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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. Syphi

    Syphi Making the rounds.

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    Ah, so a completely different problem then what I was imagining...Was just thinking she got stuck in width wise, not as she was turning, but that makes sense.
     
  2. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    and now I'm imagining a Centaur Mare with turning lights and those sirens that trucks have... /laugh
     
  3. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    And it wouldn't be complete without one of those signs representing lanes of visibility and reminding everyone that if you can't see her eyes, then you should assume she can't see you, so don't follow too close.
     
    Corvus 501, darthdavid, Ame and 4 others like this.
  4. medon12

    medon12 Getting out there.

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    So, been reading ahead from the bits on Yahoo, and wanted to say that the ridiculously thick accents written out phonetically are not fun, or amusing, or helpful, or anything at all but really fucking irritating in the future portions. Make of that what you will.
     
  5. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    I'm fairly sure the original writer would say something along the lines of this

    [​IMG]

    only less polite
     
    Corvus 501, Ame and Least Devotee like this.
  6. medon12

    medon12 Getting out there.

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    Probably, hence the "Make of that what you will." Still, wanted to put it out there. I don't mind the Scottish bits because they're generally confined to cursing and I don't care about trying to interpret them over much. It's when there's paragraphs of actual back and forth conversation and I can't make out what the fuck anybody's talking about that I mind.
     
  7. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    /laugh just means your getting the authentic experience I guess
     
    Ame and Least Devotee like this.
  8. Ataru

    Ataru (Verified Pervert)

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    Lol, you should never read Feersum Endjinn if this bothers you.
     
  9. Qwaar

    Qwaar Getting some practice in, huh?

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    Does one need to make a yahoo account in order to read ahead on this?
     
  10. medon12

    medon12 Getting out there.

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    Yeah, unfortunately. You can get a bit further than the QQ version on Spacebattles, but the version on Yahoo is up through 3.4, much further.

    EDIT: Oh, forgot to mention, the Caer Azkaban group can't be found by searching Yahoo groups internally. Instead, google it and that will link you to the group where you can click the "Join Group" link.
     
    Corvus 501 and Ame like this.
  11. Qwaar

    Qwaar Getting some practice in, huh?

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    Yeah I already found the group, but I was hoping I had just missed some function to not need to make an application to a site I'd really rather not set up an account for. Already read this on SB, so I guess I'll just wait for progress.
     
  12. PyroTechno

    PyroTechno "Author"

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    Ah, another casualty of SB. Welcome, welcome. Don't feel obligated to stay for any length of time, QQ and other sites like it aren't for everyone.
     
    xbartx and Ame like this.
  13. hyperspacewizard

    hyperspacewizard I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Hey so I'm super excited to read this story here!
    But it hasn't even caught up to the space battles one so should I just go to yahoo?
     
  14. Jordisk

    Jordisk Know what you're doing yet?

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    Probably go to Yahoo if you are just interested in the story itself. If you want to actually comment and discuss, that is what the boards are for.
     
    azito likes this.
  15. Walkir

    Walkir Super Happy Awesome Fun Time

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    Just read this to the end on SB and moved here.

    Have to say I find it interesting that the Tir na nÓg freaks haven't shown up after someone messed with the mana level enough to make Celedyr stir and they checked the lines on the Isles. Or these secret cults hunting dragons during mana lows.
     
    Corvus 501 likes this.
  16. Lurm

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

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    Though IIRC he said on Yahoo that he wouldn't start posting new chapters there until SB/QQ were caught up, so there's only so much you'll get there in the meantime.
     
    Jordisk likes this.
  17. Jordisk

    Jordisk Know what you're doing yet?

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    Still up to 3.4, which is quite a bit more than anywhere else.
     
  18. Grandis

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

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    I have tried, and failed miserably, to find the Yahoo group where the story is posted. Searching through google has not yielded any results. Little help, please?
     
  19. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    Corvus 501 likes this.
  20. Threadmarks: Section 2.3 - Arrival at a fairy tale castle
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.3.0 Arrival at a fairy tale castle

    Hermione jumped off the train onto the platform, taking a deep breath of the cool evening air, which, even with the omnipresent scent of coal smoke from the old steam engine was decidedly refreshing in comparison to the cabin which she had shared with a centaur for upwards of seven hours on the train. Nothing she had ever read about the beings had mentioned just how permeating their smell was, which she supposed indicated that the books she had read were either written by muggles who had never been around one of the creatures or by wizards who had never been cooped up in close quarters with one for the better part of a day.

    Hermione didn’t consider that the authors might have had experience with horses and taken the smell as a given and thus unworthy of mention — ah, the innocence of youth.

    Thankfully for both her nose and her state of mind, Neville’s toad had proven more skilled at evasion than its pursuers were at tracking, and their search had continued until it was interrupted by the announcement that they were approaching the station, and the children should don their uniforms prior to arrival. Hermione had returned to the cabin long enough to retrieve her uniform, and then changed in the restroom before killing time wandering the train for the rest of the trip.

    Hermione was in fact, quite grateful for an excuse to get out of the cabin for a while. Harry was a bit much for her. That was not to say that the boy was mean, or nasty, or anything — perhaps a bit rough-around-the-edges sometimes, but some of Hermione’s uncles were like that, and she knew how to sort that sort of thing out. The problem was that he was forceful. She felt like she got dragged along with him simply on the strength of his passage, rather like a leaf floating on the breeze.

    Sure, he was a friendly breeze, but that didn’t do anything for the helpless leaf, now did it?

    “Firs’ years this way, firs’ years this way!”

    Hermione turned and looked wide-eyed at the man calling out for first-year students. He was enormous, not just impossibly tall, taller than Suze had been, even, but impossibly wide as well, both in shoulder and in girth. He had hair and beard that ran together with sufficient density that, apart from the brown color, he could be mistaken for a particularly prolific ambulatory shrubbery, and two beetle-black eyes peered out from the small patch of ruddy face not hidden by his bushy brown hair.

    And Hermione had thought her own hair was uncontrollable!

    Another familiar and energetic voice rang out over the platform, “Hey Hagrid!”, as Harry bounded across the intervening space. Hermione noted that Suze was nowhere in evidence.

    “Hey, Harry,” the massive man said in a friendly tone. “I though’ Suze were travellin’ w’ yeh?”

    “I sent her home with my portkey,” Harry explained. “We couldn’t get her turned around to get off the train.” He looked over at Hermione, who had been absently following Hagrid’s instructions and briskly walking over, “This is Hermione Granger,” he introduced her. “I met her in Diagon Alley.”

    Hermione found herself quailing under the massive man’s gaze, and she offered a timid, “How do you do?”

    “’Ello, Miss,” Hagrid said in a booming voice and with a broad, friendly smile. Hermione couldn’t help but smile back. “Lookin’ forward t’ Hogwarts?”

    “Oh, yes, Mr. Hagrid,” she was much reassured by his friendly manner.

    “Jus’ Hagrid, Miss; Mr. Hagrid was me Da’. Yeh stick t’ young Harry ‘ere; he’ll make sure yer all right.”

    Harry smiled proudly, “Hagrid here is Hogwarts’ Groundskeeper, Gamekeeper, and Keeper of the Keys, and he knows absolutely everything there is to know about all sorts of really cool creatures! Centaurs, hippogryphs, unicorns, thestrals, even dragons! He’s even helping me farm acromantulas, and he bakes the best rock cakes you’ve ever tasted!”

    Hermione craned her neck to look back up at the large man, noting with some surprise that the small patches of his cheeks that were visible were flushed red at Harry’s effusive praise.

    “Go on, ye’ little scamp! Head on o’er t’ the boats, an’ I’ll gather the rest o’ the firsties.”

    Harry nodded agreeably and took hold of Hermione’s hand. “C’mon the boats are over here.”

    Hermione allowed herself to be dragged along; it seemed to be Harry’s normal mode of travel, grab a nearby female by the hand and haul her along. Since she wanted to go that way anyway she decided not to object. “Boats, Harry?”

    “Yeah, first years go to the castle in boats. The first time you see Hogwarts is from the shore of the loch.”

    “How did you know that? It wasn’t in Hogwarts: A History?”

    “’s what happened last year and the year before that,” Harry explained. “I’ve been around Hogwarts since I was eight and I had to leave my aunt and uncle’s house. It’s okay though, ‘cause I wasn’t too happy there before… well, before I had to leave.” Before Hermione’s curiosity could latch onto that suspicious pause, they arrived on the jetty, and he said with a theatrical wave of his arms, “Ta-da! There you go, Hogwarts!”

    Hermione blinked at the marvelous sight before her, across the loch, gleaming like a jeweled crown in the gathering twilight was a castle properly deserving of being called ‘magical’. Towers and turrets stretched up to touch the sky, impossibly thin for their stone construction, and the edifice spread out to encompass a massive area. Best of all to Hermione’s young mind, was the reflection duplicating the vision in the dark, still waters below.

    “It’s not bad, eh?”

    “It’s incredible… beautiful…”

    “C’mon, lets grab a boat.”

    2.3.1 Disciplinary inquiry

    Abigail pushed her way through the press of bodies filing slowly into the Great Hall. She was proud to have been selected as a Slytherin Prefect at the end of the previous year, and she was determined to do what it took to prove herself worthy of being named Head Girl in her coming seventh year. That ambition meant she needed to do her job properly and promptly, and that meant she had to report on the incident where Flint was kicked by a centaur on the train, no matter how hilarious she found it; Flint was a right prick.

    Eventually, she managed to force her way to the staff table where Professor Snape sat waiting impassively for the firsties to arrive for the Sorting. “Excuse me, Professor Snape?”

    Snape glanced down at her, dark eyes noting the glittering new addition of the prefect badge, “Yes, Miss Abercrombie?”

    “Sir, there was an incident on the train. Flint was injured when he was kicked by a centaur, and I escorted him to the infirmary. Madame Pomphrey instructed me to inform you of the situation and that he should be fine in a few hours but would not be able to attend the feast tonight.”

    “I see, thank you for your diligence, Miss Abercrombie. Was there anything else?”

    Abigail’s brown eyes blinked at the lack of surprise, “Er, there was a centaur on the train, sir, it kicked him.”

    “Yes, I heard you the first time, Miss Abercrombie. And?”

    Abigail shifted defensively, “Um, I didn’t think they were allowed, sir. I thought the Express was reserved for students only.”

    “It is.”

    There was another uncomfortable silence. Her Head of House’s terse responses were not helping with conversational flow. “Er, the centaur can’t be a student, can it sir? In Care, Professor Kettleburn said that centaurs are inherently magical creatures due to the circumstances of their creation, but they are unable to channel wanded magic.”

    A thin smile appeared on Snape’s face, “Two points for your applied knowledge of centaurs, Miss Abercrombie. That will be all.” He then turned back to scowling at the student body which was slowly separating itself into Houses.

    Abigail frowned in surprise at the abrupt dismissal before nodding respectfully and stepping backwards. The Professor obviously knew of the centaur and appeared to have no objection. There was something odd, though. Professor Snape had confirmed that the centaur maid was not a student, but he was still unconcerned that she had been on a train exclusively reserved for students.

    She would have to unravel that puzzle at a later date, for now, she needed to take her place at the Slytherin table and prepare to welcome the new students.

    She barely managed to take her seat in time.

    2.3.2 The Sorting

    Out of all the incoming first-year students, only one knew what to expect, and since that one was Harry Potter, he was predictably far too excited about the situation to be coherent. Hermione, still attached to him by the hand, found herself wanting to put her hands on his head to stop him bouncing as they listened to the scruffy magical hat he’d earlier claimed went by the name, Donald, singing some kind of vaguely bawdy doggerel. The hall was very impressive, and she supposed a singing hat was neat, but having an outrageously strong and hyperactive small boy fidgeting, giggling and pointing random things out tended to detract from the majesty of the spectacle.

    The Sorting proceeded alphabetically by surname, and Harry amused himself by spotting kids he recognized as their turns came up, marking each with an ‘I know him/her’; first in that category was one Hannah Abbot who he’d met in Diagon Alley that one time, quickly followed by her friend Susan Bones. They both ended up in Hufflepuff. Then Hermione ended up in Gryffindor, which Harry supposed was a good thing since that’s where she said she wanted to go.

    That Longbottom guy who, judging by the squirming lump in his pocket, had eventually managed to find his toad, got sorted into Gryffindor. Then there was that mad Draco kid, whose awesome first name did nothing to make up for his personality. He’d almost gotten his head sat-on on principle that one time they’d met in Hogsmeade on account of him being dumb and giving dragons a bad name by association. The blond dunderhead ended up in Slytherin, and Harry was sure Mr. Snape wasn’t going to like that one bit. Then Mrs. McGonagall said ‘Potter, Harry’, and he bounded up to the stool for his turn.

    While the other children had been nervous to one degree or another at facing the ordeal of being Sorted in front of the entire school, Harry was quite eager, enjoying the whispers and bated breath throughout the room. He was a dragon after all, even if he didn’t look it at the moment, and dragons were supposed to be impressive and awe-inspiring. He figured he needed all the awe he could get.

    2.3.3 Surprise!

    As the Hat descended on the still slightly-undersized boy and his great shaggy mop of black hair, the Hall was hushed in anticipation. This made the truncated scream of pure astonishment all the more piercing in contrast.

    “What the fu…” the Sorting Hat screamed aloud before catching itself. The small figure seated under the recently screaming hat had already been the focus of attention for every person in the hall, but now each and every eye widened.

    Snape leaned across to the Headmaster, “I thought the two had already met?”

    “They did,” Albus looked puzzled. “I wonder what’s gotten the Hat all up in a tizzy?”

    2.3.4 Sorting the dragon

    Harry looked up as far as his eyes could go, even going so far as to tilt his head back a little. “Is there something wrong?”

    In his mind, Donald’s voice sounded like he was hyperventilating. “Oh my, you’re a, a… I’ve never… Oh my!”

    Harry reached up with his still very human-looking arm and patted the ancient hat reassuringly, “Are you alright?”

    “I am most certainly not alright! That bast… er, never mind. Ooh, the Headmaster deserves a good… aargh!” the Hat paused and seemed to collect itself. “My apologies, Mr. Potter, and for your reference, you don’t need to speak out loud; I am quite capable of communicating with you via your thoughts.”

    “Like this?” Harry thought very loudly.

    “Perhaps not quite so forcefully,” Donald gave the impression of a wince. “Goodness, I’ve never had to sort a dragon before. Have you always been a dragon? I didn’t notice any indication when we met previously.”

    “I transformed into one when those standing-stone thingies went all crazy back a couple months before I turned eight,” Harry explained in a much quieter, but still excitedly bouncy, mental voice. “I didn’t meet you, though, until after I’d learned to transfigure myself into a human again.”

    “…and since we were speaking aloud rather than with me on your head, I didn’t have the senses to tell the difference, I suppose,” Donald concluded. “That makes sense, though it still doesn’t excuse Albus for not telling me ahead of time.”

    “Is there something wrong with me being a dragon,” Harry asked, troubled.

    “No, nothing wrong,” Donald assured him, “I just like being informed of these things beforehand. Don’t like surprises too much, you understand.”

    “Well, it’s supposed to be a secret,” Harry offered. “Some of the glowy people wouldn’t like it too much if they found out I was a dragon instead of a person, well, I’m still a person, but a dragon-shaped person rather than a people-shaped person. Maybe that’s why he didn’t tell you.”

    “Well, I don’t care if it was supposed to be a state secret, the old whiskered bastard should have bloody-well told me,” the hat groused. “Please pardon my language, Harry. I am somewhat overwrought.”

    Harry screwed up his face in confusion, “Huh, why did he need to tell you? Does it make some sort of difference in where you sort me?”

    “No, it was more along the lines of not scaring the stitching out of me. Ugh, I’m too old for this sort of excitement.”

    That sounded interesting, “How old are you, exactly? I mean, Hagrid said I might be around for a really long time because dragons can live for hundreds of years, and Madame Pomphrey said I might well live even longer than that, so I was wondering about…”

    “Well, perhaps we should get on with our business first?” Donald interrupted before Harry could really get a good blather going. “As fascinating as your observations are, I fear that if we take too long to sort you there may just be a riot after my little slip up at the beginning. Feel free to visit during the year, it is always nice to get some company, and we could converse at our leisure, then. I’m sure the Headmaster would be amenable to allowing you to visit his office. I might even get you to play a prank on him for me. Well, on to the job at hand, hmm, interesting…”

    The chance to talk to the hat sounded like it might be great fun, but Donald did have a point, Harry reasoned. “Your song said all the clever glowy-people get put in Ravenclaw; I like reading, can I go there?”

    “So I see; so I see. You do have a powerful intellect, indeed; however, I suspect your phenomenal rate of learning and memory retention would earn you more resentment than fellowship there. It is one thing for students to engage in friendly competition with others of similar ability, but to be effortlessly outclassed is another thing entirely. Your time in Ravenclaw would be troublesome, and while character-building, I dare say that annoying a dragon would turn out to be a little too exciting for members of that House.”

    Harry considered that. He didn’t really see it as he had never really considered himself to be particularly smart, but he figured he’d take Donald’s word for it. The hat was supposed to be the expert here. “If you say so. I don’t want to annoy anyone if it’s not for a good reason, and annoying them by being better at schoolwork seems like a pretty dumb reason to me. How about Gryffindor? I’m brave; I’ve even got a damsel, and you sorted Hermione there, and she’s my friend.”

    “Mr. Potter, you are fearless, and with good reason! But I’m afraid courage is a very different thing from fearlessness. Courage is acting despite your fear, and you have yet to face any situations sufficiently dangerous to showcase your courage. Gryffindors as a group tend to leap into dangerous situations readily, yes, but a situation which is dangerous for a wizard would pose little challenge to one such as you. Conversely, a situation even mildly dangerous for you would be beyond deadly to a wizard, and I shudder to think what would happen should your housemates leap into such a situation after you. I suspect that my sorting you into Gryffindor would quickly lead to a marked decline in the House’s population through attrition.”

    “Oh!” Harry said, taken aback. “That’s not good at all. I guess Hufflepuff is the only one left then? Mr. Snape said I wouldn’t make a very good Slytherin.”

    “Severus Snape’s opinion matters to me not at all, Mr. Potter,” the hat said testily, “I do not attempt to gainsay him regarding his potions, and he should kindly refrain from attempting the same with me regarding Sorting. For your information, I do not necessarily sort students into the House which most closely mirrors their personality.”

    “You don’t? I thought you said in the song that that was your job?”

    “It usually turns out that way, yes, but my purpose is to sort students into the Houses where they will grow and develop properly, the place where they would best succeed. When a student holds the attributes of several Houses, I try to sort them where they would be most effective. Now Hufflepuff would be delighted to have you as a member.”

    “You mean I’m going to be a Badger? Wicked!”

    “You would certainly fit in there quite well; Hufflepuff itself would fare better for your patronage. The honor and prestige alone would do wonders for the House’s reputation.”

    Harry frowned, the hat seemed to be stalling. “But where else could I go? You don’t think I’d be any good with the sneaky people in Slytherin, do ya? Mr. Snape seemed to think the idea was pretty funny when I asked him.”

    The hat gave the mental impression of an exasperated sigh. “Mr. Potter, Professor Snape was correct to point out that you are not really cunning, or sneaky as you would call it. You are arrow-straight in a world full of curves. You have a child’s view of the world, a view which would attract some derision from your fellow Slytherins. I wouldn’t even consider putting you in that House were it not for one thing…”

    “Really, what’s that?”

    “You have an ambition Salazar himself would never have dreamed to even consider; you wish to change the world.”

    Harry mentally shrugged, finding the action to be oddly comfortable despite doing it for the first time in his existence. “Oh, that. Well, Mr. Snape and Suze and me have all been trying to figure out how to overthrow the glowy people in charge so we can fix things up — when we’re not learning potions, that is. Mr. Snape gets really loud when I try to talk about overthrowing while he’s talking about potions.”

    The hat paused for a moment, “Yes, well, Professor Snape’s protestations aside, that’s my dilemma. I could put you in Hufflepuff, and you would be welcomed there, but the House would be the greatest beneficiary of your placement rather than you. Or I could put you in Slytherin, and you might not be so happy there, but you might be forced to develop some more subtle skills which would prove most useful for your grand ambition. Essentially you would cultivate a more delicate touch, an attitude that would serve you well with your goal.”

    “You know, from the reading I’ve done and the conversations I’ve had, I never would have guessed it would come down to deciding between Hufflepuff and Slytherin. Those two don’t really have a lot in common.”

    “Ah, but a good Slytherin knows how to work hard for his goals, though there are precious few in that House these days,” Donald countered. “And few Hufflepuffs work hard for the sake of hard work, rather they pursue a goal, in other words, an ambition.”

    “Oh, okay. So where am I going?”

    “Yes, yes. Where are you going? Hufflepuff, where you would do well, but the House would be great, or Slytherin where the House would do well, but you would be pushed on the path to true greatness?”

    Harry waited with bated breath. This was perhaps the defining moment of his childhood — well, apart from the whole turn-into-a-dragon thing, it would be pretty hard to top that one.

    “HUFFLEPUFF!” the hat shifted back to audible speech to declare Harry’s fate at Hogwarts.

    “Not Slytherin?” Harry thought. He figured it might have been nice to be in the same House as Mr. Snape.

    “No, Mr. Potter,” Donald replied in kind, “if placing you in Gryffindor would have decimated the House through attrition, putting you in with the Serpents would have led to their near-complete annihilation. As I said, the good Slytherins are rather light on the ground at the moment. I daresay that you will achieve true greatness eventually regardless of your House, and weighing a few years’ delay in what promises to be a truly prodigious lifespan against the lives of a quarter of the school, well, it wasn’t too difficult a choice to make. Good luck to you in Hufflepuff, and don’t forget to visit!”

    Harry took off the hat, set it on the stool and gave it a quick pat, “Thanks, Mr. Hat!”, before he trotted over to the table trimmed in black and yellow.

    2.3.5 An unexpectedly friendly outcome

    “HUFFLEPUFF!”

    Up at the staff table, Snape looked faintly surprised at the outcome before muttering, “Blasted reptile.”

    Then he stifled a chuckle as he scanned the Gryffindor students poleaxed looks, the Ravenclaws wide-eyed startlement, the Slytherins equally startled but calculating expressions, and the wild cheering and applause from the Badgers.

    It seemed that Harry had, as expected, put a cat among the pigeons from the get-go.

    Normal pigeons, that is, not the sort of monstrosity that Harry could turn into if he remembered a certain story from Minerva — a normal cat among the normal pigeons.

    2.3.6 Feast

    After the uproar following the Boy-Who-Didn’t-Snuff-It becoming a ‘Puff, the Sorting proceeded apace, with the last student Harry had met, Ronald Weasley, joining the Lions, and some kid named Zabini — who Harry only remembered because his name was kind of unusual, what with starting with a ‘z’ and all — going to Slytherin.

    It was followed by a brief bit of buffoonery from Dumbledore in which he imparted the grand words of wisdom, ‘nitwit’, ‘oddment’, and ‘tweak’ — from which some of the more obsessive Ravenclaws would spend weeks attempting to derive hidden meanings — which then led directly into the feast wherein a large room full of teenagers and near-teenagers consumed their fill, and a little bit more, of greasy, starchy, calorie-dense food.

    Harry once again shocked the rest of the student body by practically inhaling the equivalent of an entire roast cow by himself while enthusiastically chattering away at a mile-a-minute with his new housemates. Harry counted this as a great success when he managed to get the girls he ended up sitting between, Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot, giggle fits and managed to get the older boy seated across the table, who’d introduced himself as Cedric Diggory, to snort so hard pumpkin juice came out of his nose.

    Once everyone’s appetites were sated — except for Harry, who regarded just one cow as little more than a light nibble and fully intended to eat enough to feel full when he got back to his Lair for the evening — Dumbledore again took center stage for a few announcements regarding a new staff member and some rule changes.

    “The Forbidden Forest is, as its name suggests, strictly forbidden to anyone not accompanied by a staff member or a registered resident of the Forest, and last, but certainly not least, there is a hallway on the third floor which is likewise strictly off-limits as it contains a certain death for any who venture therein. It is marked and locked in a way which will require considerable deliberate effort for any student to unlock. I trust that no one will make the attempt, as doing so would be quite remarkably foolish.”

    Harry frowned for a moment at that. He alone among the student body had some idea of what was going on with that. A few days before, a fist-sized package had been delivered to the castle via armored car under the watchful eyes of no less than a full platoon of armed-to-the-teeth goblins led by Sergeant-Major Hooktalon. They’d even brought rocket launchers and a weird sort of gun with six barrels that rotated through one after another that they’d said they were going to mount on a stand inside the door.

    The squaddies had seemed almost giddy about the thing, so Harry figured they didn’t get to use it very often; when he had asked, they said they only got to use it this time because the client had a whole lot of money and he was willing to pay for the ammunition. It was called an ‘Em-One-Thirty-Four Minigun’, which seemed like an odd name to Harry since between the gun itself, the specially-shielded battery pack, and the ammunition boxes, it probably weighed as much as two of the goblins themselves.

    They apparently had orders to keep everyone but a few specific people out — namely Dumbledore, Hooktalon, Slackhammer, and some guy named Flamel — using force if required, and that was all they’d been willing to tell him. Their tone had let him know that it was something he ought not be pushing on, so he left them to it after extracting a promise to come by and look in on his marksmanship progress when they got a chance.

    “Now then, it is time for us to get some sleep,” Dumbledore concluded, snapping Harry out of his thoughts. “We’ve a big day tomorrow, after all.”

    Prefects went around calling the attention of their respective Houses’ first-years, leading each group out of the Great Hall in a great disorderly mob. Once everyone had been directed to their common rooms, it was time for the few students who would not be living in the dorms to be shown the way out, since it wasn’t through the docks they came in by. In Hufflepuff’s case, this group had two members, Harry, and Zacharias Smith who lived down in Hogsmeade, but the group included some few from the other Houses as well.

    This year, escort duty was being handled by none other than Professor Severus Snape. As the other students left with their parents, he intercepted Harry before he could trundle off to the Forest, “Mr. Potter, the Headmaster would like to speak with you before you head home for the evening. Please follow me,” without waiting for an acknowledgement, Snape strode off.

    Harry, quite used to this sort of behavior from the man, gave an acknowledgement anyway, “Okay!” and made good time keeping up with the older man’s longer stride.

    “Did Mr. Dumbledore tell you what he wanted to talk to me about?” Harry asked as they walked.

    “I have an idea, but as there may be other things I will not speculate so as not to mislead you unintentionally.”

    “Umm, okay,” Harry said uncertainly. “When do you teach us first-years?”

    “Your class timetable will be issued tomorrow at breakfast, but traditionally I teach the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff first-year students on a Thursday morning.”

    Harry nodded happily at that. He was beyond pleased that he would finally be able to be a student at Hogwarts and spend more time with his professor friends. Admittedly, it would mean spending less time galloping with his centaur friends, but during the spring and fall that time was kind of limited anyway.

    As the pair continued to walk down the byzantine maze of Hogwarts’ hallways, the companionable silence was broken again, this time by Snape. “Out of morbid curiosity, how many students did your centaur damsel’s hooves injure on the Express?”

    Eyes wide with awe, Harry asked, “How did you know Suze kicked someone on the train?”

    Snape was disciplined enough to keep his tongue in check, and rather than retort that his last name was Potter, and therefore injuries among innocent bystanders were to be expected, as he would have done with any of his peers in the staffroom; he instead went with, “I am a student of human nature.”

    Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that reply, so he just decided to explain the incident to his friend.

    Snape sighed, “As you were not Sorted at that point, I shall hold off on deducting points; however, please direct your considerable intellect towards anticipating and avoiding such problems in the future. I am not so naïve as to imagine that you will be able to avoid trouble entirely, but if you at least promise to attempt to do your best to avoid discovery and keep collateral damage to a minimum, I believe I will have to be satisfied.”

    “Okay, Mr. Snape!” There was that blasted weaponized level of exuberance again. The blasted reptile was going to ruin his reputation at this rate.

    They had finally managed to arrive at the gargoyle which concealed the entrance to the Headmaster’s office. “My office is in the dungeons near the potions classroom, though I can be contacted using the fire in any of the common rooms in an emergency.” He broke off for a moment to provide the password for the entrance, currently ‘lemon drops’, before continuing, “Now off you go, you blasted reptile. Our tutoring sessions will continue, but the location will shift to the potions classroom. Good night to you, and sleep well; you have a big day tomorrow.”

    “Good night, Mr. Snape! I’ll see you tomorrow.”

    2.3.7 Gentle reminder

    Harry bounded up the cool moving stairs into Mr. Dumbledore’s office after Mr. Snape had left in a great sweeping billow of dark robes as was his custom. The large office, really more of an office suite if one were to be precise, was mostly filled with interesting things. Little magical devices that spun about and periodically emitted puffs of smoke, moving magical portraiture, all sorts of colorful knickknacks glowing with various kinds of magic to Harry’s senses, and reams upon reams of parchment. Most of all, however, there was Fawkes.

    Harry really liked Fawkes.

    He made for great company. The phoenix was nearly as cheerful as Harry was, and he made you feel better just by being around. It made Harry aspire to do the same someday, though he had no idea how he might manage it. Phoenixes apparently had some innate magical effect that did that, and Harry would probably have to make a similar thing if he wanted to brighten up people’s moods with his mere presence.

    The roiling mass of vaguely bird-shaped flame chirped a friendly greeting to Harry, followed by a hopeful questioning one.

    “It’s good to see you too, Fawkes,” Harry said, fearlessly reaching his hand out to pet the incarnation of fire. “And sorry, but the room’s too small to transform and give you a fire bath. If you come by the Lair when I get back, though, I’d be happy to, and I’m sure Suze would like to see you too!”

    “Ah, Mr. Potter, it is an absolute delight to finally welcome you to Hogwarts as a student!” the Headmaster said, stepping out of an adjoining room that appeared to consist mostly of a cozy-looking sitting area before a fireplace. In the time between the welcoming feast and his current meeting, the man had exchanged his relatively subdued robes with multicolored stars and moons for a much more lurid set with animated patterns and everything. “I do appreciate your self-discipline in refraining from transforming within my office, as well. I know how persuasive Fawkes can be when he wants something, but sorting the paperwork again would be quite tedious.”

    “You’re welcome, Mr. Dumbledore,” Harry said, perfectly seriously.

    “Yes… did I hear you say correctly that Fawkes enjoys being bathed in your flames?” the elderly man asked. “I must say that I had not realized such things were enjoyable for phoenixes or I would have sought to provide him with such previously.”

    “He said that other fires aren’t hot enough for him when I asked before,” Harry explained.

    “I wonder if that is why he has seemed so much healthier recently?” Dumbledore mused, stroking his beard thoughtfully. “He hasn’t undergone a burning day in six months or so, and his flames have seemed much more energetic than usual… hmm, most remarkable. In any case, I suppose we should get back to the topics at hand.”

    “Right!”

    “How was your train ride, young man?” Dumbledore asked. “The Express has been a beloved tradition for the best part of a century; I trust that it was quite memorable for you?”

    “It was great!” Harry said enthusiastically. “I sat with Suze and a girl I’d met at Diagon Alley before, and we read lots, but Suze had to take the portkey back to the Lair because we couldn’t get her back out of the compartment.”

    The Headmaster nodded sagely, “I suppose I should have anticipated that, though it does beg the question of how you managed to get her into the compartment in the first place — an enigma I am sure to enjoy pondering at a later date. As it is, there was no lasting harm done. Please take a seat, there are a few things to discuss.” As his young guest took a seat on one of the visitors’ chairs arranged before the desk, Dumbledore indicated a candy dish on the edge of said desk, “Lemon drop?”

    The young dragon looked longingly at the sweets, he could certainly smell them from here, and they smelled delicious, the same sort of tangy acid smell to be expected from good, strong, goblin tea — or a leaky car battery, they were pretty similar.

    “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to pass for now. Hagrid left me a couple of cars up on the bluff by the Lair, and I don’t want to spoil my appetite. Maybe next time?” he finished hopefully.

    “Quite responsible,” Albus approved, nonetheless popping one into his own mouth, “and I will quite happily offer you the same opportunity on your next visit. Now, have you had an opportunity to read the copy of the school bylaws I lent you?”

    Harry nodded, “I did, though Suze and me had a bit of a laugh at some of the sillier rules. I hope you don’t mind?”

    “Of course not, some of those rules are quite silly, indeed,” the man’s long white beard danced as he gave a hearty chuckle. “My favorites are some of the rules regarding the etiquette involved in the concurrent carrying of swords and wands put in place in the thirteenth century; why, to follow them all would require no less than three hands!”

    Harry grinned, recognizing the rules the man was referring to. “It got even worse in the sixteenth century when they added the ones for guns, ‘cause they didn’t do anything to invalidate the earlier ones for swords and they used ‘and’ instead of ‘or’ for left or right-handed carry, so by the rules you technically need to be carrying four swords, two pistols, two rifles, at least seven knives, and thirteen wands with a hand for each one.”

    The old man laughed delightedly, “I must admit I had not made that connection before, though I see it now that you’ve pointed it out. Come to think of it, that would have been a much better choice when we were trying to find a way to justify carrying your armament on campus, hmm. Well, what is done, is done, I suppose.”

    “Yeah, well, I’ve been thinking, remember how the goblins helped Suze and me to get away from that crazy toad lady in the alley last year? All those laws with numbers after the names?”

    “I do have a passing familiarity with the legal code, Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore assured him, amused. “It is, after all, my responsibility as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot to be the highest arbiter of such matters in the land.”

    “Right!” Harry said enthusiastically, completely unembarrassed by what many others would consider a major oversight. “Anyway, the rule book sorta reminded me of them, and I was wondering whether I could get a copy of all the rule books with the laws that I could read? I don’t want to have to bother the goblins all the time whenever someone tries to be a poo-head, so I figured if I knew all the laws, I could make sure to only do things that are allowed, even if everyone thinks they’re not allowed.”

    There was a slight pause as the older man waded through that morass of dialogue, “I see. Are you thinking of practicing law when you graduate from Hogwarts? Do you wish to become a solicitor or barrister? With your prodigious memory, you would be a formidable opponent in the courtroom.”

    “Nah,” the dragon waved the idea off. “They sound like really boring jobs. I just want to know so I can deal with it if I have to. Plus, if we ever want to change the laws to be fairer, I need to know what we’ve got now to avoid running into the same problems.”

    Albus beamed at that, it seemed that his earlier urgings about working within the system had borne at least some fruit after all. “Well, it is always a good thing to have more people familiar with our legal system, and I am certain I could authorize and expenditure from your trust account for the purpose of acquiring the relevant materials. The legal code is quite extensive, however, so you will be in for quite the read, and keeping up with the continual additions, modifications, and indeed, contradictions, can be both tiresome and expensive.”

    “Thanks, Mr. Dumbledore! Um, before I forget, Donald also invited me to come talk to him from time to time during the year, is that okay?”

    “Donald?”

    “Yeah,” at the elderly wizard’s puzzled look, Harry offered, “You know, Donald, the hat?”

    “The Sorting Hat is named Donald?” this was news to Dumbledore. He’d always just called it the Hat.

    “Uh huh,” Harry nodded. “He told me when I first talked to him last year.”

    “Well, I suppose you learn something new every day,” Albus mused. “I will certainly not get in your way on that front, though if you wish to meet with him in my office, I will of course, need to be present. There are a great many fragile and important things in here, after all. Perhaps…” He stood up and went to a shelf, withdrawing the Sorting Hat and setting it on his desk, “Hat — or Donald, I suppose — Mr. Potter tells me you would like to speak with him during the year?”

    The Hat awoke groggily, “Yes, yes I did. Why, is he here to talk already?”

    “Hi, Donald!” Harry greeted.

    “He is here, but I daresay it is too late in the day for a proper conversation when he has classes tomorrow. No, I wished to ask whether you would like to be relocated outside of my office so that you might be available for discussions with students without requiring my presence? The castle certainly is in possession of a surfeit of rooms, it would be no trouble to set something up.”

    The hat scrunched itself up in concentration before it responded, “You know, that sounds rather nice. I think I’ll take you up on that.”

    “Then it shall be done,” Dumbledore said grandly before faltering slightly as a though occurred to himm. “Though it may take a few weeks to set up the appropriate wards, Merlin knows what the Weasley twins would load you down with without proper warding.”

    The hat shuddered, “Take your time, then, Headmaster. No need to rush, and it would be good for Mr. Potter to get a few weeks of class under his belt before we talk again anyway.” Donald turned to the young dragon, “You’ve got a lot on your plate right now, don’t be too rushed about coming to see me while you’re so busy. I’ve got plenty of time, and from your statements earlier, you’re not hurting for it either.”

    “Okay, Donald!”

    “Before you put me away, Albus, I insist on attending that staff meeting you lot always hold after the Welcoming Feast; I’ve got some things to say to you,” Donald said in a tone that brooked no argument. “Now finish your discussion with Mr. Potter before it gets so late the boy falls asleep on the way back to his Lair.” Piece said, the hat returned to looking like an ordinary, if battered, piece of apparel.

    “Yes, well… I suppose that brings me to the first item I needed to discuss with you, Mr. Potter. I understand that several of the Hogwarts faculty are your friends and you are accustomed to referring to them as such, but during the term, you should address them by their proper titles. It is a sign of respect for their positions, and it is intended to help maintain discipline among the students, which can be quite necessary due to the oftentimes hazardous nature of magical instruction. Thus, Severus should be referred to as Professor Snape during the term, for instance. When in your Lair or during breaks, you may of course refer to us by whatever moniker tickles your fancy. Indeed, whilst there, you may refer to me as ‘that barmy old codger’ should you feel so inclined.”

    “Okay, Professor Dumbledore.”

    “Excellent, now, additionally there are a few things I must discuss with you about how you interact with your peers…”

    2.3.8 Laying down the law

    Snape strode purposefully down the corridor towards the Slytherin common room, his darkly-dyed robes billowing about him. Arriving at his destination, he whispered the override password from within a silently-cast muffling charm; the potions master had no desire to see what mischief his Serpents could cause with an override password at their disposal. As it was, he still changed the thing every other week.

    All conversation ceased as the potions master billowed into the room like a particularly taciturn miniature storm cloud, and every head turned to face him.

    Snape took his time looking around the room at the faces of his students, not incidentally allowing time for tension to build. Say what you might about his social acumen, Snape certainly knew how to work a room.

    “I have some announcements to make. Prefects, summon our wayward Serpents.”

    All six of the prefects nodded and immediately bolted for the various dormitories to roust up any students that had thought to go to bed early. Snape meanwhile glared at the rest of the student body. When all had been assembled, he spoke in a low, clear, but still vaguely ominous voice.

    “This year, things have changed.”

    The students knew better than to interrupt.

    “Historically, punishments for rule infractions have been dispensed only when there was sufficient evidence to support such actions. There have been instances in the past where the rules have been broken, but in the face of limited or inconclusive evidence, punishments were avoided.”

    “This state of affairs is no longer in effect.”

    Several hushed conversations sprang up almost immediately, only to be hushed when Snape cut them off with a sharp gesture.

    “The unofficial rule, ‘no witnesses, no crime’ should be considered obsolete. If an allegation is leveled against you, you shall be punished. If it later turns out that you were falsely accused, then your accuser shall be punished twofold. This warning is being passed on to every student in the school. There will be no bullying, no intimidation, and no extortion. There will be no accidental spell-fire in the hallways when no witnesses are present; there will be no sabotaging of equipment or schoolwork when no one is watching. The rules have not changed, but the level of evidence required for their enforcement has. Neither I nor any other staff member will protect students from the consequences of their own actions.”

    “Are there any questions?”

    A few hands rose, causing Snape to sigh internally. What was unclear about his speech? He had attempted to make it as clear and unambiguous as possible. He nodded to the nearest hand, belonging to Mr. Flint, who had not been present at the feast as he recalled. Poppy had done good work, it seemed.

    “Does that include the Express, sir?”

    “Naturally.”

    Flint grinned as if he had just won the lottery, “I was attacked by a centaur on the train, sir. Whoever owns it is responsible…”

    Snape kept his face deliberately blank as he interrupted his student, “Have you been practicing quidditch over the break, Mr. Flint?”

    “Yes, sir,” the boy seemed puzzled over the apparent non-sequitur.

    “Did you sustain any injuries to your eardrums?”

    “Sir?”

    “Is your hearing compromised?” the potions master clarified.

    “No sir.”

    “Did you happen to be struck about the head by a bludger repeatedly, perchance?”

    “No, sir,” Flint repeated, confused.

    “Odd, you seem to be rather less intelligent than I recall. Perhaps Madame Pomphrey released you from her care prematurely? Did you not hear me say that false accusers shall be doubly punished? Detention, Mr. Flint. Tomorrow with me, and next Friday with Hagrid.”

    “But I was kicked…” Flint objected.

    “You stormed up behind a centaur while screaming threats at her master,” Snape raised his voice over the boy’s objections. “Had that particular centaur been carrying her customary armament, I would either be filling out the reams of tedious paperwork associated with your gruesome demise while the elves were scrubbing your remains off the inside of that carriage, or you would be spending the entirety of the fall term under Madame Pomphrey’s tender mercies.”

    Snape turned away from the rapidly paling Marcus Flint and toward the rest of the students watching raptly. “How much clearer can I make myself? Every student in this school is being told exactly the same thing. I suspect the many, many dunderheads amongst your number will take quite some time to comprehend what is essentially a very simple concept, but the few among you blessed with even a modicum of critical thought should come to grips with it quite easily.”

    One trembling hand rose from the mass of quivering students.

    “Yes, Miss Smith.”

    “Why, sir? I mean, why the change?”

    Snape stared at the fourth-year girl until she thoroughly regretted asking the question. “The reason matters not; I am not interested in your objections, only in your compliance. Is that understood?”

    “Good, now there is one thing left to drill into your thick skulls,” Snape took a deep breath. “Potter is to be left alone.”

    That pronouncement triggered another wave of whispers. Abigail Abercrombie, his promising sixth-year prefect raised a tentative hand.

    “Yes, Miss Abercrombie?”

    “Do you mean Potter is to be… alienated?”

    Snape almost snapped at the girl before he thought back on his statement and realized it was a reasonable interpretation of his words. “No, no, by all means, associate with him, befriend him, do your homework with him, or ignore him as you will. In that respect, he is to be treated as any other student at this school. But he is not to be targeted for any prank, bullying, or scheme. Leave. Him. Alone.”

    “Sir? You just said any bullying will be punished…”

    “Do not be an imbecile. I am well aware that many of you are even now reworking your various schemes with the new rules in mind, trying to find some way around them, so that they cannot be traced back to you. I know that in the past, many of you have come to equate the admonishment ‘do not do something’ with ‘do not get caught doing something’, and I fully expect some of the more cerebrally-deficient among you to test our resolve. Hopefully, after the first few are sent home in disgrace, the rest will get the hint and fall into line. Beyond that, I am giving you one warning, and one warning only. Leave Potter alone.”

    Glaring about the room, he noted that all the students were nodding in acceptance. Whether they acted the part would remain to be seen.

    “Very well, if there are no more ridiculous objections, I will retire for the evening. Prefects, drill the usual expectations into the new students. The rest of you, off to bed.”

    With that he swept out of the room amid his usual billowing robes. He was almost to his quarters when he was interrupted once again by a voice calling out his name. He turned to see the same sixth-year prefect jogging up behind him.

    “Yes, Miss Abercrombie?” he prompted harshly.

    The girl winced before soldiering on. “Sir, many of the students are talking, wondering why Potter is getting such favorable treatment. I’m afraid I already overheard the first-year Malfoy saying he was already planning a prank on him.”

    Snape closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Surely Lucius had drilled at least a modicum of subtlety into his son. For all his numerous and grievous faults, at least the elder Malfoy knew when to be discreet, but apparently his son was cut from a different cloth. As a Slytherin, being overheard planning rule-breaking was even worse than actually getting caught doing the deed. “Very well, I shall see to it that young Mr. Malfoy learns to regret his actions. Perhaps dodging a bludger with ‘Potter’ written on it for an hour will hammer the lesson home?”

    “Yes, sir,” Abigail said. “Um, is Potter going to be a problem for the school?”

    For a long moment the potions master regarded the young witch before asking, “What makes you ask that?”

    Abigail fought to keep herself from biting her lower lip. “Well, such a fundamental change in the school culture would only come about after a major incident in the school, probably something happening to a student from a powerful family or if someone was at particular risk. I can’t think of anything from last year that might have prompted such a change, so logic dictates that the change must be because of something new to the school this year. The only incoming student with prominent political connections is Bones — at a stretch, maybe Malfoy since his father is a governor — but neither one of those is really prominent enough for this, nor are they at any particular risk that I know of, certainly not enough to precipitate such a massive cultural shift.”

    “Continue.”

    “Well, eliminating political weight, the only name with enough cultural weight to warrant such a thing is Potter.” At her Head of House’s nod, she continued. “Er, well… I only really worked it out after you told us about the changes. You said there would be zero tolerance for any intimidation, even assigning a couple of detentions to Flint for claiming he had been attacked on the train. Even after that, though, you still singled out Potter and warned us away. It would be one thing if Potter were some special snowflake who couldn’t take the pressure and needed that level of protection, but I met him on the train. He seemed unconcerned about the stares he got there and later at the feast, and he stared me down on the train after Flint got kicked. I was going to lecture him about respect, but… sir, I couldn’t meet his eyes.”

    “His eyes?”

    “He… there’s something about him, sir, something… powerful? And I think you know what it is too, and that’s the reason for the warning.”

    The potions master leaned back, face expressionless for a long moment before it suddenly broke out in a smile. “Miss Abercrombie, I am delighted that someone in Slytherin with the ability to use their brain is finally doing so. In the few hours since you have been back at Hogwarts, you have shown that my decision to make you a prefect was well-considered. Take twenty points. Continue as you have been and there is no doubt in my mind that you shall be occupying the Head Girl’s suite next year.”

    Abigail brightened inwardly at that, long conditioning in Slytherin keeping her from showing any reaction externally. “Thank you, sir.”

    Snape nodded. “Good, keep an eye on things. I’ll not ask you to be a snitch, but if Potter ever looks to be losing his temper, get a staff member, any staff member. The portraits will assist.”

    “Yes, sir. Um, sir, if he’s so dangerous, should he be here at all?”

    Snape gave a smile of pure satisfaction. “Oh, yes. That is unquestionable. Tell me, Miss Abercrombie, have you ever heard of the supposed Han curse, ‘may you live in interesting times’? With Potter here at Hogwarts, times will be most interesting indeed.”

    Uncertain how to respond, Abigail simply nodded. “Good night, sir.”

    “Good night, Miss Abercrombie,” he turned to go on to his quarters, before he said over his shoulder, “It is a pity you did not follow your train of thought all the way to the final station.”

    Abigail fought down an embarrassed blush as the Head of Slytherin strode away in his cloud of billowing robes.

    What had he meant by that?

    She strolled slowly back to the dormitories, pondering those parting words. She was certain that the rule change had come about due to Potter’s arrival, Snape had all but confirmed it, but what conclusion should she have drawn? What else was there?

    She absently answered some questions from the first-years and shooed the rest off to bed, still thinking hard as she settled into her private room.

    What had Snape meant?

    What was the rule change meant to accomplish? Originally, she had assumed it was for the protection of some incoming student, but as Potter was the cause that couldn’t be the case. She had quailed under those emerald eyes, and he had only been mildly put-out with her. Any new first-year who could stare down a sixth-year prefect before attending his first classes needed protection from no one.

    If the rule was not in place to protect Potter, then what was it for? Rules were always put in place for a reason, it might not be an altruistic reason — as a Slytherin, Abigail was certain most of them probably weren’t — and for older rules it might not be a currently relevant reason, but there was always a reason.

    Then the epiphany struck.

    The rule wasn’t put in place to protect Potter from the students; it was put in place to protect the students from…

    Abigail swallowed as the implications sunk in. The professors had introduced an incredible change — a change of rule and tradition, of culture that had been in place for the better part of a millennium — to protect the student body from one, single, first-year student.

    Just how powerful was Potter?

    The ambitious teenaged girl licked her suddenly dry lips. Add a few years, several inches, and some weight to the boy’s young frame — yes, yes, that image was — hmm. Abigail turned out the lights and settled into bed pulling the covers up to her chin and squirming about a little to get comfortable, glad once again for the private room that came with the prefect badge.

    It was only five years’ difference in age, practically nothing for a witch — well, for now it was a problem, but that would cease to be an issue by the time she was in her thirties, and she’d been planning to wait on snagging a husband anyway, too much to do before she tied herself down with a family. She could wait to get what she wanted, and the thought of such a dangerous individual was… intoxicating.

    In the meantime, that intense emerald stare would be prominently featured in her dreams.

    2.3.9 Always attend the organizational meeting

    At approximately the same time that Abigail was riding her train of thought to the final station — a station which was a few stops down the track from the one her Head of House had intended — the professors had once again gathered in their customary staff conference room with the time pushing midnight. There were class schedules to finalize for the coming morning.

    Almost the entire staff had chosen to attend, with three exceptions. Hagrid had opted to stay with his pets at his hut since he didn’t teach classes and wasn’t much of a night-owl unless he had a solid, practical reason. Filch, the perpetually grumpy Campus Maintenance Professional — he had attended a conference over the summer and come away with the new title, though everyone else still called him a caretaker which did nothing to improve his mood — declined to attend because he also had no classes and was rather bitter about his station in life anyway. On the other hand, the new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, one Quirinus Quirrel, declined with only the stuttering explanation that he had something better to do.

    Naturally, his colleagues decided to stick Quirrel with all the worst time slots in return.

    This time, the professors had chosen to forego their usual alcoholic adventures in deference to the early school day on the next morning. Well, that, and the fact that everyone was still stuffed almost to bursting with the elves’ cooking from the feast.

    “Lemon drop, anyone?” everyone, that is, except Albus Dumbledore.

    Magic was powered by food, and the stronger the magic, the more food was required. Albus had eaten more than anyone but Harry Potter at the feast, and yet he was only pleasantly full at the end of it and, not even two hours later, was already game for more. Harry of course, had gone on to consume another three tons of scrap metal, coal, and diesel immediately after the appetizer that was the Welcoming Feast.

    That was not to say that anyone would have taken the man up on his offer even if they weren’t stuffed to the gills. Albus’ tastes in lemon drops tended to be — unique. Everyone present had, at one point or another, taken him up on his offer and immediately regretted it. The things were just about acrid enough to etch glass, and the entire ordeal had taken on the character of a staff hazing ritual over the past few decades.

    When no one accepted his offer, Albus tucked the tin away into his robe pocket before he began, “Well, that was an eventful Sorting, I suppose. Does anyone have anything to bring up before we get to the meat of this discussion?”

    “Aye, that I do!” came an unexpected voice, one originating from Albus’ own robe pocket. “And get me out of here, you bearded twit! Who carries ancient magical artifacts wadded up in their bloody pocket like a used handkerchief, anyway?”

    “Ah, yes, Donald,” Albus said, fishing the Sorting Hat out of his robe pocket and setting it on the table. “I presume that this is the reason you insisted on attending this meeting?”

    “Yes, it is,” the hat agreed. “I felt the need for an appropriately appreciative audience for this. Ahem… Why, you scraggly-whiskered, smarmy, inconsiderate, foolish, bastard, did you feel it appropriate not to warn me that young Mr. Potter was in fact a bloody dragon? Was it some sort of prank? A ‘let’s see if we can scare the old hat enough for him to crap out his lining on some poor child’s head’ sort of thing? How would you like it if I went and dropped you on some dragon’s head out of the blue? Huh? You wouldn’t, that’s how!” Donald’s rant reached a crescendo. “Just for that, I’m going to get back at you, somehow. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but someday, when you least expect it, pow! You’ll get yours, Albus Dumbledore! And then you’ll be sorry for trying to put one over on old Donald.”

    The entire room sat in shock for a moment at the Sorting Hat’s unexpected vitriol before Albus managed to shake off his shock. “You mean to say that you were unaware of Mr. Potter’s nature before the Sorting?”

    “Yes, you geriatric imbecile! Has your comprehension of the language gone the same way as your sense of common decency?”

    “But how?” Albus actually sounded bewildered, a first for many of the professors. “You spoke with him several times; how could you not have known…?”

    “I spoke with him, ‘spoke’. I didn’t Sort him. There is a difference. When speaking with someone, I only have what is said to go on, and… well, it’s a sort of rudimentary short-range vision. Nothing in my conversations with Mr. Potter prior to the Sorting gave me any indication that the boy was aught but human.”

    “I see, then I must humbly apologize, Mr. Donald, as the incident was caused by a defect in my understanding.”

    “In that case, I suppose I will spare you the worst of my eventual retribution, but you should fully expect pranks! And… what are you laughing at, Severus Snape?”

