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Enter the Dragon (Harry Potter/Shadowrun)

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

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

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



    1 Enter the Dragon


    1.1.0 In which an outsized lizard happens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Harry changed.

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

    1.1.1 A strange reaction

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

    “What’s that racket?”

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

    It would investigate later.

    1.1.2 Vernon deals with the aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wouldn’t that be horrifying?

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

    “Boy, is that you?”

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

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

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

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

    “Van?” Petunia repeated, blankly.

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

    “But, what’ll the neighbors say?”

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

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

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

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

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

    It would not.

    1.1.3 Petunia does nothing useful

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

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

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

    Petunia’s was a sad existence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Vernon would simply have to figure something out.

    1.1.4 A salesman’s lament

    Vernon faced a daunting task.

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

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

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

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

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

    The problem lay in that appetite, though.

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

    He’d have to see if his wife could remember how to contact those freaks her sister had run off with. Much as he disliked such weirdness, Vernon felt that they might be better equipped to deal with an outsize accidental lizard.
     
    Yar, jkgbrz, roman566 and 110 others like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Section 1.2 - Calling in wizarding assistance
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.2.0 Calling in wizarding assistance

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

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

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

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

    1.2.1 A visit from a wizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Harry? Harry Potter, is that you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1.2.2 Odd couriers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “To Hagrid?” Snape confirmed.

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

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

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

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

    1.2.3 In which Harry storms the castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

    McGonagall growled, “Severus…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1.2.4 Reflective Reptile

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

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

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

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

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

    So cool!

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

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

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

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

    It was wonderful!

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

    This place was pretty all-right!

    1.2.5 A tired self-assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Professors, I commend you for your enthusiasm, but I remind you that Harry’s situation should be kept secret for now,” Albus admonished, gently. “That secrecy is an ace that I do not wish to take away from young Harry until he can use it to best advantage.”
     
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  3. Threadmarks: Section 1.3 - The Saga of the Greasy Hair
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.3.0 The Saga of the Greasy Hair

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

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

    His first class almost didn’t recognize him.

    What on Earth was going on?

    1.3.1 Eager anticipation

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

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

    Ooh, it was going to be amazing!

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

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

    Waiting was hard!

    1.3.2 Enter, the Healer

    Poppy Pomphrey was intrigued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    As it happened, she was right on both counts.

    1.3.3 The Saga of the Greasy Hair – Reprise

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

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

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

    1.3.4 A simple checkup, unsimplified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Are you sure?”

    “Quite sure.”

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

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

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

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

    That woman was thorough!

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

    That sort of thing set a poor precedent for children.

    1.3.5 Physical examination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Snape was unamused.

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

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

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

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

    It was some pretty good news to end the day.

    1.3.6 Dragon-sitting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Oh, okay then!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Books about dragons would be nice.”

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

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

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

    “Okay!”

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

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.4.0 When Harry met Suze

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

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

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

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

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

    What was to become of them?

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

    1.4.1 Inadequate rumors

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

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

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

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

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

    1.4.2 Reflections after a month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “True,” Flitwick acknowledged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “How so?” Snape asked, sounding curious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1.4.3 Contemplations on the meaning of life — as a dragon

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

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

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

    This was a problem.

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

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

    He certainly didn’t!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1.4.4 Harry goes house hunting

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

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

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

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

    1.4.5 A hairy realtor

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

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

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

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

    “Ooh, that sounds amazing!”

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

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

    1.4.6 New digs

    Sunlight hitting his eyes gradually brought Harry out of sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    That was amazing!

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

    He made such great friends since he became a dragon!

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

    1.4.7 The leading lady arrives

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

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

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

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

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

    Stone dead.

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

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

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

    No choice at all.

    1.4.8 Harry meets Suze

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

    It was a great day to be alive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1.4.9 Suze meets Harry

    Suze was certain she was going to die.

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

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

    Her father had wept for her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    It sounded startlingly young.

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

    Surely, the Great Wyrm would eat her soon?

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

    Oddly, it seemed to be holding her exceedingly gently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Are you going to eat me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Oh… sorry.”

    1.4.10 Suze meets Snape and finally gets an explanation

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

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

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

    “How old is the Great Wyrm?”

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

    “…so, he’s just a colt?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Really? I didn’t know that.”

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

    “I’m Suze, daughter of Bane.”

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

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

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

    “Um, Mr. Snape?”

    “What is it this time, wretched lizard?”

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

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

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

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.5.0 In Which Harry Learns his own Strength

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

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

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

    It was brilliant!

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

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

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

    1.5.1 Blood spatter

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

    He then declared, “GrrrRRrrrr!”

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

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

    1.5.2 The unlikeliest of counselors

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

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

    At least his growth had slowed recently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “What exactly brought this on?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “…I guess.”

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

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

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

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

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

    “I will.”

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

    1.5.3 The circle of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.6.0 In which Harry makes an alliance

    “She still lives!” Bane said.

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

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

    “Your pardon, Bane?” Tiberius said.

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

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

    “Impossible,” Julius scoffed.

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

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

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

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

    1.6.1 Post-party musings

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

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

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

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

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

    And, oh, what presents they were!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And there had been cake!

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

    1.6.2 Snape’s nefarious plan is revealed

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

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

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

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

    Back to the angry Scotswoman, then.

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

    “Yer met Bane?” Hagrid asked, surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “It was a special order,” he temporized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I am not fond of that dratted dragon!”

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

    How did she always do that?

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

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

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

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

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

    “Violently.”

    “Indeed.”

    1.6.3 A visit to Hagrid

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

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

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

    How was she going to ride, though?

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

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

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

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

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

    1.6.4 Murphy’s Law interlude

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

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

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

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

    1.6.5 The rash actions of a concerned father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And it was inhaling very, very deeply.

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

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

    Odd, it sounded like some sort of… colt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Father!”

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

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

    “Father! Be silent!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Wise words, Great One.”

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

    Was this daunting behemoth in fact merely a lonely child?

    1.6.6 When Spiders Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “AND HER GRANDPA TOO!”

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

    “AND HER FRIENDS!”

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

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

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

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

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

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.7.0 In which Harry gets to know the neighbors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Perhaps.” Bane allowed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Well, Bane certainly felt like an ass, now.

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

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

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

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

    1.7.1 Christmas at Hogwarts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1.7.2 Harry learns a new trick

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

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

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

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

    “Watcha looking at?”

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

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

    “…pardon?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “And what might that be?”

    “This.”

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

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

    “…remarkable,” Bane said.

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

    “Of course not.”

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

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

    “Huh? I’m not sure I get it.”

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

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

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

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

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

    1.7.3 Springtime interlude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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

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

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

    He was understandably surprised when they saluted him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Oh dear,” Mr. Snape said.

    “Am I in trouble?” Harry asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I’m good with that,” Harry nodded agreeably, visions of great, gleaming stacks of gold and treasure filling his mind’s eye. He almost expected there to be an audible ka-ching cash register noise, as he remembered from one of the TV programs Dudley used to watch that there were tons of just paint on a space rocket.

    Slackhammer’s grin got even broader.

    “It seems to me, gentlemen,” the dapper goblin remarked, “that everyone within this room is about to become quite startlingly wealthy.”

    1.8.1 An Odd encounter

    It was about two weeks after the meeting with Mr. Slackhammer, and Harry was passing the time with his damsel enjoying the early-morning sunshine on the bluff opposite the Lair when Suze’s eyes narrowed, and her gaze fell on something on another escarpment to the north.

    “What’s wrong, Suze?” Harry asked when he noticed her shift in attention.

    “I think I see something on the other bluff,” she pointed it out with a frown. “It looks like there’s someone there, and he seems to be watching us.”

    Harry took a look in that direction and saw. “Well,” he said matter-of-factly as he hauled himself up from his reclining position, “I guess I’ll have to go make sure it’s not a knight, then. Be back in a mo’.”

    With that said, he threw himself into the air and made a direct line for the cliffs in question, part of the formation that wrapped around behind the isolated butte that contained the Lair.

    As it turned out, there was a man up there, and he had apparently been there for some time, judging from the tent and associated campsite. The man had one squinty eye that seemed to be looking at his nose while the other one looked normal, scraggly white hair with a receding hairline, and he was wearing the most absurdly bright overcoat Harry had ever seen, a major accomplishment for Harry who routinely associated with the likes of Albus Dumbledore.

    “Oh dear!” the man declared as the bus-sized dragon he had been observing dropped down right in front of him, eyeing him with an eyeball significantly larger than his head.

    “Hi, what are you doing up here?” Harry asked brightly before his voice shifted to a suspicious tone. “You’re not a knight, are you?”

    “Oh, heavens, a talking dragon! How remarkable!” the scraggly-haired man exclaimed. “In answer to your question, I find myself in these hills in pursuit of the species Haggii scotia trundulus, the Three-Toed Mountain Haggis, quite a delicious species in fact, and no, I am not a knight, I’m a zoologist. Er, um, you’re not intending to devour me, I hope?”

    “No, I don’t devour anyone that politely asks me not to devour them.”

    “Oh, well, that’s a relief, and I’d be much obliged if you would refrain from devouring me, please?” The man continued, “I say, are you by any chance a member of the species Draconis majoris tricornae, popularly known as the Three-Horned Hammer-nosed dragon?”

    “Well, I’m not sure. Y’know, I’ve been trying to figure out what sort of dragon I am for absolutely ages — um, what do Three-Horned Hammer-Nosed Dragons eat? ‘Cause I’m the only dragon I know of that likes the taste of Toyotas.”

    “I cannot say for certain,” the man replied, “for you see, no one has ever seen a living example of the Three-Horned Hammer-Nosed Dragon, and its dietary habits are therefore still unknown. We only know of them from a single fossilized skull, and I must say, their cranial structure bears a marked resemblance to your own; the layout of your horns and the structures around your eye sockets are quite distinctive. I have no idea how in the world fossilization managed to transform a skull into orichalcum, but that’s quite beside the point.”

    “Orichalcum, huh? Hey, I think maybe I’m that sort of dragon,” Harry was positively delighted, “because that’s what my bones are made of!”

    “Remarkable, remarkable,” the man muttered while scribbling furiously in his notebook. “Perhaps your species has some relationship to the drake dog, a member of the same phyla? I say, would you mind if I asked you a few questions about your eating habits, behavioral tendencies, preferred habitat, that sort of thing? Just out of professional curiosity, you see; I confess to having been quite fascinated by the examination of the skull of an apparent member of your species reported in the Journal of Cryptozoological Studies some years ago.”

    “Well, me being here is sort of a secret, so only if you promise not to tell anyone where I am or what my name is,” Harry said.

    “Well, that wouldn’t be a problem; as you are a member of a species which can readily be presumed to be endangered, it does of course behoove me to keep the details of your territorial range strictly confidential, and as I cannot say I know your name, it would be very difficult for me to relay it to anyone, wouldn’t it?”

    “Oh, yeah, well, I guess, but just between you and me, my name is Harry Potter,” Harry said.

    “And I am Xenophillius Lovegood, but everyone seems to refer to me as ‘Odd’ and I can’t say precisely why — are you, perchance, named after the famous Harry Potter? You know, the Boy-Who-Lived? Or is he named for you?”

    “Well… I dunno,” Harry admitted. “I mean, Mr. Dumbledore seems to think there’s something really important about me, and according to The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts someone with the same name and scar as me who was born at the same time as me squished that Voldie-morts guy, and I almost think I’m him, but you know, I thought I got my scar in a car crash.”

    “Hmm… most intriguing, but, well, according to the on-scene reports, the Boy-Who-Lived is a member of the species Homo sapiens sapiens, popularly known as the human race,” Odd said, making another note. “And, well, not to be rude or anything, but how in Merlin’s name did you fit in a car? You’re larger than most of them! Was it a very stretchy car?”

    “Uh, well, no, y’see that was before I turned into a dragon. I used to be human.”

    “Turned into… Remarkable! That must have been a truly exceptional event, I cannot ever recall mention of a human somehow becoming a dragon of any species, much less one thought to be extinct… Extraordinary! What did it feel like?” Odd enthused, still scribbling rapidly.

    “I dunno, I’d banged my head on a rock, and by the time I woke up, I’d finished turning into a dragon, and I was really hungry, so it was hard to notice much else about what it felt like.”

    “Ah, well that’s a shame. It would have been quite fascinating information.”

    1.8.2 Scoldings

    Two hours later, mind all awhirl from the million-and-one questions fired at him by his new acquaintance, Harry came in for a landing back at the closest of the Black Woods Clan summer encampments, where he had tracked Suze to after finding she was no longer on the bluff. They had been intending to visit her family anyway. There he found his centaur damsel waiting, worriedly pacing while checking the angle of the sun.

    “Harry! There you are. Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Was that human a knight? Will we have to move?”

    “…um, no. He was a zoologist called Odd Lovegood,” Harry said, rather taken-aback.

    “Oh, thank Selene!” she declared, hugging Harry about the neck — well as much of his neck as she could hug, the whole thing was rather beyond her arm-span. “I was so worried! Don’t do that to me again!”

    Bane, who’d been lounging in the sun nearby waiting to find out whether they would have to do something to help their ally — as unlikely as that seemed, given his strength — was treated to the rather startling sight of his slender-and-lovely daughter sternly telling off forty tons of dragon while said dragon acted like a colt who’d been caught out late after dusk.

    His brain half-melted, the usually-stern centaur beat a hasty retreat.

    1.8.3 Breakfast surprises

    Two weeks later, picking up the latest issue of his favorite unintentional humor column, The Quibbler, Severus Snape spent several minutes staring blankly at the photograph on the front page before he declared, “Oh hell.”

    The potions master then beat a hasty retreat to the Headmaster’s office to see what could be done, issue jammed firmly into his robe pocket.

    1.8.4 Not so severe fallout

    “Ah, Severus, what’s the rush?” Dumbledore asked, popping a lemon drop as the man burst into his office.

    By way of answer, Snape slammed the copy of the Quibbler down on his desk.

    The cover photo of the conspiracy-theory-and-weirdness periodical sported a photograph of Harry, in dragon form and wearing one of his attempts at a friendly smile, against a background of heather and rock. Above the image was emblazoned the title ‘Interview with a Dragon’.

    “…oh dear.”

    “That is significantly milder than my own reaction, Albus.”

    “Yes, well, I’m politer than you are,” Dumbledore said, leafing through the article to have a quick read.

    “Didn’t you read it?”

    “I came straight here the moment I saw the cover.”

    “Ah, well, there’s no mention of location or Harry’s identity; however, the editorial appears to contain hints and speculation that, reading between the lines, gives the game away. And,” Dumbledore grimaced, “I must say Odd is quite cunning, for a lunatic; he’s arranged it so the last letter of each line in the article about Harry, if read in reverse order, spells out ‘This dragon is named Harry Potter; the Boy-Who-Lived is missing. Coincidence? I think not.’ It’s a shame Odd’s so crazy; he’d be brilliant if he were sane.”

    “Why that…” Snape’s rant came to a screeching halt before it even got going. This was Odd Lovegood they were talking about. The man lived and breathed conspiracy theories and rumors — trying to run damage control on this would be like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

    Instead, he decided to take a different approach. “It seems it is time for a discussion with the dratted dragon on journalists and why it is prudent to avoid them.”

    1.8.5 A journalist burns his source

    “But he said he’s a zoologist, and that means someone who knows lots and lots about all sorts of animals!” Harry complained, sounding a touch defensive.

    “Odd Lovegood, you… you…” Snape trailed off in a huff, rapidly shaking his head.

    “Harry, some people are… not entirely honest,” Dumbledore said, “sad as it is. Odd Lovegood is indeed a zoologist, and that does indeed mean someone who studies living creatures of all kinds, but his income comes from a magazine he publishes, thus he is also a journalist.”

    “He told you a half-truth, in other words,” Snape explained. “That is, he told you the truth, but left out parts so as to lead you to an erroneous conclusion. At least his paper is primarily composed of wild rumors and conspiracy theories, and your name was only mentioned in code. It is unlikely that anyone who could cause problems for us will take the information seriously.”

    “He said my name?” Harry was troubled. “But he promised he wouldn’t do that!”

    “As I said, Harry, some people are not entirely honest,” Dumbledore repeated, sadly. “In this case, it is unlikely to cause any major problems, but it is always a cause for caution. To be fair, Odd only stated your name in an anagram he worked into the text, so the argument could be made that he kept his word, technically. The man is oddly brilliant in his own peculiar way.”

    Flitwick, who had been silent to this point alongside his fellow Heads, Minerva and Pomona, spoke up in an attempt to distract Harry from this troubling development. “What was Odd doing up there anyway?”

    “He said he was looking for the territory of the three-toed mountain haggis.” Harry began, picking up enthusiasm as he remembered that part of the conversation. “What’s a haggis? Is it tasty?”

    “Och, well,” McGonagall said, “the wild haggis is a terribly difficult creature to find; they only come out at night, and they live very high up in the mountains. That’s why their legs are longer on one side than the other; it’s so they can stay upright when they’re running ‘round the side of a mountain. To catch a haggis, you have to get it to turn ‘round so it loses its balance and rolls down the mountain into a well-placed net.”

    “Really, Minerva, stop having the poor boy on,” Snape complained with a glare.

    “…huh?” Harry asked, bewildered.

    “A haggis,” Snape explained, “is a dish of Scottish origin, prepared from the less-than-appetizing portions of a sheep, mixed with oatmeal and spices and then cooked inside the sheep’s stomach lining. The Scottish have all manner of shaggy dog stories to tell in an attempt to confuse the unwitting and English.”

    “Och, well that’s what they want you to think,” McGonagall remarked, conspiratorially.

    “Drat it! Minerva, can’t you see the boy is getting confused?”

    “Mrs. McGonagall, can I get a haggis? It sounds tasty!” Whether it was actually some fantastic creature or just a Scottish dish like Mr. Snape said, Harry was game to try one.

    “Of course, laddie, I’ll arrange ye tha finest haggis in aw Scotland, whi’ neeps an’ tatties an’ aw!” McGonagall told him, positively delighted in this interest in the heritage of the beautiful land he now called home. “It’ll be Burns Nicht soon, we’ll make a proper nicht o’ it!”

    “…oh God, why did you have to set her off?” Snape groaned.

    “Awa whi’ yeh, Sev’rus, yeh wee chewchter.”

    “Minerva, I am still quite unable to understand a word of your native accent; would you please stick to the Queen’s English while speaking to those of us not of Scottish descent?”

    “Wassock.”

    1.8.6 Musings on lies and liars

    As it turned out, Mrs. McGonagall had made good on her promise of a haggis by the end of the summer, and it had been a celebration to remember at the Lair, replete with bagpipes, whiskey, poetry readings, and good company under the summer night sky.

    The haggis was just as tasty as it sounded, though Harry found it to be very small, indeed. That was normal for human foods, he noted. Fortunately, he had eaten heavily before the celebration, and he was quite satisfied by the time the party wound down and his guests left for the castle.

    As the fire in the Rayburn died down to embers and Suze dozed against his side, Harry thought back on the events that led to the evening’s celebration — and his conversation with Odd Lovegood.

    It had been the young dragon’s first encounter with a person who deliberately played him false, and Harry found the encounter left a bad taste in his mouth. The man had seemed so nice, but then he had misled Harry about his profession and broken his promise not to reveal Harry’s name to anyone.

    Harry knew that the name was only published in a hidden code, but in a way, that made it even worse. He could have almost understood a slip revealing the name accidentally, but taking the time and effort to encode it like that meant that he had to have done it on purpose. The man had lied to him, and that made Harry kind of angry.

    Harry sighed, his irritation slipping away with a light puff of smoke. He’d talked about it with Madame Pomphrey before, and while she had been sympathetic, she had also introduced him to something she called ‘commensurate response’. So, even though Mr. Lovegood had been very rude by lying to him and breaking his promise, it would be too much for him to eat the man next time he saw him, because the man’s broken promise wasn’t as bad for Harry as devouring him would be for the liar.

    Harry was not sure what to think of that.

    It was even more confusing when he thought about what else he had found out. Mrs. McGonagall had been lying to him too, about the haggis being a special kind of animal. It really was a dish made out of sheep and oatmeal like Mr. Snape said. But that kind of lying didn’t make him angry, because she was just joking around, and it was kind of confusing for him to think about.

    What was the difference between funny lying and lying that made him mad? Was it because Mr. Lovegood had intended to deceive him, and Mrs. McGonagall hadn’t? The problem was, she had intended to deceive him, but she intended it to be a joke that he would laugh at when it was revealed.

    Did Mr. Lovegood mean to have it be a joke too? Maybe, but Harry didn’t think it was very funny.

    How could he know who he could trust to tell the truth about important stuff, now? He didn’t know what to look for to be able to tell that Mr. Lovegood was lying. Was there a way to figure that stuff out?

    It was all so complicated, and Harry decided he didn’t like it very much. As the final embers died in the stove, leaving the faint moonlight as the only illumination for the Lair, the young dragon finally settled in to sleep, settling his head down on his forepaws, turned so he could see his damsel with one eye, taking comfort in her presence. His scales had grown thick enough to make cuddling very difficult on his side of things; he couldn’t actually feel her there, so he had to make due with other reassurances.

    He hoped none of his friends ever turned out to be the bad kind of liar. Harry didn’t know how he’d handle that.
     
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  9. Threadmarks: Section 1.9 - In which Harry makes an enemy
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.9.0 In which Harry makes an enemy

    Perhaps a month after the impromptu and unseasonable Burns Night celebration at the Lair, the seasons turned and with the coming autumn the students returned to Hogwarts and Harry’s professor friends’ free time dried up like rain puddles on a warm summer day.

    His centaur friends were still in the middle of their Grand Conclave which was interesting for a while, because of all the new people visiting, but quickly devolved into the elders just yelling the same things back and forth in slightly different ways. Harry thought the whole thing got very boring very quickly. Worse yet, all his young centaur friends had to be quiet, so they couldn’t play like normal.

    To complete his dilemma, Harry had managed to run through everything from his friends’ personal libraries, so he had run out of things to read. There was still a lot in the Hogwarts Library, but those were enchanted so they couldn’t be removed from the castle grounds, and his Lair was too far away.

    With nothing to do and nothing to read, the young dragon had gotten so bored he had even started to read the dictionary Mr. Snape had gotten for him.

    This last item was the final straw which had driven Harry to return to Diagon Alley for the first time since his travels with Mr. Snape. It’d be hours before anyone could come over from the castle, and the weather was too rainy to go flying with Suze.

    After their first trip to see Mr. Slackhammer, Mr. Snape had left a two-way portkey behind in the form of an old brick. He’d said it was easier than trying to power one to carry them both himself, since it recharged on its own from the ambient energy, and afterwards he’d left it with Harry after explaining how it worked. Leaving it near Harry would apparently make it charge faster because he was so awesome.

    This meant that Harry had a way to and from the Alley.

    “What are you doing, Harry?” Suze asked. She’d been kind of clingy since the thing with Mr. Lovegood.

    “Well, I’m bored, and all the others are busy and it’s ages until anyone’s going to come up from the castle, and I haven’t got anything to read, so I reckon I’m going to go to Diagon Alley and buy some more books,” Harry said, picking up the headband he’d worn on his last trip with Mr. Snape.

    Suze frowned. “I think I’d better come with you.”

    And thus it was that the pair, human-form Harry and his centaur damsel, found themselves wandering, somewhat lost, down the main street of Diagon Alley when an unpleasant and thoroughly unwelcome voice came from behind.

    “Boy! Why is your pet not on a leash?”

    With a growl that carried over surprisingly well from his dragon form, Harry answered, “She’s not my pet, she’s my damsel,” as he whirled around to face the unpleasant voice.

    Said unpleasant voice belonged to an equally unpleasant-looking woman. Her appearance was startlingly toad-like for an ostensibly human woman, and she seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with a shade of pink that reminded Harry of a certain bottle his aunt had always pulled out of the medicine cabinet whenever Dudley would eat himself sick.

    “She’s your what? Never mind; filthy beasts like that should not be let loose in the Alley.” With that offensive declaration, the squat woman drew her wand in a threatening action that was echoed by the three nondescript men accompanying her.

    At this clear threat, Harry almost flamed them; he almost returned to dragon shape, but he remembered Mr. Snape, Mr. Dumbledore, Mrs. McGonagall, and Mr. Slackhammer had all been quite adamant that, although there would be a time when it became appropriate for him to reveal his nature, that time was still off in the future. He wasn’t sure why, but just about everyone he respected who wasn’t a centaur said so, and even the ones who were centaurs didn’t say differently, they just didn’t have anything to say on the subject. Harry figured he’d take their word for it until he was sure he knew what the deal was.

    Without the option of reverting to dragon form and annihilating the threat that way, Harry and Suze were ill-suited to dealing with the situation, so there was only one option left.

    “Run, Suze!” He grabbed her hand and bolted for Gringotts, half-dragging her behind him with his disproportionate strength. The woman’s nondescript companions moved to block the pair, as their course took them close to the toad woman and her group anyway. Had they been selected for skill rather than political reliability, they might have realized something was wrong with the picture of an apparently nine-year-old human child dragging around a centaur, but they were not.

    Suze immediately cottoned-on to what little plan her dragon had come up with, and she used her hold on his hand to swing him up onto her back, charging at a full run straight through the group of wand-brandishing wizards, bowling them over like ten-pins.

    She didn’t stop until she was in the Gringotts lobby and she calmly came to a halt in front of a half-dozen halberd-toting guards-goblins who had moved to intercept.

    “We gotta hide, there’s crazy glowy people, and they wanna do something nasty to Suze, and we gotta talk to Mr. Slackhammer!” Harry declared.

    As if to emphasize his point, the doors crashed open behind him, and the pink toad woman and her plain-clothes security detail, now accompanied by a number of blue-overcoated official-looking people came barging into the building, only to skid to a halt in the face of the business end of a dozen of those nasty-looking halberds. There were now dozens of uniformed goblins flooding the foyer and separating Harry and Suze from their pursuers. Some were the brightly-uniformed ceremonial guards, but the majority were now in drab green and carrying a far different armament.

    Out of almost everyone on the scene, only Harry recognized them immediately for what they were: guns. Hefty, great Army-looking things of a type he’d seen in pictures in one of the not-glowy-people history books Mrs. McGonagall had gotten for him back when he asked about dragons, pictures about a war in the Falkland Islands.

    “Easy, you maggots!” bellowed an exceptionally ferocious-looking goblin who seemed to have traded in the rifle-or-halberd for a sword and an unnecessarily-large pistol, and was resplendent in what Harry recognized as the dress uniform of a goblinish Sergeant-Major. “That’s the feller Vice-Chairman Slackhammer’s been conducting business with!”

    Much to Harry’s relief, the goblins stopped pointing their weapons at him and Suze, saluted Harry, saluted the Sergeant-Major, and joined in with pointing weapons at the pink toad woman and the people with her.

    “What is the meaning of this? Don’t you know who I am?” The pink toad woman sounded a little freaked out. “I’m the Secretary of Wizarding Defence, and I demand that you immediately turn that filthy animal over to…” The woman trailed off in the face of a loud, intimidating, interruption.

    “Are you,” the Sergeant-Major roared, turning an oddly-brownish purple with rage as he seemed to inflate at a downright alarming rate, “personally responsible for a full nine-point-seven percent increase in Gringotts profit within the last calendar month? No, Madame Umbridge, you are not! The young gentleman here, as it so happens, is! Is that quite perfectly clear?”

    The pink toad woman, apparently called Umbridge, turned very pale indeed. The blue-overcoated official-looking people started to whisper among themselves as well. Her security detail remained oblivious.

    “Ah, Great One, if you and your lovely companion would accompany me?” That was a voice Harry was very glad to hear, and turning that way, he found himself looking at Crackjaw Slackhammer.

    “What about them, Mr. Vice-Chairman, SIR?” the Sergeant-Major bellowed, snapping off a salute before angling a thumb in the direction of the pink toad-woman.

    He was a very good bellower, Harry wondered if he would be willing to give lessons?

    “Politely ask them to vacate the premises, Sergeant-Major.”

    “And if they don’t, Vice-Chairman, SIR?”

    “Then it will be time to be impolite, Sergeant-Major.”

    “Sir! Yes, Sir! At once, SIR!” The Sergeant-Major bellowed, saluting again before he whirled around and fixed the goblin soldiers with a ferocious glower. “Alright, you miserable maggots! You heard the Vice-Chairman, jump to it!”

    “SIR!” the swarm of goblins barked, “YES SIR!”

    “Gentlemen and lady, please be so kind as to vacate the premises AT ONCE!”

    For that matter, was this goblin capable of not bellowing? Ooh, and how did he do that cool inflating thing? Harry wanted to learn that too!

    The pink toad woman and her coterie beat a hasty retreat.

    1.9.1 Umbridge fumes

    “Those miserable beasts!” Umbridge muttered, glancing nervously at the doors to Gringotts as she and the three plain-clothes Aurors who’d been accompanying her withdrew alongside the group of uniformed Law Enforcement Patrolmen who had joined them.

    “All due respect, ma’am, but what happened back there?” Auror Dawlish asked.

    “Weren’t you briefed on ‘fire-arms’?” Umbridge snapped.

    “…um, should I have been?”

    “Yes!”

    Auror Flint spoke up, “They’re a form of muggle wand. They launch a small metal thing so hard and fast it’ll go right through a wall and kill the bloke hiding behind the wall.”

    “So, I take it they’re dangerous?” Dawlish asked.

    “Very.” Umbridge said, thinking back on the briefing she had first received when she had been promoted to Secretary of Wizarding Defence. Something about the goblin rebellion of 1899. It was information not readily available to the public. Nobody wanted a panic on their hands.

    In 1899, after whatever had set those wretched goblins off, the Ministry had, as usual, expected to kick the doors down, fire off a few spells, slap a few more sanctions on the upstarts, and wash their hands of the matter. That was how it had always gone before.

    But, it hadn’t gone anything like that. Every Auror or Hit-Wizard who’d attempted to storm the bank had died on the receiving end of an infernal, not to mention loud, device of at-the-time unknown origin. After the second attempt to storm the bank, the then-Director of Magical Law Enforcement, along with a guard detail of fifty-five Aurors, had been cut down by another team of five goblins wielding more of the contraptions.

    Based on circulating rumors, Ministry research into the devastating new weapons being wielded by the goblin rebels had revealed said gadgets to be muggle devices known as ‘fire-arms’, in specific a ‘Maxim machine-gun’ and a number of ‘Lee-Enfield Magazine Rifle’. The astonishing destructive power that tests showed these peculiar contraptions to possess had scared the then-Director of Muggle Relations so badly he’d taken his entire family into hiding. It hadn’t been long after that the Ministry had sued for peace.

    That had been the first time in known history that a goblin rebellion had ended, as uncomfortable as it was to say such a thing, in victory for the wretched beasts. Worse yet, reports from the Unspeakables showed that the goblins had taken to the ‘fire-arms’ with tremendous — one might even say diabolical — enthusiasm.

    She’d seen photographs of the ‘fire-arms’ those goblins had threatened her with today. Apparently, they were a type known as ‘Ellwunehwun Self-Loading Rifle’, and although of a shorter effective range than the bewildering assortment of ‘Lee-Enfield’, it could cast its projectile faster and more accurately than even the finest duelists, and like all such ‘fire-arms’ that projectile traveled far too fast to be effectively blocked or dodged.

    With an attempt at a face-saving sniff, she made tracks for the Ministry.

    1.9.2 Of guns and Goblins

    “Where’d you guys get all the guns, Mr. Slackhammer?” Harry asked. “I thought guns were kinda hard to get.”

    Slackhammer smiled a little smugly. “Ah, Mr. Potter, that is courtesy of Gringotts holdings in the muggle world. As it so happens, Gringotts owns a small but significant portfolio of stocks in several firearms manufacturing concerns: the Birmingham Small Arms Company, Vickers Defence Systems, Heckler and Koch GmbH, and Fabrique Nationale de Herstal, to name those in which we hold the most substantial interest. As such, it is quite remarkably easy for us to acquire both weapons and munitions whenever we so desire, a situation that has proven most fortuitous on occasion.”

    “But how do you manage that with the not-glowy-people. I thought they watched that pretty closely?” Harry asked, puzzled. “I’d think they’d notice the guns were going somewhere.”

    “That is a story part and parcel to our winning independence from the wizards in the 1899-1900 financial year.” Slackhammer explained. “You see, just prior to that time, the non-magicals were facing a rather unpleasant war in far southern Africa, and our leadership saw an opportunity. We offered our assistance in dealing with the native shaman, who had been wreaking havoc on the muggle command structure, and in exchange we were allowed to join the British Empire as an autonomous state. The only ongoing requirement is that we maintain a regiment that can be called upon by the Empire in magical conflicts.” Slackhammer chuckled, “We would have done so in any case, as we will certainly treat our allies with respect commensurate with their own treatment of ourselves, so that is no trouble.”

    “Wow!”

    “Indeed. That most lucrative deal led to our acquisition of firearms, and thence led to the events of the 1899-1900 financial year in which the Brethren won our autonomy from the wizards by force.” The dapper goblin smiled proudly, “I confess that those events have caused the gun to attain significant cultural meaning within the Goblin Nation, to the point that no goblin with any sense would permit himself to be seen dead without at least one firearm within easy reach. Even the ceremonial guards at the doors to this bank carry decidedly non-ceremonial sidearms concealed upon their persons. It is courtesy of those magnificent devices that we were not utterly subjugated and likely nationalized by the Ministry of Magic almost a century ago.”

    “I guess that means you’ve got a gun, right Mr. Slackhammer?”

    “Naturally; I never permit my Enfield Number 2 Mark 1 to leave my side,” the goblin said, withdrawing a nicely-polished revolver from beneath his desk. He showed it to Harry with a proud smile before returning it to its place. “It is of course merely one weapon within my private armory, some of which you can see behind you.” At this, he nodded to the gun rack on the office wall which was fairly bristling with rifles. “At my rank within the Goblin Nation, I am expected to maintain a fitting collection of weaponry, both to equip myself and provide for my subordinates should they be unable. Our law holds that it is not merely the right of all to bear arms, but rather the duty of all to be armed and ready to defend the freedom of Gringotts as a corporation and the Brethren as a people. And, frankly, with our less-than-stellar magical gifts, without the gun we would be quite easily overwhelmed by the ranks of the wizards.”

    “I know a bow is more accurate, and an arrow flies far faster and is deadly at a greater distance than any spell,” Suze joined the conversation. “Is the same true for these ‘guns’, Vice-Chairman?”

    “Quite correct; a competently-trained shooter could put every bullet in a well-maintained revolver into a wizard before the wizard could cast but a single spell. Their magic does have the advantage of flexibility, a wand can heal as easily as it can kill after all, but for defense of one’s home, kin, and livelihood, a well-tuned gun is a far superior weapon. And, no offense intended, Lady, the gun is significantly more powerful and vastly easier to learn to operate than the bow.”

    “None taken,” Suze said. Today had not been the first time she wished her people had developed something with more punch than a short-bow. She still remembered the sound of her arrows bouncing off the chitinous armor of the spider that had dragged down her younger sister years ago.

    Slackhammer steepled his fingers as he considered something. “Hmm… On that subject, Mr. Potter, I do believe it might be prudent to see that you and your companion acquire a fitting armament. The humble gun scares the gold out of magical law enforcement and poltroons such as that Umbridge creature for a very good reason, after all.”

    “Y’know, I think that might be a good idea,” Harry said. “And, ah, look, Suze is really good with a bow, but I was wondering if there weren’t any better bows than the kind her uncle Ronan makes, not that Mr. Ronan’s bows are bad or anything.”

    “There are indeed a number of bows of significantly more advanced construction than those made by centaurs, works of beauty though their traditional bows might be,” Slackhammer confirmed. “Might it be possible to grant myself and a small number of my staff permission to visit your home? I can but guess that you lair in a significantly more remote location than here in London, especially considering you have a centauress for a companion; they are known for their liking of solitude, and it would be better to instruct you in the usage and upkeep of firearms in a secluded place.”

    “Well, my Lair’s up in back of the woods behind Hogwarts; I guess you know where that is?”

    “Naturally,” Slackhammer confirmed with a sharp little nod.

    “Mr. Vice-Chairman,” Suze began, “I get the idea of being armed with something that scares the wizards, but isn’t there some way I could accompany Harry to Diagon Alley without some sort of mess like today happening?”

    “Hmm… I cannot say for sure. Perhaps one of my family solicitors could advise you on that, one moment…” Slackhammer wrote a quick note, rang a small bell, handed the note to the goblin who immediately came into the room, said “Take this to Madame Axetalon please, Mr. Steelhammer.”, nodded his satisfaction when the other goblin rushed off with a cry of “At once, Mr. Vice-Chairman!”, and sat back.

    “I have taken the liberty of requesting the company of my family’s most prominent solicitor, one Madame Shredblade Axetalon,” he told Suze. “She is blessed with an eidetic memory, and her knowledge of law, both magical and otherwise, is without peer. She should be with us shortly. Now concerning travel to your most excellent lair, Mr. Potter, my people can be on the outskirts of Hogsmeade within eight hours by motor vehicle, and we can easily arrange a meeting place thereafter.”

    “Um, Suze, does your dad get angry about goblins?” Harry asked.

    “No, Father admires them,” Suze told him. “There’s only a handful of Namers who have managed to get wizards to treat them with any respect at all, and goblins are the most recent.”

    “Respect from a wizard,” Slackhammer chuckled, shaking his head. “That is indeed quite the undertaking.”

    “What do you mean?” the young dragon asked.

    “I mean, pitiful as it is, most wizards are quite astoundingly bigoted,” Slackhammer told him. “Exceptions do, of course, exist, such as Mr. Severus Snape, who treats all with matching honest dislike, or Mr. Albus Dumbledore, who is a fine gentleman as wizards go, but the vast majority have naught but disdain for any being who is neither human nor magically gifted. Why, most of their number look down on those members of their own species born without the genetic quirk of magical talent!”

    The dapper goblin shook his head disparagingly before continuing, “There are only a handful of Namers, to use the centaur term, also known as sapient beings, who have managed to beat some respect out of the wizards. My kin managed that under the glorious leadership of Chairwoman of the Grand Board of Directors, Ragnak Shatteraxe, during the revolution often termed the Bold ’99, when we introduced the wizards to the power of the machine gun. Our dear friends, the Veela, were able to achieve that same great and noble undertaking centuries ago due to their incredible talent for the manipulation of fire. Vampires and werewolves have won some modicum of regard, simply due to the immense difficulty of killing individuals of either species, but they have yet to win themselves the same rights veela and goblins hold. The centaurs chose to hide themselves away from the wizards, a wise choice given that they lack the blessing of the honest gun.”

    Harry considered that for a moment before setting it aside for further consideration later. “Um, if you’re coming to visit, you should know that my Lair’s up on a cliff, so I’ll need to carry you in. I can pick you up, but if there are a few of you, that’ll take a few trips.”

    “That is not a problem, Mr. Potter. We would be honored by such travel arrangements.”

    “Harry, the harness…” Suze prompted.

    “Oh! Yeah, we made a carry-harness, so I could take Suze out flying with me without dropping her, so if you’ve got harnesses or something which we could clip on securely, I could carry all of you with that, I bet.”

    “I am certain we can arrange something, Mr. Potter.” Mr. Slackhammer seemed pleased at the consideration.

    “Mr. Vice-Chairman, Madame Axetalon to speak with you,” a goblin in a sharp suit stated, sticking his head in the door.

    “Ah, Madame Axetalon, come in, do.”

    The goblin who entered was smartly-dressed and almost completely indistinguishable from the males of her species; if Harry hadn’t been forewarned, he would never have realized she was female.

    “A profitable day to you, Vice-Chairman Crackjaw,” she said with a broad, toothsome grin. Her voice didn’t betray her gender either. “Congratulations on your promotion; I can but say you’ve worked long and hard for your new rank, and it’s about time your efforts were rewarded.”

    “Thank you, Solicitor Shredblade, and a profitable day to you too,” Slackhammer said, his grin just as shark-like as ever, “but there is no need for you to butter me up. The chance of my aunt allowing you to be dismissed from your position with the Slackhammers is thin indeed.”

    Axetalon chuckled. “Director Hellblade Slackhammer has always been a superb judge of character, Crackjaw. So, I understand that you require my services?”

    “Indeed, or rather my young associates here do. Madame Axetalon, the young lady is Miss Suze, daughter of Bane of the Black Woods Clan, and the young gentleman is Harry Potter, Great Wyrm of Hogwarts. Mr. Potter, Miss Suze, this is Madame Shredblade Axetalon, finest of the solicitors in my family’s employ.”

    “An honor,” the female goblin said, inclining her head politely.

    “Hi!” Harry said with a big smile firmly in place.

    “Well met,” Suze intoned with a polite bow.

    “Mr. Potter and Miss Suze face a perplexing conundrum that you might be able to provide an answer to,” Slackhammer told Madame Axetalon. “You see, they seek a way that Miss Suze, being as you see a centaur, might accompany Mr. Potter to Diagon Alley without falling foul of the unashamed bigotry of the Ministry of Magic.”

    “Ah yes, the Wild Animal (Control) Act of 1847. I see, that is quite the perplexing conundrum, isn’t it?” the solicitor mused, her eyebrows collapsing into a deep frown. “Hmm… it supersedes the Sapient (Mobility) Act of 1612… no, the Wartime Expenditures (Mobility) Act of 1941 does not present any loopholes for centaurs… Aha! Under the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, centaurs may, if sufficiently controlled, be regarded as Steeds under the letter of the law. Miss Suze, Mr. Potter, tell me, did the wizards successfully verify your identity?”

    “I dunno,” Harry said, looking to Suze.

    “Well, I don’t know either,” Suze said.

    “They most assuredly did not,” Mr. Slackhammer asserted.

    “Excellent,” Madame Axetalon declared. “Under the Criminalibus Iustitia Decretum of 438, any person, being, or creature suspected of a crime but not of verified identity may only be listed as a suspect for a maximum of two full seasons. Despite the conflict with the Criminal Justice (Identification) Act of 1837 which lists one year and one day as the maximum term, the older Decretum has not been repealed, so the more restrictive option takes precedence. Therefore, if you were to avoid Diagon Alley until the day after summer solstice, and thereafter pay any necessary regard to the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, there is nothing beyond alteration of the letter of the law which they may do. And for all acts committed prior to said alteration of the law, you are of course covered by the Charter of Succession (Rights) of 1380.”

    “…um,” Harry said, confused.

    “In layman’s terms,” Axetalon elaborated, “Under the Steeds (Mobility) Act of 1513, in accord with the Charter of Succession (Rights) of 1380, with no alteration made by subsequent revision of said Charter, any creature regarded under the law as a Being, has, where not in contravention to the Servants (Control) Acts of 1394, 1440, and 1502, the legal right to possession of a Steed, defined as an animal, creature, or device utilized for personal transport. This definition covers horses, ponies, brooms, velocipedes, motorcycles, pegasii, cottages with animated chicken legs, and other more unusual creatures and devices, including, I might note, centaurs. The only exception to said right concerns flying carpets and automobiles fitted with more than three wheels, which are listed as Items of Muggle Origin under the Muggle Separation (Artifacts) Act of 1984. The steed or device must be, and I quote, ‘controlled in an adequate and safe manner’ as per the Animal Control (Domesticated) Act of 1422 and may be left outside any building within wizarding territories for a maximum of twelve hours.”

    At this point, Harry was very glad he had been bored enough to read the dictionary in the past few days. “Can I see the Animal Control (Domesticated) Act of 1422, so I can see what we have to do?”

    On reading the Act in question, Suze muttered worriedly, “I get the feeling that Father won’t like this.”

    Half an hour later, having gone over details of future travel arrangements, the young Great Wyrm and his damsel left for the portkey transition point which would take them home, accompanied by ten of 2 Company’s biggest and meanest looking infantry-goblins. Back in his office, Vice-Chairman Slackhammer spent a moment checking financial reports, nodded his satisfaction, and then began to pen a note addressed to the Grand Chairman of the Board of Directors herself.

    No foolish human would get away with threatening a business partner as profitable as Mr. Harry Potter on Slackhammer’s watch, no SIR!

    1.9.3 Umbridge faces Consequences

    About an hour after she arrived back at the Ministry, as she was sulking in her office plotting revenge for her embarrassment at the hands of that boy, his centaur and the dratted goblins, Dolores Umbridge was thoroughly surprised to be summoned to the Minister’s office.

    “You wanted to see me, Mr. Minister, sir?”

    “Dolores, just what in Merlin’s name have you been doing?” Cornelius Fudge complained. “I have no idea what brought this on, but Gringotts just sent me a letter declaring one Mr. Harry James Potter and all his dependents and associates to be, and I quote, ‘an important financial asset of Gringotts’ and, well, threatening sanctions if anyone within the Ministry is to, and I quote, ‘interfere’ with him. Your name is mentioned in a most unfriendly manner several times. Just what in Merlin’s name have you been doing?”

    Umbridge blinked, positively gob-smacked. She’d only been near Gringotts once in the past week, and that was… chasing that filthy centaur and the boy it seemed to belong to… Oh dear!

    “I… uh… I,” she stammered before swallowing a few times, “I encountered a child allowing his pet centaur to run riot in Diagon Alley, Mr. Minister, sir.”

    “And how does that relate to Gringotts?”

    “Well, as per the Wild Animal Control Act of 1847 I moved to apprehend the uncontrolled animal, and the child immediately ran off with it. We gave pursuit, not using any spells so as to avoid injuring the child, you know how sensitive small children can be to stunners, and the suspect and his animal attempted to hide in the bank. We followed them, assuming our job was over, but we were shouted at most coarsely by the goblins, threatened with those infernal ‘fire-arms’ of theirs, and summarily ejected from the building. I returned directly here.”

    Fudge sighed, pinching his nose. “Dash it, Dolores, that boy’s the Boy-Who-Lived, he must be. I wondered why the goblins were on about him now; no idea why the goblins are so up-in-arms about him and his pet, but they’ve got us by the financial throat. How do you think the voters would react to another goblin rebellion?”

    “Surely it wouldn’t come to that?”

    “There’s a financial breakdown attached to the missive I received, and somehow they’ve attributed a two-million Galleon profit in the span of a single month to the Boy-Who-Lived. That’s no less than nine-point-seven percent of their profit over the last month. For Merlin’s sake, the last Goblin Rebellion blew up over taxation reducing their profits by a tenth of a percent!”

    “They’d go to war over a tenth of a percent?”

    “Go to war? Merlin’s sake, Dolores, they massacred seventy-eight Aurors, twelve Hit-Wizards, two Unspeakables, four innocent bystanders, and a Director of Magical Law Enforcement over a tenth of a percent! They kicked in the front door of the Ministry over a tenth of a percent! Imagine what they would do over nearly ten percent!”

    “…oh dear, I didn’t know that…”

    “Blast it, you’re the Secretary of Wizarding Defense! Knowing that is your bloody job! And now, you’ve nearly started a war over a leash-law violation…” Fudge’s eyes turned cunning, “scratch that, you were the Secretary of Wizarding Defense.”

    “Sir!” Dolores gasped, “You can’t be serious?”

    “Of course I am, Undersecretary. I need to be seen doing something after all,” the man finished smarmily. “Now I can contact Gringotts with an apology over the deplorable behavior of a member of the Ministry and report that she was punished, and you don’t even lose much in the way of your salary. Everyone wins!”

    But she would lose status! Oh, the humiliation. There would be blood for this! Though she raged internally, outwardly, she bowed her head, “Yes Mr. Minister, sir.”

    She would get even with those miserable goblins and that brat of a Boy-Who-Lived if it was the last thing she did.

    And with his little pet, too!

    1.9.4 Suspicious vans

    On a deserted stretch of road winding through the coastal moors of the western Highlands, a quartet of white Transit vans slowed to a stop, miles from the nearest town, and a pair of unusually short figures, dressed in drab uniforms and toting very businesslike rifles hopped out of the back of the lead van, examined a cut in the hillside then waved the vehicles to follow them.

    The odd procession quickly disappeared from sight into the sea of flowering heather, heading in the general direction a stand of trees below a cliffside some distance away, and leaving the road to its lonely existence, keeping company with the wind and the distant crashing of waves on the shore.

    1.9.5 Hospitality

    Harry was quite satisfied with the day.

    A small platoon of goblins had arrived around noon on the second day after his overly exciting abortive shopping trip with Suze, bringing with them a selection of various firearms and complicated bows. They came in those same white vans that the plumber always used when he visited the Dursley house, and Suze led them into the forest where he had waited in dragon form with his harness so he could carry them to the Lair.

    Along with the guns and the trainer, they’d also sent along another soldier, Corporal Hookknife, who was an engineer who was supposed to ensure their harnesses worked together and set up a proper and safe firing range. Harry got along with him famously, since he was impressed with the Lair and the improvements Harry had already made — calling it an ‘eminently defensible home’ — particularly since they had been made using only Harry’s teeth and claws. The young dragon and the corporal had engaged in a rather animated discussion of possible future changes and the methods that could be used while the rest of the platoon unpacked and set up a temporary camp in one of Harry’s recently-excavated side rooms. It was a discussion that would spawn an almost endless series of home-improvements for years to come.

    As it turned out, the Sergeant-Major — whose name was apparently Hooktalon — was able to talk without bellowing. When Harry asked, Hooktalon had explained that bellowing was an absolutely necessary talent for all Sergeant-Majors as it was required to maintain discipline and respect of the soldiers under his supervision. Since it was their job to be grunts, and it was their Sergeant-Major’s job to think for his soldiers, it was thus the duty of any Sergeant-Major to bellow to get the message through their thick craniums; otherwise, the Sergeant-Major would be forced to give them firm kicks around their posteriors.

    One of the other goblin soldiers, a grizzled old Color Sergeant called Griphook, had privately told Harry that the Sergeant-Major was in fact a big old pussycat whose bark was worse than his bite, but Harry decided it was probably safer not to risk it, especially since Corporal Mantrap said that anyone who messed with the Sergeant-Major was asking to have his or her lungs extracted via their nostrils.

    Okay, so maybe there was a chance that Sergeant-Major Hooktalon bellowing was like Mr. Snape growling, but there was a chance it wasn’t, and Hooktalon was scary!

    After the squad had unpacked and gotten set up, the lessons on proper safety and handling began. The beginning consisted of seemingly endless repetitions of what Sergeant-Major Hooktalon called ‘golden rules’, all of which sounded very cautious but eminently sensible. Once he had seemed satisfied that Harry and Suze had gotten the message on the ‘golden rules’, the Sergeant-Major had them repeatedly take apart and put back together the guns until he was satisfied with their performance, and then he finally allowed them to riddle a number of targets with bullets.

    Harry had to admit Suze was a far, far better shot than him. She’d demonstrated with her shortbow, showing enough accuracy to get a sniff and ‘adequate’ out of Sergeant-Major Hooktalon. Then she’d had a go with two rifles and received a brusque nod and a ‘Well, young lady, looks like we’ve found something you’re good at’, which was high praise indeed coming from a Sergeant-Major, according to Corporal Mantrap.

    It’d been fun, and there were now a pair of rifles stacked in a nicely-polished wooden gun rack just to the side of the entrance to his treasure chamber. One was what the Sergeant-Major had called a ‘Rifle, Short Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Mark Three’ — a name which Harry had thought sounded kind of back-to-front, and the other was one of the Falklands-looking guns, which Harry now knew was called an ‘L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle’, which sounded like it was the right way around.

    Suze had her own set, though her gun rack was empty as she had immediately set to making a harness and ammunition bag using the copious quantities of tanned deer hide they had left over from Harry’s winter snacking. Suze was most insistent that she would carry them on her at all times; the trip to Diagon Alley had made a big impression on his damsel.

    It was funny really, when Harry’d seen the way the rifles slammed into Sergeant-Major Hooktalon’s shoulder, he’d expected them to knock him flat, but they hadn’t kicked at all. From the raised eyebrow and the comment of, ‘Strong little whippersnapper, aren’t you?’, this had also surprised Sergeant-Major Hooktalon.

    In addition to her new guns, they had also had a new bow for Suze. It was a weird-looking thing with a string that looped back and forth several times and pulleys at the ends of the bow. Bane, who had come by to pay his respects to Harry’s goblin visitors, had taken one look at the thing and muttered and grumbled about ‘new-fangled’, but he went quiet and calculating after he’d seen it demonstrated.

    The addition of the gun rack had also seen to the first real bit of organization in the Lair. Harry made a room specifically for his toys, because confusing one of his toy guns with the real thing would be a really bad idea.

    You really needed to guard your guns as closely as you guarded your treasures and your damsels, Harry mused.

    He’d long since worked out that damsels were an especially valuable sort of treasure since they were so hard to get ahold of, and, as he drifted off to sleep listening to his guests staying in the new guest quarters he had dug the previous day, he came to realize that the same held true for guns.

    Anything difficult to get a hold of was probably a treasure, and swords counted as treasure too, so that meant weapons were treasure, and a gun was a sort of weapon. Sergeant-Major Hooktalon’s statement that Harry should make certain that anyone who wanted to take Harry’s guns away was forced to attempt to prize them from Harry’s cold, dead fingers just served to reinforce that conclusion. Anything you had to put up a big fight to stop knights — or Bagginses or any other sort of baddie — taking away was obviously a treasure.

    1.9.6 The world according to Dumbledore

    “Mr. Dumbledore, I think there’s kinda something wrong with the whole Wizardy World thingy,” Harry said.

    It had been five days since his overly-exciting visit to Diagon Alley, and one since his goblin visitors had left, leaving him with plenty of ammunition, firm instructions to practice every day, and a reading list from Corporal Hookknife on things to help him figure out how to do the stuff they had talked about. That was for later, though, for now, Harry and Dumbledore were lounging at the entrance to the Lair after Harry’s latest Occlumency lesson.

    Occlumency was apparently an important thing for him to learn; Madame Pomphrey had insisted, though he wasn’t sure why. According to Mr. Dumbledore, it was supposed to keep people out of his head, and it helped with remembering things well. Harry figured getting into people’s heads without permission sounded incredibly rude, so that was a good reason, but he already remembered things really well. Madame Pomphrey had insisted, though, so he figured there was some other reason they hadn’t shared yet.

    In any case, Harry figured it was entirely possible that memories were a kind of treasure because of that whole ‘treasure the memory’ thing people talked about sometimes, and so he figured he’d treat them as such until proven otherwise. It wasn’t like the Occlumency lessons were difficult or anything anyway.

    “And why would you think that, my dear boy?” the old man asked.

    “Because, well, because that pink toad-woman said Suze isn’t a person and because the goblins say they had to do lots of shooting before the glowy people stopped saying goblins weren’t people,” he said. “And, uh, Mr. Slackhammer kinda sounded like it wasn’t just goblins and centaurs — he mentioned veela too, and it’s got something to do with why you don’t think people oughtta know I’m a dragon, hadn’t it?”

    “Ah,” Dumbledore said with a resigned sigh. “Indeed, Harry; I regret to say it, but you are in fact quite correct. I have been able to, in my lifetime, make some small improvements here and there, but like all change, it is a slow process. And, indeed, that is why your transformation must remain a secret for as long as possible. The last thing the wizarding world needs is a civil war coming so close on the footsteps of Voldemort’s last insurrection.”

    Harry nodded, his expression distant. “I guess,” he said. “Mr. Dumbledore, how bad is it, really?”

    “Not as bad as either Severus or the goblins would have you believe,” the old man assured him. “Severus has had a rather rough ride of things, I’m afraid, and the viewpoint of the goblins is that of outsiders and outcasts. It is true that changes must be made to bring the cycle of war and destruction — of which Voldemort was but the latest repetition — to an end, but I do not hold that said changes should be made through bloody revolution, as Severus espouses.”

    Dumbledore shook his head sadly, setting his long beard swaying, “He cannot see it, but to tear the wizarding world down would be to destroy what good remains in it. He would, as the idiom goes, throw the baby out with the bathwater. I have, in my lifetime, made many changes. For instance, the Declaration of Brotherhood of 1920, which established the legal rights of muggles as people, was passed through without any bloodshed, and I have since managed to abolish slavery as a legal institution as of 1963 with the Magical Slavery (Abolition) Act.” The old man continued proudly, “I am currently working to gather support for another Act which would make the hunting of several species, including centaurs, illegal. We have already managed to paint the hunts in an unfavorable social light, and we feel that we may be able to pass the Act soon as few want to do it anyway.”

    As Harry frowned at that, the elderly statesman continued, “I confess I have had to make some quite difficult decisions in my time, and I am well aware that there are further difficult decisions yet to come my way, but someone has to make those decisions for the greater good of all.” He grunted as he levered himself upright, “Now, I must return to the castle; I shall see you the same time next week.”

    “…okay,” Harry said absently, still frowning. Something about that discussion seemed wrong, and it really hadn’t answered anything.

    He resolved to keep niggling Mr. Dumbledore about it, and to see if Mr. Snape were more willing to explain things.

    1.9.7 Snape’s interpretation of the same

    “Mr. Snape…”

    “What is it now? Blasted reptile.” This time, two days after Dumbledore’s disappointingly evasive conversation, it was Snape who was at Harry’s Lair.

    “I’m really starting to think the wizarding world really isn’t fair,” Harry said.

    “I see…” Snape muttered. His customary sneer vanished to be replaced by a frankly rather worried look. “And what, precisely, has brought you to this conclusion, young man?”

    Harry gathered his thoughts for a few moments before he haltingly explained the events of his last visit to Diagon Alley. The potions master listened in complete silence, frown deepening the entire time.

    “I see,” he repeated once Harry had explained his attempt to get an answer out of Dumbledore. “You have indeed arrived at a quite incisive conclusion; there is indeed something quite wrong with this world we live in, and I confess I had hoped to protect you from those unpleasant truths for a little longer.”

    A wry, if grim, smile spread itself across one side of Snape’s face — Harry was somewhat sad to note this smile looked as if it had settled comfortably on his older friend’s face, unlike the happier one he had seen on a very few occasions which looked terribly out of place.

    “I suppose I should have expected you to work out the basics of the situation; you’re as sharp as your mother was. And, indeed, there is something deeply and horribly wrong with any so-called civilization that would treat any thinking being as an animal."

    “How bad is it really?”

    “Bad,” Snape firmly stated. “Bad to the degree that even those wizards and witches not born of magical parents are considered little more than animals. Albus would have you believe in gently reforming it all over the course of decades, or more likely centuries. I believe that the goblin’s example is the one that we should be following.”

    “You mean we oughtta machine-gun anything that tries to shove us about, right?” Harry confirmed.

    “In a manner of speaking, yes,” Snape confirmed. “Our target, my boy, is the government of this cesspit that calls itself a civilization, but it would not do us well to act without suitable preparation, and we are as yet unprepared. I know well the consequences of marching off into the fray unprepared…” The potions master trailed off, his eyes focused into the distance as his right hand rubbed absently at his left forearm.

    “Mr. Snape?”

    “My apologies, Mr. Potter,” he visibly pulled himself back to the present. “I was lost in memory for a moment. In any case, I judge that we would be best served at this moment to keep our heads down and endeavor not to draw attention while we make the necessary preparations.”

    “I’m a big part of your plans, aren’t I?”

    “Indeed, you most assuredly are,” Snape said with a firm nod. “And not merely because you represent our best chance of an alliance with the goblins and our best source of the substantial quantities of capital our mission shall surely require. When the time comes, I suspect you shall find yourself at the forefront of this.”

    Harry nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll need to get stronger, won’t I?”

    “Indeed; the flames of freedom must be lit, and the torch will someday in the not-so-distant future be handed to you. It would be best for us all if you were prepared for that day.”

    “I know my kin will fight alongside you in this, Harry.” Suze spoke up for the first time from her place at her dragon’s side.

    “How so?” Snape asked, curious why they would do so.

    “We owe the Great Wyrm a debt of blood unspilled; a year has passed since last we lost any to the spider plague, and we no longer need fear them, for now it is they who know fear,” Suze told him with conviction. “We owe him a debt which can never be truly repaid, and when the time comes that he makes battle upon his foes, my grandfather has declared that we shall go forth beside him.”

    “I see,” Snape frowned. He then let out one of his dry and not-very-pleasant chuckles. “Then I suppose I should welcome you both to the revolution.”

    From then on, Thursday evenings were spent studying potions and plotting to overthrow the wizarding government, both of which Harry found absolutely fascinating and, in fact, quite fun.
     
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  10. Threadmarks: Section 1.10 - In which certain truths are uncovered
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    1.10.0 In which certain truths are uncovered

    As the first month of the fall term drew to a close, the usual group of Hogwarts professors met for their now-customary ancillary staff meeting regarding the young Great Wyrm resident in the adjoining forest.

    “So, we meet again to discuss our progress with young Harry,” Albus began, again accepting a drink from his charms professor, Flitwick, who seemed to have developed a penchant for tending bar. The drink of choice this time was a faintly-glowing golden brew provided by Pomona Sprout, served in a beer stein; the brew was apparently a derivative of mead, smooth, sweet, and, the woman assured her peers, kicked like a mule.

    Albus continued, “I, for one, have been amazed at his progress with Occlumency. We proceed slowly, for I am loath to push too hard or too fast, but he has taken to the practice like a duck to water. I daresay he will come through the learning process unscathed.” He took a celebratory draught of his glowing liquor, joined in doing so by Madame Pomphrey, who looked eminently relieved. Both then nodded their appreciation to the herbology professor. “What other progress is there to report?”

    There was some back-and-forth among the group clustered about the staffroom fireplace to see who would report next. The group had expanded once again, this time, in addition to the four Heads, the Headmaster, Madams Pomphrey and Hooch, and Septima Vector, they were joined by Bathsheda Babbling, Professor of Ancient Runes, and the perpetually-intoxicated Sybil Trelawney, Divination instructor, the latter drawing an unpleasant look from Minerva McGonagall even before any words were exchanged.

    “He’s reached the end of what I can teach him,” Madame Hooch began, apparently chosen as the first speaker by unspoken acclamation. “We’ve got him able to take off and land smoothly, and he can avoid stationary obstacles. The rest will simply have to come through practice, which he can do on his own. Teaching precision means close quarters flying, and I for one am not willing to risk my neck there.”

    That prompted an understanding nod from her colleagues. No one wanted to be in that position. Albus stroked his beard thoughtfully, though. Perhaps he knew someone who might be interested in helping…

    “I take it that it that Mr. Potter’s flying lessons have come to an end, then Rolanda?” Minerva confirmed.

    “Indeed, that slot on his schedule is now open, at least until broom lessons next fall.”

