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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. CesareBorgiaWrites

    CesareBorgiaWrites Getting out there.

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    Harry could pop by and sit on their roof trusses. Structural damage is expensive.
     
    oranos likes this.
  2. Wolfboy

    Wolfboy I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Why would he want to though, he has to deal with Draco daily during the school year, why waste his time doing structural damage when he is about to rape Lucius's bank account.
     
  3. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    It just recently occurred to me that the original Yahoo! group I started this at has since moved to groups.io, if anyone is interested.

    I've updated the opening post with an actual link, since groups.io is a lot friendlier that way than Yahoo! was, which I have included below.

    CaerAzkaban.groups.io
     
  4. CesareBorgiaWrites

    CesareBorgiaWrites Getting out there.

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    You had me thinking there was an update.

    *sad sword-wielding nutcase noises*
     
    Acolyte and inverted_helix like this.
  5. Happerry

    Happerry The Song to the Flame

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    It's a useful link to post.
     
  6. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    FYI: I've posted 4.8.0 and 4.8.1 on the group if you want to read them piecemeal, though I don't plan to post it here until I get the full 4.8 section ready.

    If you decide to discuss them here before I post the full 4.8, just remember to spoiler tag it where appropriate.

    Sections 4.8-4.9 are both heavy in the Su Li plot lines, and she is a bitch to write well. It's been slow progress.
     
  7. Hunting time

    Hunting time Getting out there.

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    ah, can't wait for Su Li's expression/reaction when she finds out the truth. can't remember what you called them, matriarch's?, but their reactions will also be hilarious

    how many 4.8.x and 4.9.x are there going to be if you can say?
     
    caspian1a likes this.
  8. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    honestly, they will probably spend a lot of time patting themselves on the back for picking the right option, of course that may change when/if they try and 'collect' any children as it where
     
    inverted_helix, Skjadir and caspian1a like this.
  9. Threadmarks: Section 4.8 - She turned me into a NEWT!
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    4.8 She turned me into a NEWT!


    4.8.1 For luck

    At long last, the time had come.

    Abigail was pensive as sat down to dinner in the Great Hall and absently loaded up her plate. After nearly half a year of preparation, the NEWTs were scheduled to begin the next day, and she was quite understandably apprehensive about the whole business.

    The wizarding world tended to lean towards very literal naming conventions, and the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests were no exception. Each NEWT consisted of two parts, a comprehensive written exam and an even more comprehensive practical. Each was strictly proctored by one or more Examination Authority bureaucrats from the small army of such which would descend on the school come morning.

    Pausing between bites, she sighed. Professor Flitwick had outlined what to expect from the tests just the day before in Charms class, when someone had finally thought to ask him. From the description, it seemed it would be a real winner. Between the two components, each subject would involve at least a full day of testing, with some of the more extensive or energy intensive subjects extending to two or even three days. Even worse, the potions practical had sometimes been known to stretch out to nearly a week, depending on the requirements of the brew the testing committee chose for the year.

    With Abigail’s course load, that meant that she would be actively testing — or sleeping off the exhaustion resulting from active testing, as she had been warned repeatedly by more than one of her professors — for at least the next week and a half... possibly as much as twice that.

    All told, it promised to be quite the ordeal, one that she was only looking forward to insofar as she was eager to see the end of it. That said, she had prepared as well as she could, and she was confident that she would do well. There was really only one final bit of preparation to handle before testing began the next day, and the necessary equipment for that final bit had just sat down in the next seat.

    “Hi, Abigail!” Harry Potter greeted her cheerfully as he filled his own plate for the first of many times. “How are you?”

    “A bit nervous,” she answered truthfully. “NEWTs are starting tomorrow, you know.”

    “You worked really hard to get ready,” her friend reassured her, actually putting down his fork long enough to pat her on the shoulder in a touching display of concern. Anyone familiar with the young dragon’s legendary appetite knew that any such pause when there was food in front of him was a noteworthy occurrence. “I’m sure you’ll do great!”

    The older girl nodded with a grateful smile, and silence fell as they ate.

    “Um, Harry?” Abigail ventured as approached the end of her meal.

    “Hmm?” he looked up, still busily chewing.

    “I just thought you ought to know that I’m probably going to be out of circulation for a few weeks because of the testing,” she informed him. “Professor Flitwick was telling us yesterday that we’re probably going to be either actively testing or completely exhausted from testing until we finish up.”

    Harry’s expression fell as he nodded sadly. Swallowing his current bite, he commiserated, “Yeah, I kinda figured we wouldn’t be spending much time together after NEWTs started, what with you not needing to train for them anymore and such.”

    “I just didn’t want you to think I was avoiding you or anything,” Abigail explained over her now nearly empty plate. “I’ll be looking forward to going right back to where we were before after the testing.”

    “Really?” the young dragon’s currently human face brightened considerably. “But I thought you wouldn’t want to keep training after…”

    “Bah!” she waved her fork dismissively. “I need no excuse to spend time with my friend! We’ll figure out something else to occupy our time if need be, Harry, don’t you worry.”

    Her friend rewarded her with a beaming smile, which lasted for all of a few moments before his mouth became otherwise occupied as he fell back to ravenously devouring the contents of his fourth plate of dinner. Despite that, the young dragon’s pleasure was still quite apparent from the warm emerald fire dancing in his eyes.

    As she had so often over the last two years, Abigail fell silent and simply enjoyed the view of those eyes for time. Eventually, however, practical concerns took precedence, once again. With her meal finished, Abigail needed to sleep. Tomorrow’s testing promised to be difficult enough without staying up late the night before.

    There was just one last thing to do.

    “Harry?”.

    “Hmm?” he looked up.

    “I’m going to get some sleep for tomorrow, but first,” she held out her arms in a wordless request for a hug, “Wish me luck?”

    That request was granted, in spades.

    4.8.2 Hunting license

    The year-end standardized testing had begun, and with two years’ worth of students effectively removed from circulation, the hallways seemed half-deserted. Thus no one was close enough to take note of the small scrap of parchment Su Li clutched tightly as she made her way through the sparsely populated castle on her way to potions. Nor did anyone notice her tight smile, not that they would have known what to make of it if they had.

    The parchment was a coded letter freshly arrived from Hong Kong, and it carried instructions that brought an end to her months-long wait. The matriarchs had decided on her target, and her leash was off. She was to proceed with the next portion of her mission.

    As the petite girl arrived at the door to the teaching lab, she smiled in anticipation, absently slipping the note from the matriarchs into her robe pocket, hiding it from sight. Coded it might be, but there was no reason to tempt fate should her target’s linguistic talent prove even more comprehensive than anticipated. Pausing to take one last breath and set her shoulders in determination, she opened the door.

    The laboratory was as it always was before a lesson, bustling with activity, various students arriving and preparing their workstations for the coming session. Her target was already present, as she had expected, diligently laying out the ingredients in the quantity and order in which they would be used during this brewing session, just as Professor Snape had taught them.

    It was good advice; preparation was tremendously important in brewing, just as it was in many other things, such as her plans. Now, her months of discreet surveillance were about to pay dividends. She knew her target, and thus she knew precisely what opening gambit to pursue.

    She carefully schooled her expression into a friendly smile and cleared her throat.

    The small, messy-haired boy looked up and easily returned her smile with a matching one of his own, though he did look a little puzzled at the change from her usual neutral expression.

    It was time.

    “Harry, would you like to be friends?”

    “Sure!”

    Oftentimes the simplest plans were the best plans.

    4.8.3 Newcomer

    It had been an odd day.

    As Hermione made her way to the library for her habitual afternoon study time with Harry, she couldn’t help but reflect on how different the school seemed today. With nearly two-thirds of its students taken out of circulation by the standardized testing, it was now a place of echoing, half-empty hallways; it was all honestly a little unsettling. Thus it was with some relief that she passed from the alien stillness of the hallway to the familiar stillness of the library.

    She could only hope that Abigail’s absence wouldn’t exacerbate that unsettling feeling. The older girl was off taking her NEWTs, and this would be the first time would miss their regular library sessions since she first started attending them. Harry would be there of course, and so would Suze, but it just wouldn’t be the same without another human girl in the mix. She sighed as she rounded the last corner on the way; that would take some getting used to.

    She looked up, catching sight of the usual table.

    Or perhaps not.

    The studious girl’s eyes widened in surprise as was met with an unexpected tableau. Harry was there, reading from some esoteric text or other, as expected. Suze was at his side, also as expected. However, the small Asiatic girl sitting in Abigail’s usual chair, looking like a delicate, perfectly made-up porcelain doll, was quite the surprise.

    Hemione froze for several long moments as she tried to make sense of this new development until her currently human-shaped friend noticed her presence.

    “Hi, Hermione!” the sometimes-dragon greeted her warmly, looking up from his book with a welcoming smile. “Come on over and take a seat.”

    “Hi, Harry,” she replied weakly, making her way over to the table. “Um, who is this?” she asked, indicating the petite newcomer.

    “Oh yeah! I forgot you hadn’t met her yet,” Harry replied. “This is Su Li. She’s been my lab partner in potions for a few months now, and she just asked to be friends today, so I said ‘sure’ and invited her to come to the library. Su Li, this is Hermione Granger. She’s been my friend for almost two years now. I’m sure you’ll be great friends, too!”

    She just asked today, and she was already here? That seemed a bit… well no, Hermione caught herself. That sort of immediate wholehearted acceptance was actually pretty normal for Harry. Hermione sighed.

    “Pleased to meet you, Miss Li,” the bushy-haired girl offered, extending a hand to the Ravenclaw girl.

    The smaller girl stood and smiled warmly at her Gryffindor peer, reaching out to take the offered hand in a firm clasp. “Likewise, Miss Granger! I’ve been looking forward to getting to know you as well, both as Harry’s friend and on your own merits.”

    “Oh? I didn’t think I was all that interesting,” Hermione prompted, releasing the new girl’s hand and taking her usual seat. “Why did you want to meet me so much?”

    Su Li did likewise, answering, “Well, you have been at the top of our year in grades for a number of months now, and it’s not often that that position stays out of Ravenclaw for so long, and I wanted to meet the girl responsible for it.”

    “I guess,” Hermione agreed slowly, only to frown as an unpleasant thought occurred to her. There had been people who had tried to flatter her about her intelligence before, and they had been trying to…

    “Just to be clear, I’m not going to do anyone’s homework, Miss Li,” she stated firmly.

    The petite girl answered with a blank, uncomprehending stare for one long moment, then her mouth opened...

    ...and she laughed.

    4.8.4 Getting along

    Harry smiled at the high, clear sound of his newest friend’s spontaneous laughter.

    It was nice.

    Hermione seemed to think so too if her reaction was anything to go by. She smiled in return, and it was only a few moments before the two girls were deeply engaged in conversation. It looked to Harry like they were well on their way to forming a fast friendship. Even Suze was putting in a word here and there.

    It was nice when his friends got along.

    The young dragon had been a bit worried about how Hermione would take the new addition. She had a bit of history of trouble with making friends; that was why he had ended up carrying her off, after all. Fortunately, she seemed to be handling the situation quite well.

    Now he just had to introduce Su to Abigail when his older friend finished up with her exams, and then his new friend would be fully integrated into the group. Harry wasn’t too worried about that meeting, though. Abigail was awesome, and he was sure it would work out well.

    The smile remained as he turned back to his book, content to allow the nascent friendship to develop without interference.

