to life and reawakening dead legends, but it seemed the young Potter leaned towards making entirely new wonders out of whole cloth.

    Quite frankly, of the three, she rather preferred the young Potter’s creative take on things. While curating knowledge and preserving the past were noble pursuits to be sure, Griselda had always leaned towards building towards a greater future rather than resting on the laurels of the past. It was why she had spent her entire adult life in education, tending to those who would build that future.

    She smiled and indulged in a quiet chuckle. It seemed the world was in for interesting times during her twilight years, if Mr. Potter was any indication of things to come.

    Then her expression sobered. As she rose to walk to her writing desk, Griselda considered what else she had learned in her recent conversation — aside from the impromptu pseudo-master’s defense that had ended up occupying the initial three fourths of the audience. Writing out a quick note instructing her secretary to send a copy of the NEWT syllabus to Harry Potter as he had requested, the Head of the Wizarding Examination Authority then turned her thoughts to the troubling business with the current Defense professor.

    Gilderoy Lockhart had seemed a stunningly qualified instructor when he had applied for the job, but according to Mr. Potter’s testimony — as well as that of at least one seventh-year student as relayed by Mr. Potter — that assessment of the man’s qualifications may have been made in error.

    She sighed. Unfortunately, such conflicts were not uncommon. The ability to learn and the ability to teach were not always coincident. All too often, a spectacularly talented individual proved to be an abysmal teacher for any number of reasons, and, if Mr. Potter’s account was accurate, it seemed that Mr. Lockhart might well be one of those unfortunates.

    The question remained, what was she to do about it?

    Griselda frowned thoughtfully as she closed her eyes to consider the situation. It was much too far into the school year to consider terminating the famous author’s contract; there would be no time to arrange a replacement in time to improve anything. Not to mention, until test results came back, there would be no way to give a quantifiable cause for his removal, and it would be imprudent to embarrass such an influential figure in such a way without ironclad proof. If the widely-popular hero decided to take offense, then he might well raise enough of a stink to fatally damage any recruitment efforts. Few would want to replace the man if it meant being hounded by the man’s shrill fan base.

    That said, she could not let the current state of things stand unchanged, either. Griselda sighed. Not if the children’s education was suffering as much as her guest had implied.

    Perhaps she could arrange something more discreet.

    Griselda frowned in thought. She had been around for a very long time, and she had contacts in almost every field of endeavor in the wizarding world, including a more than a few former aurors. In fact, come to think of it, several of those were former or current instructors as well.

    Perhaps she could prevail upon one or two to step out of retirement for a time and provide some subtle assistance to the beleaguered Defense professor — just a bit of advice on topics to cover and teaching methods?

    She smiled, pleased at the thought. Yes, that seemed to be the way to go. The elderly witch nodded decisively.

    Now, to decide who to approach…

    3.16.7 Snowy landscapes

    The forested slopes of the Italian Alps, drenched in bright late-morning sunlight glinting off the white blanket of winter snow, made for an absolutely stunning view as Frank sipped at his morning coffee. He had just finished canvassing the small magical village of Ghesio, near what the non-magical world recognized as the Swiss border, and the private eye was catching some breakfast before he moved on. To that end, he’d stopped by the only business even loosely resembling a restaurant in the entire town, the town bakery, which in addition to baking the bread that fed the entire population, sported two café tables by the front window.

    He had to admit, the food was good, but it paled in comparison to the view.

    A small hamlet of perhaps twenty buildings built of the native grey gneiss and perched on a steep hillside, in the non-magical world Ghesio was considered an uninhabited and unremarkable ruin, and even on the wizarding side of things it was about as remote and basic as towns got — one of those remote retreats where people moved to when they wanted to get away from it all.

    Aside from the usual concealment wards, the buildings were almost entirely non-magical in construction — the population was small enough that the inhabitants hadn’t bothered with an expanded space to hide the town, finding it easier to simply hide behind a basic illusion and aversion wards. The remote location — on the magical side of things, anyway, it was only a few hundred yards of steep alpine ridge away from the closest part of the Italian road system — was accessible only through a single common floo connection. Ghesio was about as close as the magical world got to the hinterlands, short of living as a completely isolated hermit, anyway.

    In hindsight, Frank wished he’d moved here with Betty right away after school. Between the single approach by magical transportation and the small population in which strangers stood out like a sore thumb, her kidnapping likely never would have taken place, and they’d probably have been happily working on their second child by now.

    It would have been more than worth the hassle of growing his own food and dealing with the local wildlife — which brought him to the reason he was visiting.

    The tiny village boasted only two claims to fame — the wonderful alpine scenery, and the fact that it served as the setting for Gilderoy Lockhart’s Holidays with Hags, which recounted the tale of a hag which had taken up residence in the surrounding woods and lured off several of the village children, eating them before it had finally been dispatched.

    The existence of the man-eating spirit that normally masqueraded as an exceptionally ugly woman had been easy enough for Frank to verify; the monster had left more than enough evidence behind. Several of the locals had been willing to tell the story of the event, and one had even led him to view the burned-out ruins of the rude hut the hag had built out in the woods. The grand tour had concluded with a solemn visit to the empty graves of the lost children.

    It was a tragic story which warranted retelling on its own merits, but the tour had also brought him in contact with every local witness to the story — close enough contact that he could get in a good feel for the situation, which was rather critical for Frank’s investigation.

    Mental magics were a wooly sort of field, highly subjective and more of an artistic endeavor than well-documented procedure. Detection methods were no different, tending to rely heavily on the caster to interpret the results, and according to the books Frank had learned from, every caster did things differently. As such, the entire field tended to sit rather poorly with the private investigator.

    That sort of subjectivity made pinning down a solid chain of evidence an absolute nightmare.

    Still, as with most of the skills he had developed over the years, this one too had been necessary to learn for the job — without the spells, he’d never have had an inkling of the extent of Betty’s mental shackles, a failing which would likely have seen both him and Betty dead years ago in an ill-advised rescue attempt. Now, those same skills had proven their worth once more in this investigation.

    If Frank were to try to describe the returns from his diagnostic spells, he would say it was like running a finger over a smooth surface and feeling for seams, places where something had been changed and then put back in not quite the right place. A normal mind which had not been subjected to any sort of mental manipulation was like a plate-glass window, smooth and unbroken.

    These witnesses were more like a cracked tile, two different glass-smooth surfaces almost but not quite perfectly aligned, the minute difference in elevation invisible but clearly felt by the fingertips. The changes were small, localized, and almost perfectly blended into the surroundings.

    They were a far cry from the utter mess that had been made of Betty’s mind, which felt more like chunks of broken concrete bound together with baling wire.

    Frank was far from an expert. He had no way to determine the true story of what had transpired here from the traces he sensed, and his abilities with mental magics ended with detecting the evidence of their use. However, he could confirm that they had been used here, and he could confirm that magics leaving almost identical traces had been used on witnesses at every other location appearing in Lockhart’s novels.