    “I suppose I should continue then,” the transfiguration professor said. “Mr. Potter has mastered transfiguring himself into a human form, as I am sure you have all seen. Additionally, he has extended his repertoire to include a centaur form as well as two bird forms, a seagull and a common pigeon,” she relayed proudly. “I must admit, I was somewhat concerned about his choice of animal forms, as both are quite vulnerable to various predators, but it seems he maintains his strength in any transfigured form.” The woman chuckled, “I was quite horrified when a hawk stooped on him in pigeon form, until he rounded on the bird and beat it senseless with his wings before proceeding to eat the creature.”

    “I believe my lessons with the boy will taper off into periodic sessions to check on his progress with new forms as he chooses,” Minerva concluded. “At least until next school year, of course. I look forward to seeing what he can do with transfiguration outside this narrow application.” Her voice turned challenging, “What news do you bring, Sybil? I have difficulty imagining young Mr. Potter taking an interest in divination of all things.”

    At this, Flitwick stepped in before Sybil could pull herself out of her glass, she was already on her second serving, and she had been deep in her sherry before the meeting began. “Sybil is actually here because she was helping with a joint project I’ve been working on with Septima and Bathsheda.”

    As Minerva backed away from her aggressive stance, he continued, “In our last meeting, Septima sprung that aura estimate on us,” while everyone chuckled, the young arithmancer’s was somewhat sheepish, “so we set out to examine the stone ring at Avebury.”

    The small man spoke further, “The device is surprisingly elaborate, and analyzing it has proven fascinating. As it happens, the standing stones are only the smallest part of the whole, the magical structure extends deep into the bedrock of the site — deeper than my spells can penetrate, in fact. There are inscriptions carved into the bedrock, on many levels of it, which led us to bring in Bathsheda. The languages involved are ancient even by her standards, so they have thus far defied translation, but examination of the rock that young Harry encountered allowed me to pull traces of the energy flow from the incident.”

    Flitwick’s eager expression turned somber. “If anything, Septima’s estimate was conservative — understandably so, since she was measuring the end effect rather than the causative flow from the incident itself, and there will always be losses. The energy transferred during that incident, if it were to be channeled into an equivalent blasting curse, would have left a crater, miles deep and stretching from Dublin to Paris.”

    His audience gasped, stunned at that scale. Before they could speak, he continued, grimly, “That is the effect if the energy were channeled into a purpose; left unchanneled, the blast would have been smaller — still large enough to annihilate an area the size of London, mind — but the wild magic effects would have been devastating.” His knuckles whitened as his grip on his glass tightened, “Everything from Iceland to the Urals, from the Arctic to Tunisia, would have been just as magical as the less pleasant portions of the Forbidden Forest! A full fifteenth of the world would have been rendered effectively uninhabitable.” The half-goblin paused to take a drink.

    “And what is the bad news?” Snape asked.

    “Severus, this is no joking matter!” Minerva exclaimed.

    “If we had dodged such a fate cleanly, Filius would be back to his usual cheerful self, as he is still attempting to fortify himself to continue, the explanation must indubitably get worse.”

    “Well reasoned, Severus,” Flitwick acknowledged. “During our examination, Septima noted that the entire ring occupied a convergence of ley-lines and was intimately entwined with them, and Bathsheda thought to ask whether this was the only one. It seemed a decent question to ask, so we approached Sybil to scry for the other such intersections nearby.” He nodded to Minerva, “No matter what you might think of divination as a means to predict the future, there is no denying its utility in learning about the present, and magical flows are some of the easiest things to scry.”

    He took another drink, glass nearly empty. “With Sybil’s help, we visited three such ley-line intersections within the Isles, there are several more, but those three were enough to give us an idea of what was going on.”

    Snape took a swig of his own, “I take it there were more of the things?”

    “Of course there bloody well were! Every intersection we checked was home to one of those devices, all of them holding back tremendous amounts of energy. I have no doubt whatsoever that there is one of them at every intersection, at least in the Isles, probably around the world.” The half goblin knocked back the rest of his drink. “Every single one can potentially end civilization as we know it and there are hundreds of the blasted things!”

    “Do you have any idea what triggers the rings?” Albus sounded troubled, and everyone in the room knew to be nervous when Albus sounded anything other than grandfatherly.

    “No, and I am supremely reluctant to putter about with the things when a single misstep could annihilate Europe.”

    “We do have a single example of a safe activation and draining in the form of young Mr. Potter,” Albus mused. “Can anything be gleaned from his experiences?”

    “I have already approached Mr. Potter, and he was willing to share his memories of the event,” Flitwick spoke again, “but his memories are fragmented due to the great strain he was under at the time. I was unable to glean anything useful. Anything we learn from Mr. Potter is going to have to be found by examining his transformation.”

    “It seems that Poppy and I will have a new project, then,” Minerva spoke up, accompanied by a nod from the school Healer.

    Snape spoke up again, “There are three witnesses remaining in the form of Mr. Potter’s relatives.”

    “Will they be willing to share their memories?” Minerva asked doubtfully. “They did not seem terribly accepting of their nephew, nor of magic in general. I doubt they would agree to sharing memories.”

    “They will,” Snape assured her. “One way, or another.”

    On that ominous note, the entire group finished off the remainder of their drinks. That hinted at things they felt they would be better off forgetting.

    “Severus, be cautious,” Albus cautioned. “We can ill-afford undue attention at this juncture.”

    His only answer was a dismissive scoff.

    1.10.1 Reunion

    The neighborhood had not changed in the last two years, it was still dull, pathologically conformist and shockingly self-absorbed. The houses were still disturbingly similar, to the point that even long-term residents would need the house numbers to tell them apart, but the atmosphere was quite distinct from that of his last visit, as Severus again approached Number Four, Privet Drive.

    Where before the atmosphere had been stultifying, crushing those around it into its own pedestrian normality, now the house seemed to exude a sense of unassuming but still warm welcome, despite remaining otherwise indistinguishable from its neighbors. Had the boy’s family moved? Or, and this was a horrifying thought, had he softened this much?

    He supposed there was only one way to find out. Severus knocked on the door before retreating several steps away from the entrance. He could hear a cry of ‘I’ll get it’ followed by the heavy clamor of a sizeable body roughly navigating a set of stairs, only for his knock to be answered by a young boy who was quite large for his age. The young man was heavyset but appeared to be in decent condition if his even breathing after his apparent hurried traversal of the house was any indication.

    “Is this the Dursley residence, young man?” Snape asked. The question was only a formality, as the resemblance between the boy and his father was patently obvious, but even Snape felt the need to observe certain social niceties, particularly with those who had yet to do him any wrong.

    The boy nodded, wide-eyed, as an irritatingly familiar female voice rang from deeper within the house. “Don’t open that door!” Another, significantly lighter clamor followed before the voice sounded again, this time much closer. “Dudley Vernon Dursley! What have I told you about answering the door without waiting for me to come with you?”

    The young boy, apparently named Dudley — an inward shudder of sympathy passed through Snape at the name; he’d thought ‘Severus’ was unfortunate — quickly turned to face his mother, a look of horrified contrition on his face.

    “I’ve told you not to, that’s what!” Petunia Evans’s voice continued. Well, it was Petunia Dursley now; Snape had to remind himself. At her son’s apology, she bent to give him a hug, before continuing, “Son, we ask you to do these things to keep you safe. Who knows who might be coming by? You should wait until your father or I are there before you open the door, do you understand?” He nodded. “Good! Now then, who is it at the door?”

    “I don’t know yet, he’s just finished asking if this is the Dursley residence.” At his mother’s encouraging gesture, Dudley asked the obviously-practiced question, “May I ask who is calling?”

    “I am Severus Snape,” he could see Petunia pale at the name, her eyes snapping to meet his through the partially-opened door, “and your mother and I were acquainted in our youth. I have come to ask some questions about a certain incident, some two years passed, involving your cousin, Harry Potter.”

    On hearing this, the young boy’s eyes lit up with an enthusiasm to match the magnitude of his mother’s apprehension. “You know Harry? How is he doing?”

    “He fares quite well, young man, and has adjusted to his new home. I will inform him that you asked after him; I am certain he will be appreciative,” Severus said before turning to Petunia, “As I mentioned to your son, I have some questions for your family, both you and your husband. Is he available at this time?”

    “It will be a few minutes before Vernon gets home. May I offer you tea in the meantime?” The offer only came after a glance at her son. Presumably she realized that she had to set a proper example of hospitality for the boy. Severus got the impression that, had she her druthers, Petunia would throw him out on his ear. Though, judging by her whitened knuckles, she might settle for wringing his neck as well.

    Naturally, Severus accepted her offer; tweaking Petunia’s nose was a reminder of older, more pleasant times.

    The tea was a tense affair. Dudley had rapidly realized that this was going to be one of those boring adult things and retreated up the stairs, declaring to anyone interested that he was going to finish his homework. Meanwhile, Snape sipped his tea after discreetly checking it for any deleterious additives; he was a potions master, after all.

    The time before Vernon’s arrival passed in tense silence with Petunia managing to show a truly prodigious degree of antipathy without actually saying anything. It was rather impressive; Snape hadn’t known she was capable of expressing herself so effectively.

    He was tempted to take notes.

    It was this scene that an unfortunate Vernon Dursley encountered on his arrival home after work.

    1.10.2 Unpleasant reminders

    It had been a good day at work, Vernon Dursley thought as he pulled into his driveway. Ever since his nephew had moved to new accommodations, everything had been going his way on the job.

    Despite taking almost a three-month sabbatical to look after his nephew the year before last, Vernon’s sales figures since had more than made up for the loss. The additional contacts he had made while scrounging for scrap to feed the insatiable young dragon had expanded his customer base threefold, many of whom were small machine shops willing to deal with him almost exclusively because they were impressed by his character, and that he would go so far to look after his nephew’s interests — he had presented it as feeding a hobby for the boy, rather than a thoroughly unbelievable medical issue.

    His supervisor was impressed for much the same reason. Any man willing to take the time to look after his family despite financial hardship was a straight shooter in his boss’ mind, and he’d made sure that Vernon would go far at Grunnings. I

    It helped that it was the truth from Vernon’s perspective as well.

    Life at home was another matter. Vernon’s eyes had been opened by his enforced time at the house, and he was deeply disturbed by Petunia’s behavior. She had misled him regarding both Harry’s and Dudley’s behavior, and in his ignorance, Vernon had almost done irreparable harm to both boys. Thinking back on his treatment of his nephew before the incident at Avebury still turned his stomach.

    He had nearly filed for divorce until he had a solid man-to-man talk with Richard from down the street who had similar problems with his wife, Hyacinth. Richard had suggested counseling, and he and Petunia were able to work things out. Pet had been getting counseling of her own as well. It was expensive, but Vernon figured it was worth it to have a happy family. Dudders was healthier and happier than he’d ever been before, and Pet was much nicer to be around.

    As he opened the door, his wife called out in that brittle voice she used when she was straining to keep from lashing out at something, “Vernon, we have a visitor.”

    As Vernon entered the sitting room, he understood why Petunia was having such difficulties. One of the freaks who had helped move his nephew had shown up and was seated, drinking tea. Vernon had decidedly mixed feelings about that sort, and Pet was much worse off than he was.

    “Pet, would you like me to handle this?” he offered.

    “Please,” came the flat reply.

    “You just go try to relax, Pet.” As his wife walked stiffly out of the room, Vernon turned back to the dark-haired man. At least this one was dressed sensibly, if a bit old-fashioned.

    He held out a hand, “Not sure if we were properly introduced last time, given all the bustle. Vernon Dursley.”

    “And I am Severus Snape,” the now-named man replied, giving his hand a firm shake.

    “You were one of the fellows who moved my nephew, right?” Vernon confirmed. When the visitor nodded in confirmation, he asked, “How’s the boy doing?”

    “The young man is doing quite admirably,” the man said.

    “That’s good to hear,” Vernon sighed explosively, “was afraid you were here to tell us something had happened to him.”

    “I am somewhat surprised to hear your concern,” Snape remarked, “given my conversations with the boy and his recollections of his time under this roof.”

    Vernon had been afraid of that. His treatment of his nephew was a lingering source of shame. “I can understand that. I’m not proud of how I treated the boy back then. I… I was misinformed about the boy’s behavior and was trying to correct things my son was doing, and my wife was blaming on Harry.” He leaned back heavily in his chair. “Obviously didn’t work since there was nothing to correct, and I’m sure it drove the boy to distraction as much as it did me. It also let Dudders get away with all kinds of things. I just got more and more frustrated, and I was starting to turn into a person that I really don’t like very much, looking back on it.”

    “I see.”

    “That thing at Avebury was probably the best thing that could have happened, really,” Vernon mused. “Pretty sure a few more years would have ruined all of us… By the way, I apologize for my wife’s hostility. She’s been working through some things, a lot of grief over the loss of her sister that she’s just coming to terms with. She’s got a lot of anger bottled up over your lot for stealing her away, right or wrong.”

    “I see; that is a depth of emotion that I had not anticipated from Petunia Evans,” Snape remarked, surprised. “Congratulations on your wife’s development as a person.”

    “Now see here! Where do you get off making remarks like that?” Vernon demanded.

    “I grew up down the street from the Evans household, in my youth,” the dark man replied calmly. “The sister you speak of was my best, and truly only, childhood friend. I knew Petunia quite well when we were younger, and it seems that she is much matured since then, if your statement is true.”

    “Oh,” Vernon said, mollified. “I see.” This was awkward, perhaps a change of subject?

    “Ah, to go back to Harry, you see him often?” The man nodded, and Vernon continued. “Do you think you could give him a letter? I’ve been working on it for a while, so I could try to apologize. I would have sent it, but I don’t know where to address the thing. Pet still breaks down every time I try to ask.”

    “I would be pleased to carry such a missive,” it was hard to tell, but Vernon thought there might be a glint of approval in the man’s eyes. “Perhaps, though, we should go on to the reason for my presence here?”

    “Right!” Vernon was mightily embarrassed. That should have been the first thing he asked! Where was his professional demeanor? Business first, then personal talk.

    1.10.3 Pleasant surprises

    “I have come seeking additional information regarding the events which led to Mr. Potter’s transformation,” Snape began. “While Mr. Potter is perfectly sound, issues have arisen regarding the means which made his change in nature possible.”

    Snape had come to this house expecting to find a pair of at least semi-hostile dunderheads, instead he found a couple struggling through their preconceptions and repentant for past actions. This was rare enough in Snape’s experience to warrant significant surprise, and he was impressed enough to offer more information than he otherwise would have.

    “My colleagues have investigated the amount of energy which was discharged during that event, and it could have quite severe consequences if released incautiously,” the potions master began, “Consequences to the tune of rendering Europe uninhabitable.”

    “My God!”

    “Indeed, Mr. Dursley,” Snape agreed. “It seems that the stone circle at Avebury was, in truth, a device intended to store tremendous amounts of energy for future use. If it were the only such device, there would be little cause for concern, as it has safely discharged with the only consequence being a rather oversized lizard who is thoroughly pleased with his new circumstances.”

    “Sounds like you’ve found more of them, though,” Vernon said.

    “Quite right. At least three more confirmed in the Isles, and possibly several dozen, with potentially hundreds or thousands worldwide,” Snape elaborated. “With such a clear and present danger, we are investigating just how the things work, but we are reluctant to meddle with any of them when the potential consequences are so high. I have come to attempt to convince you to share your recollections of the event, so that we might have a first-hand account of the activation of one of the devices.”

    “I’d like to help you, but I don’t know how much I can tell you; I don’t really know what you’re looking for.”

    “With your consent, I can extract a copy of your memories of the event which we can then examine in great detail using a device available in our world,” Snape offered. “The process is painless.”

    “I get keep my memories, right?” Vernon’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “I know Pet said something about removing memories before…”

    “That is known as obliviation, the process of blocking memories from future recall,” Snape volunteered. “I find it to be a generally detestable practice, but this, I assure you, is a completely different process which copies the memories in question leaving your original memories fully intact.”

    “I’ll help you out with that, then.” Snape was pleasantly surprised by this development.

    After an anticlimactic exchange in which he filled one of his ever-present sample bottles with Vernon Dursley’s memories of that evening in Avebury and received an envelope to go with it, Snape thanked the man briefly and stood to leave.

    “I must say, Mr. Dursley; I went on this errand expecting a distasteful chore based on what I had understood of Mr. Potter’s past situation, but I find myself pleasantly surprised. You have recognized your own failings and are making admirable efforts towards correcting them, a quality that is all too lacking in most.”

    Snape nodded to the man, “I daresay you may well be able to repair your relationship with your nephew, as he is an agreeable sort. As the product of an… unpleasant family situation, myself, I can assure you that those willing to make such an effort as you have are rare, indeed. My own father was certainly not one of them. I offer my heartfelt felicitations.”

    With that, he swept out of the house and away to a secluded spot for his portkey transit. Vernon was left gaping on the doorstep.

    1.10.4 New reading material

    Time passed as it usually did, and Harry once again had a great deal to occupy his time. In addition to his games with Suze, he now had his first taste of letter writing, as the correspondence from his Uncle Vernon touched off a regular exchange among Harry, his uncle, and his cousin, who Harry had now learned was no longer nasty. His Aunt Petunia was apparently still working through things, but Uncle Vernon held hopes that they might eventually accept Harry’s offer to host a Christmas celebration at the Lair someday.

    Uncle Vernon said she was still working through guilt over how she behaved before. Harry didn’t really understand why that would make you spend less time with the person you behaved badly towards rather than more trying to make things up, but he eventually accepted the explanation at face value. Aunt Petunia had never made sense before, so he figured there was no reason for her to start now, even if she was apparently nicer.

    With his new experience at letter writing, Harry also struck up a correspondence with Corporal Hookknife, the engineer who had visited a while back. Harry hadn’t yet been able to get the books on the list that the good corporal had left for him, and since he couldn’t go to Diagon Alley until after summer solstice, Harry was at something of a loss on how to proceed.

    The return letter got him all fired up for a new project.

    It seemed that the books on the list weren’t magical books at all. Apparently, the best books for the sorts of things he wanted to do to the Lair were written by the not-glowy people, and Corporal Hookknife suggested he go visit a public library. They might have the books there, and if not, Hookknife said they’d probably know where he could order them.

    His glowy friends were really busy with the students, and they didn’t have any new books for him to read in any case, not ones he could bring home, anyway. This new idea meant Harry would be awash in new reading material for years ‘cause there were libraries all over! And he could fly all secret-like using the seagull and pigeon forms he had worked on over the summer for just that purpose, so that meant he could go anywhere in Scotland and back in a day. There were loads of libraries within that distance!

    A quick bit of work gave the boy a second human form, this one an older gentleman who looked to be a little into retirement age modeled heavily on Magorian’s human bits with human legs tacked on instead of horse — Hookknife had suggested it for actually going into the library, since they’d insist to see his parents if he went in looking like a kid, but people tended to ignore older people for good or ill. Harry soon found himself winging halfway across Scotland to Inverness, much faster than a pigeon could normally go on account of Harry’s much greater strength.

    1.10.5 An old Scotsman is surprised

    It was looking to be a cold winter this year, he thought looking out at the steel-gray sky above the rooftops of Inverness.

    In his youth, Aengus Leith had moved to Inverness to work in one of the distilleries, and over the course of his career there, he’d developed a liking for their product that was perhaps a touch excessive. Aengus had never found the right lass, and he was now the only member of his family still kicking, though he was proud of the wealth of good friends he had to his name. He now spent his twilight years in a miniscule flat one of those good friends was willing to let him use for cheap, freeing up the bulk of his retirement income to fund his lifelong love affair with single malt. He spent his days drinking and watching the birds as they flitted about the town.

    He had just seen one particularly quick pigeon — male to judge from the iridescent green throat feathers — swoop down to a landing on the roof below his flat and walk with an odd sense of purpose to the edge of the roof, looking down the street towards the local library. It was odd but unremarkable, aside from the fact that its path took it perilously close to the local alley cat which was sunning itself on the roof in the autumn afternoon.

    Aengus took a sip as the cat, a grizzled old tom, smoothly picked itself up and slinked off in pursuit of the bold grey bird. It looked like the old cat was going to eat well tonight. The old drunk lifted his glass in salute to the poor bird, only to be surprised when the cat’s pounce ended with the cat falling flat as if it had jumped face-first into a fence post. The bird’s head turned halfway around to stare with unnaturally green eyes at the bewildered cat half-draped over its back end before it let out a coo — a call that somehow managed to sound threatening even to Aengus’ ears — and turned around with a deliberate stomp.

    As the cat was shaking off its surprise, it was sent for another tumble as the odd bird puffed up threateningly before belting it with a wing, sending the old tom flying off the roof and into the alley with a yowl. Again, the pigeon surprised Aengus by following after the airborne feline with a deliberately predatory gait before gliding down into the alley and out of the old man’s sight.

    Perhaps he should have saluted the cat instead?

    Old Aengus looked down at his glass before looking back out the window at the edge of the roof where the pigeon had disappeared. There was now a collection of other birds looking down into the alley with a sort of avian awe as a loud yowl echoed up from the alley until it was abruptly cut off by an unpleasant crunching sound.

    That did it. The old man finished off his current glass before carefully capping the bottle and levering himself up out of his chair by the window. As he went for his coat, he shook his head. There’d be no more drinking alone if he was starting to hallucinate about god-pigeons that ate cats that tried to eat them. It was time to go down to the bar, where at least a story like this one might get someone to buy his drinks for the night.

    Properly attired for the evening, Aengus left the front door to the building just as a young lad who looked about eight years old ran out of the alley and almost bowled him over.

    “Watch whaur ye’r gaun thare, young un’!”

    The boy turned back to offer an apology, and then sped off toward the library after Aengus nodded in acknowledgement. The old man chuckled at the boy’s enthusiasm before he was struck by just how unnaturally green the lad’s eyes were…

    He turned back to the alley next to his home that the boy had run out of, the same one the cat and the weird pigeon had disappeared into, before looking back toward the boy who had already disappeared from sight.

    He shook his head. “Na, thay wull ne'er hawp it.”

    1.10.6 Schooling approaches

    Harry’s new library card soon took a proud place among his treasures, and he used it to its limits, quickly filling it with due date stamps as he read through dozens of books every week. He began with Hookknife’s suggestions, but the public library stocked very few of them. The librarians were happy to direct either the friendly older gentleman or his eager young grandson — depending on whether he remembered to change before entering the library — to publisher’s catalogues and book clubs that he could order books from — a service that Harry was quite willing to take advantage of — but order processing and shipping took six to eight weeks, and Harry needed something to read in the meantime.

    Harry’s horizons broadened considerably during that free reading time, and eventually he came to be almost grateful for the delays. There were so many things he never would have thought to look for if he’d been able to get just what he wanted exactly when he wanted it, and his almost random walk through the library were expanded in his book orders. Books on philosophy, religion and ethics shared shelf space with the Machinist’s Handbook and a soft-cover DIY hydroelectric book. Architectural studies joined biology texts which sat next to physics treatises and political discourse, and books on every subject under the sun followed along in time.

    Suze discovered just as much of a love of reading as her dragon did, though her pace was much slower, and many lazy autumn afternoons saw the pair lounging in the sun at the mouth of the Lair reading something esoteric and enjoying each other’s company, but time passed as it always does, and with it, autumn passed into winter.

    It was a stormy one that year, enough that Harry’s offer to dig out a shelter for the Black Woods Clan at the base of the cliff around behind his Lair and out of the worst of the winds was gratefully accepted. Suze and Harry had to move their reading sessions inside, lest the winter gales steal their books from them, and the firelight proved decidedly inadequate for the task which brought Harry full circle to the reason he had gone on that trip to the library in the first place.

    Much banging and frustrated book consultation ensued until eventually, there was a small waterwheel — built from a salvaged furnace fan and an alternator he picked out of his most recent lunch — installed at the mouth of the Lair which powered a small reading lamp for the two of them. After that, the violent weather became much more pleasant.

    The winter gales continued to hammer the land through the solstice and Christmas and eventually transitioned into heavy rainstorms in the early spring. It was about this time that a new visitor began to appear at Harry’s Lair.

    On one of his visits, Mr. Dumbledore had brought along a phoenix by the name of Fawkes. The bird, a red-gold creature about the size of a very large swan and looking for all the world like a roiling mass of animated flames took an instant liking to the young dragon and his damsel and soon became a regular visitor.

    As was his habit, Harry soon worked out a new game with his avian friend, tag. Fawkes was a wonderful flier, and their games of chase filled a gap in Harry’s schedule that he hadn’t realized he missed after his lessons with Madame Hooch ended. Harry was significantly faster than his new friend when traveling in a straight line, but Fawkes proved devilishly hard to catch, particularly when he did fiendishly devious things like changing direction. When the young dragon was all played out, Fawkes would often join the pair in the Lair for times filled with song and companionship.

    Fawkes particularly enjoyed being bathed in Harry’s fire for one reason or another.

    As the heavy rains of spring gave way to the heat of summer, the school year came to a close, and the time for contacting new students approached. Several of Harry’s professor friends came to his Lair for important discussions.

    These discussions entailed important arrangements for Harry to attend Hogwarts as a student, starting with the subject of keeping his dragon-ness quiet and rapidly spiraled out of control after Harry apologetically explained his inability to sleep in any shape but his natural one, or rather, his tendency to spontaneously revert to his natural form if he was in any other shape when he went to sleep.

    Considering that such a reversion would spell instant death to any of his roommates if he were to live in the standard accommodations, the school rules were quickly consulted to find some way of making alternative arrangements. Once that little wrinkle had been resolved by citing a rule about permitting students who live close enough to the castle to attend as day-students rather than boarding — it was a rule which was rarely exercised in the five hundred years since room and board fees had been lumped with tuition rather than charged separately; this coming year was unusual in that there would be a few other students in addition to Harry making use of it — they got on to the subject of where Suze was supposed to stay.

    Harry got rather cross at the suggestion that it might be better if she were to stay with the other centaurs, and he got even more worked up at the suggestion that he might not be allowed to go to his Lair whenever he needed to make sure those nasty but tasty spiders weren’t going after the centaurs again. After some snarky remarks from the resident potions master, who had once gotten rather ill from some badly-cooked acromantula, this was again resolved by reference to assorted entries in the mind-bogglingly complicated, not to mention huge, book of Hogwarts school rules. The thing was the size of a dinner table — one that could seat a family of five.

    Predictably, Harry asked if he could read it. A question which was answered, “Yes, but not until later.”

    From there it devolved into chatting about all sorts of stuff ranging from what to do about Harry’s dietary requirements to what to do if Harry found any more damsels at Hogwarts. This particular point raised a hullaballoo until Harry put the kibosh on the discussion by declaring that it wasn’t ‘if’ but ‘when’, and when he did he would just carry her off as was good and proper, thank you very much, and they had all better stop being so silly about it at once — or else.

    With that put to rest and the thin curls of smoke accompanying Harry’s last declaration still lazily rising through the air, the topic of guns was raised, and with it came another uproar. Once again, Harry had to snap a bit to get everyone else to start being sensible. As guns were hard to get, it was obvious that they were a kind of treasure, and anyway, Sergeant Major Hooktalon said that if anyone wanted Harry’s guns then they should have to prize them from his cold dead fingers, so everyone had better stop being silly about it at once.

    Once Snape had got done with his snigger-fit — it wasn’t giggling, for Snapes never giggle; Snape had made that very clear — they started poring over the rules to work out how to make that not break the rules. The thing about guns was solved by citing a rule about carrying swords that never specified the sort of weapon it was talking about, and the thing about damsels was solved by the same bit of the rules they were using to let Harry stay at his Lair during the school year. Nothing said students couldn’t go stay over at a friend’s house overnight if they were invited, so that was okay.

    Some further discussion later, Harry wished his grown-up friends a cheerful good night as they departed for their own homes.

    He had trouble getting to sleep that night because he was excited, and he spent the following few weeks counting the days until July 28th when the Hogwarts letters would be sent out.

    It arrived in its own good time.
     
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  11. Threadmarks: Section 2.1 - A friendly shopping trip
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2 Harry goes to school


    2.1.0 A friendly shopping trip

    Diagon Alley was weird.

    The first clue had been the terrible pun in the name, but his first visit had made the state of affairs eminently clear.

    It had started with the way they couldn’t see the entrance until their daughter towed them there, and even when they could see the place, it was just a dingy hole-in-the-wall pub. What kind of society put forth that as their public face?

    Then there was the entrance to the alley itself, which had been a plain, even grungy, brick wall behind said run-down pub. The bricks of that wall had folded away revealing the third clue in the form of the architecture, which not only looked to have been lifted from several centuries previous and not cleaned since — to be fair, a state which was not unusual for London — but also looked to be in need of drastic reconstruction. Half the buildings appeared to have somehow been halted right in the process of collapsing in on themselves. Fourth, there’d been the wares on sale which did nothing to dispel the image, nor did their prices. Fifth there’d been the population, and their absurd sensibilities regarding attire.

    However, in the face of all that, the thing that grabbed, and held, Anthony Granger’s attention was the centaur loitering outside what seemed to be a second-hand shop near the entrance to the alley.

    She was a gorgeous creature, not that he was sure any of those were the right term. From the bits that humans used as hips on up, she was the very picture of classical Grecian beauty, only departing by being somewhat wider and more muscular. From there down was what looked to be one of those mobile slabs of lean muscle that people who know about horses bandy terms like ‘thoroughbred’ about. Her hair and fur were a deep russet, and every part of her human-equine mish-mash anatomy was tightly defined.

    And if he’d thought that was strange, her clothing and the assorted equipment she carried on her person really took the biscuit, in large part because she was quite visibly armed to the teeth.

    Attached to the web-work of leather straps she had fitted tightly to most of her body — the interaction of which with her human-bits had held Tony’s attention for longer than he was strictly comfortable with — the centaur carried a military-looking gun, one of those with the bullets stored in a little metal box forward of the trigger, a disturbingly large number of extras of those little ammunition boxes, a second gun that looked like a hunting rifle with a very long barrel, yet another gun that he recognized as a shotgun from the westerns he used to watch as a child, a sizeable variety of knives of various makes, and a very modern high-powered pulley-operated compound bow — he was pretty sure he recognized it as a top-of-the-line Browning — complete with a quiver full of equally modern carbon-aluminum arrows.

    In short, she looked like she was carrying enough weaponry to field a full squad of modern infantry in a combat zone.

    Underneath that leather harness, her upper human-like parts were clad in a greenish-brown shirt of what looked like linen, cut in an unusual, vaguely-Asian, style with a deeply plunging neckline and accented by what looked to be carefully chosen furs of a soft grey-brown. She wore a brightly-polished choker around her slim throat which carried an intricately engraved seal on its silvery surface centered under her chin. Her lower, equine, parts bore a western-style saddle and associated tack with several canvas shopping bags slung over it and, now that he’d gotten a better look, yet another pair of guns attached to it, partially hidden under the bags. This time some sort of old-school bolt-action rifle and a revolver. She also had some sort of bridle, complete with reins, strapped around her head, though the bit was currently missing from the ensemble.

    It was about that time that Tony realized something very important; the oddly-dressed people around him in the alley — the ones he’d been very busy being unsure how to react to — very obviously didn’t know how to react to the centaur either.

    “Okay Suze, now we gotta go get a wand!” said a cheerfully energetic, and very young, voice, and the centaur visibly perked up as a small boy — perhaps two or three years younger than Tony’s daughter by the look of him — came running over in that hyper-small-kid-running kind of way, carrying another well-packed cloth shopping bag with him. “Mr. Dumbledore says the best place for wands is a place called Ollivander’s Wands Shoppe; he says it’s just down thattaway past the expensive potions place.”

    “Okay, Harry,” the centaur said, calmly taking the new bag from him and hooking it to her saddle alongside the others before giving the boy a hand up into said saddle and ambling off in the direction the boy had indicated, though Tony noticed that the reins remained looped over the saddle horn rather than in the boy’s hands.

    Then the boy seemed to actually notice the Grangers.

    “Oh, hi!” he said in a bright, friendly tone. “You look kinda lost, ‘bout as lost as me and Suze were the first time we came around here.”

    “Well… actually, yes,” Tony admitted, dubiously glancing from centaur to small boy and back again several times. The centaur noticed his expression, giving him a wink and a shrug that did nothing to alleviate his confusion.

    “Aw, don’t worry about it, Diagon Alley takes a lot of getting used to at first, but once you’ve gotten used to it it’s cool. Um, have you swapped out your pounds for galleons yet? They’re not proper gold, but that’s because goblins are sensible, and they keep most of the gold to themselves.”

    “…well, no.” This time it was Sharon, Tony’s wife who spoke up.

    “Okay, then you gotta go to Gringotts. That’s the bank; they’re just over there.” The boy pointed out an imposing white and gold structure at the central intersection of the shopping district directly across from an oddly empty lot. Given how crowded the rest of the alley was, Tony would have thought someone would have snapped up such a prime piece of real estate. As Tony frowned contemplatively, the boy offered brightly, “Hey, you want me to, you know, show you around? I’ve been here like six times, and I know the way everywhere here. Oh, but we haven’t been introduced! I’m Harry, Harry Potter, and this is my centaur damsel, her name’s Suze. Hi!”

    Well, the kid was certainly friendly. “I’m Anthony Granger; call me Tony, everyone does. This is my wife, Sharon, and this is our daughter, Hermione.”

    “I’m the first witch in our family,” Hermione volunteered. Tony had to smile at how pleased with herself she sounded.

    “Wow, that’s awesome! I didn’t know not-glowy people could have kids who glow!” Harry enthused, obviously beyond delighted. “Hey, c’mon, there’s all sorts of awesome stuff I’ve gotta show you! But first off, we gotta go to the bank. Let’s go!”

    Closer inspection showed the bank to have a set of broad steps leading up to an entrance guarded by a set of imposing silver doors and a pair of brightly-attired guards carrying very nasty looking halberds. The guards were short, broad men with yellow-brown skin, protruding chins, neatly-cropped white hair, long noses, and beady black rodent-like eyes. Those bright uniforms looked to be painstakingly-maintained, and there was something about their manner which was reminiscent of the guards at Buckingham Palace as they stood there, alert and keeping a sharp eye on the passers-by.

    “Are those goblins?” Tony asked as they approached.

    “Hmm… Yeah, they sure are,” Harry replied. “The one on the left is Corporal Mantrap, and the one on the right’s a private, though I don’t know his name.”

    “They’re kind of fierce looking,” Hermione muttered.

    “G’morning, Corporal Mantrap!” Harry enthusiastically greeted the guard on the left, who promptly saluted.

    “Mornin’, Mr. Potter,” the goblin growled. “Here to speak to the Vice Chairman?”

    “Nah, I’m just showin’ these guys around; they were kinda lost.”

    The corporal nodded politely and touched his cap, “Mornin’ ladies, gentleman. A profitable day to yeh all.”

    “Morning,” the Grangers said in a ragged chorus. Sharon, Hermione, and Suze immediately followed Harry into the building, while Tony paused to read the inscription on the silvery doors warning against thievery.

    “Has anyone ever been stupid enough to try to steal those doors?” he asked.

    Corporal Mantrap let out a rough chuckle. “A time or two,” he said. “That’s why the lot across the street is empty, the Bofors and Vickers guns make a bit of a mess.” There was another dry chuckle. “Being un-magical and all, you’d know well what that means, eh lad? Head on in, yer missus’ll be wonderin’ where yeh’ve gotten to.”

    “…right,” Tony said and entered the bank. The name ‘Bofors’ was vaguely familiar from his father’s war stories, and ‘Vickers’ rang a bell too.

    Weren’t those the names of some very large guns?

    “Okay, now you gotta go queue,” Harry was just saying as Tony caught up with the rest of the group. “It shouldn’t take too long because you picked the right sort of day and time to come. It’s always quietest on Wednesdays and halfway between when people start work and lunchtime.”

    Business in the bank was swiftly concluded; goblins and non-magical bankers seemed to have similar ideas on the equivalence of time and money. There were odd looks from the rest of the clientele when those other customers realized how polite the goblins were being to the otherwise unremarkable group of muggles and muggle-born.

    “I’m guessing there are male and female goblins,” Sharon suddenly said, just after they’d left the bank.

    Tony was wondering when she’d ask that, Sharon had been big into the feminist thing at university, though she’d calmed down a lot since graduation. He’d figured she’d feel the need to say something after the bank visit and its strangely uniform staff.

    “Well of course there are,” Harry said, shrugging matter-of-factly. “Where’d you think little baby goblins come from?”

    “…er, right. So where are they?” Sharon asked.

    “Where’s who?”

    “The lady goblins.”

    Harry snorted, “Didn’t you smell? The goblin you changed your money with is a girl. I think her name is Meatshred Slackhammer; she’s my friend, Mr. Vice-Chairman Slackhammer’s, niece, I think. Oh, of course you didn’t smell! Your nose ain’t as good as mine or a goblin’s.” The boy nodded sagely at that odd statement. “You know, I think she might be going into heat, that’s the only time it’s easy to smell if a goblin’s a mister or a madam, normally they just smell of goblin.” The boy’s face screwed up in confusion. “I’m not really sure what going into heat means, Mr. Vice-Chairman Slackhammer got all sorts of embarrassed when I asked, but I think it’s got to do with that kissy-face making-babies stuff some grown-ups are into.”

    “…oh,” Sharon said. “I suppose I shouldn’t have expected them to be like humans, should I?”

    “It ain’t real important anyway,” Harry continued. “When I asked, Colour-Sergeant Griphook said that if you ain’t certain whether a goblin’s a boy or a girl, the proper thing to do is call ‘em ‘Mister’ and if they’re bothered by it, they’ll tell you, and there ain’t many that’re bothered. I think Madame Axetalon’s the only girl goblin I’ve ever met who makes a point of it, and I know lots of goblins.”

    “I take it you’re quite familiar with goblins then?” Tony asked.

    “Yeah, they’re my friends,” Harry said with a firm nod. “They’re all sorts of fun, and treasure ’s got to come from someplace, right? Anyways, I’m guessing you gotta get everything, right?” This last question was addressed to Hermione. “’Cause half the places on the school list are kinda expensive, and I know a couple of real neato shops where you can get half the school stuff for like half the price. ‘Specially the potions stuff, the big place is a real rip-off.” He indicated the bags hanging off Suze’s saddle horn. “I’ve got my potions stuff already, an’ I was going to head to get a wand next.”

    With that decided upon, they set off for the wand shop. All three Grangers were given quite a fright by the thinning-haired man who seemed to appear from nowhere, only for Harry to ask why he smelled like fish, and the rather crestfallen man, who introduced himself as Ollivander, explained that small quantities of cod liver oil were used in the making of the glue used to hold the different wand components together and the finish used to polish them. Thereafter, each child was subjected to a seemingly excessive battery of measurements of odd pieces of anatomy — why on Earth was the distance from left eye to right thumb with arm extended important? Particularly considering it would change as the owner grew, or even as the owner shifted posture for that matter — before being offered a whole string of wands to try.

    Here, Harry became quite visibly concerned at the comments about the usage of ‘dragon heartstrings’ in wand construction, and he became even more concerned about Hermione being told that she was well-suited for wands constructed therewith, only to just as visibly calm down when Hermione — who had remained completely oblivious to his concern — spurred Ollivander into a twenty minute explanation of the behavior of various wand-construction materials including the various different heartstrings from different breeds of dragons. Apparently, Hermione’s new wand contained a heartstring from a female Hungarian Horntail, a breed renowned for their strength and stubbornness under pressure and suited to people with the acumen to stand up for their beliefs even through immense difficulties.

    With Harry relieved for reasons that escaped Tony, and Hermione pleased with the implications of her new wand, Harry was then subjected to a similar set of measurements before going through even more wands than Hermione had in the process of selecting one which was apparently the ‘brother’ of the one that had put the scar on his forehead; a scar that the Grangers hadn’t noticed on account of it being hidden by the boy’s immense mane of scruffy black hair.

    After the wand shop, bags securely secured in either Tony’s hands or on Suze’s saddle, they headed towards the place Harry claimed had the best price on potions supplies. The trio of Grangers were somewhat nonplussed at the ‘Oh no, not again’ reactions from the staff on seeing the young boy marching in the door.

    They were confused, that is, until they discovered how much of a skinflint he could be. He pissed, moaned, bitched, complained, criticized, questioned quality, and haggled the sweating shopkeeper down to a third of the stated price.

    “We could have afforded, heck, probably thirty cauldrons at the price he was asking,” Tony remarked.

    “Sure you could,” Harry allowed, “but money’s gotta come from somewhere and why go spending more than a cauldron’s worth when it’s a cheap cauldron that ain’t hard to melt, and you’ll probably go through like a dozen of them? Especially when he was asking like twice what it was worth; it’s just pewter and the bottom’s kind of thin, and anyway, if you don’t gotta spend another knut on something then your hoard’s a knut bigger, isn’t it?”

    The boy finally paused for a breath before continuing, “Plus, Mr. Snape always says you should pay exactly what something is worth because if you overpay for things, then you’re encouraging bad habits in the craftsman who made it, and if you underpay for something, then you’re cheating an honest man out of the fruits of his labors. Those cauldrons were cheaply made, so you shouldn’t pay too much, or you’ll encourage people to make things even cheaper.”

    “Harry, how old are you?” Sharon asked. Tony could guess from her tone that she was getting rather irritated with the pint-sized boy’s rambling.

    “I’m going to be eleven next week.”

    “You’re not very big for your age,” Tony remarked. Then he winced as he realized how offensive that could sound.

    Not that Harry was phased by any such implications. “Well, that’s because I’m between growth spurts,” Harry explained with a pragmatic shrug. “I grew real fast for ‘bout eight months before I was nine, then it really slowed down; I only grew like an inch in the past year. I figure I’ll catch up next time I have a growth spurt, so that’s okay. Y’know, I’ve been a lot hungrier the past couple of weeks than since my last growth spurt stopped; me and Hagrid and Mr. Kettleburn think that means I’m gonna start growing real fast again pretty soon. It’s gonna be a pain ‘cause I’m gonna have to start eating tons again, but oh well, you can’t grow without enough to eat, so that’s okay, I guess.”

    No more was said on the subject as the group tore through the remainder of their shopping lists with little to remark on aside from Harry tearing huge chunks out of the list prices through unashamed haggling until the visit to the book store provided Tony with a revelation. His daughter was going to be a long-time friend of the boy for their shared love of reading, if nothing else. The two children had identical reactions to the store.

    Hermione quickly blew through all the extra money Harry’s skinflinting had shaved off their supply budget by loading up on even more books than those named on the school lists, while Harry, declaring that he already had most of the books on the list, headed off to load up on more esoteric books in languages and covering subjects that left Tony thoroughly bewildered.

    Once they’d finally managed to drag the kids out of the bookshop, there was a brief upset with what seemed to be a family of Neanderthals in robes, during which Tony found his attention very firmly drawn back to the bewildering assortment of firearms Suze was carrying, specifically the old-style bolt-action rifle which had been attached to her saddle and which Harry had now shoved up the left nostril of this ‘Crabbe’ character.

    As the group of troglodytes moved on in an uncharacteristic fit of prudence, Tony asked, “Mind if I have a look at that gun, Harry?”

    “’Fraid I can’t do that, Mr. Granger,” Harry sounded apologetic. “Sergeant-Major Hooktalon would have my nadgers for boot-leather if I let anyone he wasn’t sure knew how to safely handle a firearm handle it, and anyway, Mr. Slackhammer says that it’s the duty and privilege of all thinking beings to have weapons and if anyone thinks different they can have our guns when they pry them from our cold dead fingers, and the same goes for swords and knives and such.”

    “…nadgers for boot-leather…?” Sharon sounded vaguely nauseated.

    The clangor of a bell rang out over the alley and Harry froze, raising a finger.

    BONG, one finger, BONG, a second, BONG, a third, BONG, a fourth, and silence.

    “Four, phew, it’s not five, so I’m not late. Um, I think that’s everything you need for school, and I really oughtta go. I’ll see you guys outta the alley, then I gotta go get my bum into gear. I’ve gotta be back to the Lair at half-past four so I can meet with Mr. Ronan to talk about seasons at a quarter to five, and then once it’s six, I’ve gotta meet with Mrs. Sprout and Mr. Snape to go harvest potions ingredients that it’s the right sort of time to harvest now.”

    Hermione checked over her shopping list.

    “Yes, I think we’ve got everything,” she said, “Did we remember the potions supplies?”

    “Yes,” Tony confirmed, “that was the third shop we visited.”

    “Oh, I must have forgotten to tick it off. In that case, that’s everything.”

    “Okay, then I’ll see you at the end of the month!” And the whirlwind that was Harry blew out of the alley with his centaur in tow.

    2.1.1 Professorial speculation

    Albus Dumbledore settled comfortably into his favorite armchair, a soft, velvety number that was tailored to his posterior — he wasn’t a master of transfiguration for nothing, after all — and came complete with a matching footstool on which he rested his stockinged feet. He was seated across from the fireplace, currently dark on account of the summer weather, in the sitting area of his office, joined by the four Heads of House for the school.

    This had been a meeting nominally about planning for the next school year, and the majority of the normal crowd that assembled to discuss their resident dragon was still off completing their various summer projects. Of course, this didn’t keep the remainder of group from their usual ritual of passing around a drink, though it did influence the variety. Today’s drink of choice was chosen by Minerva, and it was, predictably, a single-malt whiskey brewed and distilled not far from her family’s home. Filius again volunteered to serve the drinks. Albus idly wondered whether he should introduce the charms master to his brother, Aberforth. They might strike up a friendship over a mutual love of tending bar.

    The five professors had finished the necessary administrative tasks and were now lounging about, relaxing while they could before the halls were flooded with the noisy, hormonal gaggle of teenagers that would be descending on the castle in a few short days. The room was dimly lit by flickering flames in the gas lamps, and the companionable silence was broken only by the occasional clink of a glass against the table until Pomona Sprout spoke up.

    “Hufflepuff, I think,” she stated before taking another sip of whiskey.

    “Hmm?” Albus said, echoed nonverbally by the inquisitive looks from her fellow Heads.

    “I think Mr. Potter will be one of my Badgers.”

    It seemed that the young dragon would be a topic of conversation after all.

    Albus had finished off his glass and retrieved his pipe, filling and lighting it in lieu of refilling the liquor. After he took an initial puff, he asked, “What makes you so confident, Pomona? Not that I disagree, I am simply curious.”

    “I stopped by Mattias’ shop at the start of August to pick up some mandrake seedlings for the second years. A young muggle-born witch was there with her parents trying to shop for her supplies, and they were looking a tad overwhelmed with the sights, particularly a certain well-armed centaur. Young Harry noticed and took them under his wing — metaphorically speaking,” she clarified at Severus’ worried look. “The lad almost drove Mattias’ poor apprentice to tears with his haggling over their potions ingredients. Last I saw, Potter had dragged the family into Flourish and Blotts. Any such good Samaritan is prime Badger material.”

    McGonagall gave an unladylike snort, “The boy stands up to authority and leaps to the defense of his friends in an instant,” she countered. “He’s as much one of my Lions as either of his parents. His constant talk of rescuing damsels speaks to his innate nobility. Mark my words, he’ll be in my House come the Sorting.”

    “Ah, but he has an incredible love of learning, even an obsessive one at times,” Flitwick interjected mildly. “I believe the boy’s library is already larger than my own, and it continues to grow unabated. When he gets access to the school library, I’m sure there won’t be a volume outside the Restricted Section he hasn’t memorized by next summer. He takes the time to think through what he learns, too, and he is proving quite adept at logic and philosophy. I am convinced he’d do quite well as one of my Ravens.”

    Four heads turned expectantly to the potions master, the only Head who had yet to speak up. The man was quietly sipping at his whiskey. At their looks, he calmly asked, “What?”

    Albus covered a smile by gripping his pipe stem between his molars. “I believe they are expecting you to claim that Mr. Potter is destined to be a Slytherin,” he said before issuing another puff of blue smoke.

    Snape snorted a far more impressive snort than that issued earlier by his colleague; his substantial snout giving him a decidedly unfair advantage in the contest. “That dratted dragon is about as subtle as, well, a dragon in a pottery shop — as ironic as that simile is. He has so little grasp of anything so much as resembling cunning that he answered every question put to him by Odd Lovegood last year without giving any thought to why the man was asking questions or what he was going to do with the answers. He didn’t even bother to try to persuade you all to let him stay in his Lair or to continue expanding his collection of damsels from the student body; he just made the declarations and you scurried to distort the rule book in order to allow it. Your mental gymnastics in those attempts would not have been out of place in the muggle Olympics. The boy has developed nothing in the way of cunning because he has had no need of it.”

    His earlier snort was reprised in even more impressive fashion, “The boy has little ambition other than to be the best dragon he can manage to be, and while he may accomplish some very impressive feats along the way to that admittedly laudable goal, given his natural talents he will require little in the way of ambition to succeed at them. With neither cunning nor ambition, there is little to warrant the wretched lizard’s inclusion among the Serpents, despite his scaly integument.”

    “Here I thought you had come to rather like the lad, Severus,” Filius chimed in.

    “I do not like the blasted lizard, Filius,” Snape insisted flatly. “I will admit that the boy is tolerable company, and he is far and away the most interesting individual I have ever encountered. I could happily spend the remainder of my career exploring the functions of his bioalchemy, and I daresay I would expire before I ran out of new material to examine.” Snape took another drink. “But for that very reason, I refuse to misrepresent the boy’s capabilities. I would not do that to an enemy, much less someone I find passingly acceptable to deal with.”

    “I suppose that the large pile of galleons you have made from those studies does nothing to influence your opinion then, Severus?” Minerva asked archly before she savored another sip of her precious single malt.

    “I will not deny it,” Snape shrugged. “It was implausibly satisfying to buy a lifetime membership at Barret’s and eat a celebratory meal there while Lucius and Narcissa waited impatiently to be seated. Though I honestly have no idea what I am to do with the rest of it. My laboratory is already superbly equipped, and I can only eat out so much before it eats into my research time in turn.”

    “I’m sure something worthy will come up eventually, Severus,” Pomona assured him, “perhaps it will even be someone, hmm? It’s not healthy for you to mope for so long after that blow-up with Lily; it’s been over a dozen years, Severus. But regardless of his House, are you not looking forward to teaching the boy? Beyond the tutoring you have given him so far?”

    Severus deliberately ignored Sprout’s dig about his lack of a love life; she did that to everyone, and it wasn’t worth the trouble to complain about anymore. He was firmly convinced that Pomona Sprout wouldn’t be happy until everyone of an appropriate age for such things was paired off and happily turning out sprogs by the dozen; he suspected she might also insist on the ones still too young having someone already lined up for the job, too.

    “I do look forward to exploring his capabilities with the practical side of brewing when we can finally get him into one of the safeguarded laboratories, yes. He has memorized all of the common potions books, and many of the less common ones in my own collection. Should he prove able to live up to my expectations, I would be willing to grant him access to my private notes in hopes that he might prove to be capable of attaining his own mastery and advancing the state of the art even further.”

    Snape then paused, taking another drink. “I am not, however, looking forward to the chaos that will inevitably dog his steps through these halls.”

    “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Severus, Harry is nothing like his father,” Minerva said exasperatedly.

    “I know that,” Snape said, rolling his eyes. “And I feel the need to thank you for recalling that mental image, Minerva, I had almost managed to put it out of my mind. Merlin knows what the world would come to were it to house a dragon with James Potter’s attitude! More than half the school would have been levelled by now, I am certain. I shall need to be cautious around boggarts in the future, for surely the next I encounter shall take the form of James Potter as a bloody dragon!”

    “James was…” Minerva began.

    “He was a bully,” Snape interjected flatly. “And I was his favorite target.” He held up a hand to forestall Minerva’s counterargument, “I am not interested in debating ancient history, Minerva. I can admit that he may have changed somewhat after he and I no longer interacted, if for no other reason than respect for Lily’s judgment — I checked her for love potions more than once, I assure you — but that does nothing to change my impression of the man. The last few years have convinced me that young Mr. Potter is nothing like his father; if not for his voice and choice of human form, there would be nothing to link him to the man. I will always hate James Potter, but I can accept and respect that his son is very different. His nature is all too painfully like his mother’s.”

    “Is the comparison between father and son fair then?” Pomona asked.

    “It was not I who made the comparison,” Snape said as Minerva looked away in embarrassment. “I merely said I was not looking forward to the upheaval his presence will cause. You must admit we have contorted the spirit of the student rulebook and interpreted the remaining rules in a bizarrely creative manner in order to accommodate the blasted beast. I saw the draft of the acceptance letter for the first-year students, ‘a cat, owl, toad, or centaur’ as a pet? Until the students send their first letter home, I’d wager a month’s royalties that the parents of the older students will have thought it a joke.”

    Pomona held out her glass for a refill from Filius, who obliged with a superbly smooth levitation charm without bothering to retrieve his wand — the undersized man was feeling lazy that evening. “If he is not like his father, then why do you expect him to cause so much chaos, Severus? Lily was one of the most even-tempered witches I have ever met — I mean, she was vicious when she finally got her dander up, but that took a great deal of doing.”

    Snape sighed and drained off the remainder of his whiskey. “Believe me, there is no comparison between the kinds of havoc the father raised and those his son will raise. Potter, that is James Potter, tormented other children under the guise of playing pranks for his own amusement. Harry Potter will turn the school on its ear by virtue of his species, not his attitude.”

    Albus puffed again on his pipe, eyes distant in thought. “Come now, Severus, surely it won’t be that bad…”

    “Have those execrable muggle sweets of yours rotted your brain as well as your teeth? Pomona just told us the boy has already made friends with a muggle-born first-year witch. I would not wager against her be becoming his newest damsel before the end of the year. If the boy’s pedigree breeds true, and he is sorted into Gryffindor, someone like young Mr. Malfoy will see him and his blasé attitude towards blood status as a natural enemy. And because of the wretched lizard’s relative immaturity, any malicious pranks played on him or his friends will be met with a direct response that will no doubt be swift, shocking, and most of all, childish, but it will be a childish response backed by enough force to level a small town! What do you suppose will happen when the son of a Governor ends up as a pile of malodorous fertilizer somewhere in the forest?”

    “I doubt things will go that far, Severus,” Albus assured him affably.

    “Indeed,” Minerva agreed, “If young Draco is anything like his father was at that age, young Draco will probably be unpalatable even to Harry’s digestive tract.”

    “Minerva!” A trio of shocked voices drowned out a quiet snicker from the fourth.

    “Oh, come now, I was being facetious,” Minerva paused just long enough for her audience to calm down. “Harry drinks fuel oil like water, if anything the Malfoy propensity for oily hair products would make the young lad irresistible.”

    This time she was met with groans, to which she continued, “Seriously though, Severus has raised a good point. We have no idea how or at what rate Harry will grow. Intellectually he will certainly be capable of completing his schooling — even were he to stay just as he is now — but his emotional maturity seems to be several years behind his forthcoming classmates. If he continues to mature slowly, we may be faced with a situation in later years where his classmates are entering adulthood while he is still a young child, an exceptionally powerful young child.”

    “That’s true,” Sprout agreed. “If they survive their mating contests, dragons can live into their sixth century, but despite Lovegood’s observations, we have no idea what species Harry is or what his expected lifespan might be. “If he’s going to live for several centuries, he might well still be a child by the time he takes his NEWTs.”

    Flitwick chuckled aloud, to the surprise of his colleagues. “What?” he asked, taking in their expressions. “I’m beginning to suspect that young Mr. Potter will usher in a new era of civility at Hogwarts, at least when his fellows come to realize that they have the choice between being civil to each other and being sat-upon by a dragon the size of the Hogwarts Express engine.”

    Dumbledore echoed his charms professor’s chuckle. “Indeed. Mr. Potter is quite fond of threatening to sit himself down upon those who annoy him. I think we shall have to impress upon the lad that sitting on his classmates is not a valid form of retribution.”

    “What would be a valid form of retribution, then?” Pomona asked, pointedly. “For a student who could, with little effort, lay waste to the entire school should he so desire, what is acceptable?”

    Snape shook his head. “As usual, you have missed my point. I was not referring to the difference in maturity between the boy and his classmates. That will certainly be an issue, but it is not one that we are inexperienced in dealing with; our other students are hardly uniformly mature in any case. Though that does promise some small amount of amusement as well.” He paused thoughtfully before continuing, “But no, I was referring to the boy’s propensity for disproportionate physical responses. While I unfortunately missed the actual encounter, his centaur pet was, once suitably persuaded, willing to recount it to me. Those monstrous acromantulas happened by the centaur colony in search of a quick meal of horse-flesh. Instead, they met several thousand degrees of dragon-flame face first and have since almost been hunted to extinction.”

    Flitwick gave Severus a sly glance, “You wouldn’t happen to have insisted on the story being recounted to you because of what happened immediately prior, would you?”

    A smile of heroic proportions made itself known on Snape’s normally stoic face. It was self-satisfied. It was smug. It proved beyond a doubt that even pleasant expressions were made thoroughly irritating by being displayed on the man’s face, but it also indicated the success beyond even his wildest expectations of a well-laid plan. “Filius, I have no idea what you mean.”

    “The expression you wear suggests otherwise, my friend.”

    Pomona tilted her head to the side, “I appear to be missing some context…”

    “Do you recall the gift Severus gave young Harry some two years ago, on his ninth birthday. The first birthday he spent in his Lair?”

    Sprout frowned in thought, “Wasn’t that the saddle and harness contraption for Miss Suze? The one he got so… oh dear!”

    Snape’s thoroughly smug smile looked like it wouldn’t be shifted by anything less than a major tectonic event. “Oh yes, though the final trigger was not, in fact, my gift. Rather it was a thoughtful addition Mr. Potter came up with himself. In any event, when Bane encountered Harry in the process of asking about his new addition for Suze while she was wearing the saddle, the blowhard went berserk, snatched up a cudgel and charged in to attempt to beat the stuffing out of our young dragon.”

    “Oh, dear,” Sprout repeated.

    Nothing could convince Snape not to recount the story at that point. “Potter transformed back into his native form and backhanded the arrogant poltroon so hard that he skidded for some thirty yards across the forest floor and saw naught but his precious stars for the next several hours,” the potions master sighed happily. “As attitude readjustment tools go, there are few more effective than the back of Mr. Potter’s hand.”

    “What does Bane’s humiliation have to do with the acromantulas?”

    “After Bane could regain his feet with the help of fewer than two of his compatriots, Magorian, the centaur chieftain, persuaded Mr. Potter to allow them to relocate under his Lair, and not halfway through the move, they were assaulted by the spiders. The centaurs were trussed up almost without exception before Potter arrived on the scene. He hit the arachnids so hard that sympathetic resonance has probably instilled a mortal fear of dragons in spiders all across the globe.”

    Pomona looked concerned, “Does Bane still hold some ill will for the lad?”

    The smugness in Snape’s expression dialed back a few notches, but the man still looked inordinately pleased with himself. “No, oddly enough Mr. Potter’s attitude readjustment backhand seems to have worked exceptionally well. He is still antisocial, of course; I expect nothing short of a complete lobotomy would change that, but Potter’s hand seems to have instilled a new sense of caution and a reason to deliberate before taking action.” His expression sobered, even turning a little grim. “If Potter decides to provide an encore of similar attitude readjustments to the student body, there is little beyond careful verbal persuasion that we could do to stop him.”

    Dumbledore glanced down, noting that his pipe had gone out. A quick flexing of magic remedied that, and the pipe flickered back to life. He absently blew a few smoke rings while he considered the account. “You may be right,” he eventually acknowledged. “We will need to guide Mr. Potter gently and very, very carefully.”

    “Of course, I am right!” Snape once again proved his reputation for irritating abrasiveness well-earned. “I already plan to warn my Serpents against any action towards Potter, no matter what House he ends up in. Most will accept it, but I’m afraid a few die-hards will insist on learning the hard way.”

    He issued another of those very impressive snorts. “Having him here only during class time will help immeasurably, if only by reducing the number of opportunities for covert mischief by removing him from the halls and dormitories in the evening, but I hold little hope that the infirmary will not be heavily occupied with a number of long-term residents by the end of the year.”

    Minerva winced, but she nonetheless nodded, acknowledging the point. “Much as I am loath to admit it, I can easily envisage Mr. Potter inadvertently injuring a student enough to put them in Poppy’s care for the long term. Even with his,” she paused, her eye twitching, “exhaustively merry attitude, he won’t let bullying slide. We will need to be even more vigilant for, and intolerant of, intimidation amongst the student body.”

    Dumbledore nodded, absently puffing at his pipe. “It is a fine line to walk. You know how much our society prizes secrecy, and how difficult it is to establish the truth. Even for children, without delving into restricted potions or legilimency, establishing a chain of evidence is often impossible; bullies don’t generally act with unfriendly witnesses about. If we start punishing infractions on the basis of hearsay, I foresee a torrent of accusations from students with no true cause for complaint.” He paused for another puff, “How to separate the kernels of truth from the chaff, though — that will require some thought.”

    “Perhaps we should not be too hasty,” Snape said thoughtfully. “I find myself morbidly fascinated by the idea of how Potter would react to those insane Weasley twins. Perchance a single, sanctioned, attitude adjustment would be appropriate?”

    “Severus!” Minerva protested, “That is beneath you!”

    “Perhaps a smaller adjustment,” the potions master mused, seemingly not noticing his colleague’s protest. “But not too much smaller — yes, that would be most welcome.”

    “Severus!” This time it was Albus’ turn to protest.

    “Oh, settle down, Albus; I am only stirring the cauldron. I am sure those twins will fall afoul of Potter at some point, however. They will not be able to help themselves, if past experience is any guide. I am certain they will make a point of it, if only because their usual fare of prank potions will not influence Mr. Potter in the slightest. The two brats will likely take it as a challenge. It would be best, though, if Minerva, Pomona, Filius, and I impress upon our charges the magnitude of this shift. We are already warning them away from the third-floor corridor, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to include a new standard of behavior.”

    Dumbledore nodded, still absently puffing away at his pipe. “I suppose that is a reasonable course of action. Whichever of you is fortunate enough to have the opportunity, please ask Mr. Potter to see me after the welcoming feast so that I might discuss it with him personally.” He sighed, breath laden with fragrant blue smoke, “I do agree though, that we must impress upon the students that from this year forth, any hint of intimidation tactics will be met with a swift response.”

    “From us, or from Potter?” Filius asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Ah.”

    A few more moments passed in companionable silence before Albus’ office clock chimed marking the transition from very late night to very early morning. Filius took this as his prompt to get some sleep.