    The potions master had been chortling since the hat’s rant had revealed its prior ignorance of Mr. Potter’s nature. At being called out by the sentient apparel, be explained, “I was simply amused that you were unaware of the boy’s nature before the Sorting and the remembrance of the Sorting ceremony in light of that new knowledge; I assure you, no insult was intended.”

    “No insult was intended, eh?” Donald said. “Well, then I’ll tell you that no insult is intended when I say that you should keep your crooked beak out of matters of Sorting!” the hat rounded on him.

    “Excuse me?” Snape was confused.

    “Mr. Potter was quite insistent that you had told him he wouldn’t be well-suited to Slytherin House, as if you had some special insight into the Sorting process,” the hat explained. “On the contrary, I’ll have you know that my final decision came down to a close judgement between Slytherin and Hufflepuff for the boy, so kindly keep your conspicuous conk out of the Sorting! I do not dictate matters of potioneering to you, and I won’t suffer such meddling in my own field.”

    Snape ignored most of that statement in favor of wondering, “How on earth could Mr. Potter be considered for Slytherin?” in the same tone a man might use upon being told that the moon was, in fact, made of cheese.

    “It’s not just a matter of where a child will fit in best, but rather where they will succeed best. The boy is lacking in cunning and soft skills, true, but where better to develop them than Slytherin?” the hat explained. “In any event, my piece is said, carry on.” And the hat stilled once more.

    The staff sat in bewilderment at that odd interlude for several moments before Pomona spoke up, “What a day to have to stay dry!”

    “Hear, hear!” or similar came from her colleagues.

    Albus cleared his throat, calling the attention of the staff, “There is one important item we must address before tomorrow — the question of class schedules.”

    He was answered by a round of groans. This was a chore they all hated, hence their tendency to put it off until the very last moment, such as midnight on the evening before said schedules were to be handed out.

    Thus, the arguments began. At least it had been several years since the last time one of them devolved into a fistfight.

    There was, however, one notable exception — to the argument statement, not the fistfight one.

    “Severus, Minerva, and Filius, are you certain you wish to handle all four Houses in one session per week per year?” Dumbledore asked, his voice doubtful. “I know it has been some few years since I was in the classroom rather than administration, but that number of students in one room seems a recipe for disaster, particularly in your practical classes, Severus.”

    “No, Albus, I am not certain; I tend to agree that it will be pandemonium for at least a time,” Severus agreed, “but we have little choice. Our research into the circumstances and particulars of Mr. Potter’s transformation require more time than we would otherwise have available.”

    “Aye, we’re this far,” Minerva held her index finger a short distance from her thumb, “from finally working out exactly what young Harry managed to do to himself at Avebury, and I, for one, am increasingly certain that we must pin that down sooner rather than later. Everything indicates so far that Filius’ estimates of the potential destructive power of these devices was spot-on.”

    “Yes,” Filius agreed, “and we will not possibly be able to repeat what Mr. Potter managed until we know exactly what he managed to do — well, I suppose we might have been able to manage it by simply trying things until it worked, but I suspect the error rate in that process would leave the entire planet uninhabitable in more cases than not.”

    There was a round of nodding from the various professors who had been present at the previous meeting, before Albus spoke up.

    “In that case, it is perhaps time for me to reveal the results of my own investigations regarding the incident.”

    Snape sighed, “Is there a particular reason you declined to mention these studies at any previous meeting?”

    “For one, I was not certain they were cogent to the topic at hand, it was a research project I had taken on in conjunction with one of my own mentor’s longest-running experiments, and though the timing was highly suspicious, I had no confirmation that the events I was investigating were, in fact, directly caused by the incident at Avebury,” the elderly wizard offered. “Closer analysis has revealed that the coincidental timing was indicative of a causal relationship, and with that, I received permission from Nicholas to let you in on the results.”

    “You received permission?” Filius asked, intrigued. “This was some secret project, then?”

    “Yes, though I remain uncertain why Nicholas insisted on it being so. The project is one to provide a long-term baseline measurement of magical background field,” Dumbledore explained. “As you might expect, the work is just as tedious as it sounds, and I do not really see what harm could come from publishing the results.” He sighed, “Sometimes I wonder whether Nicholas keeps secrets simply because he enjoys keeping secrets.”

    “I feel as if I should make some sort of comment about pots, kettles, and the color black at this juncture,” Snape said wryly, “but in the interests of keeping the conversation going, I shall refrain.” The exasperated looks from Minerva, Filius, and half the remaining staff told Albus that Severus was not alone in that sentiment.

    He coughed uncomfortably before resuming, “Well, yes. In any case, in the weeks after young Harry’s transformation, the average magical background levels rose by nearly ten percent before levelling off again. Most of my time on the project over the last two years was spent verifying the clocks on the various sensors to account for instrumental error in the recorded logs, and the end result of that has allowed me pin down the point of inflection at which the rise started — to a time coincident with moonrise in Avebury on the 1988 summer solstice.”

    “Precisely the timing associated with Harry’s transformation, as we determined from Mr. Dursley’s memories,” Filius concluded.

    “Exactly,” Albus agreed. “That was the piece of evidence that convinced Nicholas to allow me to include the rest of you on this. The two events were too closely synchronized; the idea that they might still be unrelated strained credulity.”

    “So we have another consequence of draining the devices,” Filius summarized. “Apparently, draining this one increased the… global?” at Albus’ nod, he continued, “…global magical background energy by ten percent. I’m not sure off-hand what that means for our investigation but thank you for sharing the information.”

    “What it means, is that this fits the pattern of the Anomalous Excursions of 1883,” Albus interjected. “Which in turn means that we have another datum.”

    “So, this is not the first time?” Minerva asked.

    “No, it is not,” Albus confirmed. “Though, as indicated by the name, we do not know the cause of the Anomalous Excursions, we now have two incidents to investigate, and with two incidents, we might perchance be able to learn what is common between them and what is unique.”

    “Thank you, Albus, that is most helpful,” Filius said.

    “I believe Nicholas shall be amenable to sharing our log data in the future, given the current situation,” Albus continued. “In the meantime, confirmation that the event is not unique has lent a little more urgency to our research here, I do believe. Given the consequences of a single event, with multiple ones looming, the survival of all life on this world, not just magical life, appears to be hanging in the balance.”

    There was a round of solemn nodding, and the class schedule was argued no more.
     
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  21. Threadmarks: Section 2.4 - In which Harry goes to class
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.4.0 In which Harry goes to Class

    As he winged his way to the shore of the loch — the closest point to the castle which was both open enough to fly and hidden from the castle by the tree-line — carrying his centaur damsel carefully in his forepaws, Harry considered the previous day.

    It had been eventful one.

    Taking the train to Hogwarts had been silly, but he supposed it had been fun nonetheless. Harry figured it was okay to do silly things if they were fun — so long as they didn’t hurt anybody, anyway. Mr. Dumbledore had insisted it was traditional.

    Maybe silly-but-fun things were what ‘traditional’ meant?

    He thought it meant something that was done for a real long time the same way, but there were other things that were done a real long time the same way — like breathing — and they didn’t get called ‘traditional’. It was just the only way anyone knew how to do them. So, he guessed ‘traditional’ meant there had to be some other way to do whatever it was, and people did it the ‘traditional’ way because they’d been doing it that way for a long time.

    Come to think of it, didn’t that mean that the traditional way had to be a little bit silly? People didn’t talk about ‘traditional’ when they were doing something the easiest or slickest way it could be done — then they talked about ‘simple’ or ‘optimal’ — and if they weren’t doing that, then Harry figured they were being at least a little bit silly.

    Good thing he’d figured out being a little silly was okay, because doing stuff the optimal way all the time sounded like it’d be right boring!

    The pair had reached the shore during Harry’s musings on the nature of tradition and constructive silliness, and Harry and his damsel had wordlessly switched roles, with Suze now carrying Harry in his human form as she jogged toward the castle — it was definitely a jog, not a trot. Centaurs do not trot, canter, or gallop, and they take grave exception to any insinuation otherwise; any similarity between their gait and the aforementioned methods of equine locomotion is pure happenstance.

    Anyway, practicality aside, the train trip yesterday had been fun, and Harry had confirmed his opinion that trains were cool. He’d long wished he’d had a train set ever since some vaguely-remembered event in which Dudley had played with one when they were younger, and he’d not been allowed. The misty remembrance of the event had lasted much longer than the train set itself, but spending time around that big snorting, chuffing, smoking beast of a locomotive had crystallized that desire and brought it to the fore.

    Harry couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of kinship with the thing given their similar physiology.

    Searching out a dragon-sized train set would have to wait, though, because classes started today, and Harry was really looking forward to them. Over the years since he’d left Privet Drive — of the time before which, only the very last was remembered with any clarity — his lessons with his professor friends had got him caught up with what most of the Wizarding-raised students would have learned before attending in matters practical. A few fields, such as advanced transfiguration topics, actually saw him years ahead of his peers, and, on matters theoretical, he was far ahead of his peers in every subject taught in the school — and not a few others besides.

    Honestly though, Harry wasn’t sure how all that learning would hold up when he actually got into classes, so he was looking forward to finding out even if he was a little nervous.

    With a cheerful wave to a small patrol from the Black Woods Clan led by one of Suze’s cousins, the pair left the forest and continued up the lakeside path to the castle. Another wave to Hagrid in the middle of mucking out the thestral stables saw them to the castle gates, and Harry leaped down lightly from Suze’s back. They had foregone the saddle recently as it was really quite a lot of work to put on, and since Harry had recently learned that bouncing as he did was rather uncomfortable for Suze when he was on her back he had stopped doing so quite so much. As they entered the courtyard he saw Mr. Filch busily sweeping up the small amount of detritus which littered the area, mostly a few leaves and some sweetie wrappers which had stuck to the older students’ robes when they left the train.

    Mr. Filch was a real sourpuss, but Harry paid it no mind. According to Professor Snape, the man was a squib, which Harry had learned meant the man wasn’t able to cast magic, even though he could see magical stuff. To Harry’s senses he looked like a sort of dimly-lit glowy person — like his glow was shining through that dark glass they use for some bottles when there’s stuff in them which don’t play nice with light. Since Mr. Filch was like that but he was still in charge of cleaning up a magical school, Harry figured he had some decent reasons to be kinda grumpy. Regardless, Harry didn’t think that him being grumpy was a good reason to be rude to the man, and so he gave a cheerful good morning as he headed into the castle.

    On their way to the Great Hall, the pair caught up with a few of the other non-boarding students who were suitably gob-smacked at the looming presence of his centaur damsel — centaurs were really good at looming, and Suze managed well even though she was rather petite as centaurs go. For her part, Suze was marveling at just how small humans looked from her angle. Unsurprisingly, Harry was a special case in Suze’s mind — she always saw him as the Great Wyrm who happened to be masquerading in a human shape.

    Harry had already eaten a good deal of breakfast, so he was treating breakfast at the castle as a bit of a top-up for the morning. Of course, despite that fact, he still ate enough to make even Ron Weasley, the other big eater of the student body, feel a little inadequate, and Ron ate enough to make other people sick to their stomachs just looking at him eat. The important bit for Harry was getting the class timetable, and he was absolutely delighted to learn that, despite his statement of the usual schedule the previous night, Professor Snape’s was the first class of the day!

    “I heard this Professor Snape bloke’s a right arse,” Zack Smith said, dubiously contemplating the timetable.

    “He used to be pretty difficult to deal with,” one of the upper-years — a lanky sort of girl with shaggy bubblegum-pink hair — said, “but he’s gotten a lot better over the last couple years.”

    “Well the important thing with knowing Mister, sorry, Professor, Snape is being able to tell when he’s actually angry and when he’s growling because he likes growling,” Harry volunteered. “You can tell when he’s really angry because he goes even whiter than normal, and you can’t see his lips anymore, and he stops using complicated insults and starts shouting.”

    “You know him?” another upper-year student asked, one to whom Harry had not yet been introduced.

    “Yeah, he’s one of my business partners, and we get along pretty good,” Harry said, nodding firmly.

    “I must admit, I’d never realized he got along with anybody,” Cedric Diggory — the older boy who’d snorted his pumpkin juice because of one of Harry’s jokes at the feast — spoke up.

    “If Mr. Snape doesn’t like someone, they really know it,” Harry explained with a shrug, “and if he says something is ‘acceptable’ or ‘tolerable’ that’s him saying he really likes it.”

    “I thought he hated my guts!” the pink-haired girl said, startled.

    “Huh?”

    “Oh, sorry, I’m Tonks,” she said, “and…”

    “You’re the Tonks what gets worked up about her first name, right?” Harry butted in. “’Cause he said something about you right when last school year would’ve been ending. We were talking about how to tell the difference between properly-made and badly-made-but-still-works potions, and he used some of yours as examples of how it ought to be done. He said something about them being good enough to sell, and, well, he’s real particular about what he will and won’t sell. I asked, and he said that any customer with the sense to approach a master craftsman deserves the absolute finest quality regardless of product.”

    “Huh…”

    Harry shrugged, “I told ya’ it’s real hard to tell what he’s thinking.”

    2.4.1 To the laboratory!

    Having spent a couple minutes silently stalking about the room, dark robes billowing, Snape stopped in front of a blackboard and whirled around and spent a moment contemplating his significantly-larger-than-normal class. Having all four Houses in a single laboratory class was proving to be an intimidating prospect.

    Snape had always been one to attempt to accomplish as much as possible with any given action, and his teaching had been no exception. By careful application of bias and psychology, he had long been tailoring his classes to produce useless cronies among his enemies, and tough competent survivors, ready for anything life threw at them, among the few fair-minded children that passed through his classes.

    After less than a decade of such work, he had already managed to clean up the youngest of the Auror corps by weeding out the undesirables from their applicant pool on account of the potions requirement. Miss Tonks — set to graduate with honors this year — was one of his most recent successes, though he was certain she was under the impression that he was out to get her.

    On the other hand, Bole, a seventh-year of his own House — both an unashamedly violent bigot and descended from a long line of such, whose father had been an enthusiastic participant in the Dark Lord’s little power play — was set to graduate in the middle of the pack and had been forced to abandon his dreams of entering and perverting law-enforcement in favor of a sinecure in his uncle’s pub.

    A little constructive mollycoddling went a long way.

    The approach made him more enemies than friends, but Snape had long despaired of having friends — and if he was going to have enemies anyway… well, he figured it might as well be for a good cause.

    This year, though, was different.

    Enforcing the necessary discipline in the lab was always a challenge, and if he were to use his traditional methods… well, he didn’t want to imagine the likely results with this large a group. He could only keep a good eye on so many cauldrons before something would slip. Snape might be willing to destroy potentially innocent children’s dreams in pursuit of his goals, but he fell short of being willing to write off the survival of two-thirds of the class as collateral damage for the cause.

    It seemed he would actually have to teach properly for once — Minerva was sure to be delighted.

    “I must admit,” he began, “that I am stymied. It is my tradition to, at this time, single out the most prominent member of an incoming class of students and demonstrate how little he or she knows of the exacting and magnificent art of potions, but at this moment in time, our most prominent incoming student is, of course, Mr. Potter, and I am aware that his knowledge of potions is acceptable.”

    He paused while everyone looked at Harry, who didn’t know to get uncomfortable or anything — dragons liked to be admired.

    “Thus, Mr. Potter, for the next few minutes, you will keep your eternally-ravenous jaw firmly shut. Is that understood?”

    Harry made an enthusiastic affirmative noise while keeping his mouth firmly shut as requested.

    “Good,” Snape said. “Now then, might anyone among you — excepting of course, Mr. Potter — be aware of the precise reagent composition of orichalcum?”

    Silence — apart from Harry’s enthusiastic nodding with his teeth clenched together which was managing to rattle his stool a little.

    “Hmm, so none of you are up to date on recent alchemical discoveries — perhaps I should enlighten you. Orichalcum, also known as mage-bronze or mage-glass, is a structured phlogistonic nitrate of aluminum, known to muggles as aluminum oxy-nitride. The material draws its name from its thaumo-chromic reaction to magical fields, transparent in low-magic environments and gaining a greenish-brown metallic luster in the presence of large amounts of ambient magic.”

    “Interestingly, it is the muggles to whom we owe the rediscovery of the material, for the magical methods of its creation have been lost since the library of Alexandria was misplaced during the Roman conquest of Egypt. Now, who, if anyone, among you might tell me where one would acquire a bezoar if one were seeking to harvest a replacement for the one in your potions kit?”

    Hermione Granger’s hand shot up.

    “Well, young lady?” Snape growled.

    “In the belly of a goat, sir.”

    “Correct, perhaps there may be some hope for you after all,” he said. “That said, do not call me ‘sir’; I work for a living. The correct term of address is ‘Professor Snape’. Might anyone, excepting Miss Granger, be aware of the difference between aconite and wolfsbane?”

    There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence replete with rolling of eyes from the resident boy-shaped dragon and squirming effort to keep from raising her hand again from Hermione. Eventually, the same chubby dark-haired boy who had lost his toad on the train raised his hand.

    “Yes, Mr. Longbottom?”

    “Th-there’s n-no difference; th-they’re the same p-plant,” the boy stuttered.

    “Are you certain, Mr. Longbottom? You wouldn’t want to be embarrassed on your first day, would you?” There was some tittering from the Slytherin quadrant of the room.

    Longbottom swallowed nervously before continuing, “I’m s-sure, Professor Snape.”

    “Good. You are, as it happens, quite correct.” Snape’s glower swept the room. “You, you, you, and you!” he pointed out four of the Slytherin students who had giggled at Longbottom’s nervousness, “Three days’ detention each! I will not have cronyism or toadying within this chamber! The preparation of potions is an exacting art, and if you mess it up — which judging by the unutterably gormless expressions on most of your fool faces, you most assuredly will — it can be quite decidedly hazardous!”

    “You will all be quiet! You will speak only when given permission! You will pay attention! You will be careful! You will follow instructions religiously! Because if you fail to do so, you will likely blow yourself sky high, and I. Will. Make. Your. Life. Unutterably. Miserable. Do you all understand me?”

    “Yes, Professor Snape!” the entire class chorused.

    “We shall see,” he drawled. “By the by, Miss Granger, Mr. Longbottom, five points each for actually possessing the intelligence to both await permission to answer and for possessing a modicum of knowledge of matters alchemical. Mr. Potter, you may now cease to keep your mouth quite so rigidly closed.”

    From there, the potions professor launched into a five-minute lecture on the preparation of the potion they would be working on for the day; a potion used for cleaning metals which was easy to prepare — according to Snape — but which would usually produce a rather loud bang if the preparation was done improperly.

    Nearly half the class got bangs and got snapped at. Most of the remainder got a sharp nod when Snape checked out their potions, while a few got a quiet “Acceptable” and a handful of points.

    Those few were Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy, and a Slytherin girl named Pansy Parkinson.

    One unfortunate, Neville Longbottom, found himself on the receiving end of a rapid string of spells aimed at his cauldron by Professor Snape — who none but Harry could tell was mildly panicked — and was then the subject of a sharp five-minute lecture on safety protocols after his cauldron started to melt.

    Snape then proceeded into a lecture on what made the potion work, and how to tell — and cause — the various failure modes of the potion. It mostly seemed to boil down to how the ingredients were sliced and what order they were added in. What had gone wrong with Neville’s potion — an issue of improper order of addition — had produced a potion which, according to Professor Snape, was caustic enough to etch glass. He then assigned homework for the next lecture later that week, and dismissed the class, calling Harry back for a quick word.

    “What’s up, Professor Snape?” Harry asked once the other students were gone.

    “Two subjects,” Snape said, pointing at Harry’s cauldron, “Although a passable effort, you and I both know you are capable of better than your efforts today; you have achieved acceptable quality on this brew in the past.”

    That was true; he had used it to clean his gold properly last winter. The sea-stains were finally gone. “I’m sorry, I just was kinda excited, y’know, and I messed up choppin’ the spriggan leaves, right?”

    “Indeed, kindly be more patient in the future.”

    “I’ll do that!”

    “Good.”

    “What was the other thing you wanted to talk about, Professor Snape?”

    “Mr. Slackhammer has requested a meeting at our earliest convenience, and I have suggested we visit Gringotts this coming Saturday, if you have no objections?”

    “Yeah, that works for me.”

    “Good, I shall make the necessary preparations. Do you still have the rechargeable portkey in your possession?”

    “I sure do!”

    “Good, I shall see you later then, young man.”

    2.4.2 First-world problems

    Following Potions, a simple pattern began to emerge which boggled the minds of all those who were not on the staff, starting in Filius Flitwick’s classroom when — on his first attempt to cast a levitation charm — Harry’s feather proceeded to launch itself into the ceiling with a mighty crack, leaving a smoking hole in the stone lined with the charred remains of the feather. The distinctive whip-crack of a small object breaking the sound barrier had a student hailing from Dublin — but raised in Belfast up until his parents relocated to avoid certain unsavory recruitment efforts — ducking under his desk.

    The pattern continued in the first Defense against the Dark Arts class, when a simple stunning hex more-or-less obliterated a practice target and reduced the enchanted stone wall behind it to sand. The incident left Quirrel incomprehensible from stuttering for a week and his classes as little more than a study hall for the same period.

    In transfiguration, Harry turned a simple matchstick into a ‘needle’ which would look more at home on a construction site than in a sewing kit. Minerva would later admit to her colleagues that she had never seen anything like it, and she was tempted to donate the results to Barrs for the production of Irn Bru.

    Flying lessons — the first for Harry since Madame Hooch had pronounced him ‘good enough’ with his wings — saw Harry attempting to fly a broom for the first time, only for the broom to shoot off with a horrifyingly loud ‘twang’ and bury itself to the bristles in a grassy knoll before bursting into flames.

    It quickly became apparent that Harry was suffering control problems to a degree that Septima Vector declared to be ‘epic’. It didn’t take long for her to figure out that Harry was putting more magical energy into his casting than all his classmates put together — though honestly not too much more. A situation that led her to the conclusion that his control was actually quite good, proportionally speaking, considering his reserves were proportionally far higher than the cumulative reserves of his classmates. This was a good thing, for if his control was proportionally bad…

    Well, if his control was proportionally bad, his classmates would not have survived the aftermath.

    Proportionally good control or not, it was not good enough to effectively use the spells he was learning, which led to the staff quickly devising an intensive series of lessons and exercises to help Harry drastically improve his control of his magic. Harry’s classwork quickly devolved to listening to the lecture, trying the practical once, having the professor clean up the aftermath of his attempt, and then spending the rest of the time practicing his control.

    To say that Harry was unimpressed with this intense regime of finesse and control training would be… well, it would be to lie through one’s teeth. Harry being Harry, he took it all in stride and — once he wrapped his head around why he needed all the extra work — became quite smug about the whole business. It was a turn of events that prompted Snape to comment jokingly to Minerva that if the boy’s head continued swelling it was likely to burst, which was answered with an amused chuckle by the older Scotswoman.

    By the time Friday evening rolled around, a twofold set of rumors were flying around the school. The first was regarding the Boy-Who-Lived’s apparent power level — several upper-year students, including notably one sixth-year Slytherin girls’ prefect, had connected the dots about why half the firsties were treating Harry like his wand might go off any minute. The second was about why the staff seemed to be in such universally high spirits, sans Filch who was always grumpy and Quirrel who hadn’t been the same since that unfortunate vampire encounter in Albania the previous summer.

    The other conclusion that everyone had arrived at — based on direct evidence rather than rumor — was that the Boy-Who-Lived was immature, hyperactive, almost obnoxiously good-natured, self-assured to the point of outright arrogance, and so completely laid-back about everything it was a wonder the boy wasn’t horizontal.

    You’d have sworn he was eight, tops, but nothing phased the kid.

    Nothing.

    2.4.3 Product rollouts

    Saturday arrived, and with it, Snape and Harry were in Diagon Alley bright and early for their meeting with Slackhammer. On arriving at the Bank, they were ushered into his office with a series of salutes from the guards resplendent in Gringotts Regiment dress uniforms.

    “Ah, Mr. Potter, Mr. Snape, welcome, welcome,” Slackhammer greeted them in his usual manner, rising to his feet and bowing a greeting to his business partners. Despite Harry’s best efforts, he had never managed to get the dapper goblin to use any form of address more familiar than ‘mister’ — he had a suspicion that the attempts had become a game between the two of them by this point.

    The broad, shark-like grin on the goblin’s face told both Snape and Harry that the news was good and that the scent of profit was in the air.

    “A seat, gentlemen,” Slackhammer offered, gesturing for them to make themselves comfortable in the armchairs which found their way into his office whenever he was expecting important guests like his business partners. Harry knew that because the few times the dapper goblin hadn’t been expecting him, he’d seen the chairs brought in. “Would you care for a refreshment?”

    “A small firewhiskey please, Mr. Slackhammer,” Snape requested.

    “I’d like a cup of goblin tea, please,” Harry added. Goblin tea was strong stuff and would certainly not suit the palate of the small human boy that Harry currently seemed to be, being ferociously acrid and enough, even when at room temperature, to take the roof off one’s mouth. Served at the preferred temperature of just below boiling, well, few non-goblins tried it more than once, but the young dragon found it to be to his liking, reminding him of the tangy gush of biting into a car battery with just a little charge left but without the sweet aftertaste from the lead.

    The dapper goblin rang a small bell and his batman immediately appeared, bowing in response to Slackhammer’s, “The usual, thank you, Corporal Steelhammer,” before disappearing to see to it.

    “Now then, gentlemen” Slackhammer continued without waiting for the drinks to be served. Time was money, money was ammunition, and ammunition was freedom, and as a consequence, waiting around while there was business to discuss was considered boorish — possibly treasonous — behavior by right-thinking goblins. “I have recently had some quite intriguing possibilities brought to my attention concerning your analysis of the materials composing Mr. Potter’s brain and nerves.”

    “Concerning my examination of Mr. Potter’s central nervous system?” Snape asked, very surprised. “While the materials involved are quite fascinating in their make-up, I confess I fail to see how they might be applied in practice, hence why I have not endeavored to refine my methods for producing them artificially once I made enough to explore their energy of formation. Their mechanical properties are little different than those of mild steel, and their thermal properties, while impressive, are far inferior to those of our current refractory product.”

    “For an answer to that, Mr. Snape, one must look to the fields of electronics and electrical engineering,” Slackhammer told him. “It seems Mr. Potter’s nerves are composed of what is referred to as an ultra-high-temperature superconductor, a substance which has been highly-desired in those fields of endeavor for many decades but had long been considered unobtainable. As a member of our company, in the person of your esteemed self, has developed the means to produce the given substance, and as it happens, it is cheap and easy to do so — and judging by your statement it may become more so in short order — well gentlemen, if you thought the sum we earned from NASA was substantial, you haven’t seen a damn thing yet!”

    Corporal Steelhammer returned, placing a tray carrying the requested drinks on the coffee table and passing them around.

    “Thank you, Corporal Steelhammer.”

    “M’ pleasure, Mr. Vice-Chairman, sir,” the other goblin replied before seeing himself out.

    “How might such a material be so valuable?” Snape asked.

    “In order to explain that, Mr. Snape, we must delve into the nature of non-magical technology and its relationship with the fundamental natural phenomenon of electricity. Just as magical technology does, all non-magical technology is designed to use one or another form of energy in order to do something else. In the magical world this is generally done by using magic to accomplish some task. In the nonmagical world, the process is somewhat more complicated, since magic is not available to work as a near-universal mediator. In its place, specific tools are built for specialized purposes, which has led to the plethora of different technologies seen in the modern world.”

    Slackhammer’s explanation paused for a moment as he sipped his drink, “However, non-magical humans have, over the years, developed a tremendously deep understanding of electricity, producing ways to convert it to and from almost any other type of energy imaginable — with the obvious exception of magic, since that has been thus-far concealed from them. Thus, electricity has become the basic means of energy exchange in their technology, providing everything from heating and movement to process control, communications, and information processing. To put it bluntly, in a very real sense electricity is to modern non-magical technology what magic itself is to technology in the wizarding world.”

    That triggered a gasp from the potions master and a sharp look of interest from the young dragon.

    “A major limitation of electricity, however, is the difficulty inherent in making it go where you want it to go, as should be readily apparent any time you look out into a thunderstorm. Non-magical humans do this through the properties of various materials which either permit or resist the flow of electricity through them — called, rather sensibly, conductors and resistors — but all these materials have their own limitations and caveats. Any conductor actually presents a small amount of resistance to electrical flow, a resistance which manifests itself in problems ranging from minor inefficiencies all the way up to excess heating and catastrophic failures — any conductor, that is, except the class of materials called ‘superconductors’.”

    Seeing the dawning realization on his partners’ faces, the dapper goblin continued, “A superconductor is a material which, at some range of temperatures, has precisely zero resistance to electrical flow, a property which makes such a material much sought-after in the development and improvement of technology. Many such materials have been discovered, but all have exhibited this property only at exceedingly low temperatures, temperatures so low that the high-temperature superconductors developed some five years ago are so called because they exhibit the property of superconductivity at temperatures which can be attained by cooling the material with liquified nitrogen alone, rather than requiring even more elaborate cooling measures — measures which, as you might guess, are both technically difficult and quite startlingly expensive.”

    “Thus, a material which could provide such performance all the way up to the temperature of molten steel…” Snape had managed to find his voice.

    “…would be in startlingly high demand?” Slackhammer finished Snape’s statement. “Yes, it would indeed. We are currently sitting on a material which could not only improve the performance of nearly every industry on earth by a considerable margin, but which could also usher in entirely new industries by means of making previously unattainable design parameters practical. The engineering corps assures me that an initial introduction into the power distribution industry will be well received, as a drop-in replacement to their current lines will provide them with an immediate fifteen-percent reduction in overhead by eliminating transmission losses, and they suspect introduction into the computer industry will be even more profitable in the long run, both because of the superconductivity and the nanostructure of your neural tissue. Other markets are still being explored.”

    “The computer industry?” Snape asked.

    “What do you know of the internal function of computers, Mr. Snape?”

    “Very little, I must confess,” the potions master replied. “I am aware of their existence, but even in my excursions into the muggle world I have not interacted with them at all that I am aware.”

    “I ain’t used one since I turned into a dragon,” Harry volunteered. “They had Commodore C64’s and BBC Micro’s at the primary school I used to go to when I lived at the Dursleys, and we used ‘em for some of the classes, but it was mostly learning to type, I think.” He hadn’t really thought about that in ages!

    “You lost me at the ‘see-sixty-four’ part,” Snape muttered.

    “And how much do you know of said computer’s construction?” Slackhammer asked intently.

    “Well, not a huge lot, I mean, I know they got microchips and stuff in ‘em, and I know those are made out of silicon with really, really tiny wiring and stuff on ‘em, and I know what transistors are and how really, really tiny they can get, and I know what bits, bytes, and kilobytes are, but…”

    “That knowledge will suffice here, Mr. Potter. If I were to tell you that your brain matter functions much like a vast network of computers formed by transistors manufactured at the molecular scale, well, do you understand what I mean?”

    “Wow! Um, well, I think so…”

    “And if I were to tell you that our, as of yet small, number of employees believe that they can reproduce that material in the form of a processor chip for a computer?”

    “Oh, wow! That’ll be worth a whole lot of money, won’t it?”

    “Am I to understand that these materials would allow us to corner the market on these ‘computers’, Mr. Slackhammer?” Snape asked, doing a darn good job of pronouncing a word he had heard perhaps ten times in his life, most of them in this conversation.

    “Quite correct, Mr. Snape,” Slackhammer confirmed. “And the market for that technology alone is enough to make a king’s ransom look like the sort of pocket change one might find dropped carelessly in the street. Should we go ahead with this, barring some unspeakable disaster, everyone within this room will become so phenomenally rich that I guarantee we shall not need to work another day in our lives, or in our children’s lives, no matter how long those lives might be,” he nodded to Harry, “and that is without mentioning the myriad other potential uses for such a material.”

    “Mr. Slackhammer, what sort of money are we talking about here?” Snape asked.

    The dapper goblin let out a dry chuckle, “Frankly, Mr. Snape, of the two technologies the bulk superconductor is the more valuable by far; there is barely an industry which could not put it to good use. Yet Mr. Potter’s brain matter is worth enough, as a technology, to earn an estimated two to three billion galleons per annum at current market levels.”

    The sharply-dressed goblin noted his business partners’ flabbergasted looks.

    “Gentlemen,” he said, “welcome to the big leagues.”

    2.4.4 The afterglow of a good deal

    It didn’t take House Hufflepuff long, a few hours, tops, in fact, to notice that Harry seemed a little dazed when he came to visit on Saturday afternoon. He spent the time wandering around with a big, silly grin on his face, but when asked about it, he could do nothing but giggle. It had raised the suspicions of a few of the older girls who looked at their fellows speculatively with eyes narrowed —

    Nah, he was way too young for that.

    By the time Saturday evening rolled around, the House had collectively dismissed the matter as the Boy-Who-Lived being weird.

    Out of everyone, Suze came the closest to getting a straight answer on Sunday, and that was a huge, cheesy grin and a mutter of something about gold.

    She shook her head; he’d tell her when he felt like it, and that was good enough for her.

    When the Hogwarts rumor mill noticed that Snape also seemed to be in a similar daze and was being far less unpleasant than normal, it really got going — for a few hours before everyone quashed the rumors out of fear that someone might jinx it.

    They knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.

    2.4.5 With great Power comes great… danger

    “Ladies, gentlemen, other beings, welcome back,” Snape greeted his class. It was now Monday morning shortly after breakfast, and the first-year students were back for another laboratory session in the potions classroom.

    He gestured at their readied potions kits, especially Neville’s cauldron.

    “It has come to my attention that I have failed to properly impart to you the true hazards that the ingredients upon your desks represent. You may believe me to be severe, particularly in light of my first name, but I assure you I am not demanding of you simply for my own amusement.”

    He paused for long enough for the students to recognize the fact that he had not only made a joke, but he had made a joke with himself as the butt — there were some obedient giggles from the class, to which he replied with one cocked eyebrow and a faint smirk. The discussion with Mr. Slackhammer had left him with an uncharacteristically sociable disposition for the past few days, and the entire student body had absolutely no desire to be the one to trigger a relapse back into his usual dour mood.

    “In this room, there are a great many layered charms and wards intended to ensure the safety of all who prepare potions herein. These charms are placed for a vital purpose — to blunt the effects of the potions brewed herein. This might seem counterintuitive, but it must be understood that potions are uniformly volatile; they must be in order to attain the spectacularly useful results that they are intended to produce. It is an unfortunate corollary to this, that errors in the brewing process will often produce equally spectacular unwanted effects.”

    “The metal cleaning potion we prepared last week, for instance, will with a certain combination of errors, produce a substance capable of dissolving glass as easily as water dissolves table salt. Within this room, those effects are blunted, suppressed, and controlled. Mr. Longbottom, if not for those charms, your attempt would have melted clean through your cauldron, your desk, and the floor underneath, taking your legs off at the knees in the process. Even with the charms, had I not acted as quickly as I did, you and your neighbors would still have been subjected to corrosive fumes which would have been survivable only through the rapidly applied talents of our admirably capable staff Healer.”

    “I clarify that, through her efforts, you might have survived, not recovered, as you would have been rendered quite permanently blind. That, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely how deadly potions can be if improperly prepared, and that is the potential hazard of a very simple and mostly safe potion considered suitable as an entry to the subject.”

    “For those of you who choose to pursue the art as a career — even as a practical hobby — rest assured that the risks will only worsen,” Snape continued. “Those same charms which blunt the effects of potions mishaps also blunt the effects of potions successes. There is a reason that even those potions which are brewed properly in this class are discarded, and that reason is that they are mostly ineffective, performing the correct actions, but with so little power as to be ultimately useless. In order to produce potions possessed of their full advertised effect rather than a pale echo, they must be brewed outside of such protections. Potions masters such as myself are in high demand for precisely this reason.”

    “Frankly, I am severe and exacting as any failure to do so on my part may cost you your lives in the times to come. I am demanding of you because I must be so — that is the nature of potions as an art.”

    “I trust that you all understand this?” There was a round of nodding and ‘Yes, Professor Snape’-ing. “Good. Today, we shall be preparing a potion for the treatment of burns such as those which would have resulted from improper preparation of last week’s potion. Note that, if prepared incorrectly, it may explode with sufficient force to drive fragments of your cauldron clear through a thick stone wall, a force that, despite my perennial complaints regarding the thickness of your skulls, would prove quite decidedly lethal for you and anyone standing near you. I add that, within this room, said detonation would simply blow unpleasantly spicy muck to ceiling height and earn you a detention. The primary reaction concerns…” and Snape went off on a five-minute tangent about reactions and reactivity and precautions for the prevention of making things that blow up unintentionally.

    Once again, on the completion of the class, Hermione, Draco, and Pansy got approving nods and points, this time joined by Harry. Neville didn’t manage to get his cauldron to erupt, but did earn a lecture on how, again due to the addition of ingredients in improper order, his potion would cause a horrific, scarring rash, and if applied to burns as intended, would likely result in the even more horrific death of the recipient.

    Once he’d explained about the differences between failures, mediocre successes, and superb results, how they could be detected, how they could be produced — this time, the issue was mostly the timing of additions, though ingredient preparation was still critical — how it all worked, and what homework would be required, Snape dismissed the class.

    “A moment of your time, Miss Granger,” he added, shaking off a shudder at the way Harry bolted out the door with a declaration of hunger.

    Hermione warily waited as the rest of the students departed; she received puzzled looks from several students, especially Draco Malfoy, whose puzzlement was also tinged with jealousy.

    “What is it, Professor Snape?” she asked once they were alone.

    “Mr. Longbottom needs help, young lady, and your attempts have so far proven to be of acceptable quality,” Snape informed her, tapping her cauldron. “I would appreciate it if you were to render to Mr. Longbottom a little assistance in comprehending my lessons; in future lessons, students shall be paired, and I wish you to work with Mr. Longbottom so that you might prevent any further catastrophic failures on his part.”

    “Will it impact my grades?” Hermione focused on the important bit for her.

    “Frankly, young lady, if Mr. Longbottom’s performance should improve due to your assistance, I will happily apply his improvements to your grade as extra credit. The young man is lacking in confidence, and that lack translates into a failure to add ingredients in their proper time and order, I believe. I hope your surprising levels of attention to the subject might guide him onto a path that will not result in blowing himself to pieces and rendering the Longbottom family extinct.”

    “Okay, Professor Snape.”

    “Good, and Miss Granger?”

    “Yes, Professor Snape?”

    “Please do not attempt brewing outside the class as yet. Seeing you blast yourself into a grease smear would be most unpleasant, and the vast majority of potions are not so forgiving as those I give my first-year students.”

    “Yes, Professor Snape.”

    “Good, run along, young lady. I have kept you from your meal long enough.”

    Snape watched her go, then sighed as he glanced back at her cauldron.

    It was a perfect burn treatment potion, Snape sighed as he set about emptying it out for disposal. It was a shame it had been brewed under the suppression charms, the quality was more than good enough for sale, and it would have reduced his workload for supplying the infirmary significantly.

    As he moved on to cleaning up Longbottom’s — attempt — he sighed again. The only other cauldron of saleable quality was produced by Mr. Potter, and Severus knew well enough that no matter how much talent the dratted lizard had for the field, he would not be making a career of it. There were too many other things he needed to do, many of which were — much as Snape loathed the admission — more important than potions.

    At least he knew he had one student who might go on to become great in the field. If she produced work of this quality as a first-year, what might she do later on?

    After his friendship with Lily had collapsed, Snape had always thought his prospects for immortalizing himself by contributing to the next generation were nonexistent, and he had focused on working in the shadows where his efforts would be remembered by neither friend nor foe. He still had no prospects for contributing his blood to the future generation —he doubted he ever would, better to let his cursed father’s legacy die with him, rather than pass it on to another unfortunate soul — but the possibility of an apprenticeship…

    Perhaps he would be able to leave a legacy after all?
     
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  22. Threadmarks: Section 2.5 - In which there are growing pains
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.5.0 In which there are growing pains

    By the time Snape had finished his cleanup and arrived at the Great Hall for lunch hour, the scene he had vaguely feared was already in progress. Harry Potter was eating. No, that statement was insufficient —

    Harry Potter was EATING, capitalization required.

    He would later learn that Harry was working on his fourth roast cow when Snape entered the room, but he could tell enough from the deadly hush in the hall; the bug-eyed, slack-jawed looks on every face present as they looked at the scene of gastronomic devastation taking place at the Hufflepuff table; and the disturbingly small population of cutlery remaining near the boy.

    As Snape approached, another fork — this one previously resting beside the plate of a bewildered Cedric Diggory seated across from the ravenous first-year — vanished into the rapacious maw of the boy-shaped young dragon.

    Snape’s gaze swept up to the staff table and caught Madame Pomphrey’s eye who gave a slight nod and quietly withdrew from the table. For Snape’s part, his wand flicked out, and a quick spell levitated the loudly complaining Lizard-Who-Would-Not-Stop-Eating by means of his school uniform, quickly dragging him out of the Hall and off to the Infirmary.

    “What the hell are you thinking, you bloody reptile?” Snape growled as soon as their odd march took them out of earshot of the Great Hall.

    “Hungry!” Harry declared, attempting to swipe off the head of one of the animated gargoyles which had replaced the suits of armor as castle defenses. He only succeeded in catching a horn, snapping it off at the base as the construct dodged out of the way. In between bites of his new prize, he elaborated, “I ain’t never been so hungry before, I swear I could eat two whole trains!”

    “If you eat the Hogwarts Express, I shall be downright furious, you idiot lizard!”

    “But I’m HUNGRY!” the preteen dragon wailed.

    “And you shall have all you can eat shortly, just remain calm!” Snape snapped, failing to take his own advice.

    “Getting’ hungrier,” the severity of the situation made itself clearly known as the boy’s voice dropped to a wall-shaking inhuman bass.

    A moment later, the door to a side chamber next to the infirmary which had been prepared on the suggestion of Silvanus Kettleburn and Hagrid after they had judged Harry’s appetite to be again rapidly increasing, burst open and Snape just managed to get the young dragon through the door before his levitation charm failed as Harry resumed his natural form, removing the clothes that had been anchoring the charm into whatever magical condition such things go into — it was still a current topic of investigation, fourteen thousand years after the question was first posed, though the investigation had restarted independently several times during that period.

    The dragon, now the size of a small locomotive, fell on the extensive piles of things only he would find tasty, or for that matter, edible, like a ravenous, well… dragon as the rest of the staff finally caught up with the potions master at a dead run. Metal, glass, and frozen meat splintered as draconic teeth closed on them, and the small group of Hogwarts staff beat a hasty retreat from the carnage.

    Meanwhile, back in the Great Hall, the rumor mill had long since passed the point of ‘batshit crazy’ and was rapidly approaching ‘tinfoil-hat crazy’ — a term that oddly enough was independently developed in the wizarding world after the ‘tin’ in ‘tin-foil’ became aluminum, with the ignoble metal believed to block supposed broadcast mind-controlling magic just as well as the conductive barrier blocked supposed broadcast mind-controlling radio waves.

    2.5.1 Logistical difficulties

    “So, Potter’s appetite,” Snape began, killing the mood in the staff room, “how are we going to deal with it.”

    After a decidedly eventful afternoon, the staff had gathered once again after dinner for an informal meeting. Oddly enough, Quirrel was still involved in whatever that ‘other business’ had been which had kept him from attending the start-of-term staff meeting and gotten him stuck with all the worst class time slots. One would think that after getting stuck with office hours during both lunch and dinner hour as well as both the first and the last time slots every day of the week, he’d be more eager to attend these things.

    Albus was beginning to wonder if the man was really fit for the academic life at all — he wasn’t even showing up to meetings for the free booze!

    “How is he?” Minerva asked Poppy in concern.

    “He’s stopped eating — finally. I… well, Rubeus and I had to refill that room twice over — the elves refuse to go anywhere near him in this state. He’s eaten three times his weight over a period of four hours. I’ve no idea where he put it all — there must be some sort of expansion effect on his stomach, or possibly a pocket space. I’ve got a weighing charm on him, and his weight stayed the same through the entire ordeal, so wherever he put it, it is not currently interacting with gravity.” Poppy sighed, “Once he finished eating, he demanded the company of Suze, and on her arrival, he curled up around her and promptly fell asleep.”

    “Reckon he’ll be growin’ like a mushroom now,” Hagrid said happily, with a bright look most of the staff had come to associate with Hermione Granger after having her in class for the past week. “Yeh see, it’s usually the way o’ things fer young dragons ter get mighty hungry fer a few days before they go inter a big growth spurt,” he nodded to Madame Pomphrey, “In the run up t’ it they’re likely t’ eat sev’ral times their own body weight each day.”

    “Are there any warning signs we should be watchful for in the future?” Snape asked.

    “Nah, well, nothin’ anyone e’er wrote down. Some o’ the best dragon-handlers say they get a feel fer it, but…” Hagrid shrugged expansively, and when a half-giant shrugs expansively, he takes up most of whatever room he’s in.

    The room settled into a contemplative silence before Hagrid spoke up again, “Sorry, but, er… I need t’ go get a couple o’ extra loads o’ feed fer young Harry an’ contact the suppliers t’ let ‘em know t’ up the shipments fer a while. We only got enough fer t’morrow if he keeps goin’ like this, an’ we can’t afford the fees to portkey tha’ much stuff las’ minute.” With that ominous pronouncement, the half-giant exited the room.

    “What are we going to tell the weans?” Minerva asked.

    “A very good question,” was Snape’s non-reply.

    “I seem,” Filius offered, “to recall a certain magical disease which causes massively increased appetite accompanied by a related lack of expansion in girth. As I recall, one of my distant cousins died of it, though for the life of me I cannot recall the name. It was before my first days as a student here.”

    “Babington’s Syndrome,” Poppy interjected with a snap of her fingers. “One of the few commonly fatal forms of accidental magic. It is usually indicative of a massively powerful youngster coming into their magic too early, their magic uses more calories than they can eat, and they instinctively try to compensate but make the situation worse in the process. It’ll fit with the rumors about Mr. Potter’s magical strength, and it’s also easily — if tediously — treatable when caught early enough, so there won’t be any awkward questions when Mr. Potter survives. It’s even commonly recurrent until adulthood, so we won’t have to look for new explanations in the coming years.” The Healer nodded to her diminutive coworker. “A very good suggestion, Filius.”

    Her colleagues were looking at the Healer with undisguised shock.

    “What?” she asked, nonplussed.

    “How do you remember all these things?” Minerva asked. “I know it’s in your field, but I know I still have to look up obscure transfiguration methods. You just recited minutiae about a rare childhood ailment with only the barest hint of the symptoms — you didn’t even take a moment to think about it!”

    “I am a pediatric Healer,” Poppy replied, as if that explained everything. Seeing the uncomprehending looks, she elaborated, “There is a reason pediatrics is considered to be the premier specialization in magical healing.”

    “I suppose there is, at that,” Minerva said in admiration.

    2.5.2 Shared worries

    Hermione Granger — age twelve and first-year student at a school teaching witchcraft and wizardry of all things — had a singular, vitally important question, one which she shared with the entirety of House Hufflepuff, and that question was about the well-being of someone who currently felt like her only friend in the whole wide world, Harry James Potter. She didn’t even know why she thought of him as a friend — she’d only spent time with him at Diagon Alley that one time, and then on the train. Hermione hadn’t even seen him outside of classes for the last week! Maybe it was because he was the only one who had reached out to her?

    Well, she supposed there was now a second person who had done so.

    It was Susan Bones who invited her to join the Hufflepuff vigil as they waited for news about their missing housemate’s health, and Hermione found herself currently in the homely Hufflepuff common room — cutely called the Sett — ensconced between Susan and her best friend, Hannah Abbot, while being kindly introduced to everyone by a dashingly handsome third-year by the name of Cedric Diggory.

    The Sett had a totally different feel from the Gryffindor commons. In Gryffindor, you were expected to fend for yourself — you stood on your own two feet, or you got flattened. Conflicts between Lions were their own business, and the rest of the House would step back unless things got truly out of hand. Oh, if you were facing a fight outside the House, then your housemates would step in, but she gathered that was more to get in on the action than out of any sense of protectiveness. Hermione was sure the Lions didn’t mean anything bad by it — she had a sneaking suspicion that it was their way of being friendly, refraining from butting in on other people’s fights as a sort of weirdly-twisted courtesy.

    Honestly, it was only a bit over a week in, and Hermione was already regretting talking the Hat into sending her to Gryffindor. She could hold her own — at least verbally, she could give as good as she got — but Hermione was not good at making friends, and, in the absence of someone like Harry in the House of the Lions who would barge in and make himself her friend by hook or by crook, well… Hermione was feeling more than a little lonely. She didn’t have any sort of refuge in her House, and she had no idea how to go about making one for herself.

    Now she was kind of wishing she’d argued Donald into sending her to the Sett — in fact, hindsight being what it was, and Hermione being who she was, she was already constructing the set of arguments she could have used to achieve that outcome. Here, even though her uniform was trimmed in Gryffindor red and yellow, she was already one of the ‘Puffs, simply because she had a friend among their number. Just by stepping through that door, she was a part of the group already.

    It was something of a revelation for the perennially lonely girl.

    Her parents were good people, but they were busy good people, and she’d spent more than a few birthdays home alone with a good book. Tony and Sharon Granger’s patients came first at all times — that was how they’d built a very successful and well-to-do private dental practice, by being willing to go in to the office at stupid o’clock in the morning to deal with someone’s toothache. It was also — when she thought rationally about it — the reason they could afford to pay the cringeworthy price-tab of Hermione’s Hogwarts fees, but that wasn’t to say she hadn’t been lonely, and that sort of thing was rarely rational.

    Thus, the feeling of belonging that permeated the Hufflepuff common room was pretty alien to her, almost — but not quite — enough to make her shy away from the unfamiliarity of it all.

    Almost, but not quite. And when it comes to things like that, ‘not quite’ means ‘making this lonely child latch on like a drowning person clings to a lifebuoy’.

    House Hufflepuff makes you feel like you’ll never, ever be abandoned again, and when you’ve spent most of your life mostly alone, that feeling is something which should probably be a controlled substance.

    Thus, she was almost — almost but not quite — disappointed when Professor Sprout arrived at last with news.

    2.5.3 Growing closer

    For once in her life, Hermione had a book in her hand, and she was ignoring it in favor of something else — not another book, that had happened often enough to be unremarkable by this point, but rather a boy.

    After Harry’s voracious episode in the Great Hall the previous Monday and her nervous wait for news of his condition in the company of the amazingly welcoming Hufflepuff students, Hermione had made it a point to spend more time with her small, hyperactive friend — though he was rapidly becoming less small, there was no change on the hyperactivity — in the interest of being comfortable calling at least one person her friend, if nothing else. And to do that, she needed to spend more time with him. Today found her spending the morning free period in the library reading with Harry and Suze.

    Finding common time had been difficult for the last few days, as Harry was routinely disappearing into the infirmary for the better part of the afternoon for the treatment of his strange illness called Babington’s syndrome. She had tried to look up more on the condition, but it was apparently rare enough that it was barely mentioned in any of the books in the Hogwarts Library.

    Professor Sprout had been rather reticent about the whole thing when she explained the situation, which — she revealed when asked — was because she was just as unfamiliar with the condition as her students. She did say that Madame Pomphrey had recognized the illness as soon as she learned of Harry’s symptoms, though, which Hermione found very impressive.

    Harry was currently fidgeting a little while still somehow remaining completely absorbed in the book he was reading, a dusty-looking volume detailing the runic schema and internal energy flows of the so-called lighting-rod enchantments — a detail that she only knew because she had asked him outright. The book was written in Greek — an ancient scholarly dialect of Greek at that — and Harry was reading this book, rather than one of the hundreds of derivative works written in a more accessible language, because he said the other ones all glossed over some of the minutiae he was interested in.

    Between today’s reading and his eclectic choices over the past few days, Hermione was now aware that her friend was able to read at least seven different languages in addition to his native English, four of which were dead. The ancient form of Greek the boy was reading was a new one, one he was apparently learning on the spot judging by the open translation dictionary — a centuries-old text itself, matching the ancient Greek dialect with Latin equivalents — next to him on the table and the slowly increasing rate at which the boy was turning pages.

    Hermione was honestly rather intimidated by that fact.

    She was confident in her own intelligence, and she was game for learning almost anything, but the idea of sitting down to read a scholarly tome on a subject that wouldn’t even be available for her to take a course on for another two years, written in an ancient language that she didn’t know… well, that was a little much, even for her. It was the first time she had encountered another person her age who was objectively better than her at an academic pursuit, and she wasn’t sure precisely how to handle that.

    She was sure, however, that she wanted to be friends with him.

    Now she just had to figure out how to start a conversation. She’d not realized just how useful Harry’s ‘blathering’, as he called it, was for that purpose — no matter how irritating it could be.