    Aside from that, he could also confidently hypothesize that whoever had been responsible for tampering with these witnesses had been orders of magnitude more skilled than the butchers who had worked over his fiancée — which fit rather well with the Lockhart hypothesis, given his public history with the obliviators.

    That said, the evidence was circumstantial at best.

    Frank had no way to know what those magics were or who had cast them; it might have been Lockhart using memory charms to conceal some wrongdoing of his, but it could just as well have been him casting cheering charms to help the community get back on its feet. For that matter, it might not have been Lockhart at all — mental charms were hardly unusual in the magical world — though the consistency across all the locations was a strong argument against that hypothesis.

    All told, given what he’d started with, circumstantial evidence was more than he’d really expected, and the situation revealed was one dubious enough that his employer ought to be pleased. Consistent signs of mental manipulation at the site of every one of his exploits seemed decidedly suspicious to Frank, but it was far from strong enough to hold up in court. At least, it was far from strong enough to hold up in a court that hadn’t decided the verdict beforehand, which were still a distinct danger in wizarding Britain, if a much less common one than it had been even ten years ago.

    The results were less than satisfying to his professional pride, but Frank had to admit, it was probably the best he could hope for — much better than he’d expected at the outset.

    Finishing off his coffee and taking one last lingering look at the beautiful view, Frank stood, leaving a few coins to pay for his meal — the owners were still busy with their morning baking — and set out for the local floo connection, a covered firepit in the central piazza barely twenty yards from where he had been eating. On the way, he waved back absently to a few of the friendly locals he’d met over the past few days.

    He had a report to write, and, given what he’d found, an anonymous tip to forward to the DMLE. Frank nodded to himself as he picked his way across the snow-covered stone of the town square. The evidence he’d found wasn’t enough on its own, but if there was something fishy going on. Frank figured it might be a useful lead. And…

    Even as he disappeared in a flash of green fire on the first leg of his trip back to London, Frank sighed.

    And, as much as he disliked the circumstances of this job — what with its origins as a thinly-veiled attempt at a smear campaign — a DMLE investigation into Lockhart would fit well with his client’s intentions.

    At least he’d earned his dirty money this time, and it had brought him about ten steps closer to his endgame with Betty’s situation.

    It was an occasion well worth a celebratory coffee, in Frank’s estimation.
     
  2. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    I'll be honest Tom's reaction to Harry killing his Snake amuses me more then it should
     
    Karion, Finerc, ScarletFlames and 9 others like this.
  3. freakytiki34

    freakytiki34 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Ever since that break in attempt, every scene involving Hermione and her parents makes me incredibly nervous. The start of this chapter was not fun for me.
     
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  4. Syqadelic

    Syqadelic Not too sore, are you?

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    • Rule 8 - Making a trump joke while clearly disregarding rule 8
    "I know I ordered her to murder some kids, but it's not like she actually succeeded, so she's totally innocent. No collusion!"

    Whoops, no politics.
     
  5. Mashadarof402

    Mashadarof402 Versed in the lewd.

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    Tom: You'll pay for what you've done!
    Harry: Ok *beans Tom with a sack of gold coins*. That should cover it... what did I do again?
     
  6. Khepri14

    Khepri14 MILF Lover

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    It's fucking hilarious to read Tom in Ginny's body. No fanfic writer I know of has done this before, so kudos to you for cracking me up so badly. And that 2nd to last line! I can't stop laughing over Tom chuckling "adorably".
     
  7. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    ? I thought he was in Pansy
     
  8. Syqadelic

    Syqadelic Not too sore, are you?

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    Well, this is QQ, so I don't see why both can't be true at the same time ;)
     
  9. Pyeknu

    Pyeknu Cross-Dimensional Magical Sith GIrl

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    Fan of The Princess Bride, is he?
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2019
  10. ultima333

    ultima333 Always Sleepy Moderator

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    You say that, but...
    Try to not blatantly disregard the rules again, mkay?
     
  11. Khepri14

    Khepri14 MILF Lover

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    Is he? Either way, still hilarious.
     
  12. Syqadelic

    Syqadelic Not too sore, are you?

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    Wait, there are specific rules against Trump jokes? That’s... surprisingly sensible. Wow, I thought that general politics bans were just for SB and SV. I guess there’s lines that even QQ won’t cross. Sorry about that.
     
    Corvus 501 likes this.
  13. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    What gave you the impression it was Pansy? I've been trying to avoid any firmly identifying characteristics until the final reveal.
     
    wichajster likes this.
  14. ultima333

    ultima333 Always Sleepy Moderator

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    I mean, if you had read the rules...

    But anyways, folks, get back to your regularly scheduled fic reading/discussion.
     
    wichajster and Skjadir like this.
  15. Tisaku

    Tisaku I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    -Bowstaves need to be aged before shaping. A green bow will warp and twist. I recall two years as the aging period, but I'm not sure where from.-
    it
     
    Dunkelzahn likes this.
  16. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    There are rules about bringing politics of any sort into the forum, to much salt involved
     
    Cold Burn likes this.
  17. Lenny_has_arived

    Lenny_has_arived Getting sticky.

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    Personal favorite quote
     
  18. Erik Phantom

    Erik Phantom Getting out there.

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    What might be a question with an obvious answer, but...

    What does the DMLE acronym stand for specifically?
     
  19. Happerry

    Happerry The Song to the Flame

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  20. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    Department of Magical Law Enforcement
     
  21. Erik Phantom

    Erik Phantom Getting out there.

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    Thanks, have a hard enough time remembering real-world acronyms meanings, adding fictional ones just adds to the mess.
     
  22. Doghead13

    Doghead13 Grumpy Old Scottish Biker

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    Blame Rowling for that one, it's taken directly from Potter canon.
     
  23. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Making the rounds.

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    I think the scene is really funny because "Tom" completely misses the point. HARRY DRAGGED A MULTIPLE-TON ANIMAL IN BY HIMSELF. NO EQUIPMENT, JUST HIM AND A ROPE. You've got to wonder why
    "Tom" (or "Tammy") isn't scared shitless at the prospect of a 1st year student with that kind of strength. I know that were I a student there, I'd be agog at the fact that a small boy had that kind of strength. I'd *probably* be
    starting to get why the professors all said, one way or the other, "Leave. Potter. Alone."
     
    Corvus 501 and bryceh59 like this.
  24. Dracohuman

    Dracohuman [Verified Ravelord]

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    Tom probobly still thinks he could just Arvada Kadabra him and won't even think about looking at how Harry could do that and what it might mean.

    In my opinion Tom's kinda a shit dark lord, and the death eaters dont really seem to be much more than a gang of violent criminals.
     
  25. Extras: DEPRECATED: Section 3.17 - A friend in need
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    This chapter has been heavily edited, see the new version here.
    3.17.0 A friend in need

    Given a direct order from the head of their institution, the clerks at the Wizarding Examination Authority had moved with unusual haste for a government organization, and Harry had received the requested syllabus within two days of his visit with Madame Marchbanks. He had shared it with his older friend as soon as he could afterwards, and after a surprised Abigail had given her thoughtful green-eyed friend the tightest hug she could manage in enthusiastic thanks for his efforts, she had immediately gone through the document in detail.