    “Well, I believe that I will seek out my bed. Good night to you all!”

    Minerva and Pomona quickly followed along, leaving Albus and Severus alone. Albus slept less and less as the years passed and his magic took over more functions from his failing body, and Severus was long used to the irregular hours required of a potions master. When a brew required seven hours of stirring before introducing a critical ingredient, it didn’t care if that seven hours would mean stirring until three in the morning.

    “There is a possible solution,” Snape offered, “though it smacks of using a flame whip to swat an annoying fly…” He paused as a thought struck him before clarifying, “…a normal fly, not one of Hagrid’s.” There were flies, and then there were flies, Snape thought with a shudder.

    “Oh?”

    Snape nodded, deep in thought. “A time turner and an invisibility cloak, if any student is injured or makes an accusation, one of us could use them to verify the events in question, unnoticed. It would likely take only a few incidents before the students learned to behave themselves.”

    “You are right, that does sound excessive,” Albus agreed. “What is wrong with engaging the portraits to assist?”

    “Aside from the fact that the portraits sleep and move around? There is a significant fraction of the school which is free of portrait frames. Despite their perennial dunderheadedness in my classroom, the students are not stupid, Albus. If they get caught every time they are near a portrait, they will soon learn to avoid them.”

    “Perhaps a compromise then? We recruit our pigmented spy network, and I will fish out my time turner for those situations in which the portraiture fails.”

    Snape raised an eyebrow, “You are actually going to use my idea?”

    “It is a bit drastic,” Albus shrugged, “but it is certainly feasible. And the consequences of failure are quite… unpleasant. There has not been a violent death among the students during my tenure as headmaster, and I would prefer to keep it that way, particularly when the death would likely fall on the conscience of young Harry.”

    “Agreed.” Snape nodded emphatically, thinking back on the first man he killed. That had been accidental too, but at least the man had richly deserved it.

    “That should definitely not be on the boy’s conscience if it can be avoided. Combat is one thing, but accidental killing eats away at you.” He finished off another glass of Minerva’s whiskey. “I confess that my Slytherins will likely be difficult to rein in. Perhaps four out of five automatically translate ‘do not do something’ into ‘do not get caught doing something’.”

    “Hmm, it sounds as though you have a challenging year ahead.”

    “Indubitably.”
     
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  12. Threadmarks: Section 2.2 - Encounters on a rail
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.2.0 Encounters on a rail

    The platform was thoroughly intimidating.

    Hermione Granger was on her own for the first time in the magical world; her parents were unable to navigate the concealed entrance the Platform Nine and Three Quarters, and unlike the Alley, she could not lead them through. She had had to go in on her own. Between the trauma of having to walk face first into an apparently solid brick wall — out of curiosity, she had kept her eyes open, and she was still cursing herself for that decision — and being alone among a massive throng of new people while attempting to manage her absurdly heavy trunk, Hermione was more than a little nervous.

    She was certain everyone else on the platform knew more about what was going on than she did, an intolerable state of affairs for someone who prided herself on her intellect. Unfortunately, she had no idea of what to do about it. The introductory packet she’d picked up at the bookstore had been thorough only in its inadequacy.

    “Huh, that’s interesting…”

    Hermione perked up at something she recognized. That was the voice of that hyper gun-nut boy that had shown her and her parents around Diagon Alley back at the beginning of August. He’d been a bit irritating to be around, what with how energetic he was, but… well, she was sort of adrift at the moment, and any familiarity was good at that point as far as she was concerned.

    Plus, anyone who liked books that much couldn’t be all bad.

    “What’s interesting?” Hermione asked, wandering over in his direction. Suze was there too, informing her that the letter was probably not joking when it said ‘cat, owl, toad, or centaur’. She also found herself wondering absently how it was that Harry was visibly taller than he had been the month previous.

    Kids didn’t grow that fast, did they?

    “Hello, Hermione,” Suze greeted her while Harry was still musing over whatever it was that had caught his imagination.

    The centaur was, oddly enough, on a leash, which seemed rather strange to Hermione, but that was quickly overwhelmed as she was once again struck by how impressive a creature the centaur was. Suze topped out at eight feet to the crown of her skull — delicate for a centaur, not that Hermione knew that — and for a pre-teen girl, eight feet oozed ‘wow’.

    “Hmm, oh hi Hermione!” Harry finally managed to take note of her presence. “This train’s interesting, that’s what.”

    “Why? It’s just an old train.”

    “Yeah, but everything else here is magic one way or another, and the train, well, it ain’t magic. I mean, there’s some fire magic in there, and I think it’s sorta partway alive, but not the rest of it; it’s just a big old steam engine, and I’m tryin’ to figure out how you sneak a big old steam engine from London nearly to Mallaig.”

    “What’s a Mallaig?”

    “It’s the muggle town a little way up the coast from Hogwarts. There’s lots of boats and a really cool toy shop there, and it all sort of smells of kipper.” Harry frowned thoughtfully at the train engine and failed to notice the amused glance from the soot-covered man who was watching from the locomotive’s cab. Nor, for that matter, did he notice the dubious look Suze directed towards said soot-covered man when she noticed his interest.

    “We’d better get on the train, Harry, or it might leave without us,” Suze prompted. She seemed heartily amused by something about her own statement.

    “Hmm, oh yeah, I guess we should,” Harry agreed and followed along towards the carriages. He glanced back at the engine again, “Y’know, it’s funny, but it still seems like that engine is supposed to be black.”

    Hermione, trailing a little behind the duo while she struggled with her book-laden trunk, found herself wondering why the driver had responded to this by bursting out laughing.

    2.2.1 Trouble boarding

    Hermione had allowed herself to be swept away by Harry’s exuberance. There was little choice, he looked like he knew where he was going, she didn’t know anyone else on the train, and it would have been rude to leave without some sort of excuse, so she hurried along behind the boy and his centaur.

    As the trio approached the train, they tried to board through the side door.

    ‘Tried’ being the operative word. As a centaur, even a petite centaur, Suze was pushing eight feet in height, and she was literally as big as a horse. Passenger trains, even magical passenger trains, would pose a bit of a challenge for the girl.

    “Um, Suze, could you duck down a little?” Harry asked after looking at the situation with a puzzled frown for a moment.

    As the centaur maid obligingly contorted herself in an effort to fit through a door designed for creatures of at most a third her size and of quite different proportions besides, Hermione stared incredulously.

    “Harry,” the frizzy-haired witch protested, once she had managed to register what she was seeing, “Suze will never fit through there!”

    The small green-eyed boy scratched at his unruly mop of shaggy black hair. “Umm, maybe? What do you think, Suze?”

    “I can manage,” the centaur replied in a voice muffled by the fact that her body was currently filling the entirety of the entrance stairwell of the train car. “It’s a bit of a squeeze, but I can manage.” With that, she gave a final push and forced her way into the train, looking for all the world like one of those wildebeest she had seen on those television specials struggling to force its way up a steep muddy riverbank. Her abrupt passage prompted a chorus of protests from the other passengers displaced by her energetic entrance.

    “Well, there you go,” Harry said, his usual good humor back in evidence. “I’ll grab Hermione’s trunk and follow along.” With that, and without even a by your leave to the owner of said trunk — not that she would have responded, gaping as she was at the spectacle of a centaur forcing her way into a passenger train — Harry hefted the monstrously heavy thing over his shoulder and followed along after his centaur.

    Finally tearing her eyes away from where Suze had disappeared into the train when she felt the handle of her trunk pull away from her slack grip, Hermione was struck by yet another odd spectacle. Harry who, despite his recent growth, was still an inch or so shorter than her, had picked up the heavy trunk — the weight of which Hermione had been struggling to drag across the platform despite its wheels — with one hand as if it weighed nothing at all, slinging it over his shoulder casually and setting off after his centaur.

    Her father had struggled, red-faced, under the weight of that trunk when he pulled it out of the boot of the car. It was heavy enough to squeeze an assortment of unrepeatable words from the usually well-mannered man regarding the sheer volume of books she had packed away for school which she was certain he hadn’t intended for her to hear.

    In the moment it took her to process the scene, Harry had bounded up the stairs and disappeared around the corner, at which point she thought to call out, “Wait, Harry! You don’t have to carry that; my trunk’s got wheels!” while hurrying after the boy who had just absconded with the sum total of all the supplies she had brought for school.

    As she rounded the corner into the central corridor of the passenger carriage, she absently took note of the various scrapes and tufts of hair that stood in mute testimony to the passage of an equine body rather too large for the vessel it was being shoved through.

    Hermione had to wonder whether she’d be able to hold on to her sanity if this was what passed for normal in the magical world.

    The somewhat frazzled girl finally caught up to her companions — and her trunk — only to be struck by a new spectacle. Suze had found an empty compartment about halfway through the carriage, only to get rather firmly wedged in place when she tried to enter through the door.

    The centaur had managed to get her human-part into the cabin and the shoulders of her equine part before the tight quarters and her lack of lateral flexibility caught up with her, leaving her in quite the awkward predicament. The corridor was too narrow for her to twist her body the rest of the way around, and the polished wooden floor was too slippery for her hooves to find purchase to force her way through the door.

    Harry was between Hermione and the discombobulated centaur maiden, and every cabin Suze had passed sported at least one curious soul peering out the door at the unusual sight of a centaur attempting to board the Hogwarts Express. It was a sight that was probably a historical first.

    Just when Hermione thought she had reached her quota for surreal sights for the day, Harry once again proved her judgement to be hasty.

    “Hang on, Suze,” the boy said, setting down Hermione’s trunk with a dull thud that belied any thought that he might have used magic to reduce the thing’s weight in order to handle it so easily. He ran up behind the centaur maid and placed his arm under her barrel before calmly stating, “Ready? One, two, three…” and lifting Suze’s entire back end just as easily as he had Hermione’s trunk, using the height of the corridor and his own strength to realign the centaur’s back end so she could pull herself into the passenger cabin with a flurry of thrashing hooves.

    With the hallway now cleared of half a ton of centaur, the rest of the corridor became visible, revealing a half-dozen or so other students sprawled in a steaming red and angry heap where they had apparently been pushed back by Suze’s passage. They did not look happy in the slightest.

    Even though she technically wasn’t responsible for the debacle herself, between the spectators and the angry glares, Hermione was flushed red with mortification. Once again, though, Harry’s obscenely cheerful attitude seemed to turn the situation on its metaphorical ear. Despite the fact that the angry students had obviously been forced back and bodily piled up in the corridor, Harry simply picked up Hermione’s trunk once more and gave a cheerful wave and a friendly, “Hi there! Thanks for letting us through!” before disappearing into the compartment after his centaur pet.

    Left alone facing the glares of a corridor full of angry older students, the highly embarrassed first-year girl could only stand there, cheeks flushed.

    One of the larger students who had been barreled over by the centaur on her way to the compartment finally regained his equilibrium enough to clamber to his feet and storm up to the cabin door, yanking it open and storming in with a blustered shout of “WHY YOU LITTLE…” before he was cut off mid-sentence by a mule-kick from the centaur he had previously been unpleasantly acquainted with. He skidded across the corridor, slammed into the opposite wall, and folded up on the ground with a pained grunt. Bent double, the upperclassman clutched low on his belly, curled up in a private ball of pain on the floor beneath the spiderweb of cracked paneling on the wall where he impacted.

    Harry stuck his head back out the door with a concerned expression on his face. “Are you alright? You shouldn’t sneak up behind a centaur, you know. It’s not safe, ‘cause they can’t see back there and their first reflex is to kick first and ask questions later. It’s instinctive, they can’t help it.”

    Another older student from the tangle on the polished floor of the corridor — this one a girl with a pale complexion, dark chestnut hair, and matching eyes, whose green and silver-trimmed robes bore some kind of official-looking golden badge pinned to the breast — also struggled to her feet and approached the downed boy. She waved her wand a few times then nodded, seemingly satisfied with the results of whatever she had just done before she rounded on Harry with a heated glare.

    “What is that creature doing on the train?” the witch demanded.

    Hermione watched with bated breath as the affable cheer faded from Harry’s face in an instant, replaced with something the frizzy-haired girl couldn’t properly identify, “She’s not a ‘creature’, she’s my friend! And she’s allowed on the train; it’s not her fault this poo-head yelled at her from behind!”

    Hermione had quailed at the older girl’s tone, particularly coupled with that official-looking badge, and she was quite thoroughly impressed that Harry didn’t so much as flinch. It seemed that the older girl was impressed too, since she quickly backed off from the much smaller boy.

    Seeing the opportunity to temporarily remove herself from the spectacle of the hallway — and not incidentally, reunite herself with the comforting weight of her trunk and the books held therein — Hermione made a break for the doorway Harry was standing in. Harry almost automatically shifted to the side to allow her entry while keeping his oddly intimidating gaze on the older girl in the green and silver-trimmed robes until she finally turned away with an exaggerated huff and busied herself with the injured boy still leaning against the wall.

    Shutting the compartment door behind him, Harry turned back to his friends. “Well, Suze, it looks like there’s a bunch of grumpy bums here on the train.”

    In the meantime, the centaur maid had claimed one of the bench seats for her own exclusive use, settling with startling grace for such a large being with her legs tucked up underneath her on the cushions, her human-like torso twisted at the waist so she could lean back into the wall, hair just brushing the bottom of the luggage racks.

    “We’ve only met a couple people, Harry,” she offered. “The rest may be nice.”

    “Maybe,” he said doubtfully.

    Feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the entire sequence of events, Hermione began, “Um, maybe I should go…” before she took note of the dark looks on the faces peering in through the glass of the door to the hallway, “stay right here for a while.”

    Harry dropped Hermione’s trunk onto the free seats opposite his centaur. “You can stay as long as you like!” he said cheerfully. “Did you bring anything to read?”

    “Of course,” she said, mildly scandalized at the thought. Hermione had not willingly gone without readily available reading material since she had grown old enough to hold a book unaided. “Didn’t you?” She looked at the boy more closely, wait… “Didn’t you bring a trunk with you?”

    “Nah,” Harry grinned at her cheekily. “I live near the castle, so I’m just going to classes during the day. The train ride’s a tradition, though, so here I am. You should get out the books you want now, though, and I’ll put your trunk up on the rack for you. This is the book I brought along to read.” He pulled out a tiny box which rapidly expanded into a book the size of his torso with a tap from his finger after he set it on the leather seat next to her trunk.

    Hermione opened her mouth to object that her trunk was too heavy for someone his size before she remembered the way he had manhandled it down the hallway as if it were weightless. Shaking her head, she quietly undid the latch, removed the four books she was currently reading, then paused for a moment and thought before she picked up a fifth and closed the trunk. Again, she was amazed as the slight boy picked up the trunk with no apparent effort — this time grabbing it by one end and lifting it by the handle as if it were no heavier than an empty cardboard box — so he could rest the other end on the rack and then slide it the rest of the way because he was too short to reach the rack normally. The fact that he pushed it in the last few inches using a single finger at full extension did nothing to diminish her amazement.

    As she settled into the familiar comfort of her books, Hermione could only come to one singular conclusion.

    The Wizarding World was mental.

    2.2.2 All aboard!

    James Coates, the regular driver for the Hogwarts Express, was still chuckling to himself as he hauled on the chain hanging from 45401’s cab roof and the ever-faithful Stanier Class Five’s strident whistle blared across King’s Cross.

    How that young whippersnapper with the pet centaur — must be a rule change — had known that a Black Five was supposed to be black without knowing what a Black Five was, well, that was anyone’s guess, but given the chance he’d enjoy finding out.

    “Wotcher laughin’ at, Jim?” Michael ‘Mac’ McDonald, Jim’s fireman, asked, his query punctuated by the responding whistle from the guard. As if it had been waiting for that sign, the starting signal dropped.

    “I’ll tell yer later, Mac,” Jim said, patting the drake-dog who kept the fire nice and hot. “Okay, Smaugey, give the old girl a touch o’ hellfire.”

    Smaugey gave out a happy little gronk and blew a jet of blue-white flame into the firebox. The drake-dog knew his business — he’d been part of the Hogwarts Express crew since its inception nearly a century past, and by human standards, he’d been old then. The little critter had fired dozens of engines in his day, and he’d likely stay on for a great many more — no one knew how long drake-dogs could hang around for.

    Smaugey had picked up his current nickname from Jim’s predecessor back in the forties, named after a character in some book or another, but he didn’t care what they called him; so long as he had good company, good food, and a good job to do, the little drake-dog was happy as could be.

    Jim’s smile broadened as he gave the whistle another blast, heaved 45401 into gear, and began to ease the brakes off and the regulator open. Jim was of much the same mind as his drake-dog partner.

    No railman, and very few others outside the profession, had ever been able to stand next the hissing, spitting iron monster that is a steam locomotive without half believing that the mighty steel behemoth is somehow alive, and Jim Coates was no exception. He’d been driving the Hogwarts Express since before any of its current passengers were so much as a funny glimmer in their parents’ eyes, and he fully expected to man her footplate for decades to come. As long as his heart held out, he’d be right there at the regulator when the kiddies needed their ride, and between times he’d be right there keeping the supply runs going to keep them fed at their great drafty castle of a school.

    Steam burst from her chimney like the hissing of a gigantic snake as the sixty-odd-year-old iron horse began to move with a great groan of bearings and a nice, solid clang as her pony truck battered across a rail joint. Mac grinned and slung another shovel of coal into the firebox in time with the chorus of clangs from her driving wheels hitting the place marked by a fishplate, and Smaugey gave it a good huff and a puff as the brakes came off completely and the first proper chuff burst from the faithful old locomotive, making the fire roar as the steam blasted its way through her smokebox and into the summer air.

    The world had changed out from underneath the steam locomotive; the modern diesels had become cheaper and easier to run. It didn’t take so much skill to drive a diesel; a diesel didn’t need a talented fireman who knew when you’d need more steam and had her coaled up and ready to deliver. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry could have a diesel up and ready to roll easy as starting a car. The pragmatic side of Jim Coates knew that a Class 37 was a good, efficient locomotive, but that ‘tractor’ just wasn’t the same.

    It wasn’t a hissing, spitting metal beast; it didn’t have the pounding white-hot heart and soul of a good old Black Five. You couldn’t hear every part respond to the rails — it just wasn’t proper.

    Real locomotives, in his considered opinion, were seventy-odd tons of British iron, steel, and engineering with a hand-stoked fire, at least two big pistons, six or more driving wheels, and no fewer than two honest, highly-skilled working men paying her the attention she deserved from the footplate.

    And, for as long as steam ruled the wizarding rails, as long as some bright-eyed kid from down south would pay for a ticket, he would be right there amidst the fire and the fury, listening to the wheels clickety-clack across rail joins and the exhaust hammer away like a machine gun with no need for any nancy heater as the roaring fire at her heart lifted sweat from his wrinkled brow.

    This was most definitely life at its finest.

    2.2.3 Awkward kids

    An hour or so into the ride, Hermione was startled out of her reading by a knock on the door of their compartment, followed almost immediately by the knock being rendered irrelevant when the door was opened from the outside.

    The interloper was another boy of about the same age as her, only this one actually looked like it. He sported orange-red hair, a threadbare checked shirt, patch-kneed denim trousers, and a rather baggy, dilapidated corduroy jacket.

    “Heya!” he said in a cheerful voice. “Everything else is full, mind if I sit here?”

    “Sure, c’mon in!” Harry’s reply was immediate and equally cheerful.

    Hermione gave a smile and welcoming nod before she frowned as a thought occurred to her. “Wait, the train’s been moving for an hour now, what were you doing before if you hadn’t found a compartment?”

    The newcomer colored in embarrassment, fidgeting a little, “Ah, well, I was sitting with a couple of my older brothers, but their friend brought a tarantula, and they got it out in the compartment, and I kinda don’t like spiders, so I thought I’d go somewhere else…”

    “Oh, that makes sense,” Hermione said, nodding.

    “Yeah, spiders are the worst,” Harry agreed with Suze nodding emphatically. “Though some of the big ones are real tasty; just make sure you cook ‘em up right, or you can get food poisoning. Mr. Snape says they taste a lot like shrimp, but I always thought they tasted kinda like chicken.”

    “Harry, blathering,” Suze interrupted. The new boy had been turning steadily paler during Harry’s discourse on fine arachnid dining, and Hermione couldn’t say she blamed him.

    “Oh, sorry, I have a problem with that sometimes,” Harry apologized sheepishly.

    “…I just hope that my brothers don’t put that tarantula in my trunk while I’m gone. It’d be just like them to do something like that,” the redhead said, obviously just wanting to put the topic of spiders behind him. “My name’s Ron Weasley, by the way.”

    “I’m Harry,” Harry said immediately and enthusiastically. “And this is Hermione, and this is Suze. Suze is with me.”

    “Hi,” Hermione offered.

    “Well met,” Suze said.

    The newly-introduced Ron finally took in the centaur in the room as he looked up, and then further up, to see the source of the latest voice. “Wow! I guess they weren’t kidding about centaurs in the letter this year. I thought the twins were just having me on.”

    “Well, actually that’s ‘cause of me. I said I weren’t gonna come if Suze couldn’t come-with, and Mr. Dumbledore said he couldn’t be having that, so, well, Mr. Flitwick said he twisted some arms, but that doesn’t sound like something Mr. Dumbledore would do, so I guess that’s gotta be one of those ‘idiom’ things, and anyway, that’s why they added centaurs to the list,” Harry explained. “I mean, Mrs. McGonagall says there’s more allowed than what’s written down; she says that rats and hamsters and stuff’s okay too, and she said a kid was once allowed to have a chicken, and Madame Pomphrey said there was apparently a girl who graduated a couple years back named Mindy that brought her collie named Buttons who was always getting himself hurt which was why Madame Pomphrey remembered them specifically, but they added centaurs just so there weren’t gonna be any arguments.”

    “Yeah, I sorta knew that,” Ron volunteered, digging a rather mangy-looking rat, greying with age, out of his coat pocket, “because Scabbers here wasn’t against the rules or nothing when Percy had him.”

    “Huh, that’s weird,” Harry said, sounding puzzled. “Is that some sort of magic rat or something? Because it don’t smell completely of rat.”

    “I don’t think so,” Ron said glumly. “All he does is sleep, eat, and, you know, widdle.”

    “Oh,” Harry scratched his head, “I guess it musta just picked up your pocket smell.”

    “Hey, I don’t smell!” Ron protested. “I had a bath this morning, and my clothes are right out of the wash.”

    “I didn’t mean it like that,” Harry protested. “You had bacon and eggs for breakfast, right? And I think, pork sausage with… sage.”

    “How’d you know that?” Ron asked, giving a suspicious look to his shirt-front.

    “Because I got a really good nose, see,” Harry said, scratching his head. “I can smell the last few things a person ate for a few hours after they ate it, and everything smells of something. I mean, you smell like a person who had fried grub for breakfast and whose laundry got dried on a line close to an herb garden, and Hermione smells like someone who uses lemon-scented soap for their washing and handles books a whole lot, and Suze smells of person and horse and gun-smoke and that special kind of wax they use on composite bows, and this carriage smells like linseed oil and warm wood, and the engine smells like axle grease and coal smoke and hot metal, and the air ‘round here smells like exhaust pipe and dead pigeon, and I guess I smell like Harry what slept in and didn’t have time for a bath this morning.”

    “Huh,” Ron said, “that’s gotta be pretty awesome.”

    “Yeah, sometimes it’s real good,” Harry agreed. “Like when you’re up on the moors and you can smell all the plants and where there’s rabbits and deer and sheep and stuff, though deer poo kinda pongs, and then there’s when the wind comes in off the sea and you can smell the salt and the seaweed and maybe a bit of engine oil from the fishing boats or the trains. Mallaig’s nice, it all sorta smells of kipper and fishing boats when there ain’t too many tourists around, but the seagull poo can get a bit much. London stinks though. I think it’s because there’s too many people what ain’t washed and all them exhaust pipes and jet planes and somebody else’s rotten kebab in the gutter and all that chewing gum and dog poo and things what died and went manky and all them stinky pigeons…”

    “Harry, you’re blathering again,” Suze interrupted again.

    Harry stopped halfway through opening his mouth to continue, considered that for a moment, then looked highly embarrassed, drew several deep breaths, and sat back down. It was at that point that Hermione realized she didn’t know when he had stood up and started pacing the crowded compartment during his rant.

    “…sorry,” he apologized. “Like I said before, I kinda tend to blather when I get worked up about stuff.”

    “I’d noticed,” Hermione said.

    “Er, yeah,” Ron said, obviously unsure what to say in response to that. “Hey, what Houses do you reckon you’ll be in?”

    This was something Hermione had thought of, so she chimed in, “I’m hoping for House Gryffindor! I read all about the Houses in Hogwarts, A History, and it sounds best.”

    “Well, my friend, Mr. Snape, says that there aren’t any good Houses really,” Harry said, frowning. “I mean, he says Gryffindors are mostly blood-crazed dolts who don’t know how to identify a fight they can’t win, and Hufflepuffs are mostly half-witted dunderheads who likely don’t know how to tie their own shoelaces, and Slytherins are mostly degenerate sophisticates who can’t get over some ancient foolishness about bloodlines, and Ravenclaws are mostly ivory-tower intellectual snobs who can’t tell the difference between theory and practice, but Mr. Snape’s kinda sarcastic like that.”

    “…oh,” Hermione said in a small voice, her initial impressions crashing and burning.

    “Well, so long as I don’t end up in Slytherin, I’ll be okay!” Ron chirped. “Mum says there ain’t a wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin House, and they’re all slimy gits, and everyone knows Gryffindor is best because they’re all heroes like Dumbledore and Harry Potter.”

    Harry looked at him for a moment before he started reeling off a list of names, starting with ‘Roderick of Fife’ and ending with ‘Sirius Black’.

    “…huh?” Ron asked.

    “Well, those are all the Gryffindors I can think of that went all murderous and dark-magicky,” Harry said, scratching at his head again. “And, y’know, Mr. Dumbledore was in Slytherin, and Harry Potter ain’t been Sorted yet, so who knows where he’s gonna be, so I guess your mum’s either dumb or making stuff up, and making stuff like that up is, well, a pretty dumb thing to do. I mean there’s already a billion-and-one stupid reasons for people to look down on other people, so why would you make up another one because of what a hat said to ‘em?”

    “…uh,” Ron began uncertainly, “what? Hey! Mum’s not dumb! You take that back!”

    “Well, if she’s not dumb, then why’s she making stuff like that up?” Harry asked, crossing his arms stubbornly. “Only other reasons I can think of for someone to do that sort of thing are a whole lot worse than just bein’ dumb.”

    “I don’t have to listen to this rubbish!” The ginger one beat a hasty retreat back to the hallway.

    “Yup,” Harry said, exasperatedly. “Dumb.”

    2.2.4 Serious conversations

    “That was kind of rude, Harry,” Hermione said.

    “Mr. Snape says being rude to people who are being rude to you is perfectly fair play as long as they aren’t goblins or teachers because being impolite to goblins is bad for your financial status, and being impolite to teachers is bad for your academic standing,” Harry said with a shrug. “And I don’t like people assuming dumb stuff about me; it takes loads more than just not being dead to be all hero-y. If you ain’t never had a rank to go with your name, then you ain’t a hero, ‘less you got something like a Gee-Cee tacked on instead.”

    “Gee-Cee… rank… wait, what? You mean you’re that Harry Potter?” Hermione finally registered the implications of that statement. “That’s what that strange Mr. Ollivander meant about wands and scars? Your wand is a copy of You-Know-Who’s wand!”

    “Well, if you mean that Voldemort guy what bounced a killing curse off my face, then yeah, that’s me, and yeah, I guess that’s what Mr. Dumbledore’s friend, Mr. Ollivander meant, and yeah, that Voldemort guy’s wand had a feather in it what came offa the bum of the same phoenix as my wand’s feather came from, and that phoenix is Mr. Dumbledore’s friend, Fawkes. He hangs out with me and Suze sometimes.”

    “Headmaster Dumbledore hangs out with you?”

    “Well, sometimes,” Harry allowed, “but I was actually talking about Fawkes, the phoenix.”

    “Oh, okay.”

    “But, anyway, the only way anybody knows about what happened to that Voldemort guy is because Mr. Hagrid — you’ll like him, he’s nice — says so, and he’s real bad at lies, and he found me in what was left of Mum and Dad’s house, and there was squished Voldemort-guy all over my bedroom, and I had blood all over my head, and my Mum was dead on the floor, and I don’t remember any of that stuff, so I really can’t say what happened.” As Harry’s monologue continued, his voice got more and more agitated. “And how’d people know he bounced a killing curse off my face, anyway. I mean me and that Voldemort guy were the only not-dead people there until that Voldemort guy splatted, so how’d they work that stuff out? For all I know, Mum coulda jumped in the way and killed him back. I mean, sometimes when I useta get bad dreams, I’d remember this sorta green light coming for me and this really crazy voice laughing, and then I can’t remember anything else, and there weren’t anyone else there, so it’s kinda weird that everyone assumes that that Voldemort guy bounced a killing curse off me.”

    “Harry, blathering,” Suze broke in once again.

    “…drat.”

    A freight train passed in the opposite direction. First announced by its brisk, twin-tone horn, the heavy roar of the diesel locomotive followed, and then there was the rapid-fire repetitive, slam-slam-slam of air hammering between the wagons and the carriages. All told, the encounter shook the entire Hogwarts Express and its passengers, serving as a nice punctuation to their conversation.

    “You know, it said how they worked out what happened in Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts,” the interruption had also given Hermione a chance to think on what was said. “It says they used the Reverse Spell on You-Know-Who’s wand, and it came up with the killing curse as the last three spells cast. It also says the Killing Curse leaves a distinctive residue of dark magic on the victim, and you had that residue.”

    “Yeah, I know,” Harry nodded, “but the Killing Curse leaves that same residue on everything nearby, so if he used it to kill Mum, then I’d have gotten it on me at the same time. And all the spells out of the guy’s wand were killing curses as far back as they could read — which is seven according to some arithmantic principle I still ain’t wrapped my head around proper, according to Mr. Flitwick — but that’s not really saying much, ‘cause when you cast one of those things, it blurs out over everything so you can’t really tell if something else was cast or even how many of ‘em were cast. And anyway, don’t go believing stuff you read outta Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts too quick; it says stupid stuff about me what ain’t true,” he scratched his head. “I mean, I know that’s what the government says happened, but governments are governments. Being stupid is what they’re there for.”

    “You should respect the government!”

    “Government’s made of people, and Mr. Snape says they tend to attract the worst sort to ‘em, usually the sort of people who want to run a government because they get an erection when they boot people around,” at this point, Hermione started blushing madly; Harry, of course, didn’t notice, “at least that’s what Mr. Snape says, and I guess he’d know even though I still ain’t sure what that means, and no one’ll tell me because they say I ain’t old enough if I don’t already know, which is real dumb because how’re you gonna find out in the first place if nobody explains it?”

    “I guess…” Hermione said uncertainly.

    “Anyway, you’re gonna want to get over that automatic respect for the government, at least in the Wizarding World. I’m not really up to snuff on the current not-glowy-people’s government stuff, but the one here ain’t very nice at all,” Harry elaborated. “Lot of bad sorts in there, and they do what the people with money tell ‘em to do, and a lot of the people with money are even worse sorts…”

    Hermione wasn’t sure how to answer that; she had trouble believing that the government was as corrupt as Harry was implying — that sounded more like some sort of third-world tin-pot dictatorship than any sort of government that could possibly be tolerated in the British Isles! Instead, she decided to change the subject, “Harry what do you think happened with You-Know-Who, then?”

    “Well, I dunno, do I?” Harry said. “Whatever happened, it left dark magic gunk all over everything, left a bleeding bit on my face, left my Mum and Dad dead, blew the wall off my room, and made that Voldemort guy go splat, and that’s about all I’m sure of. I mean, they found that Voldemort guy’s wand in its holster, so he couldn’t have been pointing it at me when he went splat, and whatever they did with it, they couldn’t have checked it out too well ‘cause it got nicked by someone two days later — and if I ever find out who did it, I think I oughtta nick it right back, ‘cause I figure any weapon somebody tried to slay me with is worth keeping — so that’s a pretty big hole in the whole ‘bouncy killing curse’ idea.”

    Harry took a breath, continuing before Hermione could say anything, or for that matter, think of anything to say. “I know I didn’t do anything, ‘cause I was just a little kid, and what’s a little kid gonna do if he’s got that Voldemort guy screaming ‘I’m gonna make you a dead little kid’ in his face? And I don’t think that Voldemort guy did extra stuff to make himself go splat because, well, what kind of rampaging dunderhead makes himself go splat on purpose? So, I guess Mum musta done something, but I don’t know what, and all the books I could find made it out to be something special about my face. I mean, my face is special because it’s my face, but not the making-Voldemort-guys-go-splat-when-they-Killing-Curse-it kind of special.”

    Hermione thought about that for a moment before deciding that she wanted to do more research. Harry’s arguments made sense, once she was able to parse through his colorful phrasing, but they were in direct contradiction to her books — in contradiction with multiple sources even! She decided to change the subject, “What was that you were saying about ‘Gee-Cees’ and ‘ranks’ earlier?”

    “What? Oh, the stuff it takes to be heroes, right?” Harry checked. He was now walking a bronze coin, a knut if she remembered correctly — Hermione rarely paid attention to money, leaving it to her parents for the most part — across his knuckles.

    “Yeah, that.”

    Well, I was talkin’ about soldiers and stuff,” Harry said, flicking the coin up in the air, and then catching it with the same hand before it could hit the floor. “I’ve been reading a lot of stuff on history and wars, and I’m pretty sure hero-ing is part of being a soldier nowadays, especially if they’ve got medals and stuff, well, unless they’re Nazis or Soviets or some-such. And I threw in the Gee-Cee bit cause that’s the best they give to non-soldier types who manage to do the same kinda stuff. All the history books are way clearer on that than they are on any of the stuff I’ve managed to find on dragons, that stuff’s hard to work out, and everybody seems to get bits wrong.” Harry was then balancing the coin on one finger before the train hit a rough patch and dislodged it.

    While the boy was recovering his coin, Hermione considered that. “I don’t know, Harry. I mean, all that killing and, you know, bombs… it just can’t be good.”

    “Well, that’s all well and good if you ain’t got some giant spider or something charging at you and wanting to eat your face,” Harry said with a shrug. “Then if you ain’t as awesome as me, you’re gonna be real glad if you’ve got a well-tuned Ess Em Ell Ee or Ess Em Ell Arr or something else what’s good at making holes in stuff.” He held up his bronze coin at eye level and contemplated it for a long moment, “Or what if some barking-mad little guy with a stupid mustache went ‘I’m gonna invade Poland, and you’re next’? Then, well, you’ve either gotta really do for anything that tries to get you, or you’re gonna get proper squished,” there was a loud wrenching sound as he crushed the bronze coin between his index finger and thumb, “like that.”

    “It would be nice if we lived in a world where bad things only happened to bad people,” Suze chirped up, giving Hermione an intense side-on look and reminding her that the centaur maiden was in the compartment with them.

    It was amazing how Harry’s presence seemed to overwhelm even that of a full-sized centaur stuffed into a train compartment, Hermione thought.

    “But we do not,” Suze continued. “The acromantulas have treated my kin as prey, as a tasty delicacy, for longer than I have been alive. Are you saying that we should allow them to devour us because they are thinking beings? Do not try to tell me that we should attempt to talk to them; that attempt was made in a time when I was but a pleasant thought in my father’s head, and it is quite difficult to talk reason into any being that simply will not listen.”

    “It weren’t my centaur friends that started the fire, and it weren’t me neither,” Harry said, flicking the mangled coin onto the floor, “but I’m sure gonna fight it, ‘cause there ain’t nobody what messes with my friends. There’s this real good saying Master-Sergeant Griphook told me a while back, ‘let he who desires peace prepare for war’. I reckon it makes sense, ‘cause if you’re ready for bad stuff to happen, then if it does happen, it’s way likelier you and your friends are still gonna be alive when it’s over.”

    “I guess…” Hermione said uncertainly. What was it with this conversation that brought up all these uncomfortable topics?

    “That’s what soldiers are for, Hermione,” Harry solemnly continued, “That’s what they do, it’s their job to save the world.”

    Hermione paused while she digested that, before she picked up the coin Harry discarded. It was twisted and crushed to the point where it looked like a small piece of modeling clay someone had squeezed in their fist.

    “…how strong are you, Harry?” she asked.

    “Way stronger than I look,” Harry replied matter-of-factly.

    “He can pick me up without strain,” Suze helpfully added, affectionately ruffling Harry’s great black mop of scruffy hair.

    Looking from the pint-size boy to the much, much larger centaur, Hermione found that hard to believe — temporarily forgetting the earlier incident where he did just that to get her into the compartment in the first place — so she said so.

    “I find that hard to believe.”

    Harry shrugged, not at all put out, while Suze stifled a snort and wryly shook her head.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione asked, slightly put out. Were her new acquaintances having her on?

    “I apologize, it is merely that Harry seems to have that effect on people. The legend and the reality are so far separated that few know how to respond.”

    “Oh…” the cabin fell silent for a time with Harry playing with another coin and Hermione contemplating everything she had just heard.

    “Hey, Harry?” Hermione asked.

    “Yeah, Hermione?”

    “What was that you said about something a hat says to someone?”

    “Well,” Harry began, “it’s supposed to be a big secret because someone ages back thought that keeping everyone guessing was funny, but first-years get sorted by having a magical hat named Donald sat on their heads, and he has a talk with them in their heads and figures out what House they’re gonna be in. I tried to get him to tell me how he works that stuff out, but he just laughed and told me he’d let me know if I ever needed to know.”

    This time, Hermione couldn’t keep herself from stating it out loud, “The Wizarding World is mental!” to which her cabin-mates could only nod understandingly.

    2.2.5 A boy and his toad

    It was about this time that their cabin was visited by another boy who appeared to be about Hermione’s age, this one in a kind of dumpy-looking tan-and-red-striped sweater who looked nervous to even be knocking on their cabin door.

    “Um, hello? Has anyone seen a toad around here?” the newcomer asked.

    “Nope,” Harry said as cheerfully as ever.

    “Did you lose one?” Hermione asked.

    “Yeah,” the boy said, sounding depressed. “He was a gift from my uncle for getting in to Hogwarts, and now he’s run off…”

    “Maybe we can help?” Hermione offered.

    “Ah,” Harry sounded uncertain for once, “I probably shouldn’t; animals always run away from me — except those stupid midges in summer — I’d probably just make things harder for you, sorry.”

    “That’s okay,” Hermione said brightly, “I’ll still help you look… Um, I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name?”

    The dumpy-looking boy now looked mortified that he’d forgotten to introduce himself, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I’m Neville Longbottom.”

    “Charmed,” Hermione said in a perfunctory sort of voice, “I’m Hermione, this is Harry, and that is Suze,” she said, indicating the relevant persons as appropriate. “Now let’s go find your toad.” With that Hermione briskly marched out of the cabin.

    2.2.6 Coasting in to the station

    It was nearing the last light of day when 45401 came pounding her way down the glen towards Hogsmeade station, the beat of her exhaust hammering off the mountains and echoing across the moors, the elderly carriages of the Hogwarts Express clattering along the well-beaten rails of the West Highland Line behind her as Jim Coates closed her regulator and eased her brakes on. Steam hissed from her glands as she drew to a stately halt in the branch station that marked the sole ingress of the so-called ‘muggle world’ into the village of Hogsmeade across the loch from Hogwarts, and she sat, simmering, as her passengers poured from the coaches.

    She was a notorious locomotive amongst the railway enthusiasts of Britain; her Midland Railway-style livery had drawn a lot of critical remarks, but her owners — an oddly hard-to-contact conglomerate known as Hogs Haulage, PLC — had so far proved unavailable for comment and had failed to return her to her proper livery despite myriad scathing letters from fans and old hands of the London, Midland, and Scottish.

    Her haunts were hard to pin down, too. A lot of enthusiasts had tried to book a ride on the daily workings undertaken by Hogs Haulage from the far northwest to London and back without success; whatever the run they hauled those trains for, it was decidedly private indeed, as was the exact location where their locomotives were stabled and just why their owners had seen fit to paint them in such unprototypical livery.

    Tut, tut!

    At least 45401 and her stablemates had been saved from the cutter’s torch. The number of fine old locomotives that had dwindled down to nothing in the scrap-lines was all too large as it was; for every locomotive that reached preservation, dozens had been met with the ignominious fate of being cut up for scrap.

    Some had been less than twenty years old when they were withdrawn, a terrible waste of a perfectly good locomotive.

    Most of the people who kept a weather eye out for the Hogs Haulage trains would have been quite scathing in their disbelief if told what the purpose of those trips was, but not all; one tiny handful knew what those trains stood for.

    And the majority of that handful could use magic.

    To the bulk of her passengers, 45401 was beneath notice; just the engine that hauled the Hogwarts Express today, nothing special.

    To the few, she was a slice of history in carefully-preserved steel, and in her time, she’d transported her fair share of fellow slices of history; the Boy-Who-Lived was merely the latest on that list.

    Thirty feet from her smokebox and completely oblivious to the significance of the simmering sixty-odd-year old locomotive, Rubeus Hagrid was busy bellowing, “Firs’ years this way, firs’ years this way!” at the top of his lungs. To him she was just a big old lump of red-and-black metal.

    Her crew was already checking her over in preparation to return her to her place in the Hogsmeade motive power depot as the first-year students boarded the boats at the nearby jetty. Mac was unfastening her couplers as Jim went ‘round seeing that the guard, Ivor McIver, had the coaches prepared for the shunter — an Andrew-Barclay 0-4-0 saddle-tank, formerly the property of a Speyside distillery — to haul them back to the carriage sheds for cleaning and for the Hogwarts house elves to transport the children’s luggage up to the castle. The children always made a heck of a mess on the train, and the small contingent of Hogs Haulage house elves always tut-tutted about the drifts of sweetie-wrappers, soft-drink bottles, used chewing gum, and other such detritus.

    By the time Hagrid was calling for the first years to mind their heads as they passed under the low entryway for the tunnel that led to the Hogwarts docks, more normally used to transport the food that those children would eat, Jim was backing 45401 past the coaches towards the point that led to the turntable and engine shed; as the students filed into the Great Hall, they were seeing that old Smaugey was fed and settled into his kennel; and by the time the Sorting began, they were leaving the shed on their way down to the Hogs Head Inn and a well-earned pint of Honest Abe’s Old Peculiar.
     
    SerbobIV, loatroll, Hatt and 97 others like this.
  13. Threadmarks: Section 2.3 - Arrival at a fairy tale castle
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.3.0 Arrival at a fairy tale castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    And Hermione had thought her own hair was uncontrollable!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “It’s not bad, eh?”

    “It’s incredible… beautiful…”

    “C’mon, lets grab a boat.”

    2.3.1 Disciplinary inquiry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “It is.”

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

    A thin smile appeared on Snape’s face, “Two points for your applied knowledge of centaurs, Miss Abercrombie. That will be all.” He then turned back to scowling at the student body which was slowly separating itself into Houses.

    Abigail frowned in surprise at the abrupt dismissal before nodding respectfully and stepping backwards. The Professor obviously knew of the centaur and appeared to have no objection. There was something odd, though. Professor Snape had confirmed that the centaur maid was not a student, but he was still unconcerned that she had been on a train exclusively reserved for students.

    She would have to unravel that puzzle at a later date, for now, she needed to take her place at the Slytherin table and prepare to welcome the new students.

    She barely managed to take her seat in time.

    2.3.2 The Sorting

    Out of all the incoming first-year students, only one knew what to expect, and since that one was Harry Potter, he was predictably far too excited about the situation to be coherent. Hermione, still attached to him by the hand, found herself wanting to put her hands on his head to stop him bouncing as they listened to the scruffy magical hat he’d earlier claimed went by the name, Donald, singing some kind of vaguely bawdy doggerel. The hall was very impressive, and she supposed a singing hat was neat, but having an outrageously strong and hyperactive small boy fidgeting, giggling and pointing random things out tended to detract from the majesty of the spectacle.

    The Sorting proceeded alphabetically by surname, and Harry amused himself by spotting kids he recognized as their turns came up, marking each with an ‘I know him/her’; first in that category was one Hannah Abbot who he’d met in Diagon Alley that one time, quickly followed by her friend Susan Bones. They both ended up in Hufflepuff. Then Hermione ended up in Gryffindor, which Harry supposed was a good thing since that’s where she said she wanted to go.

    That Longbottom guy who, judging by the squirming lump in his pocket, had eventually managed to find his toad, got sorted into Gryffindor. Then there was that mad Draco kid, whose awesome first name did nothing to make up for his personality. He’d almost gotten his head sat-on on principle that one time they’d met in Hogsmeade on account of him being dumb and giving dragons a bad name by association. The blond dunderhead ended up in Slytherin, and Harry was sure Mr. Snape wasn’t going to like that one bit. Then Mrs. McGonagall said ‘Potter, Harry’, and he bounded up to the stool for his turn.

    While the other children had been nervous to one degree or another at facing the ordeal of being Sorted in front of the entire school, Harry was quite eager, enjoying the whispers and bated breath throughout the room. He was a dragon after all, even if he didn’t look it at the moment, and dragons were supposed to be impressive and awe-inspiring. He figured he needed all the awe he could get.

    2.3.3 Surprise!

    As the Hat descended on the still slightly-undersized boy and his great shaggy mop of black hair, the Hall was hushed in anticipation. This made the truncated scream of pure astonishment all the more piercing in contrast.

    “What the fu…” the Sorting Hat screamed aloud before catching itself. The small figure seated under the recently screaming hat had already been the focus of attention for every person in the hall, but now each and every eye widened.

    Snape leaned across to the Headmaster, “I thought the two had already met?”

    “They did,” Albus looked puzzled. “I wonder what’s gotten the Hat all up in a tizzy?”

    2.3.4 Sorting the dragon

    Harry looked up as far as his eyes could go, even going so far as to tilt his head back a little. “Is there something wrong?”

    In his mind, Donald’s voice sounded like he was hyperventilating. “Oh my, you’re a, a… I’ve never… Oh my!”

    Harry reached up with his still very human-looking arm and patted the ancient hat reassuringly, “Are you alright?”

    “I am most certainly not alright! That bast… er, never mind. Ooh, the Headmaster deserves a good… aargh!” the Hat paused and seemed to collect itself. “My apologies, Mr. Potter, and for your reference, you don’t need to speak out loud; I am quite capable of communicating with you via your thoughts.”

    “Like this?” Harry thought very loudly.

    “Perhaps not quite so forcefully,” Donald gave the impression of a wince. “Goodness, I’ve never had to sort a dragon before. Have you always been a dragon? I didn’t notice any indication when we met previously.”

    “I transformed into one when those standing-stone thingies went all crazy back a couple months before I turned eight,” Harry explained in a much quieter, but still excitedly bouncy, mental voice. “I didn’t meet you, though, until after I’d learned to transfigure myself into a human again.”

    “…and since we were speaking aloud rather than with me on your head, I didn’t have the senses to tell the difference, I suppose,” Donald concluded. “That makes sense, though it still doesn’t excuse Albus for not telling me ahead of time.”

    “Is there something wrong with me being a dragon,” Harry asked, troubled.

    “No, nothing wrong,” Donald assured him, “I just like being informed of these things beforehand. Don’t like surprises too much, you understand.”

    “Well, it’s supposed to be a secret,” Harry offered. “Some of the glowy people wouldn’t like it too much if they found out I was a dragon instead of a person, well, I’m still a person, but a dragon-shaped person rather than a people-shaped person. Maybe that’s why he didn’t tell you.”

    “Well, I don’t care if it was supposed to be a state secret, the old whiskered bastard should have bloody-well told me,” the hat groused. “Please pardon my language, Harry. I am somewhat overwrought.”

    Harry screwed up his face in confusion, “Huh, why did he need to tell you? Does it make some sort of difference in where you sort me?”

    “No, it was more along the lines of not scaring the stitching out of me. Ugh, I’m too old for this sort of excitement.”

    That sounded interesting, “How old are you, exactly? I mean, Hagrid said I might be around for a really long time because dragons can live for hundreds of years, and Madame Pomphrey said I might well live even longer than that, so I was wondering about…”

    “Well, perhaps we should get on with our business first?” Donald interrupted before Harry could really get a good blather going. “As fascinating as your observations are, I fear that if we take too long to sort you there may just be a riot after my little slip up at the beginning. Feel free to visit during the year, it is always nice to get some company, and we could converse at our leisure, then. I’m sure the Headmaster would be amenable to allowing you to visit his office. I might even get you to play a prank on him for me. Well, on to the job at hand, hmm, interesting…”

    The chance to talk to the hat sounded like it might be great fun, but Donald did have a point, Harry reasoned. “Your song said all the clever glowy-people get put in Ravenclaw; I like reading, can I go there?”

    “So I see; so I see. You do have a powerful intellect, indeed; however, I suspect your phenomenal rate of learning and memory retention would earn you more resentment than fellowship there. It is one thing for students to engage in friendly competition with others of similar ability, but to be effortlessly outclassed is another thing entirely. Your time in Ravenclaw would be troublesome, and while character-building, I dare say that annoying a dragon would turn out to be a little too exciting for members of that House.”

    Harry considered that. He didn’t really see it as he had never really considered himself to be particularly smart, but he figured he’d take Donald’s word for it. The hat was supposed to be the expert here. “If you say so. I don’t want to annoy anyone if it’s not for a good reason, and annoying them by being better at schoolwork seems like a pretty dumb reason to me. How about Gryffindor? I’m brave; I’ve even got a damsel, and you sorted Hermione there, and she’s my friend.”

    “Mr. Potter, you are fearless, and with good reason! But I’m afraid courage is a very different thing from fearlessness. Courage is acting despite your fear, and you have yet to face any situations sufficiently dangerous to showcase your courage. Gryffindors as a group tend to leap into dangerous situations readily, yes, but a situation which is dangerous for a wizard would pose little challenge to one such as you. Conversely, a situation even mildly dangerous for you would be beyond deadly to a wizard, and I shudder to think what would happen should your housemates leap into such a situation after you. I suspect that my sorting you into Gryffindor would quickly lead to a marked decline in the House’s population through attrition.”

    “Oh!” Harry said, taken aback. “That’s not good at all. I guess Hufflepuff is the only one left then? Mr. Snape said I wouldn’t make a very good Slytherin.”

    “Severus Snape’s opinion matters to me not at all, Mr. Potter,” the hat said testily, “I do not attempt to gainsay him regarding his potions, and he should kindly refrain from attempting the same with me regarding Sorting. For your information, I do not necessarily sort students into the House which most closely mirrors their personality.”

    “You don’t? I thought you said in the song that that was your job?”

    “It usually turns out that way, yes, but my purpose is to sort students into the Houses where they will grow and develop properly, the place where they would best succeed. When a student holds the attributes of several Houses, I try to sort them where they would be most effective. Now Hufflepuff would be delighted to have you as a member.”

    “You mean I’m going to be a Badger? Wicked!”

    “You would certainly fit in there quite well; Hufflepuff itself would fare better for your patronage. The honor and prestige alone would do wonders for the House’s reputation.”

    Harry frowned, the hat seemed to be stalling. “But where else could I go? You don’t think I’d be any good with the sneaky people in Slytherin, do ya? Mr. Snape seemed to think the idea was pretty funny when I asked him.”

    The hat gave the mental impression of an exasperated sigh. “Mr. Potter, Professor Snape was correct to point out that you are not really cunning, or sneaky as you would call it. You are arrow-straight in a world full of curves. You have a child’s view of the world, a view which would attract some derision from your fellow Slytherins. I wouldn’t even consider putting you in that House were it not for one thing…”

    “Really, what’s that?”

    “You have an ambition Salazar himself would never have dreamed to even consider; you wish to change the world.”

    Harry mentally shrugged, finding the action to be oddly comfortable despite doing it for the first time in his existence. “Oh, that. Well, Mr. Snape and Suze and me have all been trying to figure out how to overthrow the glowy people in charge so we can fix things up — when we’re not learning potions, that is. Mr. Snape gets really loud when I try to talk about overthrowing while he’s talking about potions.”

    The hat paused for a moment, “Yes, well, Professor Snape’s protestations aside, that’s my dilemma. I could put you in Hufflepuff, and you would be welcomed there, but the House would be the greatest beneficiary of your placement rather than you. Or I could put you in Slytherin, and you might not be so happy there, but you might be forced to develop some more subtle skills which would prove most useful for your grand ambition. Essentially you would cultivate a more delicate touch, an attitude that would serve you well with your goal.”

    “You know, from the reading I’ve done and the conversations I’ve had, I never would have guessed it would come down to deciding between Hufflepuff and Slytherin. Those two don’t really have a lot in common.”

    “Ah, but a good Slytherin knows how to work hard for his goals, though there are precious few in that House these days,” Donald countered. “And few Hufflepuffs work hard for the sake of hard work, rather they pursue a goal, in other words, an ambition.”

    “Oh, okay. So where am I going?”

    “Yes, yes. Where are you going? Hufflepuff, where you would do well, but the House would be great, or Slytherin where the House would do well, but you would be pushed on the path to true greatness?”

    Harry waited with bated breath. This was perhaps the defining moment of his childhood — well, apart from the whole turn-into-a-dragon thing, it would be pretty hard to top that one.

    “HUFFLEPUFF!” the hat shifted back to audible speech to declare Harry’s fate at Hogwarts.

    “Not Slytherin?” Harry thought. He figured it might have been nice to be in the same House as Mr. Snape.

    “No, Mr. Potter,” Donald replied in kind, “if placing you in Gryffindor would have decimated the House through attrition, putting you in with the Serpents would have led to their near-complete annihilation. As I said, the good Slytherins are rather light on the ground at the moment. I daresay that you will achieve true greatness eventually regardless of your House, and weighing a few years’ delay in what promises to be a truly prodigious lifespan against the lives of a quarter of the school, well, it wasn’t too difficult a choice to make. Good luck to you in Hufflepuff, and don’t forget to visit!”

    Harry took off the hat, set it on the stool and gave it a quick pat, “Thanks, Mr. Hat!”, before he trotted over to the table trimmed in black and yellow.

    2.3.5 An unexpectedly friendly outcome

    “HUFFLEPUFF!”

    Up at the staff table, Snape looked faintly surprised at the outcome before muttering, “Blasted reptile.”

    Then he stifled a chuckle as he scanned the Gryffindor students poleaxed looks, the Ravenclaws wide-eyed startlement, the Slytherins equally startled but calculating expressions, and the wild cheering and applause from the Badgers.

    It seemed that Harry had, as expected, put a cat among the pigeons from the get-go.

    Normal pigeons, that is, not the sort of monstrosity that Harry could turn into if he remembered a certain story from Minerva — a normal cat among the normal pigeons.

    2.3.6 Feast

    After the uproar following the Boy-Who-Didn’t-Snuff-It becoming a ‘Puff, the Sorting proceeded apace, with the last student Harry had met, Ronald Weasley, joining the Lions, and some kid named Zabini — who Harry only remembered because his name was kind of unusual, what with starting with a ‘z’ and all — going to Slytherin.

    It was followed by a brief bit of buffoonery from Dumbledore in which he imparted the grand words of wisdom, ‘nitwit’, ‘oddment’, and ‘tweak’ — from which some of the more obsessive Ravenclaws would spend weeks attempting to derive hidden meanings — which then led directly into the feast wherein a large room full of teenagers and near-teenagers consumed their fill, and a little bit more, of greasy, starchy, calorie-dense food.

    Harry once again shocked the rest of the student body by practically inhaling the equivalent of an entire roast cow by himself while enthusiastically chattering away at a mile-a-minute with his new housemates. Harry counted this as a great success when he managed to get the girls he ended up sitting between, Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot, giggle fits and managed to get the older boy seated across the table, who’d introduced himself as Cedric Diggory, to snort so hard pumpkin juice came out of his nose.

    Once everyone’s appetites were sated — except for Harry, who regarded just one cow as little more than a light nibble and fully intended to eat enough to feel full when he got back to his Lair for the evening — Dumbledore again took center stage for a few announcements regarding a new staff member and some rule changes.

    “The Forbidden Forest is, as its name suggests, strictly forbidden to anyone not accompanied by a staff member or a registered resident of the Forest, and last, but certainly not least, there is a hallway on the third floor which is likewise strictly off-limits as it contains a certain death for any who venture therein. It is marked and locked in a way which will require considerable deliberate effort for any student to unlock. I trust that no one will make the attempt, as doing so would be quite remarkably foolish.”

    Harry frowned for a moment at that. He alone among the student body had some idea of what was going on with that. A few days before, a fist-sized package had been delivered to the castle via armored car under the watchful eyes of no less than a full platoon of armed-to-the-teeth goblins led by Sergeant-Major Hooktalon. They’d even brought rocket launchers and a weird sort of gun with six barrels that rotated through one after another that they’d said they were going to mount on a stand inside the door.

    The squaddies had seemed almost giddy about the thing, so Harry figured they didn’t get to use it very often; when he had asked, they said they only got to use it this time because the client had a whole lot of money and he was willing to pay for the ammunition. It was called an ‘Em-One-Thirty-Four Minigun’, which seemed like an odd name to Harry since between the gun itself, the specially-shielded battery pack, and the ammunition boxes, it probably weighed as much as two of the goblins themselves.

    They apparently had orders to keep everyone but a few specific people out — namely Dumbledore, Hooktalon, Slackhammer, and some guy named Flamel — using force if required, and that was all they’d been willing to tell him. Their tone had let him know that it was something he ought not be pushing on, so he left them to it after extracting a promise to come by and look in on his marksmanship progress when they got a chance.

    “Now then, it is time for us to get some sleep,” Dumbledore concluded, snapping Harry out of his thoughts. “We’ve a big day tomorrow, after all.”

    Prefects went around calling the attention of their respective Houses’ first-years, leading each group out of the Great Hall in a great disorderly mob. Once everyone had been directed to their common rooms, it was time for the few students who would not be living in the dorms to be shown the way out, since it wasn’t through the docks they came in by. In Hufflepuff’s case, this group had two members, Harry, and Zacharias Smith who lived down in Hogsmeade, but the group included some few from the other Houses as well.

    This year, escort duty was being handled by none other than Professor Severus Snape. As the other students left with their parents, he intercepted Harry before he could trundle off to the Forest, “Mr. Potter, the Headmaster would like to speak with you before you head home for the evening. Please follow me,” without waiting for an acknowledgement, Snape strode off.

    Harry, quite used to this sort of behavior from the man, gave an acknowledgement anyway, “Okay!” and made good time keeping up with the older man’s longer stride.

    “Did Mr. Dumbledore tell you what he wanted to talk to me about?” Harry asked as they walked.

    “I have an idea, but as there may be other things I will not speculate so as not to mislead you unintentionally.”

    “Umm, okay,” Harry said uncertainly. “When do you teach us first-years?”

    “Your class timetable will be issued tomorrow at breakfast, but traditionally I teach the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff first-year students on a Thursday morning.”

    Harry nodded happily at that. He was beyond pleased that he would finally be able to be a student at Hogwarts and spend more time with his professor friends. Admittedly, it would mean spending less time galloping with his centaur friends, but during the spring and fall that time was kind of limited anyway.

    As the pair continued to walk down the byzantine maze of Hogwarts’ hallways, the companionable silence was broken again, this time by Snape. “Out of morbid curiosity, how many students did your centaur damsel’s hooves injure on the Express?”

    Eyes wide with awe, Harry asked, “How did you know Suze kicked someone on the train?”

    Snape was disciplined enough to keep his tongue in check, and rather than retort that his last name was Potter, and therefore injuries among innocent bystanders were to be expected, as he would have done with any of his peers in the staffroom; he instead went with, “I am a student of human nature.”

    Harry wasn’t sure what to make of that reply, so he just decided to explain the incident to his friend.

    Snape sighed, “As you were not Sorted at that point, I shall hold off on deducting points; however, please direct your considerable intellect towards anticipating and avoiding such problems in the future. I am not so naïve as to imagine that you will be able to avoid trouble entirely, but if you at least promise to attempt to do your best to avoid discovery and keep collateral damage to a minimum, I believe I will have to be satisfied.”

    “Okay, Mr. Snape!” There was that blasted weaponized level of exuberance again. The blasted reptile was going to ruin his reputation at this rate.

    They had finally managed to arrive at the gargoyle which concealed the entrance to the Headmaster’s office. “My office is in the dungeons near the potions classroom, though I can be contacted using the fire in any of the common rooms in an emergency.” He broke off for a moment to provide the password for the entrance, currently ‘lemon drops’, before continuing, “Now off you go, you blasted reptile. Our tutoring sessions will continue, but the location will shift to the potions classroom. Good night to you, and sleep well; you have a big day tomorrow.”

    “Good night, Mr. Snape! I’ll see you tomorrow.”

    2.3.7 Gentle reminder

    Harry bounded up the cool moving stairs into Mr. Dumbledore’s office after Mr. Snape had left in a great sweeping billow of dark robes as was his custom. The large office, really more of an office suite if one were to be precise, was mostly filled with interesting things. Little magical devices that spun about and periodically emitted puffs of smoke, moving magical portraiture, all sorts of colorful knickknacks glowing with various kinds of magic to Harry’s senses, and reams upon reams of parchment. Most of all, however, there was Fawkes.

    Harry really liked Fawkes.

    He made for great company. The phoenix was nearly as cheerful as Harry was, and he made you feel better just by being around. It made Harry aspire to do the same someday, though he had no idea how he might manage it. Phoenixes apparently had some innate magical effect that did that, and Harry would probably have to make a similar thing if he wanted to brighten up people’s moods with his mere presence.

    The roiling mass of vaguely bird-shaped flame chirped a friendly greeting to Harry, followed by a hopeful questioning one.

    “It’s good to see you too, Fawkes,” Harry said, fearlessly reaching his hand out to pet the incarnation of fire. “And sorry, but the room’s too small to transform and give you a fire bath. If you come by the Lair when I get back, though, I’d be happy to, and I’m sure Suze would like to see you too!”

    “Ah, Mr. Potter, it is an absolute delight to finally welcome you to Hogwarts as a student!” the Headmaster said, stepping out of an adjoining room that appeared to consist mostly of a cozy-looking sitting area before a fireplace. In the time between the welcoming feast and his current meeting, the man had exchanged his relatively subdued robes with multicolored stars and moons for a much more lurid set with animated patterns and everything. “I do appreciate your self-discipline in refraining from transforming within my office, as well. I know how persuasive Fawkes can be when he wants something, but sorting the paperwork again would be quite tedious.”