    2.5.4 Self-examination

    The end of October was fast approaching — and with it, the end of Harry’s second full month of schooling at Hogwarts — and Harry was lounging on the lip of the Lair with Suze tucked in to his side, gazing out over his domain.

    The forest below the Lair was rapidly donning its fall vestments, painting the glen in reds, yellows, and oranges. The flowering heather on the coastal moors even cut a thin strip of purple in the distance before the blue-gray of the sound took over only to merge smoothly into the gray-blue of the cloudy twilight sky. Not ten minutes before, the sunset had lit up those clouds to match the fall foliage below, but now there was just enough haze in the air to hide the Isle of Skye from any distinct view.

    For all the world, it looked like the ocean just went on forever.

    It had been nice to meet so many new kids — Harry hadn’t had so much fun meeting new people since that first winter with the Black Woods Clan. The kids in Hufflepuff were almost universally friendly, which was real nice, and Hermione had been practically glued to his side whenever she could manage it ever since that embarrassing incident at lunch when he’d lost control of his appetite.

    If not for his scales, Harry would have blushed at the memory. Being levitated out of the Great Hall by Mr. Snape while complaining about being hungry was probably the low point of his academic career to date. It seemed Uncle Vernon had been right all that time ago about hunger doing strange things to people — Harry would have to let him know in his next letter.

    The time spent with Hermione as a result, though — that was nice. She didn’t seem to talk very much on her own, but she was always game for a good conversation, and they’d started talking more in the last few weeks. It was fun! Lately though, she’d seemed kind of sad about something, and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

    Speaking of his unreasonable appetite, Hagrid had said the really intense hunger would taper off into a slightly elevated appetite during the rest of the growth spurt, and Harry was happy to confirm that was indeed the case. He was now eating about twice as much as he was before the spurt started, but nowhere near what he was during the transition. Regardless, he was still putting on a steady inch every night, according to Madame Pomphrey’s now daily checkups.

    Harry’s massive head turned to eye his damsel for a moment before turning back to the slowly darkening landscape. Suze was nodding off as she leaned against his front-shoulder, sheltered under his wing as she watched the sunset with him. Letting out an almost inaudibly-deep rolling chuckle, pitched beyond the range of most human’s hearing but still intense enough to feel, he gently gathered her up in his forepaws and carried her into the Lair proper to sleep, away from the autumn chill.

    Lots of new friends, lots of old friends, lots to learn, lots to do, and lots and lots to eat — it sounded like a recipe for good times to Harry.
     
    Ayashi, brt99, pervyshyguy and 78 others like this.
  23. Threadmarks: Section 2.6 - In which pre-teen drama takes center stage
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.6.0 In which pre-teen drama takes center stage

    It was a cold Thursday morning on the last day of October, and the first-years had just been dismissed from Professor Flitwick’s class. The diminutive teacher had held Harry back for something or other after class — based on the past weeks, if Hermione had to guess she would say it was probably something about his control exercises.

    Lately it seemed like her friend was doing those literally all the time. When he was reading, he’d have little lights orbiting above the page; when he was eating, he’d levitate more food over to his plate in a complicated aerial dance; walking down the hallway, he’d be bouncing in truth rather than figuratively, using his magic to catch himself just above the floor and push himself back a little way into the air.

    It was getting quite decidedly silly — even sillier than usual.

    In any case, Harry’s after-class teacher’s conference had left Hermione waiting outside the massive charms classroom as the rest of the students slowly filtered out on their way to lunch, and she was thus in a prime position to overhear their discussions as they passed. One conversation in particular caught the bookish girl’s attention.

    “…don’t know where she gets off, bein’ all nosy and pushy and stuff!”

    That was one of her housemates, a boy by the name of Ronald Weasley — the same redhead who had briefly shared a compartment on the train with her and Harry before storming off when he ran afoul of Harry’s Harry-ness. Whenever the students were allowed free seating, they tended to divide themselves up along House lines. Hermione of course, sat next to Harry, and thus she customarily marked the boundary between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.

    Today, Ronald had been seated on the Gryffindor side of her own position. Flitwick had decided to make the day a review day — since so many of his students wouldn’t be able to concentrate while waiting in eager anticipation for the Halloween Feast — and she’d tried to help Ron out with his pronunciation on the levitation charm. He had not been terribly receptive.

    Hermione was kind of used to that by now, sadly.

    One of the other Gryffindor boys in her year, Seamus Finnegan — who for some reason always smelled faintly of whiskey and whom the girls had already caught staring several times — agreed with the redhead, “Yeah, just ‘cause she gets it right away don’t mean she’s got the right to rub it in our faces like that!”

    As she recalled, Seamus had managed to set his feather on fire — again, and not from moving too fast like Harry had managed back when they first learned the charm; the thing just burst into flame without moving at all.

    The rest of the first-year Gryffindor boys, all two of them, were walking along with the pair, though they weren’t participating in the grousing. Dean, a dark-skinned boy who was a little tall for his age, was scribbling away in his ever-present sketchbook as he walked, somehow managing to avoid running into anyone, and Neville, with whom she had been partnered in potions class for the last few weeks, was following along quietly with his eyes down.

    She wondered who Ronald and Seamus were talking about? Whoever it was, they seemed to really have it out for her.

    “’It’s lev-i-OH-sa not levio-SA’,” the redhead was saying in a mocking falsetto, “seriously, who does she think she is?”

    Wait, that was… they were talking about her!

    “And precisely what is wrong with me trying to help you with your spell-work, Ronald?” Hermione wasn’t going to stand for that, no sir.

    The scruffy-looking redhead wheeled to face the new voice, and on seeing her face, flushed red as he sneered. “You’re a right nightmare, that’s what!” he snapped. “Always gotta know it all, and you’re that dungeon bat’s teacher’s pet! It’s no wonder you ain’t got any friends!”

    That hit a little too close to home, and Hermione’s eyes started to water. She knew that wasn’t right — Harry was her friend, and she’d been spending a lot of time with Neville too, but Harry wasn’t there, and Neville was just standing there, and he wasn’t saying anything, and the girls were just walking away like they hadn’t heard anything, and… and…

    Hermione burst into tears and bolted, so upset she didn’t even realize she’d left her notebooks behind.

    Some things you don’t put behind you in just a month or two.

    2.6.1 Unfortunate hesitation

    Neville watched as his potions lab partner — a girl who had never been anything but friendly and helpful to him — ran off in tears after his ginger git of a dorm-mate tore into her for no reason Neville could see.

    He watched as the redhead muttered to himself and stormed off up to the dorm without even seeming to notice his target’s departure or the effect his words had had on her.

    He watched and struggled to decide whether to go after Ron and punch his teeth in or go after Hermione to make sure she was alright or do something else like tell a teacher or something, and in the process, he ended up standing there like a useless lump.

    “…I am such a woosie,” he muttered.

    2.6.2 Inklings of concern

    Meanwhile, Harry was just heading back to his seat to grab his bag before heading off to lunch. Flitwick had had some questions about his progress with the control exercises, and based on Harry’s report, the diminutive former duelist had proposed a new one which he had then proceeded to demonstrate.

    It was the coolest thing Harry had seen since he’d first realized that those wings that kept flapping around that evening at Avebury were attached to him!

    Flitwick had said that it was important to be able to direct magic where he wanted it to be in addition to being able to direct it to a specific purpose. To that end, Harry was supposed to push unformed magic out of his body at various points.

    Then the man had proceeded to set his own arms on fire.

    It wasn’t real fire since it didn’t burn anything, but it looked just like the real thing.

    And then the diminutive professor had made it change color!

    Harry had express instructions from his new favorite professor to learn how to set himself on fire and do it as soon as possible. Then he was supposed to repeat that feat again and again everywhere he went until he could do it at will.

    Harry was absolutely certain that this was the best homework assignment in the history of homework assignments!

    Bag retrieved, the excited young dragon exited the classroom. He had to tell Hermione about this! And then he was going to go tell Suze, who had decided to stay in the library and read today — she’d found a book on old woodworking potions that she was researching so she could teach her uncle Ronan. And after that he was going to lunch.

    Harry looked around the now-empty hallway — Hermione was nowhere in evidence. That was odd; she’d said she was going to wait for him — maybe she’d gone down the hallway to find a place to sit and read or something? A quick sniff directed him a little way down the hall to a haphazard pile of notebooks. Those were Hermione’s notebooks, all right, but there was no Hermione to go with them.

    Huh?

    He looked about for a few moments before trying to track her scent again, but the notebooks were all he could pick up in the olfactory jumble laid down by all the other students. Dragon noses were good in comparison to a human nose, but then pretty much every other creature with a nose had a good nose in comparison to a human nose. Dragon noses were not really meant for tracking.

    “Well, she must have had something important come up,” Harry mused. He looked back at the notebooks — those really shouldn’t just be left strewn about the hall. He gathered them up, saying to one of the portraits, “Can you let Hermione know I picked these up if she comes looking for them before I find her? Thanks!”

    He’d have to keep an eye out for his friend to return her notebooks.

    2.6.3 Building worry

    Lunch came and went without Harry seeing his bushy-haired friend, and he was a mite concerned. He could understand something coming up, but to miss a meal? That seemed a bit odd.

    That said, whatever it was that interrupted her had done so right before lunch — highly inconsiderate of whatever it was, really — and he supposed he could see things running a little long.

    History followed, which Harry considered to be a mostly useless class. Taught by Professor Binns, a ghost who had purportedly died one day during the 1823 school year and then gone right on to continue teaching his classes. The man was apparently known for putting classes full of energetic teenagers right to sleep while he was still alive — a talent which had not been left behind with his mortal coil.

    Unfortunately, Professor Binns was now a ghost, just a dusty and dim echo of the soul that was the original Professor Binns, and like all ghosts he did not learn or develop — not even so much as to produce a new lesson plan or shift to another already prepared one. He only ever covered one topic, the goblin rebellions, and he essentially repeated about two weeks’ worth of lessons.

    He certainly hadn’t updated his lessons to account for the results of the Bold ’99 — no matter how much Harry tried to yell at him for such a gross oversight — and that was as central to the understanding of goblin culture as anything Harry could think of. Needless to say, historical accounts became a new priority for Harry’s ongoing literary acquisitions.

    One might wonder why the school allowed such a situation to continue, and Harry’s summertime investigation of the rule book had revealed a disturbing answer.

    Apparently, tenure was a real pain-in-the-neck.

    Harry had tried to ask questions early on only to be completely ignored by the soporific specter, and he now used the class as a free-reading period, during which he tried to focus on history out of a sense of appropriateness, but often digressed.

    He didn’t see Hermione there either, but that was to be expected. History was shared with the Ravenclaws; only potions, transfiguration, and charms included all four Houses at once.

    Transfiguration, though, was the last class before the Halloween feast, and when Professor McGonagall’s classroom also proved to be devoid of frizzy brown hair, Harry got downright worried. Worried enough to ask around a bit, even approaching the professor after class. Professor McGonagall hadn’t heard anything about Hermione, but she promised to look into it.

    So it was that a very concerned young dragon walked into the Great Hall for dinner. The place was festooned with Halloween-themed decorations. The usual floating candles were joined by floating jack-o-lanterns, conjured bats — Harry could see the magic in them — swarmed about the ceiling, and the lighting was all in contrasting shades of warm fiery orange and cool twilight bluish-purple.

    As he walked by the Gryffindor table, Harry overheard a troubling bit of conversation.

    “Y’know that Hermione Granger?” one of the first-year girls said. It was the one with the identical twin in Ravenclaw. ‘Par’-something as Harry recalled — it suddenly struck him then that he really should pay more attention to people’s names. What good was it to have such a good memory if he never bothered to pay attention to that sort of thing?

    “’Course I do, Parvati,” Lavender Brown said. She was another one of the Gryffindor first-years, with a slightly pudgy face and hair that couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be blonde or brown. Harry remembered her name because he thought it was a bit peculiar that she was named after two different colors when he heard it at the Sorting.

    “She’s in the downstairs loo — the one just down the hall from Snape’s classroom — and she’s been crying for a while,” the now-named Parvati replied. “She’s really upset about something, I wonder what it could be?”

    From her manner, Harry gathered that this was some sort of juicy gossip, so he turned to Hannah when he got to the Hufflepuff table. She was really into the whole gossip thing, so she’d probably know what was what.

    “Hannah?”

    “Hmm?” the girl looked up from her conversation with Susan.

    “I heard Parvati and Lavender sayin’ somethin’ about Hermione,” Harry prompted, and a surprised look passed between Susan and Hannah. Harry was not one to be interested in gossip normally.

    “Well, yeah, you know the downstairs toilet, just toward the stairwell from Professor Snape’s lecture hall?” Hannah explained. “We saw her there just after Transfiguration, and she’s really upset.”

    “What happened?” Harry asked. Hannah and Susan failed to recognize how upset Harry was getting, though the older students cottoned on quickly.

    “I’m not sure,” Susan said, brow furrowed in puzzlement, “I asked her what was wrong, and she said something about Ron Weasley and wanting to be left alone.”

    There was a noise like a string of tiny firecrackers going off in the vicinity of Harry’s knuckles, the sound causing Cedric — who was sitting across the table — to flinch as the anatomy in question quickly turned a bloodless yellow-white.

    The normally-affable third year knew what he had just seen. The last time he’d seen someone that pissed off was after Charlie Weasley caught his girlfriend coming out of the broom-closet on fourth floor with that what’s-his-name arse from Ravenclaw.

    He shot a pair of surreptitious glances at Eric Cadwallader and Maxine O’Flaherty, two of his fellow Quidditch fanatics.

    “We’d better sort this out,” he hissed, answered by a round of nodding from the pair.

    Harry, deep in a funk, didn’t notice the byplay. Not that he would have if he were fully alert either — the young dragon still had a long way to go in developing his situational awareness.

    “You sure she wants to be left alone, Susan?” the boy asked.

    “I think so,” Susan said uncertainly. “I mean, she kept saying ‘leave me alone’ when me and Hannah tried to find out what was wrong.”

    Cedric again glanced concernedly at Eric and Maxine. That was not a good sign, not at all.

    “Aw, blast it,” Harry muttered. “I hate it when I can’t do something.”

    “Are you sure, Harry?” Cedric asked, leadingly. “I’d be happy to go see if we could help her out a bit — maybe talk things over?” Eric and Maxine were nodding encouragingly at the smaller boy.

    “Not just now,” Harry said with sad conviction. “If she said to leave her alone, then we gotta leave her alone. It’d be rude to butt in if she don’t want us to, and you shouldn’t be rude if you don’t gotta be, ‘cause that’s not very nice.”

    No ‘Puff argued with that.

    It had, after all, taken the collective House Hufflepuff less than a week to determine that arguing with Harry was an exercise in futility. You could argue until you were blue in the face, but Harry would only come around when he was good and ready. You just had to stick with him and keep hinting until he picked things up himself — the only ‘Puffs who hadn’t picked up on that were Zack Smith, who was more than a little bullheaded himself, and Nymphadora ‘Don’t-Call-Me-That’ Tonks, who was far too busy with her excessive number of NEWT courses to bother herself with firsties, even ones who had helped her understand the strange and disturbing mind of Severus Snape.

    2.6.4 Troll watching

    Celestine was disturbed.

    He was on patrol duty with several of his fellow warriors near the grounds of the wanded-human school on the evening of their strange celebration of the spirits and the dead. Their reasoning for choosing a time right in the middle of the autumnal season to host such a celebration, rather than a proper transition like the equinox or solstice, escaped the centaur. Selene was even waxing full — every colt knew that the new moon was the time for the dead, not the full one!

    Crazy humans.

    But the centaurs also knew that they should be watchful on this night. Even if the stars carried no special portents for the day, the crazy humans believed the day carried import of its own, and where there was both magic and belief odd things were wont to happen.

    The odd thing that Celestine saw happening this day, however, was most assuredly not caused by wild belief-magic — no, it was a robed human leading a quartet of mountain trolls of all things through the protections of the human school. Celestine knew of no reason for such a thing to be permitted — not even the wizards were silly enough to want such creatures around their young — and he would have liked to interfere, on behalf of the Great Wyrm who had friends in the castle, if for no other reason.

    He looked regretfully at his beautifully-crafted short-bow and sighed. Neither he nor any member of his patrol was carrying anything that could be of use against even one such beast, let alone four backed by what was almost certainly a wizard. Troll hide was thick; troll muscle was hard; and troll bones were both. Centaur arrows would do nothing but attract the beasts’ attention, and close combat with a troll was suicide for most beings — centaurs included. Celestine was rather enjoying the respite from mourning newly-lost companions.

    Hopefully Ronan would soon suss out how to reproduce those pulley-things on that ingeniously-designed bow the Great Wyrm had gifted Bane’s daughter, and he and his companions could start carrying something with a little more stopping power — but for now, it looked like the wizards would have to fend for themselves.

    He could at least pass a warning to the Gamekeeper, though.

    2.6.5 Warning received

    “Stop where you are!” a strident yet very businesslike voice rang out from concealment near the entrance to a certain corridor on the third floor of the castle. The tone hinted that noncompliance would be a decidedly bad idea.

    Hagrid stopped obediently from his headlong rush towards the goblin defensive emplacement.

    “Good! There you are, been lookin’ fer ya’,” the half-giant replied, seemingly unfazed by the harsh tone. “Got sumthin’ t’ tell you lot. Celestine, one o’ the centaurs in the Forest, ‘e saw four trolls being brought on the grounds by somebody wearin’ robes. Figgered whate’er it is yer guardin’ ‘d be the onl’ thin’ worth tha’ much muscle, so I thought yer ought t’ know.”

    “Understood, and thanks for the warning. Good man.” A shadowed gesture toward the darkened doorway triggered some shuffling and scraping sounds as if something heavy were being wrestled into a new position. “Is there anything else?”

    “Ya’ got any idea where Perfesser Dumbledore is? Oughtta tell ‘im next, I reckon.”

    “The good Headmaster should be in the Great Hall, but this is urgent enough for us to use the communication method he gave us,” the goblin said, finally revealing his position by coming into the light. “We’ll pass it on for you. If you could step into the side hallway and clear our field of fire, you can wait to hear his response yourself.”

    “Right,” Hagrid agreed. “How’s Fluffy likin’ it in there, anyway. Firs’ time the pup’s been off on ‘is own fer so long; bet ‘e’s getting’ a mite ‘omesick.”

    2.6.6 Lockdown

    The Halloween feast continued as the massive herd of teenagers and almost-teenagers packed away truly prodigious amounts of food. There was much laughing and merriment to be had — everywhere but one particular corner of the table trimmed in black and yellow. There, Harry distractedly picked at his food — he still managed to tuck away more than any ten of his table-mates combined, but it was clear that his appetite wasn’t up to the usual standard.

    The rest of the Hufflepuff table was quietly concerned about the missing Gryffindor firstie whose absence had so troubled their oddest member, but… well, everyone was hungry, and it was a Halloween feast, so there was a fair bit of eating and merriment going on among those sufficiently far away not to actually see the moping young dragon.

    Just as the tables were populated by yet another course — this one the first wave of desserts — the more attentive denizens of the Great Hall noticed the Headmaster give a subtle jerk and lift a hand to one ear before paling. This strange event was rapidly overshadowed by the main door bursting open to admit a figure not often seen in the Great Hall this year, one Professor Quirinus Quirrel.

    The man gasped out, “Troll! In the dungeons! I thought you might want to know,” before collapsing in a faint in the middle of the suddenly-silent Great Hall.

    The silence held for a few startled moments before the Hall erupted in noise as the students recovered enough to react, but not enough to react well. The semi-orderly meal was suddenly a mass of chaotically-moving panicked children, and the noise rapidly approached deafening before there was a sharp retort as if a cannon had gone off at the staff table.

    The Headmaster was standing at his full height, unseen but still acutely-sensed magic swirling in an imposing manner as he calmly addressed the suddenly silent students, “It seems that we have a situation. Prefects, remain here with the rest of the students, our intruder seems to be in the dungeons, and the halls are not safe. Do not permit any students to leave, and keep the door closed.” He turned to the staff, “Professors, with me. We will search the school for our wayward troll and deal with it, standard search assignments — and be sure to ask the portraits and ghosts for assistance where possible.”

    The elderly wizard shot a mildly disgusted look at his currently unconscious Defense professor before lifting an odd device to his mouth and speaking quietly as he strode through the doors of the Great Hall, “Corporal, please ask Rubeus to come to the Great Hall and guard the students in the event that the troll comes here… four, you say? I see, thank you.” He gestured to the other professors following in a suspiciously military-looking fashion behind him, raising four fingers then pointing down different hallways in quick succession before giving another odd gesture then tapping his ear.

    The hunting party swept out of the room as the great wooden doors slammed shut behind them.

    2.6.7 Out of bounds

    She hadn’t been sure how to react at first, but now that she had an objective, Abigail Abercrombie was all business. While the Head students and the rest of the prefects were still reeling from the sudden change in circumstances, Abigail was already moving. A lot of times, the best way to lead is simply to be doing something rather than standing around all gob-smacked.

    “All right, you heard the Headmaster! Get back to your tables!” she shouted in a tone that would brook no nonsense. “Prefects, get a head count. I’ll secure the door!”

    Not even thinking about who was giving them orders, the student body and her fellow prefects moved automatically to fulfill them as Abigail made her way to the main door — only to see a certain green-eyed firstie whose suitably-aged image had featured prominently in her dreams for the past few weeks making a deliberate bee-line for the same place.

    What was this?

    2.6.8 A rescue mission

    Harry reacted to the news of a troll in the school rather differently than the other students — and not just because he was more likely to look at a troll as a potential snack than as a real threat.

    “I’m goin’ to get her,” he said, immediately standing up.

    “Huh?” Hannah asked.

    “Hermione don’t know about the troll, so I’m gonna go get her and make sure she’s safe.

    This had caught the attention of Susan as well who said, “I’m going with you!”

    “No, you’re not,” Harry insisted.

    “Why not?” Susan protested. “You’re my friend, and Hermione’s my friend too, and we don’t leave friends in the lurch. Not in Hufflepuff!” This had Hannah, Cedric, and the rest of the students in earshot nodding in agreement and shifting in preparation to get up and help.

    “I’m goin’ down to find her, and you’re all stayin’ here where you’re safe,” Harry insisted.

    “But you’ve not got any better chance of fighting a troll than we do,” Hannah insisted. “The more people we have, the better…” she trailed off as Harry reached out grabbed a carving knife from a nearby platter — eight inches of tempered carbon-steel blade and a four-inch tang wrapped up in a well-seasoned oak handle — and proceeded to wad it up with one hand as easily as if it were made of tissue paper. Even when he squeezed down on the edge, the steel gave way before his skin so much as took a nick. When she examined it after he dropped the mess of twisted steel and splintered oak on the table, Hannah could even see the boy’s fingerprints impressed into the metal.

    Every jaw dropped among those who were paying attention to the tableau.

    “I’m way stronger than I look,” Harry said, entirely unnecessarily. “I gotta go now, see you later.” And with that, he set off at a sprint.

    2.6.9 Casualty

    “Hold up there, Potter!” Abigail called out to the boy before he could open the door. “Where do you think you’re going? The professors said no one was to leave the Hall, and it’s my job as a prefect to make sure that happens and the rest of the students are safe.”

    Those same intense green eyes turned on her again with more force behind them than there had been on the train — a lot more. Tonight was going to be interesting after lights-out, she decided after assessing the fluttering going on in certain central portions of her anatomy. For crying out loud, the boy hadn’t even hit puberty yet!

    Those eyes were dangerous!

    “My friend, Hermione Granger, wasn’t at the feast, so she don’t know about the troll,” the boy explained, fidgeting impatiently. “I’m gonna go get her and make sure she’s safe.” He was obviously uncomfortable with waiting, but the boy seemed to think her objection reasonable enough to at least answer.

    “Missing student, huh?” That was bad — really bad. “Let me check to see if anyone knows where she is now before we go,” Harry nodded impatiently. “Which House?”

    “Gryffindor.”

    “Gotcha,” she looked over at the Gryffindor table and caught sight of a distinctive head of red hair. “Weasley!” when the prefect turned, she said, “Got a report of a missing student, one of yours, one Hermione Granger. You know where she is?”

    “Wherever she is, she’s not here, Abercrombie,” the redhead said grimly, “and we don’t have any report of her going to the infirmary. I was just about to ask around when I didn’t find her during the headcount.”

    She turned back to Harry, “You know where she is?”

    “Susan and Hannah said they talked to her in the girls’ loo downstairs after class, she was cryin’ so she probably ain’t moved.” The boy was obviously struggling to remain patient with her.

    “Which one?”

    “I… I know which one, but I can’t think how to describe it,” Harry was obviously frustrated. “Just, let’s go get her already!”

    “Right,” she nodded, starting to work the doors while calling over her shoulder, “Weasley, you and Clearwater get over here and take over door duty. I’m going with Potter to retrieve our missing firstie.” The door fully opened, she motioned to Harry, “Lead the way, Potter.”

    The small boy took off at a sprint, setting a pace Abigail was hard-pressed to match even with her longer legs, and he took the stairs at a pace that made it obvious he had no fear at all of falling over the edge. It was possibly the fastest traversal of the labyrinthine castle Abigail had ever borne witness to — much less participated in — and yet they were still almost too late.

    As the pair drew within sight of the bathroom near Professor Snape’s lecture room — so that was the bathroom he meant — they were struck by an almost tangible stench just before they caught sight of a hulking, grey-skinned creature plodding down the hallway. It was human-ish in shape — though the arms were much too long — and it was half-again the height and nearly five times the heft of the Hogwarts Groundskeeper.

    More importantly, it was salivating at the sight of something it saw through the door of the girls’ loo — something that was currently screaming in a panicked girlish voice — and limbering up with a club that looked like it was made of the better part of a hundred-year-old oak tree.

    This was very, very bad, Abigail thought. She was in her sixth year, but trolls were tough opponents even for an adult witch — and she had two firsties to look out for in close quarters with the damn thing. She knew Potter was powerful, but he wasn’t trained to use that power yet, and that troll was no training dummy. What was she going to do?

    Then, the decision was taken out of her hands.

    “Hey, you! You stop lookin’ at my friend like she’s gonna be your dinner, stinky!” her pint-sized companion called out fearlessly. As the troll’s attention turned to the pair in the hallway, the smaller of whom was still walking calmly towards it, much to the larger of the pair’s dawning horror, the boy continued. “Are you gonna stop bein’ mean now, or will I have to do something unpleasant to you?”

    Merlin, that boy had a set of stones on him!

    Unfortunately, Abigail was now certain neither of them would survive long enough for her to find out just how impressive a set he was packing — even if she didn’t wait until finding out would be anything other than grossly inappropriate — more’s the pity.

    By way of answer to Harry’s question, the troll took two long steps toward him before that club lashed out at distressingly high speed and connected with a horrible meaty slam, sending Harry flying into and through the foot-thick stone wall of Snape’s lecture hall.

    Abigail fell to her knees in shock. Ambitious Slytherin she might be, but she was both a teenager and a generally decent sort, and this was the first time she’d seen any real violence. Harry had just died! One moment he’d been there, the next he was gone — just like that! Another kid, just a few years younger than her, just snuffed it — he was one she was supposed to be responsible for, too!

    Abigail was still staring blankly in shock as the troll advanced towards her, club poised to strike. Just as she collected herself enough to recognize the situation and realize she was about to die, the club swung and was intercepted inches in front of her face by an absurdly intense surge of magic and sent flying off down the hall behind her. She recognized the feel of that magic — it was the very same feeling that called to her from those green eyes she was so alternately intimidated and enticed by.

    The troll was slammed into the wall opposite where Harry had disappeared by what looked for all the world like a black-scaled tree trunk turned horizontal, and the towering odiferous beast went crashing through the wall to land in a shattered heap on the bathroom floor — not that Abigail noticed.

    Her attention was captured by a familiar green eye peering at her with undisguised warmth and concern in a scant moment that seemed to stretch out for minutes to her adrenaline-distorted perceptions. Between the emotion, untainted by calculation or self-interest — a rarity in her life since she was Sorted into the House of the Serpents — and the still-building adrenaline which her body had yet to realize was unneeded after the sudden reversal of fortunes, Abigail couldn’t really focus on anything else but that wonderful eye for a few crucial moments.

    By the time that her rational mind managed to catch up enough for her to realize that warm, concerned green eye had to be at least as big as her own head, she caught a piece of rubble from one of the two still-collapsing walls with her forehead and was out like a light.

    2.6.10 A daring rescue

    Today had been a nightmare, Hermione thought — before internally flinching at the word, hearing the echo of it as voiced by a certain Ronald Weasley.

    First, she’d had that… that stupid ginger ingrate and his stupid pet Irish lush snap at her for some stupidly incomprehensible reason after she’d tried to help them, then she’d stupidly let their idiotic and patently false invective get to her, and then she’d stupidly holed herself up in a stupid bathroom and cried her stupid eyes out. She’d even stupidly chased off Susan and Hannah when they’d tried to be nice to her.

    It was all just so… so… stupid!

    And here she’d sat feeling sorry for herself while she missed out on what the upper years had said was always a spectacular holiday feast. She’d been looking forward to it all week, particularly since her parents had always refused to allow her candy on principle, being dentists and all. Here she was, her first Halloween away from her parents’ oppressive anti-confectionary autocracy, and she was holed up in a bathroom crying over what some redheaded jerk said to her rather than indulging her curiosity about what all those sweets tasted like.

    Hermione was absolutely certain her day couldn’t get any worse than this.

    Had she been more experienced, she would have known better than to taunt the cruel overlord — Murphy.

    It began with a stench that made Hermione gag. The hint of bile in the back of her throat was actually a relief for the girl because the taste was, in fact, less unpleasant than that smell. At first, she thought one of the toilets had broken, and she quickly left the stall she had been crying in to investigate, but everything seemed intact. Then she heard a slow thumping in the hallway and a low groan before there was some snuffling about the door.

    Hermione was beyond nervous and well along the way to full-bore panic when she was pushed the rest of the way there by the bathroom door being ripped off its hinges and replaced with the massive face of the most unutterably scary thing she had ever seen. It was some sort of grayish malformed humanoid thing carrying a terrifying club and sporting an equally terrifying hungry expression.

    At that point, panicked screaming seemed an eminently appropriate course of action.

    As the creature looked to be ready to force its way through the too-small doorway into the bathroom, presumably to eat her — given the way the rest of her day had been going, she didn’t think she’d be lucky enough for it to be interested in tea and conversation — she heard a most welcome voice in the hallway.

    “Hey, you! You stop lookin’ at my friend like she’s gonna be your dinner, stinky!” She knew that voice.

    The creature turned and ambled threateningly down the hall towards… Harry! That thing was going to eat her friend! Concern overwhelmed her, and at that moment she proved why the Hat had been content to Sort her into Gryffindor when she asked by sprinting towards the door which the utterly terrifying creature had just left.

    “Are you gonna stop bein’ mean now, or will I have to do something unpleasant to you?” Yep, that was definitely Harry.

    She arrived just in time to see her friend catch the wrong end of the monster’s club and be sent rocketing through the opposite stone wall. As might be expected, Hermione froze at the scene. She’d just seen her best friend in the whole world get smashed by that big hulking gray whatever-it-was, and she had no idea how to process that.

    She was still staring at the hole her friend had been smashed through when the wall suddenly burst outward around an utterly massive black scaly hand with fingers tipped in claws that had to be as long as her legs. As the sound hit, a roar that seemed to shake the castle around her, a similarly-proportioned arm followed the massive hand, and the whole assemblage struck the big smelly grey thing — which was no longer the most unutterably scary thing she had ever seen — palm-first and smashed it through the wall next to her so hard that the grey monster ended up lying in a broken heap on the bathroom floor.

    As Hermione turned back to follow the arm to its source, a massive, three-horned reptilian head with a color scheme matching that of the arm burst through the same wall with another great tearing bang. The head alone had to be the size of her father’s car!

    The newly-arrived, and entirely unexpected, dragon glared at the broken monster for a moment before stating “That hurt,” in an oddly-familiar and incongruously high-pitched voice. The terrifying reptile then turned to look at something on the floor a little way up the hallway when she saw its intensely green eyes widen in… concern? “Hey, are you okay?” it said, “Miss? Oh, man, I hope she’s okay! Gotta get her to Madame Pomphrey.”

    The massive reptile looked to be trying work out how to carefully scoop something up off the floor, when the grey monster proved to be more resilient than it had first seemed — pulling itself together enough to muster a groan and shift a little. That caught the dragon’s attention, and its increasingly-familiar green eyes snapped over in Hermione’s direction, prompting the girl to squeak and duck back into the doorframe — all that was left of the bathroom wall at this point.

    “I think I’ve had just about enough of you, stinky,” the dragon said, before its jaws descended on the gray thing like an obscenely massive set of scissors, ripping it clean through in a welter of gore beyond anything the bushy-haired twelve-year-old had ever imagined possible. The massive reptile only let out a surprised-sounding, “Hmm, yum, tastes bacony!”

    Hermione couldn’t manage to produce more than a terrified squeak as the titanic dragon proceeded to gnash its way through the rest of the grey behemoth in a few absurdly huge bites before shrugging off the rest of the wall it had emerged from and turning towards her before it winced.

    “Ow!” the creature muttered, “Must’ve got one of the bones stuck in my teeth.” It prodded about its teeth with a tongue larger than Hermione. “Ow! Oh man, it’s stuck in there good!” Seeming to dismiss the matter for the moment, it turned to her. “Hey Hermione,” the black-scaled leviathan said concernedly, “are you okay?”

    She could only nod in silence, still terrified.

    She’d known the wizarding world was mental, but when had it turned into a B-movie monster fight? At least the special effects were good, the girl thought with a touch of hysterical whimsy; not even the big gray thing had looked like a man in a rubber suit.

    “Good, um, do you know how to move somebody safely if they got knocked on the head real hard?” it asked. “I wanna get the girl who was helpin’ me to Madame Pomphrey, but I know you’re s’posed to be careful with head injuries…”

    What? The topic was so incongruous with the appearance of the massive creature that Hermione was struck speechless. Luckily for her sanity, she was spared from having to answer by a strident interruption.

    “What in the HELL is going on here?” came the tremendous bellow of an arriving — not to mention unutterably incensed, you could tell he was when he swore — Severus Snape. “And what exactly inspired you to revert to your usual outsize reptilian self in front of a student, just like we had decided you most definitely should not do, Mr. Potter?”

    “It was the troll, and Hermione didn’t know about it, so I was going to let her know about it so I could keep her safe, and then the other girl insisted on coming, and then the troll was going to devour Hermione, so I devoured it, but the other girl got hurt when a bit of wall hit her, and Hermione says she’s okay, but we really need to get the other girl to the Madame Pomphrey ‘cause she’s got a head injury, and Madame Pomphrey always said those are tricky, and…”

    “I believe I understand the situation, Mr. Potter,” the calming potions master said. “You said there is another injured student here?”

    “Yeah, she’s over here,” the dragon jerked its head in the opposite direction, where it had been looking concernedly before the — Hermione supposed it had been a troll based on the dragon’s commentary — had unwisely made its continued survival known.

    “Well then, you blasted lizard, kindly change back to your human form so that I may see to your injured compatriot,” Snape snapped.

    “Um, I got one of the troll’s bones stuck in my teeth, so I don’t think I oughtta do that, Mr. Snape,” the dragon said. “It’s kinda bigger than my leg when I’m human-shaped, and well…”

    Snape sighed, “Very well then, kindly move your head off to the side so that I may pass.”

    The dragon did so, revealing a girl in green and silver-trimmed school robes, the lapel of which sported a brightly-burnished gold Prefect’s badge, splayed out over the rubble with her brown hair matted with blood seeping from a shallow scalp wound.

    “Miss Abercrombie?” Snape said with concern, hurrying over to his fallen charge, he cast a series of diagnostic charms to determine her state. “Hmm, skull is intact, minor bleeding, but some swelling…” He broke off long enough to conjure a sheet of paper with his wand which then proceeded to fill itself out with a message as he dictated, “Poppy, you are needed on the second floor, hallway five. Possible concussion on a sixteen-year-old female, Abigail Abercrombie. Potter is involved and in his large form. All trolls are accounted for.” With another flick, the paper folded itself into an intricate origami crane and winged its way off swiftly towards the infirmary.

    “You did well not to move Miss Abercrombie, Mr. Potter. Doing so might well have caused significant damage if done incautiously.” He sighed, “We shall wait here until Madame Pomphrey arrives with the correct tools to aid her, then you shall both accompany us to the infirmary. Miss Granger, are you intact?”

    “I think so. Umm… what’s going on?” the overwhelmed girl squeaked.

    “Are you an imbecile, girl?” Snape snarled. “Did you think it an error that I called this wretched lizard ‘Mr. Potter’?”

    “Hey, that ain’t fair; she didn’t know!” Harry protested, keeping an equally concerned eye on both Hermione and the newly identified Abigail.

    Hermione thought for a moment. The dragon had emerged from the same wall Harry had been smashed through by the troll. Its voice sounded remarkably familiar, and it shared those uniquely green eyes with her friend, and the blathering… oh.

    “Harry?”

    “Yep,” the dragon — no, her friend — replied in his usual irrepressibly cheerful tone.

    “Thanks for coming to help,” she said faintly.

    “No problem,” he said amiably, “you’re my friend, after all.” He seemed to think for a moment before saying in a moment of insight, “Just so’s you know, the rest of the ‘Puffs wanted to come too, but I made ‘em stay on account of there bein’ a troll on the loose.”

    Hermione gave a weak and watery smile, and Harry’s insight was well-rewarded.

    2.6.11 Medical emergency

    Poppy Pomphrey arrived on the scene at a dead run.

    She had been anxiously awaiting the results of the search in the Infirmary. Four trolls in a school full of children was a recipe for tragedy, and she knew she would have to act swiftly to save anyone attacked by the wretched things. The blunt force trauma from a troll attack was usually instantly fatal, but if the victim survived the initial impact, then there was sepsis to deal with.

    That stench wasn’t just for ambiance.

    So, when she received Severus’ message — he was the only person she knew who bothered with using the original paper cranes rather than the less artistic, but much simpler, paper airplanes — she was both primed for action and relieved.

    Just one ‘possible’ concussion — from a troll attack? Heaven’s mercy be praised!

    That said, time was still critical, and she was still sprinting. Head injuries were tricky.

    As she rounded the corner she came upon a scene of devastation. Two entire walls were torn out and scattered along the hallway. There was a patch of blood spatter and assorted viscera covering a region half the size of her infirmary which she immediately disregarded — the smell and slightly-off color betrayed its trollish origin — and the massive black draconic form wedged into the hallway was definitely Mr. Potter.

    Another first-year, a girl with bushy brown hair that Poppy had yet to meet in the course of her duties, was sitting quietly on a chunk of stone rubble, staring off into space. Probably in shock — she’d have to run a diagnostic in case the girl was injured but hadn’t noticed in the confusion.

    Severus Snape was waiting for her to arrive, tapping his foot impatiently and staring down at something laying on top of the rubble in the middle of the hallway, something that Mr. Potter’s head was hovering over protectively. That must be her primary patient.

    Diagnostics were cast before she even finished her run, and by the time she stopped next to the fallen girl, Poppy had confirmed Severus’ diagnosis and begun treatment. Concussions were easy to treat with magic — not simple by any means, but easy. A few minutes’ work had the internal blood vessels healed and the associated swelling eased, fluids redistributed by means of magical transportation to the rest of Miss Abercrombie’s body. All easy work, but not simple — sort of like writing a term paper. Moving the quill is easy, but you’re still exhausted by the end of it.

    “She’s safe to move, now,” Poppy spoke for the first time. “You were right about the concussion, Severus. It was mild, but present. Let me do a quick check on Miss…?”

    “Hermione Granger,” Snape supplied.

    “…Miss Granger, to see if she is injured before we head to the infirmary.”

    “Hermione said she was okay, though,” Harry spoke up, puzzled. “Why do you need to check?”

    Poppy spoke even as she moved to examine the dazed girl. “Note her pallid complexion and dilated eyes,” she explained in the tone of a teacher giving a lecture, “as well as the shallow breathing and how she is swaying in place as if she’s about to fall over. Those are all symptoms of a condition known as shock, which can be induced by a variety of situations and injuries.” The hovering dragon nodded worriedly. “Shock does not necessarily indicate that the sufferer is injured, but it can mask symptoms like pain. Sometimes a person in shock will not notice major injuries they received, therefore it is a good idea to verify their self-diagnosis, just in case.”

    “Oh!”

    “As it happens, Miss Granger was correct in her self-assessment. She is uninjured, and we can now relocate to the infirmary for further treatment,” Poppy concluded. “Mr. Potter, why are you still in your natural form?”

    “Ah, I got a troll bone stuck in my teeth and I can’t get it out,” he explained. “It’s bigger than my leg when I’m human-shaped, so I can’t really change until I get rid of it.”

    “I see, well that is a challenge,” Poppy was almost pleased. Removing a magically-resistant bone from a child’s teeth would certainly be a first for her — possibly because humans didn’t generally eat magically-resistant creatures. “Well, let us be off.” She turned back to Miss Abercrombie.

    “Um, Madame Pomphrey?”

    “Yes, Mr. Potter?”

    “Since I’m dragon-shaped anyway, would you like me to carry Abigail for you?” Harry offered uncertainly.

    Poppy considered that, the girl was stable, and she was planning to petrify her anyway to keep her head immobile, so it wouldn’t be a problem. Why not? She shot off the appropriate jinx at her unconscious patient.

    “That would be quite helpful, thank you, Mr. Potter.”

    Harry gently scooped up the sixth-year girl in his massive forepaws and shifted his weight onto the knuckles of his tightly-folded wings as the two staff members got to their feet. Miss Granger did not, still staring off into the distance, eyes unfocused.

    “Well, Miss Granger,” Severus spoke up in a mocking drawl, “are you coming, or shall I have Mr. Potter pick you up by the scruff of your neck and carry you like a recalcitrant kitten?”

    Her eyes suddenly opened wide at that threat and focused on what was in front of her for the first time in several minutes. Hermione quickly got up and followed the strange procession to the infirmary.

    The hallway outside the lecture hall was left empty and silent except for the occasional shifting rubble and the slow drip of shattered plumbing.

    2.6.12 Choose your own adventure

    In the Great Hall, the students waited impatiently for their professors to return with news on the situation. It had only been about ten minutes, but ten minutes in a situation like the one they were in seemed like a very long time indeed.

    About two minutes into the wait, they’d heard a weird sort of droning buzz, muffled by the intervening walls, which had sounded on and off for almost two minutes, and then a couple minutes later, there was another muffled sound, this one a tremendous crash, followed hard-on by another crash, a tearing sort of roar, and then yet another crash before everything fell silent again.

    What on earth was going on out there?

    At about that time, the door had opened to admit Rubeus Hagrid, who tipped an imaginary hat to the students, and then proceeded to close the door behind him, pull out a truly massive set of keys, and lock the doors to the Great Hall.

    None of the students present had ever seen the doors of the Great Hall locked before.

    The large, hairy man then reached into a small bag and withdrew a crossbow which looked more like a medieval artillery piece than a man-portable weapon and an axe of utterly absurd proportions, neither of which should ever have fit in that tiny bag. The man cut a rather terrifying figure, with his crossbow in one hand and an axe resting over his shoulder, looking like the imposing guardian of some legendary stronghold. For the first time, many of the older students remembered that the large, generally amiable man was also the Keeper of the Keys for the castle — the proverbial guardian at the gate — and now they knew a little of what that meant.

    Some sounds started to drift through the room as children got bored with the waiting and realized that there was still a great deal of perfectly good food on the table that no one was eating, but conversation remained hushed.

    Then the students went silent as they heard a regular thumping sound, as if there was some giant creature walking through the halls outside. It was getting closer, closer, now it sounded like it was right outside the doors!

    There was a great, tearing crash!

    “Watch where you’re going, you dunderheaded klutz!”

    “Sorry, Professor Snape! I’ll try to be more careful next time.”

    “See that you do, Mr. Potter.”

    And with that, the thumping resumed, fading into the distance.

    When the professors finally gave the all-clear twenty minutes later and Hagrid unlocked the doors, the students were treated to the sight of what remained of one of the guardian gargoyles, the left one of two flanking the entrance to the Great Hall — normally an intricately detailed metallic statue the size of a large man, it was now flattened to the point that it’s remains had been forced into the cracks in the stone floor.

    What had happened?

    The Hogwarts rumor mill decisively entered the tinfoil hat regime.
     
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  24. Threadmarks: Section 2.7 - In which enlightenment is attained
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.7.0 In which enlightenment is attained

    On their arrival at the infirmary, Madame Pomphrey immediately absconded to one of the private treatment rooms with the now barely-conscious Miss Abercrombie. She needed further treatment post haste.

    The girl had awoken during her ride in Harry’s forepaws only to see that same great green eye she had seen before peering down at her as she was held gently. Between the head injury and the early stages of the troll sepsis —predictably contracted through her open scalp wound — Abigail was hardly coherent, and she would remember very little of that night after seeing Harry’s magic stop that club from liquefying her, but the recurrent image of that eye would stick with her.

    As for the rest of the group, well, they were less urgent cases.

    “Both of you, remain exactly where you are! And no playing the fool!” Snape snapped before he stormed out of the infirmary, leaving a large dragon and a small bushy-haired girl seated in a side room just off the infirmary proper — oddly enough, a room almost identical to the one which had been converted to Harry’s dedicated emergency-rations room.

    “Okay, Mr. Snape!” Harry chimed in, the excitement of the evening causing him to forget to use the appropriate address of ‘Professor’. The same excitement caused Snape not to care about his error.

    “I hope Abigail is gonna be okay,” Harry said when Snape had left the room. “I feel kinda bad for her getting hit by that rock since I was the one who broke the walls.”

    “Madame Pomphrey said she’d be okay, Harry,” Hermione offered, focusing on her friend at the moment — partially because he obviously needed reassurance, but also because she needed to focus on something so she didn’t go spare over all the weirdness of last half-day.

    “Huh, well I suppose you’re right,” Harry agreed, much reassured. “Madame Pomphrey’s really, really good at that stuff, so she’d know.”

    “Harry… what’s going on?” Hermione asked plaintively, in desperate need of answers now that Harry had settled down.

    “Hmm? Oh, well, I’m a dragon, right. It happened when those standing-stone things went all wonky after I knocked my head on one of ‘em, and I don’t really remember what happened next ‘cause I was too busy seein’ stars,” the dragon explained with a shrug. “We still ain’t really sure how it worked, but Mrs. McGonagall says she thinks they’re real close to figuring it out now.”

    “Er, when what happened?”

    “Huh?”

    “When the ‘standing-stones’ went ‘all wonky’, what happened?”

    “Oh, I turned into a dragon. I used to be a human, but you know how easy it is to misplace that stuff sometimes, huh?” Harry explained easily, as if turning into a dragon was no big deal. “But don’t have, you know, a big situation about it. I’m cool with it — aside from the whole ‘not being able to let people know’ bit. That gets kinda annoying sometimes, ‘cause I don’t like not telling my friends about it. It don’t seem quite right, honestly.”

    Harry sighed, “But people are stupid, and that means I gotta look human most of the time. I mean being human’s pretty cool too, because you can get into buildings and turn pages better and sit around with more of your friends ‘cause you don’t take up the whole room, but I don’t like hiding, you know?”

    “Oh, um, look… I guess you can change back and forth between dragon-form and human-form, right?”

    “Yeah,” Harry agreed. “I mean, not right now, because I got a troll bone stuck in my teeth, but normally, yeah. That’s how I got back out of that busted-up wall the troll smashed me into with its club!”

    “Okay.”

    The pair fell into a companionable silence for a while, with Harry glancing over at the door to the private treatment room where Madame Pomphrey had disappeared to with Abigail — for whom he was still rather concerned — and Hermione simply enjoying the silence after a far-too hectic day. Eventually though, the girl spoke again.

    “Harry?”

    “Yeah, Hermione?”

    “Thank you.”

    “Aw, it ain’t nothing. You were in distress, and there’s some stuff a dragon’s gotta do because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be a proper dragon, and anyway, there ain’t nobody allowed to pick on my friends, and I don’t care if the somebody who tries it tastes like bacon.” The dragon nodded decisively at that, despite the fact that his conclusion made little in the way of sense.

    “…am I your friend?” Hermione asked tentatively. She vaguely remembered him saying something to that effect, but a lot of the last hour or so was a kind of fuzzy for the girl.

    ‘Course you are! Weren’t for you, I wouldn’t know trolls tasted like bacon, and you’re really clever, and I like spending time with you, and anyways, ain’t no way nobody can have too many friends because friends are the best thing ever. Well, maybe apart from damsels and treasures and, I think guns, but then guns and damsels are two sorts of really special treasure because they’re so hard to get, so that’s obvious.” The boy’s voice turned contemplative, “And maybe friends are another kind of special treasure? That’d make sense; I’ll have to have a good think on it later.”

    Hermione spent a few startled moments digesting that, then asked, “How’d you know where I was and that the… the troll was going to come in?”

    “Well, I didn’t know the troll was going after you specifically until I saw it going into the loo where you were, but we all found out about the troll being in the castle when Professor Quirrel came in to the Hall and told everybody. And my friend Hannah, she said earlier that you were in the downstairs girls’ loo all upset and stuff because of somethin’ or other, but you said you wanted to be alone, so I didn’t want to push or nothin’, but then we found out about the troll, and someone needed to come let you know, and I said I was gonna do it.”

    The dragon finally paused to take a breath before continuing. “And then Susan, she wanted to come with to help, ‘cause I was her friend, and you were her friend too, and Hufflepuffs don’t leave our friends in the lurch, and everyone nodded and they were gonna come with, but I made ‘em stay ‘cause the troll might’ve hurt ‘em, but they didn’t want to stay until I showed ‘em a little about how strong I am, then they were okay with it, and I left. But then Abigail — though I didn’t know her name then, right — insisted that looking after the students was her job ‘cause she’s a prefect, so she came along, and then there was the troll and it tried to hit me, so I hit it, and Abigail got hurt, and then I devoured the troll and got a bone stuck in my teeth, and then Mr. Snape came, and then Madame Pomphrey came, and now we’re here!”

    Hermione spent a few more moments digesting that before coming to a very pleasant conclusion — it seemed Harry wasn’t her only friend in the world, he was just her closest one.

    The recounting of the tale had apparently reminded Harry of troll bone stuck in his teeth, because he started rooting around between his teeth with his tongue again. “Ouch!”

    “Are you okay, Harry?”

    “Yeah, but I can’t get my tongue under that troll bone to get it out, and when I try, it jams in and that really hurts.”

    “Let me have a look,” she might not be a dentist, but she had certainly heard her parents talk shop enough to do something like this. She got up and headed over to Harry’s head. “Say, ‘aah’.”

    “Aaah,” Harry said, terrifying mouth opened wide. Hermione certainly had plenty of space to work; Harry’s mouth was bigger than the area assigned to her in the dorm.

    The troll bone was as thick as Hermione’s wrist, and the end was jammed as deep into his gums as her forearm was long. The end of the bone in contact with the gums was even sizzling a bit, something which told her Harry’s dragon body was very hot indeed. There was no way she’d be able to move that thing, it’s be like ripping out a street sign by the pole!

    But Harry was her friend, and that meant something to Hermione. If she had to attempt the impossible to help her friend, then she would give it her best shot! She gave it a yank.

    “Ow!” Harry declared, flinching back, and in the process yanking the bone out of her hands.

    “Sorry!”

    “Ow, ow, ow, ow. I think my mouth’s bleeding a bit,” Harry said before he noticed Hermione shrinking in on herself. “Aw, don’t feel bad, Hermione, it’s not your fault, I just got stuff jammed in my teeth, and that sort of stuff happens, right? I mean, last time it was a driveshaft, but that came out real easy because the bit that got stuck in melted.”

    “…you know,” Hermione offered, “my Mum and Dad are dentists. They might be able to help.”

    “Well, maybe we’ll try that if Madame Pomphrey can’t help,” Harry told her pragmatically, nodding firmly before they lapsed into silence again.

    Eventually, Hermione broke the silence, “What’s with Professor Snape, anyway. I can’t tell if he hates everyone or what?”

    “Oh, well, Mr. Snape, I mean Professor Snape, he’s just a little hard to read sometimes…”

    Harry happily launched into a discussion of one of his favorite people who was chronically misunderstood, and thus often required some editorial explanation. One topic lead to another, and the pair continued companionably for some time.

    It was nice to have friends to talk to.

    2.7.1 Protective potions master

    As Severus Snape left the Infirmary, he was seething.

    Four trolls had gotten through the school’s defenses. Four of the blasted things!

    Even one getting through accidentally would have strained credulity, but four? This had to be an attack. Someone had tried to kill his students, and, if not for the intervention of Mr. Potter, they would have succeeded. Miss Granger would have died with certainty, and Miss Abercrombie might well have died trying to save her.