    It had been an enlightening read.

    As it turned out, their earlier review sessions had already covered most of the academic topics that might show up on the exam; it seemed she and Harry had cast a much wider net than the examination committee had when choosing topics to cover, which was rather reassuring to the concerned seventh-year. That was of secondary importance, however; the true revelation had been the weight placed on practical spell-casting.

    It seemed that the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests were aptly named. While the theoretical portion of the exam was required to pass, the difference between an Acceptable and an Outstanding on the NEWTs lay entirely in the practical. In fact, truly outstanding scores on the practical could even be used to compensate for subpar performance on the written.

    New knowledge in hand, Abigail, being the shrewd girl that she was, immediately concluded that her study time was best spent on practical spellcasting. In her typical practically-minded and realistic manner, she also concluded that she was unlikely to be able to learn some obscure or novel magic in time to impress the examiners during her NEWTs — it was simply too far outside her normal milieu.

    Abigail was neither a puissant researcher nor a brilliant inventor; they were not her fields of expertise. She excelled at an earthy sort of pragmatism, and as a result, she knew that her best bet to tackle the practical portions of the NEWTs was simply to practice — practice until she could perform the standard curriculum to perfection.

    Which, in turn, led to the pair’s current circumstances.

    Harry currently stood in the Lair’s shooting range, taking a short break from his own practice — his control and accuracy remained perennial works-in-progress, and he had been doubly pleased to be able to keep Abigail company while doing something useful at the same time. In the next lane over, his older friend was working on her casting endurance.

    Much like most other human activities, the more a wizard worked his magic, the stronger it got; though, there were, admittedly, limits. An average wizard, for instance, might improve to be head and shoulders above his fellows through hard work, but he would never challenge the likes of Dumbledore through exercise alone. That said, it was a thoroughly practical and universally applicable approach to self-improvement, and it was one well-suited to Abigail’s purposes, so long as she was willing to put in the hard work.

    Because hard work it most assuredly was.

    To be sure, magic was always hard work, in one way or another, but endurance casting made that hard work more conventionally apparent than most. The exercise consisted of casting a spell requiring moderate magical draw — for her current session Abigail had chosen a silently-cast stunning spell — repeatedly until the caster just shy of exhaustion, maintaining proper form and control all the while. The caster would then take a short rest to recover before doing it all over again.

    In effect, it was rather like wind sprints for magic use, and as might be expected, it had similar physiological consequences. As the caster’s hard-working metabolism struggled to kick out enough energy to support the heavy activity, he faced consequences included elevated body temperature, both from the high metabolic activity and waste energy from imperfect casting, heavy breathing to supply the caster’s body with enough oxygen to keep up, and exhaustion.

    In practical terms, it meant a lot of exertion, sweat, and heavy breathing.

    Needless to say, it was not the sort of activity to which the normal Hogwarts winter uniform — a heavy woolen ensemble layered for warmth and modesty and topped with a full-length woolen cloak — was well-suited. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Abigail had dealt with the mismatch in a thoroughly practical manner, stripping off her outer robe, cardigan, and Slytherin tie in an attempt to stay cool, and unbuttoning the neck of her blouse ease her breathing. It was a sensible choice which was quite effective and comfortable, allowing her to go through her exercise routine without risking heat stroke in the middle of a Scottish winter.

    However, it was also a choice which had left her sweating profusely and panting heavily while wearing only a thin white blouse, her pleated gray Hogwarts uniform skirt, and a pair of black thigh-high stockings — woolen, in deference to the Scottish winter weather.

    A healthy young woman in her late teens wearing a soaked, nearly-transparent-in-places white blouse and a damp — and therefore more figure-hugging than usual — pleated skirt cut a rather striking figure. Her exposed skin glistening with perspiration under the artificial lamps of the range and the thoroughly intriguing shifting of certain portions of her anatomy caused by her heavy breathing and oftentimes energetic arm movements only exacerbated the situation.

    In short, Abigail’s current state made for a sight that many of her male classmates would have given their eye-teeth to witness.

    Fortunately for her peace of mind, they weren’t present; only her good friend, Harry, was.

    For his part, Harry was avidly watching his older friend as she went about her exercise routine, finding the sight weirdly cool for reasons he didn’t rightly understand. It was much the same situation as his ongoing admiration for the sight of his centaur damsel at full not-gallop — he knew he liked what he was seeing, but he didn’t know precisely why it was so appealing. The young dragon simply wasn’t mature enough yet to understand such interests.

    Not yet, anyway.

    Of course, that would not always be the case. Despite the mismatch in species, Harry was growing up in a human society, his fellow students were all humans and many of his friends and role models were human. Of those few non-humans he interacted with regularly, centaurs followed a mostly human aesthetic for beauty, and goblins… well, from a visual perspective, goblins were mostly asexual — their sexual displays mostly took place chemically — and therefore didn’t figure much into the young dragon’s nascent sensibilities. Harry’s aesthetic impulses were therefore developing along the path normal for a human adolescent.

    Mostly, normal, anyway.

    It was and would remain true that no human woman, no matter how beautiful, would ever be able to really capture the young dragon’s attention by appearance alone — to figuratively grab him by the glands and give him a hard shake — the way she could a male of her own species, and Abigail, while fit and quite attractive, was no rare beauty. Nevertheless, between the Harry’s gradually developing aesthetic appreciation for the human female form and the emotional intimacy springing from their friendship, the seventh-year girl would have been able to pull off a fair approximation of the feat — had the young dragon been at the appropriate point in his development.

    The fact remained, though, that Harry was not mature enough that the appealing sight of his older friend in her current state could command his undivided attention. Thus, though he watched his friend and her workout with interest and a broad smile on his currently human face, his interest remained innocent, his smile reflected only the simple joy of being with his friend, and his state of mind remained clear enough to keep other thoughts in his head.

    Perhaps closest to mind was a topic which had played a surprisingly prominent role in his recent meeting with Madame Marchbanks — his haphazard inquiries into the nature and behavior of magic. While the conversation at the meeting had focused heavily on his work with runes to create that neat-looking but otherwise useless tree thing, the elderly witch had not restricted her recommendation to that topic alone. Rather, she had promoted the spirit of inquiry in general, and Harry had collected a long list of things he was curious about — a list that was forever getting longer, at that.

    Perhaps he ought to pursue some of them, as well?

    “Good work, Abigail!” the currently human-shaped young dragon congratulated his friend warmly as she finished her set, prompting a beautiful, if very tired, smile from the young woman in return, before he stepped up for his next set of target practice.

    Now that he had put some more work in practicing his own stunning charm, Harry no longer had to concentrate quite as hard to cast successfully, allowing him to continue his earlier train of thought even as a withering hail of brilliant rods of burning red light flew downrange.

    It was about as precise as a hailstorm, as well. As he had mentioned, accuracy remained a work-in-progress.