    New friends were always a good thing, and he wanted to finish his reading before they retired to the Lair. He had other plans for the evening, and he needed to finish them before tomorrow’s alchemy lesson.

    4.8.5 Gaudeamus Igitur…

    Albus Dumbledore sighed happily as he sipped his tea, enjoying the brisk morning breeze, the mild spring weather, and what he imagined were the admiring gazes of the smattering of muggle tourists passing by.

    He knew he had chosen his outfit well this time! One could never go wrong with a classic houndstooth pattern, after all. He still thought the crimson and gold color scheme a tad understated, but he had tried to compensate with a bright turquoise ascot. He was still not certain it was enough.

    Albus was away from Hogwarts at the moment, though not too far away, sitting on the patio at a small restaurant in Arisaig, just across the street from the bay.

    Arisaig was a strictly muggle village, but the location was nonetheless a trip down memory lane for the old wizard. After his long-ago graduation from Hogwarts, he had explored much of the north of Scotland as a sort of denouement to his school years, making his way by a mix of walking and apparation. Just a few miles down the road from the west end of the Black Lake, Arisaig had been among the first places he had visited. As he recalled, the building now occupied by the rather lovely restaurant he was currently patronizing had been a stable at the time; the basic lines of the sturdy stone structure were still quite apparent, even after the extensive remodel.

    He took another sip and sighed. That had been a wonderful time of his life... back before everything became so bloody complicated. It was good to remember those times, especially after that nasty business with Lucius Malfoy last week. However, nostalgia was not the reason he was in the tiny coastal village.

    He was there on business.

    The aftermath of the Avebury incident, now compounded with that of the discharge at Stonehenge, had led to a great many changes, some even extending to the likes of his old mentor, Nicholas Flamel. The alchemist’s ongoing research into the magical background levels had proven itself critically important to understanding the changing situation. Collecting updated results had thus become a much more urgent affair than it had been. In the past,

    In the past, Nicholas had been content to allow the sensors to record for decades at a time before he collected and collated the logs into a coherent whole; it was a task that could be put off until either he or his former apprentice had the time to spare. Now that lackadaisical schedule was no longer tenable; they needed the new results regularly and frequently.

    To that end, Nicholas had taken on a new student and set her to collating and normalizing the log data as part of her duties. The girl had completed her first update the previous week, and she was now bringing Albus a copy, per Nicholas’ request, just in time for the coming trip to the Americas. This was to be their first meeting, which he suspected was the reason his old mentor had asked her to pass the results in person rather than taking the much simpler option and forwarding them himself.

    Albus certainly did not begrudge his mentor his ruse. In fact, he was quite looking forward to meeting his fellow student! His long white beard twitched as a smile stretched itself across the old wizard’s face. Despite only meeting the ancient alchemist as an adult, Nicholas had been almost like a second father to him. For his old master to take on a new student after so many years… well, it was almost as if he had been given a new baby sister — at his age!

    The very idea had Albus tickled pink.

    Now, if only he could figure out why the meeting had to take place strictly in the muggle world. Nicholas had insisted, but it seemed a rather odd condition for the old alchemist to set. Albus set down his teacup and broke off a bit of scone, frowning thoughtfully as he chewed the pastry. The girl was learning alchemy and quite quickly at that, judging by Nicholas’ enthusiastic boasting on the subject, so it could not be a secrecy issue.

    His musings were interrupted by a soft, clear, and very feminine voice, “Please pardon the interruption, sir, but might you be Albus Dumbledore?”

    He turned quickly, long white beard swaying with the motion, to find the owner of the voice standing on the other side of the low, whitewashed stone wall that divided the patio from the street proper. The speaker was a young girl, perhaps in the middle of her teenage years, sporting a politely neutral expression, a thick shock of shoulder-length lavender hair, and a refreshingly colorful outfit.

    “I am, indeed, young lady,” Albus confirmed graciously, smoothly rising to his feet as was appropriate for a gentleman in such a situation. He took in the details of her outfit as he tried to place her identity.

    The girl wore a collared white blouse and a matching pleated skirt which would have been rather plain on its own, but the well-tailored jacket that topped it — dyed a vibrant purple and adorned with intricately embroidered filigree of a vivid marigold — more than made up for the unassuming underlayer. When taken in conjunction with the skirt, it gave the rough impression of a well-tailored dress robe. A matching purple and gold tam perched atop a thick head of purple hair, a scarf of rich, brilliantly yellow silk tied in a loose bow around her neck — a lavaliere, if he remembered the term correctly from his time on the continent — and a small leather document case, also dyed a matching purple with bright yellow filigree, completed the ensemble beautifully.

    AII told, it was one of the finest muggle adaptations of wizarding fashion he had ever had the pleasure to encounter, styled well enough to fit into her surroundings without falling into that lamentable humdrum drab that so often characterized nonmagical finery. The purple hair was a lovely touch as well, showing an admirable commitment to her chosen theme. She had even gone so far as to use dye, a step farther than most witches bothered to go... at least he assumed she had, given that he sensed no cosmetic charms on her at all.

    Such a well-heeled young witch in a small muggle village could only be…

    “Might I presume that you are the one Nicholas has working on our project? His new apprentice?”

    “Yes, Master Flamel sent me, though I believe I am technically a research assistant at the moment, rather than an apprentice,” the young woman averred. “I would not wish to claim a title above my station.”

    “Ha! I have no doubt Nicholas already thinks of you as his next apprentice, given how he has spoken of you recently, but I suppose confidence will come with time and learning,” AIbus happily opined. “In any event, it is my most sincere pleasure to meet you, my fellow student. Come, join me at the table,” he gestured to the chair across from him. “Can I get you anything? Tea? Or perhaps a spot of breakfast?”

    “Some tea would be quite lovely,” Nicholas’ new apprentice agreed as she rounded the low wall to join him, revealing in the process that her shock of purple hair did not end at her shoulders as he had first assumed. Rather it was gathered into a tight braid that stretched into a thoroughly impressive cable reaching from the nape of her neck down to the back of her knees.

    Committed to her appearance, indeed! Albus noted with approval as he idly fingered his own magnificent beard. He knew from personal experience how much work it took to maintain actual hair of that length, rather than using cosmetic charms to fake it.

    “Certainly. Have you any preference, Miss…” he began, even as he raised a hand to signal the waitstaff.

    Flamel, if you please,” she interjected as she took her seat, shifting her splendid braid over her shoulder in the process and allowing it to coil up in her lap. “And as for tea, I am willing to try anything, so long as it is hot. I fear that the local weather is rather cooler than that to which I am accustomed.”

    “Miss Flamel, it is,” AIbus agreed. After taking a moment to order tea for his guest, he continued conversationally, “Has Nicholas adopted you, then? He had not mentioned that in our conversations.”

    She shook her head. “No, he has simply been kind enough to allow me the use of the name during my time as his student and ward.”

    The elderly wizard sat in silence for a moment as he considered the possible implications of that statement, particularly the potential reasons behind the young girl’s choice to abandon her family name. He decided that he did not particularly like them, and his long history as an educator all but demanded that he investigate further. He managed to hesitate for a few moments as prying into her personal affairs was inappropriate in the extreme — the reasons were likely intensely personal, and he had met the girl all of two minutes ago — but eventually his meddlesome urges got the better of him, and he asked the question anyway.

    “Might I ask why you have chosen to eschew your birth name, Miss Flamel, if not for adoption?”

    This time, it was Miss Flamel’s turn to think quietly for a long moment, during which her tea was delivered. After she had taken her first sip, she explained.

    “I suppose that is a reasonable question to ask,” she began in a tone that screamed of grudging compliance. “You are my senior under Master Flamel, after all; it is natural for you to be curious.”

    Albus winced at the girl’s tone.

    “A certain member of my birth family did something very… ill-advised several generations back causing our family to lose a great deal of respect among our peers. The name of The Alchemist opens a great many doors that would otherwise remain closed to one of my lineage.”

    “I see,” Albus nodded gravely, “though I do wonder why Nicholas has not offered to adopt you in that case. I would imagine Perenelle would be rather insistent, if nothing else.”

    “The offer has been made, and as you expect, Mrs. Flamel has made it abundantly clear that it remains on the table,” the purple haired girl acknowledged before sighing despondently. “However, inconvenient though the name is, it remains my heritage. I am loath to abandon it completely.”

    “I see,” the elder wizard said, and indeed he did, both her reasoning and her reasons for not wanting to speak on the topic. The latter of which really meant that he ought to… “I do apologize for prying, Miss Flamel. I am afraid I have been a teacher for so long, responsible for the wellbeing of my students, that I often poke my nose into things that are really none of my business. Yet you are Nicholas’ student, rather than mine, so please feel free to tell me off if you feel it necessary.”

    “Understood,” Miss Flamel said gravely. “For the record Mr. Dumbledore, I do not wish to discuss my birth family at this time.”

    Dumbledore nodded. “Then I shall not inquire further, unless you should broach the subject deliberately,” he responded just as gravely, before brightening substantially. “On a lighter note, how have you enjoyed learning under Nicholas?”

    That prompted the first genuine smile he had seen from the reserved girl, and for a time they happily chatted back and forth about their various experiences learning under the ancient alchemist.

    As he listened to his fellow apprentice recount another amusing anecdote, this one regarding her first encounter with Perenelle and the woman’s razor-sharp wit and even sharper tongue, Albus Dumbledore was enjoying himself quite thoroughly. It was nice to have a peer again — and as a fellow student under Nicholas Flamel, the young lady before him was certainly a peer, even if only in the scholastic sense — a source of fellowship untainted by the trappings of power and responsibility. After so long as the dominant force in British wizarding society, he had almost despaired of ever finding another.

    Perhaps that was why Nicholas had arranged for them to meet away from the wizarding world, to ensure their meeting remained one of fellow students? As the girl finished her story and sipped at her tea, Albus shrugged internally, dismissing the question. Whatever the reasons, now that they had met he would act his part out properly.

    To that end…

    “Should you have any difficulties or questions, Miss Flamel,” he offered, “please feel free to inform me, and I shall endeavor to assist.”

    She was his sister apprentice, after all, and what were older brothers for, if not providing help and advice?

    “There is one thing,” the purple-haired girl began. “Is Mrs. Flamel always so…” she trailed off for a moment as she struggled to find the appropriate word, “smothering? I mean,” she quickly backpedaled, realizing that she might have overstepped, “she’s very nice and all, and I know she means well, but she treats me as if I were her own child, and I am unsure how to respond.”

    “Yes, I know what you mean,” the elderly wizard agreed with a wistful smile. “She has always treated me much the same way, and no, it does not go away with time.” He sighed, “I believe it is because she has never been able to bear children of her own, so she tends to adopt those who catch her attention.”

    “She is barren?” his fellow apprentice asked, puzzled. “Would not the Elixir have repaired such things?”

    “After a fashion,” Albus explained with a wince. “The actual mechanics are a tad involved, but ‘barren’ is a reasonable approximation of the situation.”

    “And the Elixir?” she prompted.

    “Again, the mechanics are involved,” the elderly wizard repeated, “and I would defer to Nicholas in explaining them to you. It is an alchemical topic of some note, and you are his student in such matters.” At her acknowledging nod, he continued, “Regardless, I do ask that you be patient with Perenelle in this matter. It is a painful one.”