    For all that Harry was obviously blaming himself for getting Miss Abercrombie involved — something Snape had noted and had resolved to speak with the boy about later — Snape knew better. Miss Abercrombie took her duties seriously, and she thought through things — probably why he was fonder of her than any of her fellow prefects. Miss Granger’s missing status would have been discovered eventually, and Miss Abercrombie would have gone after her regardless — in all likelihood too late to do anything but get herself killed as well.

    A silvery-white messenger spirit, a variant of the patronus charm-class, appeared before him to deliver its message. A phoenix — so it was from Dumbledore — calling for an emergency staff meeting. He turned toward the stairs.

    Someone had tried to kill Miss Abercrombie and Miss Granger, his favorite prefect and his best apprentice candidate in years.

    That someone was going to burn; it was just a question of who would find him first — Snape or Harry.

    2.7.2 Minor irritation, major bloodletting

    Albus Dumbledore stood over a sea of carnage.

    His links to the school wards had allowed him to home in on the trolls as soon as whatever concealment had allowed them through the wards dissipated, and he had arrived on the third floor just in time to see the Sergeant Major’s squad open up on the three trolls which had assaulted their position.

    It had begun just minutes ago with an odd whine which then deepened into a roaring drone as a stream of glowing projectiles had streamed from the goblin position at the oncoming trolls. The troll skin had resisted for a moment before the bullets started tearing fist-sized chunks out of the troll, coming so fast it didn’t even have time to fall over before the stream cut it in half.

    The other two followed-suit in short order, dead before the bottom half of the first troll finally managed to fall over, and the gun fell silent for a moment before the whine started again, and the gunner swept over the downed trolls, pausing at each head in a gruesome display of calculated savagery.

    Albus had to admit, the goblins did good work.

    Trolls were disturbingly durable creatures, and many a wizard had died to a ‘dead’ troll which recovered enough to be dangerous. Better to be safe than sorry.

    As he had approached the Corporal on duty, after the gunfire faded long enough for him to be reasonably certain he wouldn’t be gunned down by accident, he had heard a distant series of crashes and a roar and then silence, and the wards had informed him of the demise of the last troll.

    “Corporal, a report on your status please,” Albus asked.

    “Sir! Three hostiles neutralized at this location; you’re standing in them right now, sir,” the Corporal — Mantrap he thought the name was — explained. “No friendly casualties, sir. Your man Hagrid informed us earlier that one Celestine, a centaur, had warned him of a robed man leading a group of four trolls on campus. I’d suggest you confirm the whereabouts of the fourth beastie, but based off that roar just now, I’d guess Mr. Potter has dealt with it.”

    “That would fit with the reports from the wards, but Severus is on his way to verify that right now,” the wards were tracking all the staff right now, since he had switched them to emergency status. Or at least they were supposed to be, Quirrel’s status was reporting him as being in his quarters, but he had passed out in the Great Hall — a question for later. “You said the report indicated a robed man?”

    “Well, technically a robed human, your man didn’t specify sex. We reported to you as soon as the report came to us.”

    Albus stroked his whiskered chin, “So we have another potential intruder, then. Thank you, Corporal, please stay on alert. Perhaps we can catch this person red-handed.” The elderly wizard’s eyes flashed as his magic flexed subconsciously. Mild-mannered Dumbledore might be, but he sincerely disliked people taking liberties with the wellbeing of his students, and leading trolls onto a school campus was most assuredly taking major liberties.

    After the Corporal replied in the affirmative, Albus added, “If you encounter the intruder, please attempt to leave him or her capable of speech, I have some rather pointed questions to ask.”

    The goblin smiled toothily at the man’s tone. It seemed there would be no arguments with that order.

    Albus swept out of the hallway, a surreal picture of brightly-colored robes with cheerful dancing jack-o-lanterns soaked up to mid-calf in troll blood and leaving a smeared trail of the same wherever he walked. A quick charm had rendered the blood sterile to ease cleanup by removing the risk of sepsis, but the blood itself was just as resistant as the rest of the beast.

    His wand flicked out, and a bevy of messenger patroni appeared before winging their way off through the school.

    There was a staff meeting to run, and some pointed questions to ask of his current Defense professor.

    2.7.3 Taking responsibility

    The mood in the staff room was decidedly more grim than usual. Not surprisingly so, the school had been attacked, and while the weapons used were destroyed, the mind behind it was still at large.

    The final sweep of the school had turned up no signs of another intruder. The wards reported all-clear, but that was less than comforting. The wards had also reported all-clear until the trolls were already well inside the perimeter, so their mystery intruder had already proven capable of circumventing them. Without evidence one way or another, though, they had had to drop the lockdown and send the students to bed.

    A state of alert could only be held so long — particularly with teenagers in the mix.

    Albus looked over the room. “I am pleased to see you all here, though we still seem to be missing several of our number,” he began. “Rubeus has already reported to me personally, and he is currently attempting to track down the trolls’ entry point at my request. Argus has been briefed and is cordoning off the two battle-sites. The troll blood must be disposed of and the sites decontaminated so that our students shall remain healthy, and in the case of Mr. Potter’s fight, it is also critical that we ensure the structural integrity of the castle. However, we are still missing our Defense Professor,” he concluded with a frown.

    Quirinus Quirrel, a man who had no valid excuse for refusing to attend this meeting.

    “Minerva, Filius,” the two snapped to attention, “Quirinus has avoided our meetings for too long, see to his attendance,” he paused, considering for a moment, “take three of the gargoyles with you to convey the importance of this, Minerva.”

    “Yes, Albus,” the Scotswoman acknowledged with a firm nod.

    “As the Heads are already aware,” Albus addressed the rest of the faculty, “an unknown person managed to infiltrate the school and deliver four mountain trolls into the castle undetected. They were sighted by one of our centaur neighbors who were kind enough to relay a warning through Rubeus which arrived just before the attack was launched. The trolls have been dealt with, three by a Gringotts security team posted here for unrelated reasons, and the fourth through the intervention of Mr. Potter.”

    “Three students encountered the troll Mr. Potter dealt with. One, Miss Abercrombie of Slytherin House, was injured by falling debris; the other two, Miss Granger of Gryffindor and Mr. Potter, are uninjured, with the exception of Mr. Potter having a troll bone currently stuck in his teeth. We were lucky in this instance; had Mr. Potter arrived even thirty seconds later than he did, we would be mourning the loss of Miss Granger.”

    “The infiltrator’s whereabouts are still unknown.”

    “Sir,” Septima Vector spoke up, “don’t the wards report the location of any intruders to you?”

    Albus sighed, “They do, Septima, but as they did not report the trolls until they were already in place to attack, we must assume that the intruder is able to circumvent at least the detection portions of the wards.”

    There were a number of gasps at that revelation. Hogwarts was known as the most secure place in the wizarding world because of those wards, and the idea that this intruder could effectively ignore them at will was quite troubling.

    “Be aware that we may yet find an intruder to deal with in the future, and be on the alert for any suspicious characters,” Albus concluded. “Now our only remaining order of business is our negligent Defense professor.”

    As if summoned by his words, the door opened again, revealing the rather disheveled Quirinus Quirrel flanked by a furious-looking Filius Flitwick and a bone-white Minerva McGonagall, lips thinned in disapproval to the point that they were no longer visible. Three silvery gargoyles stood behind the trio.

    “Albus,” Minerva began, “We found Quirinus in his quarters, and he was…” she trailed off, seemingly unable to voice the rest of her report due to being entirely too incensed.

    “Drunk!” Filius filled in angrily. “The irresponsible twit was intoxicated to the point he couldn’t even walk straight, and he had to have gotten to that point after he delivered that entirely inadequate warning in the Great Hall. It took five sobering charms to get him here!”

    Albus’ expression turned thunderous. “Quirinus, what do you have to say for yourself?”

    The man turned his head away, saying nothing.

    “I see,” the Headmaster said quietly. The rest of the room was silent. “Quirinus, I understand you are having trouble dealing with that vampire encounter in Albania, and I sympathize, but you have responsibilities as a member of this faculty. If you cannot fulfill them, then you should step down.” Albus sighed, “I had wondered when you burst into the Hall and passed out over a single troll. You should have had no trouble dealing with a single troll, and even four should not have been a problem; they are after all a specialty of yours…”

    Quirinus’ head drooped in resignation.

    “Your cowardice almost led to the deaths of three of our students, Quirinus, and returning to your quarters to drink yourself into oblivion, leaving the rest of the student body undefended in the process, was inexcusable,” Dumbledore continued. “Your performance was so egregiously unacceptable that you will be docked half your pay for the year for this debacle, and one more incident will lead to your immediate dismissal. Do you understand?”

    The Defense professor hung his head before nodding in acknowledgement. It was a fair penalty.

    “Very well.” As the man turned to go, Albus called after him in a friendly voice, “Oh, Quirinus?”

    The defense professor stopped.

    “If you are truly having so much trouble dealing with your memories of a vampire in Albania, allow me to offer you this truth to assist in fortifying your constitution.”

    Dumbledore’s presence swelled, blood-soaked robes swirling about his feet. “I am much more frightening than anything you might have encountered in Albania, and if your ineptitude results in any more injuries among my students, or Merlin forbid, anything more permanent, I will ensure that you understand that truth to the deepest reaches of your being.”

    His presence faded back to normal as Quirrel stood frozen in place.

    “Sleep well, Quirinus.”

    2.7.4 Discussions in the aftermath

    Harry had been enjoying his conversation with Hermione for a while now, they’d managed to exhaust the topic of how to translate ‘Snape’ into the Queen’s English, and the discussion had been all over the place since. Hermione wasn’t talking much; the dialogue consisted mostly of her asking a question and Harry then running with the topic until he slowed down enough for her to ask another one.

    It was the first time Harry had been able to talk with his bushy-haired friend without worrying about keeping being-a-dragon secret. It was pretty fun. So fun, in fact, that Harry was almost disappointed when Madame Pomphrey emerged from the room where she had taken Abigail.

    Almost, but not quite.

    “How is Abigail, Madame Pomphrey?” he asked. Harry was still feeling a little guilty about the girl getting hurt.

    Hermione looked on silently, still rather dazed by the whole thing.

    “Miss Abercrombie will be back in excellent health in a few days, Mr. Potter,” Poppy replied.

    Harry looked relieved and then puzzled. “Was the knock on her head that bad?” he asked. “It didn’t seem that bad when it happened.”

    “Were it just the head injury, she would have been up and about already,” Poppy said. “The real issue was the troll sepsis.” At the children’s puzzled look, she explained, “Trolls are dangerous for several reasons: they are strong, deceptively fast, and quite durable, but they also carry a more insidious biological weapon in the form of their stench. I’m sure you both noticed the smell of that troll that Mr. Potter dealt with — any open wounds exposed to that stink will become invariably infected, and Miss Abercrombie suffered such a wound to her scalp. She will recover, troll sepsis is a known problem with a known solution, but it will likely take several days for her to be ready to face the world again.”

    “Oh, man,” Harry said, “I knew I should’a made her stay in the Hall, but I couldn’t think of a way to explain without tellin’ about bein’ a dragon, and everyone said I shouldn’t do that.”

    “I’ll not have you wallowing in guilt over this incident, wretched lizard,” a familiar voice cut in from the doorway. Snape had returned. “Miss Abercrombie is one of my prefects, and I know her quite well. Rest assured that had you not involved her, then she would have involved herself. Miss Granger’s absence would have been noted, and then Miss Abercrombie would have taken it upon herself to investigate,” he said with quiet certainty. “Had you managed to avoid bringing her with you, the only change would have been that she would not have been with you had she encountered one of the trolls — and then she would have died quite messily.”

    “Oh,” Harry said in a quiet voice.

    “You performed admirably, Mr. Potter,” Severus assured him. “Miss Granger is alive at this juncture solely due to your actions, and in all likelihood, Miss Abercrombie also has you to thank for her continued survival. Do not castigate yourself over what was — by any reasonable estimation — the best possible outcome of the situation in which you found yourself. Sometimes tragedies are unavoidable in life; simply be grateful that Miss Abercrombie will recover without any lasting issues.”

    “Okay,” he said more firmly as Hermione gently patted his arm in an attempt to be comforting. It wasn’t terribly effective, as he couldn’t feel her gesture through his scales.

    The girl spoke up for the first time since Madame Pomphrey had entered the room, “Trolls?”

    “What was that, Miss Granger?” Snape asked.

    Hermione swallowed until she managed to find her voice, “You said ‘trolls’, as in more than one troll,” she gulped again, trying to wet her suddenly dry mouth. “Does that mean there are more of those things?” She leaned in closer to the dragon’s shoulder as Harry looked at her in concern.

    Snape considered the question for a moment, “Four trolls were let into the castle by an unknown agent. Mr. Potter dealt with one, as you know quite well. The other three ran afoul of the goblin security team guarding the third-floor corridor, which you might remember the Headmaster mentioning in conjunction with dying a horrible death during the welcoming feast. Needless to say, the trolls did not heed the Headmaster’s advice, and so his prediction was proven accurate. Judging by Dumbledore’s robes, I would guess the troll blood was ankle deep in the aftermath.”

    “Oh! Is Corporal Mantrap okay? How about…” Harry began worriedly only to be cut off by another recent entrant into the conversation.

    “Mr. Potter, the goblins suffered no casualties. In truth, when I left, I believe they were discussing the possibility of roasting the remains of the trolls which attacked them,” yet another voice interjected. Albus continued, “Now, I do not know whether the meat will prove palatable, but they are most welcome to try.”

    “Oh, hi Mr. Dumbledore! I’m glad they’re okay,” Harry said, “and you should let them know that troll tastes a lot like bacon; it’s delicious! Oh, but they should watch out for the bones, though, they stick in your teeth somethin’ fierce, and I still haven’t been able to get the one that got stuck in mine out.”

    “I see. I assume that is why you are still in your native form, then?” the elderly man asked.

    “Yep,” the huge head nodded emphatically.

    “Speaking of that, Mr. Potter, lean down here and let me take a look at your teeth,” Madame Pomphrey butted in. There was no room for misplaced courtesy when one of her patients was on the line. “I’ll see about getting that out right away.”

    The witch bustled over as Harry obediently put his chin on the floor and opened his mouth as wide as he could.

    “If I might, Harry, I do have a request for you,” Albus began, seemingly ignoring the witch in the boy’s mouth.

    “What is it?” Harry asked, mysteriously clear-sounding despite his mouth being so occupied. Though Poppy did smack him on the tongue when it squirmed about and spoiled her grip on the troll bone.

    “As I heard Severus mention, the trolls were let in by a currently unknown agent, and we do not know if said person is still on the grounds. Once Poppy has extracted your inconvenient troll bone, might you be so kind as to bend your impressive olfactory capabilities to the task of tracking down the miscreant? One of the centaurs, Celestine, reported the intruders to Hagrid, so you will have a starting point.” Albus chuckled, “I’m afraid Hagrid’s hound, Fang, though it does have a very good nose, took one whiff of the site, and ran away whimpering. The trolls, I assume.”

    “Yeah, Fang’s a bit of a wimp,” Harry chuckled. Poppy yelped at the sound. Then his eyes narrowed doubtfully, “I’ll give it a try, if you want, but I found out this morning that my nose ain’t really good for tracking when I tried to look for Hermione after Charms class. I got to her books, but then all the other people’s scents drowned hers out. I figure I might not even be able to smell whoever it was over the troll-smell.”

    There was more rather undignified squawking from the woman working on Harry’s teeth as his mouth moved slightly in time with his words.

    “Well, I would appreciate your efforts, whatever you may find, Mr. Potter. One more thing…” Albus began, only to be cut off by an irate Madame Pomphrey.

    “Blast it, Albus! Stop asking the boy questions while I’m shoulder deep in his mouth! So help me, if you ask him one more bloody question before I am done with him, I will throw you out of my infirmary on your ear!”

    With her piece said, Poppy gave the job another twenty minutes’ worth of the old college try — interspersed with half-stifled swearing — before she finally gave it up. Troll bones were simply too magically resistant to get a good hold on with her spell repertoire. She sat down to think for a few minutes while Harry rested his aching jaw.

    Hermione gave her two before raising the possibility of contacting her parents, the dentists, and asking for their help.

    A twenty-six-minute discussion on precisely what a dentist’s job was and how they did it ensued, before Madame Pomphrey agreed to the idea of sharing space in her infirmary with an outside specialist — even if only temporarily.

    Albus Dumbledore — patiently waiting with his mouth firmly shut while his eyes twinkled madly — was then consulted, and Minerva was brought in on the discussion since she was the only faculty member who had actually met the Grangers. She had been the one to deliver Hermione’s letter and introduce the Grangers to the magical world. Then Minerva McGonagall left for Crawley on the odd errand of soliciting a dental house-call for a pre-teen dragon in order to remove the troll bone stuck in his gums.

    It was the oddest errand she’d been sent on in quite some time.

    2.7.5 Draconic dental work

    “Well, Mr. Potter, you seem to be taking very good care of your teeth, very clean, no plaque build-up at all. What exactly have you been eating? Do you make a habit of eating trolls?” Tony Granger asked. He was currently sweating bullets from the furnace-like breath regularly wafting from the dragon’s throat, the heavy protective gear and respiration equipment, the much larger and heavier tools he was using in comparison to his normal kit, and last but certainly not least, the fact that he was voluntarily up to his arse in an extremely large dragon’s mouth.

    Come to think of it, it would probably be a lot worse if he were there involuntarily, wouldn’t it?

    In any case, there was no help for it. He owed the young Mr. Potter a good turn for saving his dearest, and only, daughter from being eaten by a troll — a troll whose arm-bone he was currently attempting to extract from the gums between Harry’s first superior molar and his second superior pre-molar. Or at least, that was where it would be in a human jaw, Harry’s teeth were like nothing he’d ever seen in a mouth before — the cutting and grinding edges were arranged completely differently, so he wasn’t sure just what to call them.

    Heck, the things looked more like something out of a documentary on industrial mining than anything else, maybe with some scrapyard-flair mixed in. They certainly didn’t look like any teeth he’d ever seen on a human before. Scary-looking chompers, though, he thought as he shook his head.

    He held out his hand to the world at large and requested, “Tongs.”

    The school nurse slapped the requested implement into his hand a little testily. He supposed he could relate, heaven knows how irritated he would be if some other dentist came into his examination room and started using it for himself. If it was truly necessary, he’d allow it, but he figured he’d probably be acting a lot like this Poppy Pomphrey.

    “No, sir,” the dragon said, “this was the first time I’ve eaten a troll.” The boy was remarkably coherent, given how little his jaw and tongue moved. Tony took a moment to consider that before dismissing it as just another bit of magical weirdness, probably the same reason the dragon could speak in the same sort of pitch he remembered from when it was human-shaped in Diagon Alley even though it had to have vocal cords as long as Tony’s forearm at the moment.

    More importantly, he could see the iron bar he’d improvised as a spreader to keep the dragon’s mouth open straining against those few involuntary muscle movements, starting to give way. Tony shuddered. He’d better move this along, that bar wouldn’t last much longer, and when it went, he’d be one twitch away from getting the world’s worst haircut — right across the waist.

    Was that bar starting to glow?

    “OW!”

    There! He’d finally managed to get the blasted thing loose, though he’d fallen back when it gave way. That was irritating. There he was, holding an arm bone longer than his leg — a lot longer, come to think of it — aloft triumphantly after the first sapient inter-species extraction, and he was doing so while flat on his arse in a puddle of dragon-drool. It painted an undignified sort of picture — though the air out here was blessedly cool in comparison to the dragon’s jaws. Speaking of which, he looked up…

    …and proceeded to work some moisture back into his suddenly-dry mouth. His stumble had come none too soon, it seemed. The sharp pain must have caused Harry’s jaw to twitch a little too strongly, and his makeshift prop folded like a wet napkin. He’d probably have been suffering from at least a row of deep lacerations if not for that extremely-fortunate tumble.

    Bloody hell, had his patient just swallowed that iron bar?

    “Daddy! Be careful!” his daughter yelped from where she was watching off to the side of the room safely wrapped up in Sharon’s arms. His wife had made a bee-line for her as soon as she’d heard the word ‘troll’ and seen the way their daughter twitched with each mention thereof. It was the reason the good Madame Pomphrey was currently serving as his vaguely-hostile assistant.

    “It’s alright honey; I was clear before Harry’s teeth got me, and I’ve just got to check for any debris and clean out the wound now. Open up again, there Mr. Potter, we’re just about done,” he reassured himself as much as his daughter. Just about done, indeed, then he could put this crazy situation behind him.

    “Daddy! Honestly, can’t you see that you’re hurting poor Harry?” his daughter complained, throwing off his train of thought yet again. Poor Harry? Tony shot a dirty look at his wife, who was using their daughter’s voluminous head of hair to smother a fit of giggles at the situation. He was the one who had just narrowly avoided death, and his daughter was concerned about his almost-killer’s minor discomfort?

    Bloody teenagers! God only knew how bad she’d be in a few years. Tony shook his head in disbelief. He knew it would happen eventually, but in his daughter’s first year at boarding school? It was obvious, he’d already lost her to, well… to this Monster!

    He sighed; Sharon’s father had laughingly warned him of this when he’d brought Hermione home from the hospital, but he’d hoped he’d have at least a couple decades with his little girl before this happened. Though who’d have thought the man who took his daughter away would be the dragon from the fairy tale, rather than the knight?

    No help for it, he supposed.

    If he was going to make a habit of this, he’d have to invest in some better tools, he thought as Harry worked his jaw for a moment before opening back up as wide as he could. Honestly though, what sort of dental tools could hold up to use with a dragon of all things?

    Centaurs, dragons, trolls, the fact that those things even existed was throwing him for a loop, and never mind being asked to extract a part of the latter from between the teeth of the second while the first hovered at the side of the room like a concerned parent. When he’d first encountered Suze in the Alley he’d been thrown, but he’d dismissed it as the magical world being weird. He only realized just how weird when he’d encountered it in his professional capacity.

    “Just about done, Harry. Madame, could you rinse out the wound, please? I need to do one last check for any embedded splinters of bone, and then we’ll let it heal naturally.” As the witch stepped up with her wand, he considered the situation. Harry seemed like a decent sort, if a bit hyper, so that was good. All told, he supposed Hermione could have done worse for herself — he just wished it hadn’t happened so bloody early! He turned back to the now-cleared wound to give it a final examination.

    “All done then, Mr. Potter,” he said, backing away and stripping off his heavy leather gloves.

    “Thanks, Mr. Granger! And thank you Madame Pomphrey!” The woman in question gave him a friendly pat on the — ear, maybe? Tony wasn’t really up on the naming conventions for dragon anatomy, but it was about as far up on the side of the reptile’s head as the woman could conveniently reach — before walking towards another room with a deliberate stride that told Tony she had another patient to see. “That feels a lot better already,” the dragon said, already prodding at the area with his man-sized tongue.

    Tony took one look at that massive tongue before a horrible thought struck; he glanced over at his sweet not-quite-teenaged daughter, currently sheltered in her mother’s arms, then back at that tongue and shuddered inwardly. No, not going to think about that, not at all! Instead he nodded in acknowledgement of his patient’s thanks and set about removing the padded gambeson that the school’s headmaster, the white-bearded fellow off in the corner, had conjured up out of thin air for him. “Happy to help, Mr. Potter. Thank you for saving my daughter from that troll.”

    “Of course,” the dragon said happily. “She’s my friend, so there was no way I wouldn’t save her from getting devoured.”

    With the gambeson removed, and with it most of the dragon-drool, Tony found himself the target of a massive hug from his daughter as his wife picked up the after-orthodontia conversation.

    “Now Harry, you really must remember to properly chew your food,” Sharon smoothly lectured. “Getting food stuck into your gums like that could lead to an infection, and in this case particularly, could lead to an abscess, which are thoroughly unpleasant both to have and to treat.” She was always better at this sort of thing while Tony was a mite better at the more finicky hand work. Their complementary abilities were part of the reason their practice worked so well. “Has this sort of thing happened to you before?”

    “Only once,” the dragon said, “but that was a drive-shaft from that one little car I ate, and it was really pointy on the end. It’s why Hagrid tries not to get Hyundai scrap anymore. That one wasn’t such a problem, though, because the part that was stuck just melted. I’m not sure why the bone was so difficult.”

    “Drive-shaft?” Sharon’s eyes narrowed, “Harry, apart from trolls and drive-shafts, what does your diet consist of? Are you getting plenty of calcium and fluoride in your diet? What about vegetables? Enough protein?”

    With his arms still full of bushy-haired daughter, Tony looked at his wife incredulously. He’d always wondered just how much Sharon ran on autopilot during these discussions, and he supposed he now had an answer. Vegetables? With those teeth? Seriously, Sharon!

    Harry, though, took her questions in stride, as it was becoming increasingly apparent he always did. “Well, I’m not sure about the calcium and fluoride, ‘cause I don’t think they’re usually used in steel, which is most of what I get from the scrapyard. I mean, they use limestone as a flux, but it gets skimmed off, so you don’t get it in the scrap. Fair bit of aluminum and copper, too and little bits of other metals. I think the coal’s got some sulfur and stuff in it, but I know the fuel oil’s pretty light on minerals, ‘cause it’s refined a lot before I get it. Some of the rocks near my lair might have calcium and fluorides in them, though. I’ll have to check,” a head as large as than the Granger family car nodded enthusiastically as Sharon’s eyes grew wider and wider at the long list of not-normally-edible things the dragon was casually mentioning. “Um, on the vegetable stuff, I eat a lot of devil’s snare, because it grows really fast and Professor Sprout always has extra around. It’s like a sort of combination between mint and lemon, real tasty! I know there’s lots of other magical plants which are real tasty, but I don’t get ‘em very often because they’re kinda expensive.”

    The dragon frowned thoughtfully, and Tony couldn’t help but wonder how he managed to be so expressive with such an alien face. “Maybe Professor Sprout would help me set up a greenhouse at my Lair so I could grow some more? That might be cool!” he said, obviously warming to the idea. “I’ll have to ask. Um, and I eat lots of beef and pork and sheep and venison and bacon and other human-sorts-of-food at school, so there’s that for protein. And roasted acromantulas are really tasty, too, but there aren’t so many of those left, now,” the dragon finished, almost regretfully.

    Hermione had looked up during her friend’s dissertation on his eating habits, and her eyes had gone almost as wide as her mother’s, who was still struggling to process the unexpected responses to that very routine set of question.

    Hah! Giggle at his near-death experience, would she? Now, Sharon was having the weirdness smack her in the face. She ought to be grateful she wasn’t hip deep in the dragon’s mouth when she was going through it! Then his daughter worked her way through what the dragon had been saying.

    “Scrapyard? Devil’s snare? Acromantula? Harry, those are giant spiders! What are you doing eating those? Those are dangerous, you might get hurt!” She sounded absolutely horrified.

    Wait, what? Dangerous to the beast whose mouth he’d just been rooting around in? With those teeth?

    What exactly was his daughter dealing with at this school anyway?

    “Ah, Miss Granger, you seem to be laboring under a few misconceptions. Please calm yourself,” a dark-haired man who had been silent to this point spoke up. “And Mrs. Granger, I feel I should clarify some things about your patient’s biology in comparison to the human norm. Mr. Potter’s body utilizes iron, copper, aluminum, titanium, gold, and numerous other metals in the same capacity yours or mine — or quite nearly any other creature aside from the drake-dog and certain magical plants, for that matter — uses carbon-based proteins. Technically speaking, iron is the basic building block on which his biology is built, displacing even water from its place as the primary medium for life-sustaining reactions. Carbon is used in some quantity, but the reactions are completely different from its uses within your physiology, serving mainly as an energy source with some utility as an alloying agent in his teeth and some regions of his scales,” the man explained.

    “His remarkable digestive tract is rather more like a living blast furnace than the acid and enzyme bath used by human-kind, though it does use some rather fascinating substances which manage to act as enzymes despite operating at a temperature sufficient to boil lead — ah, but I digress. On the subject of devil’s snare, according to Mr. Potter, the plant tastes like a cross between parsley and lemon-mint; I believe it supplies certain trace minerals common to such plants in addition to a potent magical accelerant, which renders the species unsafe for human consumption but seems to be quite delicious to Mr. Potter’s palate. As for the acromantula, Miss Granger, they are indeed giant spiders, and they are indeed extremely dangerous, but not to put too fine a point on it, so was the troll you encountered earlier today. To Mr. Potter, acromantula are approximately as threatening as a lobster in a grocer’s tank is to you, and I have found that, properly grilled,” at this, the man shot a pointed glance at the dragon in the room, who managed to look sheepish, “they are actually quite delicious, reminiscent of grilled shrimp basted in butter.”

    “Sorry, Professor Snape,” the dragon apologized, “I didn’t know you could get sick from eating undercooked acromantula.”

    “Harry, just what possessed you to try eating a giant spider rather than more… normal food?” Sharon asked, looking faintly nauseated.

    “Well, for a start, they tried to pick on Suze’s family,” Harry explained as Suze nodded from her place at his side where she had managed to relocate while everyone else was busy discussing draconic gastronomy. “And then, well, I was kinda hungry, and there were a bunch of them just layin’ around afterward, so I gave them a try, you know, like Mr. Slackhammer told me, ‘Waste not, want not’. But I tried them, and they tasted good! Sort of like crunchy chicken in diesel — I think the diesel-taste is from the shell, because Mr. Snape didn’t try that.”

    As Sharon tried to process that, the dragon continued. “I wish I’d known how tasty spiders were when they used to crawl all over me when I got sent to the cupboard when I was little,” Harry remarked offhandedly as his form flowed back into that of the pre-teen boy they remembered from the alley several months previous, “then they would’ve been tasty instead of creepy.”

    “Why would you ever be put in a cupboard, Harry?” Sharon checked, her tone sharp. It seemed that with the boy back in a more relatable form, her training as a physician was coming back to the fore, and one thing physicians were trained to look out for — particularly with children — was abuse. Tony stifled a wince as he saw the tears brimming in the corners of his wife’s eyes and the way her fingernails were biting into her palms. Sharon had always been one to get personally invested in such things too.

    Her husband thought it was one of her better points — no matter how scary she was when she did so.

    “Oh, they didn’t really need me to do anything, doing better than Dudley on a quiz, or when the washing machine broke and needed fixing, or when I got blamed for Dudley nicking something from the corner shop. I always wondered what that stuff was about.”

    Sharon looked like she was about to wring someone’s neck as soon as she found out who was to blame. Hermione was in a similar state, though she managed to make it look cute — it was entirely possible that Tony was biased. On a more serious note, he couldn’t tell if this was an improvement over her earlier post-troll emotional state or not. Normally he’d ask Sharon, but she was unavailable at the moment. Even that Minerva McGonagall was looking rather murderous.

    Were her pupils slitted?

    “I mean, Uncle Vernon apologized in his letter, and he tried to explain, so I think I sorta get it now,” Harry continued, oblivious to the feminine wrath building in the room. “He said that Aunt Petunia knew magical kids could do stuff accidentally, ‘cause she grew up with my Mum, but she didn’t know exactly how that stuff worked, so she just ended up blaming everything on me, ‘cause why wouldn’t she, if she knew I could’ve done it and there weren’t no way for her to tell the difference? And Uncle Vernon wasn’t home during the day, so he just took Aunt Petunia’s word for it. So he tried to teach me proper, and for little kids that means punishments for doing bad things. Then since I didn’t do the bad things in the first place, I didn’t know what I was doin’ wrong so nothin’ changed, and it looked like it weren’t working, so he got real frustrated and stuff. It really weren’t nobody’s fault, just one of those ‘unfortunate misunderstanding’ things.”

    The boy sighed, “At least me and Uncle Vernon and Dudley get on pretty good now — well, we write back and forth. Aunt Petunia still won’t write — Uncle Vernon says she feels too guilty about how things happened. I don’t really get Aunt Petunia sometimes…”

    “So, you were placed with your Aunt and Uncle, but they were not informed of how to raise a magical child, so they had difficulties with it?” Sharon’s voice sounded collected, but her eyes told a different story.

    “I guess?”

    “Did anyone ever check in on you?”

    “Um, I dunno? I don’t think so, but I don’t remember too much about what happened back then, not like since I turned into a dragon.”

    “Do you know who placed you there?” Again, the kind voice was at sharp odds with the steel in Sharon’s eyes. Hermione seemed to have caught on to her mother’s train of thought as well and was looking cutely outraged. Tony was subtly edging towards the door. He wanted no part in the coming discussion.

    Harry shook his head negatively.

    “Na, bit ah ken,” that faint Scottish burr Tony had always found quite charming about the woman who had introduced his daughter to magic by turning their coffee table into a pig — and thankfully, back again; he liked that coffee table — had thickened until it was nigh-impenetrable. “Albus, whit dae ye hae tae say fur yersel'?” This time, Snape was the one edging towards the door. He knew that tone all too well, and every time he heard it, it made him feel like a wet-behind-the-ears first-year all over again.

    “Hmm?” the elderly man looked up from his reading. He had been busying himself with some of his usual headmaster-related busywork as he waited for Harry to be available to attempt to track the intruder’s scent. “What was that, Minerva?”

    “Why did you leave a magical baby with a non-magical family without explaining how magic worked?” Sharon explained, accusingly. “A situation which led to the child being abused!”

    “Ah,” Albus said in realization. “Yes, that was a major failing on my part. I will attempt to explain, but first, a time-sensitive matter.” Ignoring the feminine outrage at his delay, he turned to the rapidly retreating Severus Snape. “Severus, our intruder is still at large; now that Harry is available, please escort him to Hagrid so that he might assist as much as he is able with our search for the person behind today’s assault.”

    Harry perked up at the reminder, pulled away from his curious staring at the strangely-behaving women.

    Snape nodded, grateful for the excuse to leave, “Come along, Mr. Potter. It seems we still have work to do.”

    “Right!’ Harry said, heading for the door with Suze trailing along.

    Tony took the chance to sneak out with them.

    2.7.6 Grave discussions

    Harry couldn’t help but wonder what was going on as he left the Infirmary; Hermione, her mum, and Mrs. McGonagall had been acting so weird. There was a voice that sounded like it was just a bit short of yelling about something or other, but it shut off with a sort of squelching noise and an odd flash — to his eyes, no one else’s — as the door closed. This room had another one of those silencing thingies like Mr. Flitwick had put on the room where he was supposed to go if he got really hungry again. He couldn’t tell if that voice that got cut off was Hermione or her mum, they sounded pretty similar.

    It must be great to have a mum.

    Well, he did have a mum, but she got killed by that Voldemort guy, so he couldn’t talk to her and stuff. Come to think of it, didn’t they put people who’d been killed in boxes and then bury ‘em somewhere so you could go visit with ‘em and remember ‘em and stuff?

    “Mr. Snape?”

    “What?”

    “You knew my mum, right?” Harry asked. At the man’s nod, he continued, “I was just thinking how nice it would be to have a mum when I heard Hermione and her mum together, and it got me thinking. When people get killed they get buried in boxes in a special sort of place and stuff, right?”

    “That is correct, Mr. Potter,” the potions master explained in a rather softer than normal tone of voice. “A deceased person is generally buried in a box called a coffin on a small plot of land called a grave within a designated area called a graveyard. The graves are usually marked in one manner or another as well, wizards traditionally use carved stones called, rather unimaginatively, gravestones.”

    “Okay, um… I was wondering, do you know where my Mum is buried? I think I’d like to go see sometime. And Dad too, come to think of it.”

    “Yes,” Snape said seriously, “as it so happens, I do know where she is buried, in Godric’s Hollow. As is customary for married couples, both of your parents are buried in adjacent plots, so a single trip will take you to see both graves. I will see to it that you make such a journey as soon as is practical — it is important to know where you come from.”

    “Thanks, Mr. Snape.”

    “You are most welcome, Mr. Potter. For now, however, we must attempt to search out the culprit behind today’s troll infestation.”

    “Right!” He did have something important to do, didn’t he? The poo-head who had set those trolls on everybody was still around, and he needed to help try to find him. “I’m supposed to be following from where Celestine spotted the guy, right?”

    “That is correct.”

    “Then wouldn’t it be faster for me to fly on over and ask him where he saw the guy. I mean, the other students are all asleep now, right? So, there shouldn’t be anyone to see me.”

    “I suspect that there are many still awake after the eventful evening. You would be hard-pressed to avoid detection now, particularly under the full moon. We will meet Hagrid at the front doors, and he will take you the rest of the way.”

    “Oh,” Harry said, disappointedly. As he had noted multiple times in the past — waiting was hard.

    The rest of the walk was quite quiet

    2.7.7 A sinking feeling

    Tony watched as the boy-who-was-actually-a-dragon and his pet centaur jogged to keep up with the extremely large and hairy man who met them at the main door of the castle. Why on earth did the first boy his daughter had shown an interest in have to be so completely immune to fatherly intimidation?

    What did he do to deserve that?

    The irritated father sighed, there was no profit in getting all worked up about it, he supposed. Judging by how she’d reacted before they left the infirmary, trying would just see Hermione furious with him anyway.

    “So, I gather the troll that attacked my daughter was brought into the school by someone,” he began, asking the sallow-complexioned man whose name was apparently Snape.

    “That is correct, per the report of a centaur patrol which spotted the intruder leading four trolls with him,” Snape replied.

    Tony considered that for a moment, “If a centaur patrol saw them, they why didn’t they take care of the issue themselves? Seems like a patrol ought to be armed, and, judging by Miss Suze; three or four of them should have been able to deal with most anything, I’d think.”

    “Ah, Miss Suze’s customary armament is not representative of centaurs as a whole; rather it was acquired by Mr. Potter through his contacts at Gringotts. Sadly, despite the ongoing efforts of Miss Suze’s uncle Ronan, the pinnacle of centaur weapons technology remains the recurved short-bow, and while their craftsmanship is superb, they lack the stopping power to deal with even a single troll, much less a group of four backed by a wizard.”

    “Really? I’d think they could get a pretty impressive draw strength on one of those bows, judging by Suze’s size and musculature.” Archery was a hobby of his. “With three or four firing from concealment, they should have at least been able to disable the trolls, I’d reckon.”

    “You seem to underestimate the lethality of a troll, Mr. Granger, despite recently extracting the arm-bone of one from our young dragon’s teeth,” Snape countered. “That bone, which, were it intact, would have been nearly two-thirds your height, came from the troll’s forearm; the entire beast is a humanoid engine of destruction, nearly half again the height of Hagrid, the Groundskeeper currently leading Mr. Potter on his search, and perhaps five times his mass. They customarily carry clubs constructed from felled trees — the one that almost ate your daughter carried one comprised of a section of oak trunk as thick as your waist and twice your height — and they can swing them fast enough to take your head off before you fully register the movement.”

    “Worse yet, they are covered in a thick gray hide sufficient to turn anything which would be unable to penetrate well-made steel-plate armor, and their muscles are quite nearly as hard as the wood comprising their clubs. I am given to understand that firing an arrow into them is rather like doing the same to a large tree. Arrows are useless unless fired from a ballista — or perhaps the crossbow that my colleague, Hagrid, carries — and even for centaurs, with their rather imposing size, close combat with a troll is suicide. Worse yet, the beasts emit a toxic stench, contact with which will cause any open wounds to develop a thoroughly unpleasant infection which is quite difficult to treat, thus even successful close combat with a troll often proves ultimately lethal. Then there was the backing wizard to deal with…” He shook his head in dismissal. “No, our neighbors were kind enough to deliver a warning, which was far more generous than we had any reason to expect.”

    “And there were four of those things here?” Tony asked in a choked voice. “With Hermione?”

    “Miss Granger encountered only a single troll, the others ran afoul of certain security measures located on the third floor,” Snape clarified.

    “Oh, just one horrifying plague-ridden murder-beast,” Tony snarked, “I feel so very much better about this situation.”

    Snape said nothing — of course, it didn’t really require a reply.

    A few moments passed as the pair stared out into the darkened courtyard before the worried father hit upon another question. “You mentioned that the centaurs warning you of the intruder was ‘more generous than you had any reason to expect’ — why is that? I mean, I’d think that you’d let your neighbors know about that sort of thing as a matter of course.”

    “Ah, that is an unpleasant topic — very unpleasant indeed,” Snape grimaced in the manner of someone attempting to find the appropriate words to deliver some thoroughly ugly news. “I believe Minerva was the one to inform you of your daughter’s magical talents. Am I mistaken in that belief?”

    At the answering confirmation, Snape continued, “Minerva has the unfortunate habit of painting things in the best possible light, and her description of our world is no different. To put it bluntly, the wizarding world is a brutish and exceptionally scary place where might is the first and final arbiter of right, and it is largely inhabited by unutterable bastards who would not piss on a burning orphan unless they could see an immediate profit in doing so. Some of the more unpleasant ones would probably point and laugh — possibly stopping to roast campfire-snacks over the conflagration and make a proper party of it.”

    Snape took a calming breath, “More to the point, among wizards, oppression and exploitation are the normal state of affairs, with the strong taking whatever they can manage from anyone the can overcome, extort, or swindle. Non-human sapient persons such as centaurs are easy targets. For better or for worse, centaurs in particular have little that anyone wants, and are thus generally treated as filthy animals unworthy of interacting with so-called ‘decent’ folk.” He scoffed, “There is something horribly wrong with any so-called civilization in which a being capable of speech — and in fact quite civilized — such as that wretched lizard’s pet centaur, is considered an uncontrolled wild animal.”

    Snape shook his head, “It is therefore quite unexpected that our forest neighbors would bother to relay a warning at all, instead of sitting back to enjoy the schadenfreude.” He sighed, “I suspect, in truth, that the warning was delivered solely because of Mr. Potter’s alliance with the Clan and his known fondness for certain individuals within the castle.”

    This was sounding worse and worse to Tony Granger. Just what sort of hellhole had his precious daughter gotten herself mixed up in? As the concerned father was trying to work out just what he should ask, the potions master continued to elaborate.

    “Other species have suffered much worse than the centaurs. I am sure you are familiar with the goblins, for instance. Extraordinarily attuned with earth in a way unmatched by any since the stone-men of legend, they were, until less than a century ago, kept as an enslaved nation and forced to mine and craft riches for their wizard overlords — when they weren’t being harvested for potions ingredients. That state was only changed through the application of copious amounts of violence at the end of the nineteenth century. Veela were in a similar situation prior to winning their own autonomy — also through violence — nearly a millennium ago.”

    “Veela?” Tony was unfamiliar with that name, unlike the centaurs and goblins.

    “They are a universally female race, believed to be descended from nymph ancestry and possessed of a surpassingly strong control of the element of fire. As they also uniformly possess a superlative beauty and innate magics intimately tied to sexuality, I assume I need not elaborate on the sorts of depravities to which they were subjected.” The dentist’s nauseated expression gave Snape all the confirmation he needed.

    Snape laughed, a bitter, mocking sort of sound, “No, the wizarding world is not a nice place, and perhaps the worst of it was saved for our own kind.”

    “What do you mean?” Tony asked, though he had a horrible idea that he knew exactly what Snape meant.

    “In addition to vulnerability, the sorts of monsters that infest the wizarding world seek utility. Goblins were enslaved for their talents as miners and craftsmen, veela for the sorts of depravities vulnerable women have been subjected to since time immemorial; centaurs, on the other hand, were simply driven into the outskirts then left mostly alone, because the monsters who did so saw little other utility in them.”

    “The one species of the greatest utility to wizards, however, is their own.”

    Yep, that is exactly what Tony had been afraid he was about to hear. “I have a bad feeling about this…”

    “Rightly so, and it will only get worse from here on out. Wizarding industry relies almost exclusively on the labor of magical craftsmen, and magical labor does not come cheap,” Snape sneered. It was a disturbingly natural-looking expression on the man’s face. “It is distressingly common to find vulnerable magical children — and those born to non-magical parents such as your daughter are the most vulnerable of all — disappeared from the streets only to show up in ‘contract labor’.” The sallow-skinned man practically bit off the term. “The institution is effectively slavery in all but name, where they will then be forced to work for no pay until they die or are ‘repurposed’ for more sinister roles. Most support the manufacturing industry, but a fair number are funneled into those roles which were previously fulfilled by the veela.” The man’s dark eyes flashed with tightly-controlled rage. “Between compulsions and mind-magics, they will even do so to all appearances willingly — denied even the basic freedom to bemoan their fate. Worse yet are the ones destined for supplying the black-market for ritual components…” At this Snape trailed off, shuddering.

    Tony Granger considered that for a moment before his thoughts turned to outrage. “Why didn’t she tell us about this? That, that… woman, led us to believe that this was a wonderful opportunity for our little girl, not some… Orwellian dystopia full of monsters in human skin!”

    “To be fair to Minerva,” Snape said, “I have seen more of the dark side of things in my life than she, due to my own regrettable choices. She has never had the misfortune of encountering the evidence that I have, and much is the sort of thing one is reluctant to believe of one’s fellow men if not seen first-hand. She knows things are bad, but she is optimistic.”

    His tone turned darker, “Then there is the other side of the coin, as well; your daughter was already known to the wizarding world, and as an intelligent, fertile Hogwarts-aged witch, she would make a prime catch for the markets. It is the sad truth that I would fully expect her to have been snatched up within weeks of your refusal, had you been unwise enough to reject the offer. She would be subjected to a fate which I will not force you to hear spoken of, while you and your wife would either be dead, if the kidnappers were lazy, or left with no memory of ever having a daughter and under compulsion to have more children for them to take later, if they were not.”

    Tony was still struggling to find his voice when the dark-haired man continued. “By enrolling in Hogwarts, however, law and custom places her under the protection of the Hogwarts Headmaster and her Head of House, respectively, during her schooling. Few are those who would risk the wrath of Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall. It is not ideal, but she will have a much better chance of defending herself with a Hogwarts education under her voluminous head of hair and another seven years to improve herself.”

    “Those born to non-magical families are some of the most vulnerable members of our sick, twisted facsimile of a society, and it is always the most vulnerable who pay the highest price, Mr. Granger. Those who do not find patronage tend to disappear quite quickly to truly unenviable fates.”

    “Why shouldn’t we just run, go to America or something?” Tony was grasping at straws at this point.

    “And where would you go, Mr. Granger?” there was that mocking laugh again. Tony was really starting to hate that laugh. “Britain, festering cesspit that it is, is one of the most progressive polities in the Wizarding World. Our unfortunates are caught up in ‘contract labor’ because slavery has been outlawed since 1963, nonmagical persons such as yourself are legally considered persons under our laws since 1920, and the centaurs are left mostly to their own devices because hunting them for sport has become unfashionable in recent years — all through the efforts of our esteemed Headmaster. Most other nations are not so fortunate.”

    “The Confederacy, our neighbors across the Atlantic — a direct descendant of the Haudenosaunee Nation, rather than the non-magical colonies you are no-doubt familiar with — are some of the best, it is true, but they are insular and clannish to an absurd degree. If you are not negotiating on behalf of a large group — causing you to be directed to the central council — then you will be subjected to whatever the local tribes decide to do with you. Some will be kind, some will not, and there is no way to tell which beforehand. Most other magical nations in the world are far worse.”

    “Trolls, giant spiders, dragons, slave markets… Look, Professor. Sharon and I, we know next to nothing about… about this world, and by God, it scares the Hell out of me! I just don’t want Hermione to get even more entangled in all of this.”

    “If you were not scared, I would despair for your intelligence, Tony, but quite frankly, your best opportunity for keeping your daughter safe lies in her becoming quite inextricably ‘entangled’ — to use your term — with the young dragon you just so capably treated.”

    “If this world is so bloody ugly, Professor, then why the hell should I let my daughter wallow even deeper in it? I’m her father! I’m supposed to be looking out for my daughter’s best interests, and I’m supposed to protect her,” Tony was frustrated. “How am I supposed to protect her if she’s off in a dangerous situation in a place where I can’t even go?”

    “Even if you did pull her back now, the only elements of this world that would respect your decision are those about whom you need not worry in any case. Your daughter is involved now, and she has been since she had her first episode of accidental magic; there is no way to extricate her safely,” Snape said mercilessly though not unkindly. “Given that, what exactly do you expect to be able to do to protect your daughter when the government in general and the individuals in power in specific regard those of us with non-magical parentage as barely worthy of the term ‘human’ and never mind anything in the way of legal representation? The phrases bandied about are ‘mudblood’ or ‘muggle-born’, and I apologize for having used either within your hearing as both are quite disgusting epithets.”

    “And how is staying in that situation any better for my daughter?” Tony snarled.

    “It is the safest path forward,” Snape calmly insisted. “You were apparently not listening when I outlined this previously, therefore I will reiterate; there is nowhere to run, your daughter’s options are to seek powerful patronage and with it powerful protection, to learn enough to become too powerful for any to oppose her, to learn enough to hide herself away as a hermit for the rest of her days, or to accept the inevitable and give up. I firmly believe the latter two options to be unacceptable, and the second is likely unfeasible for Miss Granger — her magical strength is insufficient for that path unless she were to delve into truly horrific arts. However, your daughter is already well on her way to obtaining the first on her own.”

    “You mean Harry?” the dentist scoffed. “How is he in any better position? And for that matter, why would he help?”

    “Yes, I do mean Harry,” Snape confirmed. “As to how he is in a better position to protect your daughter than you are yourself, there are several reasons. Firstly, although you seem to have somehow managed to put the fact out of your mind despite having spent the better part of an hour hip deep in his mouth, he is an excitable seventy-ton dragon able to bite through a car with the same effort you or I would use to bite through a biscuit. Secondly, although he is still underaged and therefore lacks most of the attendant influence, he is the patriarch and sole surviving member of an Ancient and Noble House, and thus he has… certain political and legal immunities and benefits. Thirdly, he is quite admirably protective of anyone he considers a friend. Fourthly, he is the only creature ever known to have survived being struck by the Killing Curse, the flat-out deadliest spell known to wizardkind. Fifthly, he is almost sickeningly good natured — the only thing I can categorically say I dislike about him is his habit of rampantly chattering away at a mile-a-minute. Aside from his frequent babbling, he is a surprisingly tolerable child, and I do not as a rule like children, so that is saying something. And sixthly, I have watched that boy dismember an acromantula the size of a small cottage for having the temerity to threaten one of his friends, and as it so happens, a few hours ago he bodily devoured an adult mountain troll in defense of another. I have absolutely no doubt that any creature or being that dared to pose a threat to one of his own would meet a similarly ignominious end.”

    “…and you think he’d have a go at anyone who had a go at Hermione?”

    “Think? Mr. Granger, he ate that mountain troll I mentioned because it attacked your daughter. Remember? The reason you are here at this time?”

    “Ah, yeah,” Tony said embarrassedly. He must have gotten really worked up to have forgotten that particular gem.

    “Indeed.”

    The two men lapsed into silence for a few moments, staring out into the darkness of the front courtyard as they waited for Harry to return with results in his search.

    “What’s with those ‘acro-mantula’ things?” Tony eventually asked. They had been mentioned several times, and he was curious.

    “Acromantulas are a species of giant arachnid,” Snape said. “They treat any creature less than twice their size, human beings included, as prey. Their origins are obscure, but it is known they did not evolve naturally. Their genesis was likely part of a botched experiment, much like the duck-billed platypus; though I suppose it is possible that they may have been created intentionally. Wizards have made worse things — after all, basilisks and nundu exist. The original instigator of the mess is unknown, and will likely remain so, thus the intention behind that particular bit of idiocy will remain a mystery. When hatched, acromantula are the size of a large man’s hand and are able to prey upon species as large as the common housecat; as they age, they grow continuously. The largest known specimen was approximately eight yards long in body, with legs of similar length. They are clever — the largest are capable of speech — quick, ruthless, and utterly voracious predators.”

    As Snape paused to take a breath, Tony let out an awed whistle.

    “Quite,” the potions master continued. “Their silk is immensely strong, with a tensile strength which remains unmeasured to my knowledge due to lack of equipment sufficiently strong to test it to failure. The diameter of the strands limits its value for the textile industry, as depending on the producing spider’s size, it can range from the thickness of a dandelion stem up to the thickness of a human finger. I do understand that the centaurs use the silk extensively for producing exceptionally strong rope. The venom, on the other hand, is an ingredient in several remarkably versatile potions; although deadly in all but the most minute of doses — killing slowly through paralysis — if administered in sufficiently dilute quantities, it is part of the simplest treatments for collywobbles and the dragon pox, and in a less dilute form, it is excellent as an active ingredient in metal-polishing potions designed for magically-active metals like gold and mithril.”

    “They sound like they could be useful,” Tony offered.

    “Indeed, though the damage they cause to the local ecosystem within their territorial range is extensive and generally exceeds the benefit of availability of their potions reagents. In this area alone, they are primarily responsible for the extinction of at least twelve native species and endangering a further twenty-seven, four of which are the source of truly unique reagents. Until that dratted dragon came into the picture, the only things preventing them from boiling out of that forest like a plague of elephant-sized locusts were the typically low wintertime temperatures of this area and a hard-fought defensive action over some fifty years on the part of the local centaur clan.”