    There was the stamped-rune method he’d come up with to refine, of course; that’d be a good place to start, but there was also the magic-pumped laser he was originally trying to make for the holographic projector he had originally wanted to make. The young dragon frowned thoughtfully as he considered that. Based on how much trouble he’d had so far, that sounded like it might be a long slog of a project.

    It might be better to save it for later.

    Then there was his magic-to-electricity idea that’d hit a snare a few months back; he was still trying to come up with a new lead on that. The young dragon shrugged at the thought, accidentally throwing off his aim even more than usual on the next casting. He didn’t have anything right now, but it was something to keep in mind. There was also that question he’d thought of right before he’d had to leave when he talked to Donald all those months ago; that was still hanging in the back of his head alongside half a dozen other odds and ends.

    Things were really starting to pile up, to be honest.

    Harry nodded to himself as he surveyed the devastating aftermath of his target practice. He probably ought to start up something to keep track of it all, maybe some research notebooks? Those seemed to work for Hermione pretty well. The human-shaped dragon stepped back to take another break as the splintered remains of the enchanted targets slowly began to pull themselves back together — their wooden forms rather less resilient to the amount of magic he could throw downrange than an equivalently-sized magical person.

    For now, though, Harry thought with a sigh, he really ought to seek out some tips on how to cast more accurately. Sure, he’d hit the targets eventually, but most of his magic had still expended itself on the increasingly pockmarked stone wall at the end of the range — another unacceptable performance.

    Who was the best person to ask, though?

    Harry frowned in thought, the expression going unnoticed by Abigail, who was slumped over in a chair against the wall, her eyes closed and still trying to catch her breath. Much as he respected the man’s talents, Harry’s usual go-to, Mr. Snape, was probably not the best choice. Spell accuracy really wasn’t in the potions master’s purview — from his stories, Mr. Snape tended to rely more on subterfuge to get close enough that he couldn’t really miss. Harry’s other go-to, the goblins, were really good at accuracy, but as the young dragon had learned to his own embarrassment at the dueling club, accuracy with firearms and accuracy with wands were entirely different animals, so the goblins were right out.

    That left the other professors to consider.

    Mr. Dumbledore was probably a good choice since he was pretty good at pretty much everything, but he was really busy most of the time, so that might be a problem — the elderly wizard could barely find time to oversee Harry’s alchemy lessons every month or so. The young, currently human-shaped dragon tapped his chin thoughtfully as he considered the rest of the staff. To be honest, Mr. Flitwick was probably the best choice, now that he thought about it. The half-goblin was a really good duelist, so he’d know all about spell accuracy and speed, and he was a really good teacher, so he’d know how to teach it, unlike Professor Lockhart.

    Plus, there was another magic-related question like Madame Marchbanks had been talking about that he’d been meaning to look into ever since that duel with the annoying blond kid. Since it was a question about a charm, the resident Charms master would probably be the best choice to answer it, too.

    Harry nodded decisively. That’d be the way to go then.

    Suddenly realizing that the room had been unusually quiet for some minutes now, the young dragon turned to Abigail and saw that his friend appeared to have fallen asleep, leaning back in her chair. She must have been more tired than he thought.

    “Abigail?” he called quietly, attempting to wake her, only to be answered by a loud, decidedly unladylike snore.

    “Huh,” Harry frowned before gently nudging her shoulder. His only response was a sleepy grumble and a slight shift.

    Well, she had been working hard, so he supposed she had earned a nap, the young dragon thought — though that chair looked really uncomfortable.

    He frowned in consideration for a moment before nodding decisively. Best to do something about it.

    Harry bent to pick up the sleeping young woman as gently as he could manage and carried her out of the practice range and down the hall to one of the couches in the main room of the Lair and setting her gently down on the cushions to finish off her nap comfortably. The young dragon tucked her in with a blanket and stoked the fire in the Rayburn when he noticed she was already starting to shiver in her sleep as the occasional winter breeze swept in through the cliffside entrance — now much closer than it had been in the target range — to lick at her sweat-dampened skin.

    Looking down at the peaceful face of his sleeping friend, he absently brushed a stray lock of damp chestnut hair away from where it had stuck to her forehead. Since it was pretty obvious Abigail was going to be out of it for quite some time, Harry considered what to do with himself before nodding firmly as he came to a decision. Making a slight detour to pick up a blank notebook, he then sat in one of the nearby chairs from which he could keep an eye on his tired friend and settled in to keep her company until she woke up, using the opportunity to write down some of his plans for future research projects in the notebook.

    The notebook would be about half-full by the time he finished for the day.

    Later in the evening when the young dragon looked back on the day, he concluded that it was time well-spent. Neither he nor Abigail had gotten as much done as they had hoped, but Harry did learn that looking after his exhausted friend was a surprisingly rewarding way to spend the afternoon.

    Abigail’s beaming smile when she had awakened and realized what he had done had been even more so.

    3.17.1 Unfair comparisons

    Sitting in her favorite chair on the Lair’s library mezzanine, Hermione sat back from her reading for a moment to stretch. She could still hear the muted sounds of spellfire echoing down the tunnel from the shooting range where Harry was yet again working on his practical casting skills alongside Abigail. They had been doing that a great deal recently at Abigail’s behest, ever since the often dragon-shaped boy had managed to acquire a copy of the NEWT syllabus and the seventh-year girl had given it a thorough read.

    However, Abigail hadn’t been the only one to read that syllabus. Hermione smiled as she looked down at the arcane tome laid out on the table before her and at the half-full notebook of handwritten notes that lay open beside it. Hermione had taken advantage of Harry’s forward thinking as well and had seized the opportunity to learn what she would be up against in the wizarding world’s version of standardized testing.

    After all, it was never too early to start preparing, not in Hermione’s considered opinion.

    It was true that she would also have to sit the OWLs as well, long before the NEWTs came into the picture, but the bushy-haired girl figured that if she prepared properly for the NEWTs, then the OWLs ought to be easy enough to pass. Classes usually built up to harder things over time, so she figured that made sense.

    Hermione’s reading of the syllabus Harry had so thoughtfully obtained led her to the same conclusion Abigail had drawn, namely that practical skills were the name of the game for the NEWTs, and the bushy-haired girl had initially decided to go along with the older girl’s plan. It made good sense, and Hermione figured it would be nice to spend more time with her friends.

    Unfortunately, that initial plan had quickly hit a rather severe snag.

    Abigail had chosen to work on perfecting her ability to use the standard spell curriculum, a choice which involved a great deal of thoroughly exhausting practice, and as a normal witch in her second-year of schooling, Hermione simply could not keep up with the harsh pace her friends set. Her body and magic simply were not developed enough to handle the strain, and she knew of no way to rush that sort of thing along.

    Of course, the bushy-haired girl couldn’t find it within herself to blame her friends for not slowing down to keep from leaving her behind. Abigail was on a tight schedule for the approaching exams, and quite frankly the bookish second-year would never forgive herself if she was responsible for holding her friends back from being all they could be. She knew it wasn’t their fault.