    “Of course, of course!” the purple-haired girl waved off his request, still frowning thoughtfully as she processed the new information. “It was only awkward before, nothing really important. Now that I understand the situation, it is no trouble at all…”

    At that point, Albus’ internal alarm — a rather handy little charm, that — went off, reminding him that he had approximately half an hour to get to his next appointment. He sighed regretfully; it seemed he would have to cut things short. Mindful of his surroundings, he mimed looking at a wristwatch he was not actually wearing before making his excuses.

    “I am terribly sorry, Miss Flamel,” he apologized. “It has truly been a joy meeting with you, and I look forward to doing so again, but I am afraid we will have to cut our meeting short. I have a lesson scheduled with one of my own students, and we still have yet to address the nominal topic of this meeting.”

    “Of course, I should have handled that when I first arrived,” she said in a businesslike tone, reaching into the document case she carried and withdrawing a thick sheaf of papers from within. “Those are a copy of the latest records, current through January of this year.”

    As she handed the document over, her voice brightened to a much more personable one, “I enjoyed our meeting as well, and thank you for your advice.”

    “It was my pleasure, young lady,” he acknowledged as he stood from the table. “I have already paid for our meal, including another tea for you, should you choose to take advantage. Until we meet again!”

    And with that, he walked off down the seaside street, eventually turning the corner and disappearing from view.

    His guest stayed long enough to enjoy her last cup of tea. She saw no sense wasting her host’s money.

    4.8.6 The stuff of stars

    In the depths of a newly excavated tunnel, deeply embedded into a hillside in the next valley over from the Lair, Harry Potter happily greeted the newly arrived Albus Dumbledore, eager to continue his tutelage in alchemy.

    “Hi there, Mr. Dumbledore!” the young dragon called, his great scaly bulk filling the majority of the narrow, rough-walled tunnel. “I’ve got the sludge from the first exercise, like you said,” he gestured with one talon to a quintet of fifty-five-gallon steel drums, each full of an oily-looking iridescent fluid, “and you can see the tunnel. What do I need to do next?”

    “Excellent work, Mr. Potter,” the elderly wizard nodded, looking about at his student’s preparations. “This hill is free of any other constructions, correct?”

    “Yeah, it is!” the dragon bobbed his great scaly head in the affirmative before asking, “Uh, I was wondering, why did I need to make sure of that?”

    “That will be made clear shortly,” Dumbledore assured him. “First, I must explain the nature of this exercise.”

    “Okay!” Harry settled in for a lecture.

    “As you will recall, the first practice exercise involved controlling the amount of energy going into an alchemical reaction. This was done using an endothermic reaction; the conversion of water into that sludge requires energy, energy which you supplied from your own magical reserves. Performing the exercise allowed you to practice controlling your own energies in the face of an external draw.”

    Harry nodded along with the rehash of their earlier lessons.

    “This second exercise involves controlling the amount of energy coming out of an alchemical reaction. This will be done using an exothermic reaction, specifically the inverse of that used in the first exercise. You will be converting that sludge you have so diligently saved back into water and learning how to deal with the energies released in the process.”

    “That makes sense,” the young dragon said.

    “This aspect of your alchemical studies is much more dangerous than the first, Mr. Potter,” the elder alchemist warned sternly. “The dangers of a runaway reaction in the first case would only have killed you, exhausting you to the point of death. The danger of a runaway reaction in this case would kill everyone nearby in a massive explosion. I assume you are familiar with the workings of the sun from your independent studies — the reaction known to the non-magical world as ‘nuclear fusion’?”

    The dragon nodded.

    “Since it was first proposed early in this century, ‘nuclear fusion’ has been known in alchemical circles as ‘sidereal alchemy’, for it is a specific form of alchemic reaction which occurs naturally in stars,” the old wizard explained. “You will be dealing with energies of a very similar magnitude today, in this cave.”

    “Oh! That does sound pretty dangerous,” Harry agreed with a thoughtful frown. He continued with an uncharacteristic note of self-doubt, “Um, Mr. Dumbledore, should we really be doing this? I know my control is a lot better than it was, but I don’t know if I trust it that much yet.”

    Albus’ beard swayed as he shook his head, “You need not worry overmuch, Mr. Potter. Just as the first exercise was chosen to be self-limiting, petering out when you were merely exhausted, rather than dead, so too does this second exercise self-limit. When the magical field gradients become too intense, the sludge changes its structure to the point that the reaction requires a radically different activation method. As a result, the reaction cannot run off uncontrollably without a great deal of deliberate effort by a skilled practitioner.”

    Harry let out a massive sigh. “Well, that’s a relief.”

    “Indeed, Mr. Potter,” his instructor agreed. “Now, before we begin, we have a few final modifications to make to your current arrangement.”

    With that, the elderly wizard set about excavating a small secondary chamber at the end of the tunnel with his student’s assistance. Dumbledore then produced a single glass vial, which he proceeded to fill with the iridescent sludge before they transferred the remainder into the new chamber and then sealed it off.

    “Hey, Mr. Dumbledore,” Harry asked as he shifted a massive spherical boulder into place in front of the carefully carved round opening to the storage chamber, “if the reaction we picked for this is so safe, why are we making all these preparations for it?”

    “Safe?” a bushy white eyebrow rose in surprise. “Whatever gave you the impression that this exercise was safe? No, Mr. Potter, the second exercise is not safe at all! It will not run away uncontrollably, but it is sure to run away from you, and in the process, it will release a significant quantity of energy quite quickly indeed. The choice of reaction simply ensures that that release will self-limit to something more along the lines of knocking down a building rather than a city.”

    Emerald eyes opened wide.

    “You will be safe enough, I expect, Mr. Potter,” the elder alchemist assured him. “Between your physiology and your magic, you should not suffer any permanently debilitating injuries, and I am safe enough with the proper defensive spells. Rest assured, however, that nothing else in this facility will fare so well. It is why we took so much time to ensure the door to your storage room over there was so well fitted. Being larger than the opening, the coming explosions will simply serve to seat it more firmly, protecting your stock of practice materials.”

    “So, it’ll work like a check valve,” Harry concluded with a nod, recognizing the concept from some of his own reading.

    After a quick explanation of the workings of a check valve, Dumbledore agreed with his assessment.

    “That is exactly correct, Mr. Potter, well spotted!” he congratulated the young dragon. “Now for the lesson.”

    He conjured a small stone bowl and transferred a single small, colorful drop of the sludge into it before setting the comparatively tiny bowl before his enormous pupil.

    “Now, Mr. Potter, watch carefully,” the elderly wizard instructed. “We will begin with the simplest action possible. You reach out like thus,” his magic shifted subtly as it enveloped the bowl, “and shift in this manner.”

    There was another subtle shift, clearly visible to Harry’s draconic eyes, before the drop of sludge in the bottom of the bowl suddenly glowed brightly enough to make Harry flinch back, his great eyes reflexively snapping shut for a moment at the suddenness of it.

    “As you can see,” Dumbledore continued, betraying no reaction to the incorporeal light show, “I am now slowly converting the material there back into water and absorbing the released magic into my own reserves. That absorption is only possible because of my recent expenditures of magic both in transporting myself here and our little construction project, soon, my reserves will be full, and I will be forced to…” His voice hitched as, between one word and the next, the droplet suddenly glowed a hundred times brighter. “Ah, there! When my reserves were filled, I was then forced to release the rest of the magic involved to the environment at large, where it will dissipate quite quickly.”

    “Hmm,” Harry hummed, squinting as he watched the process carefully. “So, can you do anything else with it? It seems like a waste to just let it go like that.”

    “That can be done and is, in fact, a standard practice in advanced alchemy,” the alchemist affirmed, “though it requires orders of magnitude more skill. Do not attempt to do such a thing without my express permission.”

    The dragon nodded in acknowledgement of the warning.

    Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the ethereal light cut off, leaving only a wet spot visible — after Harry blinked the afterimages away — in the bottom of the bowl. There was no longer a hint of the colorful sheen that had characterized the alchemically created sludge.

    “And there you have it,” Dumbledore nodded in satisfaction. “The exercise is complete. Allow me a moment to prepare, and then you may attempt the exercise.”

    At his student’s nod, the elderly wizard flicked his wand through a complicated motion and suddenly took on a luminous sheen to his student’s eyes. Another, different motion created a series of glowing semi-transparent half walls across the open end of the tunnel, numerous enough that they almost obscured the outside world entirely, despite their semi-transparent nature.

    “What’re those for, Mr. Dumbledore?” Harry asked curiously as his instructor reached into his robe for the vial of sludge.

    As he tapped out another small drop into the stone bowl, Dumbledore explained, “They are baffles to keep things from getting too loud outside. We do not need curious muggles coming from Mallaig to test our secrecy enchantments.”

    The dragon nodded in understanding as he looked at the innocent-looking stone bowl nervously.

    “So, should I give it a try?”

    “Go ahead, Mr. Potter.”

    Harry’s semi-transparent inner eyelids reflexively closed across his great green eyes as he cautiously reached out with his magic as Mr. Dumbledore had demonstrated earlier. It enveloped the bowl gingerly, and then he shifted it just so…

    ...and then the world went white.

    Outside, a muffled explosion echoed off the surrounding hillsides, startling hundreds of the local birds into taking flight.

    Back in the tunnel, a dazed dragon slumped against the nearest tunnel wall, punch-drunk, as pulverized stone dust slowly settled out of the air.

    “Not a bad start, Mr. Potter,” a completely unruffled Albus Dumbledore observed in a chipper voice from within his thick cocoon of protective magic. A nostalgic smile crossed his face, “As I recall, my first attempt blasted me through a two-foot thick stone wall.”

    “Huh?” the dragon said in an overly loud voice, as he slowly shook his great head, trying to get his ears to stop ringing. “What was that, Mr. Dumbledore? I can’t hear you over all that ringing.”

    “Hmm, perhaps some hearing protection is in order,” Dumbledore mused.

    It took several minutes for the dragon to recover enough to understand what his tutor had said, at which point, the assessment had been repeated.

    “I guess this is going to take a lot of practice, too, huh,” Harry observed with a sigh before his expression firmed. “Well, I’d better get started, then.”

    One quick trip on Albus’ part to the Hogwarts greenhouse saw him returning with a massively enlarged pair of the fuzzy, pink, noise-cancelling earmuffs which were normally used for handling mandrakes, and Harry put his great scaly nose back to the grindstone until the vial Dumbledore had set aside for practice was fully emptied.

    The local birds would not return to the area for nearly a week afterwards.

    4.8.7 Building bridges

    As she sat before the roaring fireplace in the Ravenclaw common room, set to ward off the damp chill of the late spring evening, Su Li mused on her progress.

    The initial insertion had gone well. Her opening gambit with her target had worked just as well as she had hoped, and that had provided access to the rest of his social circle. Now she was in the process of integrating herself into that circle to suit her purposes. The better her reputation among his friends, the stronger her position would be.

    Fortunately, the boy had a rather limited social itinerary, and so far, the operation had gone well.

    The Hufflepuffs had been won over quickly. They were Hufflepuffs, which meant that a shared mutual friend was sufficient if paired with even minimal social graces. Su Li could have been an utterly obnoxious boor, and most would have still gone out of their way to try to accommodate her, simply on the strength of their mutual friendship with Potter. Since being personable cost her essentially nothing, Hufflepuff’s welcome had been quite warm, indeed.