    Tony thought for a moment, “I bet there’d be a way to captive-breed them, you know, to milk their silk and venom.”

    “It has been done, primarily by removing their limbs; however, they are quite capable of regenerating amputated limbs in a matter of days, and strict vigilance is therefore paramount,” Snape said with a shrug. “Personally, I am of the opinion that your kind, non-magical humans, are best suited to contain and control those brutes, but those in position of authority have other ideas.”

    Just as Tony was considering that, Harry jogged back into the light, accompanied by Suze.

    “Hey, Mr. Snape, Mr. Granger, Hagrid took me over to where the trolls came in, but I couldn’t make anything out from the smell,” the dragon reported apologetically. “It just smelled like troll, sorry. We did find out they came in through the lake-side gate, though, and they took the north stairwell, if that helps.”

    “I see, thank you for your efforts, Mr. Potter,” Snape said. “I shall relay your findings to the Headmaster.”

    “Right! Um, I’m going to go back to the Lair and get somethin’ to eat, now. Do you think you can let Hermione know I’ll be by to see her tomorrow?”

    “I’ll do that, Harry,” Tony volunteered as the young dragon thanked him then jogged off towards the tree-line, centaur damsel in tow.

    Best to be on good terms with his daughter’s new protector, he supposed.

    2.7.8 Night terrors

    The infirmary was dark and quiet, the only sound the muted clicking of the clock hung above the door and the occasional whine of the wind past the windows. Even though Hermione had avoided injury, Madame Pomphrey had offered her a bed for the night to spare her the late-night trip through the castle. The clock had quietly struck midnight half an hour ago, and her parents had left an hour before that, but Hermione was still awake despite her exhaustion.

    There was still too much to think about.

    She had almost died that evening. She had almost died in a bloody school bathroom! She had almost been eaten by a troll, and she had only managed to avoid that fate, not through the intervention of the teachers, not through her own skills and grit and intelligence, not even by chance — no, she had survived because her friend came to save her and happened to be able to turn into a bloody dragon!

    This bloody world was bloody mental!

    Hermione had been slowly adjusting to the idea that the wizarding world was a very different place than she was used to. In addition to the fairy-tale aesthetics and the wonders of magic, there were different standards for personal behavior and different acceptable levels of personal danger. That giant gray monster, though, had driven home just how different things were, and Hermione was still trying to process that.

    It seemed this fairy tale lived in a setting written by the Brothers Grimm rather than the Disney adaptation Professor McGonagall had described.

    She could sort-of deal with her friend turning into a dragon. After all, Professor McGonagall could turn into a cat, as she’d demonstrated in their first transfiguration class what seemed like ages ago, so turning into a dragon didn’t seem too far-fetched. Hermione figured that was just another wrinkle in her relationship with Harry. He hadn’t told her before, but he seemed eager to talk about it after she’d found out.

    And he had saved her life.

    She supposed she could cut him some slack on not telling her he could turn into a dragon, especially if he had some trouble staying in human form at times. She figured that would be pretty embarrassing to talk about. Having a weird animagus form was hardly something to get worked up over, not in comparison to almost getting eaten… and there she was, back to the troll. She shivered, despite the charmed infirmary blanket.

    Hermione hadn’t felt safe since Harry had left the room on that errand for the Headmaster. She’d managed to put it out of her mind for a while by going along with her mother and Professor McGonagall when they chewed out Headmaster Dumbledore — she blushed at the memory; what had she been thinking, chewing out the Headmaster? — but as soon as that passed she’d been shivering periodically in a state just short of terror. Despite that, she’d managed to put on a brave front for her parents; she didn’t want them to worry when they got home.

    Her dad had passed on a message from Harry that he’d be coming to see her in the morning, and she was looking forward to it, and to the feeling of safety she’d come to associate with her savior. As long as Harry was with her, no weird magical monster was going to be able to jump out of nowhere and eat her.

    “Harry would eat it first!” she whispered to the room at large, trying to convince herself she would be safe.

    Now she just had to hold out until morning, alone in the dark, quiet infirmary, with nothing to read to take her mind off things — just her and her increasingly brittle thoughts.

    It was another three long hours before exhaustion finally managed to drag Hermione into a still-fitful slumber.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2019
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  25. Threadmarks: Section 2.8 - In which a wellness check is performed
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.8.0 In which a wellness check is performed

    The new day dawned bright and sunny, and Poppy paused long enough to take in the unusually pleasant scene through one of the infirmary windows before she went back to her twice-hourly check on Miss Abercrombie’s condition. The girl had been stable and progressing normally, but that could change at any moment.

    Troll sepsis was a thoroughly unpleasant condition.

    The other patient currently under her care was in less critical condition. Miss Granger was sleeping, not particularly peacefully, true, but sleeping nonetheless. The monitoring charms indicated the poor girl hadn’t fallen asleep until well into the wee morning hours, and Poppy could imagine the thoughts and fears keeping her awake that night.

    Mental trauma was always a pain to deal with, and it was not something magic had ever been developed to cure. For that matter, there was widespread doubt among the Healing community that magic for such should ever be developed, seeing as such magic would essentially allow the detailed editing of another person’s mind. The potential for abuse was even greater than that of the abomination known as the obliviation charm.

    All Poppy could offer was a warm bed and a safe room for the girl. Miss Granger would just have to work through things herself.

    Just as she was thinking that, the Infirmary door was quietly opened by Mr. Potter — it had taken ages to get him to remember to open that door quietly, as she recalled. Well, perhaps there was one thing she could do for Miss Granger — friends were always a good idea in these sorts of situations.

    “Good morning, Mr. Potter,” the Healer greeted.

    “’Morning, Madame Pomphrey! Is Hermione around, still?”

    Poppy nodded and gestured toward the appropriate bed where the girl’s eyes had snapped open at the sound of her friend’s voice, despite her still-sleepy state. The school Healer watched, amused, as the girl practically apparated out of her bed and attached herself to the young dragon like a limpet mumbling something too low for the Healer to hear.

    Friends seemed to be a good idea indeed.

    Eventually the girl seemed to realize she was still in her clothes from the previous day, and she had not had a chance to bathe since the previous morning. Miss Granger broke off from her embrace with her new friend to scamper off to her dorm to take a shower. Poppy chuckled. It seemed she would be fine — eventually.

    “Um, Madame Pomphrey?” Harry asked after his bushy-haired friend had left the room.

    “Yes?”

    “How’s Abigail doing?”

    “Miss Abercrombie is progressing well. I fully expect her to regain consciousness within the next three to four days, as is normal for troll sepsis, properly treated.”

    “Huh. Do you think you can let me know when she wakes up?”

    “Why do you need to know that Mr. Potter?” Poppy asked.

    “Well,” Harry began, looking uncertain for once, “I feel kinda bad about how a bit of rubble hit her when I broke the wall, and I wanted to apologize.”

    “I see. Well, I am technically not supposed to release the details of another student’s medical treatments,” Poppy began. As Harry’s face fell, she continued, “but I can certainly ask her if she would be amenable to meeting with you when she wakes up.”

    “Do you think she would?” Harry asked, brightening.

    “I am almost certain of it, Mr. Potter,” Poppy assured him. “Now, off to breakfast with you!”

    As she watched the young dragon leave through the doors of her domain, Poppy cracked a broad smile she had been suppressing since she had heard Harry’s reasoning for wanting to meet with Miss Abercrombie. As if the girl wouldn’t want to meet with him!

    Yes, she was injured, but she was injured by a bit of rubble from the pair of thick stone walls the boy punched through in order to take out the troll that was trying to eat her. That was not the sort of thing likely to inspire dislike.

    The Healer chuckled aloud as she turned to her morning routine in the infirmary. If Harry were any older, she would rather expect Miss Abercrombie to snog the living daylights out of him after hearing his apology. As it was, well, she suspected that Miss Abercrombie’s interest would be quite firmly engaged.

    At their age, five years was a significant gap, but a few years out of Hogwarts… well, a few years out of Hogwarts that difference would be effectively nothing. It would all hinge on whether the interest waxed or waned in the intervening years, and the boy had just saved Miss Abercrombie’s life in a particularly dramatic manner.

    And some things, well… for good or for ill, some things you don’t put behind you in just a month or two.

    2.8.1 Return to normalcy

    In the aftermath of the troll attack, the campus quickly returned to normalcy. Meals were served on schedule, classes resumed without fanfare, and students quickly fell back into their habitual behaviors. With the rigid institutional silence on the matter, memories of the troll attack quickly took on a fuzzy and dreamlike air.

    Removing the Halloween decorations from the Great Hall helped this along immensely. For all but three of the students, the Great Hall was the setting for all the excitement, and the Hall during Halloween was almost unrecognizable in comparison to the Hall during the rest of the year.

    Information control was down to a science in the wizarding world.

    Hufflepuff met Harry’s return with much warmth and concern, and Susan and Hannah were particularly glad to learn that Hermione emerged unscathed, though the rest of the House was not far behind. The tale of the Slytherin Prefect who had insisted on accompanying their wayward member attempting to save a Gryffindor firstie at great personal risk was met with a great deal of admiration and concern at her condition.

    Most of the House hadn’t been aware that there existed Slytherins so altruistic.

    However, even more than the concern, the tale was initially met with disbelief. Harry claimed to have punched out the troll and then ripped it in half. Blind loyalty could only carry them so far in accepting Harry’s word. After investigating the relevant hallway and finding the walls reduced to rubble and House Elves in protective gear scrubbing away at a blood stain the size of their common room, however, that disbelief shifted to amazement.

    Harry’s reputation quickly gained a decidedly intimidating edge among the Hufflepuffs.

    On the other hand, House Gryffindor’s reaction to the events of Halloween was comparatively lackluster. Hermione’s suspicious absence during the excitement was hardly noted upon. When she showed up none the worse for wear the next day, the prefects quietly marked down her safe return, and that was that. Not even her roommates commented on it.

    This did nothing to improve Hermione’s disposition.

    Her own House had barely remarked on her near murder. There was not a single peep, even from the girls she shared a room with, ones who certainly would have known of her absence during the night. The contrast with the Hufflepuffs was stark. Susan and Hannah had sought her out between classes and positively gushed over her before dragging her off to the Sett where she was greeted by warmth and concern from all comers, even those members of the House she hadn’t met yet.

    It was almost enough to make her break down in tears yet again — almost, but not quite.

    Instead, the next few days saw Hermione clinging even more tightly to Harry’s side, even going so far as to shadow him when word came from Madame Pomphrey that Miss Abercrombie was once again conscious.

    2.8.2 Miserable morning

    Abigail clawed her way back to consciousness feeling miserable. She was achy and weak; her skin was overly sensitive, preventing her from resting comfortably no matter how she contorted herself; her stomach was vaguely unsettled; her nightgown was plastered to her body with sweat while she was simultaneously shivering with chills; and she felt both insatiably hungry and disgusted at the very thought of food — at the same time.

    She was, without any shadow of a doubt, sicker than she had even imagined it was possible to be while not being on the verge of death.

    So, when Madame Pomphrey quietly opened the door and asked her how she was feeling, Abigail said as much.

    “I had no idea it was possible to feel this bad.”

    “Good!” the healer said in a disgustingly cheery voice. “That means you’re coming along nicely; troll sepsis is a thoroughly unpleasant condition, Miss Abercrombie. You’re doing quite well to recover consciousness after only three days!”

    Well, that was something, Abigail supposed. “How much longer?”

    “I believe you should be up and about within another five days, seven at the outside,” came the reply. “Though you will feel just as miserable as you do now until that point.” The healer gave an apologetic shrug, “There’s no helping it.”

    Ugh.

    As Madame Pomphrey bustled her way out of the private treatment room, Abigail’s thoughts turned back to the incident that led to her current misery. There had been a troll in the school, and she had been trying to retrieve a student safely before it found her. She had failed.

    And as a consequence of that failure, that troll had almost killed her.

    She shivered at the memory, not that anyone would be able to tell in between all the shivering due to the chills wracking her body from her illness. That was the closest she had ever come to death; she could still remember the image of the bark on that troll club just inches away from her face before it was batted away almost negligently by Harry Potter’s magic, magic so intense that she could feel it sliding along her skin.

    She shivered again at the memory — for different reasons this time.

    She had known he was powerful, but that… that was absurd. The first-year had just been batted through a stone wall. There was no way he had held on to his wand through that, much less kept the presence of mind to cast properly, so blocking that club had to have been done wandlessly, and that sort of acceleration was impressive in any situation, much less one with such a handicap. Just how powerful was that kid? He was only eleven! How strong would he be when he was fully grown?

    And what would he be like then? Hmm…

    Before she could go too far down that path of speculation, Abigail’s body reminded her with another wave of nausea that it was in no condition to entertain her usual flights of fancy. Right. Not the time for that now, she supposed. What else did she remember from that night?

    The wall Harry had been batted through had practically exploded into the hallway when something burst out of it and punched the troll away, and then she remembered staring into that big green eye again, this time full of warmth and concern directed her way rather than mild annoyance — and wasn’t that an improvement over that first time on the train…

    …again, not the time for that sort of thing, Abigail.

    Unfortunately, it seemed that warm green eye was all she could remember before she lost consciousness.

    Wait, what happened to the girl they were there to save? Was she okay? For that matter, was Harry? Sure, he was powerful, but he did get put through a stone wall at the very least, and then he expended all that magic saving her. Did he have the reserves to absorb that much damage and power expenditure without a problem?

    “Madame Pomphrey?” Abigail called.

    “Yes?” The Healer popped her head back through the doorway.

    “Are Potter and…” the prefect’s face screwed up in thought for a moment as she tried to recall the girl’s name, “Granger, wasn’t it? —anyway, are they okay?”

    Madame Pomphrey smiled warmly. “Yes, both of them are just fine. Mr. Potter dealt with the troll handily, and neither suffered any injuries.”

    “How?” At the Healer’s curious look, Abigail elaborated, “How did Potter deal with the troll? I mean, he’s a firstie. I know he’s strong, but what did he do to deal with that thing?”

    “I believe he punched it through a stone wall,” Pomphrey explained, “and then he tore it in half when it tried to get back up.”

    “He killed that thing without using magic?”

    “Yes,” Madame Pomphrey seemed rather amused at her disbelief. “He is a rather formidable young lad, isn’t he?”

    Abigail was at a loss for words, her jaw soundlessly working as she tried to wrap her head around that idea. After allowing the Slytherin girl to cogitate for a few moments, the Healer went on, “Speaking of Mr. Potter, he has expressed a desire to speak with you when you are available.”

    That pulled Abigail out of her spiral of incredulity. “Why does he want to speak with me?”

    “I gather that he wishes to apologize for accidentally causing your head injury when he punched the troll through a stone wall after it tried to club you to death.” The Healer chuckled, “He seems to feel quite guilty about the whole affair. It’s rather cute really.”

    “Why would he feel guilty about that?” Abigail asked, frowning in puzzlement. “He was saving my life, and despite how unpleasant I feel now, it’s infinitely better than being dead.”

    “You would have to ask him to learn that,” she returned. “Would you like me to let him know you are awake?”

    Abigail considered that for a moment. On the one hand, she really didn’t feel up to entertaining visitors at this point, much less her kind-of-sort-of-maybe-eventually crush. On the other hand, he did save her life, and she did owe him for that. If he was really feeling that bad about it… well, there was really only one thing she could do to help at this point.

    “Yes, please.”

    2.8.3 Unwarranted apologies and new friends

    Harry was nervous as he approached the door to the infirmary.

    He’d managed to accidentally hurt someone, just like he’d been terrified of doing back after that incident with the deer. He’d been trying to save her from that troll — and he’d succeeded, true — however, Abigail had gotten hurt because of his actions, and he’d promised himself that he wouldn’t do that to anyone.

    Now he had broken that promise.

    Harry was disappointed with himself, and he was finding that it was a state with which he was thoroughly dissatisfied.

    The only thing he could think of that might make things better was to apologize to the person he’d hurt and hope she’d forgive him. It was the first time he’d felt the need to apologize for something serious, and that sort of thing was difficult no matter who you were. For this reason, he paused long enough to take a deep breath before opening the infirmary door.

    He might have been nervous, but he was Harry, after all. There were limits to how much he would allow himself to concede to anxiety, and those limits usually fell at the point just before it might inconvenience him, better just to forge ahead.

    “Hello there, Mr. Potter,” came the greeting from Madame Pomphrey as she noted who had entered her domain. “And Miss Granger? Are you here with Mr. Potter, or are you here for another matter?”

    Hermione had been shadowing him for the past few days whenever they were not in classes and he was in the castle. Her presence had become so ubiquitous that Harry hadn’t even consciously realized that she was with him while he was walking to the infirmary.

    “I’m just here with Harry, Madame Pomphrey,” the girl answered.

    “I see,” the Healer acknowledged. “Well, Mr. Potter, are you here to see Miss Abercrombie?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Very well, I will see if she is feeling well enough for visitors,” she said before disappearing once more into the treatment room.

    “Harry,” Hermione asked, “why do you look so nervous?” It was a question that had been bugging her for some time now. ‘Harry’ and ‘trepidation’ didn’t really fit together in her mind.

    “Well, I just need to apologize for Abigail getting her hurt when I broke that wall, and it’s the first time I ever had to apologize for something serious like that,” Harry explained. “You know, I apologized all the time for stuff like accidentally breaking something or asking questions out of turn or stuff like that, but this is the first time I ever had to apologize for accidentally hurting somebody.”

    Hermione considered that for a moment. “I don’t think she’s going to be very mad about that. It was an accident, after all, and you did save her from the troll. I’d think that would count for a lot more than accidentally hitting her head with a rock.”

    “Maybe,” Harry allowed, doubtfully.

    Before Hermione could say anything else, Madame Pomphrey entered the room.

    “She’s ready to see you, Mr. Potter,” the woman said. “Miss Granger, if you could wait there, Miss Abercrombie is still not feeling very well, so I would like to limit the number of visitors.”

    The bushy-haired girl nodded in understanding before settling into one of the visitors’ chairs near an unused bed. Harry walked steadily over to Abigail’s room and entered the door.

    The room was furnished with a single bed in the middle of one wall, a small bedside table holding a pitcher of water and a glass, and a larger side table along another wall which was laden with a panoply of neatly organized bottles of various potions. The air smelled of a much, much fainter version of the troll stench mixed with a variety of other potions-type smells and the smell of sweat. The bed was occupied by the sixth-year girl who had helped him on Halloween.

    Abigail looked like death warmed-over.

    Her skin was pallid and drenched with sweat, and she was shivering periodically even while fanning herself in an attempt to cool down. Seeing her in such a state just made Harry feel guiltier.

    When she smiled at him, he felt even worse.

    “I’m sorry,” Harry blurted out without any preamble.

    Abigail looked puzzled for a moment. “What are you apologizing for? You saved my life from that troll.”

    “Well, yeah,” Harry allowed, “but you still got hurt from a bit of stone from one of the walls I broke while doing that, and that was my fault ‘cause I wasn’t as careful as I shoulda been, and ‘cause of that you got a cut, and ‘cause of that you got sick, and ‘cause of that you’ve been unconscious for a couple ‘a days, and you look like it’s been real unpleasant, and well, it’s my fault, so I wanted to apologize for it!”

    Abigail took a few moments to process that through her still-fevered mind. “I’m still not hearing anything that you need to apologize for, Harry.”

    “I hit you with that rock!”

    “That was an accident though, right?” Abigail sounded puzzled. “I mean, you didn’t throw it at me or anything?”

    “Well, no, but I did break the wall it came from, and that’s the only reason it hit you.”

    The older girl nodded in acknowledgement before continuing, “And you broke that wall in the process of defending me from that troll, right? Not because you thought it would be fun to break a wall or anything?”

    “Well, yeah…”

    “And that troll was about to kill me…” she winced at the mention, “…with its club before you blocked the hit?”

    “Well, yeah…”

    “So, you stepped in to save my life, and I got a little hurt in the process by accident,” Abigail concluded. “I’m still not seeing anything you should be apologizing for. I mean, yeah, I’ve felt better, and I’ve looked better,” she winced again, “but I have to think that this is a fair sight better than being dead!”

    Harry nodded. “I know! But, well, I still hurt you accidentally, and I’d promised myself I wasn’t gonna do that after that one time with the deer a couple a’ years ago, and I broke that promise, and I figure that warrants an apology!”

    Abigail looked puzzled. “You promised you weren’t going to accidentally hurt me a couple of years ago? We hadn’t even met then…”

    “No, I promised I wasn’t going to hurt anybody on accident after I accidentally splattered a deer a couple of year ago. Mrs. McGonagall had said that venison came from deer, and I really liked venison, but I didn’t really get that it was just another name for dead deer, right? So I was trying to get at wherever it kept the venison, and I smacked the antlers out of the way, and then its head sort of exploded, and then I got really worried that I’d accidentally do that to one of my friends, and so I was gonna stay at home, but then Mr. Snape came by and set me straight on just bein’ careful around people. So I made myself a promise that I was gonna be careful and never do that to anybody I didn’t mean to, but now you got hurt, and I didn’t mean to do it, so I broke that promise, and… well… I really don’t like breakin’ promises.” Harry trailed off looking almost despondent.

    “So, it’s more that you broke a promise than it was the actual injury, huh?” Abigail mused. “Well, Harry, it sounds to me like you should be apologizing to yourself more than to me. It was a broken promise made to yourself, after all, not to me,” she said. “Maybe you should just try again and try to keep that promise next time?”

    “That sounds like a good idea, but you still got hurt, and I oughtta do something to make up for that! The only thing I could think of to do was apologize.”

    She thought about that for a moment. “Something to make up for it, huh?” Her expression changed to an artful one. “Well then, I suppose I could see fit to forgive you for your error if you would do something for me…”

    “What’s that?” Harry asked eagerly.

    “Well, it seems to me that one can never have too many friends,” Abigail said slyly, “so how about you be my friend, and we can both call everything even?”

    “Really?”

    She nodded.

    “I can do that!” Harry smiled.

    “It’s a deal then,” the sick girl said firmly, then her expression turned to something Harry couldn’t quite identify as she proposed, “How about we seal the deal with a hug?”

    Harry enthusiastically complied.

    2.8.4 Good deals

    As Harry was escorted from her hospital room by the Healer, Abigail collapsed heavily back into her pillow. It had been difficult to stay up and coherent for that conversation — she really did feel terrible.

    But it had been oh so worthwhile!

    Despite her physical state and her Slytherin-trained emotional control, Abigail couldn’t keep a goofy smile off her face. She’d helped her savior feel better about things, she’d learned more about the boy she had been developing an interest in, and she’d befriended said boy, not to mention the more prosaic value of that contact. In addition to being a first-year sufficiently powerful to catch her interest despite the five year age gap, he was also a cultural icon, and his friendship would open a lot of doors for her down the line.

    It wasn’t that she intended to use the boy… well, technically she did intend to use him, she supposed, but not to take advantage of him. Abigail fully intended to be an excellent friend to Harry because he was Harry, and what she had seen so far showed him to be eminently worthy of friendship. However, that didn’t change the fact that the Boy-Who-Lived would be an excellent contact in the future as well.

    She was a Slytherin after all, and there was nothing saying you couldn’t get ahead in life while being a good friend, now was there? And on top of it all, she managed to finagle a hug out of the deal.

    That hug was amazing!

    “Is that so, Miss Abercrombie?”

    That voice shocked Abigail out of her reverie as effectively as a bucket full of ice water. Madame Pomphrey had apparently returned to check on her after escorting Harry out of the room.

    “Did I say that out loud?” Abigail asked with a rosy blush.

    “Yes,” came the amused reply. “Yes, you did.”

    “Oh,” she squeaked.

    “So, Miss Abercrombie, what was so ‘amazing’ about that hug?” Poppy asked with a smirk. “Will I need to arrange a chaperone for the two of you? He is five years younger than you, after all. After he graduates that won’t make much difference, but for now…”

    “No! It’s just… um, well, it’s just you can feel his magic just under his skin, right?” Abigail tried to explain. “And it was just like when he blocked that troll’s club from hitting me. I could feel his magic sort of sliding over my skin then, and it just felt so warm and safe and good…” the girl trailed off, realizing that her explanation was not helping her case for having the self-control necessary to avoid the necessity of a chaperone.

    Poppy, however, was not riding that train of thought, rather she was frowning thoughtfully. “You can feel his magic, huh? That could be bad…” she muttered. The Healer’s wand shot out of her wrist holster, and she began casting another set of diagnostics.

    Abigail finally managed to drag herself far enough out of her embarrassment to notice the woman’s actions. “Is there something wrong?”

    “The rest of us can’t feel Mr. Potter’s magic as a matter of routine, certainly not from casual contact,” Poppy said. “Either you have developed new sensory abilities, or you are suffering from traumatic oversensitivity. Either one can be problematic. New sensory abilities can be useful, but they will require so much training that you might need to put off graduation for a year or two. Oversensitivity, on the other hand, would mean some extra steps in your recovery and several more potions…” As her diagnostic charms returned results, the Healer let out a sigh. “And oversensitivity it is.”

    “What does that mean?” Abigail asked.

    “It means that you were too close to Mr. Potter’s spell when he blocked that troll club, and, for lack of a better term, his magic burned itself into yours,” Poppy explained. “It’s not dangerous, but it does leave you overly sensitive to the magical signature involved, much like a minor burn leaves your skin overly sensitive to heat. Don’t worry, it is easily treated, now that I know about the issue.”

    Abigail frowned at the comparison to a burn. “It didn’t seem painful in the slightest, though. The opposite if anything… Are you sure we need to fix it?”

    “So I gathered,” the Healer said with an amused smirk. “It is analogous to a burn, but the analogy is not exact. The stimulus is situationally dependent, like most things dealing with magic. You think well of Harry, so for you the feeling is positive. Someone with the same condition caused by a near-miss of a curse would feel quite differently.”

    “Oh.” That made sense.

    “Though I will point out something that is relevant to your situation,” the Healer was smirking again. “The feelings produced are proportional to the amount of magic you encounter. Harry is fantastically resistant to magic, so almost none passes through his skin passively. Just how do you think you would react in your current state if he were to actively cast in your vicinity?”

    Abigail pondered that for a moment before blushing a deep red as her mind followed the path the Madame laid out for it. Oh!

    “Just picture it,” Poppy continued mercilessly, “you’re in the Great Hall at dinner sitting with your friends, and Mr. Potter summons a plate from down the table. You know how bad his control still is, so a wave of his excess magic washes over you from across the room, and bam, you’re face-down in your mashed potatoes shuddering your way through a series of…”

    “Okay! Okay, we’ll fix it,” the embarrassed sixth year said. “Just please let it drop?”

    “Very well, Miss Abercrombie.”

    The room fell silent for a for a time except for the clinking of glass as the Healer measured out the appropriate prescriptions for dealing with this new issue.

    “Um, Madame Pomphrey?”

    “Yes?”

    “Will you be telling Harry about that magic burn thing?”

    “Of course not!” the woman sounded scandalized. “Mr. Potter has no business knowing your medical history without your permission.”

    “Oh, good!”

    “Though I must say I’m surprised that you don’t want to try to parlay that into another ‘concession’ from Mr. Potter,” that sly tone was back again. “Really, Miss ‘Be my friend and we’ll call it even’, after that line about sealing the deal with a hug, I’m surprised at you!”

    “Hey! I did that because he was being silly about needing to be forgiven for saving my life, of all things,” Abigail protested. “Well that, and I’ve been interested in him for a while now, but it’s really hard to strike up a friendship with someone in another House when you’re in Slytherin, doubly so when going across a five-year age gap.”

    “I also know Mr. Potter, Miss Abercrombie,” Poppy did not sound convinced. “He is always eager to make new friends; if you had walked up to him and introduced yourself you could have become his friend in moments.”

    “Well, now I know that,” the sixth-year said snippily. “I had no way of knowing beforehand, though.”

    “Aside from asking Mr. Potter.”

    “I’ve been in Slytherin for five and a half years, Madame Pomphrey!” Abigail protested. “I know it’s silly, but you don’t do that sort of thing in the dungeons! We just take advantage of opportunities when we see them.”

    2.8.5 A working rumination

    That had gone pretty well, all things considered.

    Harry was back at the Lair on the evening after making his fateful apology to Abigail. Suze was still out visiting with her Uncle Ronan sharing her findings about those woodworking potions she had been researching and playing with her youngest newborn cousins. Young centaurs were apparently very sensitive to foreign scents, so they wanted to get the little ones used to Harry’s scent by proxy through Suze before they introduced him to them directly — his scent was apparently more than a little terrifying on a deep, instinctual level. This left Harry alone in the Lair until he would fly down to pick her up in a few hours.

    Accordingly, the dragon was currently in one of the Lair’s deeper chambers which he had designated as a lab, reworking his latest research attempt. The reworking was hardly exciting, simply carving the same runic sequence on a pair of silver hemispheres in twenty evenly-spaced locations; the previous attempt using eleven had been horribly inefficient. The work was mind-numbing, but it was simple enough for Harry to allow his mind to wander where it would.

    Suze had said the same thing about weaving many times while she was working on replacement shirts for herself.

    The troll attack had been an objectively bad thing, Harry decided. Yet a lot of good things had come out of it. Hermione had been put in danger, but the two of them had gotten a lot closer after he saved her. He’d accidentally hurt somebody, but then she had become his friend as a result.

    He’d even found out that trolls tasted like bacon! The goblins had been nice enough to share some recipes with him if he ever managed to get more troll to try them out. They seemed a lot less common than acromantula, and they were really bony too. They were tasty, though, and unlike bacon, they came in reasonably-sized portions!

    Harry finished the last design on the first hemisphere before setting it down and taking up the other one. The rich purple marking lacquer had dried nicely, and he was all set to lay out the positions with a needle.

    Hermione had been sticking really close all the time, now. He wasn’t sure what was going on there, but he was still glad for her company, and he made sure to let Hermione know that. She’d probably tell him why eventually.

    Abigail was a nice surprise too! He’d gone into that room today not really knowing what to think, other than knowing that he wasn’t happy with how he felt at the time, and he’d come out with a brand-new friend. She’d even given him a hug!

    Hugs were great, especially when he was in human form and he could actually feel them!

    Hopefully, Abigail would get better soon, and then they’d be able to spend some time together finding out about each other. She was in sixth year, so she probably knew some cool stuff. Maybe she’d even be interested in what he was working on now? Well, it couldn’t hurt to ask, he supposed.

    Layout completed, Harry set in with a needle file to deepen the bright silvery patterns he had laid out. He was really looking forward to getting that air compressor he’d ordered so he could run a die grinder. The catalogue hadn’t specified it needed a compressor to run, and he’d had to wait another ten weeks to get the silly thing shipped after he found out.

    Hopefully it’d would be worth the wait.

    Anyway, he was eagerly looking forward to spending some time with his new friend after she got better. It would definitely be worthwhile!

    Harry worked away at the silver for another half-hour before he nodded in satisfaction. Attempt fifteen was done and ready for testing.

    The young dragon slotted the two hemispheres together with an insulating wooden ring serving as the join, leaving a hole conveniently sized for a wand between them. A pair of terminals were then fitted into holes in the silver and wires were connected leading to a perfectly ordinary lightbulb.

    Harry pushed his wand into the hole and channeled magic into the focus. The silver glowed with an eerie light, and then the bulb lit up. It was pathetically dim — channeling the same amount of magic into a light charm would have lit the entire room like the noon-day sun. The bulb was barely bright enough to visibly light up, but it was definitely glowing.

    Harry smiled broadly. Success!

    2.8.6 Honest self-reflection

    It had taken another week for Abigail to heal enough to be released from Madame Pomphrey’s care, a week during which she was visited every single day by one Harry James Potter, most of the time accompanied by one Hermione Granger. The delay was less grating than Abigail had feared it would be.

    In fact, aside from being sick as a dog for most of it, it was kind of nice.

    As Abigail prepared herself to leave her accommodations of the last two weeks — finally able to avail herself of the infirmary showers, much to her relief; cleaning charms only handled so much — she mused on the recent sequence of events.

    In hindsight, insisting on going after Hermione that Halloween night had been a mistake, not that she had known it at the time. As it turned out, Harry had been more than capable of handling the situation himself — she had done nothing but delay and get in the way. But in the end things had turned out alright, everyone was still alive, if a bit banged up in her case, and that was the important bit.

    She had had no way to know that beforehand that Harry would have been more than capable of handling the troll without her, so Abigail did not regret her actions — they were the best decisions she could have made given what she knew at the time. Abigail was much too practically-minded to second guess herself so long after the fact, even if those decisions did come close to killing her. Though that didn’t mean she was going to sit on her thumbs in the future and repeat the same mistakes!

    Freshly showered and feeling clean for the first time in weeks, Abigail gathered up her wand from the bedside table and set out from the infirmary with a friendly wave to Madame Pomphrey. Improving her own capabilities would come on its own through her classes; it wasn’t like she was a slacker by any means. Rather, it seemed to her that her biggest mistake that night had been her poor knowledge of Harry Potter. If she had known even a little of his strength, she would have been able to handle the situation much better; she would have at least known when to back off and let the miniature powerhouse deal with the troll.

    Getting to know Harry Potter better did indeed seem like the best course of action to Abigail, and not just to be better prepared for future troll incursions.

    Abigail still blushed at the memory of essentially blackmailing Harry into becoming her friend — she blamed the fever for it, really — but it was perhaps the best thing to come out of this whole incident. The boy she had been so interested in was now quite happy to spend time with her, and he was even more than she had expected him to be.

    He had been by the infirmary, bright-eyed and cheerful, to see her every day of her convalescence, no matter what was going on or how busy he was, and he was always delighted to see her. That sort of cheer was simply not present in Slytherin, and Abigail found that she quite liked it. when Hermione had brought up the topic of her missing schoolwork, Harry had made it a point to get her assignments from her various instructors and bring them by the next day.

    By contrast, her friends in her House, girls that she had lived with for five years before getting her own room with the prefect badge this year, had been by all of once in a sort of perfunctory ‘I know we’re in the same dorm, so I kinda have to show up to see how you’re doing’ sort of manner.

    To be fair, they had apparently shown up before she woke up only to be turned away by Madame Pomphrey, and they had gotten a little bit irritated by the time she was awake enough to see them. But showing up in the face of understandable irritation or not, they certainly hadn’t thought to help her out by retrieving her assignments for her! Just a week in, during which time she had not left her bed in the infirmary, Harry was already a better friend than any she had made in the past five years in Slytherin.

    That had to be the best favor she ever spent!

    Savoring that thought, Abigail stopped to rest, leaning against a wall and looking out over the lake through one of the arrow slits lining the hallway. It was a crisp November evening in Scotland, the moon shone down on the windswept lake, glittering along the choppy surface — a beautiful night to be back on her feet, even if she was still dog-tired all the time and would be going to bed again as soon as she got back to her room.

    Abigail stayed there for a few moments before the whistle of the daily supply train as it arrived from London echoed softly across the moonlit lake reminding her that there was more to life than woolgathering and she needed to get to it.

    It was still a long walk back to the dorm.

    2.8.7 Logistical Interlude

    Most young people never stop to think about supply lines — about how the makings of dinner, and everything else for that matter, get from the point of production to the point of consumption. It’s one of those things that just happens in the background as far as most are concerned, and that applies whether or not the young person in question is magically gifted.

    At Hogwarts, most of them, if asked, would shrug and say, ‘who cares?’ Others might guess at something to do with portkeys and maybe house-elves.

    The same goes for most anyone who isn’t in the supply, haulage, or retail businesses. Most people have no idea how their dinner got from point A to point B, beyond muttering something about the shop and a farm and, er, lorries?

    Once again, that applies whether or not the people are magically gifted, though your average witch or wizard on the street would readily assume that their dinner made its way to the shop at which they purchased it via portkey or maybe a house-elf.

    Very few witches or wizards would suggest that the supplies they took for granted came via lorry or train, depending on where they called home, yet that few would be entirely correct.

    For the population of Hogsmeade, life wouldn’t grind to a halt if the daily train from London didn’t come, but it would become a great deal harder.

    Just for the nearby school of Hogwarts, keeping a few hundred hungry magical teenagers fed and the castle lit and heated gulps its way through several tons of supplies every day. Potions classes at a school such as Hogwarts requires nearly a ton per week of raw ingredients — and with their potential volatility, those ingredients shipped in an average of nearly seventy tons of packing material; cleaning supplies are used up by the gallon day in, day out, and an average school year will require sixteen tons of parchment (enough to entirely fill a standard four-wheeled British Rail box van), eight-thousand gallons of ink, and nearly a hundred-thousand quills.

    In the past, Hogwarts and the town of Hogsmeade were supplied by thestral-hauled flying cart and by relays of house-elves, but then the muggles drove the railway through the mountains, and enterprising wizard eyes turned to the mighty iron horses that pounded down those glens.

    And what they noted was the cost. It was only a matter of time before someone noticed that the railway worked out cheaper than thestrals, house-elves, or portkey production — especially if you used a drake-dog to get a diminished load of coal to fire the boiler. Drake-dogs were a jumpy and excitable lot despite their longevity, but as long as you had something to bank their flames and someone’s attention to keep them focused on the job, they were just the business for raising a good head of steam. A drake-dog might eat as much as four house-elves, but one drake-dog and a few tons of coal was far cheaper than feeding the hundreds of house-elves that it would take to keep Hogsmeade and Hogwarts supplied.

    Perhaps it could have been done by portkey, or perhaps not. A portkey doesn’t last forever; after a dozen or so trips, slightly longer if made by an expert, it would begin to wear out. And that said nothing of the energy required to operate the things. A portkey had to be recharged after each use — and doing so quickly required energy from a person rather than ambient magic. Producing enough portkeys to supply Hogsmeade from London would have required enough energy to kill seventy wizards per day through exhaustion; at nonlethal levels, it would mean a workforce approximately the size of Hogsmeade itself — just to produce the portkeys needed to supply the town.

    Hogs Haulage was founded in 1894, immediately after the Mallaig Extension Railway received Royal Assent — an occurrence which was, at least in the magical world, suspected to have come about through judicious use of compulsion charms on the part of the company founder. The intervening seven years saw a tremendously successful marketing campaign run through the greedy wizards of Hogsmeade, and there was such a demand for cheap freight by the time the line was finished that the first supply run took place shortly after the line opened in April of 1901.

    At first, the train was a weekly event, however, a town of ten-thousand wizards can guzzle its way through many a ton of supplies every day. The train quickly became Hogsmeade’s sole supplier of stock for the town’s shops: ale and firewhiskey for the pubs, food for the inhabitant’s tables, packing cases of potions ingredients, kegs of butterbeer, coal for the household fires, ton after ton of pumpkins to be pressed for juice, supplies for the castle, and transportation for those few passengers unable to apparate or unwilling to floo. By the time the first students travelled on the inaugural run of the Hogwarts Express in September of the same year, freight trains were arriving every two days.

    In the years since, those trains had become a daily visitor to the gradually growing wizarding town. As the availability of cheap freight became a reliable constant, dozens of wizarding businesses opened branches or relocated entirely to the only all-magical town in the country. Between the constant flow of grain to supply the likes of Ogden’s Distillery, additional parchment and ink for the twelve different publishing houses calling Hogsmeade home, the additional eighteen tons per week (plus packaging) of potions ingredients for Sparky’s, the Malfoy-family owned, state-protected, producer of floo powder, and all the rest of the thriving industrial sector, there had been even been rumors about doubling up a couple of days per week.

    That however, was still off in the future. For now, the daily train left Hogsmeade at nine o’clock sharp in the evening and traveled all night, arriving in London at around seven the next morning. There a replacement crew arrived by floo, and that locomotive was handed over as the London shunters and freight handlers assembled the train that’d travel north. The crew that had driven all night returned home by floo, and the train departed London at nine in the morning, to arrive back at Hogsmeade at seven in the evening.

    Two hours later another crew would take another train, behind a different locomotive — one of the twelve in the Hogs Haulage roster, all of wildly varying vintage, from a century-old lady originally built for the Highland Railway to one of the youngest main-line steam locomotives in Britain — on their way south to London.

    Muggle and magical alike, freight was the blood that kept civilization alive.

    2.8.8 Make-up work

    Abigail groaned tiredly as she plonked herself down heavily at the library table in front of her books and the accumulated work left over from her convalescence. She was still weak and exhausted from the weeks in the infirmary, and the hefty pile looked quite intimidating.

    “This is going to take forever!” she complained to the world at large. It seemed like new work was stacking up as fast as she could deal with the old, and between that and resuming her duties as a prefect… well, Abigail was starting to miss the inside of the infirmary. She looked across the table at her companions who were also just sitting down and smiled.

    At least she was in good company.

    “Is it a lot of work to catch up, Abigail?” the Gryffindor first-year girl, Hermione, asked. She had become much more talkative in the past few days, not that that took much given how mouse-like she was at first. The girl had yet to waste Abigail’s time with silly questions — which was not to say that she asked no questions, nothing could be farther from the truth. Fortunately, however, everything she asked or volunteered was well thought out, and she probed into everything.

    Abigail was pretty sure that she had learned her lessons better through answering Hermione’s endless stream of questions than she ever had by attending class.

    “It is — it most certainly is,” Abigail sighed. “The work seems to pile up as fast as I get through the older stuff. Honestly, I’m just glad this happened in my sixth year rather than during one of the major testing years. If this had happened last year when we were reviewing for OWLs — ugh!”

    “Is there anything you’re having trouble with?” came the bright and helpful question from her other companion, Harry. It was a question that Abigail was almost coming to dread. It had been embarrassing when she learned that Harry actually knew her lessons better than she did. She had five full years of magical schooling on him, for crying out loud!

    She was supposed to be the experienced older woman in this scenario, not the naïve innocent requiring education in the ways of the world.

    Abigail had to admit that Harry’s intelligence had not been something she was aware of before. She knew he was powerful and confident, but the quickness of mind he showed so casually and the sheer dedication required to see self-education through to that level were not things she would have associated with the apparently-scatterbrained first-year. Aside from the embarrassment of being shown up by her new, much younger, friend, it was a most welcome surprise.

    Seriously, the boy just kept getting more and more interesting the more she learned.

    That said, embarrassment or not, Abigail was not one to turn down freely offered help, particularly if it also netted her more time with her kinda-sorta-eventually crush. So, she tried to fight down her embarrassment and go on. The struggle must have shown on her face because Hermione shot her a look of sympathy and shared exasperation. It seemed the younger girl must have had her own share of similar moments before.

    “Yeah, I apparently missed the introductory lessons on human transfiguration, and I was trying to figure out the whole section on safety concerns. I’ve read through the text five times now, and it’s just not making sense!” Abigail brought her fist down firmly but quietly on the text in question. “I mean, some of the issues it raises make sense; the bits about completeness, humor passthroughs, iso-functional points, and holographic visualization make sense. They’re the same things we had to remember for animal transfigurations before, so it makes sense that they would apply to human transfigurations. I just don’t get why it suddenly jumps into mental contamination filters!” she whined in frustration. “I mean, that’s the kind of stuff we got into last year in Defense when we were talking about compulsions, why would it come up now?”

    And of course, despite her frustration with the topic, the boy just nodded. Arrgh! Why on earth had he been reading ahead on human transfiguration? That wasn’t the sort of thing that came up in light reading, for Merlin’s sake!

    “Oh yeah! I remember getting into that a couple of years ago,” Harry began, the revelation prompting both Abigail and Hermione to close their eyes in exasperation. “The reason for that’s actually ‘cause of the basic nature of transfiguration, right? When you transfigure something, you’re not actually changing it into something else; you’re just puttin’ some magic on it to make the world think it’s somethin’ else. You’re actually using magic to control the interface between the transfigured object and the rest of reality.”

    “Right, that’s first-year stuff I sort of vaguely remember,” Abigail nodded uncertainly. “It never really mattered to the practicals, or even to the tests as I recall, but I think I remember the lecture. How does that tie in, though?”

    “Well, it’s funny you mentioned compulsions, really, ‘cause you can look at transfiguration in a completely different way that’s functionally equivalent. See, instead of saying you’re changing the interface, you could also say that you’re compelling reality to see something that’s not strictly true. Like you’re telling reality, ‘see this mouse, well, it’s totally a snuffbox, not a mouse’, and then you compulsion-charm reality into agreeing with you,” Harry nodded matter-of-factly, as if he had not just said something utterly outrageous. “It takes a whole lot of math to prove, but the two resulting magical structures are really the same thing. The compulsion-charm reference frame is really hard to use for casting, though, so classes teach it the normal way.”

    “Anyway,” the boy continued, “when you’re dealing with non-sapient stuff like inanimate objects or animals — stuff without a mind or will — that equivalence doesn’t really come up much. It’s just a fun thing people found out, right. A bit of… oh what’s the word for that sorta thing?”

    “Trivia?” Hermione volunteered.

    “Yeah! Trivia! Thanks, Hermione,” Harry said. “Anyway, it ain’t important for anything practical until you start transfiguring things with real, complicated minds. But when you do, if you’re not careful, you impose the compulsion on the target’s mind as well as reality, and the target gets all kinds of confused. Starts thinkin’ the transfiguration’s actually reality and such. Magical people can usually sort things out eventually, but you do that to a non-magical person or even a squib and you get real issues. It’s even worse if you screw it up during self-transfiguration,” he shuddered. “That’s something you don’t want no part of. It gets self-referential, and your own magic starts reinforcing the transfiguration. That’s the current theory on how they got those quintaped thingies over on Drear.”

    “Huh,” Abigail said. “Now why couldn’t the book have explained it like that? That was much easier to follow, thanks!”

    Harry smiled, “No problem!” He paused for a moment before continuing more seriously, “Um, Abigail?”

    “Yes?”

    “That’ll probably work for your essay, but you might want to go to Professor McGonagall to actually get the safety lecture in person. I mean, I know how to do the stuff myself, but I’m sure I’d forget to tell you something or other if I tried to teach you everything, and with human transfiguration…” Harry frowned, “well, that’d probably kill you, and that would be really, really bad.”

    “Will do, Harry,” Abigail reached over the table and ruffled his messy hair affectionately. “She had already insisted, but thanks for caring!”

    That got yet another bright smile from the younger boy, and Abigail set about writing out her transfiguration essay. The other two had their own work to do, though Harry’s looked suspiciously like independent research given the haphazard mishmash of runic array descriptions and some sort of arcane diagram containing all sorts of right-angle lines, dots, odd symbols containing lines and dots, and zig-zag lines. Abigail had taken ancient runes herself, as well as the enchanting and warding extra lectures, and she knew what those systems generally looked like, so she was certain Harry was working on something extraordinary.

    Harry’s cogent and sensible explanation led Abigail to finish her essay in short order, it was only eight inches anyway, and the conversation kicked back up again as she took a short break to recover her strength — stupid lingering symptoms.

    “Um, Abigail?” Hermione began.

    “Hmm?”

    “What sort of career are you looking to get into after school?”

    The question was typical of what she had learned about the younger girl. Hermione always planned as far ahead as she possibly could. She had to be the most risk-averse kid Abigail had ever seen! That said, Abigail could see Harry perk up at the question in interest. Was he already thinking that far ahead, too? She would never have guessed.

    Again, with the hidden depths, it seemed!

    “Well, I’m still trying to figure that out, actually,” Abigail began tentatively in answer to her junior’s question. “Our society’s got a lot of problems with it, and I’ve always wanted to do something to make a difference, you see? The thing is, though, it’s really hard to do anything influential as an individual in this society. Right now, I’m thinking of either getting into journalism with the Prophet or joining the Ministry.” Abigail grimaced in distaste, “Neither option’s really a good one though, so I’m hoping something else will come up.”

    “Why are those bad options?” Hermione asked, puzzled. “I mean, journalism is an important profession; Mum says it’s the cornerstone of a healthy democracy! And the government is the logical place to go if you want to change how things are run, right?”

    “Well, you’d think so,” Abigail temporized, trying to work out how to explain her misgivings without destroying the younger girl’s faith in the world, “but well, we don’t really live in a healthy democracy.” She failed to find such a method. “And that means there aren’t really any real ways for journalists to change things, because the paper will only print what the government allows. I mean, I might go and try to persuade people to change things behind the scenes, but as a journalist, even if I write the truth, there’s no guarantee it will get printed.”

    Harry was nodding along with her conclusions as if he fully expected it, while Hermione looked deeply troubled.

    “What about the Ministry?” the younger girl asked, almost desperate-sounding.

    “Um, well that might work, in principle… eventually, I suppose,” Abigail said, almost apologetic. “The thing is, getting anywhere in the Ministry is a long, long, uphill slog, especially if you’re honest. And, if you want to get through faster in either job, well there are ways, but they’re more than a little distasteful, particularly the options available to me as a woman — or what I might get forced into if I put myself in that position.”

    She trailed off and shuddered a little in disgust at the idea while Harry’s grip across the way caused the table to groan in protest. Odd, Abigail hadn’t expected the boy to follow her oblique reference, yet another strange thing to add to her growing image of her totally-not-yet-a-crush.

    “What do you mean? Is that like bullying?” Hermione asked. “Because I’ve had to deal with some of that.” Apparently, she wasn’t quite as perceptive as the younger boy — an unusual turn of events.

    “It’s a bit of unpleasantness that you really don’t need to know about yet, kiddo,” Abigail averred. “You should probably ask your mother when you get home. It’s the sort of thing you’ll want family around to help you process. Anyway, do either of you have any plans in that regard?”

    Hermione shook her head, but Harry perked up.

    “Well, I’ve got a materials science joint venture going, and we’re doing pretty well at the moment,” Harry said proudly. “I’ve been thinking lately of getting into the logistics business, though. Got some ideas there.”

    Abigail was shocked. Harry was already running a company? “How did you get that going so early?”

    “Oh! Well, I provided some samples I got through a bit of a magical accident,” Harry explained proudly. Hermione — suspecting just which accident he was referring to — stifled a snort. “And Mr. Snape managed to reverse engineer how to make them, and Mr. Slackhammer has been marketing them and handling the production. We’ve got two major products right now, and we’re looking to expand more.”

    “So, you’re doing well?” Abigail confirmed.

    Harry nodded.

    “Okay, so what was that about logistics?”

    “Well, I’ve been thinking about how we get food and stuff to everybody. Did you know that Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are all supplied by Hogs Haulage? They’re the train company that runs the Express.” At the answering nods, he continued, “Well, I figured that would be a good business to get into, ‘cause everybody needs to eat, and they ain’t never gonna stop needin’ to, so there’s some job security there.”

    “I’d considered working for one of the big freight companies too,” Abigail said. “But I ran into a few problems. Hogs Haulage isn’t really growing; they’re content to sit on what they’ve got — and with the job retention they have, there are no openings. The only one that really grows is the Happy Elf Trucking Group that runs the road freight services, and they’re owned by Malfoy’s father. I wouldn’t work for that slimeball if it was a choice between that and starving.”

    Harry looked contemplative as she continued. “Most of the businesses are like that; the average wizarding industrialist is not the sort of person you want to meet in a dark alley at night.” Abigail sighed, “That’s the main reason I was considering the Prophet or the Ministry. Not exactly spoiled for choice here.”

    Harry still looked thoughtful as Abigail turned to the next assignment on her mountain of parchment, and the table fell silent aside from the scratching of quills.

    What exactly was Harry considering behind that puzzled-looking face of his, she wondered?

    2.8.9 Circuitous ways

    A darkly-robed and hooded figure walked confidently through the quiet hallways of the fourth floor pausing periodically to wave its wand at the floor below. The general build of the shadowy fellow would indicate a male, but magic being what it was, that was by no means certain. Each spell cast brought a new flinch.

    The stones below were too thick to break through, quietly or not. Enchanted stone was not immutable on its own, but three-foot thick enchanted stone was too much for a single wizard to beat. It seemed the only way in to the target was through the goblin’s defensive position, and that position had proven itself quite impregnable.

    The first assault had used three trolls, after all, three of the blasted, malodorous creatures, with a fourth to divert attention! If those trolls hadn’t been sufficient to win their way through, then there was nothing to be done about it in any case.

    Brute force entry was not a viable option.

    That conclusion had led to the current excursion, testing the defenses from an oblique direction. The best way to get through a defense, after all, was to avoid engaging it entirely. Unfortunately, it seemed there was no way through these defenses at all. Every wall, the ceiling, and the floor were all at least a yard thick, and given the nature of the castle stone, there was no way he’d be able to force his way through.

    There was no point in looking further, best just to give it up as a bad… Before he could finish that thought, the dark figure fell to its knees in pain before rising and again beginning to cast diagnostic charms.

    Perhaps something had been missed.

    Most would have known better than to test a goblin defensive position in the first place. Anyone reasonable would certainly have given up after a probing force of three fully-grown mountain trolls was turned into bloody chunks before even seeing the defenders. Any sane person would have been sorely tempted to give up on seeing the rest of the target enveloped enchanted granite more than a yard thick.