    Though, that knowledge did nothing to make her feel better about the situation.

    Being outperformed by Harry was nothing new for the girl, and by this point, she was already well-used to it. Harry was the boy who was so absurdly overpowered that he spent most of his time as a massive super-dragon. Hermione couldn’t find it within herself to feel bad about coming in second-best to that — it would be like feeling inadequate about being shorter than a mountain, it simply wasn’t a meaningful comparison.

    Third-best was a different matter.

    Unlike the walking amalgamation of condensed absurdity that was Harry Potter, Abigail was an ostensibly normal witch like Hermione herself. The bushy-haired girl didn’t have an excuse ready for why she couldn’t keep pace — not one that she could convince herself with, anyway. Intellectually, the just barely teenaged girl knew that her older friend had five full years of magical training and physical development on her, and thus she couldn’t reasonably be expected to keep up with that kind of disadvantage.

    Viscerally, though, the bushy-haired girl knew that excuse was just that, an excuse.

    As far as Hermione was concerned, magic was an intellectual pursuit, and, in her mind, she was supposed to be able to keep up with people years ahead of her in that sort of thing — just like she always had before. Hermione knew she wasn’t the pretty girl, not with her hair and teeth; she knew she wasn’t the athletic girl, as she’d always preferred reading to sports; and she certainly knew she would never be the popular girl, because that just wasn’t going to happen; but she’d be damned before she gave up on being the smart girl!

    That was her thing, damn it!

    So, after her first discouraging practice — which had seen the bushy-haired girl collapse into a chair at the practice range after a single endurance set, unable to do more than watch as her friends continued to set an exhausting pace for nearly another hour — Hermione had decided to rethink her strategy and search for another path, one better suited to her own strengths. It was a search which had led to her retreat to the library.

    The change was a practical decision on her part, a strategic choice to focus on maximal return on her investment.

    It certainly had nothing at all to do with a desire to retreat because the bushy-haired thirteen-year-old girl felt more than a little dismay in the face of her significantly older friend’s impressive performance and well-developed… ah, talents.

    Not one thing to do with that.

    Honest.

    In any case, rather than following in Abigail’s footsteps and banking on the examination committee being impressed by her sheer competence with the standard spells, Hermione had decided to pursue variety. Oh, she would still keep up with her morning target practice with Harry — he would insist on that, and since Abigail wasn’t there in the mornings for the younger girl to compare herself to, Hermione didn’t have any really compelling reason to kick up a fuss. For the rest, though, she would learn as many spells as she could, so that, come time for her NEWT practicals, she could overwhelm the examiners with her spectacular versatility.

    It had seemed a decent choice — Hermione was not blessed with spectacular magical power as Harry was, nor was she particularly enamored of the idea of putting as much sweat into things as Abigail seemed to prefer. Rather, she was a smart girl with a prodigious memory who loved to read, and those were traits that fitted her chosen course perfectly.

    And, if that course led to her spending a great deal of time researching obscure magics among her beloved, comforting, and ever reassuring books, rather than working hard, sweating, and putting herself in a position to be compared unfavorably to a girl five years her senior, then so much the better.

    At the moment, Hermione was working through the first-year curriculum, spell by spell, and looking up any and every equivalent she could find within the wealth of written references Harry had managed to accumulate. Along the way, she had learned twenty-seven distinct divination spells designed to help search through written material within a specified spatial volume, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Using those, she had managed to locate four-hundred and fifty-seven distinct spells designed to perform roughly the same function as the basic light spell — the first one they had learned during the previous year.

    Not bad for a week’s worth of work.

    So far, Hermione had successfully learned eighty-five of them, and she fully intended to learn them all. They were low-impact, easy to cast spells, but, at the end of the day, the bushy-haired girl figured sheer variety had to count for something. After this, she would move on to the basic levitation charm, then to other basic utility charms, and so on and so forth, so that, by the time NEWTs rolled around in five and a half more years, her repertoire would be second to none.

    Bending back to her work, the budding young witch smiled at the prospect. She was going to learn a tremendous amount of magic; she was certain she would enjoy the process thoroughly; and the end results would definitely be more impressive than Abigail’s excellent grasp of the basics.

    In the face of that, what did it matter if her older friend was prettier than she was? She was fine with that, the bushy-haired girl thought with a scowl.

    Honest.

    3.17.2 Welcome correspondence

    The morning meal was unremarkable as were most meals during the school year, essentially any that was not specifically labeled a feast. Scheduling was loose; the house elves made breakfast available for nearly two hours, ending fifteen minutes before the first of the day’s classes, and students cycled through the Great Hall on their own schedule over the course of the allotted time.

    The breakfast hour was also the time scheduled for owl-post delivery. Nearly three centuries previous, a covered temporary roost had been built into one of the dormers on the roof of the Great Hall for that purpose; with two entrances allowing passage from the outside into the interior of the building, owls burdened with post could perch, sheltered from the weather, and wait for their targeted recipient to show up for the meal. It was a great improvement over the previous system, which allowed post owls to deliver post at any time and anywhere on campus. The reduction in mess and disruption was deemed well worth the not-inconsiderable cost of remodeling an enchanted ceiling.

    Even with the additional cost of remodeling, it was much easier to enchant the Great Hall to prevent the owls from casting and defecating everywhere than it would have been to attempt to enchant the entire school in the same manner.

    So it was that a certain Ravenclaw student had just loaded down his plate with a third plateful of bacon and eggs — which as a young wizard, meant he was only about a quarter of the way through his meal — when a rather disreputable-looking owl delivered an extraordinarily thick envelope addressed in a cramped hand. It was a piece of correspondence the teenager had been simultaneously anticipating and dreading in equal measure — depending on what was said in the enclosed document, he would either be vindicated or condemned.

    A certain scheme of his devising had gotten the sixth-year into a bit of a pickle.

    When he had come up with the idea to hire a private investigator to look into his Defense professor’s background, it had seemed like such a good plan. The price had been steep, to be sure, but the payoff had seemed huge, so he’d been able to scrounge up the fee by passing the hat among his fellow schoolmates — if only just, as it had turned out — with only a bit of fast talking.

    And, in that fast talking lay the trouble.

    He had been, perhaps, a tad… enthusiastic in his rhetoric when describing what benefits his fellow conspirators could expect to receive from their investment — both in the certainty of the return and the timing — and his compatriots had rather quickly grown impatient with waiting.

    A few weeks previous, they had managed to coerce him into a clandestine meeting to report on the plan’s progress, and his fellows had been dissatisfied to say the least. He had managed to convince them to hold off and wait until the investigator got back to them, but it had been a long few weeks since — what with the dirty looks and low-key hostility he had faced since. The report he now held was the key to ending that tense state of affairs — hence the anticipation.

    Of course, depending on what the report had to say, the subsequent state of affairs might not be an improvement — hence the dread.

    As the sixth-year opened the envelope, revealing a brief cover-letter and a second envelope inside, and began to read, he breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t the best of news for his purposes; however, it should be enough for him to work with. It would take some more fast talking, but he could use this to get his co-conspirators off his back — hopefully without getting cursed in the process.