    “You’re welcome, Mr. Dumbledore,” Harry said, perfectly seriously.

    “Yes… did I hear you say correctly that Fawkes enjoys being bathed in your flames?” the elderly man asked. “I must say that I had not realized such things were enjoyable for phoenixes or I would have sought to provide him with such previously.”

    “He said that other fires aren’t hot enough for him when I asked before,” Harry explained.

    “I wonder if that is why he has seemed so much healthier recently?” Dumbledore mused, stroking his beard thoughtfully. “He hasn’t undergone a burning day in six months or so, and his flames have seemed much more energetic than usual… hmm, most remarkable. In any case, I suppose we should get back to the topics at hand.”

    “Right!”

    “How was your train ride, young man?” Dumbledore asked. “The Express has been a beloved tradition for the best part of a century; I trust that it was quite memorable for you?”

    “It was great!” Harry said enthusiastically. “I sat with Suze and a girl I’d met at Diagon Alley before, and we read lots, but Suze had to take the portkey back to the Lair because we couldn’t get her back out of the compartment.”

    The Headmaster nodded sagely, “I suppose I should have anticipated that, though it does beg the question of how you managed to get her into the compartment in the first place — an enigma I am sure to enjoy pondering at a later date. As it is, there was no lasting harm done. Please take a seat, there are a few things to discuss.” As his young guest took a seat on one of the visitors’ chairs arranged before the desk, Dumbledore indicated a candy dish on the edge of said desk, “Lemon drop?”

    The young dragon looked longingly at the sweets, he could certainly smell them from here, and they smelled delicious, the same sort of tangy acid smell to be expected from good, strong, goblin tea — or a leaky car battery, they were pretty similar.

    “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to pass for now. Hagrid left me a couple of cars up on the bluff by the Lair, and I don’t want to spoil my appetite. Maybe next time?” he finished hopefully.

    “Quite responsible,” Albus approved, nonetheless popping one into his own mouth, “and I will quite happily offer you the same opportunity on your next visit. Now, have you had an opportunity to read the copy of the school bylaws I lent you?”

    Harry nodded, “I did, though Suze and me had a bit of a laugh at some of the sillier rules. I hope you don’t mind?”

    “Of course not, some of those rules are quite silly, indeed,” the man’s long white beard danced as he gave a hearty chuckle. “My favorites are some of the rules regarding the etiquette involved in the concurrent carrying of swords and wands put in place in the thirteenth century; why, to follow them all would require no less than three hands!”

    Harry grinned, recognizing the rules the man was referring to. “It got even worse in the sixteenth century when they added the ones for guns, ‘cause they didn’t do anything to invalidate the earlier ones for swords and they used ‘and’ instead of ‘or’ for left or right-handed carry, so by the rules you technically need to be carrying four swords, two pistols, two rifles, at least seven knives, and thirteen wands with a hand for each one.”

    The old man laughed delightedly, “I must admit I had not made that connection before, though I see it now that you’ve pointed it out. Come to think of it, that would have been a much better choice when we were trying to find a way to justify carrying your armament on campus, hmm. Well, what is done, is done, I suppose.”

    “Yeah, well, I’ve been thinking, remember how the goblins helped Suze and me to get away from that crazy toad lady in the alley last year? All those laws with numbers after the names?”

    “I do have a passing familiarity with the legal code, Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore assured him, amused. “It is, after all, my responsibility as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot to be the highest arbiter of such matters in the land.”

    “Right!” Harry said enthusiastically, completely unembarrassed by what many others would consider a major oversight. “Anyway, the rule book sorta reminded me of them, and I was wondering whether I could get a copy of all the rule books with the laws that I could read? I don’t want to have to bother the goblins all the time whenever someone tries to be a poo-head, so I figured if I knew all the laws, I could make sure to only do things that are allowed, even if everyone thinks they’re not allowed.”

    There was a slight pause as the older man waded through that morass of dialogue, “I see. Are you thinking of practicing law when you graduate from Hogwarts? Do you wish to become a solicitor or barrister? With your prodigious memory, you would be a formidable opponent in the courtroom.”

    “Nah,” the dragon waved the idea off. “They sound like really boring jobs. I just want to know so I can deal with it if I have to. Plus, if we ever want to change the laws to be fairer, I need to know what we’ve got now to avoid running into the same problems.”

    Albus beamed at that, it seemed that his earlier urgings about working within the system had borne at least some fruit after all. “Well, it is always a good thing to have more people familiar with our legal system, and I am certain I could authorize and expenditure from your trust account for the purpose of acquiring the relevant materials. The legal code is quite extensive, however, so you will be in for quite the read, and keeping up with the continual additions, modifications, and indeed, contradictions, can be both tiresome and expensive.”

    “Thanks, Mr. Dumbledore! Um, before I forget, Donald also invited me to come talk to him from time to time during the year, is that okay?”

    “Donald?”

    “Yeah,” at the elderly wizard’s puzzled look, Harry offered, “You know, Donald, the hat?”

    “The Sorting Hat is named Donald?” this was news to Dumbledore. He’d always just called it the Hat.

    “Uh huh,” Harry nodded. “He told me when I first talked to him last year.”

    “Well, I suppose you learn something new every day,” Albus mused. “I will certainly not get in your way on that front, though if you wish to meet with him in my office, I will of course, need to be present. There are a great many fragile and important things in here, after all. Perhaps…” He stood up and went to a shelf, withdrawing the Sorting Hat and setting it on his desk, “Hat — or Donald, I suppose — Mr. Potter tells me you would like to speak with him during the year?”

    The Hat awoke groggily, “Yes, yes I did. Why, is he here to talk already?”

    “Hi, Donald!” Harry greeted.

    “He is here, but I daresay it is too late in the day for a proper conversation when he has classes tomorrow. No, I wished to ask whether you would like to be relocated outside of my office so that you might be available for discussions with students without requiring my presence? The castle certainly is in possession of a surfeit of rooms, it would be no trouble to set something up.”

    The hat scrunched itself up in concentration before it responded, “You know, that sounds rather nice. I think I’ll take you up on that.”

    “Then it shall be done,” Dumbledore said grandly before faltering slightly as a though occurred to himm. “Though it may take a few weeks to set up the appropriate wards, Merlin knows what the Weasley twins would load you down with without proper warding.”

    The hat shuddered, “Take your time, then, Headmaster. No need to rush, and it would be good for Mr. Potter to get a few weeks of class under his belt before we talk again anyway.” Donald turned to the young dragon, “You’ve got a lot on your plate right now, don’t be too rushed about coming to see me while you’re so busy. I’ve got plenty of time, and from your statements earlier, you’re not hurting for it either.”

    “Okay, Donald!”

    “Before you put me away, Albus, I insist on attending that staff meeting you lot always hold after the Welcoming Feast; I’ve got some things to say to you,” Donald said in a tone that brooked no argument. “Now finish your discussion with Mr. Potter before it gets so late the boy falls asleep on the way back to his Lair.” Piece said, the hat returned to looking like an ordinary, if battered, piece of apparel.

    “Yes, well… I suppose that brings me to the first item I needed to discuss with you, Mr. Potter. I understand that several of the Hogwarts faculty are your friends and you are accustomed to referring to them as such, but during the term, you should address them by their proper titles. It is a sign of respect for their positions, and it is intended to help maintain discipline among the students, which can be quite necessary due to the oftentimes hazardous nature of magical instruction. Thus, Severus should be referred to as Professor Snape during the term, for instance. When in your Lair or during breaks, you may of course refer to us by whatever moniker tickles your fancy. Indeed, whilst there, you may refer to me as ‘that barmy old codger’ should you feel so inclined.”

    “Okay, Professor Dumbledore.”

    “Excellent, now, additionally there are a few things I must discuss with you about how you interact with your peers…”

    2.3.8 Laying down the law

    Snape strode purposefully down the corridor towards the Slytherin common room, his darkly-dyed robes billowing about him. Arriving at his destination, he whispered the override password from within a silently-cast muffling charm; the potions master had no desire to see what mischief his Serpents could cause with an override password at their disposal. As it was, he still changed the thing every other week.

    All conversation ceased as the potions master billowed into the room like a particularly taciturn miniature storm cloud, and every head turned to face him.

    Snape took his time looking around the room at the faces of his students, not incidentally allowing time for tension to build. Say what you might about his social acumen, Snape certainly knew how to work a room.

    “I have some announcements to make. Prefects, summon our wayward Serpents.”

    All six of the prefects nodded and immediately bolted for the various dormitories to roust up any students that had thought to go to bed early. Snape meanwhile glared at the rest of the student body. When all had been assembled, he spoke in a low, clear, but still vaguely ominous voice.

    “This year, things have changed.”

    The students knew better than to interrupt.

    “Historically, punishments for rule infractions have been dispensed only when there was sufficient evidence to support such actions. There have been instances in the past where the rules have been broken, but in the face of limited or inconclusive evidence, punishments were avoided.”

    “This state of affairs is no longer in effect.”

    Several hushed conversations sprang up almost immediately, only to be hushed when Snape cut them off with a sharp gesture.

    “The unofficial rule, ‘no witnesses, no crime’ should be considered obsolete. If an allegation is leveled against you, you shall be punished. If it later turns out that you were falsely accused, then your accuser shall be punished twofold. This warning is being passed on to every student in the school. There will be no bullying, no intimidation, and no extortion. There will be no accidental spell-fire in the hallways when no witnesses are present; there will be no sabotaging of equipment or schoolwork when no one is watching. The rules have not changed, but the level of evidence required for their enforcement has. Neither I nor any other staff member will protect students from the consequences of their own actions.”

    “Are there any questions?”

    A few hands rose, causing Snape to sigh internally. What was unclear about his speech? He had attempted to make it as clear and unambiguous as possible. He nodded to the nearest hand, belonging to Mr. Flint, who had not been present at the feast as he recalled. Poppy had done good work, it seemed.

    “Does that include the Express, sir?”

    “Naturally.”

    Flint grinned as if he had just won the lottery, “I was attacked by a centaur on the train, sir. Whoever owns it is responsible…”

    Snape kept his face deliberately blank as he interrupted his student, “Have you been practicing quidditch over the break, Mr. Flint?”

    “Yes, sir,” the boy seemed puzzled over the apparent non-sequitur.

    “Did you sustain any injuries to your eardrums?”

    “Sir?”

    “Is your hearing compromised?” the potions master clarified.

    “No sir.”

    “Did you happen to be struck about the head by a bludger repeatedly, perchance?”

    “No, sir,” Flint repeated, confused.

    “Odd, you seem to be rather less intelligent than I recall. Perhaps Madame Pomphrey released you from her care prematurely? Did you not hear me say that false accusers shall be doubly punished? Detention, Mr. Flint. Tomorrow with me, and next Friday with Hagrid.”

    “But I was kicked…” Flint objected.

    “You stormed up behind a centaur while screaming threats at her master,” Snape raised his voice over the boy’s objections. “Had that particular centaur been carrying her customary armament, I would either be filling out the reams of tedious paperwork associated with your gruesome demise while the elves were scrubbing your remains off the inside of that carriage, or you would be spending the entirety of the fall term under Madame Pomphrey’s tender mercies.”

    Snape turned away from the rapidly paling Marcus Flint and toward the rest of the students watching raptly. “How much clearer can I make myself? Every student in this school is being told exactly the same thing. I suspect the many, many dunderheads amongst your number will take quite some time to comprehend what is essentially a very simple concept, but the few among you blessed with even a modicum of critical thought should come to grips with it quite easily.”

    One trembling hand rose from the mass of quivering students.

    “Yes, Miss Smith.”

    “Why, sir? I mean, why the change?”

    Snape stared at the fourth-year girl until she thoroughly regretted asking the question. “The reason matters not; I am not interested in your objections, only in your compliance. Is that understood?”

    “Good, now there is one thing left to drill into your thick skulls,” Snape took a deep breath. “Potter is to be left alone.”

    That pronouncement triggered another wave of whispers. Abigail Abercrombie, his promising sixth-year prefect raised a tentative hand.

    “Yes, Miss Abercrombie?”

    “Do you mean Potter is to be… alienated?”

    Snape almost snapped at the girl before he thought back on his statement and realized it was a reasonable interpretation of his words. “No, no, by all means, associate with him, befriend him, do your homework with him, or ignore him as you will. In that respect, he is to be treated as any other student at this school. But he is not to be targeted for any prank, bullying, or scheme. Leave. Him. Alone.”

    “Sir? You just said any bullying will be punished…”

    “Do not be an imbecile. I am well aware that many of you are even now reworking your various schemes with the new rules in mind, trying to find some way around them, so that they cannot be traced back to you. I know that in the past, many of you have come to equate the admonishment ‘do not do something’ with ‘do not get caught doing something’, and I fully expect some of the more cerebrally-deficient among you to test our resolve. Hopefully, after the first few are sent home in disgrace, the rest will get the hint and fall into line. Beyond that, I am giving you one warning, and one warning only. Leave Potter alone.”

    Glaring about the room, he noted that all the students were nodding in acceptance. Whether they acted the part would remain to be seen.

    “Very well, if there are no more ridiculous objections, I will retire for the evening. Prefects, drill the usual expectations into the new students. The rest of you, off to bed.”

    With that he swept out of the room amid his usual billowing robes. He was almost to his quarters when he was interrupted once again by a voice calling out his name. He turned to see the same sixth-year prefect jogging up behind him.

    “Yes, Miss Abercrombie?” he prompted harshly.

    The girl winced before soldiering on. “Sir, many of the students are talking, wondering why Potter is getting such favorable treatment. I’m afraid I already overheard the first-year Malfoy saying he was already planning a prank on him.”

    Snape closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Surely Lucius had drilled at least a modicum of subtlety into his son. For all his numerous and grievous faults, at least the elder Malfoy knew when to be discreet, but apparently his son was cut from a different cloth. As a Slytherin, being overheard planning rule-breaking was even worse than actually getting caught doing the deed. “Very well, I shall see to it that young Mr. Malfoy learns to regret his actions. Perhaps dodging a bludger with ‘Potter’ written on it for an hour will hammer the lesson home?”

    “Yes, sir,” Abigail said. “Um, is Potter going to be a problem for the school?”

    For a long moment the potions master regarded the young witch before asking, “What makes you ask that?”

    Abigail fought to keep herself from biting her lower lip. “Well, such a fundamental change in the school culture would only come about after a major incident in the school, probably something happening to a student from a powerful family or if someone was at particular risk. I can’t think of anything from last year that might have prompted such a change, so logic dictates that the change must be because of something new to the school this year. The only incoming student with prominent political connections is Bones — at a stretch, maybe Malfoy since his father is a governor — but neither one of those is really prominent enough for this, nor are they at any particular risk that I know of, certainly not enough to precipitate such a massive cultural shift.”

    “Continue.”

    “Well, eliminating political weight, the only name with enough cultural weight to warrant such a thing is Potter.” At her Head of House’s nod, she continued. “Er, well… I only really worked it out after you told us about the changes. You said there would be zero tolerance for any intimidation, even assigning a couple of detentions to Flint for claiming he had been attacked on the train. Even after that, though, you still singled out Potter and warned us away. It would be one thing if Potter were some special snowflake who couldn’t take the pressure and needed that level of protection, but I met him on the train. He seemed unconcerned about the stares he got there and later at the feast, and he stared me down on the train after Flint got kicked. I was going to lecture him about respect, but… sir, I couldn’t meet his eyes.”

    “His eyes?”

    “He… there’s something about him, sir, something… powerful? And I think you know what it is too, and that’s the reason for the warning.”

    The potions master leaned back, face expressionless for a long moment before it suddenly broke out in a smile. “Miss Abercrombie, I am delighted that someone in Slytherin with the ability to use their brain is finally doing so. In the few hours since you have been back at Hogwarts, you have shown that my decision to make you a prefect was well-considered. Take twenty points. Continue as you have been and there is no doubt in my mind that you shall be occupying the Head Girl’s suite next year.”

    Abigail brightened inwardly at that, long conditioning in Slytherin keeping her from showing any reaction externally. “Thank you, sir.”

    Snape nodded. “Good, keep an eye on things. I’ll not ask you to be a snitch, but if Potter ever looks to be losing his temper, get a staff member, any staff member. The portraits will assist.”

    “Yes, sir. Um, sir, if he’s so dangerous, should he be here at all?”

    Snape gave a smile of pure satisfaction. “Oh, yes. That is unquestionable. Tell me, Miss Abercrombie, have you ever heard of the supposed Han curse, ‘may you live in interesting times’? With Potter here at Hogwarts, times will be most interesting indeed.”

    Uncertain how to respond, Abigail simply nodded. “Good night, sir.”

    “Good night, Miss Abercrombie,” he turned to go on to his quarters, before he said over his shoulder, “It is a pity you did not follow your train of thought all the way to the final station.”

    Abigail fought down an embarrassed blush as the Head of Slytherin strode away in his cloud of billowing robes.

    What had he meant by that?

    She strolled slowly back to the dormitories, pondering those parting words. She was certain that the rule change had come about due to Potter’s arrival, Snape had all but confirmed it, but what conclusion should she have drawn? What else was there?

    She absently answered some questions from the first-years and shooed the rest off to bed, still thinking hard as she settled into her private room.

    What had Snape meant?

    What was the rule change meant to accomplish? Originally, she had assumed it was for the protection of some incoming student, but as Potter was the cause that couldn’t be the case. She had quailed under those emerald eyes, and he had only been mildly put-out with her. Any new first-year who could stare down a sixth-year prefect before attending his first classes needed protection from no one.

    If the rule was not in place to protect Potter, then what was it for? Rules were always put in place for a reason, it might not be an altruistic reason — as a Slytherin, Abigail was certain most of them probably weren’t — and for older rules it might not be a currently relevant reason, but there was always a reason.

    Then the epiphany struck.

    The rule wasn’t put in place to protect Potter from the students; it was put in place to protect the students from…

    Abigail swallowed as the implications sunk in. The professors had introduced an incredible change — a change of rule and tradition, of culture that had been in place for the better part of a millennium — to protect the student body from one, single, first-year student.

    Just how powerful was Potter?

    The ambitious teenaged girl licked her suddenly dry lips. Add a few years, several inches, and some weight to the boy’s young frame — yes, yes, that image was — hmm. Abigail turned out the lights and settled into bed pulling the covers up to her chin and squirming about a little to get comfortable, glad once again for the private room that came with the prefect badge.

    It was only five years’ difference in age, practically nothing for a witch — well, for now it was a problem, but that would cease to be an issue by the time she was in her thirties, and she’d been planning to wait on snagging a husband anyway, too much to do before she tied herself down with a family. She could wait to get what she wanted, and the thought of such a dangerous individual was… intoxicating.

    In the meantime, that intense emerald stare would be prominently featured in her dreams.

    2.3.9 Always attend the organizational meeting

    At approximately the same time that Abigail was riding her train of thought to the final station — a station which was a few stops down the track from the one her Head of House had intended — the professors had once again gathered in their customary staff conference room with the time pushing midnight. There were class schedules to finalize for the coming morning.

    Almost the entire staff had chosen to attend, with three exceptions. Hagrid had opted to stay with his pets at his hut since he didn’t teach classes and wasn’t much of a night-owl unless he had a solid, practical reason. Filch, the perpetually grumpy Campus Maintenance Professional — he had attended a conference over the summer and come away with the new title, though everyone else still called him a caretaker which did nothing to improve his mood — declined to attend because he also had no classes and was rather bitter about his station in life anyway. On the other hand, the new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, one Quirinus Quirrel, declined with only the stuttering explanation that he had something better to do.

    Naturally, his colleagues decided to stick Quirrel with all the worst time slots in return.

    This time, the professors had chosen to forego their usual alcoholic adventures in deference to the early school day on the next morning. Well, that, and the fact that everyone was still stuffed almost to bursting with the elves’ cooking from the feast.

    “Lemon drop, anyone?” everyone, that is, except Albus Dumbledore.

    Magic was powered by food, and the stronger the magic, the more food was required. Albus had eaten more than anyone but Harry Potter at the feast, and yet he was only pleasantly full at the end of it and, not even two hours later, was already game for more. Harry of course, had gone on to consume another three tons of scrap metal, coal, and diesel immediately after the appetizer that was the Welcoming Feast.

    That was not to say that anyone would have taken the man up on his offer even if they weren’t stuffed to the gills. Albus’ tastes in lemon drops tended to be — unique. Everyone present had, at one point or another, taken him up on his offer and immediately regretted it. The things were just about acrid enough to etch glass, and the entire ordeal had taken on the character of a staff hazing ritual over the past few decades.

    When no one accepted his offer, Albus tucked the tin away into his robe pocket before he began, “Well, that was an eventful Sorting, I suppose. Does anyone have anything to bring up before we get to the meat of this discussion?”

    “Aye, that I do!” came an unexpected voice, one originating from Albus’ own robe pocket. “And get me out of here, you bearded twit! Who carries ancient magical artifacts wadded up in their bloody pocket like a used handkerchief, anyway?”

    “Ah, yes, Donald,” Albus said, fishing the Sorting Hat out of his robe pocket and setting it on the table. “I presume that this is the reason you insisted on attending this meeting?”

    “Yes, it is,” the hat agreed. “I felt the need for an appropriately appreciative audience for this. Ahem… Why, you scraggly-whiskered, smarmy, inconsiderate, foolish, bastard, did you feel it appropriate not to warn me that young Mr. Potter was in fact a bloody dragon? Was it some sort of prank? A ‘let’s see if we can scare the old hat enough for him to crap out his lining on some poor child’s head’ sort of thing? How would you like it if I went and dropped you on some dragon’s head out of the blue? Huh? You wouldn’t, that’s how!” Donald’s rant reached a crescendo. “Just for that, I’m going to get back at you, somehow. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but someday, when you least expect it, pow! You’ll get yours, Albus Dumbledore! And then you’ll be sorry for trying to put one over on old Donald.”

    The entire room sat in shock for a moment at the Sorting Hat’s unexpected vitriol before Albus managed to shake off his shock. “You mean to say that you were unaware of Mr. Potter’s nature before the Sorting?”

    “Yes, you geriatric imbecile! Has your comprehension of the language gone the same way as your sense of common decency?”

    “But how?” Albus actually sounded bewildered, a first for many of the professors. “You spoke with him several times; how could you not have known…?”

    “I spoke with him, ‘spoke’. I didn’t Sort him. There is a difference. When speaking with someone, I only have what is said to go on, and… well, it’s a sort of rudimentary short-range vision. Nothing in my conversations with Mr. Potter prior to the Sorting gave me any indication that the boy was aught but human.”

    “I see, then I must humbly apologize, Mr. Donald, as the incident was caused by a defect in my understanding.”

    “In that case, I suppose I will spare you the worst of my eventual retribution, but you should fully expect pranks! And… what are you laughing at, Severus Snape?”

    The potions master had been chortling since the hat’s rant had revealed its prior ignorance of Mr. Potter’s nature. At being called out by the sentient apparel, be explained, “I was simply amused that you were unaware of the boy’s nature before the Sorting and the remembrance of the Sorting ceremony in light of that new knowledge; I assure you, no insult was intended.”

    “No insult was intended, eh?” Donald said. “Well, then I’ll tell you that no insult is intended when I say that you should keep your crooked beak out of matters of Sorting!” the hat rounded on him.

    “Excuse me?” Snape was confused.

    “Mr. Potter was quite insistent that you had told him he wouldn’t be well-suited to Slytherin House, as if you had some special insight into the Sorting process,” the hat explained. “On the contrary, I’ll have you know that my final decision came down to a close judgement between Slytherin and Hufflepuff for the boy, so kindly keep your conspicuous conk out of the Sorting! I do not dictate matters of potioneering to you, and I won’t suffer such meddling in my own field.”

    Snape ignored most of that statement in favor of wondering, “How on earth could Mr. Potter be considered for Slytherin?” in the same tone a man might use upon being told that the moon was, in fact, made of cheese.

    “It’s not just a matter of where a child will fit in best, but rather where they will succeed best. The boy is lacking in cunning and soft skills, true, but where better to develop them than Slytherin?” the hat explained. “In any event, my piece is said, carry on.” And the hat stilled once more.

    The staff sat in bewilderment at that odd interlude for several moments before Pomona spoke up, “What a day to have to stay dry!”

    “Hear, hear!” or similar came from her colleagues.

    Albus cleared his throat, calling the attention of the staff, “There is one important item we must address before tomorrow — the question of class schedules.”

    He was answered by a round of groans. This was a chore they all hated, hence their tendency to put it off until the very last moment, such as midnight on the evening before said schedules were to be handed out.

    Thus, the arguments began. At least it had been several years since the last time one of them devolved into a fistfight.

    There was, however, one notable exception — to the argument statement, not the fistfight one.

    “Severus, Minerva, and Filius, are you certain you wish to handle all four Houses in one session per week per year?” Dumbledore asked, his voice doubtful. “I know it has been some few years since I was in the classroom rather than administration, but that number of students in one room seems a recipe for disaster, particularly in your practical classes, Severus.”

    “No, Albus, I am not certain; I tend to agree that it will be pandemonium for at least a time,” Severus agreed, “but we have little choice. Our research into the circumstances and particulars of Mr. Potter’s transformation require more time than we would otherwise have available.”

    “Aye, we’re this far,” Minerva held her index finger a short distance from her thumb, “from finally working out exactly what young Harry managed to do to himself at Avebury, and I, for one, am increasingly certain that we must pin that down sooner rather than later. Everything indicates so far that Filius’ estimates of the potential destructive power of these devices was spot-on.”

    “Yes,” Filius agreed, “and we will not possibly be able to repeat what Mr. Potter managed until we know exactly what he managed to do — well, I suppose we might have been able to manage it by simply trying things until it worked, but I suspect the error rate in that process would leave the entire planet uninhabitable in more cases than not.”

    There was a round of nodding from the various professors who had been present at the previous meeting, before Albus spoke up.

    “In that case, it is perhaps time for me to reveal the results of my own investigations regarding the incident.”

    Snape sighed, “Is there a particular reason you declined to mention these studies at any previous meeting?”

    “For one, I was not certain they were cogent to the topic at hand, it was a research project I had taken on in conjunction with one of my own mentor’s longest-running experiments, and though the timing was highly suspicious, I had no confirmation that the events I was investigating were, in fact, directly caused by the incident at Avebury,” the elderly wizard offered. “Closer analysis has revealed that the coincidental timing was indicative of a causal relationship, and with that, I received permission from Nicholas to let you in on the results.”

    “You received permission?” Filius asked, intrigued. “This was some secret project, then?”

    “Yes, though I remain uncertain why Nicholas insisted on it being so. The project is one to provide a long-term baseline measurement of magical background field,” Dumbledore explained. “As you might expect, the work is just as tedious as it sounds, and I do not really see what harm could come from publishing the results.” He sighed, “Sometimes I wonder whether Nicholas keeps secrets simply because he enjoys keeping secrets.”

    “I feel as if I should make some sort of comment about pots, kettles, and the color black at this juncture,” Snape said wryly, “but in the interests of keeping the conversation going, I shall refrain.” The exasperated looks from Minerva, Filius, and half the remaining staff told Albus that Severus was not alone in that sentiment.

    He coughed uncomfortably before resuming, “Well, yes. In any case, in the weeks after young Harry’s transformation, the average magical background levels rose by nearly ten percent before levelling off again. Most of my time on the project over the last two years was spent verifying the clocks on the various sensors to account for instrumental error in the recorded logs, and the end result of that has allowed me pin down the point of inflection at which the rise started — to a time coincident with moonrise in Avebury on the 1988 summer solstice.”

    “Precisely the timing associated with Harry’s transformation, as we determined from Mr. Dursley’s memories,” Filius concluded.

    “Exactly,” Albus agreed. “That was the piece of evidence that convinced Nicholas to allow me to include the rest of you on this. The two events were too closely synchronized; the idea that they might still be unrelated strained credulity.”

    “So we have another consequence of draining the devices,” Filius summarized. “Apparently, draining this one increased the… global?” at Albus’ nod, he continued, “…global magical background energy by ten percent. I’m not sure off-hand what that means for our investigation but thank you for sharing the information.”

    “What it means, is that this fits the pattern of the Anomalous Excursions of 1883,” Albus interjected. “Which in turn means that we have another datum.”

    “So, this is not the first time?” Minerva asked.

    “No, it is not,” Albus confirmed. “Though, as indicated by the name, we do not know the cause of the Anomalous Excursions, we now have two incidents to investigate, and with two incidents, we might perchance be able to learn what is common between them and what is unique.”

    “Thank you, Albus, that is most helpful,” Filius said.

    “I believe Nicholas shall be amenable to sharing our log data in the future, given the current situation,” Albus continued. “In the meantime, confirmation that the event is not unique has lent a little more urgency to our research here, I do believe. Given the consequences of a single event, with multiple ones looming, the survival of all life on this world, not just magical life, appears to be hanging in the balance.”

    There was a round of solemn nodding, and the class schedule was argued no more.
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Section 2.4 - In which Harry goes to class
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.4.0 In which Harry goes to Class

    As he winged his way to the shore of the loch — the closest point to the castle which was both open enough to fly and hidden from the castle by the tree-line — carrying his centaur damsel carefully in his forepaws, Harry considered the previous day.

    It had been eventful one.

    Taking the train to Hogwarts had been silly, but he supposed it had been fun nonetheless. Harry figured it was okay to do silly things if they were fun — so long as they didn’t hurt anybody, anyway. Mr. Dumbledore had insisted it was traditional.

    Maybe silly-but-fun things were what ‘traditional’ meant?

    He thought it meant something that was done for a real long time the same way, but there were other things that were done a real long time the same way — like breathing — and they didn’t get called ‘traditional’. It was just the only way anyone knew how to do them. So, he guessed ‘traditional’ meant there had to be some other way to do whatever it was, and people did it the ‘traditional’ way because they’d been doing it that way for a long time.

    Come to think of it, didn’t that mean that the traditional way had to be a little bit silly? People didn’t talk about ‘traditional’ when they were doing something the easiest or slickest way it could be done — then they talked about ‘simple’ or ‘optimal’ — and if they weren’t doing that, then Harry figured they were being at least a little bit silly.

    Good thing he’d figured out being a little silly was okay, because doing stuff the optimal way all the time sounded like it’d be right boring!

    The pair had reached the shore during Harry’s musings on the nature of tradition and constructive silliness, and Harry and his damsel had wordlessly switched roles, with Suze now carrying Harry in his human form as she jogged toward the castle — it was definitely a jog, not a trot. Centaurs do not trot, canter, or gallop, and they take grave exception to any insinuation otherwise; any similarity between their gait and the aforementioned methods of equine locomotion is pure happenstance.

    Anyway, practicality aside, the train trip yesterday had been fun, and Harry had confirmed his opinion that trains were cool. He’d long wished he’d had a train set ever since some vaguely-remembered event in which Dudley had played with one when they were younger, and he’d not been allowed. The misty remembrance of the event had lasted much longer than the train set itself, but spending time around that big snorting, chuffing, smoking beast of a locomotive had crystallized that desire and brought it to the fore.

    Harry couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of kinship with the thing given their similar physiology.

    Searching out a dragon-sized train set would have to wait, though, because classes started today, and Harry was really looking forward to them. Over the years since he’d left Privet Drive — of the time before which, only the very last was remembered with any clarity — his lessons with his professor friends had got him caught up with what most of the Wizarding-raised students would have learned before attending in matters practical. A few fields, such as advanced transfiguration topics, actually saw him years ahead of his peers, and, on matters theoretical, he was far ahead of his peers in every subject taught in the school — and not a few others besides.

    Honestly though, Harry wasn’t sure how all that learning would hold up when he actually got into classes, so he was looking forward to finding out even if he was a little nervous.

    With a cheerful wave to a small patrol from the Black Woods Clan led by one of Suze’s cousins, the pair left the forest and continued up the lakeside path to the castle. Another wave to Hagrid in the middle of mucking out the thestral stables saw them to the castle gates, and Harry leaped down lightly from Suze’s back. They had foregone the saddle recently as it was really quite a lot of work to put on, and since Harry had recently learned that bouncing as he did was rather uncomfortable for Suze when he was on her back he had stopped doing so quite so much. As they entered the courtyard he saw Mr. Filch busily sweeping up the small amount of detritus which littered the area, mostly a few leaves and some sweetie wrappers which had stuck to the older students’ robes when they left the train.

    Mr. Filch was a real sourpuss, but Harry paid it no mind. According to Professor Snape, the man was a squib, which Harry had learned meant the man wasn’t able to cast magic, even though he could see magical stuff. To Harry’s senses he looked like a sort of dimly-lit glowy person — like his glow was shining through that dark glass they use for some bottles when there’s stuff in them which don’t play nice with light. Since Mr. Filch was like that but he was still in charge of cleaning up a magical school, Harry figured he had some decent reasons to be kinda grumpy. Regardless, Harry didn’t think that him being grumpy was a good reason to be rude to the man, and so he gave a cheerful good morning as he headed into the castle.

    On their way to the Great Hall, the pair caught up with a few of the other non-boarding students who were suitably gob-smacked at the looming presence of his centaur damsel — centaurs were really good at looming, and Suze managed well even though she was rather petite as centaurs go. For her part, Suze was marveling at just how small humans looked from her angle. Unsurprisingly, Harry was a special case in Suze’s mind — she always saw him as the Great Wyrm who happened to be masquerading in a human shape.

    Harry had already eaten a good deal of breakfast, so he was treating breakfast at the castle as a bit of a top-up for the morning. Of course, despite that fact, he still ate enough to make even Ron Weasley, the other big eater of the student body, feel a little inadequate, and Ron ate enough to make other people sick to their stomachs just looking at him eat. The important bit for Harry was getting the class timetable, and he was absolutely delighted to learn that, despite his statement of the usual schedule the previous night, Professor Snape’s was the first class of the day!

    “I heard this Professor Snape bloke’s a right arse,” Zack Smith said, dubiously contemplating the timetable.

    “He used to be pretty difficult to deal with,” one of the upper-years — a lanky sort of girl with shaggy bubblegum-pink hair — said, “but he’s gotten a lot better over the last couple years.”

    “Well the important thing with knowing Mister, sorry, Professor, Snape is being able to tell when he’s actually angry and when he’s growling because he likes growling,” Harry volunteered. “You can tell when he’s really angry because he goes even whiter than normal, and you can’t see his lips anymore, and he stops using complicated insults and starts shouting.”

    “You know him?” another upper-year student asked, one to whom Harry had not yet been introduced.

    “Yeah, he’s one of my business partners, and we get along pretty good,” Harry said, nodding firmly.

    “I must admit, I’d never realized he got along with anybody,” Cedric Diggory — the older boy who’d snorted his pumpkin juice because of one of Harry’s jokes at the feast — spoke up.

    “If Mr. Snape doesn’t like someone, they really know it,” Harry explained with a shrug, “and if he says something is ‘acceptable’ or ‘tolerable’ that’s him saying he really likes it.”

    “I thought he hated my guts!” the pink-haired girl said, startled.

    “Huh?”

    “Oh, sorry, I’m Tonks,” she said, “and…”

    “You’re the Tonks what gets worked up about her first name, right?” Harry butted in. “’Cause he said something about you right when last school year would’ve been ending. We were talking about how to tell the difference between properly-made and badly-made-but-still-works potions, and he used some of yours as examples of how it ought to be done. He said something about them being good enough to sell, and, well, he’s real particular about what he will and won’t sell. I asked, and he said that any customer with the sense to approach a master craftsman deserves the absolute finest quality regardless of product.”

    “Huh…”

    Harry shrugged, “I told ya’ it’s real hard to tell what he’s thinking.”

    2.4.1 To the laboratory!

    Having spent a couple minutes silently stalking about the room, dark robes billowing, Snape stopped in front of a blackboard and whirled around and spent a moment contemplating his significantly-larger-than-normal class. Having all four Houses in a single laboratory class was proving to be an intimidating prospect.

    Snape had always been one to attempt to accomplish as much as possible with any given action, and his teaching had been no exception. By careful application of bias and psychology, he had long been tailoring his classes to produce useless cronies among his enemies, and tough competent survivors, ready for anything life threw at them, among the few fair-minded children that passed through his classes.

    After less than a decade of such work, he had already managed to clean up the youngest of the Auror corps by weeding out the undesirables from their applicant pool on account of the potions requirement. Miss Tonks — set to graduate with honors this year — was one of his most recent successes, though he was certain she was under the impression that he was out to get her.

    On the other hand, Bole, a seventh-year of his own House — both an unashamedly violent bigot and descended from a long line of such, whose father had been an enthusiastic participant in the Dark Lord’s little power play — was set to graduate in the middle of the pack and had been forced to abandon his dreams of entering and perverting law-enforcement in favor of a sinecure in his uncle’s pub.

    A little constructive mollycoddling went a long way.

    The approach made him more enemies than friends, but Snape had long despaired of having friends — and if he was going to have enemies anyway… well, he figured it might as well be for a good cause.

    This year, though, was different.

    Enforcing the necessary discipline in the lab was always a challenge, and if he were to use his traditional methods… well, he didn’t want to imagine the likely results with this large a group. He could only keep a good eye on so many cauldrons before something would slip. Snape might be willing to destroy potentially innocent children’s dreams in pursuit of his goals, but he fell short of being willing to write off the survival of two-thirds of the class as collateral damage for the cause.

    It seemed he would actually have to teach properly for once — Minerva was sure to be delighted.

    “I must admit,” he began, “that I am stymied. It is my tradition to, at this time, single out the most prominent member of an incoming class of students and demonstrate how little he or she knows of the exacting and magnificent art of potions, but at this moment in time, our most prominent incoming student is, of course, Mr. Potter, and I am aware that his knowledge of potions is acceptable.”

    He paused while everyone looked at Harry, who didn’t know to get uncomfortable or anything — dragons liked to be admired.

    “Thus, Mr. Potter, for the next few minutes, you will keep your eternally-ravenous jaw firmly shut. Is that understood?”

    Harry made an enthusiastic affirmative noise while keeping his mouth firmly shut as requested.

    “Good,” Snape said. “Now then, might anyone among you — excepting of course, Mr. Potter — be aware of the precise reagent composition of orichalcum?”

    Silence — apart from Harry’s enthusiastic nodding with his teeth clenched together which was managing to rattle his stool a little.

    “Hmm, so none of you are up to date on recent alchemical discoveries — perhaps I should enlighten you. Orichalcum, also known as mage-bronze or mage-glass, is a structured phlogistonic nitrate of aluminum, known to muggles as aluminum oxy-nitride. The material draws its name from its thaumo-chromic reaction to magical fields, transparent in low-magic environments and gaining a greenish-brown metallic luster in the presence of large amounts of ambient magic.”

    “Interestingly, it is the muggles to whom we owe the rediscovery of the material, for the magical methods of its creation have been lost since the library of Alexandria was misplaced during the Roman conquest of Egypt. Now, who, if anyone, among you might tell me where one would acquire a bezoar if one were seeking to harvest a replacement for the one in your potions kit?”

    Hermione Granger’s hand shot up.

    “Well, young lady?” Snape growled.

    “In the belly of a goat, sir.”

    “Correct, perhaps there may be some hope for you after all,” he said. “That said, do not call me ‘sir’; I work for a living. The correct term of address is ‘Professor Snape’. Might anyone, excepting Miss Granger, be aware of the difference between aconite and wolfsbane?”

    There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence replete with rolling of eyes from the resident boy-shaped dragon and squirming effort to keep from raising her hand again from Hermione. Eventually, the same chubby dark-haired boy who had lost his toad on the train raised his hand.

    “Yes, Mr. Longbottom?”

    “Th-there’s n-no difference; th-they’re the same p-plant,” the boy stuttered.

    “Are you certain, Mr. Longbottom? You wouldn’t want to be embarrassed on your first day, would you?” There was some tittering from the Slytherin quadrant of the room.

    Longbottom swallowed nervously before continuing, “I’m s-sure, Professor Snape.”

    “Good. You are, as it happens, quite correct.” Snape’s glower swept the room. “You, you, you, and you!” he pointed out four of the Slytherin students who had giggled at Longbottom’s nervousness, “Three days’ detention each! I will not have cronyism or toadying within this chamber! The preparation of potions is an exacting art, and if you mess it up — which judging by the unutterably gormless expressions on most of your fool faces, you most assuredly will — it can be quite decidedly hazardous!”

    “You will all be quiet! You will speak only when given permission! You will pay attention! You will be careful! You will follow instructions religiously! Because if you fail to do so, you will likely blow yourself sky high, and I. Will. Make. Your. Life. Unutterably. Miserable. Do you all understand me?”

    “Yes, Professor Snape!” the entire class chorused.

    “We shall see,” he drawled. “By the by, Miss Granger, Mr. Longbottom, five points each for actually possessing the intelligence to both await permission to answer and for possessing a modicum of knowledge of matters alchemical. Mr. Potter, you may now cease to keep your mouth quite so rigidly closed.”

    From there, the potions professor launched into a five-minute lecture on the preparation of the potion they would be working on for the day; a potion used for cleaning metals which was easy to prepare — according to Snape — but which would usually produce a rather loud bang if the preparation was done improperly.

    Nearly half the class got bangs and got snapped at. Most of the remainder got a sharp nod when Snape checked out their potions, while a few got a quiet “Acceptable” and a handful of points.

    Those few were Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy, and a Slytherin girl named Pansy Parkinson.

    One unfortunate, Neville Longbottom, found himself on the receiving end of a rapid string of spells aimed at his cauldron by Professor Snape — who none but Harry could tell was mildly panicked — and was then the subject of a sharp five-minute lecture on safety protocols after his cauldron started to melt.

    Snape then proceeded into a lecture on what made the potion work, and how to tell — and cause — the various failure modes of the potion. It mostly seemed to boil down to how the ingredients were sliced and what order they were added in. What had gone wrong with Neville’s potion — an issue of improper order of addition — had produced a potion which, according to Professor Snape, was caustic enough to etch glass. He then assigned homework for the next lecture later that week, and dismissed the class, calling Harry back for a quick word.

    “What’s up, Professor Snape?” Harry asked once the other students were gone.

    “Two subjects,” Snape said, pointing at Harry’s cauldron, “Although a passable effort, you and I both know you are capable of better than your efforts today; you have achieved acceptable quality on this brew in the past.”

    That was true; he had used it to clean his gold properly last winter. The sea-stains were finally gone. “I’m sorry, I just was kinda excited, y’know, and I messed up choppin’ the spriggan leaves, right?”

    “Indeed, kindly be more patient in the future.”

    “I’ll do that!”

    “Good.”

    “What was the other thing you wanted to talk about, Professor Snape?”

    “Mr. Slackhammer has requested a meeting at our earliest convenience, and I have suggested we visit Gringotts this coming Saturday, if you have no objections?”

    “Yeah, that works for me.”

    “Good, I shall make the necessary preparations. Do you still have the rechargeable portkey in your possession?”

    “I sure do!”

    “Good, I shall see you later then, young man.”

    2.4.2 First-world problems

    Following Potions, a simple pattern began to emerge which boggled the minds of all those who were not on the staff, starting in Filius Flitwick’s classroom when — on his first attempt to cast a levitation charm — Harry’s feather proceeded to launch itself into the ceiling with a mighty crack, leaving a smoking hole in the stone lined with the charred remains of the feather. The distinctive whip-crack of a small object breaking the sound barrier had a student hailing from Dublin — but raised in Belfast up until his parents relocated to avoid certain unsavory recruitment efforts — ducking under his desk.

    The pattern continued in the first Defense against the Dark Arts class, when a simple stunning hex more-or-less obliterated a practice target and reduced the enchanted stone wall behind it to sand. The incident left Quirrel incomprehensible from stuttering for a week and his classes as little more than a study hall for the same period.

    In transfiguration, Harry turned a simple matchstick into a ‘needle’ which would look more at home on a construction site than in a sewing kit. Minerva would later admit to her colleagues that she had never seen anything like it, and she was tempted to donate the results to Barrs for the production of Irn Bru.

    Flying lessons — the first for Harry since Madame Hooch had pronounced him ‘good enough’ with his wings — saw Harry attempting to fly a broom for the first time, only for the broom to shoot off with a horrifyingly loud ‘twang’ and bury itself to the bristles in a grassy knoll before bursting into flames.

    It quickly became apparent that Harry was suffering control problems to a degree that Septima Vector declared to be ‘epic’. It didn’t take long for her to figure out that Harry was putting more magical energy into his casting than all his classmates put together — though honestly not too much more. A situation that led her to the conclusion that his control was actually quite good, proportionally speaking, considering his reserves were proportionally far higher than the cumulative reserves of his classmates. This was a good thing, for if his control was proportionally bad…

    Well, if his control was proportionally bad, his classmates would not have survived the aftermath.

    Proportionally good control or not, it was not good enough to effectively use the spells he was learning, which led to the staff quickly devising an intensive series of lessons and exercises to help Harry drastically improve his control of his magic. Harry’s classwork quickly devolved to listening to the lecture, trying the practical once, having the professor clean up the aftermath of his attempt, and then spending the rest of the time practicing his control.

    To say that Harry was unimpressed with this intense regime of finesse and control training would be… well, it would be to lie through one’s teeth. Harry being Harry, he took it all in stride and — once he wrapped his head around why he needed all the extra work — became quite smug about the whole business. It was a turn of events that prompted Snape to comment jokingly to Minerva that if the boy’s head continued swelling it was likely to burst, which was answered with an amused chuckle by the older Scotswoman.

    By the time Friday evening rolled around, a twofold set of rumors were flying around the school. The first was regarding the Boy-Who-Lived’s apparent power level — several upper-year students, including notably one sixth-year Slytherin girls’ prefect, had connected the dots about why half the firsties were treating Harry like his wand might go off any minute. The second was about why the staff seemed to be in such universally high spirits, sans Filch who was always grumpy and Quirrel who hadn’t been the same since that unfortunate vampire encounter in Albania the previous summer.

    The other conclusion that everyone had arrived at — based on direct evidence rather than rumor — was that the Boy-Who-Lived was immature, hyperactive, almost obnoxiously good-natured, self-assured to the point of outright arrogance, and so completely laid-back about everything it was a wonder the boy wasn’t horizontal.

    You’d have sworn he was eight, tops, but nothing phased the kid.

    Nothing.

    2.4.3 Product rollouts

    Saturday arrived, and with it, Snape and Harry were in Diagon Alley bright and early for their meeting with Slackhammer. On arriving at the Bank, they were ushered into his office with a series of salutes from the guards resplendent in Gringotts Regiment dress uniforms.

    “Ah, Mr. Potter, Mr. Snape, welcome, welcome,” Slackhammer greeted them in his usual manner, rising to his feet and bowing a greeting to his business partners. Despite Harry’s best efforts, he had never managed to get the dapper goblin to use any form of address more familiar than ‘mister’ — he had a suspicion that the attempts had become a game between the two of them by this point.

    The broad, shark-like grin on the goblin’s face told both Snape and Harry that the news was good and that the scent of profit was in the air.

    “A seat, gentlemen,” Slackhammer offered, gesturing for them to make themselves comfortable in the armchairs which found their way into his office whenever he was expecting important guests like his business partners. Harry knew that because the few times the dapper goblin hadn’t been expecting him, he’d seen the chairs brought in. “Would you care for a refreshment?”

    “A small firewhiskey please, Mr. Slackhammer,” Snape requested.

    “I’d like a cup of goblin tea, please,” Harry added. Goblin tea was strong stuff and would certainly not suit the palate of the small human boy that Harry currently seemed to be, being ferociously acrid and enough, even when at room temperature, to take the roof off one’s mouth. Served at the preferred temperature of just below boiling, well, few non-goblins tried it more than once, but the young dragon found it to be to his liking, reminding him of the tangy gush of biting into a car battery with just a little charge left but without the sweet aftertaste from the lead.

    The dapper goblin rang a small bell and his batman immediately appeared, bowing in response to Slackhammer’s, “The usual, thank you, Corporal Steelhammer,” before disappearing to see to it.

    “Now then, gentlemen” Slackhammer continued without waiting for the drinks to be served. Time was money, money was ammunition, and ammunition was freedom, and as a consequence, waiting around while there was business to discuss was considered boorish — possibly treasonous — behavior by right-thinking goblins. “I have recently had some quite intriguing possibilities brought to my attention concerning your analysis of the materials composing Mr. Potter’s brain and nerves.”

    “Concerning my examination of Mr. Potter’s central nervous system?” Snape asked, very surprised. “While the materials involved are quite fascinating in their make-up, I confess I fail to see how they might be applied in practice, hence why I have not endeavored to refine my methods for producing them artificially once I made enough to explore their energy of formation. Their mechanical properties are little different than those of mild steel, and their thermal properties, while impressive, are far inferior to those of our current refractory product.”

    “For an answer to that, Mr. Snape, one must look to the fields of electronics and electrical engineering,” Slackhammer told him. “It seems Mr. Potter’s nerves are composed of what is referred to as an ultra-high-temperature superconductor, a substance which has been highly-desired in those fields of endeavor for many decades but had long been considered unobtainable. As a member of our company, in the person of your esteemed self, has developed the means to produce the given substance, and as it happens, it is cheap and easy to do so — and judging by your statement it may become more so in short order — well gentlemen, if you thought the sum we earned from NASA was substantial, you haven’t seen a damn thing yet!”

    Corporal Steelhammer returned, placing a tray carrying the requested drinks on the coffee table and passing them around.

    “Thank you, Corporal Steelhammer.”

    “M’ pleasure, Mr. Vice-Chairman, sir,” the other goblin replied before seeing himself out.

    “How might such a material be so valuable?” Snape asked.

    “In order to explain that, Mr. Snape, we must delve into the nature of non-magical technology and its relationship with the fundamental natural phenomenon of electricity. Just as magical technology does, all non-magical technology is designed to use one or another form of energy in order to do something else. In the magical world this is generally done by using magic to accomplish some task. In the nonmagical world, the process is somewhat more complicated, since magic is not available to work as a near-universal mediator. In its place, specific tools are built for specialized purposes, which has led to the plethora of different technologies seen in the modern world.”

    Slackhammer’s explanation paused for a moment as he sipped his drink, “However, non-magical humans have, over the years, developed a tremendously deep understanding of electricity, producing ways to convert it to and from almost any other type of energy imaginable — with the obvious exception of magic, since that has been thus-far concealed from them. Thus, electricity has become the basic means of energy exchange in their technology, providing everything from heating and movement to process control, communications, and information processing. To put it bluntly, in a very real sense electricity is to modern non-magical technology what magic itself is to technology in the wizarding world.”

    That triggered a gasp from the potions master and a sharp look of interest from the young dragon.

    “A major limitation of electricity, however, is the difficulty inherent in making it go where you want it to go, as should be readily apparent any time you look out into a thunderstorm. Non-magical humans do this through the properties of various materials which either permit or resist the flow of electricity through them — called, rather sensibly, conductors and resistors — but all these materials have their own limitations and caveats. Any conductor actually presents a small amount of resistance to electrical flow, a resistance which manifests itself in problems ranging from minor inefficiencies all the way up to excess heating and catastrophic failures — any conductor, that is, except the class of materials called ‘superconductors’.”

    Seeing the dawning realization on his partners’ faces, the dapper goblin continued, “A superconductor is a material which, at some range of temperatures, has precisely zero resistance to electrical flow, a property which makes such a material much sought-after in the development and improvement of technology. Many such materials have been discovered, but all have exhibited this property only at exceedingly low temperatures, temperatures so low that the high-temperature superconductors developed some five years ago are so called because they exhibit the property of superconductivity at temperatures which can be attained by cooling the material with liquified nitrogen alone, rather than requiring even more elaborate cooling measures — measures which, as you might guess, are both technically difficult and quite startlingly expensive.”

    “Thus, a material which could provide such performance all the way up to the temperature of molten steel…” Snape had managed to find his voice.

    “…would be in startlingly high demand?” Slackhammer finished Snape’s statement. “Yes, it would indeed. We are currently sitting on a material which could not only improve the performance of nearly every industry on earth by a considerable margin, but which could also usher in entirely new industries by means of making previously unattainable design parameters practical. The engineering corps assures me that an initial introduction into the power distribution industry will be well received, as a drop-in replacement to their current lines will provide them with an immediate fifteen-percent reduction in overhead by eliminating transmission losses, and they suspect introduction into the computer industry will be even more profitable in the long run, both because of the superconductivity and the nanostructure of your neural tissue. Other markets are still being explored.”

    “The computer industry?” Snape asked.

    “What do you know of the internal function of computers, Mr. Snape?”

    “Very little, I must confess,” the potions master replied. “I am aware of their existence, but even in my excursions into the muggle world I have not interacted with them at all that I am aware.”

    “I ain’t used one since I turned into a dragon,” Harry volunteered. “They had Commodore C64’s and BBC Micro’s at the primary school I used to go to when I lived at the Dursleys, and we used ‘em for some of the classes, but it was mostly learning to type, I think.” He hadn’t really thought about that in ages!

    “You lost me at the ‘see-sixty-four’ part,” Snape muttered.

    “And how much do you know of said computer’s construction?” Slackhammer asked intently.

    “Well, not a huge lot, I mean, I know they got microchips and stuff in ‘em, and I know those are made out of silicon with really, really tiny wiring and stuff on ‘em, and I know what transistors are and how really, really tiny they can get, and I know what bits, bytes, and kilobytes are, but…”

    “That knowledge will suffice here, Mr. Potter. If I were to tell you that your brain matter functions much like a vast network of computers formed by transistors manufactured at the molecular scale, well, do you understand what I mean?”

    “Wow! Um, well, I think so…”

    “And if I were to tell you that our, as of yet small, number of employees believe that they can reproduce that material in the form of a processor chip for a computer?”

    “Oh, wow! That’ll be worth a whole lot of money, won’t it?”

    “Am I to understand that these materials would allow us to corner the market on these ‘computers’, Mr. Slackhammer?” Snape asked, doing a darn good job of pronouncing a word he had heard perhaps ten times in his life, most of them in this conversation.

    “Quite correct, Mr. Snape,” Slackhammer confirmed. “And the market for that technology alone is enough to make a king’s ransom look like the sort of pocket change one might find dropped carelessly in the street. Should we go ahead with this, barring some unspeakable disaster, everyone within this room will become so phenomenally rich that I guarantee we shall not need to work another day in our lives, or in our children’s lives, no matter how long those lives might be,” he nodded to Harry, “and that is without mentioning the myriad other potential uses for such a material.”

    “Mr. Slackhammer, what sort of money are we talking about here?” Snape asked.

    The dapper goblin let out a dry chuckle, “Frankly, Mr. Snape, of the two technologies the bulk superconductor is the more valuable by far; there is barely an industry which could not put it to good use. Yet Mr. Potter’s brain matter is worth enough, as a technology, to earn an estimated two to three billion galleons per annum at current market levels.”

    The sharply-dressed goblin noted his business partners’ flabbergasted looks.

    “Gentlemen,” he said, “welcome to the big leagues.”

    2.4.4 The afterglow of a good deal

    It didn’t take House Hufflepuff long, a few hours, tops, in fact, to notice that Harry seemed a little dazed when he came to visit on Saturday afternoon. He spent the time wandering around with a big, silly grin on his face, but when asked about it, he could do nothing but giggle. It had raised the suspicions of a few of the older girls who looked at their fellows speculatively with eyes narrowed —

    Nah, he was way too young for that.

    By the time Saturday evening rolled around, the House had collectively dismissed the matter as the Boy-Who-Lived being weird.

    Out of everyone, Suze came the closest to getting a straight answer on Sunday, and that was a huge, cheesy grin and a mutter of something about gold.

    She shook her head; he’d tell her when he felt like it, and that was good enough for her.

    When the Hogwarts rumor mill noticed that Snape also seemed to be in a similar daze and was being far less unpleasant than normal, it really got going — for a few hours before everyone quashed the rumors out of fear that someone might jinx it.

    They knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.

    2.4.5 With great Power comes great… danger

    “Ladies, gentlemen, other beings, welcome back,” Snape greeted his class. It was now Monday morning shortly after breakfast, and the first-year students were back for another laboratory session in the potions classroom.

    He gestured at their readied potions kits, especially Neville’s cauldron.

    “It has come to my attention that I have failed to properly impart to you the true hazards that the ingredients upon your desks represent. You may believe me to be severe, particularly in light of my first name, but I assure you I am not demanding of you simply for my own amusement.”

    He paused for long enough for the students to recognize the fact that he had not only made a joke, but he had made a joke with himself as the butt — there were some obedient giggles from the class, to which he replied with one cocked eyebrow and a faint smirk. The discussion with Mr. Slackhammer had left him with an uncharacteristically sociable disposition for the past few days, and the entire student body had absolutely no desire to be the one to trigger a relapse back into his usual dour mood.

    “In this room, there are a great many layered charms and wards intended to ensure the safety of all who prepare potions herein. These charms are placed for a vital purpose — to blunt the effects of the potions brewed herein. This might seem counterintuitive, but it must be understood that potions are uniformly volatile; they must be in order to attain the spectacularly useful results that they are intended to produce. It is an unfortunate corollary to this, that errors in the brewing process will often produce equally spectacular unwanted effects.”

    “The metal cleaning potion we prepared last week, for instance, will with a certain combination of errors, produce a substance capable of dissolving glass as easily as water dissolves table salt. Within this room, those effects are blunted, suppressed, and controlled. Mr. Longbottom, if not for those charms, your attempt would have melted clean through your cauldron, your desk, and the floor underneath, taking your legs off at the knees in the process. Even with the charms, had I not acted as quickly as I did, you and your neighbors would still have been subjected to corrosive fumes which would have been survivable only through the rapidly applied talents of our admirably capable staff Healer.”

    “I clarify that, through her efforts, you might have survived, not recovered, as you would have been rendered quite permanently blind. That, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely how deadly potions can be if improperly prepared, and that is the potential hazard of a very simple and mostly safe potion considered suitable as an entry to the subject.”

    “For those of you who choose to pursue the art as a career — even as a practical hobby — rest assured that the risks will only worsen,” Snape continued. “Those same charms which blunt the effects of potions mishaps also blunt the effects of potions successes. There is a reason that even those potions which are brewed properly in this class are discarded, and that reason is that they are mostly ineffective, performing the correct actions, but with so little power as to be ultimately useless. In order to produce potions possessed of their full advertised effect rather than a pale echo, they must be brewed outside of such protections. Potions masters such as myself are in high demand for precisely this reason.”

    “Frankly, I am severe and exacting as any failure to do so on my part may cost you your lives in the times to come. I am demanding of you because I must be so — that is the nature of potions as an art.”

    “I trust that you all understand this?” There was a round of nodding and ‘Yes, Professor Snape’-ing. “Good. Today, we shall be preparing a potion for the treatment of burns such as those which would have resulted from improper preparation of last week’s potion. Note that, if prepared incorrectly, it may explode with sufficient force to drive fragments of your cauldron clear through a thick stone wall, a force that, despite my perennial complaints regarding the thickness of your skulls, would prove quite decidedly lethal for you and anyone standing near you. I add that, within this room, said detonation would simply blow unpleasantly spicy muck to ceiling height and earn you a detention. The primary reaction concerns…” and Snape went off on a five-minute tangent about reactions and reactivity and precautions for the prevention of making things that blow up unintentionally.

    Once again, on the completion of the class, Hermione, Draco, and Pansy got approving nods and points, this time joined by Harry. Neville didn’t manage to get his cauldron to erupt, but did earn a lecture on how, again due to the addition of ingredients in improper order, his potion would cause a horrific, scarring rash, and if applied to burns as intended, would likely result in the even more horrific death of the recipient.

    Once he’d explained about the differences between failures, mediocre successes, and superb results, how they could be detected, how they could be produced — this time, the issue was mostly the timing of additions, though ingredient preparation was still critical — how it all worked, and what homework would be required, Snape dismissed the class.

    “A moment of your time, Miss Granger,” he added, shaking off a shudder at the way Harry bolted out the door with a declaration of hunger.

    Hermione warily waited as the rest of the students departed; she received puzzled looks from several students, especially Draco Malfoy, whose puzzlement was also tinged with jealousy.

    “What is it, Professor Snape?” she asked once they were alone.

    “Mr. Longbottom needs help, young lady, and your attempts have so far proven to be of acceptable quality,” Snape informed her, tapping her cauldron. “I would appreciate it if you were to render to Mr. Longbottom a little assistance in comprehending my lessons; in future lessons, students shall be paired, and I wish you to work with Mr. Longbottom so that you might prevent any further catastrophic failures on his part.”

    “Will it impact my grades?” Hermione focused on the important bit for her.

    “Frankly, young lady, if Mr. Longbottom’s performance should improve due to your assistance, I will happily apply his improvements to your grade as extra credit. The young man is lacking in confidence, and that lack translates into a failure to add ingredients in their proper time and order, I believe. I hope your surprising levels of attention to the subject might guide him onto a path that will not result in blowing himself to pieces and rendering the Longbottom family extinct.”

    “Okay, Professor Snape.”

    “Good, and Miss Granger?”

    “Yes, Professor Snape?”

    “Please do not attempt brewing outside the class as yet. Seeing you blast yourself into a grease smear would be most unpleasant, and the vast majority of potions are not so forgiving as those I give my first-year students.”

    “Yes, Professor Snape.”

    “Good, run along, young lady. I have kept you from your meal long enough.”

    Snape watched her go, then sighed as he glanced back at her cauldron.

    It was a perfect burn treatment potion, Snape sighed as he set about emptying it out for disposal. It was a shame it had been brewed under the suppression charms, the quality was more than good enough for sale, and it would have reduced his workload for supplying the infirmary significantly.

    As he moved on to cleaning up Longbottom’s — attempt — he sighed again. The only other cauldron of saleable quality was produced by Mr. Potter, and Severus knew well enough that no matter how much talent the dratted lizard had for the field, he would not be making a career of it. There were too many other things he needed to do, many of which were — much as Snape loathed the admission — more important than potions.

    At least he knew he had one student who might go on to become great in the field. If she produced work of this quality as a first-year, what might she do later on?

    After his friendship with Lily had collapsed, Snape had always thought his prospects for immortalizing himself by contributing to the next generation were nonexistent, and he had focused on working in the shadows where his efforts would be remembered by neither friend nor foe. He still had no prospects for contributing his blood to the future generation —he doubted he ever would, better to let his cursed father’s legacy die with him, rather than pass it on to another unfortunate soul — but the possibility of an apprenticeship…

    Perhaps he would be able to leave a legacy after all?
     