    The figure quietly cursed the fact that he was none of those things. Driven by his monstrous Master and the iron-hard control spells that had been cast, the robed individual had no choice, no matter how he cursed his fate. The only way out now was death — and suicide was not an option allowed by the Master’s commands. He could only hope that death would come at the hands of someone other than the Master.

    Dying at the hands of that monster would mean succeeding at the task it set him, and despite appearances, allowing the Master to succeed was the last thing he wanted. His Master had found him that one day during the previous summer, and his defenses had proven inadequate, to his eternal shame. Now, hemmed in by compulsions and outright mental domination, he could not act contrary to the Master’s commands…

    …but there had been no command against hope.

    And the dark figure hoped with every fragment of his tattered will that the Master’s plans would fail, even as he did his level best to complete the task the monster had set for him.
     
  26. Threadmarks: Section 2.9 - In which the rumor mill finally serves a good purpose
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.9.0 In which the rumor mill finally serves a good purpose

    The Hufflepuff common room was quiet as Harry wrote his homework assignment for transfiguration. He had a short time in between classes, and he had chosen to go ahead and finish up the work Professor McGonagall had assigned that morning rather than have it continue hanging over his head for a week. Much easier to just do it immediately after it was assigned and then be able to forget about it in his bag.

    It wasn’t like he had time to do anything else in the twenty-minute break, either. Twenty minutes wasn’t even enough time to eat a light snack!

    The older students had finally stopped complaining about the changes in schedule and the oddly-proportioned break times. Apparently, before this year, charms, transfiguration, and potions had been split into two groups with shorter periods, rather than the current situation with everyone in a single session, and that schedule had kept very uniform gaps between classes, while the current one had oddly-timed holes in the daily grind. Different timings every day of the week.

    Harry had no idea why it had taken them most of a year to adjust; it seemed to him like the regular timings would have had to have been boring. Much better to have a little variety in the day, to his way of thinking. It gave so many opportunities to get things done so he didn’t have to worry about it in the evening when he usually spent time with his friends!

    Then again, he supposed, pausing in his rapid scratching at the page for a thoughtful moment, most of the other students never seemed to take advantage of the extra time to do homework. Maybe they couldn’t crank out an essay in ten minutes? Harry shook his head. Nah, of course they could! It wasn’t like he was ever really that smart; if he could do it, Harry was sure most of the rest of the kids could.

    Harry finished up his essay with a flourish just as Susan and Hannah walked in to the room. He gave them a friendly greeting as he got up to go to lunch. Hermione should be out of her class now, and they usually met up with Abigail at the Great Hall.

    “Harry…” Susan began, uncertainly.

    “Yeah, Susan?” Harry answered cheerfully.

    “I think Hermione’s crying back in the library again,” the girl said. “She looked upset when she rushed by going that way. I thought you’d want to know.”

    Harry’s cheerful expression suddenly terminated itself, replaced by a black glower.

    “Right, I’ve just about had it with this,” he stated, turning back to the door with firm purpose.

    “Had it with what?” Hannah asked, puzzled.

    “Had it with this sittin’ back and watchin’.”

    “Where are you going?”

    “Nowhere much, just gotta talk to a lady about some stuff,” Harry called back to her in a truly unenlightening turn of phrase. “Thanks for letting me know about that.” With that, the young dragon left the room at a dead sprint.

    “You’re welcome!” Susan called after him, though he was already out of earshot in the twisting castle hallways.

    “What was that supposed to mean?” Hannah asked the world at large.

    “…well, I don’t really know,” Susan admitted. The rest of the world failed to reply.

    2.9.1 An offer she could totally refuse

    Harry slowed down as he approached the library door so as not to slam it open loudly; Madame Pince was even worse than Madame Pomphrey about him doing that, so he had decided to humor her. He was in a hurry, but not that much of a hurry. Hermione wasn’t going to notice another few seconds delay, he was sure.

    A quick look about the library revealed a bushy head of brown frizzy hair lying face down at their usual table, and Harry swiftly made his way over to it.

    “You’re still getting picked-on, ain’t you?” Harry said. Despite the phrasing, it wasn’t a question.

    “What about it?” Hermione asked doubtfully. “It’s not a big problem.”

    “You’ve been crying in the library, sounds like it’s a problem to me,” Harry countered.

    “You don’t need to get involved, Harry. I’m a Gryffindor, we’re supposed to handle this stuff ourselves!”

    “Really?” Harry asked. “That a House rule or sumthin’? ‘Cause I ain’t ever heard of it.”

    “Well, I think it is?” Hermione said uncertainly. “Everyone seems to act like it is, anyway.”

    “You know, if you want, I can do something about it and help get you out of there,” Harry explained with a shrug. “Aw, don’t look at me all growly-like, I don’t mean sitting on anybody’s head or the like; I mean, I can, you know, carry you off, and then you’d be staying at my Lair.”

    “Your Lair? Aren’t the Hufflepuffs in dorms too? I remember there being hallways off of the Sett like the ones in Gryffindor.”

    “Well, mostly,” Harry allowed, “but students who live close enough to the castle don’t gotta stay over at the castle if they don’t want to, and I live over on the other side of the Forest, and that’s close enough, so I live there. I just come visit the Sett pretty often, too.”

    “Then how would I stay at your lair?” Hermione asked. “I don’t live that close to the castle.”

    “Well, the rules say kids can sleep over with friends who aren’t staying at the castle if the friends are some of the kids who live really near to the castle, and the rules don’t say how often you can do that, especially if the kid who’s staying over is a… what’s the word? You know someone who’s being taken care of by somebody else…”

    “A dependent?” Hermione supplied.

    “That’s right! Thanks, Hermione!” Harry said. “…especially if the kid who’s staying over is a dependent of the kid they’re staying with; then they ain’t allowed to stay at the castle anyway!”

    “But I’m not a dependent! Well, not of anyone but Mum and Dad,” Hermione protested.

    “I could kidnap you, and that way you would be.”

    “… isn’t that against the rules?” Hermione asked in a quavering voice, sounding like she was afraid one of the pillars of her worldview was about to be shattered.

    Harry snorted before fishing about in his pocket for a moment before pulling out a pouch from which he withdrew a tiny book, perhaps the size of Hermione’s thumbnail. He set the miniature tome on the table in front of them and tapped it with his wand, and Hermione goggled as the tiny thing expanded into a gargantuan leather and brass bound behemoth which covered the entire reading table to a depth thicker than Harry’s torso and went on to hang over both sides.

    It was that big, and it was still closed!

    “…er,” Hermione’s usual eloquence escaped her.

    “Ain’t much of anything that’s against the rules if you know how to say it right,” Harry said.

    “How on Earth can a school have enough rules to fill that?” Hermione hissed in disbelief.

    “Well, it’s because they’ve been making rules for like a thousand years, and once something’s a rule, it don’t never stop being a rule, they just add more rules to it if they feel like it. My solicitor, Madame Axetalon went through it once so she could confirm I was interpreting stuff right, and she says there’s even more loopholes in the Hogwarts rules than there are in the laws about owning dragon eggs, and she’s real good at spotting that kind of stuff. It’s her job to do it, and she’s rich. And, well, there’s a rule that says if someone is someone else’s pet, then ain’t no one can stop the someone-who’s-a-pet from staying with the someone whose pet they are.”

    “…isn’t that against the law?” Hermione asked, hopefully, then started getting worried when Harry grimaced.

    “The Wizarding world ain’t a very nice place, Hermione, and it don’t matter what anybody told you,” he hedged.

    “You mean, it is legal?” Hermione sounded like she was going to be sick.

    “Yeah.”

    Hermione thought about that for a long moment while staring at the massive book of rules.

    “How can they do that?”

    “Same way they can say my Suze is an animal because she ain’t human. Same way as it took the goblins lots and lots of shooting to stop the laws calling them animals, and I’m meaning loads of machine gun kind of shooting, not someone with a rifle kind of shooting. There’s a lot of not-nice people out there, Hermione, and they don’t much like people like you, and if they knew I’m a dragon, they wouldn’t much like me, neither. ‘Course that means I’m gonna have to do something very unpleasant to some people soon to get ‘em to stop. But then, they oughtta learn that you really don’t wanna make a dragon angry, and from what Mr. Snape says, they never learn anything what’s not taught to them the hard way.”

    Harry’s blathering dissertation had given Hermione some time to sort her thoughts out, so she focused on the important bits.

    “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

    “Well, when I found out about you getting bullied, I picked out like five ways I could help using the rules, and I asked Madame Pomphrey about which one was best, and she said the pet option was the best of the bunch for a bunch of reasons,” Harry replied.

    “Would I ever be able to stop being your… your ‘pet’?” she asked, struggling to force the last word out of her throat. It was never something she had imagined uttering in this context.

    “Well, yeah, any time I said so, and you know, I’d say so if you wanted me to. I mean, it’d be really rude not to!”

    Hermione nodded, well aware of Harry’s Snape-imparted stance on manners.

    “Apart from the whole me-not-needing-to-live-in-Gryffindor-tower thing, what else would it mean? I mean, law-wise?”

    “Well, the main thing is it’d allow me to really smash people’s faces in if they messed with you; I mean, it’d be legal for me to do it — I could totally still do it even if it were illegal, but then I’d have to deal with the consequences of it. This way, there’d be no issue,” Harry said with a shrug. “Other than that, it’d mean you’d have to do stuff I told you, but I ain’t gonna do that unless it’s important anyway.”

    “I’ll need to think about this,” she said.

    “Sure,” Harry said with aplomb. “It ain’t like it’s an offer that’s gonna go away or nothin’.”

    Hermione nodded distractedly, still staring at the ludicrously massive book of rules as she fell silent for a few moments.

    “It’s insane,” she eventually said quietly.

    “What is?” Harry asked.

    “That something can exist right here in Britain that’s so… so wrong!”

    “Yeah, I know,” Harry agreed with a shrug. “Way I see it, I’m going to be a good little boy-who-ain’t-snuffed-it ‘til we decide it’s time for people to know I’m a dragon, then I’m gonna stomp all over ‘em because I don’t like people who mess with my damsels, and they’d better take real good notice, ‘cause there ain’t nobody who don’t take notice when a dragon says they gotta take notice.” He clenched his fist and grinned widely. “Well, I guess I’ll wait… unless they take my treasures away first, because if that happens, they’re gonna find out just how good the Hogwarts motto advice really is.”

    “The Hogwarts motto?”

    “It says ‘never tickle a sleeping dragon’ in Latin. I’m not sure why they always make mottos in Latin, but I guess it’s because it looks all motto-ey.”

    “Huh?”

    “Hey, uh, and Hermione?”

    “Hmm?”

    “Guns and damsels are very valuable sorts of treasures. Thought you’d wanna know,” Harry rose to his feet. “Well, I’m going to lunch. You up for coming along?”

    Hermione shook her head, “I think I’m going to spend some more time thinking things over. Can I look through the rule book?”

    “Sure, just tap it with your wand when you’re done, and it’ll shrink back down,” Harry said. “You know where to find me if you got any questions.” He turned away towards the door before calling over his shoulder, “It’s that Ron Weasley, innit?”

    “What about it?”

    “I’ll fix his shit,” Harry told her, and then he left.

    Hermione spent a few moments staring after him before turning back to the rule book and standing up so she could open the silly thing. She spent a few moments struggling before she went looking for Madame Pince to get some help.

    2.9.2 That’s him told

    At breakfast the next morning, the Weasley brothers, all four of them, were quite surprised to say the least when they and their fellow Gryffindors were just entering the Great Hall for breakfast, and a certain pint-sized Hufflepuff who they all agreed should have been a Gryffindor because hey, he was HARRY POTTER, got in their way.

    “What?” Fred Weasley, one of the third-year twins asked, but the boy hero ignored him in favor of glaring fixedly at his youngest brother, Ron.

    Then the short-arse Boy-Who-Lived surprised them all by reaching out and casually picking up the much taller Weasley brother by the front of his robes, lifting him completely off his feet with one hand and a complete lack of any visible effort and banged him against the nearest wall.

    Several of the Gryffs went immediately for their wands, but the words that came tumbling out of the young Potter’s mouth stopped them in their tracks.

    “Hermione nearly got her head smashed in because of you, you ginger cross-eyed Sassenach,” the Boy-Who-Lived growled. “And that was bad enough, but then you didn’t stop. Real gutsy of you. Real Gryffindor courage, pickin’ on someone who’s too nice to fight back. Well, that’s over with, Ron Weasley. I’m a ‘Puff, and we don’t let nobody mess with our friends. You keep pushin’ my friend Hermione around, and you’re gonna find out what it feels like to have your face used to bust open a door; you understand?”

    Ron let out a terrified squeak that Harry interpreted to mean ‘yes’.

    “Good,” Potter said, unceremoniously dropping the terrified redhead into a heap on the floor before he went storming off.

    Fred, and his other brothers, George and Percy exchanged side-on glances.

    What had their youngest brother gone and done this time?

    2.9.3 What can you do?

    Later that day, Harry was sitting in his study period, known more generally as History of Magic, and his mind was wandering. This was not an unusual occurrence, given the generally poor teaching of the incorporeal History professor, Cuthbert Binns, but Harry usually tried to focus his efforts on learning history, even if it was self-study.

    Today he was finding that to be impossible.

    Recent revelations had shown that his friends were having trouble. Hermione was dealing with bullying, and he already knew where that led. Harry’s memories of Hermione’s terrified screaming in a ruined bathroom were still quite fresh in his mind. Harry didn’t like that situation.

    He didn’t like it at all.

    Unfortunately, Harry couldn’t really think of anything else he might do to help. He had already made the offer to carry Hermione off and remove her from the Gryffindor dorms, and he had put the main perpetrator on very public notice. If he did anything more than that, Harry was pretty sure Hermione would be quite cross with him, so that was stuck for the moment.

    The recent conversation with Abigail on the other hand, had revealed that she was facing her own difficult choices coming out of school. Unlike Hermione’s screaming, Harry didn’t have a visceral reference for the sorts of revolting and degrading situations she had referred to, but he had a general idea from his conversations with Mr. Snape, and they sounded really, really bad.

    Harry was perfectly aware that, given the nature of the wizarding world and his chosen mission of cleaning it up, in the coming years he was likely going to have more visceral references for that sort of thing than anyone could ever want. When that time came, Harry really didn’t want to have the knowledge that his friend Abigail had faced something similar lingering in the back of his head.

    Just thinking about the vague, ill-defined possibility of that made Harry angry and uncomfortable. He couldn’t imagine how bad it would feel if it actually happened!

    The question became, then, what could he do about it?

    Harry had already been seriously considering purchasing Hogs Haulage, mostly because trains were cool, and he thought it would be neat to own the train company — and by proxy, the trains — outright. But his conversation with Abigail had brought other possibilities to light.

    Harry had not been aware of the competition in the logistics industry, nor had he been aware of the Malfoy interest in the trucking industry. Mr. Snape had made it abundantly clear that Lucius Malfoy was a bad man, responsible for a great deal of trouble and hardship over the years, and Harry was certain that sending less money in the man’s direction would be better for everyone involved. Purchasing and expanding Hogs Haulage to undercut his sales and thus his profit margins might just be the ideal way to do that…

    …while also getting to play with trains. There was no reason not to enjoy himself at the same time, after all.

    Plus, that expansion would mean more jobs for motivated and resourceful people — people like his friend, Abigail. That would keep her out of the Ministry and the press, which would be a good thing as far as he was concerned. Her assessment of the situation had hardly been flattering after all.

    That could definitely work, and like all good business deals — as Mr. Slackhammer was so fond of saying — it was a deal in which everyone won. He’d have to start work on the problem soon. Business research into Hogs Haulage and the potential markets for rail expansion could begin immediately, but personnel — that he wasn’t sure how to handle. Bringing Abigail in on the rail venture would require bringing her in on the underlying reasons for the expansion if he wanted her to do the job he had thought of for her, which would mean bringing her in on the revolution, and Harry wasn’t sure how to go about that.

    He figured Mr. Snape would know, though. Harry would have to talk with him at the first opportunity. Luckily, Christmas break was coming up. The boy-shaped dragon nodded to himself, that would do nicely. As Binns dismissed the class, Harry was impressed.

    That was the most productive history class he had ever had.

    2.9.4 One man’s helping hand is another’s threatening fist

    Hermione Granger was in her favorite place, the Hogwarts library, with her nose buried in a book and her mind occupied. Far from the concerns of her schoolmates, she was lost in the words of a man long dead, making notes with one hand while she turned pages with the other. She was in her element, though she did miss her radio from back home. Some quiet music to play in the background would help her focus.

    She’d been reading the Hogwarts rule book for the better part of the last two days, and even she had to take a break from that monster. It wasn’t so much the volume of text — were it just that, she would have had no issues at all; she had read more than that in one sitting before, though her mother had brought her food at the time — rather it was the content of the thing.

    The Hogwarts rules were an absolute mess, full of contradictions and blatant unfairness. As Harry had said, depending on how you put something, just about anything could be permitted by the rules, and again, depending on how you said something, just about anything could be against the rules. If the text in question had been historical or hypothetical, she might have enjoyed the process of puzzling out the meaning of the book and tracing the motives of the various authors.

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t a historical legal system, nor was it hypothetical. It was a small subset of the very rules under which she was expected to live her life, and she had just found out that those rules offered her no real protection whatsoever and in fact, opened her up to exploitation in a number of terrifying ways.

    Hence her break for some light reading on the history of alchemy in a dusty five-hundred-year-old tome the size of her torso. At least alchemy followed some semblance of a pattern.

    Her happy relaxation time was rudely interrupted by someone sitting down across from her and politely clearing his throat.

    Looking up from her notes, she found one of the Gryffindor prefects, Percy Weasley, looking back at her.

    “Hmm?” she asked warily.

    “Hello, Hermione,” Percy greeted her. He sounded worried.

    She wasn’t sure why he was worried, as he also had his younger brothers, the notorious prankster twins, Fred and George, flanking him as he spoke to a girl four years his junior.

    “Er, hello?” Hermione said, shifting her chair back in case she felt the need to leave in a hurry. These were Ron’s brothers after all.

    “We’ve got the idea that our little brother’s being a right prat,” the left-hand twin said.

    “What’s that got to do with anything?” Hermione asked doubtfully.

    “Aw come on, you think anyone in Gryffindor tower hasn’t noticed how you’re out of the tower real early in the morning and don’t come back until nearly curfew?” the other twin asked.

    “Just leave me alone,” Hermione told him. She thought she could see where this was going, and she didn’t like it. “I’ve already got enough trouble dealing with one Weasley without you three joining in.”

    “Listen, Hermione,” Percy said, “Gryffindor is supposed to be almost like a family. We’re not as close as the ‘Puffs, but we’re no cowards, and what kind of yellow git doesn’t stand up for his own?”

    “Apparently the sort called Weasley!” Hermione snapped, standing up. Coming as it did right after reading on the massive self-contradictory mess that was the Hogwarts school rules and its institutionalized injustice, this conversation was just the sort of thing that Hermione had feared might come to pass.

    She really wished she had one of Harry’s guns with her right about then.

    “Look, what we’re saying is, if one Weasley does something wrong, it’s the responsibility of all Weasleys to…” Percy started, but Hermione wasn’t listening anymore.

    Instead, she grabbed her notebooks and fled the library.

    2.9.5 Holes dug deeper

    “Oh, hell,” the left-hand Weasley twin, Fred, muttered.

    “Fred, Perce… this is real bad, isn’t it?” his twin brother asked.

    “Yes,” Percy confirmed solemnly. “What in Merlin’s name has Ron been doing to her?”

    “We’d better make sure he gets his head on straight,” George agreed with a grim nod.

    “Yeah,” Fred said.

    The family Weasley lived by three simple rules. Rule One was: family first. Rule Two was: no making the family look bad.

    And Rule Three was: muggle-borns have it too rough anyway.

    “We’d better have a word with Ron,” Percy said.

    “Yeah,” the twins confirmed.

    It was better that they handle this than have their parents get involved. Their father, Arthur, was too nice to really hammer the point home, and their mother, Molly, would go completely overboard to compensate.

    “What’s all this noise?” the librarian, Madame Pince, asked in a scathing tone.

    “Sorry, Madame Pince. We’ll pipe down,” Percy apologized.

    “See that you do. This is a library, not a madhouse,” she admonished with a glare.

    The redheaded trio nodded.

    “Please keep these books together for Hermione Granger,” Fred asked quietly. “Our brother’s got her real upset, and she ran off.”

    The librarian’s disapproving look vanished like a morning mist under the noon sun as she realized what had been happening.

    Weasley family justice was well known to the staff of Hogwarts.

    “I’ll do that, young man,” she said. “You run along now.”

    “Yes, Madame Pince,” Fred said as he and his brothers quickly left the library exchanging meaningful glances.

    2.9.6 Helping a friend

    Abigail had just left the sixth-year transfiguration class, and she was tiredly making her way off towards the Great Hall for lunch. The past few weeks had been exhausting, and transfiguration was one of the worst of the lot as far as she was concerned. So much concentration, particularly to get all the fine details down. McGonagall was a slave-driver.

    Adding that on top of the make-up work from her convalescence made for a truly nightmarish schedule.

    So, when she noticed Harry’s cute little hanger-on rushing through the hallways in a troubled manner, she was more than a little irritated at one more thing being piled on her already-burdened shoulders. She shouldn’t have to deal with whatever the girl’s baggage was on top of everything else…

    …but she was a prefect, and that was her responsibility, no matter how tired she was.

    Plus, the kid had become something of a friend over the past couple weeks, and Abigail was nothing if not serious about her friends.

    “Hermione!” she called after the girl.

    The girl paused and turned around. “Abigail?”

    Abigail noted the tears in the younger girl’s eyes, and she sighed.

    There went her lunch break.

    2.9.7 Searching for information

    “Excuse me, Mr. Potter,” a somewhat more reserved greeting took place at the Hufflepuff table during lunch.

    “What do you want?” Harry growled as he recognized the fiery red shock of hair atop Percy Weasley’s head.

    “I want to know what my youngest brother’s been playing at, so the twins and I can get him to sort his act out,” Percy stated bluntly. “Look, Gryffindors do not bully other Gryffindors. A bully is a coward, and we are not cowards. Ron’s forgotten that. He’s made your friend, Hermione, scared of all Weasleys, and it’s up to me and the twins to get his head out of his arse. To do that, we need to know just what he’s been doing, and Hermione won’t talk to us.”

    “I don’t know much,” Harry growled. “What I do know is it’s his fault that troll nearly got her, and I wasn’t joking when I said I’ll smash his face in if he keeps picking on her. You better watch out too; I’ve heard it’s a prefect’s job to stop other kids in his house being berks, and you better do your job, or there’ll be trouble. I don’t like what I’ve been seeing you Gryffs get up to, and if it keeps going on, someone’s gonna need their feet taken outta their earhole. That Ron better stay away from Hermione and my ‘Puffs, or he’s gonna get his attitude adjusted big-time. There ain’t nobody picks on my friends!”

    “There’s no need to threaten me, Mr. Potter,” Percy said, slightly surprising Harry by not sounding angry. Rather he sounded apologetic. “When one Weasley’s being a twit, it makes the whole family look bad, and that just isn’t done. We’ll give Ron a pointed reminder, and that’s a promise.”

    Harry contemplated that for a moment.

    “You’d better,” he concluded. “’Cause I don’t care about any of that stuff with her parents not being able to do magic; she’s brainy and there ain’t nobody picks on my friends.”

    “Count on it,” Percy told him. “We keep our promises.”

    Harry gave him a searching look which lasted for a few moments, and then the Boy-Who-Lived nodded gravely.

    “Okay,” he said, and Percy headed for the Gryffindor table with an answering nod.

    Harry spent a few long moments staring at his plate before muttering something Snape-ish sounding and going back to eating.

    2.9.8 Missed meals

    As Hermione walked off, somewhat less distressed than she had been half-an-hour previous, Abigail sighed exasperatedly.

    Pre-teen drama was just as silly as teen drama.

    Apparently, the entire situation boiled down to one of the Weasley brothers making an ass of himself and Hermione taking everything in the worst possible light. The most recent issue was quite obviously, from her outside perspective, a misinterpreted attempt to fix the situation on the part of the boy’s older brothers.

    That said, emotions were emotions, and trying to explain the reality of the situation to a distraught girl right in the middle of puberty was an exercise in futility. All Abigail could really do was offer an understanding ear.

    She would also approach her fellow prefect and advise that the obtuse ginger consider the appearances involved before he brings two of his brothers along for a delicate meeting in the future. She was sure the boy meant well, but seriously, of all the cack-handed ways to approach a conversation with a bullied pre-teen girl, he decided to bring along the goon squad!

    She took a look at the time before deciding that she had just enough time to hit the kitchens for a snack before her next class started. Lunch in the Great Hall was a lost cause at this point.

    2.9.9 A Weasley family intervention

    Classes were over for the day, and the three oldest Weasley brothers found their youngest counterpart sprawled out over one of the couches in the Gryffindor common room, a worn, comfortable thing with upholstery that almost matched their Weasley family hair.

    The rusty red color would also be convenient if they didn’t like his explanation for his behavior. Easier to clean, you know, no one’ll notice if you miss a few spots.

    “Bloody hell!” Ron croaked, going white as a sheet, and his trio of brothers’ worry immediately evaporated.

    Ron had always been as transparent as a window, and it seemed that upholstery cleaning would not be an issue this afternoon.

    “I… oh crud, sure I yelled at her a bit, but… I, oh boy, she nearly got got by that troll?” The youngest Weasley slumped forward, burying his face in his hands. “Oh bloody hell, I’ve been a right git…”

    “What’d you say to her, anyway?” Fred asked.

    “Well, I can’t really remember,” Ron admitted. “It wasn’t much — I know because I always remember when I’ve really gone off on somebody. I mean, I’m pretty sure we’ve said worse to each other over who got the last sausage.”

    “When all is said and done we’re quite a rowdy family, Ron,” Percy explained. “I guess, being an only child, she’s not nearly as used to yelling matches as we are.”

    “Fred, George, Perce, how the bloody hell am I going to make this okay?” Ron asked, running his hand through his hair as he looked down at the floor.

    The brothers fell silent for a moment before Fred piped up with a suggestion.

    “I’ve heard that Malfoy twat and his mates going off on her. How about you do what we should have been doing all along and cut the great git down to size next time he starts in on her?”

    A round of thoughtful nodding began with Ron and slowly propagated through the brothers.

    None of them had the faintest idea of what they had just begun.
     
    Ayashi, brt99, pervyshyguy and 88 others like this.
  27. Threadmarks: Section 2.10 - Flying off into the sunset… and losing your bags on the way
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.10.0 Flying off into the sunset… and losing your bags on the way

    Abigail had tried to reassure her that the older Weasley boys weren’t out to get her, they were just insensitive prats who were trying — clumsily — to help fix things, but Hermione wasn’t so sure that Abigail had an accurate read on the situation. They just kept watching her, like they were on the lookout for something to happen so that they could take advantage, and it made Hermione uncomfortable.

    Even if Abigail was right, and they were doing something silly like trying to make up for her treatment by looking out for ways to help her, it still didn’t change what she had been reading of the school rules. Nor did it change what she had been able to find written on the law of Wizarding Britain.

    And if the Hogwarts’ rules had been upsetting, the law of the land was bone chilling.

    Hermione didn’t want to have to deal with the Gryffindor dorms on top of everything else, and even if she didn’t know what to do about the laws, she did have an offer for getting out of Gryffindor.

    Hermione had taken the better part of two weeks to come to that conclusion, most of which time was spent immersed in research in the library, and that conclusion had led her to this point, searching out Harry to ask him a very important question just a couple weeks before the Christmas holidays.

    “Harry?” she asked the boy as she walked with him towards the school exit after dinner.

    “Wassup, Hermione?” the young boy replied absently, before catching sight of her expression as he turned to hold the door for her.

    As they walked out onto the deserted castle lawn, his expression sharpened and his attention focused, and Hermione asked seriously, “Look, if you carry me off, will I really not have to stay in the Gryffindor dorms anymore?”

    “Why’s that?” Harry asked, immediately concerned.

    “It’s nothing,” Hermione sounded way too hurried when she said that, her speech echoed in her walking pace as Harry jogged slightly to keep up on their way along the path towards Hagrid’s hut. “I just… I just wish I hadn’t talked the Sorting Hat into putting me in Gryffindor.”

    “Well, yeah,” Harry allowed, pulling ahead and turning to walk backwards so he could continue the conversation. “If I carry you off, well, obviously you’ve gotta stay at my Lair instead of anyplace else; it’s how being the damsel of a big ferocious dragon works. I can get you a chain or something if that helps?”

    “Oh, good,” Hermione said as they rounded Hagrid’s hut and arrived in the clearing Harry usually used to take off from on his way home, “I’d like you to carry me off, Harry.”

    Very abruptly, a solid metal dragon the size of a bus, whose weight was a topic most people found somewhat uncomfortable to contemplate, was looking down at a delicate damsel very literally asking to be carried off, and what self-respecting dragon doesn’t know exactly what to do in a situation like that?

    Harry demonstrated just how much better he had become at growling since the last time he had found a damsel to carry off and declared, “I’m a dragon, and you’re a damsel, and I’m gonna carry you off!” Then, with another ferocious bone-shaking growl, he put action to words.

    As she was gently gathered up in that same massive clawed hand which had so thoroughly smashed the troll back on Halloween, Hermione gulped. The reality of being carried off by a dragon was somewhat different from what she had imagined. Her world lurched, and they were abruptly in the pitch-black moonless night sky winging their way off towards Harry’s Lair.

    Oddly, she was not nearly as nervous as she always had been on a broom. Perhaps it was the darkness, so she couldn’t see how high she was? Or maybe it was the rock-solid grip Harry had on her — with talons large enough that she had trouble reconciling them with her concept of hands? Whatever it was, Hermione counted the security as a minor blessing.

    She had barely had time to register that they were in the air before Harry came in for a relatively smooth landing on the lip of a small cave which was lit from within. The light illuminated just enough of the surroundings for Hermione to realize that they were high on the side of a sheer cliff face.

    As Harry set her down with great and exaggerated care, Hermione paused to take in her surroundings.

    The cave itself looked to have started as one of those worn when an underground waterway comes out of a cliff. The stream responsible for its formation was now confined to a central channel which had been worn away through the center of the cave, and it flowed out and off the edge through a metal grille in the wall at the lip of the cave. The burble of flowing water provided a nice ambiance within the cave, in addition to the crash of water faintly heard from where it fell to the stream far, far below.

    However, the naturally-formed cave had obviously been heavily modified, expanded through excavation and changed through what seemed to be melting. Several dividing walls, such as the one at the lip of the cave into which the grille was set, seemed to have been added by piling up broken rubble and melting it into place. The natural floor of the cave had been flattened, and several more passages had been dug deeper into the cliffside.

    The stream had been covered over for much of its length by another metal grille flush with the rest of the floor, and the entire area was strewn with cushions and blankets and curtains and rugs and just about anything that could possibly be made using deer hide. Off to one side, there was a collection of other furniture, including a pair of beat up and sagging sofas, several armchairs in similar condition, a hefty wooden kitchen table with similarly sturdy straight-backed chairs surrounding it. The centerpiece of the arrangement was a great white and black Rayburn with a fire merrily crackling away inside it radiating endless waves of warmth through the main cavern.

    Everything was lit by warm electric lighting, the electricity for which was obviously provided by a small waterwheel which was housed in the same wall through which the stream exited the cave. It was obvious because the cabling supplying power to all the lights was quite visibly tacked up on the walls. The workings of the waterwheel were visible where an access panel had been pulled off for what looked like recent maintenance, judging by the collection of scattered spanners and a welding torch sitting on the floor next to it.

    Behind the couches were an immense collection of books stacked in dozens of piles each taller than she was. Looking at the mess made her fingers itch to organize them. The rest of the room was not spared from the clutter, as every available surface — including, in various places, the floor — was covered in the various flotsam and jetsam that tended to accumulate in the workshops and studies of less than tidy individuals the world over. The mess ranged from the books she first noticed, to toy guns, to carefully labeled potions, to tools, to toy models, to great sheaves of doodles and writings and notes, to a tangled collection of maps, to a giant globe. There was even a great stack of carefully arranged gold bars off to one side.

    In short, the entire place might as well have had ‘scatterbrained preteen child lives here’ lit up in neon signage across the entire room.

    “Okay,” she said, still looking around, “that’s me carried off, but… um, couldn’t you have waited long enough for me to get my stuff?”

    “Oh! Um, sorry, I kinda didn’t think of that,” Harry admitted.

    “Um, what’s going on?” came another voice from one of the passageways deeper into the Lair.

    “Oh, Suze! Check it out; I carried off another damsel!” Harry announced enthusiastically.

    “I see,” the centaur maid said. “But what was it that she was just asking?”

    “Oh, well, I got kinda excited when she asked me to carry her off, and I didn’t think to have her pick up her stuff before we left, so…”

    “Maybe it would be a good idea for you to go tell your friends at the castle about it, so they could bring her things?” Suze suggested reasonably.

    “Right!”

    And with that, the dragon swept out of the cave, off to see his professor friends at the castle to let them know about his new damsel.

    2.10.1 Inter-damsel communications

    As she watched Harry take flight from the cave lip, Hermione asked, “Suze — what is it Harry means to you?”

    Suze’s expression immediately changed from gentle amusement to a look that Hermione recognized quite easily.

    It was the kind of expression she was used to seeing out of the corner of her eye when she was curled up by the gas fire in the living room with a good book on a cold night, and her mother looked at her — a slight, soft smile, the sort that told you that all was well with the world.

    “In the beginning, he terrified me,” the centauress admitted. “I believed he was a dread beast, come to lay waste to all; I believed he would devour me — but where we expected a fell destroyer, we found a kindly child. Then, as I was first becoming fond of him, he saved the lives of Father, Grandfather, warriors of my kin — two of my uncles, my eldest brother, one of my cousins — Father had spoken words that should surely have earned all of my kin Harry’s enmity, yet he struck against the spider plague as if it was his own kin and home they threatened. Until that time, but three summers past, we were sore pressed; myself, I have lost four brothers, a sister, my mother, one hand of uncles, two aunts, and two hands and two cousins to those fell beasts within the span of the seasons that I recall myself, yet since the day the Great Wyrm descended upon their hordes, they have not spilled a drop of centaur blood.”

    “By the debt of blood unspilled, he is one of us, a young warrior of the Black Woods Clan, and his foe is ours — yet at the same time, he is the Great Wyrm of these lands, and thus lord of all he sees. To our knowledge it is a situation unique within all the tales of our past, and… I would wish to see good come of all this. At the side of our Great Wyrm, perhaps we might no more need to cower and hide in forgotten corners of this world; perhaps with his aid we might one day be able to walk the paths your kind have forged with our heads held high. And his aid is something that, once granted, I have never known to be withdrawn. House Hufflepuff suits him well, for he is steadfastly loyal to those he has deemed his own.”

    “You love him, don’t you?” Hermione checked.

    “Though they call him my Master and me his vassal… he is like a son, or a younger brother,” Suze said. “And to him, it is as if I am the elder sister he never had — or the mother he never knew. Perhaps someday there may be more to it than that — despite sentiment, we are certainly not bound by blood. Even within the Clan stranger matches have come about. We might read the portents of the stars, but the future is a secret untold even by Selene. Night brings naught but hints to the paths we might travel, and who can truly know what the omens we have seen seek to tell us?”

    Further discussion was cut off as, with a tremendous blast of cold air and a crash of talons against rock, Harry landed in the mouth of the cave, flanked by a trio of broom riders; Professors McGonagall, Snape, and Sprout. The generously-sized cave suddenly seemed cramped.

    “I confess I had wondered at what time the blasted reptile would decide to increase the breadth of his collection,” Snape stated by way of greeting, leaning his broom up against the wall across the lip of Harry’s Lair. “My congratulations on your promotion in life, Miss Granger; he is a dratted dragon and a wretched lizard, and he quite assuredly needs the aid of level heads such as your own to aid him in avoiding any further foolishness in the future.”

    “Hey!”

    “Don’t you say one word, daft boy! Recall that this is term time, and you are not entitled to answer your teachers back!”

    “Ok, Mr. Snape,” Harry grumbled. “Old sourpuss.”

    “Insolent glutton!” Snape snapped.

    “Foul-tempered poltroon!” Harry snapped back.

    “Blithering cross-eyed pillock!” Snape returned. “Ha! You’re still thirty years too soon to out-insult the master, boy!”

    “How about ‘slobbering armpit-sniffing reprobate’?” Harry asked. “I thought that was a pretty good one.”

    “Perhaps,” Snape allowed. “Hmm, yes, I’ll bear that in mind for the next time Goyle fouls up.”

    The irritable potions master noted the way Hermione was now looking at him as if he’d grown a couple of extra heads.

    “What? Do you quite seriously believe I have no sense of humor, Miss Granger? Odd, I had thought you to be better suited to House Ravenclaw.”

    “You do realize Filius would become quite insufferably smug if he heard you saying that, don’t you Severus?” McGonagall checked, looking amused and blowing Hermione’s mind in the process. The Gryffindor first year had never seen her Head of House wearing anything other than a stern expression before.

    “Naturally. And I likewise realize he would be looking insufferably smug at your expense, Minerva,” Snape said, whereupon McGonagall blew Hermione’s mind once again by mock-scowling and childishly sticking her tongue out in Snape’s direction. “Now that we’re done demonstrating to Miss Granger that we are just as human as any, perhaps we should be discussing business?”

    “That’s a good idea, Mr. Snape,” Harry said, brushing some of the clutter out of the way to settle his bulk down into the middle of the room.

    “Aye, now,” McGonagall said, “seems tae me it’s an open-and-shut case. It’s nae like our Harry’s ever changed his mind, now is it?” Hermione’s mind skipped once again when she heard that; she was used to a faint Scottish accent coming from her Head of House but not that tangled knot of Scottishisms.

    “I change my mind sometimes, Mrs. McGonagall,” Harry protested, sounding somewhat defensive. “Usually when I find out I’ve been really wrong about stuff, because not changing your mind when you find out you’ve been wrong about stuff is… is…”

    “The mark of a willfully-ignorant blundering pillock?” Snape helpfully suggested, and Hermione realized she was starting to get accustomed to the shocks to her worldview.

    “…is the mark of a willfully-ignorant blundering pillock — thank you, Mr. Snape — and I ain’t no way one of those!” the massive dragon in the room finished.

    “Well then, since that is the case, I’d hope you’ll bring my first-year down from this lair o’ yours fair lessons, laddie,” McGonagall sternly lectured, wagging a finger but failing to contain a smile.

    “I don’t think Hermione’d let me not do that,” Harry said, scratching at his head.

    “What I want to know,” Hermione said, “is why nobody’s asking my opinion.”

    “But you said you wanted me to carry you off,” Harry said, sounding puzzled. “Why would I ask your opinion again after you already told me?”

    “Not you,” Hermione said, “the professors. I’d think they’d want to confirm that I was willing in this sort of situation!”

    “Well, don’t just sit there and glare then, girl,” Snape said, cocking an eyebrow. “I trust you understand the ramification of this situation?”

    “Look, I made sure I knew what I was getting into,” she snapped, before pinking as she realized she had just snapped at a professor. “It’s not a big deal; you don’t need to be so serious about it.”

    “And tell me, Miss Granger, why precisely do you believe we would be taking this seriously if it were not?” Snape asked, his eyebrow remaining cocked.

    “…what?” the bushy-haired girl asked blankly.

    “You are neither hard of hearing nor an imbecile, Miss Granger,” her potions professor countered.

    “Mr. Snape, if you don’t stop growling at my damsel right now, I shall be forced to lick your head,” Harry stated authoritatively.

    “Dratted dragon!” Snape snapped. “I am attempting to impart the gravity of this situation to Miss Granger, and you are not helping!”

    “And you’re growling at my damsel while you’re doing it, and that ain’t helping neither!” Harry growled back, his voice dropping into octaves well below those of the deepest human voices in which sound was more felt than heard.

    “Tha both o’ ye’ eejits cool doon richt tha’ noo!” McGonagall interjected forcefully, giving Hermione her latest shock. The transfiguration mistress’ diction had plummeted from its usual faint accent to a rolling Gaelic-influenced Scots brogue as thick as ten-day-old porridge as she very abruptly proved herself to be a bona-fide local lass.

    “We are attempting to have an intellectual disagreement here, Minerva,” Snape said calmly.

    “An’ yeh kin cool doon or yeh kin tak yair backside raight tha fook doon tha castle, yah gurt great chewchter!” McGonagall fairly growled, then spun around and stabbed a finger at Harry. “An’ yeh too, laddie! Quit yair blatherin’ on an’ act lak a responsible dragon fair a change or maself’ll hae tae gie yeh a guid clip roond yair lug!”

    “Well, I suppose that’s us told, eh Mr. Potter?” Snape said with a sidelong glance at the dragon in the room.

    “Yeah, I think so, Mr. Snape,” Harry nodded.

    “Guid,” McGonagall said, her accent starting to fade. “Now I’ll be having a wee word with Miss Granger in private. You four take yair backsides through there and wait ‘til I tell yeh we’re done.”

    “No, you and Hermione can go through there if you really think it’s so important,” Harry said, crossing his forelimbs and settling in even more firmly.

    “Oh, aye?” McGonagall challenged.

    “Aye,” Harry growled, glaring back. “I’m no gonna move on that, Mrs. McGonagall, and if you think different, well, you’re out of luck, ‘cause I don’t trust nobody on this stuff.”

    “Looks like that’s you told too, Minerva,” Snape remarked, ignoring the venomous glare this earned him with aplomb.

    “Yeah,” Harry confirmed, voice dropping back into that spine-chilling snarl. “It is.”

    There was a short pause everyone in the Lair, bar Suze, reminded himself or herself they were dealing with a multi-ton, magic-resistant dragon who tended to be a mite touchy about things — and people — he regarded as his own.

    Hermione took the pause to recover somewhat from the repeated shocks this conversation had subjected her to, in fact she recovered enough to think back on something she had heard earlier in the conversation which she was still curious about.

    “Professor Snape,” the girl began, “what did you mean earlier about me being better suited to Ravenclaw? I thought the Hat sorted based on personality. Did the Hat make a mistake when it sorted me? Was I not brave enough for Gryffindor?”

    “Miss Granger, you misunderstand me. The Sorting Hat sorts first by customer preference, second by whatever the customer in question truly believes to be the most important: loyalty, courage, knowledge, or ambition. If the Hat sorted by whatever was strongest in an individual’s personality, you would most assuredly have been sorted into Ravenclaw due to your all-encompassing and quite insatiable thirst for information. That, not some nebulous ‘brave enough’, is why I believe you should have been a Ravenclaw, or possibly a member of my own House due to your immediately apparent ambition to know all that there is to be known. It is for the same reason that I believe most of the House I have the misfortune to be forced to administrate should have been sorted into Hufflepuff, as they are largely execrable sheep wont only to obediently follow along in the footsteps of whichever imbecile was foolish enough to first blunder along a certain course. And for the same reason, I believe that most of House Hufflepuff should have been sorted into my House for they are by and large cunning little rapscallions indeed.”

    “What about Harry?” Hermione asked. “What House should he have been sorted into, using your way of meaning ‘should’?”

    “That is difficult to say,” Snape admitted. “Either House Gryffindor as he is one iota short of fearless, House Hufflepuff as he is quite fanatically loyal to any whom he has reason to deem a friend and never mind his remorseless and in fact relentless ferocity in the protection of one like yourself whom he has declared a damsel, or House Ravenclaw as he has an utterly insatiable appetite for raw knowledge; one would have to be the Sorting Hat to say for certain. The only House to which I can categorically state he is unsuited is my own, as his sole ambition is to be the perfect dragon by his own peculiar definition of ‘dragon’, though I have cause to believe he is expanding his personal ambitions. All things change with time.”

    “Severus,” Minerva cut in, “As I recall, the Hat took you to task for your speculation about Sorting after the opening feast. I would have thought that being told off by a piece of headgear would have made you reluctant to continue the practice.”

    “Miss Granger asked a question, Minerva,” Snape said, “and I will not deny my student her answers on account of a millennium-old piece of fabric.”

    “Um, Mr. Snape,” Harry cut in, reminding them all that he was still in the room, “I think Donald also considers how different people will get along in the Houses too. He told me that his final decision was between Hufflepuff and Slytherin for me, ‘cause I was better suited to Hufflepuff by personality, but I’d learn more in Slytherin. He said he sent me to Hufflepuff because he didn’t think there’d be many survivors if he put me in Slytherin.”

    “And there you have it, Miss Granger,” Snape allowed. “Proof that you should always be skeptical of new information no matter who presents it to you. Regardless of the reasoning, I believe that a child’s House plays entirely too large a role in how they perceive the world during their schooling.”

    “Mr. Potter,” McGonagall began, “I do believe it is about time for me to take you aside and explain the proprieties involved in keeping your newest damsel.”

    “Really?” Harry asked doubtfully. “I thought I was doing pretty well with Suze.”

    “Yes, but Suze was somewhat older than you when she first became your damsel, so she knew enough to guide you properly,” McGonagall said. “She is also a centaur, and human girls are somewhat different, if for no other reason than that Miss Granger comes from a significantly different culture.”

    “Oh,” Harry said. “That makes sense.”

    And with that, the young dragon ambled off after the stern Scotswoman for a serious discussion on the proper care and handling of small British girls.

    “You think the House system is broken, don’t you?” Hermione checked as the pair left the main room of the cave complex.

    “Indeed, Miss Granger,” Snape confirmed. “The House system as it stands is most assuredly broken. It is my belief that we would all be better served by such a system if the students were to, at the barest minimum, be re-sorted after each two years of their time at Hogwarts — preferably at the beginning of each week; opinions can change with remarkable swiftness and fluidity during one’s youth. I realize that the ideal would be quite difficult to implement, but it is not yet a crime for a man to dream.”

    “Not yet a crime?”

    “Not yet,” he confirmed.

    At her continued look of puzzlement, Snape snorted. “Miss Granger, imagine a world without restriction or check on the activities of the powerful, and you have the Wizarding World. Some of this is an unavoidable consequence of the nature of our magical gift; there are some few individuals so much more powerful than their fellows that the only real restriction on their behavior is their own moral character. Albus Dumbledore is one such person, and Mr. Potter here is well on his way to becoming another. Unfortunately, magical power is not the only form of exploitable power we must contend with, there is also the power of information control.”

    “What do you mean, Professor?”

    “Since the Wizarding World began withdrawing from the world at large more than a thousand years ago, we have developed frighteningly powerful methods for controlling perception and memory — even thought, itself! As a society, we routinely use spells designed to subvert the memories of others, things like that abomination known as the obliviation, and even spells designed to directly alter others’ will, like compulsions. They were necessary to maintain the curtain of secrecy, but they are spectacularly prone to corruption, particularly given the mindset engendered by their use.”

    “The mindset?” Hermione sounded troubled.

    “After the separation, secrecy became paramount, and the lives, even the very thoughts of non-magical persons became simple obstacles to that goal. They went from being priceless treasures to simple trash to be removed when it became too inconvenient,” Snape sneered. “And what is the difference between the loves and thoughts of non-magical humans and those of magical ones?”

    “I… I don’t know, Professor.”

    “There isn’t one,” Snape said flatly. “No matter what justification, magical superiority or whatever the malarkey of the day is, there is no intrinsic difference between the two. Thus, the entire idea is based on a lie, and any such philosophy will eventually collapse. In this case, by its very nature it denigrates the lives and memories of magical persons as well as those of non-magical persons because there is no way to differentiate between the two. It is, at its black and withered heart, the essence of evil, and we see the effects in our society now.”

    “Those same minds which have been conditioned to think of all else as worthless in the face of their own self-interest now run our society, both in the government and private sector, though there is little enough separation between the two in the cesspit that is wizarding Britain. It is a place where price-fixing and monopolies are routine, and in fact, are often aided and abetted by government, where health and safety standards are nonexistent, where useless addictive products are pushed on unsuspecting people routinely, and where the very concept of a fine, upstanding government official is treated with the same sort of skepticism the non-magical reserve for tales of unicorns and dragons. And it is a place where that same government not only maintains a propaganda rag masquerading as a legitimate newspaper, but also maintains an entire department devoted to directly controlling the thoughts and memories of other people.”

    “Is it really that bad?” Hermione was more than a little appalled at the description.

    “Wizarding Britain is a hellhole that has managed to immerse in all the worst excesses of both socialism and capitalism,” Snape sneered again. “It lacks the necessary checks of an ingrained morality for capitalism to function properly, and as it does in all government systems, the scum rises to the top in the public sector with no institutional checks and balances to keep them from becoming tyrants. What sort of system do you think would arise from such a morass?”

    Hermione fell silent.

    “The concept of human dignity, and indeed, common decency has fallen by the wayside in our community. It is said that, within the mundane world, the rich get richer whilst the poor stay poor — ha! They think they’ve got it tough, do they? Quite frankly, if our problems were as few as theirs, we would be laughing!”

    2.10.2 On the nature of public personae

    About an hour later, Hermione’s things had been delivered, and the trio of professors had left on their brooms. Hermione was seated on one of the couches while Harry dug away at another part of the cave to create a small alcove which could be curtained off for Hermione’s usage.

    Mrs. McGonagall had been quite insistent that it would be most improper for Hermione to sleep in the same warm and comfortable pile that Harry and Suze did. Harry wasn’t precisely sure why that was the case, but he accepted the idea, particularly when it was reinforced by Hermione’s massive blush of embarrassment when he asked her for confirmation.

    It wasn’t like digging out a few thousand cubic feet of rock was difficult anyway, and they had plenty of deer hide for curtains.

    While Harry was digging, Hermione considered her conversation with Professor Snape, and during a lull in the noise, when Harry was attempting to figure out how to turn a corner in the small space, she commented, “The professors are very different when they’re not, you know, in school.”

    Harry let out a grunt of effort as he strained to reach around the corner of the wall he had left for Hermione’s privacy so he could dig out space for a closet. “Yeah… I know.” Another grunt, “I asked Mr. Flitwick about it — not Professor Flitwick, because he wasn’t being a professor then — and he says there’s a very important difference between when they are and aren’t being professors.” There was a bit of harsh scrabbling and then an explosive sigh of relief as Harry finally managed to break out the last few chunks of rock from the very hard-to-reach back wall of Hermione’s future room. “He says that when they’re at school and being professors, they have to be respectable authority figures because the kids need respectable authority figures, so when they’re not at school, that’s when you get to know the real people instead of the professor masks they use for the job.”

    “That makes sense.”

    “I mean, it’s not that they’re really different people, they just sort of relax more. Like I’ve never known Mr. Snape to laugh when he’s being Professor Snape, and I’ve never heard Mrs. McGonagall call someone ‘yeh auld eejit’ when she’s being Professor McGonagall, and I’ve never seen Professor Flitwick do shadow-puppets when he’s being Professor Flitwick, but they’re still the same personalities, just more subdued. I can see though, how people who’ve only known them when they’re being professors are going to think they’re these serious people who you’ve got to respect and everything. That’s how I figure you get kids to take you seriously about this whole education thing.”

    “It’s obvious that you respect them, Harry, so why do you think other people wouldn’t?” Hermione asked.

    “I respect them because of who they are, because of what they can do,” Harry explained. “I respect Mr. Flitwick because he’s a three-times world champion duelist. I respect Mrs. McGonagall because she’s a lovely old lady that can turn a desk into a real live pig as easy as I can eat a rasher of bacon. I respect Mr. Snape because he’s invented more potions than I’ve had hot dinners, and because he ain’t scared of nothing at all. I respect Mr. Hagrid because he knows exactly how to find the bad bit and get oil onto it when my skin gets real itchy and dry because my body’s growing too fast for it even when I don’t tell him where it’s itching. I even respect Mr. Filch because even though he can’t do any magic, he still manages to keep the whole castle clean and properly organized despite people like those Weasley twins making a real mess, and because anyone who’s nice to cats can’t be all bad.”

    “I didn’t take you for a cat person.”

    “Cats are okay; you know where you stand with a cat — if you make a cat cross, it’ll let you know right off, and the same goes for a cat that likes what you’re doing.” Harry grimaced, “Well, that, and dogs always run away as soon as I get close to ‘em, no matter how friendly I try to be.”

    With that, Hermione discovered that a pouting dragon looked very strange indeed.

    2.10.3 Stymied investigations

    The end of the fall term had arrived once again, and as the students prepared eagerly for their Christmas break, whether they were to go home or stay on campus, the staff once again met to discuss their progress over exotic drinks.

    The crowd was sizeable, with the usual suspects showing up. Quirrel was still absent, though no one could find it within themselves to blame the man, given his terrifying dressing-down by the Headmaster over his behavior on Halloween.

    The rest of the staff were pretty sure they’d be hiding in some remote corner of the castle too if they had been on the receiving end of that.