    He’d have to put the word out to get everyone together for another meeting.

    3.17.3 Through the grapevine

    “Once again, I thank you all for your attention,” Lockhart addressed his class as the session ended. “I feel I should remind you that your projects will be due at the end of next week!”

    Lockhart had assigned the class project in yet another effort to spark the interest of Mr. Potter. The student was to take one of the scenarios described in his books and come up with his own take on how to handle things. The blond dandy had thought it a prime opportunity to spark a conversation — what better source to consult for such a project than Lockhart himself.

    Unfortunately, this gambit had been no more successful than the previous ones, as the pint-sized powerhouse had simply nodded agreeably and then gone on to complete the entire project in time to turn it in at the next class. Now Gilderoy was stuck grading an entire school’s worth of essays with nothing to show for it.

    A very disheartening outcome, if he did say so himself.

    Despite his disappointment at the lack of progress on his primary goal, the secondary one remained, and the blond dandy still kept a sharp eye out for suspicious behavior, and as the students were shuffling about preparing to leave once more, that vigilance paid off once more.

    It was another note, passed between the same two boys as the last. The teenagers’ actions were just as suspect as they had been several weeks previous — the sequence of events was nearly identical, in fact. This time, however, Gilderoy Lockhart was ready when the second boy went for his wand to vanish the scrap of parchment.

    Had he been Dumbledore, he might have used some arcane twist of magic to reverse the partially-completed vanishing charm and reconstitute the paper in his hand.

    However, Gilderoy was not Dumbledore, and he used a rather more prosaic, but no less effective, approach. Given his prior knowledge of the coming situation, he had prepared by keeping a similarly-sized slip of blank parchment at hand, and as the vanishing spell was cast, the former obliviator countered with a humble switching spell, moving the note to his hand and leaving a blank slip of parchment in its place to dissipate into its component molecules and spread irretrievably over several square miles of the local landscape.

    Neither teenager noticed the substitution.

    As soon as the room emptied, Lockhart casually opened the note to give it a read.

    It seemed that the children would be holding a meeting.

    How intriguing! Gilderoy cocked a golden eyebrow. Perhaps he should drop in?

    3.17.4 Anonymous reporting

    “Madam Bones?”

    In the bustling offices of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, the Head of the Department, Amelia Bones paused at the sound of her secretary’s voice. She was on her way to a meeting regarding recent developments in an old case, and she was tempted to dismiss the interruption, but the serious woman rarely interrupted her without good cause.

    “What is it, Beverly?”

    “You have received an interesting piece of mail, ma’am,” her secretary replied. “It seems to be a rather thorough report loosely implicating one Gilderoy Lockhart in what could be a rather extensive case of fraud.”

    “Gilderoy Lockhart…” Amelia frowned, searching her memory, “the author?”

    “Yes, ma’am. The report details findings of consistent traces of mental manipulation on an impressive number of witnesses across the locations of all his books,” the woman summarized. “It also includes a rather insightful cross-referenced analysis of nearly a decade worth of news reports and the inconsistencies included therein. Very solid work.”

    “Really?” That did sound like impressive detective work — always good to keep an eye on upcoming talent. “Who was responsible for the report? I don’t recall assigning such an investigation.” Normally celebrity investigations were the sort of thing she kept a close eye on, if for no other reason than to avoid being blindsided by the press.

    “That’s the thing, Madam Bones,” Beverly replied, “it’s an anonymous tip. The cover letter said it was a report the author had put together at the behest of a client, and he thought the results were suspicious enough he ought to forward them to us. It said he didn’t know if it was something we were already investigating, but he figured it couldn’t hurt to let us know.”

    “Damn!” Much as she appreciated the help, Amelia hated finding out about new cases. It always meant the world was a little worse than she’d hoped. “Is the case strong enough to open an investigation of our own?”

    “I doubt it, but I am not the one to determine that, ma’am,” her secretary averred.

    “Of course, of course,” Amelia sighed at her oversight. “Send it off to Investigations with a note asking how they think we ought to handle it. In the meantime, I’ve a meeting to get to.”

    “Of course, Madam Bones,” Beverly said, already reaching for a blank sheet of parchment to write the requested note.

    With a final nod, the busy Head of the DMLE was on her way.

    3.17.5 A conversation with Flitwick

    It was late in the afternoon, and Hogwarts’ resident dragon walked purposefully through the halls towards a locality he didn’t often visit. The Ravenclaw dormitories were nearby, but Harry didn’t actually know any of the Ravens very well, instead his current destination was Mr. Flitwick’s office. He had some questions, and he rather hoped the diminutive half-goblin professor would be able to answer them for him.

    Arriving at the charms master’s office, the young dragon in human guise knocked gently, “Um… Professor, are you there?”

    “Come in!” the diminutive teacher welcomed him gladly. “Come in, take a seat. What brings you here, Mr. Potter? You don’t call on me very often, my young friend.”

    “Well, it’s a couple things really,” Harry began. “Um, first, you remember how much trouble I had actually hitting anything back during that dueling club thingy?”

    “Indeed, I do, Mr. Potter,” the half-goblin said with a nod.

    “Well, I’ve been trying to practice and get better,” the young dragon told his professor, “but it’s real slow going, and I was hoping you had some tips on how to do better.”

    “I see,” Flitwick said. “Firstly, I must congratulate you on your commitment to self-improvement, Mr. Potter. Such is always a worthy goal! Aside from that, however, I can only advise that you keep practicing; it really is the only way to improve, I am afraid. Everyone is bad at aiming a wand when they first start, do not be discouraged.”

    “Oh,” Harry said, sounding quite crestfallen. “There’s no tips or anything then?”

    The diminutive professor considered the question for a moment more. “I suppose you might try reducing your wand movements to a minimum, keep the necessary gestures as small as you can make them. The lion’s share of inaccuracy with a wand comes from the wand movements themselves, after all. Oh, and start with piercing charms, they are an excellent way to practice getting your timing down — that final horizontal sweep is tricky to aim properly, and if you can get that right, other charms will be much simpler by comparison.”

    “Thanks, I’ll try that, then!” the young Potter sounded much reassured by the advice.

    “I am glad to have helped, Mr. Potter,” Flitwick said with a smile. “And might I inquire as to your other question?”

    “Oh, right!” the currently human-shaped dragon acknowledged. “I had some questions about a charm I saw at the dueling club. It called snakes…”

    “Ah, serpensortia, I am familiar with the charm.” Flitwick said. “It summons one or more snakes which will then follow the caster’s commands — not terribly useful in real combat because commanding the snakes requires concentration from the caster, but good showmanship for the stage.”

    “Well, I was wondering — does it conjure a snake or pull it from somewhere else?” Harry asked.

    “I… I’m not entirely certain,” the small man frowned. “I was under the impression that it was a conjuration, but I don’t know if anyone has asked that question before,” Flitwick replied. “Why do you ask?”