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  15. Threadmarks: Section 2.5 - In which there are growing pains
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.5.0 In which there are growing pains

    By the time Snape had finished his cleanup and arrived at the Great Hall for lunch hour, the scene he had vaguely feared was already in progress. Harry Potter was eating. No, that statement was insufficient —

    Harry Potter was EATING, capitalization required.

    He would later learn that Harry was working on his fourth roast cow when Snape entered the room, but he could tell enough from the deadly hush in the hall; the bug-eyed, slack-jawed looks on every face present as they looked at the scene of gastronomic devastation taking place at the Hufflepuff table; and the disturbingly small population of cutlery remaining near the boy.

    As Snape approached, another fork — this one previously resting beside the plate of a bewildered Cedric Diggory seated across from the ravenous first-year — vanished into the rapacious maw of the boy-shaped young dragon.

    Snape’s gaze swept up to the staff table and caught Madame Pomphrey’s eye who gave a slight nod and quietly withdrew from the table. For Snape’s part, his wand flicked out, and a quick spell levitated the loudly complaining Lizard-Who-Would-Not-Stop-Eating by means of his school uniform, quickly dragging him out of the Hall and off to the Infirmary.

    “What the hell are you thinking, you bloody reptile?” Snape growled as soon as their odd march took them out of earshot of the Great Hall.

    “Hungry!” Harry declared, attempting to swipe off the head of one of the animated gargoyles which had replaced the suits of armor as castle defenses. He only succeeded in catching a horn, snapping it off at the base as the construct dodged out of the way. In between bites of his new prize, he elaborated, “I ain’t never been so hungry before, I swear I could eat two whole trains!”

    “If you eat the Hogwarts Express, I shall be downright furious, you idiot lizard!”

    “But I’m HUNGRY!” the preteen dragon wailed.

    “And you shall have all you can eat shortly, just remain calm!” Snape snapped, failing to take his own advice.

    “Getting’ hungrier,” the severity of the situation made itself clearly known as the boy’s voice dropped to a wall-shaking inhuman bass.

    A moment later, the door to a side chamber next to the infirmary which had been prepared on the suggestion of Silvanus Kettleburn and Hagrid after they had judged Harry’s appetite to be again rapidly increasing, burst open and Snape just managed to get the young dragon through the door before his levitation charm failed as Harry resumed his natural form, removing the clothes that had been anchoring the charm into whatever magical condition such things go into — it was still a current topic of investigation, fourteen thousand years after the question was first posed, though the investigation had restarted independently several times during that period.

    The dragon, now the size of a small locomotive, fell on the extensive piles of things only he would find tasty, or for that matter, edible, like a ravenous, well… dragon as the rest of the staff finally caught up with the potions master at a dead run. Metal, glass, and frozen meat splintered as draconic teeth closed on them, and the small group of Hogwarts staff beat a hasty retreat from the carnage.

    Meanwhile, back in the Great Hall, the rumor mill had long since passed the point of ‘batshit crazy’ and was rapidly approaching ‘tinfoil-hat crazy’ — a term that oddly enough was independently developed in the wizarding world after the ‘tin’ in ‘tin-foil’ became aluminum, with the ignoble metal believed to block supposed broadcast mind-controlling magic just as well as the conductive barrier blocked supposed broadcast mind-controlling radio waves.

    2.5.1 Logistical difficulties

    “So, Potter’s appetite,” Snape began, killing the mood in the staff room, “how are we going to deal with it.”

    After a decidedly eventful afternoon, the staff had gathered once again after dinner for an informal meeting. Oddly enough, Quirrel was still involved in whatever that ‘other business’ had been which had kept him from attending the start-of-term staff meeting and gotten him stuck with all the worst class time slots. One would think that after getting stuck with office hours during both lunch and dinner hour as well as both the first and the last time slots every day of the week, he’d be more eager to attend these things.

    Albus was beginning to wonder if the man was really fit for the academic life at all — he wasn’t even showing up to meetings for the free booze!

    “How is he?” Minerva asked Poppy in concern.

    “He’s stopped eating — finally. I… well, Rubeus and I had to refill that room twice over — the elves refuse to go anywhere near him in this state. He’s eaten three times his weight over a period of four hours. I’ve no idea where he put it all — there must be some sort of expansion effect on his stomach, or possibly a pocket space. I’ve got a weighing charm on him, and his weight stayed the same through the entire ordeal, so wherever he put it, it is not currently interacting with gravity.” Poppy sighed, “Once he finished eating, he demanded the company of Suze, and on her arrival, he curled up around her and promptly fell asleep.”

    “Reckon he’ll be growin’ like a mushroom now,” Hagrid said happily, with a bright look most of the staff had come to associate with Hermione Granger after having her in class for the past week. “Yeh see, it’s usually the way o’ things fer young dragons ter get mighty hungry fer a few days before they go inter a big growth spurt,” he nodded to Madame Pomphrey, “In the run up t’ it they’re likely t’ eat sev’ral times their own body weight each day.”

    “Are there any warning signs we should be watchful for in the future?” Snape asked.

    “Nah, well, nothin’ anyone e’er wrote down. Some o’ the best dragon-handlers say they get a feel fer it, but…” Hagrid shrugged expansively, and when a half-giant shrugs expansively, he takes up most of whatever room he’s in.

    The room settled into a contemplative silence before Hagrid spoke up again, “Sorry, but, er… I need t’ go get a couple o’ extra loads o’ feed fer young Harry an’ contact the suppliers t’ let ‘em know t’ up the shipments fer a while. We only got enough fer t’morrow if he keeps goin’ like this, an’ we can’t afford the fees to portkey tha’ much stuff las’ minute.” With that ominous pronouncement, the half-giant exited the room.

    “What are we going to tell the weans?” Minerva asked.

    “A very good question,” was Snape’s non-reply.

    “I seem,” Filius offered, “to recall a certain magical disease which causes massively increased appetite accompanied by a related lack of expansion in girth. As I recall, one of my distant cousins died of it, though for the life of me I cannot recall the name. It was before my first days as a student here.”

    “Babington’s Syndrome,” Poppy interjected with a snap of her fingers. “One of the few commonly fatal forms of accidental magic. It is usually indicative of a massively powerful youngster coming into their magic too early, their magic uses more calories than they can eat, and they instinctively try to compensate but make the situation worse in the process. It’ll fit with the rumors about Mr. Potter’s magical strength, and it’s also easily — if tediously — treatable when caught early enough, so there won’t be any awkward questions when Mr. Potter survives. It’s even commonly recurrent until adulthood, so we won’t have to look for new explanations in the coming years.” The Healer nodded to her diminutive coworker. “A very good suggestion, Filius.”

    Her colleagues were looking at the Healer with undisguised shock.

    “What?” she asked, nonplussed.

    “How do you remember all these things?” Minerva asked. “I know it’s in your field, but I know I still have to look up obscure transfiguration methods. You just recited minutiae about a rare childhood ailment with only the barest hint of the symptoms — you didn’t even take a moment to think about it!”

    “I am a pediatric Healer,” Poppy replied, as if that explained everything. Seeing the uncomprehending looks, she elaborated, “There is a reason pediatrics is considered to be the premier specialization in magical healing.”

    “I suppose there is, at that,” Minerva said in admiration.

    2.5.2 Shared worries

    Hermione Granger — age twelve and first-year student at a school teaching witchcraft and wizardry of all things — had a singular, vitally important question, one which she shared with the entirety of House Hufflepuff, and that question was about the well-being of someone who currently felt like her only friend in the whole wide world, Harry James Potter. She didn’t even know why she thought of him as a friend — she’d only spent time with him at Diagon Alley that one time, and then on the train. Hermione hadn’t even seen him outside of classes for the last week! Maybe it was because he was the only one who had reached out to her?

    Well, she supposed there was now a second person who had done so.

    It was Susan Bones who invited her to join the Hufflepuff vigil as they waited for news about their missing housemate’s health, and Hermione found herself currently in the homely Hufflepuff common room — cutely called the Sett — ensconced between Susan and her best friend, Hannah Abbot, while being kindly introduced to everyone by a dashingly handsome third-year by the name of Cedric Diggory.

    The Sett had a totally different feel from the Gryffindor commons. In Gryffindor, you were expected to fend for yourself — you stood on your own two feet, or you got flattened. Conflicts between Lions were their own business, and the rest of the House would step back unless things got truly out of hand. Oh, if you were facing a fight outside the House, then your housemates would step in, but she gathered that was more to get in on the action than out of any sense of protectiveness. Hermione was sure the Lions didn’t mean anything bad by it — she had a sneaking suspicion that it was their way of being friendly, refraining from butting in on other people’s fights as a sort of weirdly-twisted courtesy.

    Honestly, it was only a bit over a week in, and Hermione was already regretting talking the Hat into sending her to Gryffindor. She could hold her own — at least verbally, she could give as good as she got — but Hermione was not good at making friends, and, in the absence of someone like Harry in the House of the Lions who would barge in and make himself her friend by hook or by crook, well… Hermione was feeling more than a little lonely. She didn’t have any sort of refuge in her House, and she had no idea how to go about making one for herself.

    Now she was kind of wishing she’d argued Donald into sending her to the Sett — in fact, hindsight being what it was, and Hermione being who she was, she was already constructing the set of arguments she could have used to achieve that outcome. Here, even though her uniform was trimmed in Gryffindor red and yellow, she was already one of the ‘Puffs, simply because she had a friend among their number. Just by stepping through that door, she was a part of the group already.

    It was something of a revelation for the perennially lonely girl.

    Her parents were good people, but they were busy good people, and she’d spent more than a few birthdays home alone with a good book. Tony and Sharon Granger’s patients came first at all times — that was how they’d built a very successful and well-to-do private dental practice, by being willing to go in to the office at stupid o’clock in the morning to deal with someone’s toothache. It was also — when she thought rationally about it — the reason they could afford to pay the cringeworthy price-tab of Hermione’s Hogwarts fees, but that wasn’t to say she hadn’t been lonely, and that sort of thing was rarely rational.

    Thus, the feeling of belonging that permeated the Hufflepuff common room was pretty alien to her, almost — but not quite — enough to make her shy away from the unfamiliarity of it all.

    Almost, but not quite. And when it comes to things like that, ‘not quite’ means ‘making this lonely child latch on like a drowning person clings to a lifebuoy’.

    House Hufflepuff makes you feel like you’ll never, ever be abandoned again, and when you’ve spent most of your life mostly alone, that feeling is something which should probably be a controlled substance.

    Thus, she was almost — almost but not quite — disappointed when Professor Sprout arrived at last with news.

    2.5.3 Growing closer

    For once in her life, Hermione had a book in her hand, and she was ignoring it in favor of something else — not another book, that had happened often enough to be unremarkable by this point, but rather a boy.

    After Harry’s voracious episode in the Great Hall the previous Monday and her nervous wait for news of his condition in the company of the amazingly welcoming Hufflepuff students, Hermione had made it a point to spend more time with her small, hyperactive friend — though he was rapidly becoming less small, there was no change on the hyperactivity — in the interest of being comfortable calling at least one person her friend, if nothing else. And to do that, she needed to spend more time with him. Today found her spending the morning free period in the library reading with Harry and Suze.

    Finding common time had been difficult for the last few days, as Harry was routinely disappearing into the infirmary for the better part of the afternoon for the treatment of his strange illness called Babington’s syndrome. She had tried to look up more on the condition, but it was apparently rare enough that it was barely mentioned in any of the books in the Hogwarts Library.

    Professor Sprout had been rather reticent about the whole thing when she explained the situation, which — she revealed when asked — was because she was just as unfamiliar with the condition as her students. She did say that Madame Pomphrey had recognized the illness as soon as she learned of Harry’s symptoms, though, which Hermione found very impressive.

    Harry was currently fidgeting a little while still somehow remaining completely absorbed in the book he was reading, a dusty-looking volume detailing the runic schema and internal energy flows of the so-called lighting-rod enchantments — a detail that she only knew because she had asked him outright. The book was written in Greek — an ancient scholarly dialect of Greek at that — and Harry was reading this book, rather than one of the hundreds of derivative works written in a more accessible language, because he said the other ones all glossed over some of the minutiae he was interested in.

    Between today’s reading and his eclectic choices over the past few days, Hermione was now aware that her friend was able to read at least seven different languages in addition to his native English, four of which were dead. The ancient form of Greek the boy was reading was a new one, one he was apparently learning on the spot judging by the open translation dictionary — a centuries-old text itself, matching the ancient Greek dialect with Latin equivalents — next to him on the table and the slowly increasing rate at which the boy was turning pages.

    Hermione was honestly rather intimidated by that fact.

    She was confident in her own intelligence, and she was game for learning almost anything, but the idea of sitting down to read a scholarly tome on a subject that wouldn’t even be available for her to take a course on for another two years, written in an ancient language that she didn’t know… well, that was a little much, even for her. It was the first time she had encountered another person her age who was objectively better than her at an academic pursuit, and she wasn’t sure precisely how to handle that.

    She was sure, however, that she wanted to be friends with him.

    Now she just had to figure out how to start a conversation. She’d not realized just how useful Harry’s ‘blathering’, as he called it, was for that purpose — no matter how irritating it could be.

    2.5.4 Self-examination

    The end of October was fast approaching — and with it, the end of Harry’s second full month of schooling at Hogwarts — and Harry was lounging on the lip of the Lair with Suze tucked in to his side, gazing out over his domain.

    The forest below the Lair was rapidly donning its fall vestments, painting the glen in reds, yellows, and oranges. The flowering heather on the coastal moors even cut a thin strip of purple in the distance before the blue-gray of the sound took over only to merge smoothly into the gray-blue of the cloudy twilight sky. Not ten minutes before, the sunset had lit up those clouds to match the fall foliage below, but now there was just enough haze in the air to hide the Isle of Skye from any distinct view.

    For all the world, it looked like the ocean just went on forever.

    It had been nice to meet so many new kids — Harry hadn’t had so much fun meeting new people since that first winter with the Black Woods Clan. The kids in Hufflepuff were almost universally friendly, which was real nice, and Hermione had been practically glued to his side whenever she could manage it ever since that embarrassing incident at lunch when he’d lost control of his appetite.

    If not for his scales, Harry would have blushed at the memory. Being levitated out of the Great Hall by Mr. Snape while complaining about being hungry was probably the low point of his academic career to date. It seemed Uncle Vernon had been right all that time ago about hunger doing strange things to people — Harry would have to let him know in his next letter.

    The time spent with Hermione as a result, though — that was nice. She didn’t seem to talk very much on her own, but she was always game for a good conversation, and they’d started talking more in the last few weeks. It was fun! Lately though, she’d seemed kind of sad about something, and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

    Speaking of his unreasonable appetite, Hagrid had said the really intense hunger would taper off into a slightly elevated appetite during the rest of the growth spurt, and Harry was happy to confirm that was indeed the case. He was now eating about twice as much as he was before the spurt started, but nowhere near what he was during the transition. Regardless, he was still putting on a steady inch every night, according to Madame Pomphrey’s now daily checkups.

    Harry’s massive head turned to eye his damsel for a moment before turning back to the slowly darkening landscape. Suze was nodding off as she leaned against his front-shoulder, sheltered under his wing as she watched the sunset with him. Letting out an almost inaudibly-deep rolling chuckle, pitched beyond the range of most human’s hearing but still intense enough to feel, he gently gathered her up in his forepaws and carried her into the Lair proper to sleep, away from the autumn chill.

    Lots of new friends, lots of old friends, lots to learn, lots to do, and lots and lots to eat — it sounded like a recipe for good times to Harry.
     
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  16. Threadmarks: Section 2.6 - In which pre-teen drama takes center stage
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.6.0 In which pre-teen drama takes center stage

    It was a cold Thursday morning on the last day of October, and the first-years had just been dismissed from Professor Flitwick’s class. The diminutive teacher had held Harry back for something or other after class — based on the past weeks, if Hermione had to guess she would say it was probably something about his control exercises.

    Lately it seemed like her friend was doing those literally all the time. When he was reading, he’d have little lights orbiting above the page; when he was eating, he’d levitate more food over to his plate in a complicated aerial dance; walking down the hallway, he’d be bouncing in truth rather than figuratively, using his magic to catch himself just above the floor and push himself back a little way into the air.

    It was getting quite decidedly silly — even sillier than usual.

    In any case, Harry’s after-class teacher’s conference had left Hermione waiting outside the massive charms classroom as the rest of the students slowly filtered out on their way to lunch, and she was thus in a prime position to overhear their discussions as they passed. One conversation in particular caught the bookish girl’s attention.

    “…don’t know where she gets off, bein’ all nosy and pushy and stuff!”

    That was one of her housemates, a boy by the name of Ronald Weasley — the same redhead who had briefly shared a compartment on the train with her and Harry before storming off when he ran afoul of Harry’s Harry-ness. Whenever the students were allowed free seating, they tended to divide themselves up along House lines. Hermione of course, sat next to Harry, and thus she customarily marked the boundary between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.

    Today, Ronald had been seated on the Gryffindor side of her own position. Flitwick had decided to make the day a review day — since so many of his students wouldn’t be able to concentrate while waiting in eager anticipation for the Halloween Feast — and she’d tried to help Ron out with his pronunciation on the levitation charm. He had not been terribly receptive.

    Hermione was kind of used to that by now, sadly.

    One of the other Gryffindor boys in her year, Seamus Finnegan — who for some reason always smelled faintly of whiskey and whom the girls had already caught staring several times — agreed with the redhead, “Yeah, just ‘cause she gets it right away don’t mean she’s got the right to rub it in our faces like that!”

    As she recalled, Seamus had managed to set his feather on fire — again, and not from moving too fast like Harry had managed back when they first learned the charm; the thing just burst into flame without moving at all.

    The rest of the first-year Gryffindor boys, all two of them, were walking along with the pair, though they weren’t participating in the grousing. Dean, a dark-skinned boy who was a little tall for his age, was scribbling away in his ever-present sketchbook as he walked, somehow managing to avoid running into anyone, and Neville, with whom she had been partnered in potions class for the last few weeks, was following along quietly with his eyes down.

    She wondered who Ronald and Seamus were talking about? Whoever it was, they seemed to really have it out for her.

    “’It’s lev-i-OH-sa not levio-SA’,” the redhead was saying in a mocking falsetto, “seriously, who does she think she is?”

    Wait, that was… they were talking about her!

    “And precisely what is wrong with me trying to help you with your spell-work, Ronald?” Hermione wasn’t going to stand for that, no sir.

    The scruffy-looking redhead wheeled to face the new voice, and on seeing her face, flushed red as he sneered. “You’re a right nightmare, that’s what!” he snapped. “Always gotta know it all, and you’re that dungeon bat’s teacher’s pet! It’s no wonder you ain’t got any friends!”

    That hit a little too close to home, and Hermione’s eyes started to water. She knew that wasn’t right — Harry was her friend, and she’d been spending a lot of time with Neville too, but Harry wasn’t there, and Neville was just standing there, and he wasn’t saying anything, and the girls were just walking away like they hadn’t heard anything, and… and…

    Hermione burst into tears and bolted, so upset she didn’t even realize she’d left her notebooks behind.

    Some things you don’t put behind you in just a month or two.

    2.6.1 Unfortunate hesitation

    Neville watched as his potions lab partner — a girl who had never been anything but friendly and helpful to him — ran off in tears after his ginger git of a dorm-mate tore into her for no reason Neville could see.

    He watched as the redhead muttered to himself and stormed off up to the dorm without even seeming to notice his target’s departure or the effect his words had had on her.

    He watched and struggled to decide whether to go after Ron and punch his teeth in or go after Hermione to make sure she was alright or do something else like tell a teacher or something, and in the process, he ended up standing there like a useless lump.

    “…I am such a woosie,” he muttered.

    2.6.2 Inklings of concern

    Meanwhile, Harry was just heading back to his seat to grab his bag before heading off to lunch. Flitwick had had some questions about his progress with the control exercises, and based on Harry’s report, the diminutive former duelist had proposed a new one which he had then proceeded to demonstrate.

    It was the coolest thing Harry had seen since he’d first realized that those wings that kept flapping around that evening at Avebury were attached to him!

    Flitwick had said that it was important to be able to direct magic where he wanted it to be in addition to being able to direct it to a specific purpose. To that end, Harry was supposed to push unformed magic out of his body at various points.

    Then the man had proceeded to set his own arms on fire.

    It wasn’t real fire since it didn’t burn anything, but it looked just like the real thing.

    And then the diminutive professor had made it change color!

    Harry had express instructions from his new favorite professor to learn how to set himself on fire and do it as soon as possible. Then he was supposed to repeat that feat again and again everywhere he went until he could do it at will.

    Harry was absolutely certain that this was the best homework assignment in the history of homework assignments!

    Bag retrieved, the excited young dragon exited the classroom. He had to tell Hermione about this! And then he was going to go tell Suze, who had decided to stay in the library and read today — she’d found a book on old woodworking potions that she was researching so she could teach her uncle Ronan. And after that he was going to lunch.

    Harry looked around the now-empty hallway — Hermione was nowhere in evidence. That was odd; she’d said she was going to wait for him — maybe she’d gone down the hallway to find a place to sit and read or something? A quick sniff directed him a little way down the hall to a haphazard pile of notebooks. Those were Hermione’s notebooks, all right, but there was no Hermione to go with them.

    Huh?

    He looked about for a few moments before trying to track her scent again, but the notebooks were all he could pick up in the olfactory jumble laid down by all the other students. Dragon noses were good in comparison to a human nose, but then pretty much every other creature with a nose had a good nose in comparison to a human nose. Dragon noses were not really meant for tracking.

    “Well, she must have had something important come up,” Harry mused. He looked back at the notebooks — those really shouldn’t just be left strewn about the hall. He gathered them up, saying to one of the portraits, “Can you let Hermione know I picked these up if she comes looking for them before I find her? Thanks!”

    He’d have to keep an eye out for his friend to return her notebooks.

    2.6.3 Building worry

    Lunch came and went without Harry seeing his bushy-haired friend, and he was a mite concerned. He could understand something coming up, but to miss a meal? That seemed a bit odd.

    That said, whatever it was that interrupted her had done so right before lunch — highly inconsiderate of whatever it was, really — and he supposed he could see things running a little long.

    History followed, which Harry considered to be a mostly useless class. Taught by Professor Binns, a ghost who had purportedly died one day during the 1823 school year and then gone right on to continue teaching his classes. The man was apparently known for putting classes full of energetic teenagers right to sleep while he was still alive — a talent which had not been left behind with his mortal coil.

    Unfortunately, Professor Binns was now a ghost, just a dusty and dim echo of the soul that was the original Professor Binns, and like all ghosts he did not learn or develop — not even so much as to produce a new lesson plan or shift to another already prepared one. He only ever covered one topic, the goblin rebellions, and he essentially repeated about two weeks’ worth of lessons.

    He certainly hadn’t updated his lessons to account for the results of the Bold ’99 — no matter how much Harry tried to yell at him for such a gross oversight — and that was as central to the understanding of goblin culture as anything Harry could think of. Needless to say, historical accounts became a new priority for Harry’s ongoing literary acquisitions.

    One might wonder why the school allowed such a situation to continue, and Harry’s summertime investigation of the rule book had revealed a disturbing answer.

    Apparently, tenure was a real pain-in-the-neck.

    Harry had tried to ask questions early on only to be completely ignored by the soporific specter, and he now used the class as a free-reading period, during which he tried to focus on history out of a sense of appropriateness, but often digressed.

    He didn’t see Hermione there either, but that was to be expected. History was shared with the Ravenclaws; only potions, transfiguration, and charms included all four Houses at once.

    Transfiguration, though, was the last class before the Halloween feast, and when Professor McGonagall’s classroom also proved to be devoid of frizzy brown hair, Harry got downright worried. Worried enough to ask around a bit, even approaching the professor after class. Professor McGonagall hadn’t heard anything about Hermione, but she promised to look into it.

    So it was that a very concerned young dragon walked into the Great Hall for dinner. The place was festooned with Halloween-themed decorations. The usual floating candles were joined by floating jack-o-lanterns, conjured bats — Harry could see the magic in them — swarmed about the ceiling, and the lighting was all in contrasting shades of warm fiery orange and cool twilight bluish-purple.

    As he walked by the Gryffindor table, Harry overheard a troubling bit of conversation.

    “Y’know that Hermione Granger?” one of the first-year girls said. It was the one with the identical twin in Ravenclaw. ‘Par’-something as Harry recalled — it suddenly struck him then that he really should pay more attention to people’s names. What good was it to have such a good memory if he never bothered to pay attention to that sort of thing?

    “’Course I do, Parvati,” Lavender Brown said. She was another one of the Gryffindor first-years, with a slightly pudgy face and hair that couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be blonde or brown. Harry remembered her name because he thought it was a bit peculiar that she was named after two different colors when he heard it at the Sorting.

    “She’s in the downstairs loo — the one just down the hall from Snape’s classroom — and she’s been crying for a while,” the now-named Parvati replied. “She’s really upset about something, I wonder what it could be?”

    From her manner, Harry gathered that this was some sort of juicy gossip, so he turned to Hannah when he got to the Hufflepuff table. She was really into the whole gossip thing, so she’d probably know what was what.

    “Hannah?”

    “Hmm?” the girl looked up from her conversation with Susan.

    “I heard Parvati and Lavender sayin’ somethin’ about Hermione,” Harry prompted, and a surprised look passed between Susan and Hannah. Harry was not one to be interested in gossip normally.

    “Well, yeah, you know the downstairs toilet, just toward the stairwell from Professor Snape’s lecture hall?” Hannah explained. “We saw her there just after Transfiguration, and she’s really upset.”

    “What happened?” Harry asked. Hannah and Susan failed to recognize how upset Harry was getting, though the older students cottoned on quickly.

    “I’m not sure,” Susan said, brow furrowed in puzzlement, “I asked her what was wrong, and she said something about Ron Weasley and wanting to be left alone.”

    There was a noise like a string of tiny firecrackers going off in the vicinity of Harry’s knuckles, the sound causing Cedric — who was sitting across the table — to flinch as the anatomy in question quickly turned a bloodless yellow-white.

    The normally-affable third year knew what he had just seen. The last time he’d seen someone that pissed off was after Charlie Weasley caught his girlfriend coming out of the broom-closet on fourth floor with that what’s-his-name arse from Ravenclaw.

    He shot a pair of surreptitious glances at Eric Cadwallader and Maxine O’Flaherty, two of his fellow Quidditch fanatics.

    “We’d better sort this out,” he hissed, answered by a round of nodding from the pair.

    Harry, deep in a funk, didn’t notice the byplay. Not that he would have if he were fully alert either — the young dragon still had a long way to go in developing his situational awareness.

    “You sure she wants to be left alone, Susan?” the boy asked.

    “I think so,” Susan said uncertainly. “I mean, she kept saying ‘leave me alone’ when me and Hannah tried to find out what was wrong.”

    Cedric again glanced concernedly at Eric and Maxine. That was not a good sign, not at all.

    “Aw, blast it,” Harry muttered. “I hate it when I can’t do something.”

    “Are you sure, Harry?” Cedric asked, leadingly. “I’d be happy to go see if we could help her out a bit — maybe talk things over?” Eric and Maxine were nodding encouragingly at the smaller boy.

    “Not just now,” Harry said with sad conviction. “If she said to leave her alone, then we gotta leave her alone. It’d be rude to butt in if she don’t want us to, and you shouldn’t be rude if you don’t gotta be, ‘cause that’s not very nice.”

    No ‘Puff argued with that.

    It had, after all, taken the collective House Hufflepuff less than a week to determine that arguing with Harry was an exercise in futility. You could argue until you were blue in the face, but Harry would only come around when he was good and ready. You just had to stick with him and keep hinting until he picked things up himself — the only ‘Puffs who hadn’t picked up on that were Zack Smith, who was more than a little bullheaded himself, and Nymphadora ‘Don’t-Call-Me-That’ Tonks, who was far too busy with her excessive number of NEWT courses to bother herself with firsties, even ones who had helped her understand the strange and disturbing mind of Severus Snape.

    2.6.4 Troll watching

    Celestine was disturbed.

    He was on patrol duty with several of his fellow warriors near the grounds of the wanded-human school on the evening of their strange celebration of the spirits and the dead. Their reasoning for choosing a time right in the middle of the autumnal season to host such a celebration, rather than a proper transition like the equinox or solstice, escaped the centaur. Selene was even waxing full — every colt knew that the new moon was the time for the dead, not the full one!

    Crazy humans.

    But the centaurs also knew that they should be watchful on this night. Even if the stars carried no special portents for the day, the crazy humans believed the day carried import of its own, and where there was both magic and belief odd things were wont to happen.

    The odd thing that Celestine saw happening this day, however, was most assuredly not caused by wild belief-magic — no, it was a robed human leading a quartet of mountain trolls of all things through the protections of the human school. Celestine knew of no reason for such a thing to be permitted — not even the wizards were silly enough to want such creatures around their young — and he would have liked to interfere, on behalf of the Great Wyrm who had friends in the castle, if for no other reason.

    He looked regretfully at his beautifully-crafted short-bow and sighed. Neither he nor any member of his patrol was carrying anything that could be of use against even one such beast, let alone four backed by what was almost certainly a wizard. Troll hide was thick; troll muscle was hard; and troll bones were both. Centaur arrows would do nothing but attract the beasts’ attention, and close combat with a troll was suicide for most beings — centaurs included. Celestine was rather enjoying the respite from mourning newly-lost companions.

    Hopefully Ronan would soon suss out how to reproduce those pulley-things on that ingeniously-designed bow the Great Wyrm had gifted Bane’s daughter, and he and his companions could start carrying something with a little more stopping power — but for now, it looked like the wizards would have to fend for themselves.

    He could at least pass a warning to the Gamekeeper, though.

    2.6.5 Warning received

    “Stop where you are!” a strident yet very businesslike voice rang out from concealment near the entrance to a certain corridor on the third floor of the castle. The tone hinted that noncompliance would be a decidedly bad idea.

    Hagrid stopped obediently from his headlong rush towards the goblin defensive emplacement.

    “Good! There you are, been lookin’ fer ya’,” the half-giant replied, seemingly unfazed by the harsh tone. “Got sumthin’ t’ tell you lot. Celestine, one o’ the centaurs in the Forest, ‘e saw four trolls being brought on the grounds by somebody wearin’ robes. Figgered whate’er it is yer guardin’ ‘d be the onl’ thin’ worth tha’ much muscle, so I thought yer ought t’ know.”

    “Understood, and thanks for the warning. Good man.” A shadowed gesture toward the darkened doorway triggered some shuffling and scraping sounds as if something heavy were being wrestled into a new position. “Is there anything else?”

    “Ya’ got any idea where Perfesser Dumbledore is? Oughtta tell ‘im next, I reckon.”

    “The good Headmaster should be in the Great Hall, but this is urgent enough for us to use the communication method he gave us,” the goblin said, finally revealing his position by coming into the light. “We’ll pass it on for you. If you could step into the side hallway and clear our field of fire, you can wait to hear his response yourself.”

    “Right,” Hagrid agreed. “How’s Fluffy likin’ it in there, anyway. Firs’ time the pup’s been off on ‘is own fer so long; bet ‘e’s getting’ a mite ‘omesick.”

    2.6.6 Lockdown

    The Halloween feast continued as the massive herd of teenagers and almost-teenagers packed away truly prodigious amounts of food. There was much laughing and merriment to be had — everywhere but one particular corner of the table trimmed in black and yellow. There, Harry distractedly picked at his food — he still managed to tuck away more than any ten of his table-mates combined, but it was clear that his appetite wasn’t up to the usual standard.

    The rest of the Hufflepuff table was quietly concerned about the missing Gryffindor firstie whose absence had so troubled their oddest member, but… well, everyone was hungry, and it was a Halloween feast, so there was a fair bit of eating and merriment going on among those sufficiently far away not to actually see the moping young dragon.

    Just as the tables were populated by yet another course — this one the first wave of desserts — the more attentive denizens of the Great Hall noticed the Headmaster give a subtle jerk and lift a hand to one ear before paling. This strange event was rapidly overshadowed by the main door bursting open to admit a figure not often seen in the Great Hall this year, one Professor Quirinus Quirrel.

    The man gasped out, “Troll! In the dungeons! I thought you might want to know,” before collapsing in a faint in the middle of the suddenly-silent Great Hall.

    The silence held for a few startled moments before the Hall erupted in noise as the students recovered enough to react, but not enough to react well. The semi-orderly meal was suddenly a mass of chaotically-moving panicked children, and the noise rapidly approached deafening before there was a sharp retort as if a cannon had gone off at the staff table.

    The Headmaster was standing at his full height, unseen but still acutely-sensed magic swirling in an imposing manner as he calmly addressed the suddenly silent students, “It seems that we have a situation. Prefects, remain here with the rest of the students, our intruder seems to be in the dungeons, and the halls are not safe. Do not permit any students to leave, and keep the door closed.” He turned to the staff, “Professors, with me. We will search the school for our wayward troll and deal with it, standard search assignments — and be sure to ask the portraits and ghosts for assistance where possible.”

    The elderly wizard shot a mildly disgusted look at his currently unconscious Defense professor before lifting an odd device to his mouth and speaking quietly as he strode through the doors of the Great Hall, “Corporal, please ask Rubeus to come to the Great Hall and guard the students in the event that the troll comes here… four, you say? I see, thank you.” He gestured to the other professors following in a suspiciously military-looking fashion behind him, raising four fingers then pointing down different hallways in quick succession before giving another odd gesture then tapping his ear.

    The hunting party swept out of the room as the great wooden doors slammed shut behind them.

    2.6.7 Out of bounds

    She hadn’t been sure how to react at first, but now that she had an objective, Abigail Abercrombie was all business. While the Head students and the rest of the prefects were still reeling from the sudden change in circumstances, Abigail was already moving. A lot of times, the best way to lead is simply to be doing something rather than standing around all gob-smacked.

    “All right, you heard the Headmaster! Get back to your tables!” she shouted in a tone that would brook no nonsense. “Prefects, get a head count. I’ll secure the door!”

    Not even thinking about who was giving them orders, the student body and her fellow prefects moved automatically to fulfill them as Abigail made her way to the main door — only to see a certain green-eyed firstie whose suitably-aged image had featured prominently in her dreams for the past few weeks making a deliberate bee-line for the same place.

    What was this?

    2.6.8 A rescue mission

    Harry reacted to the news of a troll in the school rather differently than the other students — and not just because he was more likely to look at a troll as a potential snack than as a real threat.

    “I’m goin’ to get her,” he said, immediately standing up.

    “Huh?” Hannah asked.

    “Hermione don’t know about the troll, so I’m gonna go get her and make sure she’s safe.

    This had caught the attention of Susan as well who said, “I’m going with you!”

    “No, you’re not,” Harry insisted.

    “Why not?” Susan protested. “You’re my friend, and Hermione’s my friend too, and we don’t leave friends in the lurch. Not in Hufflepuff!” This had Hannah, Cedric, and the rest of the students in earshot nodding in agreement and shifting in preparation to get up and help.

    “I’m goin’ down to find her, and you’re all stayin’ here where you’re safe,” Harry insisted.

    “But you’ve not got any better chance of fighting a troll than we do,” Hannah insisted. “The more people we have, the better…” she trailed off as Harry reached out grabbed a carving knife from a nearby platter — eight inches of tempered carbon-steel blade and a four-inch tang wrapped up in a well-seasoned oak handle — and proceeded to wad it up with one hand as easily as if it were made of tissue paper. Even when he squeezed down on the edge, the steel gave way before his skin so much as took a nick. When she examined it after he dropped the mess of twisted steel and splintered oak on the table, Hannah could even see the boy’s fingerprints impressed into the metal.

    Every jaw dropped among those who were paying attention to the tableau.

    “I’m way stronger than I look,” Harry said, entirely unnecessarily. “I gotta go now, see you later.” And with that, he set off at a sprint.

    2.6.9 Casualty

    “Hold up there, Potter!” Abigail called out to the boy before he could open the door. “Where do you think you’re going? The professors said no one was to leave the Hall, and it’s my job as a prefect to make sure that happens and the rest of the students are safe.”

    Those same intense green eyes turned on her again with more force behind them than there had been on the train — a lot more. Tonight was going to be interesting after lights-out, she decided after assessing the fluttering going on in certain central portions of her anatomy. For crying out loud, the boy hadn’t even hit puberty yet!

    Those eyes were dangerous!

    “My friend, Hermione Granger, wasn’t at the feast, so she don’t know about the troll,” the boy explained, fidgeting impatiently. “I’m gonna go get her and make sure she’s safe.” He was obviously uncomfortable with waiting, but the boy seemed to think her objection reasonable enough to at least answer.

    “Missing student, huh?” That was bad — really bad. “Let me check to see if anyone knows where she is now before we go,” Harry nodded impatiently. “Which House?”

    “Gryffindor.”

    “Gotcha,” she looked over at the Gryffindor table and caught sight of a distinctive head of red hair. “Weasley!” when the prefect turned, she said, “Got a report of a missing student, one of yours, one Hermione Granger. You know where she is?”

    “Wherever she is, she’s not here, Abercrombie,” the redhead said grimly, “and we don’t have any report of her going to the infirmary. I was just about to ask around when I didn’t find her during the headcount.”

    She turned back to Harry, “You know where she is?”

    “Susan and Hannah said they talked to her in the girls’ loo downstairs after class, she was cryin’ so she probably ain’t moved.” The boy was obviously struggling to remain patient with her.

    “Which one?”

    “I… I know which one, but I can’t think how to describe it,” Harry was obviously frustrated. “Just, let’s go get her already!”

    “Right,” she nodded, starting to work the doors while calling over her shoulder, “Weasley, you and Clearwater get over here and take over door duty. I’m going with Potter to retrieve our missing firstie.” The door fully opened, she motioned to Harry, “Lead the way, Potter.”

    The small boy took off at a sprint, setting a pace Abigail was hard-pressed to match even with her longer legs, and he took the stairs at a pace that made it obvious he had no fear at all of falling over the edge. It was possibly the fastest traversal of the labyrinthine castle Abigail had ever borne witness to — much less participated in — and yet they were still almost too late.

    As the pair drew within sight of the bathroom near Professor Snape’s lecture room — so that was the bathroom he meant — they were struck by an almost tangible stench just before they caught sight of a hulking, grey-skinned creature plodding down the hallway. It was human-ish in shape — though the arms were much too long — and it was half-again the height and nearly five times the heft of the Hogwarts Groundskeeper.

    More importantly, it was salivating at the sight of something it saw through the door of the girls’ loo — something that was currently screaming in a panicked girlish voice — and limbering up with a club that looked like it was made of the better part of a hundred-year-old oak tree.

    This was very, very bad, Abigail thought. She was in her sixth year, but trolls were tough opponents even for an adult witch — and she had two firsties to look out for in close quarters with the damn thing. She knew Potter was powerful, but he wasn’t trained to use that power yet, and that troll was no training dummy. What was she going to do?

    Then, the decision was taken out of her hands.

    “Hey, you! You stop lookin’ at my friend like she’s gonna be your dinner, stinky!” her pint-sized companion called out fearlessly. As the troll’s attention turned to the pair in the hallway, the smaller of whom was still walking calmly towards it, much to the larger of the pair’s dawning horror, the boy continued. “Are you gonna stop bein’ mean now, or will I have to do something unpleasant to you?”

    Merlin, that boy had a set of stones on him!

    Unfortunately, Abigail was now certain neither of them would survive long enough for her to find out just how impressive a set he was packing — even if she didn’t wait until finding out would be anything other than grossly inappropriate — more’s the pity.

    By way of answer to Harry’s question, the troll took two long steps toward him before that club lashed out at distressingly high speed and connected with a horrible meaty slam, sending Harry flying into and through the foot-thick stone wall of Snape’s lecture hall.

    Abigail fell to her knees in shock. Ambitious Slytherin she might be, but she was both a teenager and a generally decent sort, and this was the first time she’d seen any real violence. Harry had just died! One moment he’d been there, the next he was gone — just like that! Another kid, just a few years younger than her, just snuffed it — he was one she was supposed to be responsible for, too!

    Abigail was still staring blankly in shock as the troll advanced towards her, club poised to strike. Just as she collected herself enough to recognize the situation and realize she was about to die, the club swung and was intercepted inches in front of her face by an absurdly intense surge of magic and sent flying off down the hall behind her. She recognized the feel of that magic — it was the very same feeling that called to her from those green eyes she was so alternately intimidated and enticed by.

    The troll was slammed into the wall opposite where Harry had disappeared by what looked for all the world like a black-scaled tree trunk turned horizontal, and the towering odiferous beast went crashing through the wall to land in a shattered heap on the bathroom floor — not that Abigail noticed.

    Her attention was captured by a familiar green eye peering at her with undisguised warmth and concern in a scant moment that seemed to stretch out for minutes to her adrenaline-distorted perceptions. Between the emotion, untainted by calculation or self-interest — a rarity in her life since she was Sorted into the House of the Serpents — and the still-building adrenaline which her body had yet to realize was unneeded after the sudden reversal of fortunes, Abigail couldn’t really focus on anything else but that wonderful eye for a few crucial moments.

    By the time that her rational mind managed to catch up enough for her to realize that warm, concerned green eye had to be at least as big as her own head, she caught a piece of rubble from one of the two still-collapsing walls with her forehead and was out like a light.

    2.6.10 A daring rescue

    Today had been a nightmare, Hermione thought — before internally flinching at the word, hearing the echo of it as voiced by a certain Ronald Weasley.

    First, she’d had that… that stupid ginger ingrate and his stupid pet Irish lush snap at her for some stupidly incomprehensible reason after she’d tried to help them, then she’d stupidly let their idiotic and patently false invective get to her, and then she’d stupidly holed herself up in a stupid bathroom and cried her stupid eyes out. She’d even stupidly chased off Susan and Hannah when they’d tried to be nice to her.

    It was all just so… so… stupid!

    And here she’d sat feeling sorry for herself while she missed out on what the upper years had said was always a spectacular holiday feast. She’d been looking forward to it all week, particularly since her parents had always refused to allow her candy on principle, being dentists and all. Here she was, her first Halloween away from her parents’ oppressive anti-confectionary autocracy, and she was holed up in a bathroom crying over what some redheaded jerk said to her rather than indulging her curiosity about what all those sweets tasted like.

    Hermione was absolutely certain her day couldn’t get any worse than this.

    Had she been more experienced, she would have known better than to taunt the cruel overlord — Murphy.

    It began with a stench that made Hermione gag. The hint of bile in the back of her throat was actually a relief for the girl because the taste was, in fact, less unpleasant than that smell. At first, she thought one of the toilets had broken, and she quickly left the stall she had been crying in to investigate, but everything seemed intact. Then she heard a slow thumping in the hallway and a low groan before there was some snuffling about the door.

    Hermione was beyond nervous and well along the way to full-bore panic when she was pushed the rest of the way there by the bathroom door being ripped off its hinges and replaced with the massive face of the most unutterably scary thing she had ever seen. It was some sort of grayish malformed humanoid thing carrying a terrifying club and sporting an equally terrifying hungry expression.

    At that point, panicked screaming seemed an eminently appropriate course of action.

    As the creature looked to be ready to force its way through the too-small doorway into the bathroom, presumably to eat her — given the way the rest of her day had been going, she didn’t think she’d be lucky enough for it to be interested in tea and conversation — she heard a most welcome voice in the hallway.

    “Hey, you! You stop lookin’ at my friend like she’s gonna be your dinner, stinky!” She knew that voice.

    The creature turned and ambled threateningly down the hall towards… Harry! That thing was going to eat her friend! Concern overwhelmed her, and at that moment she proved why the Hat had been content to Sort her into Gryffindor when she asked by sprinting towards the door which the utterly terrifying creature had just left.

    “Are you gonna stop bein’ mean now, or will I have to do something unpleasant to you?” Yep, that was definitely Harry.

    She arrived just in time to see her friend catch the wrong end of the monster’s club and be sent rocketing through the opposite stone wall. As might be expected, Hermione froze at the scene. She’d just seen her best friend in the whole world get smashed by that big hulking gray whatever-it-was, and she had no idea how to process that.

    She was still staring at the hole her friend had been smashed through when the wall suddenly burst outward around an utterly massive black scaly hand with fingers tipped in claws that had to be as long as her legs. As the sound hit, a roar that seemed to shake the castle around her, a similarly-proportioned arm followed the massive hand, and the whole assemblage struck the big smelly grey thing — which was no longer the most unutterably scary thing she had ever seen — palm-first and smashed it through the wall next to her so hard that the grey monster ended up lying in a broken heap on the bathroom floor.

    As Hermione turned back to follow the arm to its source, a massive, three-horned reptilian head with a color scheme matching that of the arm burst through the same wall with another great tearing bang. The head alone had to be the size of her father’s car!

    The newly-arrived, and entirely unexpected, dragon glared at the broken monster for a moment before stating “That hurt,” in an oddly-familiar and incongruously high-pitched voice. The terrifying reptile then turned to look at something on the floor a little way up the hallway when she saw its intensely green eyes widen in… concern? “Hey, are you okay?” it said, “Miss? Oh, man, I hope she’s okay! Gotta get her to Madame Pomphrey.”

    The massive reptile looked to be trying work out how to carefully scoop something up off the floor, when the grey monster proved to be more resilient than it had first seemed — pulling itself together enough to muster a groan and shift a little. That caught the dragon’s attention, and its increasingly-familiar green eyes snapped over in Hermione’s direction, prompting the girl to squeak and duck back into the doorframe — all that was left of the bathroom wall at this point.

    “I think I’ve had just about enough of you, stinky,” the dragon said, before its jaws descended on the gray thing like an obscenely massive set of scissors, ripping it clean through in a welter of gore beyond anything the bushy-haired twelve-year-old had ever imagined possible. The massive reptile only let out a surprised-sounding, “Hmm, yum, tastes bacony!”

    Hermione couldn’t manage to produce more than a terrified squeak as the titanic dragon proceeded to gnash its way through the rest of the grey behemoth in a few absurdly huge bites before shrugging off the rest of the wall it had emerged from and turning towards her before it winced.

    “Ow!” the creature muttered, “Must’ve got one of the bones stuck in my teeth.” It prodded about its teeth with a tongue larger than Hermione. “Ow! Oh man, it’s stuck in there good!” Seeming to dismiss the matter for the moment, it turned to her. “Hey Hermione,” the black-scaled leviathan said concernedly, “are you okay?”

    She could only nod in silence, still terrified.

    She’d known the wizarding world was mental, but when had it turned into a B-movie monster fight? At least the special effects were good, the girl thought with a touch of hysterical whimsy; not even the big gray thing had looked like a man in a rubber suit.

    “Good, um, do you know how to move somebody safely if they got knocked on the head real hard?” it asked. “I wanna get the girl who was helpin’ me to Madame Pomphrey, but I know you’re s’posed to be careful with head injuries…”

    What? The topic was so incongruous with the appearance of the massive creature that Hermione was struck speechless. Luckily for her sanity, she was spared from having to answer by a strident interruption.

    “What in the HELL is going on here?” came the tremendous bellow of an arriving — not to mention unutterably incensed, you could tell he was when he swore — Severus Snape. “And what exactly inspired you to revert to your usual outsize reptilian self in front of a student, just like we had decided you most definitely should not do, Mr. Potter?”

    “It was the troll, and Hermione didn’t know about it, so I was going to let her know about it so I could keep her safe, and then the other girl insisted on coming, and then the troll was going to devour Hermione, so I devoured it, but the other girl got hurt when a bit of wall hit her, and Hermione says she’s okay, but we really need to get the other girl to the Madame Pomphrey ‘cause she’s got a head injury, and Madame Pomphrey always said those are tricky, and…”

    “I believe I understand the situation, Mr. Potter,” the calming potions master said. “You said there is another injured student here?”

    “Yeah, she’s over here,” the dragon jerked its head in the opposite direction, where it had been looking concernedly before the — Hermione supposed it had been a troll based on the dragon’s commentary — had unwisely made its continued survival known.

    “Well then, you blasted lizard, kindly change back to your human form so that I may see to your injured compatriot,” Snape snapped.

    “Um, I got one of the troll’s bones stuck in my teeth, so I don’t think I oughtta do that, Mr. Snape,” the dragon said. “It’s kinda bigger than my leg when I’m human-shaped, and well…”

    Snape sighed, “Very well then, kindly move your head off to the side so that I may pass.”

    The dragon did so, revealing a girl in green and silver-trimmed school robes, the lapel of which sported a brightly-burnished gold Prefect’s badge, splayed out over the rubble with her brown hair matted with blood seeping from a shallow scalp wound.

    “Miss Abercrombie?” Snape said with concern, hurrying over to his fallen charge, he cast a series of diagnostic charms to determine her state. “Hmm, skull is intact, minor bleeding, but some swelling…” He broke off long enough to conjure a sheet of paper with his wand which then proceeded to fill itself out with a message as he dictated, “Poppy, you are needed on the second floor, hallway five. Possible concussion on a sixteen-year-old female, Abigail Abercrombie. Potter is involved and in his large form. All trolls are accounted for.” With another flick, the paper folded itself into an intricate origami crane and winged its way off swiftly towards the infirmary.

    “You did well not to move Miss Abercrombie, Mr. Potter. Doing so might well have caused significant damage if done incautiously.” He sighed, “We shall wait here until Madame Pomphrey arrives with the correct tools to aid her, then you shall both accompany us to the infirmary. Miss Granger, are you intact?”

    “I think so. Umm… what’s going on?” the overwhelmed girl squeaked.

    “Are you an imbecile, girl?” Snape snarled. “Did you think it an error that I called this wretched lizard ‘Mr. Potter’?”

    “Hey, that ain’t fair; she didn’t know!” Harry protested, keeping an equally concerned eye on both Hermione and the newly identified Abigail.

    Hermione thought for a moment. The dragon had emerged from the same wall Harry had been smashed through by the troll. Its voice sounded remarkably familiar, and it shared those uniquely green eyes with her friend, and the blathering… oh.

    “Harry?”

    “Yep,” the dragon — no, her friend — replied in his usual irrepressibly cheerful tone.

    “Thanks for coming to help,” she said faintly.

    “No problem,” he said amiably, “you’re my friend, after all.” He seemed to think for a moment before saying in a moment of insight, “Just so’s you know, the rest of the ‘Puffs wanted to come too, but I made ‘em stay on account of there bein’ a troll on the loose.”

    Hermione gave a weak and watery smile, and Harry’s insight was well-rewarded.

    2.6.11 Medical emergency

    Poppy Pomphrey arrived on the scene at a dead run.

    She had been anxiously awaiting the results of the search in the Infirmary. Four trolls in a school full of children was a recipe for tragedy, and she knew she would have to act swiftly to save anyone attacked by the wretched things. The blunt force trauma from a troll attack was usually instantly fatal, but if the victim survived the initial impact, then there was sepsis to deal with.

    That stench wasn’t just for ambiance.

    So, when she received Severus’ message — he was the only person she knew who bothered with using the original paper cranes rather than the less artistic, but much simpler, paper airplanes — she was both primed for action and relieved.

    Just one ‘possible’ concussion — from a troll attack? Heaven’s mercy be praised!

    That said, time was still critical, and she was still sprinting. Head injuries were tricky.

    As she rounded the corner she came upon a scene of devastation. Two entire walls were torn out and scattered along the hallway. There was a patch of blood spatter and assorted viscera covering a region half the size of her infirmary which she immediately disregarded — the smell and slightly-off color betrayed its trollish origin — and the massive black draconic form wedged into the hallway was definitely Mr. Potter.

    Another first-year, a girl with bushy brown hair that Poppy had yet to meet in the course of her duties, was sitting quietly on a chunk of stone rubble, staring off into space. Probably in shock — she’d have to run a diagnostic in case the girl was injured but hadn’t noticed in the confusion.

    Severus Snape was waiting for her to arrive, tapping his foot impatiently and staring down at something laying on top of the rubble in the middle of the hallway, something that Mr. Potter’s head was hovering over protectively. That must be her primary patient.

    Diagnostics were cast before she even finished her run, and by the time she stopped next to the fallen girl, Poppy had confirmed Severus’ diagnosis and begun treatment. Concussions were easy to treat with magic — not simple by any means, but easy. A few minutes’ work had the internal blood vessels healed and the associated swelling eased, fluids redistributed by means of magical transportation to the rest of Miss Abercrombie’s body. All easy work, but not simple — sort of like writing a term paper. Moving the quill is easy, but you’re still exhausted by the end of it.

    “She’s safe to move, now,” Poppy spoke for the first time. “You were right about the concussion, Severus. It was mild, but present. Let me do a quick check on Miss…?”

    “Hermione Granger,” Snape supplied.

    “…Miss Granger, to see if she is injured before we head to the infirmary.”

    “Hermione said she was okay, though,” Harry spoke up, puzzled. “Why do you need to check?”

    Poppy spoke even as she moved to examine the dazed girl. “Note her pallid complexion and dilated eyes,” she explained in the tone of a teacher giving a lecture, “as well as the shallow breathing and how she is swaying in place as if she’s about to fall over. Those are all symptoms of a condition known as shock, which can be induced by a variety of situations and injuries.” The hovering dragon nodded worriedly. “Shock does not necessarily indicate that the sufferer is injured, but it can mask symptoms like pain. Sometimes a person in shock will not notice major injuries they received, therefore it is a good idea to verify their self-diagnosis, just in case.”

    “Oh!”

    “As it happens, Miss Granger was correct in her self-assessment. She is uninjured, and we can now relocate to the infirmary for further treatment,” Poppy concluded. “Mr. Potter, why are you still in your natural form?”

    “Ah, I got a troll bone stuck in my teeth and I can’t get it out,” he explained. “It’s bigger than my leg when I’m human-shaped, so I can’t really change until I get rid of it.”

    “I see, well that is a challenge,” Poppy was almost pleased. Removing a magically-resistant bone from a child’s teeth would certainly be a first for her — possibly because humans didn’t generally eat magically-resistant creatures. “Well, let us be off.” She turned back to Miss Abercrombie.

    “Um, Madame Pomphrey?”

    “Yes, Mr. Potter?”

    “Since I’m dragon-shaped anyway, would you like me to carry Abigail for you?” Harry offered uncertainly.

    Poppy considered that, the girl was stable, and she was planning to petrify her anyway to keep her head immobile, so it wouldn’t be a problem. Why not? She shot off the appropriate jinx at her unconscious patient.

    “That would be quite helpful, thank you, Mr. Potter.”

    Harry gently scooped up the sixth-year girl in his massive forepaws and shifted his weight onto the knuckles of his tightly-folded wings as the two staff members got to their feet. Miss Granger did not, still staring off into the distance, eyes unfocused.

    “Well, Miss Granger,” Severus spoke up in a mocking drawl, “are you coming, or shall I have Mr. Potter pick you up by the scruff of your neck and carry you like a recalcitrant kitten?”

    Her eyes suddenly opened wide at that threat and focused on what was in front of her for the first time in several minutes. Hermione quickly got up and followed the strange procession to the infirmary.

    The hallway outside the lecture hall was left empty and silent except for the occasional shifting rubble and the slow drip of shattered plumbing.

    2.6.12 Choose your own adventure

    In the Great Hall, the students waited impatiently for their professors to return with news on the situation. It had only been about ten minutes, but ten minutes in a situation like the one they were in seemed like a very long time indeed.

    About two minutes into the wait, they’d heard a weird sort of droning buzz, muffled by the intervening walls, which had sounded on and off for almost two minutes, and then a couple minutes later, there was another muffled sound, this one a tremendous crash, followed hard-on by another crash, a tearing sort of roar, and then yet another crash before everything fell silent again.

    What on earth was going on out there?

    At about that time, the door had opened to admit Rubeus Hagrid, who tipped an imaginary hat to the students, and then proceeded to close the door behind him, pull out a truly massive set of keys, and lock the doors to the Great Hall.

    None of the students present had ever seen the doors of the Great Hall locked before.

    The large, hairy man then reached into a small bag and withdrew a crossbow which looked more like a medieval artillery piece than a man-portable weapon and an axe of utterly absurd proportions, neither of which should ever have fit in that tiny bag. The man cut a rather terrifying figure, with his crossbow in one hand and an axe resting over his shoulder, looking like the imposing guardian of some legendary stronghold. For the first time, many of the older students remembered that the large, generally amiable man was also the Keeper of the Keys for the castle — the proverbial guardian at the gate — and now they knew a little of what that meant.

    Some sounds started to drift through the room as children got bored with the waiting and realized that there was still a great deal of perfectly good food on the table that no one was eating, but conversation remained hushed.

    Then the students went silent as they heard a regular thumping sound, as if there was some giant creature walking through the halls outside. It was getting closer, closer, now it sounded like it was right outside the doors!

    There was a great, tearing crash!

    “Watch where you’re going, you dunderheaded klutz!”

    “Sorry, Professor Snape! I’ll try to be more careful next time.”

    “See that you do, Mr. Potter.”

    And with that, the thumping resumed, fading into the distance.

    When the professors finally gave the all-clear twenty minutes later and Hagrid unlocked the doors, the students were treated to the sight of what remained of one of the guardian gargoyles, the left one of two flanking the entrance to the Great Hall — normally an intricately detailed metallic statue the size of a large man, it was now flattened to the point that it’s remains had been forced into the cracks in the stone floor.

    What had happened?

    The Hogwarts rumor mill decisively entered the tinfoil hat regime.
     
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  17. Threadmarks: Section 2.7 - In which enlightenment is attained
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.7.0 In which enlightenment is attained

    On their arrival at the infirmary, Madame Pomphrey immediately absconded to one of the private treatment rooms with the now barely-conscious Miss Abercrombie. She needed further treatment post haste.

    The girl had awoken during her ride in Harry’s forepaws only to see that same great green eye she had seen before peering down at her as she was held gently. Between the head injury and the early stages of the troll sepsis —predictably contracted through her open scalp wound — Abigail was hardly coherent, and she would remember very little of that night after seeing Harry’s magic stop that club from liquefying her, but the recurrent image of that eye would stick with her.

    As for the rest of the group, well, they were less urgent cases.

    “Both of you, remain exactly where you are! And no playing the fool!” Snape snapped before he stormed out of the infirmary, leaving a large dragon and a small bushy-haired girl seated in a side room just off the infirmary proper — oddly enough, a room almost identical to the one which had been converted to Harry’s dedicated emergency-rations room.

    “Okay, Mr. Snape!” Harry chimed in, the excitement of the evening causing him to forget to use the appropriate address of ‘Professor’. The same excitement caused Snape not to care about his error.

    “I hope Abigail is gonna be okay,” Harry said when Snape had left the room. “I feel kinda bad for her getting hit by that rock since I was the one who broke the walls.”

    “Madame Pomphrey said she’d be okay, Harry,” Hermione offered, focusing on her friend at the moment — partially because he obviously needed reassurance, but also because she needed to focus on something so she didn’t go spare over all the weirdness of last half-day.

    “Huh, well I suppose you’re right,” Harry agreed, much reassured. “Madame Pomphrey’s really, really good at that stuff, so she’d know.”

    “Harry… what’s going on?” Hermione asked plaintively, in desperate need of answers now that Harry had settled down.

    “Hmm? Oh, well, I’m a dragon, right. It happened when those standing-stone things went all wonky after I knocked my head on one of ‘em, and I don’t really remember what happened next ‘cause I was too busy seein’ stars,” the dragon explained with a shrug. “We still ain’t really sure how it worked, but Mrs. McGonagall says she thinks they’re real close to figuring it out now.”

    “Er, when what happened?”

    “Huh?”

    “When the ‘standing-stones’ went ‘all wonky’, what happened?”

    “Oh, I turned into a dragon. I used to be a human, but you know how easy it is to misplace that stuff sometimes, huh?” Harry explained easily, as if turning into a dragon was no big deal. “But don’t have, you know, a big situation about it. I’m cool with it — aside from the whole ‘not being able to let people know’ bit. That gets kinda annoying sometimes, ‘cause I don’t like not telling my friends about it. It don’t seem quite right, honestly.”

    Harry sighed, “But people are stupid, and that means I gotta look human most of the time. I mean being human’s pretty cool too, because you can get into buildings and turn pages better and sit around with more of your friends ‘cause you don’t take up the whole room, but I don’t like hiding, you know?”

    “Oh, um, look… I guess you can change back and forth between dragon-form and human-form, right?”

    “Yeah,” Harry agreed. “I mean, not right now, because I got a troll bone stuck in my teeth, but normally, yeah. That’s how I got back out of that busted-up wall the troll smashed me into with its club!”

    “Okay.”

    The pair fell into a companionable silence for a while, with Harry glancing over at the door to the private treatment room where Madame Pomphrey had disappeared to with Abigail — for whom he was still rather concerned — and Hermione simply enjoying the silence after a far-too hectic day. Eventually though, the girl spoke again.

    “Harry?”

    “Yeah, Hermione?”

    “Thank you.”

    “Aw, it ain’t nothing. You were in distress, and there’s some stuff a dragon’s gotta do because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be a proper dragon, and anyway, there ain’t nobody allowed to pick on my friends, and I don’t care if the somebody who tries it tastes like bacon.” The dragon nodded decisively at that, despite the fact that his conclusion made little in the way of sense.

    “…am I your friend?” Hermione asked tentatively. She vaguely remembered him saying something to that effect, but a lot of the last hour or so was a kind of fuzzy for the girl.

    ‘Course you are! Weren’t for you, I wouldn’t know trolls tasted like bacon, and you’re really clever, and I like spending time with you, and anyways, ain’t no way nobody can have too many friends because friends are the best thing ever. Well, maybe apart from damsels and treasures and, I think guns, but then guns and damsels are two sorts of really special treasure because they’re so hard to get, so that’s obvious.” The boy’s voice turned contemplative, “And maybe friends are another kind of special treasure? That’d make sense; I’ll have to have a good think on it later.”

    Hermione spent a few startled moments digesting that, then asked, “How’d you know where I was and that the… the troll was going to come in?”

    “Well, I didn’t know the troll was going after you specifically until I saw it going into the loo where you were, but we all found out about the troll being in the castle when Professor Quirrel came in to the Hall and told everybody. And my friend Hannah, she said earlier that you were in the downstairs girls’ loo all upset and stuff because of somethin’ or other, but you said you wanted to be alone, so I didn’t want to push or nothin’, but then we found out about the troll, and someone needed to come let you know, and I said I was gonna do it.”