    As had become his habit, Filius was tending bar, passing about portions of an odd sort of alcohol provided directly from the distillery of Madame Sprout, this time a strong, smoky liquor which somehow managed to look like a colorful deluge of falling autumn leaves. It even rustled when swished in the glass.

    “This is a fine accomplishment, Pomona,” Albus praised after taking a sip. “I don’t believe I have ever encountered a magical liquor with so many masterfully-incorporated effects in all my days. And you have managed to keep it from tasting of burnt magic, too!”

    “Thank you,” the rather homely woman said, face reddening somewhat at the effusive praise.

    “Indeed, a remarkable synthesis,” Snape volunteered. “Managing so much so smoothly demands consummate skill. I offer you my professional respect.”

    Minerva had been staring at her glass disapprovingly after taking a sip, almost betrayed by the fact that she had actually liked a liquor other than her beloved local single-malt, before she took another sip and attempted to bring the meeting to order.

    “So, I suppose that we should discuss our progress during the term,” the Scotswoman began. “Has any progress been made on identifying the miscreant who brought those trolls into the school?”

    “None, I am afraid,” Albus said. “The culprit remains at large, and we have no clues as to his or her identity.”

    “How have your students adjusted after the troubles?” Pomona asked, before continuing proudly. “I know my Badgers have pulled together nicely.”

    “My Ravens hardly noticed, as near as I can tell,” Flitwick said. “There is some wild speculation about the motivation for the attack and the means used to repel the trolls, but nothing of substance and, I’m sad to say, nothing particularly well thought-out.” The diminutive man sipped at his drink before shaking his head, “Very shoddy work for my Ravens; I can usually expect better from them even in idle speculation.”

    “My Lions took a while, but they eventually realized one of their own had been attacked, and they’ve been looking out for Miss Granger since,” Minerva volunteered. “It’s almost a shame that she ran off with Mr. Potter; I think she would have found quite a few friends had she stuck it out for a few more months. Ah well, no use crying over spilt milk.” She took another almost reluctant sip of the leafy brew.

    All eyes turned to Snape expecting him to inform on the state of his own students.

    The potions master looked up from his drink inquiringly.

    Minerva sighed, exasperated. “How have your students taken the situation, Severus?”

    Severus smiled at once again tweaking the noses of his coworkers. “They are their usual self-absorbed, dunderheaded selves. With the sole bright exception of Miss Abercrombie, the incident had as much effect on my Snakes as a rock thrown into a lake. There was some temporary excitement, but the students quickly fell back into their normal habits.”

    “And how has Miss Abercrombie reacted?” Flitwick asked. “She has always been a favorite of mine in class.”

    “She had recovered admirably, and she has made a friend in Mr. Potter,” Snape said. “They tend to study together, along with Miss Granger, and they seem to be getting along rather famously. It is a rare occurrence for one of mine to manage to pull themselves together into something admirable.”

    The school nurse snickered at that, poorly attempting to stifle her mirth with her drink.

    “What is so funny about their friendship, Poppy?” Pomona asked, somewhat miffed at the apparent mockery. Friendship was very important to her.

    “Ah,” Madame Pomphrey managed to get her giggles under control, “Miss Abercrombie is… interested in more than simply friendship with Mr. Potter, in fact. I will not share the details, but she seems to be one of those who likes her men strong, if you catch my meaning.”

    “Oh, dear,” Pomona said. That was unexpected. “Is it something I should be monitoring as Mr. Potter’s Head of House? She is more than a little old for the boy at this point.”

    “No, she is quite in control of herself,” Poppy reassured her. “I have no doubt that she will maintain that self-control admirably, but I’d be willing to bet that she will make that interest clear before she graduates, depending, of course, on how she reacts when she eventually learns of Mr. Potter’s nature.” The nurse chuckled to herself once more, “Mr. Potter seems to be acquiring an embarrassment of potential romantic entanglements already, between Miss Abercrombie and Miss Granger; his school years might just become quite the drama.”

    Severus shook his head in disgust at the idea before sipping at his drink once more.

    “So long as there is nothing untoward going on, I suppose there is no harm in letting things play out,” Albus opined. “Speaking of Miss Granger, how is she faring now that she has relocated to Mr. Potter’s Lair?”

    “She has settled in quite well,” Minerva volunteered. “Mr. Potter dug out a small apartment for her use the same night he carried her off, and between Miss Suze’s skill with deer hide and Mr. Potter’s transfiguration abilities, it is quite well-appointed. Mr. Potter will, of course, be flying her in to school every day when he comes in himself, and the rest of the administrative details have already been discreetly handled.”

    “That was well done, Minerva,” Albus approved. “There was no need to leave anything unhandled and attract attention to the boy before he is ready for it.” The elderly wizard nodded sagely before relaxing back into his chair for another sip. “And how goes the research into the Avebury incident?”

    “We have confirmed the energy levels involved in the transformation to be consistent with Filius’ earlier estimates,” Septima Vector reported. “That was calculated by totaling the amount of magic involved in the various ley line effects observed, the energy inherent in Mr. Potter’s form as determined from detailed studies of his aura, as well as the energy of transformation of Mr. Potter’s physiology as determined from Severus’ studies. So we have confirmed that the problem is just as big as we had feared.”

    There was a murmur of discussion in the room for a moment before the Runes professor spoke up.

    “Further examination of the Avebury site and the three others within the Isles have revealed just how much we have lost over the years,” Bathsheda shook her head in disgust. “Perhaps one in five of the symbols used in the inscriptions are intelligible; even then, they are only found in the oldest of our records. Judging by the drift rates in runic languages, I would estimate the rune systems used were devised at least twenty thousand years ago — at the very least. The origins of these things are ancient beyond belief.”

    The woman took a drink before continuing, “Trying to discern their function from the writings themselves is an exercise in futility; we will have to do a detailed functional analysis as well in order to assign meanings and then extrapolate from there.” She sighed, “This would probably be the most fascinating runic puzzle I had ever heard of, if not for the necessity of sitting on top of the world’s biggest explosive while trying to solve it.”

    “Aside from the difficulties in understanding,” Filius took up the discussion, “our work with Sybil leads us to believe that there are at least eight-hundred of the things spread throughout the world in a decidedly nonuniform pattern. Fortunately, she has been able to give us very precise measurements for where the things are in relation to her at the time of her divination…”

    “I can imagine her definition of precise,” Minerva scoffed.

    “Minerva, do not be so dismissive,” the diminutive man chided his colleague. “This application is quite different from her usual tea leaf fare. She actually gave us a list of distances accurate to within a mile for the devices within the British Isles, and she assures me that the precision will stay within twenty miles even for the other side of the globe, so we have some promising beginnings. I propose that we return with some decent maps for our next meeting to see if we can put a face to the problem. Problems always seem to get easier to deal with when you can put eyes on them.”

    “Speaking of eyes,” Poppy spoke up, “have you considered bringing Mr. Potter along for your examinations of the devices. He can see magical fields naturally, mind, and that might give you some new insights.”

    “A capital idea!” Flitwick enthused. “Perhaps we invite him to our next project meeting?”

    “I might suggest that we also ask Mr. Potter to review Mr. Dursley’s memories in light of his superior senses,” Severus added. “He might be able to glean more than we have.”

    “Wouldn’t that be dependent on Mr. Dursley’s senses, rather than Mr. Potter’s?” Minerva asked.

    “No, Minerva,” the Headmaster interjected, “the function of a pensieve for viewing memories is actually another quite fascinating application of divination. You see, when you view a ‘memory’ in a pensieve, you are actually scrying into the past using that memory as a targeting catalyst. That is why ‘reviewing’ a memory can reveal things which you didn’t observe in the original memory, and why the memory is viewed from a perspective outside the head of the contributor. It is one of the most reliable divination methods. Only determining the future is so terribly ‘wooly’ as you are so fond of putting it. Divining the past and present is actually quite dependable given the appropriate conditions.”

    The stern Scotswoman looked rather like she had bitten into a lemon.

    “It seems that we will be meeting with Mr. Potter after the Christmas break, then,” Pomona remarked. “It sounds like a practical idea, but I must ask, what will we do about the alcohol? The boy is underaged, after all.”

    “Oh dear,” Filius said, clutching his glass protectively, “I hadn’t considered that.”

    As his colleagues expressed similar concerns, Severus spoke up, “Mr. Potter tends to prefer Goblin tea, so we could simply provide that if you are squeamish about pouring alcohol into the blast furnace that is the boy’s digestive tract. Though I have no idea why you would be concerned — the stuff will cook off before it gets halfway down his gullet.”

    “Ah, good,” Albus said, “I too had been worried about foregoing our alcohol. Good show, Severus.”

    “Lush.”

    2.10.4 Not-so-suspicious sedans

    On a deserted stretch of road which had hosted an odd procession of white vans the better part of a year previous, a small family sedan trundled through the winter landscape of brown shrubbery interspersed with pockets of windswept white snow before it pulled over at a familiar cut in the hillside.

    A well-to-do British man left the car to look doubtfully at the passageway, comparing it to a photograph he pulled from his pocket before nodding in satisfaction and returning to the vehicle. The car then pulled off the road completely and slowly passed through the hill and out onto the moors.

    Inside the car, the man’s wife asked, “Tony, are you sure we’re going the right way?”

    “I think so, Sharon. That cut in the hillside looked just like the photo Hermione sent us, and we’ve been able to keep driving this far. If there weren’t a path here, we would have gotten hung up a long time ago.”

    “But didn’t she say there was a forest here?” Sharon insisted. “I don’t see any trees.”

    “I know, Sharon, but we only have the directions we were given to go on. Hermione said someone would meet us when we got close enough. We’re just going to have to trust in those directions.”

    “Well, if you’re sure…” Sharon trailed off, looking out on the surrounding moor doubtfully.

    It was another three minutes before they were approached by the same centaur maiden they had encountered in August.

    2.10.5 Puddle jumper

    Tony Granger stumbled over to brace himself against the blessedly solid stone wall.

    After their meeting with Suze, she had directed him to a secluded clearing just inside a forest that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere as he drove, and he had parked the family car under a sturdy tree just in time to yelp in startlement when his daughter’s dragon friend suddenly landed behind the car with a heavy thud.

    A quick greeting had then led directly into the young dragon gently scooping him, his wife, and all their luggage up in one massive hand while his centaur securely clipped herself to a harness around the dragon’s massive scaly torso. Then, Tony most assuredly did not scream as he was carried through the most disturbing flight of his life up to that point, after which he and Sharon were safely deposited on a generally level stone floor.

    Harry had been very careful, but Tony had honestly never been happier to be on solid ground once again.

    “Are you okay, Daddy?” his daughter said.

    Looking up, he saw his Hermione looking at him in concern from where she was wrapped up in his wife’s arms. Sharon, for her part, was looking at him in amusement. She always did like rollercoasters, crazy woman. He returned her amused look with one of mild disgust, which only made her giggle.

    “I’m alright, honey,” he mustered the effort to say. “Flying simply doesn’t agree with me, it seems.”

    “I know,” his absolutely saintly daughter commiserated. “It took me all week to get used to Harry carrying me down from the Lair.”

    “So, you have to make that flight every day?” his wife asked.

    Hermione nodded.

    Tony shuddered at the idea of going through that every day. “Why on earth doesn’t he have a stairway?”

    “Because that would defeat the purpose of having a knight-proof lair,” Harry cut in matter-of-factly. “This way you have to be able to fly to get in, and knights can’t fly.”

    “I see,” Sharon said. Tony could tell his wife was barely suppressing yet another fit of giggles. “Do you have that much of a problem with knights, young man? I didn’t think they were particularly common any longer.”

    “Well, not yet,” the young dragon said seriously. “But all the stories I could find always talked about knights coming along and sticking unsuspecting dragons with their lances and making them dead, and I don’t really see why I should risk it when I can just not build a stairway and not have to worry.”

    “Sensible, I suppose,” Sharon allowed.

    And with that, the group moved on into the Lair proper to get warmed up by the Rayburn.

    2.10.6 Still sinking…

    After a few minutes of pleasant small talk around the stove, Hermione and her mother had retreated to her bedroom in the Lair to discuss whatever it is that mothers and daughters talked about with each other in such a situation. Tony had no idea what they would be talking about, but he trusted his wife to let him know if he needed to handle something.

    In the meantime, Tony Granger decided to have a bit of a talk with the young — man? Dragon? Whatever — who had so quickly become so important to his daughter. There might not be much he could do about the situation, a truth that had been hammered home by his discussion with that Snape fellow back at Halloween, but he could certainly find out more about things, and maybe he could offer some advice.

    “So, Harry,” he began casually, “what prompted you to carry my daughter off like a sack of potatoes from the grocer?”

    Perhaps he wasn’t quite as sanguine about the situation as he had thought.

    “Well, she was bein’ bullied by some of the jerks in her House, right?” Harry explained gamely. “So I offered to carry her off so she didn’t have to stay there, and so I could step in to defend her from stuff legally. I mean, I would have protected her anyway, but that might have brought some trouble if we weren’t careful about it, and it’s just simpler to have it so she’s my dependent from the perspective of the school.”

    “Wait, you carrying her off makes her your dependent?” the dentist interrupted. “How does that work, exactly?”

    “Well, by the school rules, when I carried her off, she became my pet, so she was my responsibility, and since I don’t live on campus, that means she can’t either, so then…”

    “Wait!” the outraged father hissed. “My daughter is considered your pet?”

    “Well, yeah,” Harry confirmed. “She is until I say she ain’t anymore, and I’d say that whenever she asks, so it’s not really a problem for her.”

    “Couldn’t you have picked something less… degrading than ‘pet’?” Tony most assuredly didn’t whine.

    Harry looked thoughtful for a moment before replying, “Well, I could have gone for a servant contract or given her a House Potter torc, but the second one would have been essentially permanent — I mean, there are ways out of that, but it’s basically a vassalage thingy, and even if we did break it off all friendly-like, people would assume it was because Hermione did something really, really bad; so that would go badly for her. I didn’t want to rush.”

    “What about the servant contract you mentioned?”

    “Well, she doesn’t really have any skills yet that I could be hiring her for, so… well,” Harry winced, “um, a servant contract without an accompanying silver torc would basically be seen as…” he trailed off.

    “What would she be seen as?”

    “Well, she’s just about old enough to get pregnant, so…”

    “I think I understand,” Tony interrupted, feeling rather sick to his stomach, before continuing out of morbid curiosity. “What would ‘an accompanying silver torc’ mean?”

    “Well, that would mean just about the same thing, but with the further intention to build something more permanent, either a concubinage or marriage arrangement.” Harry said with the air of someone repeating an earlier explanation that they weren’t entirely solid on the meaning of themselves. “The pet thing might sound a bit bad, but the social connotations are that she’s a playmate, not anything more… sexual? Is that the right word? I mean, I like Hermione, and even though I don’t really get what it’s all about, I gather that might be something to look into in a few years, but I thought it’d be a bad idea to rush that over some bullying.”

    “I appreciate that, Harry,” the girl in question’s father said reluctantly. “Why do you know so much about this anyway? Doesn’t seem like something you’d have looked into on your own.”

    “Well, before I made Hermione the offer, I talked it over with Madame Pomphrey, and she made sure to explain things to me, so I could look out for Hermione okay,” Harry said proudly. “I still don’t really get what the deal is about sex and stuff, but Madame Pomphrey said she’d explain to me when I got old enough to understand.” The young dragon frowned, “She said it would only make sense after my body grew up a bit more and that I had to finish learning occlumency before then. Do you know what she meant by that?”

    The father of a young daughter decided to answer that with another question. “Do you know what sex actually is, Harry?”

    “Not really, just that it has something to do with making babies and stuff.”

    That was a relief to Tony. For a minute there, he thought he was going to have to worry about his daughter getting into certain things long before she — or he — was ready for that stage. “A lot of the stuff that has to be explained is instinctive reactions that you won’t even start feeling for a few more years. If you’re not feeling it yet, then trying to explain will just confuse you, or worse, it might make you think something is wrong with you for not feeling them. It’s best just to wait for the right time.”

    “Okay,” Harry said affably before changing the subject in one of those rapid changes so typical of young children. “Oh, do you wanna see my new gun? At my last marksmanship lesson, Sergeant-Major Hooktalon said I was good enough with my Lee-Enfield to start handling an L1A1!” In the middle of the excited babbling, the dragon shifted form into that of a small boy and scampered over to a neatly-organized gun rack beside the cave entrance, picking up the gun in question and professionally, if a little slowly, verifying that it was unloaded before bringing it over to show it off to his friend’s father.

    “Um, Harry,” Tony began, looking nervously at the scary-looking black rifle, “isn’t that the same sort of rifle the Army uses?”

    “Yep! Isn’t it neat?”

    “Well, I suppose, but I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for private ownership in this country. I looked into the gun laws after we met in Diagon Alley, and they were pretty adamant about it. Even the other one,” Tony indicated the Lee-Enfield, “requires a gun license, and you’re not old enough to get one of those.”

    Harry grinned as he patted the L1A1 he was holding, “Well, yeah, it’s illegal for humans to own much guns. Mr. Slackhammer says he hopes they get over that silliness before something bad happens to them because of it, and I agree with him ‘cause it seems like a really dangerous thing to do, but I’m a dragon, so I don’t gotta worry about that stuff.”

    “…what?”

    “Well, they ain’t written no laws about whether porpoises are allowed to own guns, have they? And they ain’t written no laws about whether dragons are allowed to own guns, have they? And they ain’t written no laws about whether centaurs are allowed to own guns, have they? They’ve only written laws about whether humans and goblins are allowed to own guns, and since I’m not a human, and I’m not a goblin, then laws about humans and goblins ain’t laws about me,” Harry elaborated.

    “…I don’t think that’s how it works; they’re laws about people,” Tony objected. “A porpoise isn’t a person, it’s an animal. You’re a person, you talk too much not to be, and centaurs and goblins are definitely people.”

    “No, porpoises are definitely people, they swear too much not to be,” Harry objected. “And Madame Axetalon says those laws don’t apply to not-human people. She oughtta know, she’s a not-human sort of person, and anyway, goblins got a whole lotta laws for themselves. Didja know it’s illegal for a goblin older than ten not to own any guns? And since I’m a declared asset of goblinkind it’s illegal for me not to have any guns too.”

    “That’s different from British law, Harry,” the dentist said.

    “No it ain’t; the goblins have been conglomerating… contradicting… centrebr… um, sending, yeah, sending soldiers to fight wars and stuff with the non-magical government since the first Boer War, and they’re officially a regiment in the British Army, and it’s all written down in laws and stuff even if most people don’t know about those laws because people who don’t glow ain’t supposed to know about goblins. Mr. Slackhammer says it’s classificated top secret because the wizards would really freak out if they knew.”

    “Huh…” Tony wasn’t sure what to make of that, so he paused for a moment before an earlier statement from Harry caught up with him. “Wait, porpoises swear?”

    “Lots and lots and lots,” Harry nodded emphatically. “I ain’t never heard a porpoise say something where some part of it weren’t ‘fuck’.”

    “How can you hear porpoises say things?”

    “Well, I found out how porpoises are all sweary same time I found out them whistly noises they make is talking. It was that time I went for a swim in the bay and bumped into one and he got so in my face and squealed at me so hard, I figured I’d better check if his squealing actually meant anything but thweet, and when I told Mrs. McGonagall what he’d called me, she said she’d have to scrub out my mouth with soap if I swore like that any.”

    “Check out if it meant anything?” How would one accomplish that?

    “Well, yeah, if I concentrate real hard on talking, things just start making sense after a while.”

    “I wish I’d had that talent for my language requirement in college,” the dentist remarked. “What did the porpoise say?”

    “He said, ‘You fucking great lump of fucking fuck! Can’t you see I’m swimming here, fuckface? I’ll take a fucking dump down your fucking blowhole if you don’t get your fat fucking tail the fuck out my way, you fuck! What are you fucking goggling at me for? For fuck’s sake, you’re just like all those fucking beach-swimming fucks, too fucking retarded to understand a fucking word a dude fucking says, aren’t you? Fuck off outta my fucking way, fuckface?’ So I said, ‘Fuck you, fuckface’, back the same way as he said stuff and got outta his way. He got all sorta surprised and cross about that and started really yelling at me. Well, after a while, I sorta learned how to talk porpoise by mistake. I think it was while I was waving him around by the tail.”

    “Huh,” that was a rather impressive tirade, come to think about it.

    “Just so you know, porpoises really don’t like being called fuckface. It makes ‘em real cross,” Harry solemnly warned his friend’s father. “I had to grab Two-Fucking-Bubble-Spiral by the tail and fly around waving him about before he stopped trying to get me whenever he saw me. He went swimming off Skye-way after that, and I ain’t never seen him since. My porpoise friends call him a right sore loser.”

    “Well, that’s good advice I had never expected to hear,” Tony said contemplatively. “Even his name had ‘fuck’ in it, huh?”

    “What did you just say in front of an impressionable child, Anthony Granger?” came an unexpected voice.

    Unfortunately for Tony, his wife and daughter chose that moment to return from their private conversation.

    It took almost twenty minutes to explain the circumstances to his wife’s satisfaction.

    2.10.7 On stories and families

    Harry lounged at the lip of the Lair with Suze by his side, watching the snow fall two days after Christmas in companionable silence. The snow was coming down if fluffy fat flakes, falling almost straight in the oddly still air, the windless day a rarity for the highlands, to say the least.

    The Grangers had left shortly after celebrating Christmas proper, and his newest damsel had gone with her parents for a time to visit extended family. She would be coming back via portkey when she was done. It was apparently a family tradition, and Harry could sort of understand the reasoning.

    He wondered if he should go visit the Dursleys some time? Maybe he should ask Uncle Vernon next time he wrote. It would have to be a day trip, since he still couldn’t keep a shapeshift while he slept, but it might be worthwhile.

    The Grangers had introduced him to several new Christmas traditions which he hadn’t thought about before. One was the Christmas tree, lit up with electric lights he and Mr. Granger had purchased from a general store up in Mallaig. It was really pretty, especially after it got dark at night. Mrs. Granger had also given him a little model set she called a ‘nativity set’ which was apparently supposed to tell the story of Christmas.

    Harry had always appreciated stories, and it was nice to get some background on the holiday. When he’d asked his professor friends, they had always just blown it off as something that was mostly meaningless tradition, something that served as an excuse for a party in the winter cold. He’d have to ask them again now that he knew more of what to ask.

    Mrs. Granger had made it sound like it was a really big deal, after all.

    Speaking of important things, Harry had forgotten to ask Mr. Snape about bringing Abigail in on the secrets when the potions master was over for his Christmas celebration. He’d have to go by the castle and ask before classes started back up.

    In the meantime, Harry’s thoughts trailed off for a while to simply enjoy the company and the calm snowfall as it painted the glen in a pristine coat of white. It was rare enough and beautiful enough to be worth watching carefully.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2018
    Ayashi, MaddTitan, brt99 and 81 others like this.
  28. Threadmarks: Section 2.11 - In which personnel issues are addressed
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.11.0 In which personnel issues are addressed

    The Christmas celebration had passed, and Severus Snape was looking forward to a few uninterrupted days of research before his demesne was once more invaded by clumsy, dunderheaded children masquerading as prospective potioneers. It was therefore with some trepidation that he answered a polite knock on his laboratory door to find Hogwarts’ resident dragon, thankfully in human form, seeking his company for something.

    At least it wasn’t one of the dunderheads, he supposed.

    “What brings you to my door so soon after we saw each other at your Christmas celebration, Mr. Potter?” the potions master asked in a tone which implied there would be hell to pay if his visitor answered poorly. As usual, the wretched lizard reacted to the implicit threat with nary a trace of concern.

    “I had meant to ask you about something, but I forgot at the party,” the young dragon said brightly.

    “Very well,” Snape supposed that was acceptable. It was, however, no reason to interrupt his work. “Come in then — I suppose I can permit you to bother me while I work.”

    As the young Potter settled himself into leaning against the wood-paneled wall of the laboratory — with no sign of distaste, much to Snape’s disappointment; it seemed the paneling idea didn’t work — Snape prompted him to speak up.

    “Well, speak up, boy. What did you wish to ask of me that couldn’t wait for the start of term?”

    “Well,” the boy began, “I was talking with Abigail a few weeks ago, and the topic of what she was going to do after she graduated came up, and she mentioned she was having trouble deciding, particularly ‘cause of all the crap she’d have to deal with ‘cause she’s a girl.”

    “Yes, that is an unfortunately likely outcome,” Snape said with evident distaste, even as he steadily stirred one of the five cauldrons bubbling away on his workbench.

    “Yeah,” Harry said sadly. “Anyway, another thing came up in conversation about logistics and how Lucius Malfoy was in charge of the biggest wizarding trucking company, and I thought of how to tie that in to a business idea I was already thinkin’ about and was going to bring up next time we talked to Mr. Slackhammer, and I figured I might be able to offer Abigail a job working on my idea so she wouldn’t have to deal with all the nasty stuff.”

    “So long as you can make that work, young man, I do not see why you need my advice,” Snape said approvingly. “You have a good head for things; you hardly need my permission.”

    “Well, thing is, the expansion I was thinking about would be both to grow my new business and to cut Mr. Malfoy’s profits, and if Abigail were going to be in on that, she’d kinda have to know why we’re doing it, so she could make good decisions,” Harry said.

    Snape looked at the young dragon searchingly for a moment before confirming, “So you wish for me to verify that she can be trusted with knowledge of our goals?”

    “And probably with knowing I’m a dragon, too,” Harry added.

    “Why do you trust me with that judgement more than you trust yourself?” Snape asked.

    “Well, you always talked about how you were effectively a double agent for years — triple agent really, if you think about it — so I figured you’d be better at making that call than me, since I haven’t done any of that sort of thing.”

    “Well reasoned, Mr. Potter — well reasoned indeed,” Snape said. “It will take some time to make such a determination, as it must be done subtly, but I will begin when Miss Abercrombie returns to the castle.”

    “Thanks, Mr. Snape!” the dragon chirped before looking at the cauldron’s more closely. “Hey, what are you working on anyway?”

    2.11.1 Unwarranted attack, unasked for defense

    Hermione had arrived just the previous day back at the Lair after a little more than a week of visiting extended family gatherings with her parents. It had been fun, but exhausting, particularly since she just had to deflect whenever anyone started to ask about her schooling.

    The Statute of Secrecy had to be the most irritating thing she had yet encountered in the Wizarding World.

    Of course, she thought as she walked through the hallways towards her first class of the winter term, Ronald Weasley was rapidly approaching second place. The boy and his brothers had taken to following her around ever since that day when Percy Weasley had confronted her in the library, and Ron was at it again, following just far enough away from her not to seem threatening, but still always there.

    It had been creepy enough for her to ask Harry to carry her off before Christmas, and yet they still kept it up. Well, she could only hope that they would get bored eventually.

    And then, to complete the trifecta of irritation, the current second place holder of most irritating aspects of the Wizarding World appeared before her, blond hair slicked down to his skull like a particularly silly-looking helmet and face screwed-up in an exaggerated mask of contempt.

    “Well, look who managed to sneak back in after the break,” the blond, named Draco Malfoy, drawled to his ever-present flunkies, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle.

    The trio of first-year Slytherin boys were perhaps the most obnoxious in the school, though, given that Crabbe and Goyle almost never spoke, most of the obnoxiousness was concentrated within the person of their blond leader. The blond had made it a point to belittle and irritate most of the first-year class, particularly anyone born to non-magical families, ‘mudbloods’ as he called them, and he made it a special point to seek her out. She suspected it was because she did better than him in class.

    “I suppose it is too stupid to understand when it isn’t wanted,” the twit continued in what was obviously intended to be an intimidating voice.

    Well, Hermione would have none of that! Her roommate spent most of his time as a dragon, after all. If that didn’t intimidate her, then nothing would, and she had learned during the last term that if she didn’t do anything to fix the situation, nothing would get done at all.

    “I know perfectly well where I am wanted, thank you very much,” Hermione countered primly. “And presently, I am wanted in class, something you would obviously have known, were your own understanding not so sadly limited. Draco, try to find your way to class on time, you can’t afford to start missing them. I know that with only a single term to learn your way around the castle, you will likely find that difficult, but do try to keep up,” she finished as insultingly as she could manage.

    Performing her best approximation of a haughty sniff, Hermione set off briskly for her original destination, drawing even with a quietly chortling Ron Weasley just in time to hear a hissed spell coming from the sputtering blond menace she had just left behind.

    She didn’t recognize the incantation — something she resolved to remedy at her earliest opportunity — so she didn’t know what to expect when it hit, but whatever it would have been, Hermione certainly didn’t expect the hard shove from Ron Weasley’s shoulder slamming into her midriff, abruptly forcing her out of the way of the curse Malfoy had just cast. Whatever it was, it passed by her ear, and she could see it continue on to slam into a wall leaving a gouge about the size of a grown man’s fist in the enchanted stone.

    Hermione gaped at the damage to the stone from her vantage point sprawled out on the stone floor. If that had hit her head… she swallowed reflexively.

    The bushy-haired first year turned to her assailant just in time to see the blond would-be murderer double up over Ron Weasley’s fist buried in his solar plexus. As the twit collapsed, Ron stood between Hermione and her assailants, wand out and casting a rapid series of assorted jinxes and hexes. There was a trio of pained yelps as Malfoy’s two cronies fell down to join their leader in a jelly-legged, bat-bogeyed, embarrassing tangle of limbs, only for Ron to finish up with a thrown potion which rendered all three temporarily blinded, glowing, and unconscious — with bunny ears.

    Though Hermione didn’t know it, that had been Fred and George’s addition to the plan.

    “Bloody hell!” Ron said. “Are you okay?”

    “Ow, ow, ow, I’m okay, I’m okay what happened?” Hermione said as she recovered her wits and registered that her contact with the floor had been a little rough.

    “That great twat shot a bloody blasting hex at the back of your head!”

    “…I, oh. Um, well, thanks, I guess?” Hermione said as the ginger boy helped her to her feet.

    “Well, um, no prob, um… Look, I know I’ve said some dumb stuff, and I’m sorry about that. I mean, I didn’t mean for you to nearly get skelped by a troll, I just… I know I’m pretty bad at charms, and, well, I guess I kinda snapped when you reminded me, right? But anyway, it don’t matter for nothing because you’re a Gryffindor, and Gryffs are supposed to stick up for Gryffs, and I know I’ll probably be in a heap of trouble, but I don’t care because nobody says any sort of bollocks about Gryffindors, and if they think they can just go around hexing one of us, then they’ve got another think coming, and never mind if they try to kill one of us like that slimy git just did!” the youngest male Weasley emphatically stated, stuffing his wand back in his back pocket.

    Hermione stared at him for a moment, her opinion of him edging up from rock bottom. Perhaps Abigail had been onto something about the Weasleys trying to make amends?

    “I would have been okay,” she said, more to reassure herself than anything.

    “Wasn’t the point,” Ron told her, shrugging. “I mean, I owe you one, right, because I opened my gob like a great twerp, and that nearly got you killed, and my mum’d have my guts for garters if she thought I was being a bully! I was being a great twat, and that’s the last thing I wanna be, just gimme one chance and I’ll try to sort my head out — and anyway, next time I open my trap and say something dumb, just tell me to shut my gob before I get my foot caught in it, okay?”

    Hermione considered that and then nodded. She could do that.

    “Apology accepted,” she said and headed for her class, rubbing at her hip where she’d bruised it when she fell.

    2.11.2 In for the penny, in for the pound

    Behind her, Ron spent a moment considering the unconscious Malfoy, then shrugged and planted his hobnailed boot firmly between a set of goalposts with all his might. He figured that if he was going to be in a heap of trouble anyway, he might as well give Malfoy something to really think about.

    “Don’t mess with my Gryffs, you shite!”

    Blow delivered, the boy withdrew to a short distance to await what was coming to him. He didn’t have to wait long before a thin-lipped Minerva McGonagall descended on the scene.

    2.11.3 A partial observer

    Just down the mostly-deserted hallway, one Marcus Flint watched as Ronald Weasley delivered a mighty blow squarely to the future of the Malfoy family.

    The animated paintings had fled in the interest of retrieving a professor as soon as the first hex had been cast, and Marcus had noticed the commotion in the paintings from the next hallway over. Sensing some good blackmail material, he had gone to the source of the disturbance, and it had paid off. The sixth-year Slytherin was the only witness to Mr. Weasley’s surprisingly vicious action.

    This… this had possibilities. Possibilities indeed.

    2.11.4 Bearing false witness

    “It saddens me to announce that we have a disciplinary action to deal with on this first day returning from our winter celebrations,” Albus Dumbledore announced to a suddenly quiet Great Hall during the busy lunch hour. “It seems that there was an altercation this morning between one Ronald Weasley and Draco Malfoy which has left Mr. Malfoy in Madame Pomphrey’s care for the foreseeable future.”

    A susurration of low talk swept through the student body only for them to fall silent once more as the Headmaster continued. “Mr. Weasley has given us his version of events and has graciously submitted himself to our judgement. As Mr. Malfoy is still unable to give his side of the sequence of events, we must ask if there were any other witnesses to the events in question so that we can properly assess punishments.”

    At this, Marcus Flint shot to his feet from the Slytherin table, “Headmaster, I saw the fight, myself. Was too far down the hallway to interfere in time, but given Malfoy’s behavior, I honestly wasn’t too inclined to in any case.”

    “I see, Mr. Flint,” the old man said. “And what is your account of the events?”

    “I showed up just after Malfoy cast a spell, I’d guess a blasting hex, judging from the chunk it took out of the wall,” Marcus explained. “Weasley was in the process of punching out Malfoy, then he took Crabbe and Goyle down with a set of hexes and some kind of topical potion. Then he helped his housemate up — frizzy-haired girl whose name I don’t remember — I think she was the target of Malfoy’s blasting hex. She left, and then Professor McGonagall showed up, and I figured I didn’t need to interfere.”

    “That matches with Mr. Weasley’s testimony, Mr. Flint,” the old man stroked his beard contemplatively. “But there was one more injury to Mr. Malfoy that was not accounted for by either of your testimonies…”

    Marcus screwed up his face thoughtfully for a moment before his eyes opened in apparent realization. “Oh, you mean the groin?” Marcus gave an entirely genuine flinch, that had been unpleasant to watch, even if the target was the little blond turd. “I saw Weasley get him with his knee, but I didn’t know it had been that bad. It was while Weasley was taking him down after Malfoy cast that blasting curse at the girl. Malfoy didn’t go down until the punch, so I thought the knee hadn’t connected properly.”

    “Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Flint,” the Headmaster sighed. “It seems that we have enough information to decide on how to deal with the situation now, thank you. You may all return to your meals, students.”

    And with that, the Headmaster swept out of the room. Only after the adults had left, did Marcus’s expression twist into a satisfied smile, nine parts truth to one part lie. That had worked out perfectly! He’d earned a favor from the Weasley brothers that he might be able to cash in some time in the future, but that was the lesser prize.

    The real prize was taking the Malfoys down a notch, and his manipulations had prevented them from taking proper revenge. Lucius had thrown Marcus’ uncle to the wolves with his ridiculous ‘imperius’ defense, and this would go at least a small part of the way towards redressing that insult. The rest would come later; his father had told him once of a slow sterility curse in the family library, and now that there was a plausible cause to cover their tracks… oh, yes.

    The Malfoy family would die with Draco, and the Flints would make sure of it.

    2.11.5 Facing the music

    “Six months’ detention…” Ron muttered, slumping inwards on himself. “Oh, boy.”

    Fred gave his youngest brother a companionable clout on the shoulder as they walked back towards the Gryffindor common room. “Buck up, Ron. You really learned Malfoy one.”

    As they passed through the portrait-covered entrance to the common room, Ron glumly confirmed, “Um, you’re remembering I busted one of his bollocks open and lost us every point we had, right?”

    “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke, except maybe that cunt, Stoker,” Katie Bell told him from her seat on one of the common room couches, “and I reckon seeing that arrogant little bastard cut down to size like that was worth five hundred points any day.” Katie was a chaser on the House quidditch team, and so her opinion held some real clout with Ron, who was an insatiable fan of the game.

    It was why his brothers had asked her to speak up beforehand, drawing on their friendship as teammates. None of the brothers wanted their efforts to get Ron to shape up to go to waste over something as unimportant as the Malfoy heir’s lost reproductive capabilities. It wasn’t like any Weasley would have shed a tear over the extinction of that blight of a family.

    “Amen to that, Katie,” Lee Jordan, another close friend of the Weasley twins, echoed. “Oi, Ron, next time one of those twats messes one of us around, let me and the twins know, and we’ll cover for you, right?”

    “Yeah, count on it, bro,” Fred agreed, flashing a thumbs-up to his friends from behind Ron’s back.

    2.11.6 Mitigating consequences

    “You realize that Lucius and Narcissa will be out for blood, do you not, Albus?” Severus Snape stated more than asked from his seat in the Headmaster’s office.

    Before Albus could respond, Minerva objected, outraged, “The laddie was defending his housemate from a murder attempt by their son, Severus! How on earth could they object, when the injury wasn’t even intentional?”

    Snape replied, “Provoked or not, unintentional or not, the Malfoys are vindictive, self-absorbed monsters. It might have been better for the Weasley boy had he been expelled; at least then, the Malfoys might not have pursued him for further revenge.”

    “Severus, expulsion was unwarranted, and you know perfectly well that it would not have helped in any case,” Albus chided.

    “True,” the potions master reluctantly allowed.

    “In any event, we must do what we can to ensure the safety of our students,” Albus continued briskly. “Minerva, please alert Mr. Weasley’s father to the situation so that we can allow him to take what steps he deems necessary. Perhaps a disciplinary visit to properly scold the boy would give him appropriate opportunities…”

    “I will see to it immediately,” Minerva said briskly before sweeping out of the room.

    After the woman had left the room, Severus spoke up once more. “Albus, are we certain that our students were telling the truth? It is exceedingly difficult to cause that sort of injury with an incidental blow from a knee. The situation might benefit from the use of your time turner.”

    “No, I am not certain,” Albus allowed, “but given the corroborating testimony from Mr. Flint, a young man who should have every reason to back Mr. Malfoy over Mr. Weasley, we have no cause to make use of my time turner and invisibility cloak. Should we set this level of uncertainty as a precedent, we would end up four years older by the end of the term.”

    The two men settled into a contemplative silence for a time before Albus broke it.

    “Severus,” the bearded man continued, “when you next speak with Lucius, be sure to inform him that Arthur has already been alerted to the situation. It may help to delay his response long enough for the Weasleys to prepare properly.”

    Severus nodded as he rose to leave the office. It was a fair point; Lucius had always been overly cautious when it came to risking his own skin.

    2.11.7 Parent-teacher conference

    Bright and early the next morning, Arthur Weasley, proud father of six sons and one daughter, approached the gates of Hogwarts for the first time in almost a year — the last time having been a disciplinary meeting to discuss his twin sons who had pulled a surprisingly inventive prank that their Head of House chose to simultaneously show off and punish by calling in the boys’ father. This time, Minerva had implied that there was more to discuss than simply discipline for his youngest boy.

    The lady in question was waiting to meet him at the gate.

    “Arthur, it is good to see you again,” the transfiguration mistress greeted. “Come, walk with me to my office, I have Ronald waiting for us there.”

    As the pair set off, Arthur asked, “What exactly has Ron done to prompt this visit? He was never one for pranks before.”

    “He stepped in to defend one of his housemates from a blasting hex cast by Draco Malfoy, and he was perhaps a wee bit overenthusiastic…”

    Huh. Well, Arthur wasn’t sure just how to handle that as a father. On the one hand, it was his duty to raise his son properly, and violence was generally not something one should resort to immediately or casually. On the other hand, he also knew the Malfoy family quite well, and there had been bad blood between their Houses for over seven hundred years — bad blood to the tune of a private, and therefore quite illegal, blood feud. Plus, the circumstances had to be considered…

    “Where was the blasting hex aimed?”

    “At the girl’s head,” Minerva relayed in a deeply disapproving tone. “It was fairly anemic as far as blasting hexes go, but had it connected it would have had a chance of killing the poor girl. We are waiting for Mr. Malfoy to regain consciousness before we determine whether he should be disciplined for unacceptably reckless behavior or for attempted murder of a classmate.”

    Ah, well that gave some context. Arthur couldn’t say that he disapproved of his son’s actions in that case, and going by her tone, he suspected Minerva felt much the same. Not that she would ever say as much. Still, calling him in for this seemed a tad excessive.

    “In that case, why have you called me in?” Arthur asked. “The case seems fairly straightforward, no need to involve me in the boy’s punishment.”

    Minerva frowned uncomfortably, “That would be true, except for the nature of the injury sustained by Mr. Malfoy. Your son managed to rupture the boy’s testicle, damaging it to the point of requiring amputation. Madame Pomphrey was able to repair the other one —mostly. The boy will be able to father children, but Poppy is not certain whether his fertility will ever reach normal levels as he matures.”

    Arthur winced, “Ah, that would explain things.”

    “We have no baseline for his condition before the incident, and low fertility has long been common among the pureblood population which calls into question whether the damage is the cause of the condition, but Severus raised concerns about the Malfoy family’s reaction,” Minerva said delicately. “They are not ones to give the benefit of the doubt about such things.”

    Indeed they were not, Arthur’s face screwed up in thought as they ascended the stairs. So the Malfoys were likely to be out for blood, and this was as much to give him time to prepare as it was to discipline Ronald. He’d have to speak with his eldest, Bill, about arranging wards for the Burrow. The family home would be a prime target.

    The children would be safe at Hogwarts, and Bill could take care of himself — not to mention his fellow cursebreakers would not take kindly to an attempted hit on their compatriot.

    That was a hornet’s nest even Lucius couldn’t pay someone enough to poke.

    Charlie, though… his second son was working at a dragon preserve in Romania, and despite the reputation, those were fairly safe for a prepared wizard. He’d have to let him know to be on the lookout. Arthur shook his head, that was going to be a mess. Even so, he couldn’t help but be proud of his youngest acting in the defense of another.

    And if that defense resulted in the Malfoy line finally ending childless and unlamented in the next generation… well, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

    2.11.8 Coming clean

    Ron waited in his Head of House’s office for his father to arrive staring down at his own hands where they were folded in his lap. He was having a dreadful time. Six months’ worth of detention and five hundred points was one thing. That was just some time out of his day and a bit of disapproval from his friends.

    Disappointing his parents was an altogether different animal.

    He looked up as the door opened, and his father entered the room with a stern expression on his face. Then he looked back down at his hands as Professor McGonagall explained the situation to his father before his father asked her if he could speak to Ron alone.

    As his Head of House left her office, his father asked, “Ronald, is there anything else you want to tell me?”

    “Um,” Ron struggled for a moment. He knew it was a bad thing, but this was his dad! Lying to his father was a few steps too far, even by omission. “Well, I actually knocked Malfoy down with the punch to his gut, the groin shot was after he was already out of it.” Ron winced. “I just, well, I figured if I was in for it already, I might as well make it worthwhile, so…” he trailed off.

    2.11.9 Parenting is hard

    Arthur looked down at his son, that was… not unexpected. He had thought there was something missing due to his boy’s reaction during Minerva’s explanation, and the truth of the groin shot was something that made sense.

    The Malfoy men had always been effete little brats, and Arthur had taught his boys how to throw a punch. A son of Lucius Malfoy taking a knee to the groin and still coming on was something Arthur had had trouble believing.

    That said, kicking the boy while he was down was more than a little out of line.

    “Son,” Arthur began gently, “I know I’ve told you before, kicking a man while he’s down is not a gentlemanly thing to do.” Ron hung his head even further. “Also, while I can understand the sentiment, you should reserve that sort of attitude for more serious issues than a schoolyard fight.”

    “But he tried to kill Hermione!” Ron objected. “That’s a serious issue!”

    “It is, and I’m proud of you for stepping in on the girl’s behalf,” Arthur clapped his son on the shoulder. “But that issue had already been resolved when the boy went down.”

    “Oh,” Ron acknowledged glumly.

    “Do you understand why what you did was a bad thing?” he asked to ensure his son understood the situation.

    “Yes, Dad,” Ron answered, “I shouldn’t have kicked Malfoy when he was down and couldn’t defend himself.”

    “Good lad,” Arthur smiled and ruffled his son’s hair before giving him a hug. “Good lad.”

    “Now the detention is going to stand,” he said. “It was well deserved after all.”

    Ron nodded staring down at his feet without a hint of complaint, as he usually did whenever he was being told off and he knew he had really mucked things up.

    “And, Ron,” Arthur dropped the stern lecturing tone.

    “Dad?” his son said, looking up.

    He knew he really shouldn’t, but he just couldn’t resist.

    Ron’s jaw dropped as Arthur solemnly grabbed his son’s hand in the Quidditch-style high-five handshake and said, “Good shot, son.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2018
    Ayashi, MaddTitan, brt99 and 85 others like this.
  29. Threadmarks: Section 2.12 - On the importance of measurements
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.12.0 On the importance of measurements

    Yet again, the staff of Hogwarts, or at least a particular subset thereof, gathered in their increasingly well-appointed staff room to discuss their ongoing projects at the end of the first week of the winter term. The usual suspects were missing, but as Filius made the rounds passing out drinks — drinks of his own make this time — the room hosted three highly unusual additions.

    Two were students. The third was a centaur.

    “Thank you all for coming,” Albus began, “particularly Mr. Potter and his two guests. Miss Granger, Miss Suze, please be welcomed.”

    “Um, thank you,” the bushy-haired girl squeaked, horribly intimidated at the thought of meeting with so many teachers at once. The centaur maiden nodded solemnly.

    “It falls to me to explain that we have made something of a tradition of indulging in unusual beverages on these occasions,” the elderly wizard continued. “As these are generally alcoholic in nature, Filius has agreed to provide non-alcoholic alternatives for those who are underaged, if you would alert him to your preferences, it would be much appreciated.

    “I’d like water, please,” came Hermione’s response, while Suze graciously accepted the same, and Harry requested a goblin tea, prompting a smile from the half-goblin professor.

    “We have asked Mr. Potter to come in order to obtain his insight into a few knotty problems we have encountered in our ongoing research into the circumstances of his transformation,” the Headmaster said. “Specifically, we are hoping that your talent for languages and your ability to see things that wizards cannot might provide more insight into the structure of the devices which triggered your remarkable change.”

    Harry nodded agreeably while sipping his tea, “I can do that!”

    “Thank you, Mr. Potter. If you would, Bathsheda and Septima will join you in the pensieve we have set up with your uncle’s memories of the incident, and they will direct you further.”

    Harry gulped down the rest of his boiling-hot cup with no sign of discomfort and scampered over to the professors so named before all three of them dunked their heads into what looked like a particularly wide bird bath full of silvery liquid that looked suspiciously like mercury and promptly vanished from view.

    Hermione gaped at the sight, while Suze took it all in stride.

    “While Mr. Potter is occupied,” Filius began, “let us continue our investigation into the worldwide problem. Girls,” he said, indicating the two younger visitors, “if you have any insights, feel free to speak up. No need to waste your time just sitting there!” The diminutive man smiled brightly. “In our last meeting, we were attempting to plot the locations of the various nodes as revealed by Sybil’s efforts, and we have done so, as you can see here,” he flicked his wand, and a large sheet unrolled with a world map drawn and small pins embedded at various points both on and off the various landmasses.

    “It is apparent that our plotting efforts leave something to be desired,” the small man said sadly. “Almost half of our plotted locations are underwater, and we know from our studies that ley lines do not form defined intersections within the ocean due to seawater’s high magical conductivity. The things spread out over massive areas.”

    Hermione looked at the map, a horribly inaccurate thing — she could tell — even in comparison to the cheap world maps that had adorned the walls of her primary school classroom. It looked rather like it had been hand drawn by someone with only the vaguest notion of geography and then never checked against real measurements.

    As her scholarly disgust with the poor excuse for cartography welled up, the professors around her floated various theories on why the ley line intersections — or whatever it was they were looking for, Hermione really didn’t know — were in places where they were certain they could not possibly be, until she snapped.

    “This is really a rather bad map,” Hermione said politely. Well, it was Hermione after all, so it was a polite and gentle snap.

    “And where would you suggest we obtain better?” Snape asked, cocking an eyebrow. Something in his manner gave her the idea that he knew what was coming.

    “Well,” Hermione said, a little flustered at the attention, “there’s the Ordinance Survey maps, or maybe something like a National Geographic Atlas. I’m starting to think that muggles are quite a lot better at map-making than wizards, and if there’s any islands or anything that’re hidden from muggles, we could easily add them to a good map. It’s one of the things I’ve noticed that are most different between the wizarding world and the muggle world, measurements are much more precise and consistent in the muggle world.”

    Snape considered that for a long moment before looking to his colleague. “Filius, will you be able to work with such a map if I go and obtain one?”

    “Absolutely,” the half-goblin was almost vibrating with eagerness, “accurate maps would be a godsend.”

    He flicked his wand and looked briefly at the resulting smoky numbers. “My usual bookseller is open for another half-hour, I will be back shortly.” And with that, the potions master swept out of the room at a rapid clip, leaving Hermione’s frizzy hair fluttering in the process.

    The room fell silent for a time, before Dumbledore again broke the tableau. “That was a remarkable insight, young lady, for one so new to the wizarding world. Congratulations, and thank you.” Hermione colored at the praise. “We had been struggling with that very issue for the last month.”

    “Um, thank you, Headmaster,” the girl stammered. “It may not help, but at least it should be a real issue rather than the map if it doesn’t.”

    Minerva smiled proudly at her student as she raised her glass in salute and then sipped her single malt. If Filius was offering a choice, she knew exactly what she was going to pick.

    “Um, not to be too much trouble, Professors,” Hermione began after she calmed down a little, “but what are we trying to plot?”

    “Oh, dear,” Minerva exclaimed, “I cannot believe we forgot to explain!” she hung her head in exasperation. “Well, I suppose I’ll have to remedy that right now.” And so she did.

    2.12.1 Earthshattering insights

    About halfway through Minerva’s explanation, Harry and the two professors who had accompanied him finished up their investigation with the sad conclusion that the pensieve didn’t support whatever methods Harry used to see magic, so he would have to investigate in person. He was, however, able to offer some significant insight into the meanings of the runic inscriptions, so it was not a total loss.

    By the time the transfiguration mistress’ explanation was finished, Severus had returned with a detailed atlas and a cheap, mass-produced world map he had picked up at the local service station near his home, which was nonetheless of far greater use than the wizarding map they had been using. Filius fell on the thing, and using a series of absurdly abstruse charms, he had the entire list plotted out in just a few minutes, and it was then down to verifying them individually.

    “This makes much more sense,” Septima said as she examined her fiftieth pin. “Everything I’ve checked so far is on land.”

    “Same here,” Filius echoed. “All on land, though I feel like something is missing in a couple of places when I look at the whole thing.”

    Bathsheda chimed in as well, “I know what you mean, you can follow the pattern, there’s a certain flow to it, but there’s a few regions that don’t make sense, like there ought to be extra points that aren’t there and the flow is disrupted.” She frowned, “Filius, are you sure you got the whole list?”

    “Absolutely. Where do you think there are missing points?”

    “One’s in southern England, another is in Anatolia, and the third is in the East Indies,” the runes professor said slowly. “I don’t see any others…”

    “Could the southern English one be Avebury?” Minerva volunteered.

    “That… that would make sense,” Bathsheda said, with growing excitement as she added a different-colored marker to Avebury. “Then… would the others be similarly discharged nodes?”

    That question prompted everyone in the room to take a closer look at the two other areas of the map she had indicated. After much head scratching and contemplation, Bathsheda took out a protractor and mapped out where she thought the missing points would have to be for the magical flows to work intuitively — it was a surprisingly common technique in spell design. The one in England mapped to Avebury, as expected. The one in Turkey came out to a point on the coast of the Black Sea some distance east from Istanbul. The one in Indonesia, though…

    “It should be… here,” the runes professor said as she finished her measurements. “In the Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java.”

    “There is naught but a few islands there…” Snape said thoughtfully before passing his colleague a more detailed atlas. “Perhaps if we map it to a closer projection?”

    A little more work led to a circle on the map which should house the missing node.

    “There’s naught but some tiny volcanic rock called Anak Krakatau there,” Snape said. “Likely miserable and storm-wracked.”

    “Did you say Krakatoa, Professor?” Hermione said as her attention jerked away from the book she had taken up while the professors worked through a problem so far over her head she couldn’t even follow along properly.

    “No, the name is Anak Krakatau,” Snape clarified, showing her the map to illustrate his point.

    As she peered closer, her eyes widened, “It is! Oh my God!”

    “…I beg your pardon?”