    “Well, the summoned snakes knew parseltongue, and I’m pretty sure that annoying blond kid doesn’t know how to speak it,” Harry explained. “I thought conjurations could only do what the conjurer told them to do, and this one couldn’t tell it how to speak parseltongue. If it were pulled from somewhere else, though, when I killed it I’d have thought it would have left a body, and it didn’t. So, I’m not sure which one it was.”

    “That is an intriguing question — a question to which I cannot say I know the answer,” the diminutive charms professor said thoughtfully before his tone turned excited. “And when we find a new question we can’t answer, there’s only one thing to be done — we will have to find out!”

    “How do we do that?” the young dragon asked. It sounded similar to Madame Marchbanks’ ideas, but he wasn’t sure how to proceed on this one, having less of an idea of how the snake summoning charm worked than he did of how runic systems did.

    “We must devise an experiment! That is, we will attempt to create a scenario from the results of which we can draw a conclusion with certainty regarding the nature of the charm,” Flitwick explained enthusiastically. “Our current observations are inconclusive, because they could support either option. Our experiment should be designed such that the results will eliminate the confusion.”

    “So, we want to design something so we can tell for sure whether the snake was conjured or summoned?” Harry confirmed.

    “That is one way to go about it,” the half-goblin nodded enthusiastically.

    “So how would we do that?”

    “Why don’t you work out an experimental design and then bring it back to me?” the small teacher proposed. “Then we will go over it. I will help you refine it, and then once we have a good one, you will carry it out. It will be a good exercise for you; the ability to learn by experimentation is an important skill in life.”

    “Okay!”

    3.17.6 A teacher’s musings

    As the charms professor watched Harry Potter leave his office, the diminutive man practically vibrated with glee, his expression full of a burning zeal which would have sent his lazier students running for the hills had they beheld it.

    The young dragon was only a second-year, and he was already producing research ideas like this one! Filius Flitwick saw the potential for greatness in that boy — and for his own career as one of that boy’s mentors.

    The question the dragon had posed so innocently was Mastery-level work in the field, his reasoning had been solid, and he immediately grasped the concept of testing through experimentation — a mindset that was depressingly rare in the magical world. Properly executed — and Filius would see to it that it was properly executed, no matter how hard he had to ride his young student to ensure it — that research proposal could see the boy through to a charms mastery before he sat his OWLs! The half-goblin would not allow such talent to languish in mediocrity.

    Not only that, but Flitwick was looking forward to seeing what the work would produce — success or failure, it was sure to be fascinating.

    The half-goblin chuckled, thinking back on that conversation with Severus, several years previous, in which Filius had made a teasing comment regarding the potions master’s uncharacteristic enthusiasm regarding the young dragon’s bio-alchemy. At the time, his disagreeable colleague had issued a challenge to wait and see how enthusiastic he was when the boy revolutionized Flitwick’s own field, and Flitwick had to admit, it was an exhilarating experience even now.

    And after seeing how Severus had fared over the intervening years…

    Well, he suspected he was in for interesting times to come.

    3.17.7 Clandestine excuses

    “That’s everyone here,” a sixth-year Gryffindor boy said in a firm voice that rang sharply in the dusty normally-abandoned classroom as he shot a hard look at a similarly-aged Ravenclaw. “Now I think it’s time you come clean about just what’s going on with our project.”

    “Yeah! What did you do with our money? We gave you all that so we could get rid of Lockhart and the girls would go back to paying attention to us, but he’s still here, and the girls are still all a-flutter about the blond pillock!” another boy piped up angrily, only to be followed by a cacophony of similar demands from the rest of the room. There were perhaps two dozen boys in attendance, hailing from every House but Slytherin. The age cohorts were not quite so evenly represented, as not a single boy there was younger than a fourteen.

    “As you all know, I hired a private investigator from Knockturn over the winter break to investigate Professor Lockhart’s background,” the Ravenclaw sixth-year so addressed replied to the crowd.

    “Yeah, yeah, we know! You told us that last time,” came an annoyed call. “Why did you call this meeting, if that’s all you have to say?”

    “I’m getting to it!” the Ravenclaw growled defensively. “Anyway, the investigator got back to me, and he found something! He suspects Lockhart used mind magic on people to cover something up!”

    “That’s it?” the first Gryffindor said incredulously. “You wasted all our money on that?”

    “It was not wasted,” the Ravenclaw protested, sounding a little nervous in the face of an increasingly hostile room. “He thought it was important enough to forward a copy of this to Law Enforcement!” He brandished a small stack of parchment as if it were a talisman to fend off the ire of his fellows.

    “Let me see that,” an older Hufflepuff growled, stepping up to rip the parchment out of his hands. His fellows crowded around to see for themselves as he read it. “I guess that’s something, at least,” he acknowledged grudgingly after a few minutes. His compatriots nodded in reluctant agreement with the assessment.

    “Do you mind if I take a look at that?” came a question from someone sitting quietly at a desk near the door.

    “Huh? Oh, sure,” the Hufflepuff said agreeably, absently handing the report off. “Now, what else do we need to do with this? I don’t want to waste our investment.”

    “Yeah, that looked really suspicious,” a younger Ravenclaw piped up. “Maybe we should tell the Headmaster?”

    “No!” the Ravenclaw who had hatched the scheme interrupted vociferously. “We just need to wait for the DMLE to do its thing. I don’t even want to think about how the staff would react to this. It’d be one thing if we had something solid, but just suspicions? Not happening!”

    When one of his fellow sixth-years gave him a narrow-eyed look of suspicion, he hurriedly elaborated. “We hired a private eye to dig into the past of one of our teachers looking for something to get him fired. How do you think Snape would react to that?”

    There was a round of reluctant nodding. Snape would make their lives unutterably miserable for that if he found out, if for no other reason than preemptive revenge for the possibility that they might do it to him in the future. To be honest, they couldn’t even really blame him for that.

    Merlin knew they’d thought about it.

    “Just let it run its course, it’ll work out,” the Ravenclaw assured his fellows. “And don’t tell any of the staff, especially not Lockhart.”

    “It had better work out,” the seventh-year Hufflepuff from earlier warned him darkly, “or it’ll be on your head.”

    The murmur from around the room affirming that sentiment was not reassuring to the sixth-year Ravenclaw who had arranged it all.

    As the last of his co-conspirators filed out of the room, the sixth-year Raven let out an explosive sigh. “It had better turn out, or my seventh year is going to be mightily unpleasant.”

    “Do you really think they’ll hold that much of a grudge?” the person sitting near the door asked curiously.

    The sixth-year scoffed. “At the price we paid? You bet your arse they will!”

    “I see,” blond hair bobbed as he nodded agreeably. “Well, I suppose you’ll just need to hope for the best then. Best of luck to you!”

    “Thanks,” the sixth-year said. “Um, can you pass me the…”

    “Oh, certainly!” he handed the investigative report back to the teenager. “There you go. Have a nice day!”

    The Ravenclaw nodded distractedly as he ambled out of the room.