    The dragon finally paused to take a breath before continuing. “And then Susan, she wanted to come with to help, ‘cause I was her friend, and you were her friend too, and Hufflepuffs don’t leave our friends in the lurch, and everyone nodded and they were gonna come with, but I made ‘em stay ‘cause the troll might’ve hurt ‘em, but they didn’t want to stay until I showed ‘em a little about how strong I am, then they were okay with it, and I left. But then Abigail — though I didn’t know her name then, right — insisted that looking after the students was her job ‘cause she’s a prefect, so she came along, and then there was the troll and it tried to hit me, so I hit it, and Abigail got hurt, and then I devoured the troll and got a bone stuck in my teeth, and then Mr. Snape came, and then Madame Pomphrey came, and now we’re here!”

    Hermione spent a few more moments digesting that before coming to a very pleasant conclusion — it seemed Harry wasn’t her only friend in the world, he was just her closest one.

    The recounting of the tale had apparently reminded Harry of troll bone stuck in his teeth, because he started rooting around between his teeth with his tongue again. “Ouch!”

    “Are you okay, Harry?”

    “Yeah, but I can’t get my tongue under that troll bone to get it out, and when I try, it jams in and that really hurts.”

    “Let me have a look,” she might not be a dentist, but she had certainly heard her parents talk shop enough to do something like this. She got up and headed over to Harry’s head. “Say, ‘aah’.”

    “Aaah,” Harry said, terrifying mouth opened wide. Hermione certainly had plenty of space to work; Harry’s mouth was bigger than the area assigned to her in the dorm.

    The troll bone was as thick as Hermione’s wrist, and the end was jammed as deep into his gums as her forearm was long. The end of the bone in contact with the gums was even sizzling a bit, something which told her Harry’s dragon body was very hot indeed. There was no way she’d be able to move that thing, it’s be like ripping out a street sign by the pole!

    But Harry was her friend, and that meant something to Hermione. If she had to attempt the impossible to help her friend, then she would give it her best shot! She gave it a yank.

    “Ow!” Harry declared, flinching back, and in the process yanking the bone out of her hands.

    “Sorry!”

    “Ow, ow, ow, ow. I think my mouth’s bleeding a bit,” Harry said before he noticed Hermione shrinking in on herself. “Aw, don’t feel bad, Hermione, it’s not your fault, I just got stuff jammed in my teeth, and that sort of stuff happens, right? I mean, last time it was a driveshaft, but that came out real easy because the bit that got stuck in melted.”

    “…you know,” Hermione offered, “my Mum and Dad are dentists. They might be able to help.”

    “Well, maybe we’ll try that if Madame Pomphrey can’t help,” Harry told her pragmatically, nodding firmly before they lapsed into silence again.

    Eventually, Hermione broke the silence, “What’s with Professor Snape, anyway. I can’t tell if he hates everyone or what?”

    “Oh, well, Mr. Snape, I mean Professor Snape, he’s just a little hard to read sometimes…”

    Harry happily launched into a discussion of one of his favorite people who was chronically misunderstood, and thus often required some editorial explanation. One topic lead to another, and the pair continued companionably for some time.

    It was nice to have friends to talk to.

    2.7.1 Protective potions master

    As Severus Snape left the Infirmary, he was seething.

    Four trolls had gotten through the school’s defenses. Four of the blasted things!

    Even one getting through accidentally would have strained credulity, but four? This had to be an attack. Someone had tried to kill his students, and, if not for the intervention of Mr. Potter, they would have succeeded. Miss Granger would have died with certainty, and Miss Abercrombie might well have died trying to save her.

    For all that Harry was obviously blaming himself for getting Miss Abercrombie involved — something Snape had noted and had resolved to speak with the boy about later — Snape knew better. Miss Abercrombie took her duties seriously, and she thought through things — probably why he was fonder of her than any of her fellow prefects. Miss Granger’s missing status would have been discovered eventually, and Miss Abercrombie would have gone after her regardless — in all likelihood too late to do anything but get herself killed as well.

    A silvery-white messenger spirit, a variant of the patronus charm-class, appeared before him to deliver its message. A phoenix — so it was from Dumbledore — calling for an emergency staff meeting. He turned toward the stairs.

    Someone had tried to kill Miss Abercrombie and Miss Granger, his favorite prefect and his best apprentice candidate in years.

    That someone was going to burn; it was just a question of who would find him first — Snape or Harry.

    2.7.2 Minor irritation, major bloodletting

    Albus Dumbledore stood over a sea of carnage.

    His links to the school wards had allowed him to home in on the trolls as soon as whatever concealment had allowed them through the wards dissipated, and he had arrived on the third floor just in time to see the Sergeant Major’s squad open up on the three trolls which had assaulted their position.

    It had begun just minutes ago with an odd whine which then deepened into a roaring drone as a stream of glowing projectiles had streamed from the goblin position at the oncoming trolls. The troll skin had resisted for a moment before the bullets started tearing fist-sized chunks out of the troll, coming so fast it didn’t even have time to fall over before the stream cut it in half.

    The other two followed-suit in short order, dead before the bottom half of the first troll finally managed to fall over, and the gun fell silent for a moment before the whine started again, and the gunner swept over the downed trolls, pausing at each head in a gruesome display of calculated savagery.

    Albus had to admit, the goblins did good work.

    Trolls were disturbingly durable creatures, and many a wizard had died to a ‘dead’ troll which recovered enough to be dangerous. Better to be safe than sorry.

    As he had approached the Corporal on duty, after the gunfire faded long enough for him to be reasonably certain he wouldn’t be gunned down by accident, he had heard a distant series of crashes and a roar and then silence, and the wards had informed him of the demise of the last troll.

    “Corporal, a report on your status please,” Albus asked.

    “Sir! Three hostiles neutralized at this location; you’re standing in them right now, sir,” the Corporal — Mantrap he thought the name was — explained. “No friendly casualties, sir. Your man Hagrid informed us earlier that one Celestine, a centaur, had warned him of a robed man leading a group of four trolls on campus. I’d suggest you confirm the whereabouts of the fourth beastie, but based off that roar just now, I’d guess Mr. Potter has dealt with it.”

    “That would fit with the reports from the wards, but Severus is on his way to verify that right now,” the wards were tracking all the staff right now, since he had switched them to emergency status. Or at least they were supposed to be, Quirrel’s status was reporting him as being in his quarters, but he had passed out in the Great Hall — a question for later. “You said the report indicated a robed man?”

    “Well, technically a robed human, your man didn’t specify sex. We reported to you as soon as the report came to us.”

    Albus stroked his whiskered chin, “So we have another potential intruder, then. Thank you, Corporal, please stay on alert. Perhaps we can catch this person red-handed.” The elderly wizard’s eyes flashed as his magic flexed subconsciously. Mild-mannered Dumbledore might be, but he sincerely disliked people taking liberties with the wellbeing of his students, and leading trolls onto a school campus was most assuredly taking major liberties.

    After the Corporal replied in the affirmative, Albus added, “If you encounter the intruder, please attempt to leave him or her capable of speech, I have some rather pointed questions to ask.”

    The goblin smiled toothily at the man’s tone. It seemed there would be no arguments with that order.

    Albus swept out of the hallway, a surreal picture of brightly-colored robes with cheerful dancing jack-o-lanterns soaked up to mid-calf in troll blood and leaving a smeared trail of the same wherever he walked. A quick charm had rendered the blood sterile to ease cleanup by removing the risk of sepsis, but the blood itself was just as resistant as the rest of the beast.

    His wand flicked out, and a bevy of messenger patroni appeared before winging their way off through the school.

    There was a staff meeting to run, and some pointed questions to ask of his current Defense professor.

    2.7.3 Taking responsibility

    The mood in the staff room was decidedly more grim than usual. Not surprisingly so, the school had been attacked, and while the weapons used were destroyed, the mind behind it was still at large.

    The final sweep of the school had turned up no signs of another intruder. The wards reported all-clear, but that was less than comforting. The wards had also reported all-clear until the trolls were already well inside the perimeter, so their mystery intruder had already proven capable of circumventing them. Without evidence one way or another, though, they had had to drop the lockdown and send the students to bed.

    A state of alert could only be held so long — particularly with teenagers in the mix.

    Albus looked over the room. “I am pleased to see you all here, though we still seem to be missing several of our number,” he began. “Rubeus has already reported to me personally, and he is currently attempting to track down the trolls’ entry point at my request. Argus has been briefed and is cordoning off the two battle-sites. The troll blood must be disposed of and the sites decontaminated so that our students shall remain healthy, and in the case of Mr. Potter’s fight, it is also critical that we ensure the structural integrity of the castle. However, we are still missing our Defense Professor,” he concluded with a frown.

    Quirinus Quirrel, a man who had no valid excuse for refusing to attend this meeting.

    “Minerva, Filius,” the two snapped to attention, “Quirinus has avoided our meetings for too long, see to his attendance,” he paused, considering for a moment, “take three of the gargoyles with you to convey the importance of this, Minerva.”

    “Yes, Albus,” the Scotswoman acknowledged with a firm nod.

    “As the Heads are already aware,” Albus addressed the rest of the faculty, “an unknown person managed to infiltrate the school and deliver four mountain trolls into the castle undetected. They were sighted by one of our centaur neighbors who were kind enough to relay a warning through Rubeus which arrived just before the attack was launched. The trolls have been dealt with, three by a Gringotts security team posted here for unrelated reasons, and the fourth through the intervention of Mr. Potter.”

    “Three students encountered the troll Mr. Potter dealt with. One, Miss Abercrombie of Slytherin House, was injured by falling debris; the other two, Miss Granger of Gryffindor and Mr. Potter, are uninjured, with the exception of Mr. Potter having a troll bone currently stuck in his teeth. We were lucky in this instance; had Mr. Potter arrived even thirty seconds later than he did, we would be mourning the loss of Miss Granger.”

    “The infiltrator’s whereabouts are still unknown.”

    “Sir,” Septima Vector spoke up, “don’t the wards report the location of any intruders to you?”

    Albus sighed, “They do, Septima, but as they did not report the trolls until they were already in place to attack, we must assume that the intruder is able to circumvent at least the detection portions of the wards.”

    There were a number of gasps at that revelation. Hogwarts was known as the most secure place in the wizarding world because of those wards, and the idea that this intruder could effectively ignore them at will was quite troubling.

    “Be aware that we may yet find an intruder to deal with in the future, and be on the alert for any suspicious characters,” Albus concluded. “Now our only remaining order of business is our negligent Defense professor.”

    As if summoned by his words, the door opened again, revealing the rather disheveled Quirinus Quirrel flanked by a furious-looking Filius Flitwick and a bone-white Minerva McGonagall, lips thinned in disapproval to the point that they were no longer visible. Three silvery gargoyles stood behind the trio.

    “Albus,” Minerva began, “We found Quirinus in his quarters, and he was…” she trailed off, seemingly unable to voice the rest of her report due to being entirely too incensed.

    “Drunk!” Filius filled in angrily. “The irresponsible twit was intoxicated to the point he couldn’t even walk straight, and he had to have gotten to that point after he delivered that entirely inadequate warning in the Great Hall. It took five sobering charms to get him here!”

    Albus’ expression turned thunderous. “Quirinus, what do you have to say for yourself?”

    The man turned his head away, saying nothing.

    “I see,” the Headmaster said quietly. The rest of the room was silent. “Quirinus, I understand you are having trouble dealing with that vampire encounter in Albania, and I sympathize, but you have responsibilities as a member of this faculty. If you cannot fulfill them, then you should step down.” Albus sighed, “I had wondered when you burst into the Hall and passed out over a single troll. You should have had no trouble dealing with a single troll, and even four should not have been a problem; they are after all a specialty of yours…”

    Quirinus’ head drooped in resignation.

    “Your cowardice almost led to the deaths of three of our students, Quirinus, and returning to your quarters to drink yourself into oblivion, leaving the rest of the student body undefended in the process, was inexcusable,” Dumbledore continued. “Your performance was so egregiously unacceptable that you will be docked half your pay for the year for this debacle, and one more incident will lead to your immediate dismissal. Do you understand?”

    The Defense professor hung his head before nodding in acknowledgement. It was a fair penalty.

    “Very well.” As the man turned to go, Albus called after him in a friendly voice, “Oh, Quirinus?”

    The defense professor stopped.

    “If you are truly having so much trouble dealing with your memories of a vampire in Albania, allow me to offer you this truth to assist in fortifying your constitution.”

    Dumbledore’s presence swelled, blood-soaked robes swirling about his feet. “I am much more frightening than anything you might have encountered in Albania, and if your ineptitude results in any more injuries among my students, or Merlin forbid, anything more permanent, I will ensure that you understand that truth to the deepest reaches of your being.”

    His presence faded back to normal as Quirrel stood frozen in place.

    “Sleep well, Quirinus.”

    2.7.4 Discussions in the aftermath

    Harry had been enjoying his conversation with Hermione for a while now, they’d managed to exhaust the topic of how to translate ‘Snape’ into the Queen’s English, and the discussion had been all over the place since. Hermione wasn’t talking much; the dialogue consisted mostly of her asking a question and Harry then running with the topic until he slowed down enough for her to ask another one.

    It was the first time Harry had been able to talk with his bushy-haired friend without worrying about keeping being-a-dragon secret. It was pretty fun. So fun, in fact, that Harry was almost disappointed when Madame Pomphrey emerged from the room where she had taken Abigail.

    Almost, but not quite.

    “How is Abigail, Madame Pomphrey?” he asked. Harry was still feeling a little guilty about the girl getting hurt.

    Hermione looked on silently, still rather dazed by the whole thing.

    “Miss Abercrombie will be back in excellent health in a few days, Mr. Potter,” Poppy replied.

    Harry looked relieved and then puzzled. “Was the knock on her head that bad?” he asked. “It didn’t seem that bad when it happened.”

    “Were it just the head injury, she would have been up and about already,” Poppy said. “The real issue was the troll sepsis.” At the children’s puzzled look, she explained, “Trolls are dangerous for several reasons: they are strong, deceptively fast, and quite durable, but they also carry a more insidious biological weapon in the form of their stench. I’m sure you both noticed the smell of that troll that Mr. Potter dealt with — any open wounds exposed to that stink will become invariably infected, and Miss Abercrombie suffered such a wound to her scalp. She will recover, troll sepsis is a known problem with a known solution, but it will likely take several days for her to be ready to face the world again.”

    “Oh, man,” Harry said, “I knew I should’a made her stay in the Hall, but I couldn’t think of a way to explain without tellin’ about bein’ a dragon, and everyone said I shouldn’t do that.”

    “I’ll not have you wallowing in guilt over this incident, wretched lizard,” a familiar voice cut in from the doorway. Snape had returned. “Miss Abercrombie is one of my prefects, and I know her quite well. Rest assured that had you not involved her, then she would have involved herself. Miss Granger’s absence would have been noted, and then Miss Abercrombie would have taken it upon herself to investigate,” he said with quiet certainty. “Had you managed to avoid bringing her with you, the only change would have been that she would not have been with you had she encountered one of the trolls — and then she would have died quite messily.”

    “Oh,” Harry said in a quiet voice.

    “You performed admirably, Mr. Potter,” Severus assured him. “Miss Granger is alive at this juncture solely due to your actions, and in all likelihood, Miss Abercrombie also has you to thank for her continued survival. Do not castigate yourself over what was — by any reasonable estimation — the best possible outcome of the situation in which you found yourself. Sometimes tragedies are unavoidable in life; simply be grateful that Miss Abercrombie will recover without any lasting issues.”

    “Okay,” he said more firmly as Hermione gently patted his arm in an attempt to be comforting. It wasn’t terribly effective, as he couldn’t feel her gesture through his scales.

    The girl spoke up for the first time since Madame Pomphrey had entered the room, “Trolls?”

    “What was that, Miss Granger?” Snape asked.

    Hermione swallowed until she managed to find her voice, “You said ‘trolls’, as in more than one troll,” she gulped again, trying to wet her suddenly dry mouth. “Does that mean there are more of those things?” She leaned in closer to the dragon’s shoulder as Harry looked at her in concern.

    Snape considered the question for a moment, “Four trolls were let into the castle by an unknown agent. Mr. Potter dealt with one, as you know quite well. The other three ran afoul of the goblin security team guarding the third-floor corridor, which you might remember the Headmaster mentioning in conjunction with dying a horrible death during the welcoming feast. Needless to say, the trolls did not heed the Headmaster’s advice, and so his prediction was proven accurate. Judging by Dumbledore’s robes, I would guess the troll blood was ankle deep in the aftermath.”

    “Oh! Is Corporal Mantrap okay? How about…” Harry began worriedly only to be cut off by another recent entrant into the conversation.

    “Mr. Potter, the goblins suffered no casualties. In truth, when I left, I believe they were discussing the possibility of roasting the remains of the trolls which attacked them,” yet another voice interjected. Albus continued, “Now, I do not know whether the meat will prove palatable, but they are most welcome to try.”

    “Oh, hi Mr. Dumbledore! I’m glad they’re okay,” Harry said, “and you should let them know that troll tastes a lot like bacon; it’s delicious! Oh, but they should watch out for the bones, though, they stick in your teeth somethin’ fierce, and I still haven’t been able to get the one that got stuck in mine out.”

    “I see. I assume that is why you are still in your native form, then?” the elderly man asked.

    “Yep,” the huge head nodded emphatically.

    “Speaking of that, Mr. Potter, lean down here and let me take a look at your teeth,” Madame Pomphrey butted in. There was no room for misplaced courtesy when one of her patients was on the line. “I’ll see about getting that out right away.”

    The witch bustled over as Harry obediently put his chin on the floor and opened his mouth as wide as he could.

    “If I might, Harry, I do have a request for you,” Albus began, seemingly ignoring the witch in the boy’s mouth.

    “What is it?” Harry asked, mysteriously clear-sounding despite his mouth being so occupied. Though Poppy did smack him on the tongue when it squirmed about and spoiled her grip on the troll bone.

    “As I heard Severus mention, the trolls were let in by a currently unknown agent, and we do not know if said person is still on the grounds. Once Poppy has extracted your inconvenient troll bone, might you be so kind as to bend your impressive olfactory capabilities to the task of tracking down the miscreant? One of the centaurs, Celestine, reported the intruders to Hagrid, so you will have a starting point.” Albus chuckled, “I’m afraid Hagrid’s hound, Fang, though it does have a very good nose, took one whiff of the site, and ran away whimpering. The trolls, I assume.”

    “Yeah, Fang’s a bit of a wimp,” Harry chuckled. Poppy yelped at the sound. Then his eyes narrowed doubtfully, “I’ll give it a try, if you want, but I found out this morning that my nose ain’t really good for tracking when I tried to look for Hermione after Charms class. I got to her books, but then all the other people’s scents drowned hers out. I figure I might not even be able to smell whoever it was over the troll-smell.”

    There was more rather undignified squawking from the woman working on Harry’s teeth as his mouth moved slightly in time with his words.

    “Well, I would appreciate your efforts, whatever you may find, Mr. Potter. One more thing…” Albus began, only to be cut off by an irate Madame Pomphrey.

    “Blast it, Albus! Stop asking the boy questions while I’m shoulder deep in his mouth! So help me, if you ask him one more bloody question before I am done with him, I will throw you out of my infirmary on your ear!”

    With her piece said, Poppy gave the job another twenty minutes’ worth of the old college try — interspersed with half-stifled swearing — before she finally gave it up. Troll bones were simply too magically resistant to get a good hold on with her spell repertoire. She sat down to think for a few minutes while Harry rested his aching jaw.

    Hermione gave her two before raising the possibility of contacting her parents, the dentists, and asking for their help.

    A twenty-six-minute discussion on precisely what a dentist’s job was and how they did it ensued, before Madame Pomphrey agreed to the idea of sharing space in her infirmary with an outside specialist — even if only temporarily.

    Albus Dumbledore — patiently waiting with his mouth firmly shut while his eyes twinkled madly — was then consulted, and Minerva was brought in on the discussion since she was the only faculty member who had actually met the Grangers. She had been the one to deliver Hermione’s letter and introduce the Grangers to the magical world. Then Minerva McGonagall left for Crawley on the odd errand of soliciting a dental house-call for a pre-teen dragon in order to remove the troll bone stuck in his gums.

    It was the oddest errand she’d been sent on in quite some time.

    2.7.5 Draconic dental work

    “Well, Mr. Potter, you seem to be taking very good care of your teeth, very clean, no plaque build-up at all. What exactly have you been eating? Do you make a habit of eating trolls?” Tony Granger asked. He was currently sweating bullets from the furnace-like breath regularly wafting from the dragon’s throat, the heavy protective gear and respiration equipment, the much larger and heavier tools he was using in comparison to his normal kit, and last but certainly not least, the fact that he was voluntarily up to his arse in an extremely large dragon’s mouth.

    Come to think of it, it would probably be a lot worse if he were there involuntarily, wouldn’t it?

    In any case, there was no help for it. He owed the young Mr. Potter a good turn for saving his dearest, and only, daughter from being eaten by a troll — a troll whose arm-bone he was currently attempting to extract from the gums between Harry’s first superior molar and his second superior pre-molar. Or at least, that was where it would be in a human jaw, Harry’s teeth were like nothing he’d ever seen in a mouth before — the cutting and grinding edges were arranged completely differently, so he wasn’t sure just what to call them.

    Heck, the things looked more like something out of a documentary on industrial mining than anything else, maybe with some scrapyard-flair mixed in. They certainly didn’t look like any teeth he’d ever seen on a human before. Scary-looking chompers, though, he thought as he shook his head.

    He held out his hand to the world at large and requested, “Tongs.”

    The school nurse slapped the requested implement into his hand a little testily. He supposed he could relate, heaven knows how irritated he would be if some other dentist came into his examination room and started using it for himself. If it was truly necessary, he’d allow it, but he figured he’d probably be acting a lot like this Poppy Pomphrey.

    “No, sir,” the dragon said, “this was the first time I’ve eaten a troll.” The boy was remarkably coherent, given how little his jaw and tongue moved. Tony took a moment to consider that before dismissing it as just another bit of magical weirdness, probably the same reason the dragon could speak in the same sort of pitch he remembered from when it was human-shaped in Diagon Alley even though it had to have vocal cords as long as Tony’s forearm at the moment.

    More importantly, he could see the iron bar he’d improvised as a spreader to keep the dragon’s mouth open straining against those few involuntary muscle movements, starting to give way. Tony shuddered. He’d better move this along, that bar wouldn’t last much longer, and when it went, he’d be one twitch away from getting the world’s worst haircut — right across the waist.

    Was that bar starting to glow?

    “OW!”

    There! He’d finally managed to get the blasted thing loose, though he’d fallen back when it gave way. That was irritating. There he was, holding an arm bone longer than his leg — a lot longer, come to think of it — aloft triumphantly after the first sapient inter-species extraction, and he was doing so while flat on his arse in a puddle of dragon-drool. It painted an undignified sort of picture — though the air out here was blessedly cool in comparison to the dragon’s jaws. Speaking of which, he looked up…

    …and proceeded to work some moisture back into his suddenly-dry mouth. His stumble had come none too soon, it seemed. The sharp pain must have caused Harry’s jaw to twitch a little too strongly, and his makeshift prop folded like a wet napkin. He’d probably have been suffering from at least a row of deep lacerations if not for that extremely-fortunate tumble.

    Bloody hell, had his patient just swallowed that iron bar?

    “Daddy! Be careful!” his daughter yelped from where she was watching off to the side of the room safely wrapped up in Sharon’s arms. His wife had made a bee-line for her as soon as she’d heard the word ‘troll’ and seen the way their daughter twitched with each mention thereof. It was the reason the good Madame Pomphrey was currently serving as his vaguely-hostile assistant.

    “It’s alright honey; I was clear before Harry’s teeth got me, and I’ve just got to check for any debris and clean out the wound now. Open up again, there Mr. Potter, we’re just about done,” he reassured himself as much as his daughter. Just about done, indeed, then he could put this crazy situation behind him.

    “Daddy! Honestly, can’t you see that you’re hurting poor Harry?” his daughter complained, throwing off his train of thought yet again. Poor Harry? Tony shot a dirty look at his wife, who was using their daughter’s voluminous head of hair to smother a fit of giggles at the situation. He was the one who had just narrowly avoided death, and his daughter was concerned about his almost-killer’s minor discomfort?

    Bloody teenagers! God only knew how bad she’d be in a few years. Tony shook his head in disbelief. He knew it would happen eventually, but in his daughter’s first year at boarding school? It was obvious, he’d already lost her to, well… to this Monster!

    He sighed; Sharon’s father had laughingly warned him of this when he’d brought Hermione home from the hospital, but he’d hoped he’d have at least a couple decades with his little girl before this happened. Though who’d have thought the man who took his daughter away would be the dragon from the fairy tale, rather than the knight?

    No help for it, he supposed.

    If he was going to make a habit of this, he’d have to invest in some better tools, he thought as Harry worked his jaw for a moment before opening back up as wide as he could. Honestly though, what sort of dental tools could hold up to use with a dragon of all things?

    Centaurs, dragons, trolls, the fact that those things even existed was throwing him for a loop, and never mind being asked to extract a part of the latter from between the teeth of the second while the first hovered at the side of the room like a concerned parent. When he’d first encountered Suze in the Alley he’d been thrown, but he’d dismissed it as the magical world being weird. He only realized just how weird when he’d encountered it in his professional capacity.

    “Just about done, Harry. Madame, could you rinse out the wound, please? I need to do one last check for any embedded splinters of bone, and then we’ll let it heal naturally.” As the witch stepped up with her wand, he considered the situation. Harry seemed like a decent sort, if a bit hyper, so that was good. All told, he supposed Hermione could have done worse for herself — he just wished it hadn’t happened so bloody early! He turned back to the now-cleared wound to give it a final examination.

    “All done then, Mr. Potter,” he said, backing away and stripping off his heavy leather gloves.

    “Thanks, Mr. Granger! And thank you Madame Pomphrey!” The woman in question gave him a friendly pat on the — ear, maybe? Tony wasn’t really up on the naming conventions for dragon anatomy, but it was about as far up on the side of the reptile’s head as the woman could conveniently reach — before walking towards another room with a deliberate stride that told Tony she had another patient to see. “That feels a lot better already,” the dragon said, already prodding at the area with his man-sized tongue.

    Tony took one look at that massive tongue before a horrible thought struck; he glanced over at his sweet not-quite-teenaged daughter, currently sheltered in her mother’s arms, then back at that tongue and shuddered inwardly. No, not going to think about that, not at all! Instead he nodded in acknowledgement of his patient’s thanks and set about removing the padded gambeson that the school’s headmaster, the white-bearded fellow off in the corner, had conjured up out of thin air for him. “Happy to help, Mr. Potter. Thank you for saving my daughter from that troll.”

    “Of course,” the dragon said happily. “She’s my friend, so there was no way I wouldn’t save her from getting devoured.”

    With the gambeson removed, and with it most of the dragon-drool, Tony found himself the target of a massive hug from his daughter as his wife picked up the after-orthodontia conversation.

    “Now Harry, you really must remember to properly chew your food,” Sharon smoothly lectured. “Getting food stuck into your gums like that could lead to an infection, and in this case particularly, could lead to an abscess, which are thoroughly unpleasant both to have and to treat.” She was always better at this sort of thing while Tony was a mite better at the more finicky hand work. Their complementary abilities were part of the reason their practice worked so well. “Has this sort of thing happened to you before?”

    “Only once,” the dragon said, “but that was a drive-shaft from that one little car I ate, and it was really pointy on the end. It’s why Hagrid tries not to get Hyundai scrap anymore. That one wasn’t such a problem, though, because the part that was stuck just melted. I’m not sure why the bone was so difficult.”

    “Drive-shaft?” Sharon’s eyes narrowed, “Harry, apart from trolls and drive-shafts, what does your diet consist of? Are you getting plenty of calcium and fluoride in your diet? What about vegetables? Enough protein?”

    With his arms still full of bushy-haired daughter, Tony looked at his wife incredulously. He’d always wondered just how much Sharon ran on autopilot during these discussions, and he supposed he now had an answer. Vegetables? With those teeth? Seriously, Sharon!

    Harry, though, took her questions in stride, as it was becoming increasingly apparent he always did. “Well, I’m not sure about the calcium and fluoride, ‘cause I don’t think they’re usually used in steel, which is most of what I get from the scrapyard. I mean, they use limestone as a flux, but it gets skimmed off, so you don’t get it in the scrap. Fair bit of aluminum and copper, too and little bits of other metals. I think the coal’s got some sulfur and stuff in it, but I know the fuel oil’s pretty light on minerals, ‘cause it’s refined a lot before I get it. Some of the rocks near my lair might have calcium and fluorides in them, though. I’ll have to check,” a head as large as than the Granger family car nodded enthusiastically as Sharon’s eyes grew wider and wider at the long list of not-normally-edible things the dragon was casually mentioning. “Um, on the vegetable stuff, I eat a lot of devil’s snare, because it grows really fast and Professor Sprout always has extra around. It’s like a sort of combination between mint and lemon, real tasty! I know there’s lots of other magical plants which are real tasty, but I don’t get ‘em very often because they’re kinda expensive.”

    The dragon frowned thoughtfully, and Tony couldn’t help but wonder how he managed to be so expressive with such an alien face. “Maybe Professor Sprout would help me set up a greenhouse at my Lair so I could grow some more? That might be cool!” he said, obviously warming to the idea. “I’ll have to ask. Um, and I eat lots of beef and pork and sheep and venison and bacon and other human-sorts-of-food at school, so there’s that for protein. And roasted acromantulas are really tasty, too, but there aren’t so many of those left, now,” the dragon finished, almost regretfully.

    Hermione had looked up during her friend’s dissertation on his eating habits, and her eyes had gone almost as wide as her mother’s, who was still struggling to process the unexpected responses to that very routine set of question.

    Hah! Giggle at his near-death experience, would she? Now, Sharon was having the weirdness smack her in the face. She ought to be grateful she wasn’t hip deep in the dragon’s mouth when she was going through it! Then his daughter worked her way through what the dragon had been saying.

    “Scrapyard? Devil’s snare? Acromantula? Harry, those are giant spiders! What are you doing eating those? Those are dangerous, you might get hurt!” She sounded absolutely horrified.

    Wait, what? Dangerous to the beast whose mouth he’d just been rooting around in? With those teeth?

    What exactly was his daughter dealing with at this school anyway?

    “Ah, Miss Granger, you seem to be laboring under a few misconceptions. Please calm yourself,” a dark-haired man who had been silent to this point spoke up. “And Mrs. Granger, I feel I should clarify some things about your patient’s biology in comparison to the human norm. Mr. Potter’s body utilizes iron, copper, aluminum, titanium, gold, and numerous other metals in the same capacity yours or mine — or quite nearly any other creature aside from the drake-dog and certain magical plants, for that matter — uses carbon-based proteins. Technically speaking, iron is the basic building block on which his biology is built, displacing even water from its place as the primary medium for life-sustaining reactions. Carbon is used in some quantity, but the reactions are completely different from its uses within your physiology, serving mainly as an energy source with some utility as an alloying agent in his teeth and some regions of his scales,” the man explained.

    “His remarkable digestive tract is rather more like a living blast furnace than the acid and enzyme bath used by human-kind, though it does use some rather fascinating substances which manage to act as enzymes despite operating at a temperature sufficient to boil lead — ah, but I digress. On the subject of devil’s snare, according to Mr. Potter, the plant tastes like a cross between parsley and lemon-mint; I believe it supplies certain trace minerals common to such plants in addition to a potent magical accelerant, which renders the species unsafe for human consumption but seems to be quite delicious to Mr. Potter’s palate. As for the acromantula, Miss Granger, they are indeed giant spiders, and they are indeed extremely dangerous, but not to put too fine a point on it, so was the troll you encountered earlier today. To Mr. Potter, acromantula are approximately as threatening as a lobster in a grocer’s tank is to you, and I have found that, properly grilled,” at this, the man shot a pointed glance at the dragon in the room, who managed to look sheepish, “they are actually quite delicious, reminiscent of grilled shrimp basted in butter.”

    “Sorry, Professor Snape,” the dragon apologized, “I didn’t know you could get sick from eating undercooked acromantula.”

    “Harry, just what possessed you to try eating a giant spider rather than more… normal food?” Sharon asked, looking faintly nauseated.

    “Well, for a start, they tried to pick on Suze’s family,” Harry explained as Suze nodded from her place at his side where she had managed to relocate while everyone else was busy discussing draconic gastronomy. “And then, well, I was kinda hungry, and there were a bunch of them just layin’ around afterward, so I gave them a try, you know, like Mr. Slackhammer told me, ‘Waste not, want not’. But I tried them, and they tasted good! Sort of like crunchy chicken in diesel — I think the diesel-taste is from the shell, because Mr. Snape didn’t try that.”

    As Sharon tried to process that, the dragon continued. “I wish I’d known how tasty spiders were when they used to crawl all over me when I got sent to the cupboard when I was little,” Harry remarked offhandedly as his form flowed back into that of the pre-teen boy they remembered from the alley several months previous, “then they would’ve been tasty instead of creepy.”

    “Why would you ever be put in a cupboard, Harry?” Sharon checked, her tone sharp. It seemed that with the boy back in a more relatable form, her training as a physician was coming back to the fore, and one thing physicians were trained to look out for — particularly with children — was abuse. Tony stifled a wince as he saw the tears brimming in the corners of his wife’s eyes and the way her fingernails were biting into her palms. Sharon had always been one to get personally invested in such things too.

    Her husband thought it was one of her better points — no matter how scary she was when she did so.

    “Oh, they didn’t really need me to do anything, doing better than Dudley on a quiz, or when the washing machine broke and needed fixing, or when I got blamed for Dudley nicking something from the corner shop. I always wondered what that stuff was about.”

    Sharon looked like she was about to wring someone’s neck as soon as she found out who was to blame. Hermione was in a similar state, though she managed to make it look cute — it was entirely possible that Tony was biased. On a more serious note, he couldn’t tell if this was an improvement over her earlier post-troll emotional state or not. Normally he’d ask Sharon, but she was unavailable at the moment. Even that Minerva McGonagall was looking rather murderous.

    Were her pupils slitted?

    “I mean, Uncle Vernon apologized in his letter, and he tried to explain, so I think I sorta get it now,” Harry continued, oblivious to the feminine wrath building in the room. “He said that Aunt Petunia knew magical kids could do stuff accidentally, ‘cause she grew up with my Mum, but she didn’t know exactly how that stuff worked, so she just ended up blaming everything on me, ‘cause why wouldn’t she, if she knew I could’ve done it and there weren’t no way for her to tell the difference? And Uncle Vernon wasn’t home during the day, so he just took Aunt Petunia’s word for it. So he tried to teach me proper, and for little kids that means punishments for doing bad things. Then since I didn’t do the bad things in the first place, I didn’t know what I was doin’ wrong so nothin’ changed, and it looked like it weren’t working, so he got real frustrated and stuff. It really weren’t nobody’s fault, just one of those ‘unfortunate misunderstanding’ things.”

    The boy sighed, “At least me and Uncle Vernon and Dudley get on pretty good now — well, we write back and forth. Aunt Petunia still won’t write — Uncle Vernon says she feels too guilty about how things happened. I don’t really get Aunt Petunia sometimes…”

    “So, you were placed with your Aunt and Uncle, but they were not informed of how to raise a magical child, so they had difficulties with it?” Sharon’s voice sounded collected, but her eyes told a different story.

    “I guess?”

    “Did anyone ever check in on you?”

    “Um, I dunno? I don’t think so, but I don’t remember too much about what happened back then, not like since I turned into a dragon.”

    “Do you know who placed you there?” Again, the kind voice was at sharp odds with the steel in Sharon’s eyes. Hermione seemed to have caught on to her mother’s train of thought as well and was looking cutely outraged. Tony was subtly edging towards the door. He wanted no part in the coming discussion.

    Harry shook his head negatively.

    “Na, bit ah ken,” that faint Scottish burr Tony had always found quite charming about the woman who had introduced his daughter to magic by turning their coffee table into a pig — and thankfully, back again; he liked that coffee table — had thickened until it was nigh-impenetrable. “Albus, whit dae ye hae tae say fur yersel'?” This time, Snape was the one edging towards the door. He knew that tone all too well, and every time he heard it, it made him feel like a wet-behind-the-ears first-year all over again.

    “Hmm?” the elderly man looked up from his reading. He had been busying himself with some of his usual headmaster-related busywork as he waited for Harry to be available to attempt to track the intruder’s scent. “What was that, Minerva?”

    “Why did you leave a magical baby with a non-magical family without explaining how magic worked?” Sharon explained, accusingly. “A situation which led to the child being abused!”

    “Ah,” Albus said in realization. “Yes, that was a major failing on my part. I will attempt to explain, but first, a time-sensitive matter.” Ignoring the feminine outrage at his delay, he turned to the rapidly retreating Severus Snape. “Severus, our intruder is still at large; now that Harry is available, please escort him to Hagrid so that he might assist as much as he is able with our search for the person behind today’s assault.”

    Harry perked up at the reminder, pulled away from his curious staring at the strangely-behaving women.

    Snape nodded, grateful for the excuse to leave, “Come along, Mr. Potter. It seems we still have work to do.”

    “Right!’ Harry said, heading for the door with Suze trailing along.

    Tony took the chance to sneak out with them.

    2.7.6 Grave discussions

    Harry couldn’t help but wonder what was going on as he left the Infirmary; Hermione, her mum, and Mrs. McGonagall had been acting so weird. There was a voice that sounded like it was just a bit short of yelling about something or other, but it shut off with a sort of squelching noise and an odd flash — to his eyes, no one else’s — as the door closed. This room had another one of those silencing thingies like Mr. Flitwick had put on the room where he was supposed to go if he got really hungry again. He couldn’t tell if that voice that got cut off was Hermione or her mum, they sounded pretty similar.

    It must be great to have a mum.

    Well, he did have a mum, but she got killed by that Voldemort guy, so he couldn’t talk to her and stuff. Come to think of it, didn’t they put people who’d been killed in boxes and then bury ‘em somewhere so you could go visit with ‘em and remember ‘em and stuff?

    “Mr. Snape?”

    “What?”

    “You knew my mum, right?” Harry asked. At the man’s nod, he continued, “I was just thinking how nice it would be to have a mum when I heard Hermione and her mum together, and it got me thinking. When people get killed they get buried in boxes in a special sort of place and stuff, right?”

    “That is correct, Mr. Potter,” the potions master explained in a rather softer than normal tone of voice. “A deceased person is generally buried in a box called a coffin on a small plot of land called a grave within a designated area called a graveyard. The graves are usually marked in one manner or another as well, wizards traditionally use carved stones called, rather unimaginatively, gravestones.”

    “Okay, um… I was wondering, do you know where my Mum is buried? I think I’d like to go see sometime. And Dad too, come to think of it.”

    “Yes,” Snape said seriously, “as it so happens, I do know where she is buried, in Godric’s Hollow. As is customary for married couples, both of your parents are buried in adjacent plots, so a single trip will take you to see both graves. I will see to it that you make such a journey as soon as is practical — it is important to know where you come from.”

    “Thanks, Mr. Snape.”

    “You are most welcome, Mr. Potter. For now, however, we must attempt to search out the culprit behind today’s troll infestation.”

    “Right!” He did have something important to do, didn’t he? The poo-head who had set those trolls on everybody was still around, and he needed to help try to find him. “I’m supposed to be following from where Celestine spotted the guy, right?”

    “That is correct.”

    “Then wouldn’t it be faster for me to fly on over and ask him where he saw the guy. I mean, the other students are all asleep now, right? So, there shouldn’t be anyone to see me.”

    “I suspect that there are many still awake after the eventful evening. You would be hard-pressed to avoid detection now, particularly under the full moon. We will meet Hagrid at the front doors, and he will take you the rest of the way.”

    “Oh,” Harry said, disappointedly. As he had noted multiple times in the past — waiting was hard.

    The rest of the walk was quite quiet

    2.7.7 A sinking feeling

    Tony watched as the boy-who-was-actually-a-dragon and his pet centaur jogged to keep up with the extremely large and hairy man who met them at the main door of the castle. Why on earth did the first boy his daughter had shown an interest in have to be so completely immune to fatherly intimidation?

    What did he do to deserve that?

    The irritated father sighed, there was no profit in getting all worked up about it, he supposed. Judging by how she’d reacted before they left the infirmary, trying would just see Hermione furious with him anyway.

    “So, I gather the troll that attacked my daughter was brought into the school by someone,” he began, asking the sallow-complexioned man whose name was apparently Snape.

    “That is correct, per the report of a centaur patrol which spotted the intruder leading four trolls with him,” Snape replied.

    Tony considered that for a moment, “If a centaur patrol saw them, they why didn’t they take care of the issue themselves? Seems like a patrol ought to be armed, and, judging by Miss Suze; three or four of them should have been able to deal with most anything, I’d think.”

    “Ah, Miss Suze’s customary armament is not representative of centaurs as a whole; rather it was acquired by Mr. Potter through his contacts at Gringotts. Sadly, despite the ongoing efforts of Miss Suze’s uncle Ronan, the pinnacle of centaur weapons technology remains the recurved short-bow, and while their craftsmanship is superb, they lack the stopping power to deal with even a single troll, much less a group of four backed by a wizard.”

    “Really? I’d think they could get a pretty impressive draw strength on one of those bows, judging by Suze’s size and musculature.” Archery was a hobby of his. “With three or four firing from concealment, they should have at least been able to disable the trolls, I’d reckon.”

    “You seem to underestimate the lethality of a troll, Mr. Granger, despite recently extracting the arm-bone of one from our young dragon’s teeth,” Snape countered. “That bone, which, were it intact, would have been nearly two-thirds your height, came from the troll’s forearm; the entire beast is a humanoid engine of destruction, nearly half again the height of Hagrid, the Groundskeeper currently leading Mr. Potter on his search, and perhaps five times his mass. They customarily carry clubs constructed from felled trees — the one that almost ate your daughter carried one comprised of a section of oak trunk as thick as your waist and twice your height — and they can swing them fast enough to take your head off before you fully register the movement.”

    “Worse yet, they are covered in a thick gray hide sufficient to turn anything which would be unable to penetrate well-made steel-plate armor, and their muscles are quite nearly as hard as the wood comprising their clubs. I am given to understand that firing an arrow into them is rather like doing the same to a large tree. Arrows are useless unless fired from a ballista — or perhaps the crossbow that my colleague, Hagrid, carries — and even for centaurs, with their rather imposing size, close combat with a troll is suicide. Worse yet, the beasts emit a toxic stench, contact with which will cause any open wounds to develop a thoroughly unpleasant infection which is quite difficult to treat, thus even successful close combat with a troll often proves ultimately lethal. Then there was the backing wizard to deal with…” He shook his head in dismissal. “No, our neighbors were kind enough to deliver a warning, which was far more generous than we had any reason to expect.”

    “And there were four of those things here?” Tony asked in a choked voice. “With Hermione?”

    “Miss Granger encountered only a single troll, the others ran afoul of certain security measures located on the third floor,” Snape clarified.

    “Oh, just one horrifying plague-ridden murder-beast,” Tony snarked, “I feel so very much better about this situation.”

    Snape said nothing — of course, it didn’t really require a reply.

    A few moments passed as the pair stared out into the darkened courtyard before the worried father hit upon another question. “You mentioned that the centaurs warning you of the intruder was ‘more generous than you had any reason to expect’ — why is that? I mean, I’d think that you’d let your neighbors know about that sort of thing as a matter of course.”

    “Ah, that is an unpleasant topic — very unpleasant indeed,” Snape grimaced in the manner of someone attempting to find the appropriate words to deliver some thoroughly ugly news. “I believe Minerva was the one to inform you of your daughter’s magical talents. Am I mistaken in that belief?”

    At the answering confirmation, Snape continued, “Minerva has the unfortunate habit of painting things in the best possible light, and her description of our world is no different. To put it bluntly, the wizarding world is a brutish and exceptionally scary place where might is the first and final arbiter of right, and it is largely inhabited by unutterable bastards who would not piss on a burning orphan unless they could see an immediate profit in doing so. Some of the more unpleasant ones would probably point and laugh — possibly stopping to roast campfire-snacks over the conflagration and make a proper party of it.”

    Snape took a calming breath, “More to the point, among wizards, oppression and exploitation are the normal state of affairs, with the strong taking whatever they can manage from anyone the can overcome, extort, or swindle. Non-human sapient persons such as centaurs are easy targets. For better or for worse, centaurs in particular have little that anyone wants, and are thus generally treated as filthy animals unworthy of interacting with so-called ‘decent’ folk.” He scoffed, “There is something horribly wrong with any so-called civilization in which a being capable of speech — and in fact quite civilized — such as that wretched lizard’s pet centaur, is considered an uncontrolled wild animal.”

    Snape shook his head, “It is therefore quite unexpected that our forest neighbors would bother to relay a warning at all, instead of sitting back to enjoy the schadenfreude.” He sighed, “I suspect, in truth, that the warning was delivered solely because of Mr. Potter’s alliance with the Clan and his known fondness for certain individuals within the castle.”

    This was sounding worse and worse to Tony Granger. Just what sort of hellhole had his precious daughter gotten herself mixed up in? As the concerned father was trying to work out just what he should ask, the potions master continued to elaborate.

    “Other species have suffered much worse than the centaurs. I am sure you are familiar with the goblins, for instance. Extraordinarily attuned with earth in a way unmatched by any since the stone-men of legend, they were, until less than a century ago, kept as an enslaved nation and forced to mine and craft riches for their wizard overlords — when they weren’t being harvested for potions ingredients. That state was only changed through the application of copious amounts of violence at the end of the nineteenth century. Veela were in a similar situation prior to winning their own autonomy — also through violence — nearly a millennium ago.”

    “Veela?” Tony was unfamiliar with that name, unlike the centaurs and goblins.

    “They are a universally female race, believed to be descended from nymph ancestry and possessed of a surpassingly strong control of the element of fire. As they also uniformly possess a superlative beauty and innate magics intimately tied to sexuality, I assume I need not elaborate on the sorts of depravities to which they were subjected.” The dentist’s nauseated expression gave Snape all the confirmation he needed.

    Snape laughed, a bitter, mocking sort of sound, “No, the wizarding world is not a nice place, and perhaps the worst of it was saved for our own kind.”

    “What do you mean?” Tony asked, though he had a horrible idea that he knew exactly what Snape meant.

    “In addition to vulnerability, the sorts of monsters that infest the wizarding world seek utility. Goblins were enslaved for their talents as miners and craftsmen, veela for the sorts of depravities vulnerable women have been subjected to since time immemorial; centaurs, on the other hand, were simply driven into the outskirts then left mostly alone, because the monsters who did so saw little other utility in them.”

    “The one species of the greatest utility to wizards, however, is their own.”

    Yep, that is exactly what Tony had been afraid he was about to hear. “I have a bad feeling about this…”

    “Rightly so, and it will only get worse from here on out. Wizarding industry relies almost exclusively on the labor of magical craftsmen, and magical labor does not come cheap,” Snape sneered. It was a disturbingly natural-looking expression on the man’s face. “It is distressingly common to find vulnerable magical children — and those born to non-magical parents such as your daughter are the most vulnerable of all — disappeared from the streets only to show up in ‘contract labor’.” The sallow-skinned man practically bit off the term. “The institution is effectively slavery in all but name, where they will then be forced to work for no pay until they die or are ‘repurposed’ for more sinister roles. Most support the manufacturing industry, but a fair number are funneled into those roles which were previously fulfilled by the veela.” The man’s dark eyes flashed with tightly-controlled rage. “Between compulsions and mind-magics, they will even do so to all appearances willingly — denied even the basic freedom to bemoan their fate. Worse yet are the ones destined for supplying the black-market for ritual components…” At this Snape trailed off, shuddering.

    Tony Granger considered that for a moment before his thoughts turned to outrage. “Why didn’t she tell us about this? That, that… woman, led us to believe that this was a wonderful opportunity for our little girl, not some… Orwellian dystopia full of monsters in human skin!”

    “To be fair to Minerva,” Snape said, “I have seen more of the dark side of things in my life than she, due to my own regrettable choices. She has never had the misfortune of encountering the evidence that I have, and much is the sort of thing one is reluctant to believe of one’s fellow men if not seen first-hand. She knows things are bad, but she is optimistic.”

    His tone turned darker, “Then there is the other side of the coin, as well; your daughter was already known to the wizarding world, and as an intelligent, fertile Hogwarts-aged witch, she would make a prime catch for the markets. It is the sad truth that I would fully expect her to have been snatched up within weeks of your refusal, had you been unwise enough to reject the offer. She would be subjected to a fate which I will not force you to hear spoken of, while you and your wife would either be dead, if the kidnappers were lazy, or left with no memory of ever having a daughter and under compulsion to have more children for them to take later, if they were not.”

    Tony was still struggling to find his voice when the dark-haired man continued. “By enrolling in Hogwarts, however, law and custom places her under the protection of the Hogwarts Headmaster and her Head of House, respectively, during her schooling. Few are those who would risk the wrath of Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall. It is not ideal, but she will have a much better chance of defending herself with a Hogwarts education under her voluminous head of hair and another seven years to improve herself.”

    “Those born to non-magical families are some of the most vulnerable members of our sick, twisted facsimile of a society, and it is always the most vulnerable who pay the highest price, Mr. Granger. Those who do not find patronage tend to disappear quite quickly to truly unenviable fates.”

    “Why shouldn’t we just run, go to America or something?” Tony was grasping at straws at this point.

    “And where would you go, Mr. Granger?” there was that mocking laugh again. Tony was really starting to hate that laugh. “Britain, festering cesspit that it is, is one of the most progressive polities in the Wizarding World. Our unfortunates are caught up in ‘contract labor’ because slavery has been outlawed since 1963, nonmagical persons such as yourself are legally considered persons under our laws since 1920, and the centaurs are left mostly to their own devices because hunting them for sport has become unfashionable in recent years — all through the efforts of our esteemed Headmaster. Most other nations are not so fortunate.”

    “The Confederacy, our neighbors across the Atlantic — a direct descendant of the Haudenosaunee Nation, rather than the non-magical colonies you are no-doubt familiar with — are some of the best, it is true, but they are insular and clannish to an absurd degree. If you are not negotiating on behalf of a large group — causing you to be directed to the central council — then you will be subjected to whatever the local tribes decide to do with you. Some will be kind, some will not, and there is no way to tell which beforehand. Most other magical nations in the world are far worse.”

    “Trolls, giant spiders, dragons, slave markets… Look, Professor. Sharon and I, we know next to nothing about… about this world, and by God, it scares the Hell out of me! I just don’t want Hermione to get even more entangled in all of this.”

    “If you were not scared, I would despair for your intelligence, Tony, but quite frankly, your best opportunity for keeping your daughter safe lies in her becoming quite inextricably ‘entangled’ — to use your term — with the young dragon you just so capably treated.”

    “If this world is so bloody ugly, Professor, then why the hell should I let my daughter wallow even deeper in it? I’m her father! I’m supposed to be looking out for my daughter’s best interests, and I’m supposed to protect her,” Tony was frustrated. “How am I supposed to protect her if she’s off in a dangerous situation in a place where I can’t even go?”

    “Even if you did pull her back now, the only elements of this world that would respect your decision are those about whom you need not worry in any case. Your daughter is involved now, and she has been since she had her first episode of accidental magic; there is no way to extricate her safely,” Snape said mercilessly though not unkindly. “Given that, what exactly do you expect to be able to do to protect your daughter when the government in general and the individuals in power in specific regard those of us with non-magical parentage as barely worthy of the term ‘human’ and never mind anything in the way of legal representation? The phrases bandied about are ‘mudblood’ or ‘muggle-born’, and I apologize for having used either within your hearing as both are quite disgusting epithets.”

    “And how is staying in that situation any better for my daughter?” Tony snarled.

    “It is the safest path forward,” Snape calmly insisted. “You were apparently not listening when I outlined this previously, therefore I will reiterate; there is nowhere to run, your daughter’s options are to seek powerful patronage and with it powerful protection, to learn enough to become too powerful for any to oppose her, to learn enough to hide herself away as a hermit for the rest of her days, or to accept the inevitable and give up. I firmly believe the latter two options to be unacceptable, and the second is likely unfeasible for Miss Granger — her magical strength is insufficient for that path unless she were to delve into truly horrific arts. However, your daughter is already well on her way to obtaining the first on her own.”

    “You mean Harry?” the dentist scoffed. “How is he in any better position? And for that matter, why would he help?”

    “Yes, I do mean Harry,” Snape confirmed. “As to how he is in a better position to protect your daughter than you are yourself, there are several reasons. Firstly, although you seem to have somehow managed to put the fact out of your mind despite having spent the better part of an hour hip deep in his mouth, he is an excitable seventy-ton dragon able to bite through a car with the same effort you or I would use to bite through a biscuit. Secondly, although he is still underaged and therefore lacks most of the attendant influence, he is the patriarch and sole surviving member of an Ancient and Noble House, and thus he has… certain political and legal immunities and benefits. Thirdly, he is quite admirably protective of anyone he considers a friend. Fourthly, he is the only creature ever known to have survived being struck by the Killing Curse, the flat-out deadliest spell known to wizardkind. Fifthly, he is almost sickeningly good natured — the only thing I can categorically say I dislike about him is his habit of rampantly chattering away at a mile-a-minute. Aside from his frequent babbling, he is a surprisingly tolerable child, and I do not as a rule like children, so that is saying something. And sixthly, I have watched that boy dismember an acromantula the size of a small cottage for having the temerity to threaten one of his friends, and as it so happens, a few hours ago he bodily devoured an adult mountain troll in defense of another. I have absolutely no doubt that any creature or being that dared to pose a threat to one of his own would meet a similarly ignominious end.”

    “…and you think he’d have a go at anyone who had a go at Hermione?”

    “Think? Mr. Granger, he ate that mountain troll I mentioned because it attacked your daughter. Remember? The reason you are here at this time?”

    “Ah, yeah,” Tony said embarrassedly. He must have gotten really worked up to have forgotten that particular gem.

    “Indeed.”

    The two men lapsed into silence for a few moments, staring out into the darkness of the front courtyard as they waited for Harry to return with results in his search.

    “What’s with those ‘acro-mantula’ things?” Tony eventually asked. They had been mentioned several times, and he was curious.

    “Acromantulas are a species of giant arachnid,” Snape said. “They treat any creature less than twice their size, human beings included, as prey. Their origins are obscure, but it is known they did not evolve naturally. Their genesis was likely part of a botched experiment, much like the duck-billed platypus; though I suppose it is possible that they may have been created intentionally. Wizards have made worse things — after all, basilisks and nundu exist. The original instigator of the mess is unknown, and will likely remain so, thus the intention behind that particular bit of idiocy will remain a mystery. When hatched, acromantula are the size of a large man’s hand and are able to prey upon species as large as the common housecat; as they age, they grow continuously. The largest known specimen was approximately eight yards long in body, with legs of similar length. They are clever — the largest are capable of speech — quick, ruthless, and utterly voracious predators.”

    As Snape paused to take a breath, Tony let out an awed whistle.

    “Quite,” the potions master continued. “Their silk is immensely strong, with a tensile strength which remains unmeasured to my knowledge due to lack of equipment sufficiently strong to test it to failure. The diameter of the strands limits its value for the textile industry, as depending on the producing spider’s size, it can range from the thickness of a dandelion stem up to the thickness of a human finger. I do understand that the centaurs use the silk extensively for producing exceptionally strong rope. The venom, on the other hand, is an ingredient in several remarkably versatile potions; although deadly in all but the most minute of doses — killing slowly through paralysis — if administered in sufficiently dilute quantities, it is part of the simplest treatments for collywobbles and the dragon pox, and in a less dilute form, it is excellent as an active ingredient in metal-polishing potions designed for magically-active metals like gold and mithril.”

    “They sound like they could be useful,” Tony offered.

    “Indeed, though the damage they cause to the local ecosystem within their territorial range is extensive and generally exceeds the benefit of availability of their potions reagents. In this area alone, they are primarily responsible for the extinction of at least twelve native species and endangering a further twenty-seven, four of which are the source of truly unique reagents. Until that dratted dragon came into the picture, the only things preventing them from boiling out of that forest like a plague of elephant-sized locusts were the typically low wintertime temperatures of this area and a hard-fought defensive action over some fifty years on the part of the local centaur clan.”

    Tony thought for a moment, “I bet there’d be a way to captive-breed them, you know, to milk their silk and venom.”

    “It has been done, primarily by removing their limbs; however, they are quite capable of regenerating amputated limbs in a matter of days, and strict vigilance is therefore paramount,” Snape said with a shrug. “Personally, I am of the opinion that your kind, non-magical humans, are best suited to contain and control those brutes, but those in position of authority have other ideas.”

    Just as Tony was considering that, Harry jogged back into the light, accompanied by Suze.

    “Hey, Mr. Snape, Mr. Granger, Hagrid took me over to where the trolls came in, but I couldn’t make anything out from the smell,” the dragon reported apologetically. “It just smelled like troll, sorry. We did find out they came in through the lake-side gate, though, and they took the north stairwell, if that helps.”

    “I see, thank you for your efforts, Mr. Potter,” Snape said. “I shall relay your findings to the Headmaster.”

    “Right! Um, I’m going to go back to the Lair and get somethin’ to eat, now. Do you think you can let Hermione know I’ll be by to see her tomorrow?”

    “I’ll do that, Harry,” Tony volunteered as the young dragon thanked him then jogged off towards the tree-line, centaur damsel in tow.

    Best to be on good terms with his daughter’s new protector, he supposed.

    2.7.8 Night terrors

    The infirmary was dark and quiet, the only sound the muted clicking of the clock hung above the door and the occasional whine of the wind past the windows. Even though Hermione had avoided injury, Madame Pomphrey had offered her a bed for the night to spare her the late-night trip through the castle. The clock had quietly struck midnight half an hour ago, and her parents had left an hour before that, but Hermione was still awake despite her exhaustion.

    There was still too much to think about.

    She had almost died that evening. She had almost died in a bloody school bathroom! She had almost been eaten by a troll, and she had only managed to avoid that fate, not through the intervention of the teachers, not through her own skills and grit and intelligence, not even by chance — no, she had survived because her friend came to save her and happened to be able to turn into a bloody dragon!

    This bloody world was bloody mental!

    Hermione had been slowly adjusting to the idea that the wizarding world was a very different place than she was used to. In addition to the fairy-tale aesthetics and the wonders of magic, there were different standards for personal behavior and different acceptable levels of personal danger. That giant gray monster, though, had driven home just how different things were, and Hermione was still trying to process that.

    It seemed this fairy tale lived in a setting written by the Brothers Grimm rather than the Disney adaptation Professor McGonagall had described.

    She could sort-of deal with her friend turning into a dragon. After all, Professor McGonagall could turn into a cat, as she’d demonstrated in their first transfiguration class what seemed like ages ago, so turning into a dragon didn’t seem too far-fetched. Hermione figured that was just another wrinkle in her relationship with Harry. He hadn’t told her before, but he seemed eager to talk about it after she’d found out.

    And he had saved her life.

    She supposed she could cut him some slack on not telling her he could turn into a dragon, especially if he had some trouble staying in human form at times. She figured that would be pretty embarrassing to talk about. Having a weird animagus form was hardly something to get worked up over, not in comparison to almost getting eaten… and there she was, back to the troll. She shivered, despite the charmed infirmary blanket.

    Hermione hadn’t felt safe since Harry had left the room on that errand for the Headmaster. She’d managed to put it out of her mind for a while by going along with her mother and Professor McGonagall when they chewed out Headmaster Dumbledore — she blushed at the memory; what had she been thinking, chewing out the Headmaster? — but as soon as that passed she’d been shivering periodically in a state just short of terror. Despite that, she’d managed to put on a brave front for her parents; she didn’t want them to worry when they got home.

    Her dad had passed on a message from Harry that he’d be coming to see her in the morning, and she was looking forward to it, and to the feeling of safety she’d come to associate with her savior. As long as Harry was with her, no weird magical monster was going to be able to jump out of nowhere and eat her.

    “Harry would eat it first!” she whispered to the room at large, trying to convince herself she would be safe.

    Now she just had to hold out until morning, alone in the dark, quiet infirmary, with nothing to read to take her mind off things — just her and her increasingly brittle thoughts.

    It was another three long hours before exhaustion finally managed to drag Hermione into a still-fitful slumber.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2019
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  18. Threadmarks: Section 2.8 - In which a wellness check is performed
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.8.0 In which a wellness check is performed

    The new day dawned bright and sunny, and Poppy paused long enough to take in the unusually pleasant scene through one of the infirmary windows before she went back to her twice-hourly check on Miss Abercrombie’s condition. The girl had been stable and progressing normally, but that could change at any moment.

    Troll sepsis was a thoroughly unpleasant condition.

    The other patient currently under her care was in less critical condition. Miss Granger was sleeping, not particularly peacefully, true, but sleeping nonetheless. The monitoring charms indicated the poor girl hadn’t fallen asleep until well into the wee morning hours, and Poppy could imagine the thoughts and fears keeping her awake that night.

    Mental trauma was always a pain to deal with, and it was not something magic had ever been developed to cure. For that matter, there was widespread doubt among the Healing community that magic for such should ever be developed, seeing as such magic would essentially allow the detailed editing of another person’s mind. The potential for abuse was even greater than that of the abomination known as the obliviation charm.

    All Poppy could offer was a warm bed and a safe room for the girl. Miss Granger would just have to work through things herself.

    Just as she was thinking that, the Infirmary door was quietly opened by Mr. Potter — it had taken ages to get him to remember to open that door quietly, as she recalled. Well, perhaps there was one thing she could do for Miss Granger — friends were always a good idea in these sorts of situations.

    “Good morning, Mr. Potter,” the Healer greeted.

    “’Morning, Madame Pomphrey! Is Hermione around, still?”

    Poppy nodded and gestured toward the appropriate bed where the girl’s eyes had snapped open at the sound of her friend’s voice, despite her still-sleepy state. The school Healer watched, amused, as the girl practically apparated out of her bed and attached herself to the young dragon like a limpet mumbling something too low for the Healer to hear.

    Friends seemed to be a good idea indeed.

    Eventually the girl seemed to realize she was still in her clothes from the previous day, and she had not had a chance to bathe since the previous morning. Miss Granger broke off from her embrace with her new friend to scamper off to her dorm to take a shower. Poppy chuckled. It seemed she would be fine — eventually.

    “Um, Madame Pomphrey?” Harry asked after his bushy-haired friend had left the room.

    “Yes?”

    “How’s Abigail doing?”

    “Miss Abercrombie is progressing well. I fully expect her to regain consciousness within the next three to four days, as is normal for troll sepsis, properly treated.”