    Potter’s pet centaur had been less receptive, meeting her with an aloof sort of neutrality and offering little more than a nod of acknowledgement and a polite word or two. It would work well enough for now, but she would need to put more work in. Her target obviously valued the creature’s input, and it would not do for Su Li’s purposes for any of that input to be negative.

    The real coup, though, had come in the form of Hermione Granger.

    The homely girl’s fledgling romantic interest in Su Li’s target was obvious to anyone possessed of two eyes and the social intuition of a particularly dense rock. Fortunately for her purposes, that was a confluence of traits possessed by neither Potter nor the Granger girl herself. As potentially direct competition, Su Li had felt she had warranted extra attention, and that effort had paid dividends quite quickly.

    Overtures of friendship had been made, and the girl had taken the proffered bait. Her only gesture in the direction of caution had been a halfhearted declaration that she wasn’t going to be used for doing homework.

    Her burst of genuine, spontaneous laughter at that ludicrous theory, Su Li realized in hindsight, had probably done as much as anything else to put Granger at ease. It was as if the bushy-haired girl could not imagine any other ulterior motive. Granger would have been horrified if she had realized precisely why the petite girl had found her concern about academic fraud to be so hilarious.

    Su Li would never burn a good patsy for something so pedestrian.

    In any event, Granger’s naivete had put Su Li in an excellent position going forward. The girl would serve as a friendly advocate among her target’s closest confidants, ironically protecting her own rival’s interests in her efforts to be sociable. In time, Granger’s clumsy efforts at catching Potter’s eye would only serve as a foil for Su Li’s much more adroit ones, and when other girls inevitably came sniffing around her target, Granger would serve as both a convenient ally in fending them off and a convenient scapegoat for the same, if it came to that.

    To top it all off, Granger had proven to be surprisingly good company. Su Li smiled warmly as the fire gave a particularly loud pop. She had not been forced to feign friendliness towards Granger for long. For all that the bushy-haired girl was a useful patsy, she was also friendly, intelligent, well-read, and quite eager to please: all excellent qualities in a friend. A rare find, especially for a European barbarian. Spending time with her would hardly be a chore, always a plus, especially when on a mission that might stretch out for years.

    The girl might be useful for other purposes as well, depending on how the political situation surrounding her target shook out. Her orders had indicated some concerns in that regard, to the extent that she had been told to expect the delivery of a communications altar in early summer. A bit of extra effort to groom Granger in that direction would be effort well spent.

    For now, Su Li sighed contentedly, happy with her progress. All that remained were the professors, whose measure she had already taken, and Potter’s other friend, Abercrombie, who was currently involved in her NEWTs and thus unavailable.

    Hopefully, the older girl would be similarly receptive.

    4.8.8 Travel arrangements

    Somewhat paradoxically, despite the frenzy of activity associated with end-of-year testing, the final weeks of the academic year were normally a quiet time for Hogwarts’ regular faculty. Outside proctors from the Examination Authority essentially took a bit less than a third of the students off their hands, and the rest were generally involved in their own, much less extensive, final exams. While such things kept the students busy, year-end testing meant review work, and review work meant reused class materials and rehashed lectures; all of which meant a great deal less preparation time for the faculty.

    All of that meant that there should have been plenty of time to meet for their other activities, such as those associated with certain important ongoing projects.

    “And so, we meet again,” Albus opened the meeting, speaking to his staff, once again assembled in the plush conference room that had served them well in recent years. “We have much to discuss; though I suppose the majority of it will have to wait until Mr. Potter arrives, as it involves him rather centrally.”

    That lull had been the main reason for delaying the follow-up meeting on the nexus project to so late in the year. Unfortunately, this year had broken from that pattern; the sudden and unexplained loss of one of their fellow professors had made the normally relaxing year-end significantly more hectic than usual...

    “Only some of it,” Minerva countered as she accepted her first drink of the evening from Filius, who had smoothly resumed his customary role as the group’s semi-official bartender. “I, for one, wish to know what in bloody blazes happened with Gilderoy! Why did the man disappear in the middle of the term?”

    ...which went a long way towards explaining the Deputy Headmistress’ uncharacteristically hostile attitude.

    “I am afraid I cannot answer that, Minerva,” the elder wizard calmly replied, accepting his own drink from the diminutive half-goblin. “Though, I can inform you that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is investigating the situation most assiduously.”

    Cannot answer, or will not, Albus,” the Scotswoman demanded.

    “Cannot, Minerva,” Albus answered firmly. “I shall remind you that his departure took place while we were deeply involved in handling Miss Weasley’s situation. I know only as much as the DMLE has seen fit to share, and that has been very little.”

    She held her superior’s gaze for one long moment then looked away. Taking a moment to collect herself, she sighed, “I apologize for my tone, Headmaster; I am somewhat overwrought. Things have been rather stressful of late, in the wake of that man’s departure. Attempting to organize study groups and tutoring sessions for my entire House on such short notice has been… well, it has been an experience.”

    On seeing her superior’s acknowledging nod, she turned to her drink, an odd, brown concoction that smelled of coffee, vanilla, and chocolate overlaid with the heady scent of alcohol. It tasted much like it smelled, but with an added hint of cinnamon, and as the sip hit her stomach, her eyes immediately widened as she snapped fully awake, feeling as sharp as if she had just awoken from a full night’s sleep.

    “My goodness, Pomona! You have outdone yourself,” she complimented her colleague. “That is a truly spectacular effect!”

    “Thank you, Minerva,” the plump herbologist replied with a pleased smile. “I thought everyone might appreciate it. I have been working on it for years now; though it still has some way to go, yet.”

    Curious, the resident potions master, seated on the other side of the room, took a sip from his own cup and nodded appreciatively at the result. “Quite impressive, I agree. Some variant of a pepper-up potion, Pomona?”

    “No, this one is actually more in line with my own specialty than yours for once, Severus,” the woman explained proudly. “It is a simple extract of the beans of a plant I have created through experimental breeding, a specialized cultivar of the mimic vine which I force-bred with the coffee and cocoa plants. I have developed it with an eye towards making a pleasant tasting, potent, yet non-addictive stimulant which can be grown most anywhere.”

    “It seems to me, Pomona, that you have already succeeded admirably,” Septima Vector opined. “Given that you would not have served us something addictive, I assume that it is still too difficult to grow in quantity?”

    “Not so, actually,” the herbologist shook her head in the negative. “It is quite simple to grow; the vine is hardy and productive. The problem is one of bio-alchemy. The active components are not soluble in water and require alcohol to extract them from the ground beans.” She shook her head, “It works quite well for this sort of gathering, where we are intending to drink anyway, but in the end, I want it to have a wider market.”

    “Have you considered an alternate extraction method?” Snape asked, sounding interested. “Or, perhaps you might try a vacuum distillation of the extract to remove the excess alcohol? You could then dilute the resulting concentrate with water to lower the effective alcohol content, or perhaps an emulsifier…”

    The conversation fell by the wayside as a loud knock on the conference room door heralded the arrival of Hogwarts’ resident dragon and his two damsels.

    “Hi!” he greeted the room with his usual good cheer.

    The new arrivals quickly settled in with their own usual fare, one goblin tea and two waters, and the meeting got on track.

    “I believe I shall start with a summary of the current state of affairs,” Dumbledore began after pausing to take another sip of Pomona’s remarkable concoction. “As you are all aware, we have now drained two of the devices, one by accident at Avebury in 1988, which resulted in Mr. Potter’s initial transformation,” he nodded to the boy in question, “and the other intentionally just last Christmas at Stonehenge, also at his hand.”

    “Due to Miss Granger’s excellent insight,” another nod followed which made the studious girl’s whole day, “we also strongly suspect that another such node was drained catastrophically in the East Indies in 1883. Poppy has speculated that another such event may have taken place in Anatolia during the late fifteenth century resulting in the creation of the entity which currently rules the magical Empire of Romania.”

    “The first of these occurred before we started recording data on the ambient magic levels around the world, and thus remains impervious to further investigation,” he continued. “As of our last meeting, we had confirmed that the 1883 event and the 1988 event were each accompanied by a strong, worldwide spike in measured ambient magic, followed by a small but significant increase in the steady state amount afterwards.”

    He reached over to a side table for a stack of documents which he transferred to the conference table before him. “Courtesy of the efforts of Nicholas’ new apprentice, I can now confirm that a nearly identical shift, in character if not magnitude, coincided with our efforts at Stonehenge.”

    Albus took another sip of his drink before finishing solemnly, “I believe this establishes beyond reasonable doubt our hypothesis that such node discharges and the increases in worldwide ambient magic are causally linked.”

    That prompted a round of satisfied nods from around the room.

    “It is good to finally get something in this mess confirmed, I suppose,” Poppy Pomfrey commented with a nod. “With Mr. Potter’s permission, given that it has to do with his medical history, I can follow that with another piece of good news.”

    “Is this about the magic organ thingy?” Harry asked, prompting the Healer to nod. “Okay, that’s fine to tell everyone about.”

    “Very well then, Mr. Potter,” she acknowledged, turning to her colleagues. “I have completed my analysis of the strange organs Mr. Potter appears to be using to store all the magical energy he has been draining from the nodes. The organs appear to be reconfiguring themselves using a portion of the energy they absorb, folding back on themselves in a complicated manner which seems to expand their capacity to store energy as more energy is stored.”

    “The folding process is quite remarkable and seems to have a great deal in common with spatial expansion spells, storing energy both in the folding process itself and in the additional spaces thus created.” The pediatric Healer shook her head in admiration. “Based on measurements to this point, the storage capacity of the organs in question seems to scale both with complexity and with size, as such, storage capacity increases much faster than the expected cubic relation that usually governs such things. Given Mr. Potter’s rapid rate of growth, there should be little risk in draining any future nodes, so long as he is allowed a few days between the larger ones to allow his physiology to adjust.”

    “That is most reassuring, Poppy,” Minerva spoke in a relieved voice. “There is no risk to Mr. Potter?”

    “As his Healer, I can confidently confirm that there is none,” she affirmed.

    “Excellent!” Albus exclaimed. “Did you have anything else to share, Poppy?”

    “I do have something to discuss with you, Albus,” the Healer said, “but that is regarding the health of one of our other students, unrelated to this project, and so this is not the appropriate venue.”

    “I shall place myself at your disposal after we conclude our efforts here, Poppy,” the Headmaster nodded agreeably then turned to the room at large. “I suppose our next order of business is plan for the next node. Severus, I believe the floor is yours.”

    Although he had expected it, the potions master greatly disliked being shoved into the limelight, and his expression soured on general principle. Knocking back one last swig from Pomona’s most excellent concoction to fortify him for the coming irritation, he launched into his explanation.

    “In the aftermath of our activities at Stonehenge, Sybil designated our next target as a node near the Seven Sisters Peaks on the western coast of North America,” he reported, studiously ignoring Minerva’s dismissive scoff at the mention of the divination professor’s name. “As that location is deep within the sphere of influence of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, I approached my contact among the goblins for advice on how to proceed. I have arranged our travel plans according to his recommendations.”

    “As soon the students leave on the Express, we shall depart for Stansted Airport’s charter terminal on the north side of London where I have arranged to privately charter a muggle aircraft,” he explained. “We shall arrive in the city of Erie approximately twelve hours later. The Grand Council, the rough equivalent of our Ministry, is headquartered just outside of the city, and my goblin contacts have arranged an audience for us on the next afternoon. There we shall present our case for operating within their territory.”