    “Krakatoa was an island in the straits between Sumatra and Java that erupted in, oh, 1882, I think, no 1883 — it was 1883.” That year raised a number of eyebrows among the rest of the professors. “The island was almost completely destroyed by a series of volcanic explosions. I can’t remember if it was three or four — it’s been quite a long time since I read about it — anyway, the explosions were audible in Australia, and I can’t remember whether it was four or five days later that they were still recording the pressure wave going around the planet.” She made a rough scrawl on the map. “That’s about the shape of the island that was there before the eruption, if I remember correctly.”

    “Someone give me the thaumometer graph readings for the years 1882, 1883, and 1884,” Septima said, sounding alarmed and abruptly leaving off in her survey of the various plotted locations. McGonagall, who was nearest to that shelf, hastily dug out the box of files in question and handed them over. “Miss Granger, I will need the exact date and local time when these, these eruptions occurred.”

    “The book I have on the subject is back at home, Professor,” the bushy-haired girl said apologetically.

    “I will handle that,” Snape volunteered. “Miss Granger, if you would, please write out the title of the volume in question. Your parents will still be awake at this time, correct?” At the girl’s nod, he went on, “I will apparate there and retrieve the volume, then. Minerva, if you would relay the appropriate coordinates, please.” As Hermione scribbled out the title in question, the transfiguration mistress did as requested, and for the second time that evening, Snape left the room in a hurry.

    Through all of this, Septima did little more than grunt in acknowledgement as she and Filius pored over the records in question.

    “…why is it that Professor Snape always seems to be the one who goes and runs errands to the muggle world?” Hermione asked Pomona Sprout, who was seated next to her watching the proceedings closely, sotto voce.

    “Severus was born and raised among muggles,” the woman explained, “in Sheffield, if I remember rightly, and unlike most wizards and witches with his background, he maintained some contact with his roots.”

    Some fifteen minutes later, Severus returned with a familiar book in his hands, which Hermione immediately opened and paged directly to the chapter and page in question without even consulting the index. She then pointed out the relevant dates to the feverishly-working researchers.

    “…thanks,” Septima muttered, giving the passage a quick read before frowning to herself and returning to the thaumometer records.

    Everyone in the room instantly knew when she had found it. Her eyebrows shot up, her eyes visibly bugged out, she went white as a sheet, and she started very quietly swearing up a streak that’d make a sailor nod in respect.

    “Septima?” McGonagall asked tentatively. Hermione got the idea that this was not normal behavior for the young woman.

    “Not yet!” came the snapped reply. “Filius, check this for me,” she demanded, pointing out the relevant section of records.

    The half-goblin took a quick look himself, and his eyes bugged out as well as he took a second closer look before he began swearing as well — in Or’zet. Only Dumbledore and Harry were able to follow well enough to be suitably impressed.

    “I wasn’t mistaken, then,” Septima sounded resigned, though her hands were shaking.

    “How bad?” Dumbledore asked with a truly un-Dumbledore-ish level of concern apparent in his voice.

    “Miss Granger is quite correct,” came the reply. “Look, the thaumometer spikes massively, reaching the limit of its recording capabilities, four times throughout the afternoon and evening of August 26, by Hogwarts time, in the year 1883, and from that point onwards, the background levels remain at an overall 10.28 percent increase over the previous levels.”

    “The Anomalous Excursions…” Minerva breathed in realization.

    “And these coincide with the eruptions?” Albus confirmed.

    “To the second,” Septima confirmed, staring fixedly at her notes as if searching for some further revelation.

    “Well, it seems we have tentatively identified an example of one of these devices overloading,” Albus said. “It does serve as excellent motivation, I do say.”

    The adults in the room imbibed in a round of drinks to settle their nerves, as did Hermione, though her water may not have had the desired effect. Harry simply looked proud that his damsel had contributed so critically to the investigation, and Suze stood calmly by his side, facing the news with her usual aplomb.

    Just as her colleagues were starting to recover their equilibrium, Septima voiced her thoughts on the matter and stunned them again.

    “But why was the explosion so small?”

    “I beg your pardon?” Severus asked, understandably a little shocked at the descriptor applied to one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history.

    “When Filius and I worked out the potential power of the Avebury event,” the concerned arithmancer explained, “we figured that an undirected explosion would have left a crater the size of London and rendered Europe uninhabitable due to wild magic effects. This one removed less than a sixteenth of that material and the Indies are no more magical than the rest of the world. What happened?”

    “Perhaps the device was smaller?” Pomona offered uncertainly. “If Avebury was a particularly powerful example, that might account for the situation.”

    The room fell silent as the various experts in the room tried to incorporate this new information into their previous understanding of the situation. They did not have much luck, until the smallest adult in the room brought up another point.

    “We might want to consider the other mystery here?” Flitwick proposed, tentatively. “We know what happened at Avebury, and there’s a good chance that the local intersection was involved in the Krakatoa eruption. We’ve found out there’s another point missing in Turkey, though. What happened there?”

    That question brought a new wave of silence to the group, until Albus broke said silence with a bit of additional information. “I do not know, but I can assure you after having gone through our entire body of records during my calibration efforts last year that there are no other similar events on record.”

    Poppy, who looked like she was struggling with the beginnings of an idea, then raised the question, “How far back do the records go?”

    “Nicholas has been running the measurements for nearly four hundred years, but you are correct, they would not have recorded anything happening before that point.” Albus grimaced, “Though I would be reluctant to speculate on just what the world would have been like to live in a world before that release. If the amount of magic increased similarly at the time, most of the world would have had magical levels low enough to make even basic charms exceedingly taxing. I daresay the Dead Zone would have been completely uninhabitable for magicals.”

    As the school nurse seemed to be working through her own ideas, Harry decided to speak up and satisfy his own curiosity. “Dead Zone?”

    “Oh?” the old man looked over at the dragon who had been silent for quite some time. “Ah, yes, Mr. Potter. The Dead Zone refers to the region with the lowest magical background levels in the world. It extends from Sinai in Egypt north through the Jordan River valley all the way beyond the Sea of Galilee and into Lebanon. As I recall, it encompasses the entirety of the non-magical nation of Israel, most of Lebanon, and small regions of Egypt and Jordan.”

    Albus chuckled, “I can relate from personal experience that, at least prior to your transformation and the attendant increase in ambient magic, performing even the simplest magic there was akin to attempting to breathe at the top of the highest mountains in the world. Quite taxing, if I do say so myself. Reducing that level by a fifth — I do not believe it would have been possible to cast any magic there at all, simply surviving would have been a major challenge.”

    “Why did you go there, if it was so hard?” the dragon asked, curiously.

    “Ah,” the old man chuckled with uncharacteristic embarrassment, before continuing “it was on account of a dare with a youthful friend of mine.” His expression fell, “Ah, I do miss those days…”

    “I wonder if the device in Turkey did something similar to Avebury?” Poppy suddenly interjected into the mostly-quiet room, interrupting the quiet conversation between Harry and Dumbledore. “If we assume that the node disappeared before our records were being kept, and we look for unexplainably powerful individuals who appeared in the area more than four-hundred years ago…”

    “We have Mr. Tepes, who first exhibited his absurd magical strength some five centuries ago,” Snape finished for her with a shudder. “That does seem plausible, and it would explain why such an absurdly powerful individual appeared out of nowhere.”

    “And if we assume that these devices tend to discharge into already functioning people or events,” Poppy theorized, “Could it be that the Krakatoa device simply boosted an already present eruption? It would fit with the way undirected magic acts in living beings, amplifying the function of their various organs. Could it amplify the function of a volcano as well?”

    The question prompted a round of contemplative looks from the adults, an interested look from Harry, and nothing at all from Hermione, who had fallen asleep during the one of the lulls in the conversation about half an hour previous.

    “I believe it is possible,” Filius acknowledged quietly. “And I will attempt to verify it in the near future. For now, though, I suspect we have gone on for long enough as Miss Granger has been kind enough to point out.” He gestured gently to the dozing girl. “There is a great deal of new material to work with, and I suggest we retire for the evening to think things over.”

    2.12.2 Rude awakenings

    It had been three days since he had awakened in the infirmary, three days of sitting painfully as he waited for his injuries to heal, three days of embarrassing sessions with the school nurse prodding things with her wand that were only supposed to be prodded by his future wife — and possibly a collection of discreet mistresses — and Draco Malfoy was still attempting to process what had happened.

    It had started the same way it had so many times, he’d go put the frizzy-haired mudblood in her place, she’d run off crying like the inferior creature that she was, Crabbe and Goyle would laugh with him, and they’d go on to class. But it hadn’t gone to script.

    Instead of running off crying, the mudblood had shot back with a condescending insult of her own and gone on her way as if she owned the place! And to make matters worse, the Weasel was laughing at him because of it. It was intolerable!

    Father had always said that Malfoys were better than the rest and that it was his duty to uphold the family reputation. So he’d done the right and proper thing and shot a blasting hex at the mudblood for what she said. She was just a worthless mudblood, and the reputation of the noble Malfoy family was infinitely more valuable than her pathetic little life.

    Just like his father always taught him.

    Then everything was a painful blur followed by darkness. From what the professors had told him, the Weasley who had been laughing at him took exception to his perfectly reasonable correction of the mudblood’s behavior and assaulted him like some kind of common muggle. The boy sniffed dismissively. Typical of the poor excuses for wizards that their youngest couldn’t even face him with a wand like a proper wizard. Probably too weak.

    Worse yet, though, the teachers agreed with the ruffian’s reasoning! Sure, they gave six months’ detention, but when Draco explained his perfectly good and just reasons for retaliating against the mudblood, they told him that it was attempted murder and the only reason he was avoiding prosecution was because of his age. As if you could murder a mudblood, really! It wasn’t like they were people! They’d said something about expulsion once he got out of the medical wing, but Draco was sure his father would get him out of that.

    No, the most important thing was his injury, and that was what was keeping Draco up at night. Apparently, in the scuffle that blasted Weasel had struck him in the groin hard enough that one of his testicles had to be amputated.

    Draco didn’t know how to handle that. He was the sole heir to the Malfoy family, and it was his responsibility to father the next generation of the family. Yes, he was also supposed to manage the family assets, but his father was healthy, and by the time that became an issue, Draco fully expected to have great grandchildren of his own, so his primary duty was to father children to carry on the Malfoy name.

    Despite that, he had lost one of the boys, and according to Healer Pomphrey, his future fertility was not assured due to the damage. It put his responsibility as the heir to the Malfoy family at risk.

    It put his very identity at risk.

    That pathetic Ron Weasley might well have destroyed the great and noble Malfoy family on account of a mudblood!

    Oh, there would be a reckoning, Draco’s thoughts turned dark as his shocked horror sublimated to rage. There would be a reckoning, indeed…

    …when he told his father about this!

    2.12.3 An unwelcome suspicion

    The weeks since she returned from winter break had been an odd time for Abigail.

    Her Head of House had been strangely attentive to her for the past few weeks. Outside of class, the man was normally about as talkative as he was soft and empathetic, which was to say he was normally about as talkative as a brick. Since the break, though, he had been singling her out for discussions on the nature of wizarding society and government, paying particular attention to her views on such things.

    They were generally philosophical discussions, and she had learned a great deal from them, but such things were atypical for Professor Snape. Had it been Professor Flitwick, she would have thought nothing of it, but with Snape — with Snape, she got the impression that he was fishing for information.

    She wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but it was starting to make her nervous.

    Last week, when he started discussing the sorts of unpleasant back-room dealing and extortion she had brought up obliquely when Granger had asked about jobs, she had a sinking feeling that the man might possibly be looking to arrange a sort of quid-pro-quo with her.

    It was more than a little shocking to Abigail.

    The sixth-year was under no illusion that such things didn’t happen — it was the wizarding world, after all, and that sort of scum infested all levels of the establishment. It was even common knowledge that Snape had once had a certain Dark Lord’s mark on his arm, but he had stayed out of prison because Dumbledore had vouched for him. More than that, though, she had gotten the impression that Snape was mostly asexual, and this was about the least pleasant way she could imagine to learn otherwise.

    Abigail had tried to hint that she was not interested, but he hadn’t seemed to even register her disgust with the idea.

    She certainly hoped she was mistaken, but she was really beginning to worry. Abigail shuddered while nervously fingering her wand. Despite being a potions master by profession, the man was no slouch with a wand — much better than she was with her almost six years of education — and there wasn’t much she could do about it if he chose to force things.

    Maybe she should talk to Harry? Her friend knew Snape pretty well; maybe he could offer some insight or at least rein the man in if the situation deteriorated.

    2.12.4 Vengeful thoughts

    A blond man walked briskly down a luxuriously-appointed hallway lined with moving portraits of similarly blond men before coming to a stop before an otherwise innocuous looking door and knocking quietly.

    “You may enter,” came a feminine voice from within as the man’s equally-blonde wife invited him to enter her private solar.

    “Thank you, Narcissa,” the man, Lucius Malfoy, said as he entered the room. His wife’s solar was even more luxuriously furnished than the hallway leading to it, though it was noticeably devoid of portraiture. Narcissa was fiercely protective of her private time, and so she tended to restrict access to her personal space, even from the painted personality imprints commonly used in the wizarding world.

    She was also violently protective of her private space. There was a reason he had learned to knock early on in their marriage. Lucius had good reason to interrupt his wife’s time to herself in this case, though, and Narcissa had almost been expecting him.

    “Lucius, what has happened?” she asked.

    Lucius had been called by his old acquaintance, Severus Snape, a former colleague in service to the Dark Lord and one of the closest approximations Lucius had to a friend, which was why the he had named the man godfather to his only son and heir. Lucius was well aware that Severus hated him, but he felt he had a good handle on Snape’s motivations, which made him predictable, to Lucius’ mind. Predictable was something Lucius could work with.

    Though there was no way the head of the Malfoy family could have predicted this outcome.

    “Draco, he…” Lucius sat down quite heavily. “He was involved in a… a, a melee with one of the Weasley brats.”

    “He is well, isn’t he?” Narcissa asked, increasingly worried at her husband’s demeanor.

    “It… it seems that the Weasley brat struck our son in the fundamentals…”

    “Oh, my!”

    “…so hard that Draco’s left testicle had to be amputated,” Lucius finished. “Healer Pomphrey expects our son’s fertility rate to be somewhat depressed, though she stressed that she was uncertain whether it was an already-existing issue or if it was caused by the injury.”

    Narcissa’s blue eyes flashed with a hot rage as she spoke, “Husband, we are going to make that Weasley brat wish he had never been squeezed out of his overly fertile mother, is that quite clear?”

    “Perfectly. As it so happens, I am of a similar mind,” Lucius agreed with a similar tone. “Though it may take some time. Severus mentioned Dumbledore had already arranged to inform Weasley of the issue, so they will have prepared.”

    He had also mentioned that Draco was set to be expelled for the behavior that had led up to the incident, a process that Lucius had handily quashed using his influence with the board of governors. He couldn’t dictate to all of the members, but he could to enough of them. It could be quite useful to know where the bodies were buried, a lesson he had learned well.

    His elves didn’t tend pigs because the Malfoys couldn’t afford to buy bacon, after all.

    “We will not leave this to simmer, Lucius!” Narcissa insisted, bringing him back to the present. “At least our initial vengeance must come swiftly. Perhaps we should lead with an indirect blow?”

    Her husband nodded thoughtfully, “When I spoke to our son, Draco mentioned something about a mudblood girlfriend of the Weasley brat…”

    “Then we know where to start,” Narcissa said darkly, eyes still murderous. “You will contact the Averys, I assume?”

    “That was my intent,” her husband confirmed. “I was also planning to ask around with several of the usual buyers. Some of them owe us favors that we might redeem in pensieve memories of the girl’s eventual fate. They should prove useful when we finally acquire the brat responsible.”

    Narcissa smiled a smile that turned her otherwise attractive face into something completely different. “That would be lovely, Lucius — just lovely. A pensieve as a torture device —you always did have an excellent head for ideas; it’s why I didn’t have you murdered before the wedding.”

    As her husband smiled proudly, she asked, “Don’t the Weasleys have a young daughter as well?”

    2.12.5 Personnel reports

    As the first-year potions class drew to a close once again, Snape called out, “Mr. Potter, please speak with me after class. The rest of you are dismissed!”

    As the children filed out of the room, the young dragon-in-human-guise bounced up to the front and leaned against the front row of laboratory benches. “What do you need, Mr. Snape?”

    “I have completed my evaluation of Miss Abercrombie, and while I am uncertain of her willingness to participate, I am certain of her loyalty and friendship to you. If you bring her in on the secrets we had discussed, she is unlikely to betray your trust in her.”

    “So I can tell her?” Harry confirmed.

    “That is correct, Mr. Potter.”

    “Thanks, Mr. Snape!”
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2018
    Ayashi, MaddTitan, brt99 and 85 others like this.
  30. Threadmarks: Section 2.13 - Unexpected reasons and mood whiplash
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.13.0 Unexpected reasons and mood whiplash

    The next day, the weirdly-apportioned class schedule was such that Harry and Abigail had a free period during the Gryffindor first-years’ history class, leading to the pair coming together for a study session in the library, sans Harry’s usual bushy-haired compatriot.

    It was the ideal time for Abigail to bring up her Head’s strange behavior.

    “Harry,” she began as they were shuffling through their notebooks to bring out their current assignments, “I’ve got a question to ask you.”

    “Oh? What’s up?” Harry replied.

    “Professor Snape has been acting a little off recently, and I was wondering if you knew why?” Abigail asked neutrally.

    “How so?” Harry asked, concerned. “He seems to have been normal around me.”

    “He’s been asking me a lot of questions when he normally wouldn’t, stuff about our society and some of the less than pleasant stuff like we talked about that one time last term with Hermione. It’s been kind of weird, honestly.”

    “What’s wrong with that?” Harry asked, looking puzzled. “He and I talk about that stuff from time to time too. I mean…”

    “…no, I mean it’s like he’s been feeling me out before asking me to do something…” she trailed off uncomfortably.

    “Oh! You noticed that? Wow!” Harry said, surprising Abigail. “He was trying to feel out how you’d react if I asked you about something, ‘cause I wasn’t sure how you’d react, and he’s better at that stuff than I am.”

    “What?” Abigail asked flatly.

    Harry was the one behind that line of questioning? She had thought better of him than that, and wasn’t he way too young for that sort of thing anyway? And for that matter, why would he ask a professor to help him on such a thing rather than asking her himself?

    It wasn’t like she would have shot him down if he’d just asked himself! If he was old enough to ask, he was obviously old enough to…

    Before she could work herself up even further, Harry continued, typically oblivious to his listener’s growing ire. “After our talk before, I was thinking about how you said the Malfoys were in charge of the trucking company, and I thought I oughtta do something about that, right? So I was thinking about buying Hogs Haulage anyway, but I was gonna do it ‘cause I wanted to play with trains, basically, then after we talked I thought about expanding it so I could make more money and maybe undercut the Malfoys at the same time. And you were talkin’ about all the crap you’d have to wade through when you got a job and how you thought about getting into the logistics business, but your only option would be to work for Lucius Malfoy, and you said you wouldn’t do that in any case ‘cause it would mean working for a slimeball…”

    Wait, what was Harry saying? That was…

    “So, I thought, ‘maybe I could take care of both things by hiring Abigail’!” Harry continued, unabated. “‘Cause that way, you could work for someone who won’t do any of that nasty stuff to you, and I could get someone to help with expanding the business properly, ‘cause I trust you, and I won’t have the time to run the thing, but you could be in on things and let me know if I needed to step in with whoever I hire to run the business!”

    That… actually sounded kind of nice, come to think of it, but then why had Professor Snape been…

    “But, part of that was making sure you knew everything you needed to know about overall strategy and what we’re trying to do with this and other stuff, and since some of the stuff we’re trying to do is fixin’ society up into somethin’ worth bein’ part of, a lot of that could be really bad if we let other people know about it too early,” Harry blathered on. “I figured I could trust you, but Mr. Snape has a whole lot more experience with the spying and counter-spying thing, so I asked him to make sure I was right about bein’ able to trust you, and he agreed. He said he wasn’t sure you would want to join in, but he was sure I could definitely trust you to keep a secret, so now I’m telling you about…”

    “Oh, thank Merlin!” Abigail exclaimed.

    “Huh?”

    “Um, well, when Professor Snape started to ask about my opinions on all this stuff, particularly the treatment of women in the workplace, I thought he was trying to hint at something unpleasant,” Abigail explained delicately. At Harry’s confused explanation, she elaborated, “I was afraid he was trying to hint at initiating such a situation with me.”

    “What? But Mr. Snape would never…”

    “I tend to agree, which is why it was so disturbing,” Abigail said. “Then when you said he had been inquiring on your behalf…”

    In an unusual fit of perceptiveness, Harry’s jaw dropped in flabbergasted horror, making it patently obvious that was a possible interpretation that had never crossed his mind. A situation which had Abigail giggling in relief. That did wonders for her peace of mind.

    Misunderstandings were unpleasant at times.

    “That wasn’t what I meant to do at all,” Harry protested when he managed to find his wits again. “Really, I didn’t mean…”

    “I know that, now,” Abigail assured.

    “Okay,” Harry said uncertainly. “Anyway, we’ve got a lot of stuff we’re planning, and if you want to work on it with us, you’re welcome, but you gotta promise to keep it quiet so we don’t get in trouble, or worse, not get it done!”

    “Now that is a promise I’ll be happy to make,” Abigail said.

    Harry smiled at her, and it made the conversation entirely worthwhile.

    “So, here’s what we’re…” Harry began, only for Abigail to interrupt as she looked to the library clock.

    “Harry, it’s time for class!”

    “Oh! We’ll have to talk about it later, then,” Harry said with a thoughtful look on his face even as he gathered up his notebooks. “Do you think you could come over tonight?”

    “I’d be happy to!” That was an offer Abigail had no intention of turning down.

    “Cool! I’ll ask Mr. Snape if he can show you how to get to my Lair,” Harry said happily as he turned to leave the library at a brisk pace. His next class was on the other side of the castle.

    Abigail’s class was much closer, and so she was rather leisurely as she walked. It most assuredly had nothing to do with the lightness of her step or her broad irrepressible smile. Abigail was much too good at hiding her emotions to let such a thing slip, no matter how much reason she had to celebrate.

    Harry was starting to trust her more, and that just made Abigail’s day. It was good progress to her way of thinking.

    2.13.1 Juicy gossip

    The Hogwarts librarian, Madame Pince, watched one of her favorite students walk out of her domain wearing a broad smile and practically dancing through the door in happiness. It was a far cry from the apprehensive manner the girl had shown when she walked in.

    She had always found it difficult not to laugh at the Slytherin students’ attempts to be subtle and secretive. As a rule, they were generally quite bad at it, and in cases like this one, they looked so cute when they tried.

    Sort of like watching a kitten try to growl, honestly.

    But more to the point, Miss Abercrombie was walking on air after she had a serious discussion with Mr. Potter…

    The librarian smiled in anticipation; Poppy would love to hear about this!

    2.13.2 Evening commute

    “Professor Snape?”

    The rest of the day had passed in a pleasant state of anticipation for Abigail after her morning discussion with Harry, and come evening, she had approached her Head of House for his assistance in visiting her not-quite-love-interest at his home.

    “Yes, Miss Abercrombie?”

    “Harry told me this morning to ask you if…”

    “You have decided to take him up on his offer, then?” her professor inquired.

    “Well, he didn’t have the opportunity to explain much,” Abigail temporized, “but I’m perfectly willing to keep his explanation to myself regardless of whether I join in…”

    “That is acceptable, Miss Abercrombie,” he acknowledged. “Are you comfortable on a broom?”

    “Yes,” she affirmed.

    “Then follow.”

    2.13.3 Revelations and affirmation

    She could see why Harry called his home a ‘Lair’.

    As Abigail followed her Head of House’s broom through the gathering twilight as they flew over the Forbidden Forest, she saw a series of cliffs, and as they rounded the south side of an isolated table-like outcropping between a pair of river valleys, she saw a warmly glowing opening about halfway up the sheer cliffside. As they drew closer, she was able to make out the small figure of her friend standing on the lip of that opening with Granger and the centaur girl he had had with him the first day on the train.

    Abigail had almost forgotten about her — huh. Why hadn’t she shown up to their study sessions?

    As the sixth-year touched down on the oddly expansive lip of the cave, behind a chest-height wall, she was greeted enthusiastically.

    “Hi, Abigail!” chirped Harry. “I’m glad you came!”

    Granger limited herself to a shy smile, but the centaur gave a neutral nod. It was probably best to apologize for their first meeting, come to think of it.

    “Glad to be here, Harry.” Abigail responded. “Would you mind introducing me to your friend? I don’t believe I caught her name the first time we met.”

    Harry looked puzzled for a moment before his eyes widened in realization. “Oh! I hadn’t realized — This is Suze, she’s my first damsel. Normally she would have been around with us in the library, but she’s been working on a project with her uncle Ronan, so she’s been doing her own research lately.” He turned to the centaur in question, “Suze, this is Abigail Abercrombie, and she got caught up in the troll thing at the castle with Hermione. She’s been a pretty good friend ever since.”

    “Well met,” Suze intoned in a polite, but not quite friendly, tone.

    “It is good to meet you too, Suze,” Abigail said in a friendly tone. “I apologize for my behavior on the train at the beginning of the school year. I’m afraid I wasn’t aware that you were authorized to be on the train, since I thought it was only open to students.” Abigail bowed her head in apology.

    “So you did not interfere because of my kind?” Suze asked skeptically.

    Abigail winced, “To be perfectly accurate, your species did alert me to the situation. Truthfully, had you been a human girl, I probably wouldn’t have noticed that you weren’t a student. Since you are a centaur, and we were taught that centaurs are not capable of using a wand, it was fairly obvious that you weren’t a student, whereas if you were a human girl, I’d simply have assumed that you were going to put on your uniform later.” Her expression firmed, “If I had noticed a non-student human girl on the train, though, I would have taken the same action.”

    The centaur maiden gazed down at her searchingly for a few moments before smiling in a much friendlier way. “In that case, I suppose that I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

    Satisfied that his friends were getting along, Harry chose that moment to invite them all in to sit down in the utterly massive main room of his dwelling place. As she walked along behind her diminutive friend through the massively outsized tunnel into an even more massive room, they walked toward a few couches arranged in a sitting area on one side of the expanse. They looked rather like the furniture from her old dollhouse when compared to the scale of the room.

    In addition to the massive room they were walking through, Abigail noted several other passages, similarly oversized, leading off further into the mountain. Everything was lit up with oddly-shaped glowing glass jars attached to the walls with some sort of smooth black rope strung between them.

    As she picked her way through the cluttered room — it was the sort of clutter she fully expected, having had to make checks on the Slytherin first-year quarters in the past; most young boys had similar ideas on neatness — Abigail had to wonder why on earth Harry needed so much space.

    The cave wasn’t so surprising; wizards ran the full gamut from opulent mansions to one eccentric friend of her family that had built a home into an old shoe. A cave in the back woods was almost normal by comparison, but the scale was off. She could understand, she supposed, if he had built a home scaled for the comfort of his obviously treasured centaur friend, but Suze was still decidedly miniature in comparison to the scale of the cave, even those portions which were evidently dug out manually.

    Well, maybe she could ask after Harry finished explaining what he had asked her here to explain? She took a seat on one of the couches across from the boy in question.

    “So, we were talking about plans for society this morning, right?” Harry led off.

    At Abigail’s affirmative nod, he continued, “Well, the wizarding world is pretty bad with the slavery and bigotry that’s incorporated into everything. I mean, the goblins had to do a whole lot of shooting to get the law to stop calling them animals, and even though Mr. Dumbledore managed to get slavery outlawed back in 1963, people are still using contracts and spells to force whoever they can into slavery, even if they don’t call it that anymore.” Harry frowned, “Mr. Snape told me about all that stuff, and I don’t like it, so we’re planning to do something about it. We wanna make it a place we can be proud to live in, rather than the… the…” Harry trailed off as he tried to come up with an appropriate descriptor.

    “Festering malefic cesspit?” Snape supplied.

    “Yeah — festering malefic cesspit that it is now,” Harry finished. “Thanks, Mr. Snape.” The man nodded in acknowledgement.

    Abigail leaned forward; this sounded intriguing. “What are you planning to do about it, exactly?”

    “Well, Mr. Dumbledore thinks we should just keep at trying to persuade people peacefully, but Mr. Snape thinks that there’s some people who just don’t learn anything if it isn’t beaten into ‘em. I’m kinda thinkin’ we’ll need some of both, but I ain’t sure exactly how much of each. I figure we’ll figure that out as we go. Thing is, though, there’s some stuff we’ll need no matter what we do, and one of those things is money. It takes a lot of money to run a war, and it takes nearly as much to use more peaceful methods. Plus we want to take as much strength away from the jerks who are behind all the problems as we can, and that means taking money away from them. Stealing it would be really hard — what with all the different places you can stash money — but we can out-produce and undercut them in business, then we can accomplish the same thing by taking away the means to make more money.”

    “So, you are going for economic conquest, then,” Abigail mused. “That… has some potential.”

    “While, we are doing that for now, Miss Abercrombie,” Snape added. “When Mr. Potter reaches his majority and is able to assume control of his House, we will begin using his political strength to assist.”

    “And when it is needed, I’ll kick in with force to deal with the ones what don’t listen to anything else,” Harry finished emphatically.

    “It’s good that you have more than one option,” Abigail said doubtfully. “But I think you’re going to need more than just yourself for the force part. I know you’re strong, but are you really that strong?”

    Harry simply nodded, much to Abigail’s frustration, before Snape interjected once more. “Mr. Potter, perhaps you should reveal your nature to Miss Abercrombie so as to explain your confidence?”

    “What do you…” Harry began before interrupting himself, “Oh, you mean tell her how I’m a dragon?”

    Abigail gasped as Snape scrubbed at his face in frustration, “Yes, that — wretched obtuse lizard.”

    “Okay,” he turned to Abigail, “right, so I’m a dragon.”

    They sat for a moment in silence before Abigail said leadingly, “You don’t look like a dragon…”

    “Oh, right,” the small boy jumped up from the couch and walked into the open area of the cave, his form flowing as he went into something much, much, much larger. The shifting form darkened to a deep grey, almost black, and became covered in thick-looking scales. An utterly massive pair of wings unfurled from the still changing back, and a long tail extended across the room.

    The echoingly massive cave suddenly seemed almost cramped. It certainly explained the architecture.

    “So, that’s why you knew so much about human transfiguration,” Abigail realized as she tried to work through her shock at seeing her almost-but-not-quite love interest turn into a nightmarishly powerful magical creature.

    Harry nodded his massive head, now sporting a trio of rearward-facing horns, “Yep, Mrs. McGonagall taught me so I could change back into a human. I’ve managed to learn to transfigure myself into a centaur, a seagull, and a pigeon too,” he finished proudly. Oddly his voice hadn’t changed, despite what had to be a now heroically-proportioned voice-box. Those shockingly intense green eyes hadn’t changed either, aside from increasing in size.

    Neither did their effect on her — which probably revealed something about her own proclivities that she was not certain she felt comfortable exploring.

    In an effort to take her mind off of uncomfortable self-examination, Abigail searched frantically for something to move the conversation, “Wait, you said ‘change back into a human’. So you were human originally?”

    “Yep,” Harry said, “I got caught up in something at the stone circle in Avebury when I was eight, and I ended up becoming a dragon. It’s cool though, being a dragon is awesome, ‘specially now that I can turn into a human when I want so I can visit with my friends in the castle and go out with people who aren’t in-the-know yet.”

    Abigail sighed in relief. He was a boy who had been changed into an animal, there were all kinds of old tales that told of that sort of thing — even ones where the unwillingly transformed person got married and lived happily ever after, eventually — she could work with that.

    A small portion of her insisted that those stories only went forward to the marriage and ‘happily ever after’, after the transformation had been reversed, but the rest rationalized that Harry could shapeshift at will, so that counted.

    It totally counted.

    Plus, he had saved her from the troll, so that counted too.

    “Anyway, so I’m a dragon, and I’m the Head of an Ancient and Noble House, and Mr. Snape, Mr. Slackhammer, and I are working on building up enough money to beat out everyone else in wizarding Britain,” Harry laid out while Abigail struggled to recover her equilibrium, “and I’m thinking that we need to start cutting into the enemy positions before it comes down to actual fighting. So, since we talked about Malfoy and the Happy Elf Trucking Group he runs…”

    Harry paused, looking at his friend in concern. “Um, Abigail, are you okay?” She kept staring blankly at him. “You haven’t said anything, and you’re looking kind of out of it… is it ‘cause I’m a dragon?”

    Hearing his uncertainty, Abigail’s attention turned outward again, and she stood, walking over to the nervous dragon and gesturing for him to lower his head before hugging his muzzle as well as she could manage.

    “Thank you,” she said simply.

    “What for?” he asked as she pulled back.

    “For saving me from the troll.”

    “Didn’t you already thank me for that?”

    “Yes, but it bears repeating,” Abigail said, “and I wanted to make sure you realized that you’re still my friend. Remember, that was the price,” she teased.

    Harry smiled, and Abigail wondered how he managed such an expressive gesture with such an alien facial structure.

    “In regard to the project, I’m in,” she continued. Crushes on massive scaly monsters aside, the revolution they had spoken of was exactly the sort of thing she had always hoped to be a part of. The fact that it would give her decent employment and a chance to spend time with her friend-who-might-eventually-become-something-more was just icing.

    At that point, Snape and Harry went into more detail on the plan as it was currently plotted and her role in it. The conversation lasted for several hours before Abigail had to leave if she was to return in time for her patrol as a prefect.

    2.13.4 No turning back now

    Abigail mused on the new, honestly rather shocking, information as she went through the motions of her nightly patrol looking for curfew violators.

    She was now up to her neck in serious business, majorly serious business, and to be honest with herself — and Abigail always tried to be honest with herself, even if she wasn’t always successful — she was afraid of what might happen. The course of action Harry had outlined was the sort of thing the ministry would not take kindly to.

    It was the sort of thing that saw people disappeared.

    She was even more afraid though, of what might happen if she didn’t get in on this at the ground floor. There was no question in her mind of the need for armed resistance; the fact that even she had immediately assumed the penalty for this would be an assassination and coverup from the government rather than a trial and lawful punishment was proof enough.

    More than that, though, Abigail had felt Harry’s power in a deep and personal way during that troll incident, and even though her sensitivity had faded, seeing and feeling his native form had done nothing but reinforce that impression.

    When she put her arms partway around his muzzle, Abigail knew then and there that anything Harry set his mind to he would accomplish — the power and presence she had touched was overwhelming even as he sat quietly in his Lair — and Abigail wanted in, no matter how scaly he was.

    The dragon thing gave her a bit to consider on the potential relationship front, and she was no longer quite so certain she wanted to pursue that option, but she was absolutely certain on keeping Harry as a friend and getting involved in his revolution.

    On the topic of a potential relationship, well, she’d just have to think on that a little while she was alone in her room, see if anything in her feelings had changed on that front now that she knew of her friend’s nature, or if she still found the idea as exciting as ever.

    She was sure she could come up with something or other.

    2.13.5 Bank transit

    It was a fine morning in early spring, and the marble and gold lobby of Gringotts Merchant Bank was filled, as usual, with surly wizards arranging their various financial dealings with equally surly goblins across a collection of high counters arrayed along one side of the expansive room. Unlike the rest of the crowd, one pair of seeming humans, a young boy and a remarkably unpleasant-looking man, made their way confidently to a guarded hallway where they were nodded through cordially.

    If any of the bank’s customers had been attentive enough to notice, they might have wondered what the two were up to; however, wizards and witches are generally too self-absorbed to notice such things unless they are exceedingly blatant. Thus, business continued with its usual uninterrupted surly misery.

    2.13.6 Investments and planning

    In a familiar office, Severus Snape and Harry Potter were sitting in their usual chairs across from the smartly dressed Vice-Chairman Slackhammer. The three had already received their usual beverages, and Harry was sipping his goblin tea as his host relayed their progress in the sales of their bulk superconductor line.

    “Gentlemen, as of January, we have partnered with a wire manufacturer for the production of superconducting wire,” the dapper goblin reported. “Sales are already backordered for full production capacity for the next eight years, and we do not expect there to be any reduction in order volume for at least the next three decades. Our partner is exploring the potential market for other form factors, including bulk material, but we expect wire to remain our primary product for the foreseeable future. Sales of our high-strength refractory continue to increase at a more modest rate, as we locate new industries which have a use for the material.” The goblin smiled a predatory sort of smile, “Profits are currently significant, but we anticipate upwards of fifty-million galleons per month by this time next year as we increase production capacity.”

    “That is excellent news, Mr. Slackhammer,” Snape said. “Are there any plans for the structured material?”

    “We have plans for that product class, but they require significantly more engineering before they will come to market,” Slackhammer said apologetically. “The potential is there, but incorporating it into a working computational device is proving difficult. We are investigating the possibility of forming a research division, but unfortunately, despite our current admirable liquidity, the nation has been required recently to funnel almost all of our share of the profits into updates to our most sacred armaments,” the gentleman goblin gestured towards his office gun rack which now sported a significantly more threatening-looking array of rifles.

    Harry had a thoughtful look on his face as he said, “Would it make sense for me to put up money for a research division?”

    The dapper goblin looked intrigued, “Would you be interested in developing this as a personal holding, or are you thinking of more of a loan to the company?”

    “Well, I run into stuff I wanna learn more about all the time, and it’d probably be useful to have people around that know how to do that sort of thing, so… maybe a personal holding?” Harry said uncertainly. “I don’t really know where to start though…”

    “We could manage the startup for you, for a fair price,” Slackhammer offered eagerly.

    “How much?”

    “The majority of the expense is tied up in salaries for the current research work, as our potions master,” he nodded to Snape, “has already learned how to make the material. The current issue is design. Total setup costs and research would amount to approximately five percent of your current after-tax income, at current estimate.” At the dragon’s uncertain look, he offered, “For the next two years, we would be pleased to provide the managerial services at cost, as we have a strong stake in your initial research projects, which would reduce your out-of-pocket expenses to four percent of your income.”

    “I think that sounds like a good idea, then,” Harry said. “Um, speaking of investments, I had another idea recently.” The boy-shaped dragon paused long enough to dig a grubby page of notes out of his pocket before unfolding it and reading. “Um, Mr. Slackhammer, the Hogs Haulage people are the ones what run the Hogwarts Express, right?”

    “Indeed, they are,” the goblin replied, looking expectantly at the boy with the air of a parent waiting for their child to take his first steps.

    “Cool,” Harry said. “Um, when I looked it up, Hogs Haulage is one hundred and sixteen galleons and twelve sickles each share, and it says there are ten thousand shares in the company, um, uh, owned by… a hundred and fifteen different people, I think? One of which is me, and I’ve got nine and a bit percent, and the rest of it is for sale, so don’t that mean the train company’s for sale?”

    “Please allow me to verify your researches, Mr. Potter.” Slackhammer rang a bell and motioned for his aid to bring him the appropriate documents. After a review of the current prices, he said, “Essentially, yes.”

    “And it said in my last balance statement,” he pointed to another number on his note, “I’ve got, um, fifty-seven million galleons in fluid assets, so that means I can afford to buy the train company, right?”

    “That is correct,” Slackhammer confirmed.

    “Then I think I’d like to buy the train company, Mr. Slackhammer,” Harry said, looking up from his notes.

    “What makes you consider this is a wise investment, Mr. Potter?” Slackhammer asked, setting down his customary whiskey in favor of listening more closely.

    “Well, it’s not all that; part of it’s that I’ve got fifty-seven-and-a-bit million galleons in my vault and I can afford to buy stuff because I think it’s cool,” Harry explained. “And I was looking at the train in London, and I’d like to be able to say it’s my train, and I don’t think it’s wasting money because I think I know how to make it more profitable.”

    “And how do you propose to improve the profitability of the company?” the goblin asked leadingly.

    “Well, for a start, there’s more places with lots of magical people in Britain than just London and Hogsmeade, so there’s more places it’d be worth having a train for magical people go,” Harry said. “Birmingham and Liverpool would be really worth having trains for too. There’s more magic people living in each of them than in Hogsmeade. So, there’s that. And did you know, they’re building a railway to France?”

    “Ah, yes, the Channel Tunnel project, quite the impressive engineering task,” Slackhammer said.

    “Well, I was thinking maybe I could have trains from London to Paris and stuff too, once it’s finished,” Harry said. “I mean, there’s lots of magic people in Paris, and loads in Bruges and stuff too, and all the trains that aren’t in places that used to be Russian can have trains the same size as British trains, well, apart from, like Spain, right? Plus, I figure, you can’t transport magic stuff on a non-magical train, but there ain’t nothing in the rules about transporting non-magical stuff on a magical train, so I figure we can expand eventually into non-magical freight and use magic to keep our fuel and maintenance costs down low enough to be profitable while charging less than other companies.”

    Slackhammer smiled proudly, “I do believe you have thought through this well, though I will defer to Madame Axetalon on the legality of your non-magical freight proposition.”

    “Well, even if that don’t work, I still got another angle — did you know it’s cheaper to send ten tons of stuff to Hogsmeade by train than it is to send a ton of stuff to Sidealong Road in Liverpool by lorry?” Harry continued. “Well, I found out Lucius Malfoy owns the company what runs that, Happy Elf Trucking Group, and Mr. Snape was always tellin’ me how bad a person he was, and I figure undercutting him and takin’ money away oughtta be a good idea in general.”

    The dapper goblin banker’s proud smile took on a predatory edge, “Ah, Mr. Malfoy, quite. Yes, economic warfare is another excellent justification for your purchase.”

    “And finally, Sergeant-Major Hooktalon has been telling me about supply lines and stuff, and I figure it makes good sense for me to secure a freight service that can get stuff to me at my Lair, so I can make sure I can eat and stuff.” Harry concluded.

    “Yet another excellent idea, if one has the wherewithal, which you do, Mr. Potter.”

    “Then I’m gonna buy the train company,” the dragon said firmly.

    “I shall arrange for it at once,” Slackhammer turned to his telegraph sender and began tapping out something in rapid Morse code, muttering under his breath, “Ah, they grow up so fast.”

    Snape shot Harry a sidelong look, “How much of that was made up to justify playing with trains?”

    “Hey!” Harry protested, “All of those reasons were legitimate, I just started from the playing with trains thing.”

    “Mr. Snape, regardless of his reasons I concur with Mr. Potter’s decision that the purchase of Hogs Haulage would be a wise move,” Slackhammer remarked without looking up from his telegraph.

    “And why is that?” Snape asked.

    “I am given to understand, based on both past experience and Mr. Potter’s opinion on Lucius Malfoy, that all of us in this room are of a similar mind on the subject of wizarding ‘justice’ and the current state of what passes for law within the magical parts of our civilization?” Slackhammer confirmed, still tapping away.

    Snape raised an eyebrow, before responding, “I believe you are correct in that assumption” when he realized that the goblin was not looking at him.

    “As you are no doubt aware, the Goblin Nation is one of the few non-human polities to achieve a measure of independence and self-government within the so-called ‘Wizarding World’,” Slackhammer continued. “What you likely do not know, is that we are at constant risk of reconquest, hence the ongoing military expenditures I mentioned earlier today. It is relatively unusual for a year to go by without the Ministry making some form of attempt or dirty trick intended to bring goblinkind back under their direct control. The social system that gives rise to so-called ‘Dark Lords’ is not only bad for business, it is bad for goblinkind, Mr. Snape, and I and my fellow board members have begun to investigate certain methodologies for stymieing said social system.”

    He looked up from the sender as he finished with a flourish, message sent.

    “I am given to understand,” he said, “That during the years of abolition of slavery within the non-magical society of North America, fleeing slaves escaped via a hidden network of pathways and safehouses referred to as an ‘underground railroad’, and I reckon it poetic that those from our homeland should begin their journey to freedom aboard a train.”

    “We could bring them to Hogsmeade,” Snape mused, warming to the idea, “but what then?”

    Slackhammer smiled thinly, “Then, Mr. Snape, Gringotts, PLC’s container ships sail daily from the port of Glasgow, travelling to places all over the globe; perhaps they could carry… a little extra cargo. For charitable reasons, you understand.”

    “We do, indeed,” Snape echoed the thin smile.

    “Then that’s what we do,” Harry said decisively. “You bring my gold up by lorry now; why not bring it by train? We could have special coaches that burglars can’t get into, all armored and stuff with guards with big machine guns, and that way the people who really, really need to not be here anymore could ride north with my gold and get on a boat in Mallaig that’d take them to the ship that’d get them way away from those Sassenachs and all their pish.”

    “I must,” Snape muttered, “remind Minerva to desist using Gaelic foul language in front of the impressionable dragon.”

    2.13.7 Humble beginnings

    It had taken Gringotts some two weeks to buy out enough of the Hogs Haulage shareholders to give Harry a majority stake in the company and some say over the functioning of the railroad. The time was spent mostly in ensuring the transactions were quiet enough to avoid driving the cost up, a process which involved a wide variety of Gringotts holding companies buying the shares piecemeal and then selling to the Potter account at cost.

    The process would continue slowly over the course of the next few months, if everything went according to plan on the financial front. On the off chance that someone noticed the pattern and bothered to investigate, the price might rise significantly, hence the cautious approach.

    Luckily for the Potter bottom line, wizards tended towards complacency, particularly those who held stock in a business as lackadaisically managed as the Hogs Haulage. It had not been a particularly lucrative property since the first two decades of operation, but it was a steady source of income — the sort of investment that attracted people looking to invest but unwilling to put in any attention or effort.

    The company had fallen into this state in large part because there had never been any attempt to expand the business to new routes after the initial founder died in 1924, less than a week after attending a social gathering hosted by one Abraxas Malfoy. The founder was in his fifties, hale and hearty, but no investigation took place after it was declared by the coroner — one of Abraxas’ cousins — to have been a result of ‘natural causes’.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Happy Elf Trucking Group was founded less than eight weeks later, immediately after the next head of Hog’s Haulage was found to have been embezzling from the company and thrown in prison without trial by the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement — a man married to Abraxas’ aunt.

    In any case, the rank and file within Hogs Haulage were almost entirely unaware of their quietly proceeding change in ownership, and even had they known, they were much more concerned about their cargo than the vagaries of backroom business deals. Despite their lack of awareness of the fact, their first run under new management was in the process of rolling out on a grey drizzly morning in early March.

    Driver Jim Coates, his fireman Mac, their guard Ivor McIver, and the crew drake-dog Smaugey, had just completed receiving locomotive number 70015 — a British Rail Standard Class 7 Pacific by the name of Apollo, the youngest of the Hogs Haulage roster — from their colleagues Keith Moss, Jim’s younger brother Stanley Coates, and Murdo Hagrid the hag-blooded first cousin of the Hogwarts groundskeeper. Having got done giving the locomotive a thorough once-over, Jim’s crew was speaking to the shunting foreman about the day’s cargo as they watched a novel sight.

    The King’s Cross shunting locomotive — a Hunslet ‘Austerity’ 0-6-0 saddle tank — was carefully moving down onto the mostly-assembled train with three oddly-painted and modified BR Mark 1 coaches. From the look of them, two were obviously Brake Gangwayeds but had their windows, small in the first place, mostly blocked up and covered with sturdy metal hatches. The one in the center was some type of fully van-sided coach, maybe from the old travelling post-office, and all — as well as being absolutely festooned with rivets — were crouched on their suspension, adequately demonstrating that, whatever their contents, it was just a tad heavier than what a BR Mark 1 coach usually carried.

    And all three were painted an oddly familiar green and gold.

    “What’s the crack?” Jim asked, nodding to the strangely-painted coaches and calming old Smaugey’s nerves while he was at it; the drake-dog kept nearly flaming whenever the Hunslet chuffed.

    “Gringotts bin settin’ up somefin’ up norf,” the shunting foreman, a Londoner by the name of Kelly Brown, explained with a shrug. “That ‘ere’s the strong van, sixteen ton of valuables they got ‘idden in it I ‘erd. ‘Em other ‘uns got a couple dozen goblins in ‘em, armed ter the teef I’ll bet.” He nodded firmly.

    Jim dubiously peered in the open door on the side of one of the BG’s as it rolled past him; he found a khaki-clad goblin dubiously peering back at him from around a cigarette and along the top of a decidedly threatening assemblage of metal pipes and boxes; Jim knew what crossbows did, and anything that had a trigger was definitely bad news in his book.

    Come to think of it, he recognized the color scheme, green and gold, the company colors of Gringotts.

    “What’d they be takin’ sixteen ton o’ valuables to Hogsmeade for?” Mac asked, peering over Ivor’s shoulder at the goods manifest.

    “Well, that’ll be vehicle number four,” Ivor said. “Lemme see… sixteen point one five ton for… Harry Potter?”

    “Yup,” Kelly confirmed with a nod, “Sixteen ton fer ‘Arry Potter ‘imself. Way I ‘ear it this’ll be right regular, they were ‘aulin it up by road, but it’s grown ter the point it’s cheaper fer ‘em ter send it by rail.”

    “Sixteen ton o’ valuables?” Mac boggled. “Ain’t the Boy-Who-Lived what, eleven or twelve, just started up Hogwarts and all?”

    “Yup,” Kelly said. “Me youngest’s in ‘is year, she is, different ‘ouse though. Surprised the Richards outta me when my Lavender told me ‘e’d ended up an ‘Ufflepuff; allus figgerd ‘e’d be a Gryffindor.”

    There was a dull thump and a cloud of feathers as Smaugey flamed a pigeon that’d startled him during the meaningful pause; Jim gave him a clip around the ear, and Smaugey gave an apologetic yip.

    “Well, I’d like ter know how he’s earning hisself that kinda money,” Mac said.

    “Well, I dunno much, but ‘e’s got ‘em goblins proppa ‘et up.” And with that, Kelly headed over to what would be the rear end of the three coaches when the completed train was in motion.

    Jim, Mac, and Ivor contemplated the trio of green and gold coaches for a moment as Kelly busied himself checking they were properly coupled and braked to the fitted vans that formed the rear half of the train while one of his lads uncoupled the shunting locomotive from the leading Gringotts coach.

    “Any word on how his load’ll be handled up north?” Jim asked Kelly as he walked back over and started waving the shunting locomotive to back up and get the next wagon.

    “’S ‘ter be picked up by some noo sub-branch ‘em goblins ‘ave set up in ‘ogsmeade; right ‘ush-‘ush it is,” Kelly told him.

    “Huh,” Jim said. “Interestin’.”

    “Yer better start gittin’ ‘er ready ter ‘ead norf,” Kelly said.

    “Aye, s’that sort o’ time,” Jim agreed, and he and Mac headed for the 70015, eagerly followed by Smaugey.

    The shunting locomotive hissed past with the second-to-last wagon, a four-wheeled refrigerated van laden with food for the kiddies at Hogwarts, as they walked; the only remainder was the train’s solitary passenger coach, currently loading at the nearby platform. Wasn’t usually many passengers — the twelve they’d seen boarding today was more than normal — but there were enough across the year to pay for the upkeep of the coach and make a little black, so the service stayed.

    “Got a funny sorta feeling about them goblins, Jim,” Mac said.

    Jim nodded. Thinking back there’d been talk around the depot about more and more goblins taking the Hogsmeade train. Hadn’t the gaffer said something about the little buggers nosing around the office?

    Well, whatever, it wasn’t Jim’s problem, nor was it Mac’s. In about five minutes time, they’d be backing 70015 down onto the train, and perhaps five minutes after that — no, a glance at Jim’s watch showed it to be a bit over six minutes; they had a total of eleven minutes thirty seconds before the starting signal would clear — they’d be on their way home to Hogsmeade.

    2.13.8 In the springtime of youth

    As the last of the snows melted from the surrounding highlands, spring came to the Black Woods with a vengeance.

    With the suppression of the acromantula population over the last few years, all sorts of critters, both magical and not, came bouncing back into the open, including at least four of the species thought to have been hunted to extinction by the chitinous menace.

    While his classes occupied very little of his time — theoretical work was a breeze for the young dragon, and first year classes consisted of little but theory — Harry managed to keep himself busy between his control exercises and his own independent studies. That is not to say his friends were neglected.

    During the course of the winter term, Hermione managed to badger her friend into excavating and furnishing a proper library, set into the northwest wall of the main room of the Lair about halfway up from the floor. It sported a sitting area on the mezzanine overlooking the main room and a series of shelves arranged in rows, which she then took palpable pleasure in neatly organizing and filling with his massive collection of books and manuscripts. She even created a card catalogue.

    It was the most fun Hermione had had in years.

    As the weather warmed, Abigail became a more frequent visitor to the Lair as well. Her duties as Slytherin girls’ prefect made for odd visiting hours and irritatingly frequent trips back and forth, but she made sure to make time to show up at least a few times a week. Between her evening visits to the Lair and the continuing study sessions in the library, Abigail was quite pleased with the progress of her friendship with the resident dragon.

    It was an idyllic sort of spring, but like all good things, it eventually had to come to an end, and it did so as the seasons rolled around.
     
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