    “Huh. Do you think you can let me know when she wakes up?”

    “Why do you need to know that Mr. Potter?” Poppy asked.

    “Well,” Harry began, looking uncertain for once, “I feel kinda bad about how a bit of rubble hit her when I broke the wall, and I wanted to apologize.”

    “I see. Well, I am technically not supposed to release the details of another student’s medical treatments,” Poppy began. As Harry’s face fell, she continued, “but I can certainly ask her if she would be amenable to meeting with you when she wakes up.”

    “Do you think she would?” Harry asked, brightening.

    “I am almost certain of it, Mr. Potter,” Poppy assured him. “Now, off to breakfast with you!”

    As she watched the young dragon leave through the doors of her domain, Poppy cracked a broad smile she had been suppressing since she had heard Harry’s reasoning for wanting to meet with Miss Abercrombie. As if the girl wouldn’t want to meet with him!

    Yes, she was injured, but she was injured by a bit of rubble from the pair of thick stone walls the boy punched through in order to take out the troll that was trying to eat her. That was not the sort of thing likely to inspire dislike.

    The Healer chuckled aloud as she turned to her morning routine in the infirmary. If Harry were any older, she would rather expect Miss Abercrombie to snog the living daylights out of him after hearing his apology. As it was, well, she suspected that Miss Abercrombie’s interest would be quite firmly engaged.

    At their age, five years was a significant gap, but a few years out of Hogwarts… well, a few years out of Hogwarts that difference would be effectively nothing. It would all hinge on whether the interest waxed or waned in the intervening years, and the boy had just saved Miss Abercrombie’s life in a particularly dramatic manner.

    And some things, well… for good or for ill, some things you don’t put behind you in just a month or two.

    2.8.1 Return to normalcy

    In the aftermath of the troll attack, the campus quickly returned to normalcy. Meals were served on schedule, classes resumed without fanfare, and students quickly fell back into their habitual behaviors. With the rigid institutional silence on the matter, memories of the troll attack quickly took on a fuzzy and dreamlike air.

    Removing the Halloween decorations from the Great Hall helped this along immensely. For all but three of the students, the Great Hall was the setting for all the excitement, and the Hall during Halloween was almost unrecognizable in comparison to the Hall during the rest of the year.

    Information control was down to a science in the wizarding world.

    Hufflepuff met Harry’s return with much warmth and concern, and Susan and Hannah were particularly glad to learn that Hermione emerged unscathed, though the rest of the House was not far behind. The tale of the Slytherin Prefect who had insisted on accompanying their wayward member attempting to save a Gryffindor firstie at great personal risk was met with a great deal of admiration and concern at her condition.

    Most of the House hadn’t been aware that there existed Slytherins so altruistic.

    However, even more than the concern, the tale was initially met with disbelief. Harry claimed to have punched out the troll and then ripped it in half. Blind loyalty could only carry them so far in accepting Harry’s word. After investigating the relevant hallway and finding the walls reduced to rubble and House Elves in protective gear scrubbing away at a blood stain the size of their common room, however, that disbelief shifted to amazement.

    Harry’s reputation quickly gained a decidedly intimidating edge among the Hufflepuffs.

    On the other hand, House Gryffindor’s reaction to the events of Halloween was comparatively lackluster. Hermione’s suspicious absence during the excitement was hardly noted upon. When she showed up none the worse for wear the next day, the prefects quietly marked down her safe return, and that was that. Not even her roommates commented on it.

    This did nothing to improve Hermione’s disposition.

    Her own House had barely remarked on her near murder. There was not a single peep, even from the girls she shared a room with, ones who certainly would have known of her absence during the night. The contrast with the Hufflepuffs was stark. Susan and Hannah had sought her out between classes and positively gushed over her before dragging her off to the Sett where she was greeted by warmth and concern from all comers, even those members of the House she hadn’t met yet.

    It was almost enough to make her break down in tears yet again — almost, but not quite.

    Instead, the next few days saw Hermione clinging even more tightly to Harry’s side, even going so far as to shadow him when word came from Madame Pomphrey that Miss Abercrombie was once again conscious.

    2.8.2 Miserable morning

    Abigail clawed her way back to consciousness feeling miserable. She was achy and weak; her skin was overly sensitive, preventing her from resting comfortably no matter how she contorted herself; her stomach was vaguely unsettled; her nightgown was plastered to her body with sweat while she was simultaneously shivering with chills; and she felt both insatiably hungry and disgusted at the very thought of food — at the same time.

    She was, without any shadow of a doubt, sicker than she had even imagined it was possible to be while not being on the verge of death.

    So, when Madame Pomphrey quietly opened the door and asked her how she was feeling, Abigail said as much.

    “I had no idea it was possible to feel this bad.”

    “Good!” the healer said in a disgustingly cheery voice. “That means you’re coming along nicely; troll sepsis is a thoroughly unpleasant condition, Miss Abercrombie. You’re doing quite well to recover consciousness after only three days!”

    Well, that was something, Abigail supposed. “How much longer?”

    “I believe you should be up and about within another five days, seven at the outside,” came the reply. “Though you will feel just as miserable as you do now until that point.” The healer gave an apologetic shrug, “There’s no helping it.”

    Ugh.

    As Madame Pomphrey bustled her way out of the private treatment room, Abigail’s thoughts turned back to the incident that led to her current misery. There had been a troll in the school, and she had been trying to retrieve a student safely before it found her. She had failed.

    And as a consequence of that failure, that troll had almost killed her.

    She shivered at the memory, not that anyone would be able to tell in between all the shivering due to the chills wracking her body from her illness. That was the closest she had ever come to death; she could still remember the image of the bark on that troll club just inches away from her face before it was batted away almost negligently by Harry Potter’s magic, magic so intense that she could feel it sliding along her skin.

    She shivered again at the memory — for different reasons this time.

    She had known he was powerful, but that… that was absurd. The first-year had just been batted through a stone wall. There was no way he had held on to his wand through that, much less kept the presence of mind to cast properly, so blocking that club had to have been done wandlessly, and that sort of acceleration was impressive in any situation, much less one with such a handicap. Just how powerful was that kid? He was only eleven! How strong would he be when he was fully grown?

    And what would he be like then? Hmm…

    Before she could go too far down that path of speculation, Abigail’s body reminded her with another wave of nausea that it was in no condition to entertain her usual flights of fancy. Right. Not the time for that now, she supposed. What else did she remember from that night?

    The wall Harry had been batted through had practically exploded into the hallway when something burst out of it and punched the troll away, and then she remembered staring into that big green eye again, this time full of warmth and concern directed her way rather than mild annoyance — and wasn’t that an improvement over that first time on the train…

    …again, not the time for that sort of thing, Abigail.

    Unfortunately, it seemed that warm green eye was all she could remember before she lost consciousness.

    Wait, what happened to the girl they were there to save? Was she okay? For that matter, was Harry? Sure, he was powerful, but he did get put through a stone wall at the very least, and then he expended all that magic saving her. Did he have the reserves to absorb that much damage and power expenditure without a problem?

    “Madame Pomphrey?” Abigail called.

    “Yes?” The Healer popped her head back through the doorway.

    “Are Potter and…” the prefect’s face screwed up in thought for a moment as she tried to recall the girl’s name, “Granger, wasn’t it? —anyway, are they okay?”

    Madame Pomphrey smiled warmly. “Yes, both of them are just fine. Mr. Potter dealt with the troll handily, and neither suffered any injuries.”

    “How?” At the Healer’s curious look, Abigail elaborated, “How did Potter deal with the troll? I mean, he’s a firstie. I know he’s strong, but what did he do to deal with that thing?”

    “I believe he punched it through a stone wall,” Pomphrey explained, “and then he tore it in half when it tried to get back up.”

    “He killed that thing without using magic?”

    “Yes,” Madame Pomphrey seemed rather amused at her disbelief. “He is a rather formidable young lad, isn’t he?”

    Abigail was at a loss for words, her jaw soundlessly working as she tried to wrap her head around that idea. After allowing the Slytherin girl to cogitate for a few moments, the Healer went on, “Speaking of Mr. Potter, he has expressed a desire to speak with you when you are available.”

    That pulled Abigail out of her spiral of incredulity. “Why does he want to speak with me?”

    “I gather that he wishes to apologize for accidentally causing your head injury when he punched the troll through a stone wall after it tried to club you to death.” The Healer chuckled, “He seems to feel quite guilty about the whole affair. It’s rather cute really.”

    “Why would he feel guilty about that?” Abigail asked, frowning in puzzlement. “He was saving my life, and despite how unpleasant I feel now, it’s infinitely better than being dead.”

    “You would have to ask him to learn that,” she returned. “Would you like me to let him know you are awake?”

    Abigail considered that for a moment. On the one hand, she really didn’t feel up to entertaining visitors at this point, much less her kind-of-sort-of-maybe-eventually crush. On the other hand, he did save her life, and she did owe him for that. If he was really feeling that bad about it… well, there was really only one thing she could do to help at this point.

    “Yes, please.”

    2.8.3 Unwarranted apologies and new friends

    Harry was nervous as he approached the door to the infirmary.

    He’d managed to accidentally hurt someone, just like he’d been terrified of doing back after that incident with the deer. He’d been trying to save her from that troll — and he’d succeeded, true — however, Abigail had gotten hurt because of his actions, and he’d promised himself that he wouldn’t do that to anyone.

    Now he had broken that promise.

    Harry was disappointed with himself, and he was finding that it was a state with which he was thoroughly dissatisfied.

    The only thing he could think of that might make things better was to apologize to the person he’d hurt and hope she’d forgive him. It was the first time he’d felt the need to apologize for something serious, and that sort of thing was difficult no matter who you were. For this reason, he paused long enough to take a deep breath before opening the infirmary door.

    He might have been nervous, but he was Harry, after all. There were limits to how much he would allow himself to concede to anxiety, and those limits usually fell at the point just before it might inconvenience him, better just to forge ahead.

    “Hello there, Mr. Potter,” came the greeting from Madame Pomphrey as she noted who had entered her domain. “And Miss Granger? Are you here with Mr. Potter, or are you here for another matter?”

    Hermione had been shadowing him for the past few days whenever they were not in classes and he was in the castle. Her presence had become so ubiquitous that Harry hadn’t even consciously realized that she was with him while he was walking to the infirmary.

    “I’m just here with Harry, Madame Pomphrey,” the girl answered.

    “I see,” the Healer acknowledged. “Well, Mr. Potter, are you here to see Miss Abercrombie?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Very well, I will see if she is feeling well enough for visitors,” she said before disappearing once more into the treatment room.

    “Harry,” Hermione asked, “why do you look so nervous?” It was a question that had been bugging her for some time now. ‘Harry’ and ‘trepidation’ didn’t really fit together in her mind.

    “Well, I just need to apologize for Abigail getting her hurt when I broke that wall, and it’s the first time I ever had to apologize for something serious like that,” Harry explained. “You know, I apologized all the time for stuff like accidentally breaking something or asking questions out of turn or stuff like that, but this is the first time I ever had to apologize for accidentally hurting somebody.”

    Hermione considered that for a moment. “I don’t think she’s going to be very mad about that. It was an accident, after all, and you did save her from the troll. I’d think that would count for a lot more than accidentally hitting her head with a rock.”

    “Maybe,” Harry allowed, doubtfully.

    Before Hermione could say anything else, Madame Pomphrey entered the room.

    “She’s ready to see you, Mr. Potter,” the woman said. “Miss Granger, if you could wait there, Miss Abercrombie is still not feeling very well, so I would like to limit the number of visitors.”

    The bushy-haired girl nodded in understanding before settling into one of the visitors’ chairs near an unused bed. Harry walked steadily over to Abigail’s room and entered the door.

    The room was furnished with a single bed in the middle of one wall, a small bedside table holding a pitcher of water and a glass, and a larger side table along another wall which was laden with a panoply of neatly organized bottles of various potions. The air smelled of a much, much fainter version of the troll stench mixed with a variety of other potions-type smells and the smell of sweat. The bed was occupied by the sixth-year girl who had helped him on Halloween.

    Abigail looked like death warmed-over.

    Her skin was pallid and drenched with sweat, and she was shivering periodically even while fanning herself in an attempt to cool down. Seeing her in such a state just made Harry feel guiltier.

    When she smiled at him, he felt even worse.

    “I’m sorry,” Harry blurted out without any preamble.

    Abigail looked puzzled for a moment. “What are you apologizing for? You saved my life from that troll.”

    “Well, yeah,” Harry allowed, “but you still got hurt from a bit of stone from one of the walls I broke while doing that, and that was my fault ‘cause I wasn’t as careful as I shoulda been, and ‘cause of that you got a cut, and ‘cause of that you got sick, and ‘cause of that you’ve been unconscious for a couple ‘a days, and you look like it’s been real unpleasant, and well, it’s my fault, so I wanted to apologize for it!”

    Abigail took a few moments to process that through her still-fevered mind. “I’m still not hearing anything that you need to apologize for, Harry.”

    “I hit you with that rock!”

    “That was an accident though, right?” Abigail sounded puzzled. “I mean, you didn’t throw it at me or anything?”

    “Well, no, but I did break the wall it came from, and that’s the only reason it hit you.”

    The older girl nodded in acknowledgement before continuing, “And you broke that wall in the process of defending me from that troll, right? Not because you thought it would be fun to break a wall or anything?”

    “Well, yeah…”

    “And that troll was about to kill me…” she winced at the mention, “…with its club before you blocked the hit?”

    “Well, yeah…”

    “So, you stepped in to save my life, and I got a little hurt in the process by accident,” Abigail concluded. “I’m still not seeing anything you should be apologizing for. I mean, yeah, I’ve felt better, and I’ve looked better,” she winced again, “but I have to think that this is a fair sight better than being dead!”

    Harry nodded. “I know! But, well, I still hurt you accidentally, and I’d promised myself I wasn’t gonna do that after that one time with the deer a couple a’ years ago, and I broke that promise, and I figure that warrants an apology!”

    Abigail looked puzzled. “You promised you weren’t going to accidentally hurt me a couple of years ago? We hadn’t even met then…”

    “No, I promised I wasn’t going to hurt anybody on accident after I accidentally splattered a deer a couple of year ago. Mrs. McGonagall had said that venison came from deer, and I really liked venison, but I didn’t really get that it was just another name for dead deer, right? So I was trying to get at wherever it kept the venison, and I smacked the antlers out of the way, and then its head sort of exploded, and then I got really worried that I’d accidentally do that to one of my friends, and so I was gonna stay at home, but then Mr. Snape came by and set me straight on just bein’ careful around people. So I made myself a promise that I was gonna be careful and never do that to anybody I didn’t mean to, but now you got hurt, and I didn’t mean to do it, so I broke that promise, and… well… I really don’t like breakin’ promises.” Harry trailed off looking almost despondent.

    “So, it’s more that you broke a promise than it was the actual injury, huh?” Abigail mused. “Well, Harry, it sounds to me like you should be apologizing to yourself more than to me. It was a broken promise made to yourself, after all, not to me,” she said. “Maybe you should just try again and try to keep that promise next time?”

    “That sounds like a good idea, but you still got hurt, and I oughtta do something to make up for that! The only thing I could think of to do was apologize.”

    She thought about that for a moment. “Something to make up for it, huh?” Her expression changed to an artful one. “Well then, I suppose I could see fit to forgive you for your error if you would do something for me…”

    “What’s that?” Harry asked eagerly.

    “Well, it seems to me that one can never have too many friends,” Abigail said slyly, “so how about you be my friend, and we can both call everything even?”

    “Really?”

    She nodded.

    “I can do that!” Harry smiled.

    “It’s a deal then,” the sick girl said firmly, then her expression turned to something Harry couldn’t quite identify as she proposed, “How about we seal the deal with a hug?”

    Harry enthusiastically complied.

    2.8.4 Good deals

    As Harry was escorted from her hospital room by the Healer, Abigail collapsed heavily back into her pillow. It had been difficult to stay up and coherent for that conversation — she really did feel terrible.

    But it had been oh so worthwhile!

    Despite her physical state and her Slytherin-trained emotional control, Abigail couldn’t keep a goofy smile off her face. She’d helped her savior feel better about things, she’d learned more about the boy she had been developing an interest in, and she’d befriended said boy, not to mention the more prosaic value of that contact. In addition to being a first-year sufficiently powerful to catch her interest despite the five year age gap, he was also a cultural icon, and his friendship would open a lot of doors for her down the line.

    It wasn’t that she intended to use the boy… well, technically she did intend to use him, she supposed, but not to take advantage of him. Abigail fully intended to be an excellent friend to Harry because he was Harry, and what she had seen so far showed him to be eminently worthy of friendship. However, that didn’t change the fact that the Boy-Who-Lived would be an excellent contact in the future as well.

    She was a Slytherin after all, and there was nothing saying you couldn’t get ahead in life while being a good friend, now was there? And on top of it all, she managed to finagle a hug out of the deal.

    That hug was amazing!

    “Is that so, Miss Abercrombie?”

    That voice shocked Abigail out of her reverie as effectively as a bucket full of ice water. Madame Pomphrey had apparently returned to check on her after escorting Harry out of the room.

    “Did I say that out loud?” Abigail asked with a rosy blush.

    “Yes,” came the amused reply. “Yes, you did.”

    “Oh,” she squeaked.

    “So, Miss Abercrombie, what was so ‘amazing’ about that hug?” Poppy asked with a smirk. “Will I need to arrange a chaperone for the two of you? He is five years younger than you, after all. After he graduates that won’t make much difference, but for now…”

    “No! It’s just… um, well, it’s just you can feel his magic just under his skin, right?” Abigail tried to explain. “And it was just like when he blocked that troll’s club from hitting me. I could feel his magic sort of sliding over my skin then, and it just felt so warm and safe and good…” the girl trailed off, realizing that her explanation was not helping her case for having the self-control necessary to avoid the necessity of a chaperone.

    Poppy, however, was not riding that train of thought, rather she was frowning thoughtfully. “You can feel his magic, huh? That could be bad…” she muttered. The Healer’s wand shot out of her wrist holster, and she began casting another set of diagnostics.

    Abigail finally managed to drag herself far enough out of her embarrassment to notice the woman’s actions. “Is there something wrong?”

    “The rest of us can’t feel Mr. Potter’s magic as a matter of routine, certainly not from casual contact,” Poppy said. “Either you have developed new sensory abilities, or you are suffering from traumatic oversensitivity. Either one can be problematic. New sensory abilities can be useful, but they will require so much training that you might need to put off graduation for a year or two. Oversensitivity, on the other hand, would mean some extra steps in your recovery and several more potions…” As her diagnostic charms returned results, the Healer let out a sigh. “And oversensitivity it is.”

    “What does that mean?” Abigail asked.

    “It means that you were too close to Mr. Potter’s spell when he blocked that troll club, and, for lack of a better term, his magic burned itself into yours,” Poppy explained. “It’s not dangerous, but it does leave you overly sensitive to the magical signature involved, much like a minor burn leaves your skin overly sensitive to heat. Don’t worry, it is easily treated, now that I know about the issue.”

    Abigail frowned at the comparison to a burn. “It didn’t seem painful in the slightest, though. The opposite if anything… Are you sure we need to fix it?”

    “So I gathered,” the Healer said with an amused smirk. “It is analogous to a burn, but the analogy is not exact. The stimulus is situationally dependent, like most things dealing with magic. You think well of Harry, so for you the feeling is positive. Someone with the same condition caused by a near-miss of a curse would feel quite differently.”

    “Oh.” That made sense.

    “Though I will point out something that is relevant to your situation,” the Healer was smirking again. “The feelings produced are proportional to the amount of magic you encounter. Harry is fantastically resistant to magic, so almost none passes through his skin passively. Just how do you think you would react in your current state if he were to actively cast in your vicinity?”

    Abigail pondered that for a moment before blushing a deep red as her mind followed the path the Madame laid out for it. Oh!

    “Just picture it,” Poppy continued mercilessly, “you’re in the Great Hall at dinner sitting with your friends, and Mr. Potter summons a plate from down the table. You know how bad his control still is, so a wave of his excess magic washes over you from across the room, and bam, you’re face-down in your mashed potatoes shuddering your way through a series of…”

    “Okay! Okay, we’ll fix it,” the embarrassed sixth year said. “Just please let it drop?”

    “Very well, Miss Abercrombie.”

    The room fell silent for a for a time except for the clinking of glass as the Healer measured out the appropriate prescriptions for dealing with this new issue.

    “Um, Madame Pomphrey?”

    “Yes?”

    “Will you be telling Harry about that magic burn thing?”

    “Of course not!” the woman sounded scandalized. “Mr. Potter has no business knowing your medical history without your permission.”

    “Oh, good!”

    “Though I must say I’m surprised that you don’t want to try to parlay that into another ‘concession’ from Mr. Potter,” that sly tone was back again. “Really, Miss ‘Be my friend and we’ll call it even’, after that line about sealing the deal with a hug, I’m surprised at you!”

    “Hey! I did that because he was being silly about needing to be forgiven for saving my life, of all things,” Abigail protested. “Well that, and I’ve been interested in him for a while now, but it’s really hard to strike up a friendship with someone in another House when you’re in Slytherin, doubly so when going across a five-year age gap.”

    “I also know Mr. Potter, Miss Abercrombie,” Poppy did not sound convinced. “He is always eager to make new friends; if you had walked up to him and introduced yourself you could have become his friend in moments.”

    “Well, now I know that,” the sixth-year said snippily. “I had no way of knowing beforehand, though.”

    “Aside from asking Mr. Potter.”

    “I’ve been in Slytherin for five and a half years, Madame Pomphrey!” Abigail protested. “I know it’s silly, but you don’t do that sort of thing in the dungeons! We just take advantage of opportunities when we see them.”

    2.8.5 A working rumination

    That had gone pretty well, all things considered.

    Harry was back at the Lair on the evening after making his fateful apology to Abigail. Suze was still out visiting with her Uncle Ronan sharing her findings about those woodworking potions she had been researching and playing with her youngest newborn cousins. Young centaurs were apparently very sensitive to foreign scents, so they wanted to get the little ones used to Harry’s scent by proxy through Suze before they introduced him to them directly — his scent was apparently more than a little terrifying on a deep, instinctual level. This left Harry alone in the Lair until he would fly down to pick her up in a few hours.

    Accordingly, the dragon was currently in one of the Lair’s deeper chambers which he had designated as a lab, reworking his latest research attempt. The reworking was hardly exciting, simply carving the same runic sequence on a pair of silver hemispheres in twenty evenly-spaced locations; the previous attempt using eleven had been horribly inefficient. The work was mind-numbing, but it was simple enough for Harry to allow his mind to wander where it would.

    Suze had said the same thing about weaving many times while she was working on replacement shirts for herself.

    The troll attack had been an objectively bad thing, Harry decided. Yet a lot of good things had come out of it. Hermione had been put in danger, but the two of them had gotten a lot closer after he saved her. He’d accidentally hurt somebody, but then she had become his friend as a result.

    He’d even found out that trolls tasted like bacon! The goblins had been nice enough to share some recipes with him if he ever managed to get more troll to try them out. They seemed a lot less common than acromantula, and they were really bony too. They were tasty, though, and unlike bacon, they came in reasonably-sized portions!

    Harry finished the last design on the first hemisphere before setting it down and taking up the other one. The rich purple marking lacquer had dried nicely, and he was all set to lay out the positions with a needle.

    Hermione had been sticking really close all the time, now. He wasn’t sure what was going on there, but he was still glad for her company, and he made sure to let Hermione know that. She’d probably tell him why eventually.

    Abigail was a nice surprise too! He’d gone into that room today not really knowing what to think, other than knowing that he wasn’t happy with how he felt at the time, and he’d come out with a brand-new friend. She’d even given him a hug!

    Hugs were great, especially when he was in human form and he could actually feel them!

    Hopefully, Abigail would get better soon, and then they’d be able to spend some time together finding out about each other. She was in sixth year, so she probably knew some cool stuff. Maybe she’d even be interested in what he was working on now? Well, it couldn’t hurt to ask, he supposed.

    Layout completed, Harry set in with a needle file to deepen the bright silvery patterns he had laid out. He was really looking forward to getting that air compressor he’d ordered so he could run a die grinder. The catalogue hadn’t specified it needed a compressor to run, and he’d had to wait another ten weeks to get the silly thing shipped after he found out.

    Hopefully it’d would be worth the wait.

    Anyway, he was eagerly looking forward to spending some time with his new friend after she got better. It would definitely be worthwhile!

    Harry worked away at the silver for another half-hour before he nodded in satisfaction. Attempt fifteen was done and ready for testing.

    The young dragon slotted the two hemispheres together with an insulating wooden ring serving as the join, leaving a hole conveniently sized for a wand between them. A pair of terminals were then fitted into holes in the silver and wires were connected leading to a perfectly ordinary lightbulb.

    Harry pushed his wand into the hole and channeled magic into the focus. The silver glowed with an eerie light, and then the bulb lit up. It was pathetically dim — channeling the same amount of magic into a light charm would have lit the entire room like the noon-day sun. The bulb was barely bright enough to visibly light up, but it was definitely glowing.

    Harry smiled broadly. Success!

    2.8.6 Honest self-reflection

    It had taken another week for Abigail to heal enough to be released from Madame Pomphrey’s care, a week during which she was visited every single day by one Harry James Potter, most of the time accompanied by one Hermione Granger. The delay was less grating than Abigail had feared it would be.

    In fact, aside from being sick as a dog for most of it, it was kind of nice.

    As Abigail prepared herself to leave her accommodations of the last two weeks — finally able to avail herself of the infirmary showers, much to her relief; cleaning charms only handled so much — she mused on the recent sequence of events.

    In hindsight, insisting on going after Hermione that Halloween night had been a mistake, not that she had known it at the time. As it turned out, Harry had been more than capable of handling the situation himself — she had done nothing but delay and get in the way. But in the end things had turned out alright, everyone was still alive, if a bit banged up in her case, and that was the important bit.

    She had had no way to know that beforehand that Harry would have been more than capable of handling the troll without her, so Abigail did not regret her actions — they were the best decisions she could have made given what she knew at the time. Abigail was much too practically-minded to second guess herself so long after the fact, even if those decisions did come close to killing her. Though that didn’t mean she was going to sit on her thumbs in the future and repeat the same mistakes!

    Freshly showered and feeling clean for the first time in weeks, Abigail gathered up her wand from the bedside table and set out from the infirmary with a friendly wave to Madame Pomphrey. Improving her own capabilities would come on its own through her classes; it wasn’t like she was a slacker by any means. Rather, it seemed to her that her biggest mistake that night had been her poor knowledge of Harry Potter. If she had known even a little of his strength, she would have been able to handle the situation much better; she would have at least known when to back off and let the miniature powerhouse deal with the troll.

    Getting to know Harry Potter better did indeed seem like the best course of action to Abigail, and not just to be better prepared for future troll incursions.

    Abigail still blushed at the memory of essentially blackmailing Harry into becoming her friend — she blamed the fever for it, really — but it was perhaps the best thing to come out of this whole incident. The boy she had been so interested in was now quite happy to spend time with her, and he was even more than she had expected him to be.

    He had been by the infirmary, bright-eyed and cheerful, to see her every day of her convalescence, no matter what was going on or how busy he was, and he was always delighted to see her. That sort of cheer was simply not present in Slytherin, and Abigail found that she quite liked it. when Hermione had brought up the topic of her missing schoolwork, Harry had made it a point to get her assignments from her various instructors and bring them by the next day.

    By contrast, her friends in her House, girls that she had lived with for five years before getting her own room with the prefect badge this year, had been by all of once in a sort of perfunctory ‘I know we’re in the same dorm, so I kinda have to show up to see how you’re doing’ sort of manner.

    To be fair, they had apparently shown up before she woke up only to be turned away by Madame Pomphrey, and they had gotten a little bit irritated by the time she was awake enough to see them. But showing up in the face of understandable irritation or not, they certainly hadn’t thought to help her out by retrieving her assignments for her! Just a week in, during which time she had not left her bed in the infirmary, Harry was already a better friend than any she had made in the past five years in Slytherin.

    That had to be the best favor she ever spent!

    Savoring that thought, Abigail stopped to rest, leaning against a wall and looking out over the lake through one of the arrow slits lining the hallway. It was a crisp November evening in Scotland, the moon shone down on the windswept lake, glittering along the choppy surface — a beautiful night to be back on her feet, even if she was still dog-tired all the time and would be going to bed again as soon as she got back to her room.

    Abigail stayed there for a few moments before the whistle of the daily supply train as it arrived from London echoed softly across the moonlit lake reminding her that there was more to life than woolgathering and she needed to get to it.

    It was still a long walk back to the dorm.

    2.8.7 Logistical Interlude

    Most young people never stop to think about supply lines — about how the makings of dinner, and everything else for that matter, get from the point of production to the point of consumption. It’s one of those things that just happens in the background as far as most are concerned, and that applies whether or not the young person in question is magically gifted.

    At Hogwarts, most of them, if asked, would shrug and say, ‘who cares?’ Others might guess at something to do with portkeys and maybe house-elves.

    The same goes for most anyone who isn’t in the supply, haulage, or retail businesses. Most people have no idea how their dinner got from point A to point B, beyond muttering something about the shop and a farm and, er, lorries?

    Once again, that applies whether or not the people are magically gifted, though your average witch or wizard on the street would readily assume that their dinner made its way to the shop at which they purchased it via portkey or maybe a house-elf.

    Very few witches or wizards would suggest that the supplies they took for granted came via lorry or train, depending on where they called home, yet that few would be entirely correct.

    For the population of Hogsmeade, life wouldn’t grind to a halt if the daily train from London didn’t come, but it would become a great deal harder.

    Just for the nearby school of Hogwarts, keeping a few hundred hungry magical teenagers fed and the castle lit and heated gulps its way through several tons of supplies every day. Potions classes at a school such as Hogwarts requires nearly a ton per week of raw ingredients — and with their potential volatility, those ingredients shipped in an average of nearly seventy tons of packing material; cleaning supplies are used up by the gallon day in, day out, and an average school year will require sixteen tons of parchment (enough to entirely fill a standard four-wheeled British Rail box van), eight-thousand gallons of ink, and nearly a hundred-thousand quills.

    In the past, Hogwarts and the town of Hogsmeade were supplied by thestral-hauled flying cart and by relays of house-elves, but then the muggles drove the railway through the mountains, and enterprising wizard eyes turned to the mighty iron horses that pounded down those glens.

    And what they noted was the cost. It was only a matter of time before someone noticed that the railway worked out cheaper than thestrals, house-elves, or portkey production — especially if you used a drake-dog to get a diminished load of coal to fire the boiler. Drake-dogs were a jumpy and excitable lot despite their longevity, but as long as you had something to bank their flames and someone’s attention to keep them focused on the job, they were just the business for raising a good head of steam. A drake-dog might eat as much as four house-elves, but one drake-dog and a few tons of coal was far cheaper than feeding the hundreds of house-elves that it would take to keep Hogsmeade and Hogwarts supplied.

    Perhaps it could have been done by portkey, or perhaps not. A portkey doesn’t last forever; after a dozen or so trips, slightly longer if made by an expert, it would begin to wear out. And that said nothing of the energy required to operate the things. A portkey had to be recharged after each use — and doing so quickly required energy from a person rather than ambient magic. Producing enough portkeys to supply Hogsmeade from London would have required enough energy to kill seventy wizards per day through exhaustion; at nonlethal levels, it would mean a workforce approximately the size of Hogsmeade itself — just to produce the portkeys needed to supply the town.

    Hogs Haulage was founded in 1894, immediately after the Mallaig Extension Railway received Royal Assent — an occurrence which was, at least in the magical world, suspected to have come about through judicious use of compulsion charms on the part of the company founder. The intervening seven years saw a tremendously successful marketing campaign run through the greedy wizards of Hogsmeade, and there was such a demand for cheap freight by the time the line was finished that the first supply run took place shortly after the line opened in April of 1901.

    At first, the train was a weekly event, however, a town of ten-thousand wizards can guzzle its way through many a ton of supplies every day. The train quickly became Hogsmeade’s sole supplier of stock for the town’s shops: ale and firewhiskey for the pubs, food for the inhabitant’s tables, packing cases of potions ingredients, kegs of butterbeer, coal for the household fires, ton after ton of pumpkins to be pressed for juice, supplies for the castle, and transportation for those few passengers unable to apparate or unwilling to floo. By the time the first students travelled on the inaugural run of the Hogwarts Express in September of the same year, freight trains were arriving every two days.

    In the years since, those trains had become a daily visitor to the gradually growing wizarding town. As the availability of cheap freight became a reliable constant, dozens of wizarding businesses opened branches or relocated entirely to the only all-magical town in the country. Between the constant flow of grain to supply the likes of Ogden’s Distillery, additional parchment and ink for the twelve different publishing houses calling Hogsmeade home, the additional eighteen tons per week (plus packaging) of potions ingredients for Sparky’s, the Malfoy-family owned, state-protected, producer of floo powder, and all the rest of the thriving industrial sector, there had been even been rumors about doubling up a couple of days per week.

    That however, was still off in the future. For now, the daily train left Hogsmeade at nine o’clock sharp in the evening and traveled all night, arriving in London at around seven the next morning. There a replacement crew arrived by floo, and that locomotive was handed over as the London shunters and freight handlers assembled the train that’d travel north. The crew that had driven all night returned home by floo, and the train departed London at nine in the morning, to arrive back at Hogsmeade at seven in the evening.

    Two hours later another crew would take another train, behind a different locomotive — one of the twelve in the Hogs Haulage roster, all of wildly varying vintage, from a century-old lady originally built for the Highland Railway to one of the youngest main-line steam locomotives in Britain — on their way south to London.

    Muggle and magical alike, freight was the blood that kept civilization alive.

    2.8.8 Make-up work

    Abigail groaned tiredly as she plonked herself down heavily at the library table in front of her books and the accumulated work left over from her convalescence. She was still weak and exhausted from the weeks in the infirmary, and the hefty pile looked quite intimidating.

    “This is going to take forever!” she complained to the world at large. It seemed like new work was stacking up as fast as she could deal with the old, and between that and resuming her duties as a prefect… well, Abigail was starting to miss the inside of the infirmary. She looked across the table at her companions who were also just sitting down and smiled.

    At least she was in good company.

    “Is it a lot of work to catch up, Abigail?” the Gryffindor first-year girl, Hermione, asked. She had become much more talkative in the past few days, not that that took much given how mouse-like she was at first. The girl had yet to waste Abigail’s time with silly questions — which was not to say that she asked no questions, nothing could be farther from the truth. Fortunately, however, everything she asked or volunteered was well thought out, and she probed into everything.

    Abigail was pretty sure that she had learned her lessons better through answering Hermione’s endless stream of questions than she ever had by attending class.

    “It is — it most certainly is,” Abigail sighed. “The work seems to pile up as fast as I get through the older stuff. Honestly, I’m just glad this happened in my sixth year rather than during one of the major testing years. If this had happened last year when we were reviewing for OWLs — ugh!”

    “Is there anything you’re having trouble with?” came the bright and helpful question from her other companion, Harry. It was a question that Abigail was almost coming to dread. It had been embarrassing when she learned that Harry actually knew her lessons better than she did. She had five full years of magical schooling on him, for crying out loud!

    She was supposed to be the experienced older woman in this scenario, not the naïve innocent requiring education in the ways of the world.

    Abigail had to admit that Harry’s intelligence had not been something she was aware of before. She knew he was powerful and confident, but the quickness of mind he showed so casually and the sheer dedication required to see self-education through to that level were not things she would have associated with the apparently-scatterbrained first-year. Aside from the embarrassment of being shown up by her new, much younger, friend, it was a most welcome surprise.

    Seriously, the boy just kept getting more and more interesting the more she learned.

    That said, embarrassment or not, Abigail was not one to turn down freely offered help, particularly if it also netted her more time with her kinda-sorta-eventually crush. So, she tried to fight down her embarrassment and go on. The struggle must have shown on her face because Hermione shot her a look of sympathy and shared exasperation. It seemed the younger girl must have had her own share of similar moments before.

    “Yeah, I apparently missed the introductory lessons on human transfiguration, and I was trying to figure out the whole section on safety concerns. I’ve read through the text five times now, and it’s just not making sense!” Abigail brought her fist down firmly but quietly on the text in question. “I mean, some of the issues it raises make sense; the bits about completeness, humor passthroughs, iso-functional points, and holographic visualization make sense. They’re the same things we had to remember for animal transfigurations before, so it makes sense that they would apply to human transfigurations. I just don’t get why it suddenly jumps into mental contamination filters!” she whined in frustration. “I mean, that’s the kind of stuff we got into last year in Defense when we were talking about compulsions, why would it come up now?”

    And of course, despite her frustration with the topic, the boy just nodded. Arrgh! Why on earth had he been reading ahead on human transfiguration? That wasn’t the sort of thing that came up in light reading, for Merlin’s sake!

    “Oh yeah! I remember getting into that a couple of years ago,” Harry began, the revelation prompting both Abigail and Hermione to close their eyes in exasperation. “The reason for that’s actually ‘cause of the basic nature of transfiguration, right? When you transfigure something, you’re not actually changing it into something else; you’re just puttin’ some magic on it to make the world think it’s somethin’ else. You’re actually using magic to control the interface between the transfigured object and the rest of reality.”

    “Right, that’s first-year stuff I sort of vaguely remember,” Abigail nodded uncertainly. “It never really mattered to the practicals, or even to the tests as I recall, but I think I remember the lecture. How does that tie in, though?”

    “Well, it’s funny you mentioned compulsions, really, ‘cause you can look at transfiguration in a completely different way that’s functionally equivalent. See, instead of saying you’re changing the interface, you could also say that you’re compelling reality to see something that’s not strictly true. Like you’re telling reality, ‘see this mouse, well, it’s totally a snuffbox, not a mouse’, and then you compulsion-charm reality into agreeing with you,” Harry nodded matter-of-factly, as if he had not just said something utterly outrageous. “It takes a whole lot of math to prove, but the two resulting magical structures are really the same thing. The compulsion-charm reference frame is really hard to use for casting, though, so classes teach it the normal way.”

    “Anyway,” the boy continued, “when you’re dealing with non-sapient stuff like inanimate objects or animals — stuff without a mind or will — that equivalence doesn’t really come up much. It’s just a fun thing people found out, right. A bit of… oh what’s the word for that sorta thing?”

    “Trivia?” Hermione volunteered.

    “Yeah! Trivia! Thanks, Hermione,” Harry said. “Anyway, it ain’t important for anything practical until you start transfiguring things with real, complicated minds. But when you do, if you’re not careful, you impose the compulsion on the target’s mind as well as reality, and the target gets all kinds of confused. Starts thinkin’ the transfiguration’s actually reality and such. Magical people can usually sort things out eventually, but you do that to a non-magical person or even a squib and you get real issues. It’s even worse if you screw it up during self-transfiguration,” he shuddered. “That’s something you don’t want no part of. It gets self-referential, and your own magic starts reinforcing the transfiguration. That’s the current theory on how they got those quintaped thingies over on Drear.”

    “Huh,” Abigail said. “Now why couldn’t the book have explained it like that? That was much easier to follow, thanks!”

    Harry smiled, “No problem!” He paused for a moment before continuing more seriously, “Um, Abigail?”

    “Yes?”

    “That’ll probably work for your essay, but you might want to go to Professor McGonagall to actually get the safety lecture in person. I mean, I know how to do the stuff myself, but I’m sure I’d forget to tell you something or other if I tried to teach you everything, and with human transfiguration…” Harry frowned, “well, that’d probably kill you, and that would be really, really bad.”

    “Will do, Harry,” Abigail reached over the table and ruffled his messy hair affectionately. “She had already insisted, but thanks for caring!”

    That got yet another bright smile from the younger boy, and Abigail set about writing out her transfiguration essay. The other two had their own work to do, though Harry’s looked suspiciously like independent research given the haphazard mishmash of runic array descriptions and some sort of arcane diagram containing all sorts of right-angle lines, dots, odd symbols containing lines and dots, and zig-zag lines. Abigail had taken ancient runes herself, as well as the enchanting and warding extra lectures, and she knew what those systems generally looked like, so she was certain Harry was working on something extraordinary.

    Harry’s cogent and sensible explanation led Abigail to finish her essay in short order, it was only eight inches anyway, and the conversation kicked back up again as she took a short break to recover her strength — stupid lingering symptoms.

    “Um, Abigail?” Hermione began.

    “Hmm?”

    “What sort of career are you looking to get into after school?”

    The question was typical of what she had learned about the younger girl. Hermione always planned as far ahead as she possibly could. She had to be the most risk-averse kid Abigail had ever seen! That said, Abigail could see Harry perk up at the question in interest. Was he already thinking that far ahead, too? She would never have guessed.

    Again, with the hidden depths, it seemed!

    “Well, I’m still trying to figure that out, actually,” Abigail began tentatively in answer to her junior’s question. “Our society’s got a lot of problems with it, and I’ve always wanted to do something to make a difference, you see? The thing is, though, it’s really hard to do anything influential as an individual in this society. Right now, I’m thinking of either getting into journalism with the Prophet or joining the Ministry.” Abigail grimaced in distaste, “Neither option’s really a good one though, so I’m hoping something else will come up.”

    “Why are those bad options?” Hermione asked, puzzled. “I mean, journalism is an important profession; Mum says it’s the cornerstone of a healthy democracy! And the government is the logical place to go if you want to change how things are run, right?”

    “Well, you’d think so,” Abigail temporized, trying to work out how to explain her misgivings without destroying the younger girl’s faith in the world, “but well, we don’t really live in a healthy democracy.” She failed to find such a method. “And that means there aren’t really any real ways for journalists to change things, because the paper will only print what the government allows. I mean, I might go and try to persuade people to change things behind the scenes, but as a journalist, even if I write the truth, there’s no guarantee it will get printed.”

    Harry was nodding along with her conclusions as if he fully expected it, while Hermione looked deeply troubled.

    “What about the Ministry?” the younger girl asked, almost desperate-sounding.

    “Um, well that might work, in principle… eventually, I suppose,” Abigail said, almost apologetic. “The thing is, getting anywhere in the Ministry is a long, long, uphill slog, especially if you’re honest. And, if you want to get through faster in either job, well there are ways, but they’re more than a little distasteful, particularly the options available to me as a woman — or what I might get forced into if I put myself in that position.”

    She trailed off and shuddered a little in disgust at the idea while Harry’s grip across the way caused the table to groan in protest. Odd, Abigail hadn’t expected the boy to follow her oblique reference, yet another strange thing to add to her growing image of her totally-not-yet-a-crush.

    “What do you mean? Is that like bullying?” Hermione asked. “Because I’ve had to deal with some of that.” Apparently, she wasn’t quite as perceptive as the younger boy — an unusual turn of events.

    “It’s a bit of unpleasantness that you really don’t need to know about yet, kiddo,” Abigail averred. “You should probably ask your mother when you get home. It’s the sort of thing you’ll want family around to help you process. Anyway, do either of you have any plans in that regard?”

    Hermione shook her head, but Harry perked up.

    “Well, I’ve got a materials science joint venture going, and we’re doing pretty well at the moment,” Harry said proudly. “I’ve been thinking lately of getting into the logistics business, though. Got some ideas there.”

    Abigail was shocked. Harry was already running a company? “How did you get that going so early?”

    “Oh! Well, I provided some samples I got through a bit of a magical accident,” Harry explained proudly. Hermione — suspecting just which accident he was referring to — stifled a snort. “And Mr. Snape managed to reverse engineer how to make them, and Mr. Slackhammer has been marketing them and handling the production. We’ve got two major products right now, and we’re looking to expand more.”

    “So, you’re doing well?” Abigail confirmed.

    Harry nodded.

    “Okay, so what was that about logistics?”

    “Well, I’ve been thinking about how we get food and stuff to everybody. Did you know that Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are all supplied by Hogs Haulage? They’re the train company that runs the Express.” At the answering nods, he continued, “Well, I figured that would be a good business to get into, ‘cause everybody needs to eat, and they ain’t never gonna stop needin’ to, so there’s some job security there.”

    “I’d considered working for one of the big freight companies too,” Abigail said. “But I ran into a few problems. Hogs Haulage isn’t really growing; they’re content to sit on what they’ve got — and with the job retention they have, there are no openings. The only one that really grows is the Happy Elf Trucking Group that runs the road freight services, and they’re owned by Malfoy’s father. I wouldn’t work for that slimeball if it was a choice between that and starving.”

    Harry looked contemplative as she continued. “Most of the businesses are like that; the average wizarding industrialist is not the sort of person you want to meet in a dark alley at night.” Abigail sighed, “That’s the main reason I was considering the Prophet or the Ministry. Not exactly spoiled for choice here.”

    Harry still looked thoughtful as Abigail turned to the next assignment on her mountain of parchment, and the table fell silent aside from the scratching of quills.

    What exactly was Harry considering behind that puzzled-looking face of his, she wondered?

    2.8.9 Circuitous ways

    A darkly-robed and hooded figure walked confidently through the quiet hallways of the fourth floor pausing periodically to wave its wand at the floor below. The general build of the shadowy fellow would indicate a male, but magic being what it was, that was by no means certain. Each spell cast brought a new flinch.

    The stones below were too thick to break through, quietly or not. Enchanted stone was not immutable on its own, but three-foot thick enchanted stone was too much for a single wizard to beat. It seemed the only way in to the target was through the goblin’s defensive position, and that position had proven itself quite impregnable.

    The first assault had used three trolls, after all, three of the blasted, malodorous creatures, with a fourth to divert attention! If those trolls hadn’t been sufficient to win their way through, then there was nothing to be done about it in any case.

    Brute force entry was not a viable option.

    That conclusion had led to the current excursion, testing the defenses from an oblique direction. The best way to get through a defense, after all, was to avoid engaging it entirely. Unfortunately, it seemed there was no way through these defenses at all. Every wall, the ceiling, and the floor were all at least a yard thick, and given the nature of the castle stone, there was no way he’d be able to force his way through.

    There was no point in looking further, best just to give it up as a bad… Before he could finish that thought, the dark figure fell to its knees in pain before rising and again beginning to cast diagnostic charms.

    Perhaps something had been missed.

    Most would have known better than to test a goblin defensive position in the first place. Anyone reasonable would certainly have given up after a probing force of three fully-grown mountain trolls was turned into bloody chunks before even seeing the defenders. Any sane person would have been sorely tempted to give up on seeing the rest of the target enveloped enchanted granite more than a yard thick.

    The figure quietly cursed the fact that he was none of those things. Driven by his monstrous Master and the iron-hard control spells that had been cast, the robed individual had no choice, no matter how he cursed his fate. The only way out now was death — and suicide was not an option allowed by the Master’s commands. He could only hope that death would come at the hands of someone other than the Master.

    Dying at the hands of that monster would mean succeeding at the task it set him, and despite appearances, allowing the Master to succeed was the last thing he wanted. His Master had found him that one day during the previous summer, and his defenses had proven inadequate, to his eternal shame. Now, hemmed in by compulsions and outright mental domination, he could not act contrary to the Master’s commands…

    …but there had been no command against hope.

    And the dark figure hoped with every fragment of his tattered will that the Master’s plans would fail, even as he did his level best to complete the task the monster had set for him.
     
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  19. Threadmarks: Section 2.9 - In which the rumor mill finally serves a good purpose
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.9.0 In which the rumor mill finally serves a good purpose

    The Hufflepuff common room was quiet as Harry wrote his homework assignment for transfiguration. He had a short time in between classes, and he had chosen to go ahead and finish up the work Professor McGonagall had assigned that morning rather than have it continue hanging over his head for a week. Much easier to just do it immediately after it was assigned and then be able to forget about it in his bag.

    It wasn’t like he had time to do anything else in the twenty-minute break, either. Twenty minutes wasn’t even enough time to eat a light snack!

    The older students had finally stopped complaining about the changes in schedule and the oddly-proportioned break times. Apparently, before this year, charms, transfiguration, and potions had been split into two groups with shorter periods, rather than the current situation with everyone in a single session, and that schedule had kept very uniform gaps between classes, while the current one had oddly-timed holes in the daily grind. Different timings every day of the week.

    Harry had no idea why it had taken them most of a year to adjust; it seemed to him like the regular timings would have had to have been boring. Much better to have a little variety in the day, to his way of thinking. It gave so many opportunities to get things done so he didn’t have to worry about it in the evening when he usually spent time with his friends!

    Then again, he supposed, pausing in his rapid scratching at the page for a thoughtful moment, most of the other students never seemed to take advantage of the extra time to do homework. Maybe they couldn’t crank out an essay in ten minutes? Harry shook his head. Nah, of course they could! It wasn’t like he was ever really that smart; if he could do it, Harry was sure most of the rest of the kids could.

    Harry finished up his essay with a flourish just as Susan and Hannah walked in to the room. He gave them a friendly greeting as he got up to go to lunch. Hermione should be out of her class now, and they usually met up with Abigail at the Great Hall.

    “Harry…” Susan began, uncertainly.

    “Yeah, Susan?” Harry answered cheerfully.

    “I think Hermione’s crying back in the library again,” the girl said. “She looked upset when she rushed by going that way. I thought you’d want to know.”

    Harry’s cheerful expression suddenly terminated itself, replaced by a black glower.

    “Right, I’ve just about had it with this,” he stated, turning back to the door with firm purpose.

    “Had it with what?” Hannah asked, puzzled.

    “Had it with this sittin’ back and watchin’.”

    “Where are you going?”

    “Nowhere much, just gotta talk to a lady about some stuff,” Harry called back to her in a truly unenlightening turn of phrase. “Thanks for letting me know about that.” With that, the young dragon left the room at a dead sprint.

    “You’re welcome!” Susan called after him, though he was already out of earshot in the twisting castle hallways.

    “What was that supposed to mean?” Hannah asked the world at large.

    “…well, I don’t really know,” Susan admitted. The rest of the world failed to reply.

    2.9.1 An offer she could totally refuse

    Harry slowed down as he approached the library door so as not to slam it open loudly; Madame Pince was even worse than Madame Pomphrey about him doing that, so he had decided to humor her. He was in a hurry, but not that much of a hurry. Hermione wasn’t going to notice another few seconds delay, he was sure.

    A quick look about the library revealed a bushy head of brown frizzy hair lying face down at their usual table, and Harry swiftly made his way over to it.

    “You’re still getting picked-on, ain’t you?” Harry said. Despite the phrasing, it wasn’t a question.

    “What about it?” Hermione asked doubtfully. “It’s not a big problem.”

    “You’ve been crying in the library, sounds like it’s a problem to me,” Harry countered.

    “You don’t need to get involved, Harry. I’m a Gryffindor, we’re supposed to handle this stuff ourselves!”

    “Really?” Harry asked. “That a House rule or sumthin’? ‘Cause I ain’t ever heard of it.”

    “Well, I think it is?” Hermione said uncertainly. “Everyone seems to act like it is, anyway.”

    “You know, if you want, I can do something about it and help get you out of there,” Harry explained with a shrug. “Aw, don’t look at me all growly-like, I don’t mean sitting on anybody’s head or the like; I mean, I can, you know, carry you off, and then you’d be staying at my Lair.”

    “Your Lair? Aren’t the Hufflepuffs in dorms too? I remember there being hallways off of the Sett like the ones in Gryffindor.”

    “Well, mostly,” Harry allowed, “but students who live close enough to the castle don’t gotta stay over at the castle if they don’t want to, and I live over on the other side of the Forest, and that’s close enough, so I live there. I just come visit the Sett pretty often, too.”

    “Then how would I stay at your lair?” Hermione asked. “I don’t live that close to the castle.”

    “Well, the rules say kids can sleep over with friends who aren’t staying at the castle if the friends are some of the kids who live really near to the castle, and the rules don’t say how often you can do that, especially if the kid who’s staying over is a… what’s the word? You know someone who’s being taken care of by somebody else…”

    “A dependent?” Hermione supplied.

    “That’s right! Thanks, Hermione!” Harry said. “…especially if the kid who’s staying over is a dependent of the kid they’re staying with; then they ain’t allowed to stay at the castle anyway!”

    “But I’m not a dependent! Well, not of anyone but Mum and Dad,” Hermione protested.

    “I could kidnap you, and that way you would be.”

    “… isn’t that against the rules?” Hermione asked in a quavering voice, sounding like she was afraid one of the pillars of her worldview was about to be shattered.

    Harry snorted before fishing about in his pocket for a moment before pulling out a pouch from which he withdrew a tiny book, perhaps the size of Hermione’s thumbnail. He set the miniature tome on the table in front of them and tapped it with his wand, and Hermione goggled as the tiny thing expanded into a gargantuan leather and brass bound behemoth which covered the entire reading table to a depth thicker than Harry’s torso and went on to hang over both sides.

    It was that big, and it was still closed!

    “…er,” Hermione’s usual eloquence escaped her.

    “Ain’t much of anything that’s against the rules if you know how to say it right,” Harry said.

    “How on Earth can a school have enough rules to fill that?” Hermione hissed in disbelief.

    “Well, it’s because they’ve been making rules for like a thousand years, and once something’s a rule, it don’t never stop being a rule, they just add more rules to it if they feel like it. My solicitor, Madame Axetalon went through it once so she could confirm I was interpreting stuff right, and she says there’s even more loopholes in the Hogwarts rules than there are in the laws about owning dragon eggs, and she’s real good at spotting that kind of stuff. It’s her job to do it, and she’s rich. And, well, there’s a rule that says if someone is someone else’s pet, then ain’t no one can stop the someone-who’s-a-pet from staying with the someone whose pet they are.”

    “…isn’t that against the law?” Hermione asked, hopefully, then started getting worried when Harry grimaced.

    “The Wizarding world ain’t a very nice place, Hermione, and it don’t matter what anybody told you,” he hedged.

    “You mean, it is legal?” Hermione sounded like she was going to be sick.

    “Yeah.”

    Hermione thought about that for a long moment while staring at the massive book of rules.

    “How can they do that?”

    “Same way they can say my Suze is an animal because she ain’t human. Same way as it took the goblins lots and lots of shooting to stop the laws calling them animals, and I’m meaning loads of machine gun kind of shooting, not someone with a rifle kind of shooting. There’s a lot of not-nice people out there, Hermione, and they don’t much like people like you, and if they knew I’m a dragon, they wouldn’t much like me, neither. ‘Course that means I’m gonna have to do something very unpleasant to some people soon to get ‘em to stop. But then, they oughtta learn that you really don’t wanna make a dragon angry, and from what Mr. Snape says, they never learn anything what’s not taught to them the hard way.”

    Harry’s blathering dissertation had given Hermione some time to sort her thoughts out, so she focused on the important bits.

    “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

    “Well, when I found out about you getting bullied, I picked out like five ways I could help using the rules, and I asked Madame Pomphrey about which one was best, and she said the pet option was the best of the bunch for a bunch of reasons,” Harry replied.

    “Would I ever be able to stop being your… your ‘pet’?” she asked, struggling to force the last word out of her throat. It was never something she had imagined uttering in this context.

    “Well, yeah, any time I said so, and you know, I’d say so if you wanted me to. I mean, it’d be really rude not to!”

    Hermione nodded, well aware of Harry’s Snape-imparted stance on manners.

    “Apart from the whole me-not-needing-to-live-in-Gryffindor-tower thing, what else would it mean? I mean, law-wise?”

    “Well, the main thing is it’d allow me to really smash people’s faces in if they messed with you; I mean, it’d be legal for me to do it — I could totally still do it even if it were illegal, but then I’d have to deal with the consequences of it. This way, there’d be no issue,” Harry said with a shrug. “Other than that, it’d mean you’d have to do stuff I told you, but I ain’t gonna do that unless it’s important anyway.”

    “I’ll need to think about this,” she said.

    “Sure,” Harry said with aplomb. “It ain’t like it’s an offer that’s gonna go away or nothin’.”

    Hermione nodded distractedly, still staring at the ludicrously massive book of rules as she fell silent for a few moments.

    “It’s insane,” she eventually said quietly.

    “What is?” Harry asked.

    “That something can exist right here in Britain that’s so… so wrong!”

    “Yeah, I know,” Harry agreed with a shrug. “Way I see it, I’m going to be a good little boy-who-ain’t-snuffed-it ‘til we decide it’s time for people to know I’m a dragon, then I’m gonna stomp all over ‘em because I don’t like people who mess with my damsels, and they’d better take real good notice, ‘cause there ain’t nobody who don’t take notice when a dragon says they gotta take notice.” He clenched his fist and grinned widely. “Well, I guess I’ll wait… unless they take my treasures away first, because if that happens, they’re gonna find out just how good the Hogwarts motto advice really is.”

    “The Hogwarts motto?”

    “It says ‘never tickle a sleeping dragon’ in Latin. I’m not sure why they always make mottos in Latin, but I guess it’s because it looks all motto-ey.”

    “Huh?”

    “Hey, uh, and Hermione?”

    “Hmm?”

    “Guns and damsels are very valuable sorts of treasures. Thought you’d wanna know,” Harry rose to his feet. “Well, I’m going to lunch. You up for coming along?”

    Hermione shook her head, “I think I’m going to spend some more time thinking things over. Can I look through the rule book?”

    “Sure, just tap it with your wand when you’re done, and it’ll shrink back down,” Harry said. “You know where to find me if you got any questions.” He turned away towards the door before calling over his shoulder, “It’s that Ron Weasley, innit?”

    “What about it?”

    “I’ll fix his shit,” Harry told her, and then he left.

    Hermione spent a few moments staring after him before turning back to the rule book and standing up so she could open the silly thing. She spent a few moments struggling before she went looking for Madame Pince to get some help.

    2.9.2 That’s him told

    At breakfast the next morning, the Weasley brothers, all four of them, were quite surprised to say the least when they and their fellow Gryffindors were just entering the Great Hall for breakfast, and a certain pint-sized Hufflepuff who they all agreed should have been a Gryffindor because hey, he was HARRY POTTER, got in their way.

    “What?” Fred Weasley, one of the third-year twins asked, but the boy hero ignored him in favor of glaring fixedly at his youngest brother, Ron.

    Then the short-arse Boy-Who-Lived surprised them all by reaching out and casually picking up the much taller Weasley brother by the front of his robes, lifting him completely off his feet with one hand and a complete lack of any visible effort and banged him against the nearest wall.

    Several of the Gryffs went immediately for their wands, but the words that came tumbling out of the young Potter’s mouth stopped them in their tracks.

    “Hermione nearly got her head smashed in because of you, you ginger cross-eyed Sassenach,” the Boy-Who-Lived growled. “And that was bad enough, but then you didn’t stop. Real gutsy of you. Real Gryffindor courage, pickin’ on someone who’s too nice to fight back. Well, that’s over with, Ron Weasley. I’m a ‘Puff, and we don’t let nobody mess with our friends. You keep pushin’ my friend Hermione around, and you’re gonna find out what it feels like to have your face used to bust open a door; you understand?”

    Ron let out a terrified squeak that Harry interpreted to mean ‘yes’.

    “Good,” Potter said, unceremoniously dropping the terrified redhead into a heap on the floor before he went storming off.

    Fred, and his other brothers, George and Percy exchanged side-on glances.

    What had their youngest brother gone and done this time?

    2.9.3 What can you do?

    Later that day, Harry was sitting in his study period, known more generally as History of Magic, and his mind was wandering. This was not an unusual occurrence, given the generally poor teaching of the incorporeal History professor, Cuthbert Binns, but Harry usually tried to focus his efforts on learning history, even if it was self-study.

    Today he was finding that to be impossible.

    Recent revelations had shown that his friends were having trouble. Hermione was dealing with bullying, and he already knew where that led. Harry’s memories of Hermione’s terrified screaming in a ruined bathroom were still quite fresh in his mind. Harry didn’t like that situation.

    He didn’t like it at all.

    Unfortunately, Harry couldn’t really think of anything else he might do to help. He had already made the offer to carry Hermione off and remove her from the Gryffindor dorms, and he had put the main perpetrator on very public notice. If he did anything more than that, Harry was pretty sure Hermione would be quite cross with him, so that was stuck for the moment.

    The recent conversation with Abigail on the other hand, had revealed that she was facing her own difficult choices coming out of school. Unlike Hermione’s screaming, Harry didn’t have a visceral reference for the sorts of revolting and degrading situations she had referred to, but he had a general idea from his conversations with Mr. Snape, and they sounded really, really bad.

    Harry was perfectly aware that, given the nature of the wizarding world and his chosen mission of cleaning it up, in the coming years he was likely going to have more visceral references for that sort of thing than anyone could ever want. When that time came, Harry really didn’t want to have the knowledge that his friend Abigail had faced something similar lingering in the back of his head.

    Just thinking about the vague, ill-defined possibility of that made Harry angry and uncomfortable. He couldn’t imagine how bad it would feel if it actually happened!

    The question became, then, what could he do about it?

    Harry had already been seriously considering purchasing Hogs Haulage, mostly because trains were cool, and he thought it would be neat to own the train company — and by proxy, the trains — outright. But his conversation with Abigail had brought other possibilities to light.

    Harry had not been aware of the competition in the logistics industry, nor had he been aware of the Malfoy interest in the trucking industry. Mr. Snape had made it abundantly clear that Lucius Malfoy was a bad man, responsible for a great deal of trouble and hardship over the years, and Harry was certain that sending less money in the man’s direction would be better for everyone involved. Purchasing and expanding Hogs Haulage to undercut his sales and thus his profit margins might just be the ideal way to do that…

    …while also getting to play with trains. There was no reason not to enjoy himself at the same time, after all.

    Plus, that expansion would mean more jobs for motivated and resourceful people — people like his friend, Abigail. That would keep her out of the Ministry and the press, which would be a good thing as far as he was concerned. Her assessment of the situation had hardly been flattering after all.

    That could definitely work, and like all good business deals — as Mr. Slackhammer was so fond of saying — it was a deal in which everyone won. He’d have to start work on the problem soon. Business research into Hogs Haulage and the potential markets for rail expansion could begin immediately, but personnel — that he wasn’t sure how to handle. Bringing Abigail in on the rail venture would require bringing her in on the underlying reasons for the expansion if he wanted her to do the job he had thought of for her, which would mean bringing her in on the revolution, and Harry wasn’t sure how to go about that.

    He figured Mr. Snape would know, though. Harry would have to talk with him at the first opportunity. Luckily, Christmas break was coming up. The boy-shaped dragon nodded to himself, that would do nicely. As Binns dismissed the class, Harry was impressed.

    That was the most productive history class he had ever had.