    “’Present our case’?” Minerva parroted. “So, we shall be seeking their official accommodation? We have not done so with our own Ministry; why the change in approach?”

    The dour potions master nodded a brisk acknowledgement. “I was advised that the local political situation contraindicates covert approaches in general. The Confederacy has been at war with its southern neighbor for centuries, in a conflict generally fought via covert raiding. Confederate border security would not only be highly likely to discover our subterfuge but would almost certainly resort to lethal measures immediately, rather than asking for an explanation.”

    The stern Scotswoman raised an eyebrow in surprise, but simply chose to nod in acceptance rather than commenting further. Instead, Harry spoke up.

    “Um, Mr. Snape?”

    “Yes, Mr. Potter?”

    “This is going to be one of those formal meeting things, right?” the young dragon asked.

    Snape nodded.

    “Then, do we need a regard gift for it?” he asked. “I know it’s a different culture and all, but…”

    Snape’s eyes narrowed. “I must confess, I had not considered that; I do not know one way or another.”

    “You said the node was near the west coast of Canada, right?” Hermione chimed in. “I think I remember reading something about gift-giving traditions among the tribes there, potluck… potash… pot... well, pot-something.” She frowned for a moment. “I can’t quite remember the term, but it was a big, extravagant feast in which lots of gifts were given that was used to commemorate important events. It was banned for about a century by the Canadian government, which is why the book I was reading mentioned it.” She shrugged, “I don’t know if the magical people do the same thing, but it might be something to consider.”

    “There are similar traditions among my people,” Suze volunteered. “Conclaves always require the exchange of gifts.”

    “If we need one,” Harry volunteered, “I’ve got an idea for what to give them, if you want.”

    “I shall investigate the matter,” Snape promised with a terse nod of acknowledgement. “In any event, after we obtain permission, we shall set out overland for the west coast in a vehicle I have already arranged. I estimate that segment of the trip will require approximately one and a half weeks. We will then arrive at a Salish settlement near the Seven Sisters Peaks. There we shall search out our target and proceed to drain it. At this time, I do not have sufficient information to estimate our schedule for that task, but I have made tentative arrangements for a return flight from Vancouver. Once we are certain of our schedule, I will finalize them, and we will fly back home.”

    “Why the overland trip rather than a portkey?” Flitwick asked, curiously.

    “The Confederates have apparently managed to interdict their entire territory against magical teleportation.” Seeing his diminutive colleague’s interest, Snape elaborated, “If you wish to learn the details, Filius, I suggest you approach Gringotts to ask, yourself.”

    The half-goblin nodded in absent acknowledgement, his mind already spinning off on thoughts of how such an interdiction field might work.

    “It sounds as though we will need to plan things carefully,” Septima observed. “If you have been forced to make such extensive travel plans, I doubt we will be able to run down to the local apothecary for anything we forget to pack.”

    That prompted a buzz of conversation about logistics and what would need to be prepared ahead of time.

    While the rest of the room descended into the weeds of their own specialties, Snape watched them all with his usual silent glower. He had already said his piece.

    “Hey, Mr. Snape?” the resident dragon caught his attention.

    “Yes, Mr. Potter?”

    “Does this mean we’re all going on a road trip this summer?” the youngster asked hopefully.

    “Yes, Mr. Potter,” Snape sighed. “Yes, it does.”

    Awesome!”

    4.8.9 Charity and pride

    As soon as the last of their colleagues finished trickling out of the conference room, Albus turned to the school Healer.

    “I believe we are alone now, Poppy,” he began. “What did you need to discuss?”

    “It regards Miss Weasley’s condition,” she explained. “While I have been able to repair her physically from her magical exhaustion, the mental damage from the possession lingers.”

    “As I had feared,” the elderly wizard nodded gravely. “Is it debilitating?”

    “No, it does not seem to be,” Poppy explained, “though you know how difficult it can be to identify buried mental commands and triggers. According to the accepted treatment protocols, Miss Weasley should be clear to leave my care within the week. What I needed to discuss with you is a proposal which might allow us to find and address those potentially buried effects.”

    “A cure for that!” shaggy white eyebrows rose in pleased surprise. “Well then, by all means proceed. This is your field, and as long as you have her parents’ permission, you hardly need my approval.”

    “That permission is the issue, Headmaster,” the Healer explained. “The procedure I have proposed is an expensive one, involving significant amounts of time and effort from at least two other skilled professionals besides myself, and a not inconsequential amount of equipment and supplies.”

    “If you think it is likely to work, then I have a number of contacts that would likely wish to contribute,” Albus volunteered.

    “As do I,” Poppy agreed. “The issue is one of personal pride rather than the availability of resources. As the procedure is not strictly necessary, Arthur Weasley has insisted on attempting to pay the costs himself. He refuses to accept our supposed charity.”

    The elderly wizard raised a hand to his forehead in a gesture of frustration and mumbled, “Arthur Weasley, what are you thinking?” He fell silent for a moment then asked, “Poppy, did he seem receptive? Aside from the issue of financing, I mean.”

    “Very much so,” she confirmed with an emphatic nod. “He had actually mentioned trying to budget for the procedure some time down the road, even though I pointed out that there will likely only be a window of at most a year or two when the procedure should be feasible.”

    “What sort of budget would be needed?” he asked.

    She named a figure.

    “He will not be able to meet that,” Albus opined after a moment of mental calculation, “not with how much of his salary he has been committing to the scholarship fund over the years. Even if he withdrew from his ongoing commitments, a Department Head’s salary is too low to make that within the year.”

    “So I had thought,” Poppy agreed with a nod. “Do you have any ideas?”

    “I believe I might have an option,” Albus said, stroking his beard thoughtfully. He had a contact that might be able to slip Arthur the money without pricking his pride. The problem would be framing the request properly.

    “Please, look into it, then, Albus,” Poppy requested. “The longer we wait, the more difficult and uncertain the procedure will be.”

    “I shall see to it at the earliest opportunity.”

    4.8.10 Overbooked flight

    The project meeting had ended barely half an hour earlier, and there had been just enough time for Harry and his damsels to arrive back at the Lair for the evening. Hogwarts’ resident dragon was bouncing about his home, near to bursting with excitement. There had been a lot of interesting things said at the meeting, but one stood above all the rest to Harry’s mind.

    “We’re going on a road trip!” he crowed as he bustled about the Lair, vacillating between tasks as quickly as they came to mind. As a result, he made little progress on any, but that lack did nothing to kill his mood.

    “It’s going to be great!” he chattered on, rummaging through the haphazard pile of books that made up his current reading list in hopes of paring down the pile to take along. “There’ll be all sorts of new stuff to see, and ‘cause we’re draining another ring, almost everyone’ll be there: Mr. Snape, and Mr. Dumbledore, and Mrs. McGonagall, and Mr. Flitwick, and even the ones I don’t get to see so much like Miss Vector and Miss Babbling!”

    Although his friends were generally nearby, they were also generally quite busy, especially his friends who were also professors. This trip promised at least a few weeks, perhaps even as much as a month, of uninterrupted time with some of his favorite people in the world. It was quite an exciting prospect for the young dragon.

    As he ran through the list of those who had attended the Stonehenge draining, he paused in shuffling through his reading pile and his currently reptilian brow furrowed as another possibility came to him.

    “I wonder if Abigail will be able to go?”

    “She’s taking her NEWTs now,” he mused, considering the problem, “so she’ll be graduating right before the trip, but she’s scheduled to start at Hogs Haulage right after that. She might not want to step away for a month, especially since we’ve got a whole lot of really time-sensitive new business coming down the pipe.”

    As he was considering the problem, a stray thought reminded him of his offer to provide a regard gift, which sent his rummaging off in an entirely new direction. Of course, the shift in activities did nothing to reduce his excitable babbling.

    “I’ll have to ask Abigail when she finishes her NEWTs, I guess.” He nodded decisively. “Even if she decides not to go, though, at least Hermione and Suze’ll be there, so there’s that…”

    “Actually, Harry,” his bushy-haired damsel interjected, “I’m not going.”

    “You’re not?” Harry exclaimed, his celebratory mood screeching to a halt. “Why not?”

    “I’m going home with my parents for the summer,” Hermione declared. “I haven’t spent any real time with them since I started at Hogwarts. By the end of the term, that’ll almost be two whole years!”

    Harry frowned as he considered that.

    “We could probably invite them along for the trip,” he offered. “I bet it wouldn’t be too hard to shuffle things around…”

    “No, Harry, I’m not going to do that!” his human damsel insisted. “First off, they’ve got their jobs to do, and they can’t afford to take the time off for a month-long trip across the Atlantic, and more importantly, I want to spend some quality time with them.”

    “There ought to be plenty of time on the drive…” Harry began, only to be cut off again.

    Alone time, Harry,” Hermione clarified, exasperated. “I mean quality time with my parents and only my parents. Sometimes, you just need to be alone to spend time with your family at home, so you can talk about things and just be together. You know how that works!” She sighed and shook her head, turning away. “It’s just not the same…”

    Hermione!” Suze spoke for the first time, her normally gentle voice cracking like a whip.

    As Hermione looked up to see what had prompted the centaur maiden to interrupt, she caught sight of Harry’s odd expression — a frown somewhere between confusion, sadness, and even a hint of real hurt — altogether a highly unusual combination for her normally exuberant friend. Had she said something… the bushy-haired girl frowned and mentally replayed her recent words, prompting brown eyes to widen in realization.

    “Oh! Oh, I’m sorry, Harry, I didn’t think about…” she trailed off again. He didn’t know how that worked, since he was an orphan with no surviving family worth speaking of. That had been more than a little insensitive on her part, though it did not change her decision on what to do at the end of the day. “Well, anyway, I’m sorry about being so thoughtless, but I still need to go home for the summer.”

    “Can’t you wait until after we get back?” Harry asked, his frown now shifting to one of concern, the hurt having dissipated immediately with her apology even if a ghost of the sadness remained. “It’s really important, and then I’d be in the country, and you’d still have a month before school started again, and…”

    No, Harry!” Hermione snapped, unbending. “It’s been two years, and I am going to go home to my parents for the summer! As interesting as the trip sounds, and as much as you want me to go with you, this is more important than anything I might contribute on that trip! I’m not an expert on anything, so the most I’d be doing would be keeping you company, and you’ve got plenty of people along to do that!”

    “It’s not just that!” Harry insisted, his own voice rising a little with irritation and an unusual note of actual fear. “It’s also about keeping you safe!”

    “What do you mean?” Hermione asked, calming somewhat.

    The dragon closed his great green eyes, visibly restraining himself from snapping at his stubborn damsel. No matter how much he wanted to just insist that she go with him, he’d promised when he carried her off that she could stop being his damsel any time, all she had to do was tell him... something he suspected she just might be irritated enough to do, if he followed his frustrated inclination.

    After a moment, he calmed enough to explain, “You know how I carried you off as my pet, and how that let me protect you?”

    His bushy-haired damsel nodded affirmatively, motioning for him to continue.

    “Well, I did it that way so we didn’t have to jump into anything too permanent too soon, but it only works if I’m there with you to handle anything that happens right as it happens,” he said. “The pet thing is a school regulation, it’s not really registered anywhere else for people to know about it... I mean, outside your address during the school year, that’s registered, but that just means you’re living here; it doesn’t mean much of anything about protection.”

    “What are you trying to get at, Harry?” she asked impatiently.