    “Goodbye, Professor.”

    3.17.8 Unpleasant ruminations

    This was a troubling development, Gilderoy Lockhart thought as he sat under his concealment charm.

    An advanced variant of the common notice-me-not charm, his current choice induced a strong sense of ‘there’s nothing out of place here’ in anyone caught within the area it affected. It was a commonly used tool in the obliviator’s collection and a particular favorite of Lockhart’s. It did not prevent others from noticing the caster — a common property of other methods which made navigating crowds quite difficult — rather it made the caster seem completely unremarkable.

    As he listened to the retreating steps of his student echoing in the deserted hallway, Gilderoy mused on the implications of what he had just learned. When he had first caught wind of this clandestine gathering, he hadn’t known what to expect, but he had never anticipated finding this.

    To think, two dozen of his students had banded together in the interest of getting him fired, not because of his actions, not because they thought he was a poor teacher, but because the girls they were interested in apparently had crushes on him rather than the boys their age. Lockhart scoffed at the very idea; he certainly hadn’t done anything to encourage them! For that matter, they could have just waited a few months and the problem would have fixed itself — impatient brats.

    And the price they had paid! The blond dandy couldn’t help whistling at the memory of the price he’d seen quoted on that cover letter. His students had put that much together? For this? He didn’t know whether to be impressed at their dedication or appalled.

    Had he been that much of a horn-dog at that age?

    Blond locks swayed as the young professor shook his head to dismiss that line of speculation. Whether he had been or not, he certainly had never hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on one of his professors. That was definitely a new one in his experience, and it presented its own set of new challenges to go with it.

    Lockhart knew that the case against him, as presented in the report he had read, was far from air-tight. There were far too many gaps and alternate explanations for it to carry water in court. Despite that, the former obliviator couldn’t help admiring the unnamed private eye’s work. The man had managed to make something out of one of Gilderoy’s own cover-ups, and he had some idea of just how difficult that sort of thing was.

    The inconsistencies the man had latched onto were ones the former obliviator had left deliberately. A perfectly uniform story screamed of manipulation to an experienced investigator — witness accounts were always a little bit spotty — but for the still-unnamed private eye to have taken those deliberately-spread crumbs and put together as much of the story as he had was a remarkable feat.

    It was something Lockhart would never have thought possible.

    And it prompted the blond former obliviator to reconsider other potential outcomes that he had deemed impossible. The evidence presented wasn’t enough for a conviction, but it was probably enough to spark some interest. What if someone at the DMLE could use that to dig up more evidence he hadn’t considered? Gilderoy was still confident in his skills, but what if that confidence was misplaced?

    That could get very messy, very quickly.

    The blond man frowned. He had considered many times the possibility that his lies might be found out — that the elaborate house of cards might come tumbling down — and he had thought through the measures he would have to take should he be discovered. They were measures he did not like.

    Not at all.

    His dislike of those measures was, in fact, the main reason that he had gone for the attempt to become Harry Potter’s mentor rather than running the risk of discovery by attempting to take credit for any other, more prominent, heroic incidents. The life of a fugitive was not one that Gilderoy Lockhart wanted to live, but the life of a prisoner was even less appealing. With this development, both possibilities seemed all too real.

    The footsteps of his students had long-since faded from his hearing, and the former obliviator abruptly stood up, absently dispelling his concealment charm as he walked toward the door. He would have to make some preparations just in case, he mused as he left the classroom. If the worst happened, having a few things in place beforehand would be invaluable — they might be the difference between freedom and captivity, or possibly between life and death.

    Given the nature of Azkaban, Gilderoy wasn’t entirely sure which was the more terrifying dichotomy.

    Hopefully, his initial instinct was correct, and his cover-up was good enough to withstand scrutiny. If that was the case, his preparations would be a waste of time, but he could live with a bit of wasted time.

    If his fears proved prophetic, on the other hand? He grimaced at the thought as he exited the long-unused classroom ad turned down the hallway for the trip back to his office.

    For now, Gilderoy would quietly put some preparations in place while keeping an eye out for trouble — it could just blow over with no further issue, after all — but if the DMLE did manage to find something substantial, they’d send aurors. His eyes narrowed speculatively at the thought — given the location of the potential arrest, they might try to disguise the arrest, both to avoid panic among the children and maintain control of the Ministry’s public image.

    Yes, that was how he would have played it, were he in their position. Lockhart nodded as he considered the idea, running through the scenario in his head.

    A Ministry official, probably from the education department, would come with a quiet request for a meeting — played off as some bureaucratic nothing in front of the children — accompanied by a few plainclothes aurors for the arrest. Aurors rather than normal law enforcement would be overkill, to be sure, but they’d want to take him quietly, and that meant overwhelming force to make sure he couldn’t kick up a fuss. With him in custody, they’d have time to set the propaganda machine running to cover the Ministry’s collective arse well before the trial. It would let them mitigate the impact of the scandal of arresting a teacher they’d presumably vetted before hiring.

    The blond dandy’s expression hardened as he considered his options. At least he didn’t have to worry about being disappeared rather than tried, cold comfort that it was. He was facing the Ministry, not the oligarchs; they’d come for him with officers rather than assassins — Dumbledore’s reforms had guaranteed that much, at least. Imprisonment would still mean Azkaban, though, and the spectral guards employed there were in many ways a worse fate than death. In all honesty, the assassins might well have been a less frightening prospect.

    As he opened the door to his office and made his way to the attached apartment suite, Gilderoy shook his head, dismissing the thought. If it happened, he would just have to ensure he was ready to strike first — without hesitation — he’d only have one, narrow, window of opportunity.

    He’d have to make it count.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2019
  26. Pyeknu

    Pyeknu Cross-Dimensional Magical Sith GIrl

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    Oh, he's a tricky SOB, isn't he?

    Still, it'll be so good to see the jerk hoist on his own petard...!
     
    Corvus 501 likes this.
  27. darthdavid

    darthdavid That Guy

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    I think I can see where this is going and it's going to be hilarious.
     
    Ame, Corvus 501, Finerc and 6 others like this.
  28. soul ice

    soul ice Not too sore, are you?

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    First section is a little weak in my opinion you could have used it to have Harry and Abigail talk rather then just tell what happened it would help with characterization for them as well. Interaction is the best part of this due to the reactions to Harry.
     
  29. Lector312

    Lector312 Know what you're doing yet?

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    Harry's going to get in the way isn't he
     
  30. Peifmaster

    Peifmaster Meister der Pfeifen

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    Lurky The Lurker here, don’t mind me.
    Just had to share my thought:

    -Gilderlocks is expecting an official from the ministry’s education department to be with the DMLE to arrest him.
    -The resident dragon just talked to Madame Marchbanks, who decided to send a colleague to look in on Flophart’s teaching practices.

    If I was a betting man (which i’m not, I’m too broke for that), then my money would be on the ponce jumping the gun and running before the DMLE even started their investigation, giving them all the evidence they need to actually start the investigation.

    Cue shenanigans.
     
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