    “What I mean is,” he raised a forepaw to scratch at his neck uncertainly in a distinctly human gesture that looked decidedly odd on a massive dragon. “Well, if I’m not there to respond right away, then it’s not a real deterrent to anybody, ‘cause they’d have no way to know, and for the same reason, I wouldn’t have a legal right to respond properly. You don’t get to say ‘well, you were warned, you did it, and now I’m gonna get you for it’ when the warning ain’t posted anywhere.” He sighed. “I mean, if you gotta go home without me there, can you at least wait until I’m gonna be in the same country?”

    Brown eyebrows furrowed in thought beneath bushy hair of the same color. “Are you expecting something to happen, Harry?”

    “Not really anything in particular, Hermione,” Harry admitted with an explosive sigh which swirled through the Lair, kicking up stray bits of parchment and causing Hermione’s skirt to flutter. “It’s just, Mr. Snape has told me about all sorts of nasty things happening to people who don’t have anyone to protect ‘em, and Abigail told me once about a girl she used to know what got disappeared, and…” He paused momentarily to calm himself. “And I’m worried about that happening to you if I’m not there to stop it. So, would you please reconsider? It’s just one more month.”

    Hermione considered the request carefully for a long moment. She had heard a lot of the same stories, and she knew intellectually that that sort of thing happened. That said, she still could not quite believe that it was really as bad as Professor Snape made it out to be. After all, she had never seen any evidence of it herself. If it was really that prevalent, shouldn’t she have?

    “No, Harry,” she said slowly, shaking her head. “I understand your concern, but I miss my parents. I need to spend some time with them, and I’m not going to wait another month. Plus, like you said, it’s only a month; I’m sure nothing will happen before you get back.”

    She regretted the words almost as soon as they left her mouth, not because she regretted the decision, but rather because they resulted in her currently dragon-shaped friend immediately rising to his feet with a bone-rattling growl and angrily pacing about the room, moving much faster than anything that size had any right to move. Although she knew to the very depths of her soul that her friend would never hurt her, standing in the middle of that much angrily pacing dragon was a thoroughly terrifying place to be.

    Eventually, he came to a halt with a frustrated growl that rattled the furniture.

    “I think I know something we can do,” he said abruptly, “but I wanna check on some things first to make sure I don’t get anything wrong.”

    And with that, the dragon swept off into the library, shifting forms between one step and the next as he reached the short flight of stairs to the mezzanine.

    Hermione could only nod, still too shocked to do much else.

    4.8.11 Worries

    A few days later, Hermione wore a worried frown as she made her way to the Great Hall for the last meal of the day.

    Since their recent argument, Harry had barely said more than a terse ‘hello’ to her. Instead he had spent the time grumbling to himself as he went through book after book on seemingly random topics. His behavior seemed highly atypical, and Hermione worried about what it meant.

    She hadn’t meant to upset him so badly.

    Though she still wasn’t going to budge on spending the summer with her parents, she thought with a determined frown. Family was important, and she had been away from hers for far too long, no matter how much Harry wanted her with him on that trip.

    Of course, despite that determination, the bushy-haired young girl was still just that, a young girl, and she was more than a little distressed about the whole business. To make matters worse, her usual source for advice on such things had been away for the past week and a half busily taking her NEWTs. Without Abigail present, Hermione had been without a rock to steady herself in these troubled times.

    Suze had been no help. When Hermione had sought advice from her fellow damsel, the centaur maiden had just given her an incredulous look before advising her to “stop being daft and just do as the Great Wyrm asked”. She had made no secret of her belief that Hermione’s objections were utterly ludicrous.

    Hermione figured it must have been a centaur thing.

    She shook her head as she entered the Great Hall. Harry was moping, Abigail was elsewhere, and Suze was completely unsympathetic. The last week had been miserable, and only one thing had brightened the experience. The bushy-haired girl looked up, squinting as she tried to parse through the crowd between her and the Hufflepuff table. Hopefully, she would be… there!

    Hermione smiled broadly and lifted her hand in an enthusiastic wave as she caught sight of the newest addition to their usual group at the table.

    “Hello, Su!” she asked as she grew close enough to be heard over the dinner noise in the Great Hall. “How was your afternoon?”

    Su answered her with a bright smile and stood up immediately to give her a welcoming hug.

    Since she had become part of her circle of friends, Su Li had been a godsend for Hermione. At a time when she was without support from Abigail for the first time in over a year, the new girl had been a friendly face. Heck, she had even seemed interested in Hermione as a friend independent of Harry, which was a first for Hermione. Even Abigail had always seemed to be Harry’s friend first and hers second.

    “My afternoon classes went quite well,” Su Li answered conversationally, giving a preoccupied Harry a welcoming pat on the shoulder as she guided him into the seat next to her own. “Defense has been a lot more productive since Professor Lockhart left. How were yours?”

    Hermione took the seat on Harry’s other side, as was her custom, and continued her conversation over his head as Su Li sat down again.

    “I’m a bit worried about number seventeen on the transfiguration test,” she began, “The wording could have meant a few different things, and I’m not sure I guessed right.”

    Su shook her head, “I’m sure you did fine, though speaking of that,” she leaned in closer to whisper conspiratorially behind Harry’s head, “what did you think of…”

    Things continued in that vein for quite some time as the two girls slowly ate their fill in between bits of conversation.

    It was just what Hermione had needed to get her through the last week and Harry’s strange behavior.

    Su really was a great friend!

    4.8.12 Investigations

    “Goodbye, Su!” Hermione Granger called over her shoulder as she left the Great Hall, waving cheerfully. “I’ll see you again tomorrow!”

    “I’ll see you then!” Su Li responded, wearing a demure smile on her face as she waved in return. As she watched the frizzy-haired girl walk off at her target’s side, heading off-campus for the evening, she added, “You too, Harry!”

    She was answered by an absent wave and a preoccupied grunt from her target as the boy, attention obviously still on the book in his hands, judging by the glare it was receiving.

    Su Li had no idea what had been bothering him over the past few days, but whatever it was, it had seemed to involve quite the extensive literature search. This was the fourteenth book she had seen Potter poring over in the last week covering topics ranging from magical contract law to warding.

    Her demure smile remained unchanged despite the seemingly curt dismissal from the boy as she turned to the path back to the Ravenclaw dormitories for the evening. A typical girl her age might have been upset at the lack of attention, fearing that it was an indication of disinterest.

    Su Li was not a typical girl her age.

    She knew from previous observation that such behavior was normal for Potter when he was on a tear about something, the only unusual thing was his apparent lack of progress. It was nothing for her to worry about. Her only niggling regret was that she had so far been unable to divine his goals, and thus had been unable offer her assistance with whatever it was, thereby securing his gratitude. After all, gratitude was a powerful lever.

    Despite the lost opportunity, Su Li felt her mission well begun, which had her smiling contentedly as quietly walked through the castle. There had only been one small wrinkle, a slight inconsistency in her understanding of her target which required resolution.

    Potter had proven surprisingly receptive to physical affection, enthusiastically accepting her offer of a hug when she had first made it. That was very strange, in Su Li’s estimation.

    The boy was at an awkward age, ostensibly smack dab in the middle of puberty, chock full of rapidly changing hormones yelling all kinds of strange and conflicting messages. She had honestly expected the boy to balk at least slightly at the prospect of hugging a new girl. Instead, Potter had acted like a boy still too young to understand that there might be something to be uncomfortable about.

    Her smile slipped at the memory as she turned to enter the great stairwell.

    At the time, Su Li hadn’t known quite what to make of that eagerness and how to patch it into her understanding of her target’s psyche. It was possible that the unusual reaction was simply his forthright personality shining through the haze of adolescence, but another possibility had occurred to her recently, one which implied inconvenient things about the boy’s physical maturity

    She mounted the stairs.

    At her target’s age, most boys were on the verge of puberty, but sometimes that transition could be delayed by various factors. Given how her target seemed to be a bundle of idiosyncrasies she would not be overly surprised if he turned out to be a late bloomer as well, but if so, her plans would require adjustment.

    And that meant she would need to investigate.

    Fortunately, that investigation ought to be straightforward enough. Her target had already proven to be open to close contact, which made such inquiries almost trivial. A bit of subtle body language and some artfully contrived ‘accidental’ touches should be more than enough to both elicit a response from her target if he was capable and enough to discreetly detect it too if she paid attention.

    The only question that remained was when to carry out the plan. She was unconcerned about her target, he was much too oblivious to recognize what she was about, as was Granger. The older students would not be so unaware. A private venue would be best, but it might not be feasible. She was running out of time.

    Su Li tapped her foot impatiently on the third-floor landing as she waited for a stairway to move back into position.

    According to the rumor mill, the NEWTs would be ending tomorrow, and that meant Abercrombie would be back on the scene the next morning, after she slept things off.

    The stairway swung into place, and she continued her trek.

    To Su Li, Abercrombie was still a mystery. By the time she had received her orders, the seventh-year had already begun testing, so there had been no opportunity as yet to take her measure in person. She’d had to rely on rumors, conflicting and unreliable ones at that.

    According to the scuttlebutt, Abercrombie was either grooming Potter as her future husband or had adopted him as her honorary little brother, and those two possibilities required vastly different handling. If it was the latter, Abercrombie was not competition, and Su Li had all the time in the world to test her target at her leisure. The older girl would probably find her amusing. On the other hand, if it was the former… well, her schedule would be much tighter, in that case. If she didn’t handle it tomorrow, she would probably have to wait until September.

    Su Li absently answered the riddle granting entrance to the Ravenclaw dorms.

    Which rumor was correct? That was impossible to say. About the only consistent thing about the rumors was that Abercrombie and Potter were very close. Potter trusted Abercrombie and listened to her, thus the older girl warranted extreme caution. At this stage of the game, she could break Su Li’s chances with a single choice statement in her target’s ear.

    It was that realization that decided things. Su Li would conduct her test tomorrow, before Abercrombie returned. To do otherwise meant that she might need to wait until the next autumn, which was much too long for her patience. Unfortunately, her only time with her target would be at dinner and therefore in public.

    Su Li frowned.

    It would be awkward, but she would make it work.

    4.8.13 Tall tales

    The sky above Diagon Alley was overcast and gloomy, spitting rain from time to time, but Constable Miller was quite content to carry out his patrol nonetheless, even in the miserable weather. He had a few reasons for that contentment, among them the fact that his regulation blue overcoat was made for this weather, keeping him warm and relatively dry, which was nice, but the most important reason was that the Alley was quiet.

    Miller might have been young as wizards went, but he was old enough to have begun his career during the final years of Voldemort’s reign of terror, when the men and women he had trained with were dropping dead left and right. As a veteran of that conflict, he was wise enough to know that in the life of a law enforcement officer, a quiet day was a good day.

    That said, the weather was still quite miserable, and he was thus quite surprised to see a young blonde woman seated outside of Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor. At least she seemed to be enjoying a warm drink, rather than the parlor’s titular icy fare.

    “Good morning to you, Miss,” he began, tipping his hat to the pretty young woman. “Enjoying your drink?”

    “Good morning to you, Officer!” she responded in a sweet soprano, flashing him a winning smile. “And yes, it is quite lovely. There’s nothing quite like the cold and damp to make a good hot drink all the more appealing.”

    “I suppose so, ma’am,” Miller allowed with an internal shrug. He thought it an odd choice, but it made sense after a fashion. Curiosity satisfied, he nonetheless decided to stick around for a spot of friendly conversation. After all, the patrol had been very quiet so far, and the woman was very pretty. “So, what brings you to Diagon this morning, miss? Just the drink?”

    “Oh, heavens no!” she averred with a giggle. “The Alley is much too far from home for that! I’ve some shopping to do in the Alley, just little things here and there. And you? You are on patrol, I assume?”

    The conversation continued for a time until the wind picked up, prompting them both to draw their coats a little tighter. Then, the blonde woman gasped, her eyes wide as she stared at something over his shoulder.

    Miller whirled to look for himself.

    A man strutted along the cobblestone street, drawing admiring looks and whispered gossip from the few women out and about. His flowing golden hair fluttered with every step, in time with the elegant pastel silks he wore, and his beaming smile seemed to light up the Alley around him.

    It took but a moment for Miller to recognize the newcomer. After all, that face had been posted prominently on the ready-room board as a person of interest for the last few weeks. Gilderoy Lockhart, wanted for questioning regarding the obliviation of two retired aurors and another Ministry official.

    So much for his quiet patrol and his pretty conversation partner. Maybe, if he were lucky, she’d still be around when he finished.

    “My apologies, Miss,” he apologized with a tip of his cap and a regretful sigh. “Duty calls.”

    The constable was about halfway to his target when the mood in the Alley suddenly transformed. The previously excited gossip turned to gasps of alarm, and already miserable weather suddenly felt darker and colder. A new figure appeared from seemingly out of nowhere and made straight for Lockhart.

    Later, during his debriefing, the constable would realize that two the men were almost identical physically — both blond had blue eyes, both were of identical height and build, and both wore identical outfits — but that was later, when he had time to reflect. In person, the two men were as different as night and day.

    The first was handsome and welcoming, the sort of man women flocked to. The second was somehow horrifying, though one would be hard-pressed to say why. It was as if the sunlight was reluctant to touch him, as if the very world about him desperately attempted to recoil from his presence.

    The effect was beyond unsettling, bad enough that even Constable Miller, who had from time to time pulled guard duty at Azkaban and had diligently carried out his duty even in the face of its demonic denizens, froze mid-step, unable to bring himself to interrupt the brewing confrontation. He was hardly alone in that reluctance, if the suddenly silent street was any indication.

    “Halt, creature!” the disturbing newcomer demanded in a carrying voice.

    “And why should I?” Lockhart asked in a personable tone, seemingly unaffected by the air of unease pinning everyone else in place. He seemed to become even more radiant as his tone turned sly, “Who are you to make such a demand of me?”

    The second figure was said nothing as he continued to stalk forward angrily.

    “Why do you not answer?” Lockhart asked, eyes glinting with a strange light. “Have you no name to give?”

    “You know very well who I am, thief!” the unnerving figure growled, coming to a halt a few yards from the blond celebrity. “And you know very well why I cannot answer!”

    “A thief, am I?” Lockhart’s expression went stony, blue eyes glinting with malice. Slowly his still radiant beauty gained a creeping hint of something else, something inhuman. “I am no thief. What is purchased cannot have been stolen.”

    Purchased?” the second figure demanded, incredulously. “No purchase was made! No price was exchanged. You stole it, usurper!”

    “No price? And what are the lives of your three companions, if not a price?” Lockhart’s transformation was now complete, still beautiful, unnaturally so, but terrifying... an eldritch monstrosity wearing a human mask. “You begged me not to kill them, and I agreed… for a price. Their lives for yours. Three lives for one. Complain not about how I chose to collect!”

    “I said I would lay down my life to protect them, not so that you could pick it up for yourself!” the nondescript man spat. “I would lay down my life, and gladly, but not to allow the likes of you to roam freely, using my name, my face, even my magic, as your own. There was no deal, changeling! Return that which you stole, lest I end you!”

    “And how do you intend to accomplish that?” the thing which was now called Lockhart demanded in a twisted inhuman snarl. “As you said, I have your magic, your very name. What will you do? For that matter, what can you do, impotent former wizard? How can you take it back? If you cannot take it, then does it not belong to me?”

    The second figure, who Constable Miller still could not identify as Gilderoy Lockhart, despite knowing from the conversation that that was who he had to be, suddenly calmed.

    “I cannot take it back, no, yet neither do I acknowledge your claim to it,” he said evenly, almost unnaturally placid, as if he had come to a decision. “And that denial allows me to do one final thing.”

    The second figure took one final step closer and grabbed Lockhart’s arm. He spoke one word, and Constable Miller could have sworn it sounded like the tinkle of breaking glass.

    Then both figures were engulfed in fire.

    With that, the metaphorical spell broke, and everyone could move again. The alley erupted in screams as Constable Miller rushed to put out the fire. He succeeded quite quickly, but it was too late, nothing was left but a scorch mark on the cobbles.

    Looking up to scan his surroundings, he caught sight of the blonde hair of the woman he had been talking to just as she made her hurried way out of the alley. He sighed.

    He had been rather hoping to get her name.

    4.8.14 Charlie doing the foxtrot

    “What the bloody hell just happened in Diagon Alley?” Amelia Bones demanded.

    The Head of the DMLE paced the length of the conference room full of her subordinate officers, giving the impression of a caged tiger. “I had to have heard twenty distinct rumors this morning alone, none of which agreed on anything except the fact that Gilderoy Lockhart was there.”

    “We… well, we don’t precisely know,” her LEP Operations director admitted reluctantly from his place at the table. “The testimony is confusing, even that of our officer on the scene. On the face of it, it all sounds rather fantastical.”

    “We had an officer on the scene?” the Department Head demanded. “Then why do we not have a clear picture of what happened?”

    “I’m afraid the incident he described simply doesn’t hold together,” another of her men volunteered.

    “Do you have a transcript?” At the man’s nod, she held out her hand. “Then why don’t you let me judge for myself?”

    The document in question was handed over with alacrity, and the room fell silent but for the rustle of parchment as Amelia’s eyes grew wider with each new revelation. Finally, she reached the end and quietly closed the docket before setting it gently on the conference table.

    A moment passed.

    “What the bloody hell was that?” she bellowed. “An elder fae picked a fight with Gilderoy Lockhart in downtown London over a stolen name only to lose in a mutual immolation? That is the most ludicrous story I’ve heard all year, and that counts my niece’s excuses for not doing her chores.” She turned to her personnel officer. “Please tell me you checked him for mental influence.”

    “He was clean,” the man in question replied.

    “Then how do we explain this…” she gestured to the report on the table, “…this absurdity? If a confrontation like this had taken place, half the people on that street would be insane and the other half would be dead.”

    The head of Forensics cleared his throat, “We sent a team out and found the place thick with residue of illusory casting, one caster only, human.”

    “Analysis?”

    “Taking into account the evidence collected by Forensics,” the director of Investigations nodded to his colleague, “we have concluded that the entire thing was a show put on by Mr. Lockhart in an effort to avoid prosecution by faking his own death. There was only a single human caster and zero indication of faerie involvement.” He paused to clear his throat. “Furthermore, in light of this, we also strongly suspect the man is responsible for the attacks on Madam Marchbanks and her two retired auror companions. As for the other allegations put forth in the previous anonymous tip, they remain circumstantial at present.”

    Amelia nodded along, unsurprised at the development. “Then our next step would be pursuit.”

    “We can’t do that!” the LEP Operations director broke in frantically.

    “And why the bloody hell not?” Amelia snapped, whirling to face her subordinate. “The man committed a crime, and it is our duty to see him tried for it and punished if found guilty.”

    “The public would storm the Department,” he explained. “That last bit of theater was too open. Too many people saw it, and the man on the street has already made up his mind. According to popular perception, Lockhart heroically sacrificed himself to save everyone from some sort of eldritch monstrosity. Starting an investigation now will get us laughed at, at best.”

    Madam Bones let out a frustrated snarl at the assessment but could not dispute it, choosing instead to return to pacing across the crowded yet silent conference room, growling irritably as her gathered subordinates looked on apprehensively.

    Eventually, she came to a decision.

    “Put a watch on the man’s bank accounts and anything matching the magical signature on-record with them,” she commanded. “We can call it an audit — protecting his legacy, or some such rot — but if he so much as looks at those accounts or tries to open a new one, I want him in a holding cell before he can blink!”

    “Will the goblins be willing to do that?” the Operations director asked uncertainly even as he began drafting orders. “They tend to be rather uncooperative toward any request from the Ministry, not that I can blame them, honestly.”

    “That is something to consider,” Amelia nodded thoughtfully. Given their history, the goblins tended to be quite happy to stick it to the Ministry whenever they could, and understandably so. Centuries of unrepentant slavery and relatively recent bouts of armed conflict tended to breed that sort of resentment.

    “Give them a copy of our evidence folder and let them decide for themselves,” she decided. “They’ve got the sense to do something about the situation, and even if they decide to handle it internally rather than give him to us, at least someone will get him.”

    With that said, she seemed to deflate as she continued, “As for the rest, I suppose there’s not much to be done unless he slips up. In the meantime, denying him his finances will have to suffice.”

    4.8.15 Faceman

    In the busy shopping center at Covent Garden, a brown-haired man casually ducked out of a women’s restroom, an odd occurrence which, after a subtle flick of his wrist which briefly revealed a bit of wood poking out his sleeve, drew not even a passing glance from the nearby shoppers. He carried a small shopping bag just large enough for a change of clothing, and a few strands of hair from a blonde wig were briefly visible before he finished tucking them safely into his pocket.

    The man walked calmly towards the exit into downtown London, a frown on his freshly scrubbed face and his eyes downcast. He was the very picture of a man who had nowhere to go and no idea what to make of himself, a man who was numb to the world.

    A man who had lost everything.

    It was an unusual state for a man to be in after he had accomplished exactly what he set out to do... of course, ‘unusual’ was a fitting descriptor for the entire situation.

    It was a rare occasion that a man had the opportunity to reflect on his own successful suicide, after all.

    As he walked out onto the streets of London, that feeling of numbness finally receded enough for the brown-haired man to think coherently, to consider the full implications of what he had just done.

    The Gentleman Adventurer was dead, by his own hand, no less.

    The man sighed gustily as he paused at a crosswalk, considering the events of the past few hours. He had pushed his control, power, knowledge, skill, and creativity to the breaking point, but it had worked in the end. He had managed to pull off the crowning achievement of a career of duplicity. He had faked his own death in broad daylight, and he had made a grand show of it.

    A more fitting eulogy would have been hard to arrange, he mused, the fake death of a fake hero in a fake battle against a fake monster.

    He had planned the deception carefully. Striking up the conversation with the constable had secured a trustworthy witness for the show; his testimony would lend weight to the deception. He had chosen a fae as the villain because the presence of one of the fair-folk in the story would make quite literally any sequence of events believable; the damn things were just that capricious.

    Tying in the old tales of changelings and stolen identities had been the final icing on the cake of lies. With that, no testimony could be trusted, not even that of that snatch team when they inevitably recovered. Even their recovered memories would be suspect. Was it Lockhart? Was it the fae pretending to be Lockhart? It was enough to throw everything into complete chaos, all neatly wrapped up with a heroic death at the end. a heroic death that conveniently left no evidence by virtue of its fiery nature.

    That incendiary potion he had purchased from Knockturn the day before had been money well spent.

    He was free, he thought as the traffic lights changed allowing him to continue his aimless walk, and all it had cost him was absolutely everything he had ever valued.

    Now that he was officially ‘dead’, he could not access his bank accounts or business dealings lest that status be called into jeopardy. As a result, the contents of a pair of overnight bags and cash enough for perhaps three months’ expenses made up the sum total of all his worldly assets. Everything he had to his name…

    …or it would have been everything he had to his name, he thought with a grimace, if not for the fact that he didn’t have a name!

    Now he had no credentials, no references, and no work history, and even if he did manage to find new employment, he would not be able to start over with a new identity. In the magical world, official identification was tied to magical signature, and his was already registered to a dead man! He could not open a bank account. He could not take out a loan. He would never be able to legitimately purchase any substantial properties even if he somehow amassed the cash, and even rentals would be a pain in the neck to manage.

    He could only participate in transactions involving the direct exchange of cash or bartered goods and services. There would be no financing purchases via intermediaries since he could no longer verify his identity to anyone’s satisfaction. Everything would have to be done face to face.

    And speaking of face to face, that was one more casualty of this whole farce! He snarled at the thought. He’d had to give up his own bloody face because it was too well known!

    He shook his head, now was not the time. These things had to be dealt with, one way or another.

    Irritating as it was, the face was old news, a problem already handled, as was apparent from his current appearance. His new hair was short and a medium brown, and his eyes were now a slightly darker version of the same. Even his facial structure had been significantly altered via semi-permanent cosmetic charms. They were the same charms he had used to ensure Gilderoy Lockhart looked the part of the noble hero for so many years, simply used to different effect. They were difficult to cast, couldn’t be changed very often, and were absurdly painful, but there was nothing better for a long-term disguise. In conjunction with a bland muggle wardrobe and a still awkward-feeling changed gait, they had practically made him a new, distressingly drab, man.

    That said, a new man needed a new name, and that issue still loomed forebodingly. He could not maintain the deception in the long term if he continued to think of himself as Gilderoy Lockhart; something would inevitably slip and give the game away.

    Gilderoy Lockhart was dead, and now he had to be properly laid to rest.

    Despite the urgency, the man would still have to consider the situation carefully. His new name could not be allowed to lead back to the now-deceased author and adventurer by any path of logic or coincidence, no matter how unintentional or circuitous. It was a vexingly difficult condition to meet; he knew the human psyche well enough to know that.

    The human brain made such connections subconsciously, and it was exceedingly difficult to deliberately and permanently cut the metaphorical cord. That was something that any good obliviator had to learn to deal with delicately; not doing so led either to obliviations unexpectedly failing as the targeted minds forged new connections along those circuitous alternative paths, or to complete catatonia if one was too heavy-handed.

    Could he trust himself to come up with an entirely new name?

    He briefly considered drawing on those very skills as an obliviator to edit his own memory for the purpose before dismissing the idea as too dangerous. He was good, but not that good. That said, he couldn’t afford to tarry. As a new man the world was his oyster, and oysters were not known for their shelf life. He’d better get a move on and handle things quickly if he didn’t want to end up stuck holding a putrid mess.

    Turning a corner, his now brown eyebrows rose as he spotted a red telephone box halfway down the block. As he recalled from his long-ago training with the obliviators, those had… His expression firmed as he set off toward it with purpose in his step. That might be just the ticket.

    Entering the booth, he flipped open the attached phone book to a random page and scanned through names, looking for something he could live with.

    Five minutes later, a newly christened Templeton Peck exited the telephone box.

    And then Gilderoy Lockhart was well and truly gone.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2020
  10. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    So... bets Hermione ends up on the block for sale in the holidays? because if she doesn't she's going to be damn lucky

    Also, Su Li is going to get such a spanking from Abercrombie when she meets her, because there is no way she's not going to at least have an idea of what Su is planning /laugh
     
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  11. Acolyte

    Acolyte Getting sticky.

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    Nice. Very shadow run aesthetic.
     
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  12. Rathmun

    Rathmun Well worn.

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    Given the general tone of the story, she'll end up on the block, and then the entire block is going to be on the receiving end of an exceptionally angry Harry. Meanwhile over in America, the locals are going to be pissed about the sudden hole in their anti-travel wards, courtesy of the pissed-off dragon.
    Too bad Harry's too young mentally to appreciate cute girls having a catfight over him.
     
  13. Furoan

    Furoan Getting out there.

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    While the story has moved a bit from when it was Cal/Doghead_thirtteen's beast, IIRC there was a snippet floating around of the aftereffects of Hermione being rescued from the block, and the first time Amelia meets Harry. IIRC, 'heads will roll' was not an exaggeration.

    Yeah, Su Li is both infuriating and amusing. I liked her 'cunning plan' of asking to be friends. And yeah, I think those Matriarch's are going to be in a bit of a shock when they realise who they are messing with.

    I'm interested in Flammal's new apprentice. Hmm, if I remember Cal's previous snippets about the Americas, this might be the time they run into Harlequin(who is understandably wary of people running around and letting loose the mana taps), and isn't that going to be a fun kettle of fish.
     
  14. Raimunda042

    Raimunda042 Know what you're doing yet?

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    Narrative causality dictates that Harry will get the notification that she’s in danger during or right after he drains the magic node, most likely causing something to go horribly right.
     
  15. TheBeardedOne

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

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    At the risk of spoilers, Doghead13's original plan (or fragments thereof) can be found here on FFN. The whole Hermione Captured for auction/rescued bit there is about a third of the way down and the Auror investigators checking Hermione's memory are shocked at the sight of Harry taking half-a-dozen AK's from Voldie without dying.

    Dunkelzahn has been doing a brilliant job of expanding the original story (just look at the comparative word-lengths for starters), but the Auction plot will provide a great many springboards for future plotlines.
     
  16. Pyeknu

    Pyeknu Cross-Dimensional Magical Sith GIrl

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    Noted the nod to The A-Team at the end. Cute!
     
  17. Raimunda042

    Raimunda042 Know what you're doing yet?

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    I've been reading through the original ideas from Doghead, and at risk of spoilers I think it's super interesting to see the beginnings of the Shadowrun state of affairs and to see how what Harry is doing is even playing into that.

    I think Harry's acquisition of the entirety of the British Railway system is going to pave the way for the type of Mega-Corporations that eventually end up causing the collapse of modern government, after all, one singular entity having a near complete monopoly over a vital service just stinks to high heaven of the stuff Shadowrun is famous for.
     
  18. Mashadarof402

    Mashadarof402 Versed in the lewd.

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    He asks if it's a game, which Abercombie inadvertently says yes to. Things, naturally, escalate.

    From then on, Su Li thinks that Harry isn't an early bloomer. He's just very good at hiding a fully developed perverse side.
     
  19. Syphi

    Syphi Getting sticky.

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    Harry was staring a few...posts ago during the training session with his 7th year friend(cannot spell her name) and Hermione. That may have just been out of bald curiosity though.
     
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  20. Edmond G. Bertrand

    Edmond G. Bertrand Making the rounds.

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  21. stads

    stads Not too sore, are you?

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    hmm a dragon on a road trip no way that wont couse weird issue's looking forward to them
    will be interesting to see how the hermoine situation will develop
     
  22. Skjadir

    Skjadir Versed in the lewd.

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    Well the trip is going to be nice or not so nice considering the aztecs are a thing and what went down in canon Shadowrun that kick started a lot of things.

    One thing that maybe isn't all that noticed about Shadowrun dragons is that they aware of the spiritual matters (they have natural astral sight/senses, and they are pretty much always active) and that might come up on that trip.

    Otherwise, the alchemy training also showed something else namely that if they just created some gear with some defensive enchantments they would be more or less immune to guns.

    Then there is the issue with Hermione and well harry should be able to hire someone to look after her while he is on that trip without to many problems something that Dumbledore might bring up because he isn't stupid or someone else might be stupid enough to try that (can just be a different pureblood family that dislikes their kid being shown up by her).

    Also, Su is a thing and her "cunning" planning I am convinced that the older students can rather clearly see what she is doing and are amused by it.
    Question is how she will take it that Harry is going on a trip without her for the summer and there is nothing she can do about it, there is also the part where she hasn't yet learned that he is a dragon which will be rather interesting considering their significance in Asian history and mythology/symbolism.

    For the Corporation he is building up the most likely directions that will take are magical/mundane R&D, transportation of goods (for now just trains, can be build out into including planes and ships), with how much he is building/constructing will likely include that as its own branch that are just the "short" term directions.
    It very much looks like he will be owning (more or less completely) one of the AAA mega corporations.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2020
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  23. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    You might want to look up the relevent scene from the original. While it doesn't look like this story will use the same sequence of events (given that Harry seems to have an actual plan to keep her safe) in the original Hermione was rescued from the Auction block before going on the block.
     
  24. Acolyte

    Acolyte Getting sticky.

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    You have to wonder how deadly a enchanted gun will be. Put the seeking charm from quid itch on a LMG. Now thats an anti personal weapon. Maybe a gun whose bullets banish their target. A pistol that vanish a large part the body, leading bloody wounds. Spellbreaker rounds.
     
  25. Furoan

    Furoan Getting out there.

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    In Shadowrun at least, the issue is that you need to enchant individual bullets and that firing them often breaks the enchantment. (For exactly the reason you mentioned, having homing, vanishing, teleporting bullets is awful for game balance). Or at least its very difficult and it only really got even an inkling of working by the 2070/80's. You can't just enchant a gun. Might be different in this story universe though.
     
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  26. EternitynChaos

    EternitynChaos Once there was a Maiden...

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    the other option is it requires material so hilariously expensive it's just not worth it, like 50mil for a single use bullet with like 3 enchants on them, sure, if the person you really want dead is worth that sort of money it's worth doing, but most times it's just easier to use something else more cost effective /laugh
     
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  27. DIT_grue

    DIT_grue lurker

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    Delete this word? Or else add something to the end of the sentence to finish the thought.
     
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  28. Acolyte

    Acolyte Getting sticky.

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    Thats shadow run magic tho. Wizards have a much easier time charming objects. And this story doesn't have to care about gamebalance
     
  29. The Unicorn

    The Unicorn Versed in the lewd.

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    On the other hand harry potter magic doesn't seem to do quick and cheap enchantment(Unless you're Albus Dumbledore), and this variant of it has all magic take effort from the person doing it so while you might be able to make enchanted bullets for very high quality snipers but each bullet would probably cost a couple hundred pounds or take a full day for you to make one.
     
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  30. Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    There you go.

    Remember the entire covert slaving economy thing is driven by the need to individually enchant every magical object that is sold, so a line of enchanted ammunition is going to be either ludicrously expensive or require another factory or several worth of slave labor (or potentially both, depending on the details).

    If wizards start using guns more often, then eventually someone will probably try out the "specialized sniper ammo" concept, but it is going to be expensive. Making an enchanted bullet that can handle being fired through a gun barrel is going to be an interesting exercise, probably requiring some decently expensive materials (probably gold for enchantability and weight) and relatively complicated manufacturing. I'd imagine it would at least need some sort of discarding sabot to keep any rune-work from scraping off on the barrel, or potentially it could be a canister shot of some description with the enchanted bits loaded inside a protective casing.

    I suppose if you went that route, you might end up with something like the caster shells from the anime Outlaw Star --- powerful, but absurdly expensive and often as dangerous to the user as it is to the target.


    DIT_grue: Thanks and done.
     
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