    2.9.4 One man’s helping hand is another’s threatening fist

    Hermione Granger was in her favorite place, the Hogwarts library, with her nose buried in a book and her mind occupied. Far from the concerns of her schoolmates, she was lost in the words of a man long dead, making notes with one hand while she turned pages with the other. She was in her element, though she did miss her radio from back home. Some quiet music to play in the background would help her focus.

    She’d been reading the Hogwarts rule book for the better part of the last two days, and even she had to take a break from that monster. It wasn’t so much the volume of text — were it just that, she would have had no issues at all; she had read more than that in one sitting before, though her mother had brought her food at the time — rather it was the content of the thing.

    The Hogwarts rules were an absolute mess, full of contradictions and blatant unfairness. As Harry had said, depending on how you put something, just about anything could be permitted by the rules, and again, depending on how you said something, just about anything could be against the rules. If the text in question had been historical or hypothetical, she might have enjoyed the process of puzzling out the meaning of the book and tracing the motives of the various authors.

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t a historical legal system, nor was it hypothetical. It was a small subset of the very rules under which she was expected to live her life, and she had just found out that those rules offered her no real protection whatsoever and in fact, opened her up to exploitation in a number of terrifying ways.

    Hence her break for some light reading on the history of alchemy in a dusty five-hundred-year-old tome the size of her torso. At least alchemy followed some semblance of a pattern.

    Her happy relaxation time was rudely interrupted by someone sitting down across from her and politely clearing his throat.

    Looking up from her notes, she found one of the Gryffindor prefects, Percy Weasley, looking back at her.

    “Hmm?” she asked warily.

    “Hello, Hermione,” Percy greeted her. He sounded worried.

    She wasn’t sure why he was worried, as he also had his younger brothers, the notorious prankster twins, Fred and George, flanking him as he spoke to a girl four years his junior.

    “Er, hello?” Hermione said, shifting her chair back in case she felt the need to leave in a hurry. These were Ron’s brothers after all.

    “We’ve got the idea that our little brother’s being a right prat,” the left-hand twin said.

    “What’s that got to do with anything?” Hermione asked doubtfully.

    “Aw come on, you think anyone in Gryffindor tower hasn’t noticed how you’re out of the tower real early in the morning and don’t come back until nearly curfew?” the other twin asked.

    “Just leave me alone,” Hermione told him. She thought she could see where this was going, and she didn’t like it. “I’ve already got enough trouble dealing with one Weasley without you three joining in.”

    “Listen, Hermione,” Percy said, “Gryffindor is supposed to be almost like a family. We’re not as close as the ‘Puffs, but we’re no cowards, and what kind of yellow git doesn’t stand up for his own?”

    “Apparently the sort called Weasley!” Hermione snapped, standing up. Coming as it did right after reading on the massive self-contradictory mess that was the Hogwarts school rules and its institutionalized injustice, this conversation was just the sort of thing that Hermione had feared might come to pass.

    She really wished she had one of Harry’s guns with her right about then.

    “Look, what we’re saying is, if one Weasley does something wrong, it’s the responsibility of all Weasleys to…” Percy started, but Hermione wasn’t listening anymore.

    Instead, she grabbed her notebooks and fled the library.

    2.9.5 Holes dug deeper

    “Oh, hell,” the left-hand Weasley twin, Fred, muttered.

    “Fred, Perce… this is real bad, isn’t it?” his twin brother asked.

    “Yes,” Percy confirmed solemnly. “What in Merlin’s name has Ron been doing to her?”

    “We’d better make sure he gets his head on straight,” George agreed with a grim nod.

    “Yeah,” Fred said.

    The family Weasley lived by three simple rules. Rule One was: family first. Rule Two was: no making the family look bad.

    And Rule Three was: muggle-borns have it too rough anyway.

    “We’d better have a word with Ron,” Percy said.

    “Yeah,” the twins confirmed.

    It was better that they handle this than have their parents get involved. Their father, Arthur, was too nice to really hammer the point home, and their mother, Molly, would go completely overboard to compensate.

    “What’s all this noise?” the librarian, Madame Pince, asked in a scathing tone.

    “Sorry, Madame Pince. We’ll pipe down,” Percy apologized.

    “See that you do. This is a library, not a madhouse,” she admonished with a glare.

    The redheaded trio nodded.

    “Please keep these books together for Hermione Granger,” Fred asked quietly. “Our brother’s got her real upset, and she ran off.”

    The librarian’s disapproving look vanished like a morning mist under the noon sun as she realized what had been happening.

    Weasley family justice was well known to the staff of Hogwarts.

    “I’ll do that, young man,” she said. “You run along now.”

    “Yes, Madame Pince,” Fred said as he and his brothers quickly left the library exchanging meaningful glances.

    2.9.6 Helping a friend

    Abigail had just left the sixth-year transfiguration class, and she was tiredly making her way off towards the Great Hall for lunch. The past few weeks had been exhausting, and transfiguration was one of the worst of the lot as far as she was concerned. So much concentration, particularly to get all the fine details down. McGonagall was a slave-driver.

    Adding that on top of the make-up work from her convalescence made for a truly nightmarish schedule.

    So, when she noticed Harry’s cute little hanger-on rushing through the hallways in a troubled manner, she was more than a little irritated at one more thing being piled on her already-burdened shoulders. She shouldn’t have to deal with whatever the girl’s baggage was on top of everything else…

    …but she was a prefect, and that was her responsibility, no matter how tired she was.

    Plus, the kid had become something of a friend over the past couple weeks, and Abigail was nothing if not serious about her friends.

    “Hermione!” she called after the girl.

    The girl paused and turned around. “Abigail?”

    Abigail noted the tears in the younger girl’s eyes, and she sighed.

    There went her lunch break.

    2.9.7 Searching for information

    “Excuse me, Mr. Potter,” a somewhat more reserved greeting took place at the Hufflepuff table during lunch.

    “What do you want?” Harry growled as he recognized the fiery red shock of hair atop Percy Weasley’s head.

    “I want to know what my youngest brother’s been playing at, so the twins and I can get him to sort his act out,” Percy stated bluntly. “Look, Gryffindors do not bully other Gryffindors. A bully is a coward, and we are not cowards. Ron’s forgotten that. He’s made your friend, Hermione, scared of all Weasleys, and it’s up to me and the twins to get his head out of his arse. To do that, we need to know just what he’s been doing, and Hermione won’t talk to us.”

    “I don’t know much,” Harry growled. “What I do know is it’s his fault that troll nearly got her, and I wasn’t joking when I said I’ll smash his face in if he keeps picking on her. You better watch out too; I’ve heard it’s a prefect’s job to stop other kids in his house being berks, and you better do your job, or there’ll be trouble. I don’t like what I’ve been seeing you Gryffs get up to, and if it keeps going on, someone’s gonna need their feet taken outta their earhole. That Ron better stay away from Hermione and my ‘Puffs, or he’s gonna get his attitude adjusted big-time. There ain’t nobody picks on my friends!”

    “There’s no need to threaten me, Mr. Potter,” Percy said, slightly surprising Harry by not sounding angry. Rather he sounded apologetic. “When one Weasley’s being a twit, it makes the whole family look bad, and that just isn’t done. We’ll give Ron a pointed reminder, and that’s a promise.”

    Harry contemplated that for a moment.

    “You’d better,” he concluded. “’Cause I don’t care about any of that stuff with her parents not being able to do magic; she’s brainy and there ain’t nobody picks on my friends.”

    “Count on it,” Percy told him. “We keep our promises.”

    Harry gave him a searching look which lasted for a few moments, and then the Boy-Who-Lived nodded gravely.

    “Okay,” he said, and Percy headed for the Gryffindor table with an answering nod.

    Harry spent a few long moments staring at his plate before muttering something Snape-ish sounding and going back to eating.

    2.9.8 Missed meals

    As Hermione walked off, somewhat less distressed than she had been half-an-hour previous, Abigail sighed exasperatedly.

    Pre-teen drama was just as silly as teen drama.

    Apparently, the entire situation boiled down to one of the Weasley brothers making an ass of himself and Hermione taking everything in the worst possible light. The most recent issue was quite obviously, from her outside perspective, a misinterpreted attempt to fix the situation on the part of the boy’s older brothers.

    That said, emotions were emotions, and trying to explain the reality of the situation to a distraught girl right in the middle of puberty was an exercise in futility. All Abigail could really do was offer an understanding ear.

    She would also approach her fellow prefect and advise that the obtuse ginger consider the appearances involved before he brings two of his brothers along for a delicate meeting in the future. She was sure the boy meant well, but seriously, of all the cack-handed ways to approach a conversation with a bullied pre-teen girl, he decided to bring along the goon squad!

    She took a look at the time before deciding that she had just enough time to hit the kitchens for a snack before her next class started. Lunch in the Great Hall was a lost cause at this point.

    2.9.9 A Weasley family intervention

    Classes were over for the day, and the three oldest Weasley brothers found their youngest counterpart sprawled out over one of the couches in the Gryffindor common room, a worn, comfortable thing with upholstery that almost matched their Weasley family hair.

    The rusty red color would also be convenient if they didn’t like his explanation for his behavior. Easier to clean, you know, no one’ll notice if you miss a few spots.

    “Bloody hell!” Ron croaked, going white as a sheet, and his trio of brothers’ worry immediately evaporated.

    Ron had always been as transparent as a window, and it seemed that upholstery cleaning would not be an issue this afternoon.

    “I… oh crud, sure I yelled at her a bit, but… I, oh boy, she nearly got got by that troll?” The youngest Weasley slumped forward, burying his face in his hands. “Oh bloody hell, I’ve been a right git…”

    “What’d you say to her, anyway?” Fred asked.

    “Well, I can’t really remember,” Ron admitted. “It wasn’t much — I know because I always remember when I’ve really gone off on somebody. I mean, I’m pretty sure we’ve said worse to each other over who got the last sausage.”

    “When all is said and done we’re quite a rowdy family, Ron,” Percy explained. “I guess, being an only child, she’s not nearly as used to yelling matches as we are.”

    “Fred, George, Perce, how the bloody hell am I going to make this okay?” Ron asked, running his hand through his hair as he looked down at the floor.

    The brothers fell silent for a moment before Fred piped up with a suggestion.

    “I’ve heard that Malfoy twat and his mates going off on her. How about you do what we should have been doing all along and cut the great git down to size next time he starts in on her?”

    A round of thoughtful nodding began with Ron and slowly propagated through the brothers.

    None of them had the faintest idea of what they had just begun.
     
    nox, Hatt, loatroll and 93 others like this.
  20. Threadmarks: Section 2.10 - Flying off into the sunset… and losing your bags on the way
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.10.0 Flying off into the sunset… and losing your bags on the way

    Abigail had tried to reassure her that the older Weasley boys weren’t out to get her, they were just insensitive prats who were trying — clumsily — to help fix things, but Hermione wasn’t so sure that Abigail had an accurate read on the situation. They just kept watching her, like they were on the lookout for something to happen so that they could take advantage, and it made Hermione uncomfortable.

    Even if Abigail was right, and they were doing something silly like trying to make up for her treatment by looking out for ways to help her, it still didn’t change what she had been reading of the school rules. Nor did it change what she had been able to find written on the law of Wizarding Britain.

    And if the Hogwarts’ rules had been upsetting, the law of the land was bone chilling.

    Hermione didn’t want to have to deal with the Gryffindor dorms on top of everything else, and even if she didn’t know what to do about the laws, she did have an offer for getting out of Gryffindor.

    Hermione had taken the better part of two weeks to come to that conclusion, most of which time was spent immersed in research in the library, and that conclusion had led her to this point, searching out Harry to ask him a very important question just a couple weeks before the Christmas holidays.

    “Harry?” she asked the boy as she walked with him towards the school exit after dinner.

    “Wassup, Hermione?” the young boy replied absently, before catching sight of her expression as he turned to hold the door for her.

    As they walked out onto the deserted castle lawn, his expression sharpened and his attention focused, and Hermione asked seriously, “Look, if you carry me off, will I really not have to stay in the Gryffindor dorms anymore?”

    “Why’s that?” Harry asked, immediately concerned.

    “It’s nothing,” Hermione sounded way too hurried when she said that, her speech echoed in her walking pace as Harry jogged slightly to keep up on their way along the path towards Hagrid’s hut. “I just… I just wish I hadn’t talked the Sorting Hat into putting me in Gryffindor.”

    “Well, yeah,” Harry allowed, pulling ahead and turning to walk backwards so he could continue the conversation. “If I carry you off, well, obviously you’ve gotta stay at my Lair instead of anyplace else; it’s how being the damsel of a big ferocious dragon works. I can get you a chain or something if that helps?”

    “Oh, good,” Hermione said as they rounded Hagrid’s hut and arrived in the clearing Harry usually used to take off from on his way home, “I’d like you to carry me off, Harry.”

    Very abruptly, a solid metal dragon the size of a bus, whose weight was a topic most people found somewhat uncomfortable to contemplate, was looking down at a delicate damsel very literally asking to be carried off, and what self-respecting dragon doesn’t know exactly what to do in a situation like that?

    Harry demonstrated just how much better he had become at growling since the last time he had found a damsel to carry off and declared, “I’m a dragon, and you’re a damsel, and I’m gonna carry you off!” Then, with another ferocious bone-shaking growl, he put action to words.

    As she was gently gathered up in that same massive clawed hand which had so thoroughly smashed the troll back on Halloween, Hermione gulped. The reality of being carried off by a dragon was somewhat different from what she had imagined. Her world lurched, and they were abruptly in the pitch-black moonless night sky winging their way off towards Harry’s Lair.

    Oddly, she was not nearly as nervous as she always had been on a broom. Perhaps it was the darkness, so she couldn’t see how high she was? Or maybe it was the rock-solid grip Harry had on her — with talons large enough that she had trouble reconciling them with her concept of hands? Whatever it was, Hermione counted the security as a minor blessing.

    She had barely had time to register that they were in the air before Harry came in for a relatively smooth landing on the lip of a small cave which was lit from within. The light illuminated just enough of the surroundings for Hermione to realize that they were high on the side of a sheer cliff face.

    As Harry set her down with great and exaggerated care, Hermione paused to take in her surroundings.

    The cave itself looked to have started as one of those worn when an underground waterway comes out of a cliff. The stream responsible for its formation was now confined to a central channel which had been worn away through the center of the cave, and it flowed out and off the edge through a metal grille in the wall at the lip of the cave. The burble of flowing water provided a nice ambiance within the cave, in addition to the crash of water faintly heard from where it fell to the stream far, far below.

    However, the naturally-formed cave had obviously been heavily modified, expanded through excavation and changed through what seemed to be melting. Several dividing walls, such as the one at the lip of the cave into which the grille was set, seemed to have been added by piling up broken rubble and melting it into place. The natural floor of the cave had been flattened, and several more passages had been dug deeper into the cliffside.

    The stream had been covered over for much of its length by another metal grille flush with the rest of the floor, and the entire area was strewn with cushions and blankets and curtains and rugs and just about anything that could possibly be made using deer hide. Off to one side, there was a collection of other furniture, including a pair of beat up and sagging sofas, several armchairs in similar condition, a hefty wooden kitchen table with similarly sturdy straight-backed chairs surrounding it. The centerpiece of the arrangement was a great white and black Rayburn with a fire merrily crackling away inside it radiating endless waves of warmth through the main cavern.

    Everything was lit by warm electric lighting, the electricity for which was obviously provided by a small waterwheel which was housed in the same wall through which the stream exited the cave. It was obvious because the cabling supplying power to all the lights was quite visibly tacked up on the walls. The workings of the waterwheel were visible where an access panel had been pulled off for what looked like recent maintenance, judging by the collection of scattered spanners and a welding torch sitting on the floor next to it.

    Behind the couches were an immense collection of books stacked in dozens of piles each taller than she was. Looking at the mess made her fingers itch to organize them. The rest of the room was not spared from the clutter, as every available surface — including, in various places, the floor — was covered in the various flotsam and jetsam that tended to accumulate in the workshops and studies of less than tidy individuals the world over. The mess ranged from the books she first noticed, to toy guns, to carefully labeled potions, to tools, to toy models, to great sheaves of doodles and writings and notes, to a tangled collection of maps, to a giant globe. There was even a great stack of carefully arranged gold bars off to one side.

    In short, the entire place might as well have had ‘scatterbrained preteen child lives here’ lit up in neon signage across the entire room.

    “Okay,” she said, still looking around, “that’s me carried off, but… um, couldn’t you have waited long enough for me to get my stuff?”

    “Oh! Um, sorry, I kinda didn’t think of that,” Harry admitted.

    “Um, what’s going on?” came another voice from one of the passageways deeper into the Lair.

    “Oh, Suze! Check it out; I carried off another damsel!” Harry announced enthusiastically.

    “I see,” the centaur maid said. “But what was it that she was just asking?”

    “Oh, well, I got kinda excited when she asked me to carry her off, and I didn’t think to have her pick up her stuff before we left, so…”

    “Maybe it would be a good idea for you to go tell your friends at the castle about it, so they could bring her things?” Suze suggested reasonably.

    “Right!”

    And with that, the dragon swept out of the cave, off to see his professor friends at the castle to let them know about his new damsel.

    2.10.1 Inter-damsel communications

    As she watched Harry take flight from the cave lip, Hermione asked, “Suze — what is it Harry means to you?”

    Suze’s expression immediately changed from gentle amusement to a look that Hermione recognized quite easily.

    It was the kind of expression she was used to seeing out of the corner of her eye when she was curled up by the gas fire in the living room with a good book on a cold night, and her mother looked at her — a slight, soft smile, the sort that told you that all was well with the world.

    “In the beginning, he terrified me,” the centauress admitted. “I believed he was a dread beast, come to lay waste to all; I believed he would devour me — but where we expected a fell destroyer, we found a kindly child. Then, as I was first becoming fond of him, he saved the lives of Father, Grandfather, warriors of my kin — two of my uncles, my eldest brother, one of my cousins — Father had spoken words that should surely have earned all of my kin Harry’s enmity, yet he struck against the spider plague as if it was his own kin and home they threatened. Until that time, but three summers past, we were sore pressed; myself, I have lost four brothers, a sister, my mother, one hand of uncles, two aunts, and two hands and two cousins to those fell beasts within the span of the seasons that I recall myself, yet since the day the Great Wyrm descended upon their hordes, they have not spilled a drop of centaur blood.”

    “By the debt of blood unspilled, he is one of us, a young warrior of the Black Woods Clan, and his foe is ours — yet at the same time, he is the Great Wyrm of these lands, and thus lord of all he sees. To our knowledge it is a situation unique within all the tales of our past, and… I would wish to see good come of all this. At the side of our Great Wyrm, perhaps we might no more need to cower and hide in forgotten corners of this world; perhaps with his aid we might one day be able to walk the paths your kind have forged with our heads held high. And his aid is something that, once granted, I have never known to be withdrawn. House Hufflepuff suits him well, for he is steadfastly loyal to those he has deemed his own.”

    “You love him, don’t you?” Hermione checked.

    “Though they call him my Master and me his vassal… he is like a son, or a younger brother,” Suze said. “And to him, it is as if I am the elder sister he never had — or the mother he never knew. Perhaps someday there may be more to it than that — despite sentiment, we are certainly not bound by blood. Even within the Clan stranger matches have come about. We might read the portents of the stars, but the future is a secret untold even by Selene. Night brings naught but hints to the paths we might travel, and who can truly know what the omens we have seen seek to tell us?”

    Further discussion was cut off as, with a tremendous blast of cold air and a crash of talons against rock, Harry landed in the mouth of the cave, flanked by a trio of broom riders; Professors McGonagall, Snape, and Sprout. The generously-sized cave suddenly seemed cramped.

    “I confess I had wondered at what time the blasted reptile would decide to increase the breadth of his collection,” Snape stated by way of greeting, leaning his broom up against the wall across the lip of Harry’s Lair. “My congratulations on your promotion in life, Miss Granger; he is a dratted dragon and a wretched lizard, and he quite assuredly needs the aid of level heads such as your own to aid him in avoiding any further foolishness in the future.”

    “Hey!”

    “Don’t you say one word, daft boy! Recall that this is term time, and you are not entitled to answer your teachers back!”

    “Ok, Mr. Snape,” Harry grumbled. “Old sourpuss.”

    “Insolent glutton!” Snape snapped.

    “Foul-tempered poltroon!” Harry snapped back.

    “Blithering cross-eyed pillock!” Snape returned. “Ha! You’re still thirty years too soon to out-insult the master, boy!”

    “How about ‘slobbering armpit-sniffing reprobate’?” Harry asked. “I thought that was a pretty good one.”

    “Perhaps,” Snape allowed. “Hmm, yes, I’ll bear that in mind for the next time Goyle fouls up.”

    The irritable potions master noted the way Hermione was now looking at him as if he’d grown a couple of extra heads.

    “What? Do you quite seriously believe I have no sense of humor, Miss Granger? Odd, I had thought you to be better suited to House Ravenclaw.”

    “You do realize Filius would become quite insufferably smug if he heard you saying that, don’t you Severus?” McGonagall checked, looking amused and blowing Hermione’s mind in the process. The Gryffindor first year had never seen her Head of House wearing anything other than a stern expression before.

    “Naturally. And I likewise realize he would be looking insufferably smug at your expense, Minerva,” Snape said, whereupon McGonagall blew Hermione’s mind once again by mock-scowling and childishly sticking her tongue out in Snape’s direction. “Now that we’re done demonstrating to Miss Granger that we are just as human as any, perhaps we should be discussing business?”

    “That’s a good idea, Mr. Snape,” Harry said, brushing some of the clutter out of the way to settle his bulk down into the middle of the room.

    “Aye, now,” McGonagall said, “seems tae me it’s an open-and-shut case. It’s nae like our Harry’s ever changed his mind, now is it?” Hermione’s mind skipped once again when she heard that; she was used to a faint Scottish accent coming from her Head of House but not that tangled knot of Scottishisms.

    “I change my mind sometimes, Mrs. McGonagall,” Harry protested, sounding somewhat defensive. “Usually when I find out I’ve been really wrong about stuff, because not changing your mind when you find out you’ve been wrong about stuff is… is…”

    “The mark of a willfully-ignorant blundering pillock?” Snape helpfully suggested, and Hermione realized she was starting to get accustomed to the shocks to her worldview.

    “…is the mark of a willfully-ignorant blundering pillock — thank you, Mr. Snape — and I ain’t no way one of those!” the massive dragon in the room finished.

    “Well then, since that is the case, I’d hope you’ll bring my first-year down from this lair o’ yours fair lessons, laddie,” McGonagall sternly lectured, wagging a finger but failing to contain a smile.

    “I don’t think Hermione’d let me not do that,” Harry said, scratching at his head.

    “What I want to know,” Hermione said, “is why nobody’s asking my opinion.”

    “But you said you wanted me to carry you off,” Harry said, sounding puzzled. “Why would I ask your opinion again after you already told me?”

    “Not you,” Hermione said, “the professors. I’d think they’d want to confirm that I was willing in this sort of situation!”

    “Well, don’t just sit there and glare then, girl,” Snape said, cocking an eyebrow. “I trust you understand the ramification of this situation?”

    “Look, I made sure I knew what I was getting into,” she snapped, before pinking as she realized she had just snapped at a professor. “It’s not a big deal; you don’t need to be so serious about it.”

    “And tell me, Miss Granger, why precisely do you believe we would be taking this seriously if it were not?” Snape asked, his eyebrow remaining cocked.

    “…what?” the bushy-haired girl asked blankly.

    “You are neither hard of hearing nor an imbecile, Miss Granger,” her potions professor countered.

    “Mr. Snape, if you don’t stop growling at my damsel right now, I shall be forced to lick your head,” Harry stated authoritatively.

    “Dratted dragon!” Snape snapped. “I am attempting to impart the gravity of this situation to Miss Granger, and you are not helping!”

    “And you’re growling at my damsel while you’re doing it, and that ain’t helping neither!” Harry growled back, his voice dropping into octaves well below those of the deepest human voices in which sound was more felt than heard.

    “Tha both o’ ye’ eejits cool doon richt tha’ noo!” McGonagall interjected forcefully, giving Hermione her latest shock. The transfiguration mistress’ diction had plummeted from its usual faint accent to a rolling Gaelic-influenced Scots brogue as thick as ten-day-old porridge as she very abruptly proved herself to be a bona-fide local lass.

    “We are attempting to have an intellectual disagreement here, Minerva,” Snape said calmly.

    “An’ yeh kin cool doon or yeh kin tak yair backside raight tha fook doon tha castle, yah gurt great chewchter!” McGonagall fairly growled, then spun around and stabbed a finger at Harry. “An’ yeh too, laddie! Quit yair blatherin’ on an’ act lak a responsible dragon fair a change or maself’ll hae tae gie yeh a guid clip roond yair lug!”

    “Well, I suppose that’s us told, eh Mr. Potter?” Snape said with a sidelong glance at the dragon in the room.

    “Yeah, I think so, Mr. Snape,” Harry nodded.

    “Guid,” McGonagall said, her accent starting to fade. “Now I’ll be having a wee word with Miss Granger in private. You four take yair backsides through there and wait ‘til I tell yeh we’re done.”

    “No, you and Hermione can go through there if you really think it’s so important,” Harry said, crossing his forelimbs and settling in even more firmly.

    “Oh, aye?” McGonagall challenged.

    “Aye,” Harry growled, glaring back. “I’m no gonna move on that, Mrs. McGonagall, and if you think different, well, you’re out of luck, ‘cause I don’t trust nobody on this stuff.”

    “Looks like that’s you told too, Minerva,” Snape remarked, ignoring the venomous glare this earned him with aplomb.

    “Yeah,” Harry confirmed, voice dropping back into that spine-chilling snarl. “It is.”

    There was a short pause everyone in the Lair, bar Suze, reminded himself or herself they were dealing with a multi-ton, magic-resistant dragon who tended to be a mite touchy about things — and people — he regarded as his own.

    Hermione took the pause to recover somewhat from the repeated shocks this conversation had subjected her to, in fact she recovered enough to think back on something she had heard earlier in the conversation which she was still curious about.

    “Professor Snape,” the girl began, “what did you mean earlier about me being better suited to Ravenclaw? I thought the Hat sorted based on personality. Did the Hat make a mistake when it sorted me? Was I not brave enough for Gryffindor?”

    “Miss Granger, you misunderstand me. The Sorting Hat sorts first by customer preference, second by whatever the customer in question truly believes to be the most important: loyalty, courage, knowledge, or ambition. If the Hat sorted by whatever was strongest in an individual’s personality, you would most assuredly have been sorted into Ravenclaw due to your all-encompassing and quite insatiable thirst for information. That, not some nebulous ‘brave enough’, is why I believe you should have been a Ravenclaw, or possibly a member of my own House due to your immediately apparent ambition to know all that there is to be known. It is for the same reason that I believe most of the House I have the misfortune to be forced to administrate should have been sorted into Hufflepuff, as they are largely execrable sheep wont only to obediently follow along in the footsteps of whichever imbecile was foolish enough to first blunder along a certain course. And for the same reason, I believe that most of House Hufflepuff should have been sorted into my House for they are by and large cunning little rapscallions indeed.”

    “What about Harry?” Hermione asked. “What House should he have been sorted into, using your way of meaning ‘should’?”

    “That is difficult to say,” Snape admitted. “Either House Gryffindor as he is one iota short of fearless, House Hufflepuff as he is quite fanatically loyal to any whom he has reason to deem a friend and never mind his remorseless and in fact relentless ferocity in the protection of one like yourself whom he has declared a damsel, or House Ravenclaw as he has an utterly insatiable appetite for raw knowledge; one would have to be the Sorting Hat to say for certain. The only House to which I can categorically state he is unsuited is my own, as his sole ambition is to be the perfect dragon by his own peculiar definition of ‘dragon’, though I have cause to believe he is expanding his personal ambitions. All things change with time.”

    “Severus,” Minerva cut in, “As I recall, the Hat took you to task for your speculation about Sorting after the opening feast. I would have thought that being told off by a piece of headgear would have made you reluctant to continue the practice.”

    “Miss Granger asked a question, Minerva,” Snape said, “and I will not deny my student her answers on account of a millennium-old piece of fabric.”

    “Um, Mr. Snape,” Harry cut in, reminding them all that he was still in the room, “I think Donald also considers how different people will get along in the Houses too. He told me that his final decision was between Hufflepuff and Slytherin for me, ‘cause I was better suited to Hufflepuff by personality, but I’d learn more in Slytherin. He said he sent me to Hufflepuff because he didn’t think there’d be many survivors if he put me in Slytherin.”

    “And there you have it, Miss Granger,” Snape allowed. “Proof that you should always be skeptical of new information no matter who presents it to you. Regardless of the reasoning, I believe that a child’s House plays entirely too large a role in how they perceive the world during their schooling.”

    “Mr. Potter,” McGonagall began, “I do believe it is about time for me to take you aside and explain the proprieties involved in keeping your newest damsel.”

    “Really?” Harry asked doubtfully. “I thought I was doing pretty well with Suze.”

    “Yes, but Suze was somewhat older than you when she first became your damsel, so she knew enough to guide you properly,” McGonagall said. “She is also a centaur, and human girls are somewhat different, if for no other reason than that Miss Granger comes from a significantly different culture.”

    “Oh,” Harry said. “That makes sense.”

    And with that, the young dragon ambled off after the stern Scotswoman for a serious discussion on the proper care and handling of small British girls.

    “You think the House system is broken, don’t you?” Hermione checked as the pair left the main room of the cave complex.

    “Indeed, Miss Granger,” Snape confirmed. “The House system as it stands is most assuredly broken. It is my belief that we would all be better served by such a system if the students were to, at the barest minimum, be re-sorted after each two years of their time at Hogwarts — preferably at the beginning of each week; opinions can change with remarkable swiftness and fluidity during one’s youth. I realize that the ideal would be quite difficult to implement, but it is not yet a crime for a man to dream.”

    “Not yet a crime?”

    “Not yet,” he confirmed.

    At her continued look of puzzlement, Snape snorted. “Miss Granger, imagine a world without restriction or check on the activities of the powerful, and you have the Wizarding World. Some of this is an unavoidable consequence of the nature of our magical gift; there are some few individuals so much more powerful than their fellows that the only real restriction on their behavior is their own moral character. Albus Dumbledore is one such person, and Mr. Potter here is well on his way to becoming another. Unfortunately, magical power is not the only form of exploitable power we must contend with, there is also the power of information control.”

    “What do you mean, Professor?”

    “Since the Wizarding World began withdrawing from the world at large more than a thousand years ago, we have developed frighteningly powerful methods for controlling perception and memory — even thought, itself! As a society, we routinely use spells designed to subvert the memories of others, things like that abomination known as the obliviation, and even spells designed to directly alter others’ will, like compulsions. They were necessary to maintain the curtain of secrecy, but they are spectacularly prone to corruption, particularly given the mindset engendered by their use.”

    “The mindset?” Hermione sounded troubled.

    “After the separation, secrecy became paramount, and the lives, even the very thoughts of non-magical persons became simple obstacles to that goal. They went from being priceless treasures to simple trash to be removed when it became too inconvenient,” Snape sneered. “And what is the difference between the loves and thoughts of non-magical humans and those of magical ones?”

    “I… I don’t know, Professor.”

    “There isn’t one,” Snape said flatly. “No matter what justification, magical superiority or whatever the malarkey of the day is, there is no intrinsic difference between the two. Thus, the entire idea is based on a lie, and any such philosophy will eventually collapse. In this case, by its very nature it denigrates the lives and memories of magical persons as well as those of non-magical persons because there is no way to differentiate between the two. It is, at its black and withered heart, the essence of evil, and we see the effects in our society now.”

    “Those same minds which have been conditioned to think of all else as worthless in the face of their own self-interest now run our society, both in the government and private sector, though there is little enough separation between the two in the cesspit that is wizarding Britain. It is a place where price-fixing and monopolies are routine, and in fact, are often aided and abetted by government, where health and safety standards are nonexistent, where useless addictive products are pushed on unsuspecting people routinely, and where the very concept of a fine, upstanding government official is treated with the same sort of skepticism the non-magical reserve for tales of unicorns and dragons. And it is a place where that same government not only maintains a propaganda rag masquerading as a legitimate newspaper, but also maintains an entire department devoted to directly controlling the thoughts and memories of other people.”

    “Is it really that bad?” Hermione was more than a little appalled at the description.

    “Wizarding Britain is a hellhole that has managed to immerse in all the worst excesses of both socialism and capitalism,” Snape sneered again. “It lacks the necessary checks of an ingrained morality for capitalism to function properly, and as it does in all government systems, the scum rises to the top in the public sector with no institutional checks and balances to keep them from becoming tyrants. What sort of system do you think would arise from such a morass?”

    Hermione fell silent.

    “The concept of human dignity, and indeed, common decency has fallen by the wayside in our community. It is said that, within the mundane world, the rich get richer whilst the poor stay poor — ha! They think they’ve got it tough, do they? Quite frankly, if our problems were as few as theirs, we would be laughing!”

    2.10.2 On the nature of public personae

    About an hour later, Hermione’s things had been delivered, and the trio of professors had left on their brooms. Hermione was seated on one of the couches while Harry dug away at another part of the cave to create a small alcove which could be curtained off for Hermione’s usage.

    Mrs. McGonagall had been quite insistent that it would be most improper for Hermione to sleep in the same warm and comfortable pile that Harry and Suze did. Harry wasn’t precisely sure why that was the case, but he accepted the idea, particularly when it was reinforced by Hermione’s massive blush of embarrassment when he asked her for confirmation.

    It wasn’t like digging out a few thousand cubic feet of rock was difficult anyway, and they had plenty of deer hide for curtains.

    While Harry was digging, Hermione considered her conversation with Professor Snape, and during a lull in the noise, when Harry was attempting to figure out how to turn a corner in the small space, she commented, “The professors are very different when they’re not, you know, in school.”

    Harry let out a grunt of effort as he strained to reach around the corner of the wall he had left for Hermione’s privacy so he could dig out space for a closet. “Yeah… I know.” Another grunt, “I asked Mr. Flitwick about it — not Professor Flitwick, because he wasn’t being a professor then — and he says there’s a very important difference between when they are and aren’t being professors.” There was a bit of harsh scrabbling and then an explosive sigh of relief as Harry finally managed to break out the last few chunks of rock from the very hard-to-reach back wall of Hermione’s future room. “He says that when they’re at school and being professors, they have to be respectable authority figures because the kids need respectable authority figures, so when they’re not at school, that’s when you get to know the real people instead of the professor masks they use for the job.”

    “That makes sense.”

    “I mean, it’s not that they’re really different people, they just sort of relax more. Like I’ve never known Mr. Snape to laugh when he’s being Professor Snape, and I’ve never heard Mrs. McGonagall call someone ‘yeh auld eejit’ when she’s being Professor McGonagall, and I’ve never seen Professor Flitwick do shadow-puppets when he’s being Professor Flitwick, but they’re still the same personalities, just more subdued. I can see though, how people who’ve only known them when they’re being professors are going to think they’re these serious people who you’ve got to respect and everything. That’s how I figure you get kids to take you seriously about this whole education thing.”

    “It’s obvious that you respect them, Harry, so why do you think other people wouldn’t?” Hermione asked.

    “I respect them because of who they are, because of what they can do,” Harry explained. “I respect Mr. Flitwick because he’s a three-times world champion duelist. I respect Mrs. McGonagall because she’s a lovely old lady that can turn a desk into a real live pig as easy as I can eat a rasher of bacon. I respect Mr. Snape because he’s invented more potions than I’ve had hot dinners, and because he ain’t scared of nothing at all. I respect Mr. Hagrid because he knows exactly how to find the bad bit and get oil onto it when my skin gets real itchy and dry because my body’s growing too fast for it even when I don’t tell him where it’s itching. I even respect Mr. Filch because even though he can’t do any magic, he still manages to keep the whole castle clean and properly organized despite people like those Weasley twins making a real mess, and because anyone who’s nice to cats can’t be all bad.”

    “I didn’t take you for a cat person.”

    “Cats are okay; you know where you stand with a cat — if you make a cat cross, it’ll let you know right off, and the same goes for a cat that likes what you’re doing.” Harry grimaced, “Well, that, and dogs always run away as soon as I get close to ‘em, no matter how friendly I try to be.”

    With that, Hermione discovered that a pouting dragon looked very strange indeed.

    2.10.3 Stymied investigations

    The end of the fall term had arrived once again, and as the students prepared eagerly for their Christmas break, whether they were to go home or stay on campus, the staff once again met to discuss their progress over exotic drinks.

    The crowd was sizeable, with the usual suspects showing up. Quirrel was still absent, though no one could find it within themselves to blame the man, given his terrifying dressing-down by the Headmaster over his behavior on Halloween.

    The rest of the staff were pretty sure they’d be hiding in some remote corner of the castle too if they had been on the receiving end of that.

    As had become his habit, Filius was tending bar, passing about portions of an odd sort of alcohol provided directly from the distillery of Madame Sprout, this time a strong, smoky liquor which somehow managed to look like a colorful deluge of falling autumn leaves. It even rustled when swished in the glass.

    “This is a fine accomplishment, Pomona,” Albus praised after taking a sip. “I don’t believe I have ever encountered a magical liquor with so many masterfully-incorporated effects in all my days. And you have managed to keep it from tasting of burnt magic, too!”

    “Thank you,” the rather homely woman said, face reddening somewhat at the effusive praise.

    “Indeed, a remarkable synthesis,” Snape volunteered. “Managing so much so smoothly demands consummate skill. I offer you my professional respect.”

    Minerva had been staring at her glass disapprovingly after taking a sip, almost betrayed by the fact that she had actually liked a liquor other than her beloved local single-malt, before she took another sip and attempted to bring the meeting to order.

    “So, I suppose that we should discuss our progress during the term,” the Scotswoman began. “Has any progress been made on identifying the miscreant who brought those trolls into the school?”

    “None, I am afraid,” Albus said. “The culprit remains at large, and we have no clues as to his or her identity.”

    “How have your students adjusted after the troubles?” Pomona asked, before continuing proudly. “I know my Badgers have pulled together nicely.”

    “My Ravens hardly noticed, as near as I can tell,” Flitwick said. “There is some wild speculation about the motivation for the attack and the means used to repel the trolls, but nothing of substance and, I’m sad to say, nothing particularly well thought-out.” The diminutive man sipped at his drink before shaking his head, “Very shoddy work for my Ravens; I can usually expect better from them even in idle speculation.”

    “My Lions took a while, but they eventually realized one of their own had been attacked, and they’ve been looking out for Miss Granger since,” Minerva volunteered. “It’s almost a shame that she ran off with Mr. Potter; I think she would have found quite a few friends had she stuck it out for a few more months. Ah well, no use crying over spilt milk.” She took another almost reluctant sip of the leafy brew.

    All eyes turned to Snape expecting him to inform on the state of his own students.

    The potions master looked up from his drink inquiringly.

    Minerva sighed, exasperated. “How have your students taken the situation, Severus?”

    Severus smiled at once again tweaking the noses of his coworkers. “They are their usual self-absorbed, dunderheaded selves. With the sole bright exception of Miss Abercrombie, the incident had as much effect on my Snakes as a rock thrown into a lake. There was some temporary excitement, but the students quickly fell back into their normal habits.”

    “And how has Miss Abercrombie reacted?” Flitwick asked. “She has always been a favorite of mine in class.”

    “She had recovered admirably, and she has made a friend in Mr. Potter,” Snape said. “They tend to study together, along with Miss Granger, and they seem to be getting along rather famously. It is a rare occurrence for one of mine to manage to pull themselves together into something admirable.”

    The school nurse snickered at that, poorly attempting to stifle her mirth with her drink.

    “What is so funny about their friendship, Poppy?” Pomona asked, somewhat miffed at the apparent mockery. Friendship was very important to her.

    “Ah,” Madame Pomphrey managed to get her giggles under control, “Miss Abercrombie is… interested in more than simply friendship with Mr. Potter, in fact. I will not share the details, but she seems to be one of those who likes her men strong, if you catch my meaning.”

    “Oh, dear,” Pomona said. That was unexpected. “Is it something I should be monitoring as Mr. Potter’s Head of House? She is more than a little old for the boy at this point.”

    “No, she is quite in control of herself,” Poppy reassured her. “I have no doubt that she will maintain that self-control admirably, but I’d be willing to bet that she will make that interest clear before she graduates, depending, of course, on how she reacts when she eventually learns of Mr. Potter’s nature.” The nurse chuckled to herself once more, “Mr. Potter seems to be acquiring an embarrassment of potential romantic entanglements already, between Miss Abercrombie and Miss Granger; his school years might just become quite the drama.”

    Severus shook his head in disgust at the idea before sipping at his drink once more.

    “So long as there is nothing untoward going on, I suppose there is no harm in letting things play out,” Albus opined. “Speaking of Miss Granger, how is she faring now that she has relocated to Mr. Potter’s Lair?”

    “She has settled in quite well,” Minerva volunteered. “Mr. Potter dug out a small apartment for her use the same night he carried her off, and between Miss Suze’s skill with deer hide and Mr. Potter’s transfiguration abilities, it is quite well-appointed. Mr. Potter will, of course, be flying her in to school every day when he comes in himself, and the rest of the administrative details have already been discreetly handled.”

    “That was well done, Minerva,” Albus approved. “There was no need to leave anything unhandled and attract attention to the boy before he is ready for it.” The elderly wizard nodded sagely before relaxing back into his chair for another sip. “And how goes the research into the Avebury incident?”

    “We have confirmed the energy levels involved in the transformation to be consistent with Filius’ earlier estimates,” Septima Vector reported. “That was calculated by totaling the amount of magic involved in the various ley line effects observed, the energy inherent in Mr. Potter’s form as determined from detailed studies of his aura, as well as the energy of transformation of Mr. Potter’s physiology as determined from Severus’ studies. So we have confirmed that the problem is just as big as we had feared.”

    There was a murmur of discussion in the room for a moment before the Runes professor spoke up.

    “Further examination of the Avebury site and the three others within the Isles have revealed just how much we have lost over the years,” Bathsheda shook her head in disgust. “Perhaps one in five of the symbols used in the inscriptions are intelligible; even then, they are only found in the oldest of our records. Judging by the drift rates in runic languages, I would estimate the rune systems used were devised at least twenty thousand years ago — at the very least. The origins of these things are ancient beyond belief.”

    The woman took a drink before continuing, “Trying to discern their function from the writings themselves is an exercise in futility; we will have to do a detailed functional analysis as well in order to assign meanings and then extrapolate from there.” She sighed, “This would probably be the most fascinating runic puzzle I had ever heard of, if not for the necessity of sitting on top of the world’s biggest explosive while trying to solve it.”

    “Aside from the difficulties in understanding,” Filius took up the discussion, “our work with Sybil leads us to believe that there are at least eight-hundred of the things spread throughout the world in a decidedly nonuniform pattern. Fortunately, she has been able to give us very precise measurements for where the things are in relation to her at the time of her divination…”

    “I can imagine her definition of precise,” Minerva scoffed.

    “Minerva, do not be so dismissive,” the diminutive man chided his colleague. “This application is quite different from her usual tea leaf fare. She actually gave us a list of distances accurate to within a mile for the devices within the British Isles, and she assures me that the precision will stay within twenty miles even for the other side of the globe, so we have some promising beginnings. I propose that we return with some decent maps for our next meeting to see if we can put a face to the problem. Problems always seem to get easier to deal with when you can put eyes on them.”

    “Speaking of eyes,” Poppy spoke up, “have you considered bringing Mr. Potter along for your examinations of the devices. He can see magical fields naturally, mind, and that might give you some new insights.”

    “A capital idea!” Flitwick enthused. “Perhaps we invite him to our next project meeting?”

    “I might suggest that we also ask Mr. Potter to review Mr. Dursley’s memories in light of his superior senses,” Severus added. “He might be able to glean more than we have.”

    “Wouldn’t that be dependent on Mr. Dursley’s senses, rather than Mr. Potter’s?” Minerva asked.

    “No, Minerva,” the Headmaster interjected, “the function of a pensieve for viewing memories is actually another quite fascinating application of divination. You see, when you view a ‘memory’ in a pensieve, you are actually scrying into the past using that memory as a targeting catalyst. That is why ‘reviewing’ a memory can reveal things which you didn’t observe in the original memory, and why the memory is viewed from a perspective outside the head of the contributor. It is one of the most reliable divination methods. Only determining the future is so terribly ‘wooly’ as you are so fond of putting it. Divining the past and present is actually quite dependable given the appropriate conditions.”

    The stern Scotswoman looked rather like she had bitten into a lemon.

    “It seems that we will be meeting with Mr. Potter after the Christmas break, then,” Pomona remarked. “It sounds like a practical idea, but I must ask, what will we do about the alcohol? The boy is underaged, after all.”

    “Oh dear,” Filius said, clutching his glass protectively, “I hadn’t considered that.”

    As his colleagues expressed similar concerns, Severus spoke up, “Mr. Potter tends to prefer Goblin tea, so we could simply provide that if you are squeamish about pouring alcohol into the blast furnace that is the boy’s digestive tract. Though I have no idea why you would be concerned — the stuff will cook off before it gets halfway down his gullet.”

    “Ah, good,” Albus said, “I too had been worried about foregoing our alcohol. Good show, Severus.”

    “Lush.”

    2.10.4 Not-so-suspicious sedans

    On a deserted stretch of road which had hosted an odd procession of white vans the better part of a year previous, a small family sedan trundled through the winter landscape of brown shrubbery interspersed with pockets of windswept white snow before it pulled over at a familiar cut in the hillside.

    A well-to-do British man left the car to look doubtfully at the passageway, comparing it to a photograph he pulled from his pocket before nodding in satisfaction and returning to the vehicle. The car then pulled off the road completely and slowly passed through the hill and out onto the moors.

    Inside the car, the man’s wife asked, “Tony, are you sure we’re going the right way?”

    “I think so, Sharon. That cut in the hillside looked just like the photo Hermione sent us, and we’ve been able to keep driving this far. If there weren’t a path here, we would have gotten hung up a long time ago.”

    “But didn’t she say there was a forest here?” Sharon insisted. “I don’t see any trees.”

    “I know, Sharon, but we only have the directions we were given to go on. Hermione said someone would meet us when we got close enough. We’re just going to have to trust in those directions.”

    “Well, if you’re sure…” Sharon trailed off, looking out on the surrounding moor doubtfully.

    It was another three minutes before they were approached by the same centaur maiden they had encountered in August.

    2.10.5 Puddle jumper

    Tony Granger stumbled over to brace himself against the blessedly solid stone wall.

    After their meeting with Suze, she had directed him to a secluded clearing just inside a forest that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere as he drove, and he had parked the family car under a sturdy tree just in time to yelp in startlement when his daughter’s dragon friend suddenly landed behind the car with a heavy thud.

    A quick greeting had then led directly into the young dragon gently scooping him, his wife, and all their luggage up in one massive hand while his centaur securely clipped herself to a harness around the dragon’s massive scaly torso. Then, Tony most assuredly did not scream as he was carried through the most disturbing flight of his life up to that point, after which he and Sharon were safely deposited on a generally level stone floor.

    Harry had been very careful, but Tony had honestly never been happier to be on solid ground once again.

    “Are you okay, Daddy?” his daughter said.

    Looking up, he saw his Hermione looking at him in concern from where she was wrapped up in his wife’s arms. Sharon, for her part, was looking at him in amusement. She always did like rollercoasters, crazy woman. He returned her amused look with one of mild disgust, which only made her giggle.

    “I’m alright, honey,” he mustered the effort to say. “Flying simply doesn’t agree with me, it seems.”

    “I know,” his absolutely saintly daughter commiserated. “It took me all week to get used to Harry carrying me down from the Lair.”

    “So, you have to make that flight every day?” his wife asked.

    Hermione nodded.

    Tony shuddered at the idea of going through that every day. “Why on earth doesn’t he have a stairway?”

    “Because that would defeat the purpose of having a knight-proof lair,” Harry cut in matter-of-factly. “This way you have to be able to fly to get in, and knights can’t fly.”

    “I see,” Sharon said. Tony could tell his wife was barely suppressing yet another fit of giggles. “Do you have that much of a problem with knights, young man? I didn’t think they were particularly common any longer.”

    “Well, not yet,” the young dragon said seriously. “But all the stories I could find always talked about knights coming along and sticking unsuspecting dragons with their lances and making them dead, and I don’t really see why I should risk it when I can just not build a stairway and not have to worry.”

    “Sensible, I suppose,” Sharon allowed.

    And with that, the group moved on into the Lair proper to get warmed up by the Rayburn.

    2.10.6 Still sinking…

    After a few minutes of pleasant small talk around the stove, Hermione and her mother had retreated to her bedroom in the Lair to discuss whatever it is that mothers and daughters talked about with each other in such a situation. Tony had no idea what they would be talking about, but he trusted his wife to let him know if he needed to handle something.

    In the meantime, Tony Granger decided to have a bit of a talk with the young — man? Dragon? Whatever — who had so quickly become so important to his daughter. There might not be much he could do about the situation, a truth that had been hammered home by his discussion with that Snape fellow back at Halloween, but he could certainly find out more about things, and maybe he could offer some advice.

    “So, Harry,” he began casually, “what prompted you to carry my daughter off like a sack of potatoes from the grocer?”

    Perhaps he wasn’t quite as sanguine about the situation as he had thought.

    “Well, she was bein’ bullied by some of the jerks in her House, right?” Harry explained gamely. “So I offered to carry her off so she didn’t have to stay there, and so I could step in to defend her from stuff legally. I mean, I would have protected her anyway, but that might have brought some trouble if we weren’t careful about it, and it’s just simpler to have it so she’s my dependent from the perspective of the school.”

    “Wait, you carrying her off makes her your dependent?” the dentist interrupted. “How does that work, exactly?”

    “Well, by the school rules, when I carried her off, she became my pet, so she was my responsibility, and since I don’t live on campus, that means she can’t either, so then…”

    “Wait!” the outraged father hissed. “My daughter is considered your pet?”

    “Well, yeah,” Harry confirmed. “She is until I say she ain’t anymore, and I’d say that whenever she asks, so it’s not really a problem for her.”

    “Couldn’t you have picked something less… degrading than ‘pet’?” Tony most assuredly didn’t whine.

    Harry looked thoughtful for a moment before replying, “Well, I could have gone for a servant contract or given her a House Potter torc, but the second one would have been essentially permanent — I mean, there are ways out of that, but it’s basically a vassalage thingy, and even if we did break it off all friendly-like, people would assume it was because Hermione did something really, really bad; so that would go badly for her. I didn’t want to rush.”

    “What about the servant contract you mentioned?”

    “Well, she doesn’t really have any skills yet that I could be hiring her for, so… well,” Harry winced, “um, a servant contract without an accompanying silver torc would basically be seen as…” he trailed off.

    “What would she be seen as?”

    “Well, she’s just about old enough to get pregnant, so…”

    “I think I understand,” Tony interrupted, feeling rather sick to his stomach, before continuing out of morbid curiosity. “What would ‘an accompanying silver torc’ mean?”

    “Well, that would mean just about the same thing, but with the further intention to build something more permanent, either a concubinage or marriage arrangement.” Harry said with the air of someone repeating an earlier explanation that they weren’t entirely solid on the meaning of themselves. “The pet thing might sound a bit bad, but the social connotations are that she’s a playmate, not anything more… sexual? Is that the right word? I mean, I like Hermione, and even though I don’t really get what it’s all about, I gather that might be something to look into in a few years, but I thought it’d be a bad idea to rush that over some bullying.”

    “I appreciate that, Harry,” the girl in question’s father said reluctantly. “Why do you know so much about this anyway? Doesn’t seem like something you’d have looked into on your own.”

    “Well, before I made Hermione the offer, I talked it over with Madame Pomphrey, and she made sure to explain things to me, so I could look out for Hermione okay,” Harry said proudly. “I still don’t really get what the deal is about sex and stuff, but Madame Pomphrey said she’d explain to me when I got old enough to understand.” The young dragon frowned, “She said it would only make sense after my body grew up a bit more and that I had to finish learning occlumency before then. Do you know what she meant by that?”

    The father of a young daughter decided to answer that with another question. “Do you know what sex actually is, Harry?”

    “Not really, just that it has something to do with making babies and stuff.”

    That was a relief to Tony. For a minute there, he thought he was going to have to worry about his daughter getting into certain things long before she — or he — was ready for that stage. “A lot of the stuff that has to be explained is instinctive reactions that you won’t even start feeling for a few more years. If you’re not feeling it yet, then trying to explain will just confuse you, or worse, it might make you think something is wrong with you for not feeling them. It’s best just to wait for the right time.”

    “Okay,” Harry said affably before changing the subject in one of those rapid changes so typical of young children. “Oh, do you wanna see my new gun? At my last marksmanship lesson, Sergeant-Major Hooktalon said I was good enough with my Lee-Enfield to start handling an L1A1!” In the middle of the excited babbling, the dragon shifted form into that of a small boy and scampered over to a neatly-organized gun rack beside the cave entrance, picking up the gun in question and professionally, if a little slowly, verifying that it was unloaded before bringing it over to show it off to his friend’s father.

    “Um, Harry,” Tony began, looking nervously at the scary-looking black rifle, “isn’t that the same sort of rifle the Army uses?”

    “Yep! Isn’t it neat?”

    “Well, I suppose, but I’m pretty sure it’s illegal for private ownership in this country. I looked into the gun laws after we met in Diagon Alley, and they were pretty adamant about it. Even the other one,” Tony indicated the Lee-Enfield, “requires a gun license, and you’re not old enough to get one of those.”

    Harry grinned as he patted the L1A1 he was holding, “Well, yeah, it’s illegal for humans to own much guns. Mr. Slackhammer says he hopes they get over that silliness before something bad happens to them because of it, and I agree with him ‘cause it seems like a really dangerous thing to do, but I’m a dragon, so I don’t gotta worry about that stuff.”

    “…what?”

    “Well, they ain’t written no laws about whether porpoises are allowed to own guns, have they? And they ain’t written no laws about whether dragons are allowed to own guns, have they? And they ain’t written no laws about whether centaurs are allowed to own guns, have they? They’ve only written laws about whether humans and goblins are allowed to own guns, and since I’m not a human, and I’m not a goblin, then laws about humans and goblins ain’t laws about me,” Harry elaborated.

    “…I don’t think that’s how it works; they’re laws about people,” Tony objected. “A porpoise isn’t a person, it’s an animal. You’re a person, you talk too much not to be, and centaurs and goblins are definitely people.”

    “No, porpoises are definitely people, they swear too much not to be,” Harry objected. “And Madame Axetalon says those laws don’t apply to not-human people. She oughtta know, she’s a not-human sort of person, and anyway, goblins got a whole lotta laws for themselves. Didja know it’s illegal for a goblin older than ten not to own any guns? And since I’m a declared asset of goblinkind it’s illegal for me not to have any guns too.”

    “That’s different from British law, Harry,” the dentist said.

    “No it ain’t; the goblins have been conglomerating… contradicting… centrebr… um, sending, yeah, sending soldiers to fight wars and stuff with the non-magical government since the first Boer War, and they’re officially a regiment in the British Army, and it’s all written down in laws and stuff even if most people don’t know about those laws because people who don’t glow ain’t supposed to know about goblins. Mr. Slackhammer says it’s classificated top secret because the wizards would really freak out if they knew.”

    “Huh…” Tony wasn’t sure what to make of that, so he paused for a moment before an earlier statement from Harry caught up with him. “Wait, porpoises swear?”

    “Lots and lots and lots,” Harry nodded emphatically. “I ain’t never heard a porpoise say something where some part of it weren’t ‘fuck’.”

    “How can you hear porpoises say things?”

    “Well, I found out how porpoises are all sweary same time I found out them whistly noises they make is talking. It was that time I went for a swim in the bay and bumped into one and he got so in my face and squealed at me so hard, I figured I’d better check if his squealing actually meant anything but thweet, and when I told Mrs. McGonagall what he’d called me, she said she’d have to scrub out my mouth with soap if I swore like that any.”

    “Check out if it meant anything?” How would one accomplish that?

    “Well, yeah, if I concentrate real hard on talking, things just start making sense after a while.”

    “I wish I’d had that talent for my language requirement in college,” the dentist remarked. “What did the porpoise say?”

    “He said, ‘You fucking great lump of fucking fuck! Can’t you see I’m swimming here, fuckface? I’ll take a fucking dump down your fucking blowhole if you don’t get your fat fucking tail the fuck out my way, you fuck! What are you fucking goggling at me for? For fuck’s sake, you’re just like all those fucking beach-swimming fucks, too fucking retarded to understand a fucking word a dude fucking says, aren’t you? Fuck off outta my fucking way, fuckface?’ So I said, ‘Fuck you, fuckface’, back the same way as he said stuff and got outta his way. He got all sorta surprised and cross about that and started really yelling at me. Well, after a while, I sorta learned how to talk porpoise by mistake. I think it was while I was waving him around by the tail.”

    “Huh,” that was a rather impressive tirade, come to think about it.

    “Just so you know, porpoises really don’t like being called fuckface. It makes ‘em real cross,” Harry solemnly warned his friend’s father. “I had to grab Two-Fucking-Bubble-Spiral by the tail and fly around waving him about before he stopped trying to get me whenever he saw me. He went swimming off Skye-way after that, and I ain’t never seen him since. My porpoise friends call him a right sore loser.”

    “Well, that’s good advice I had never expected to hear,” Tony said contemplatively. “Even his name had ‘fuck’ in it, huh?”

    “What did you just say in front of an impressionable child, Anthony Granger?” came an unexpected voice.

    Unfortunately for Tony, his wife and daughter chose that moment to return from their private conversation.

    It took almost twenty minutes to explain the circumstances to his wife’s satisfaction.

    2.10.7 On stories and families

    Harry lounged at the lip of the Lair with Suze by his side, watching the snow fall two days after Christmas in companionable silence. The snow was coming down if fluffy fat flakes, falling almost straight in the oddly still air, the windless day a rarity for the highlands, to say the least.

    The Grangers had left shortly after celebrating Christmas proper, and his newest damsel had gone with her parents for a time to visit extended family. She would be coming back via portkey when she was done. It was apparently a family tradition, and Harry could sort of understand the reasoning.

    He wondered if he should go visit the Dursleys some time? Maybe he should ask Uncle Vernon next time he wrote. It would have to be a day trip, since he still couldn’t keep a shapeshift while he slept, but it might be worthwhile.

    The Grangers had introduced him to several new Christmas traditions which he hadn’t thought about before. One was the Christmas tree, lit up with electric lights he and Mr. Granger had purchased from a general store up in Mallaig. It was really pretty, especially after it got dark at night. Mrs. Granger had also given him a little model set she called a ‘nativity set’ which was apparently supposed to tell the story of Christmas.

    Harry had always appreciated stories, and it was nice to get some background on the holiday. When he’d asked his professor friends, they had always just blown it off as something that was mostly meaningless tradition, something that served as an excuse for a party in the winter cold. He’d have to ask them again now that he knew more of what to ask.

    Mrs. Granger had made it sound like it was a really big deal, after all.

    Speaking of important things, Harry had forgotten to ask Mr. Snape about bringing Abigail in on the secrets when the potions master was over for his Christmas celebration. He’d have to go by the castle and ask before classes started back up.

    In the meantime, Harry’s thoughts trailed off for a while to simply enjoy the company and the calm snowfall as it painted the glen in a pristine coat of white. It was rare enough and beautiful enough to be worth watching carefully.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2018
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  21. Threadmarks: Section 2.11 - In which personnel issues are addressed
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.11.0 In which personnel issues are addressed

    The Christmas celebration had passed, and Severus Snape was looking forward to a few uninterrupted days of research before his demesne was once more invaded by clumsy, dunderheaded children masquerading as prospective potioneers. It was therefore with some trepidation that he answered a polite knock on his laboratory door to find Hogwarts’ resident dragon, thankfully in human form, seeking his company for something.

    At least it wasn’t one of the dunderheads, he supposed.

    “What brings you to my door so soon after we saw each other at your Christmas celebration, Mr. Potter?” the potions master asked in a tone which implied there would be hell to pay if his visitor answered poorly. As usual, the wretched lizard reacted to the implicit threat with nary a trace of concern.

    “I had meant to ask you about something, but I forgot at the party,” the young dragon said brightly.

    “Very well,” Snape supposed that was acceptable. It was, however, no reason to interrupt his work. “Come in then — I suppose I can permit you to bother me while I work.”

    As the young Potter settled himself into leaning against the wood-paneled wall of the laboratory — with no sign of distaste, much to Snape’s disappointment; it seemed the paneling idea didn’t work — Snape prompted him to speak up.

    “Well, speak up, boy. What did you wish to ask of me that couldn’t wait for the start of term?”

    “Well,” the boy began, “I was talking with Abigail a few weeks ago, and the topic of what she was going to do after she graduated came up, and she mentioned she was having trouble deciding, particularly ‘cause of all the crap she’d have to deal with ‘cause she’s a girl.”

    “Yes, that is an unfortunately likely outcome,” Snape said with evident distaste, even as he steadily stirred one of the five cauldrons bubbling away on his workbench.

    “Yeah,” Harry said sadly. “Anyway, another thing came up in conversation about logistics and how Lucius Malfoy was in charge of the biggest wizarding trucking company, and I thought of how to tie that in to a business idea I was already thinkin’ about and was going to bring up next time we talked to Mr. Slackhammer, and I figured I might be able to offer Abigail a job working on my idea so she wouldn’t have to deal with all the nasty stuff.”

    “So long as you can make that work, young man, I do not see why you need my advice,” Snape said approvingly. “You have a good head for things; you hardly need my permission.”

    “Well, thing is, the expansion I was thinking about would be both to grow my new business and to cut Mr. Malfoy’s profits, and if Abigail were going to be in on that, she’d kinda have to know why we’re doing it, so she could make good decisions,” Harry said.

    Snape looked at the young dragon searchingly for a moment before confirming, “So you wish for me to verify that she can be trusted with knowledge of our goals?”

    “And probably with knowing I’m a dragon, too,” Harry added.

    “Why do you trust me with that judgement more than you trust yourself?” Snape asked.

    “Well, you always talked about how you were effectively a double agent for years — triple agent really, if you think about it — so I figured you’d be better at making that call than me, since I haven’t done any of that sort of thing.”

    “Well reasoned, Mr. Potter — well reasoned indeed,” Snape said. “It will take some time to make such a determination, as it must be done subtly, but I will begin when Miss Abercrombie returns to the castle.”

    “Thanks, Mr. Snape!” the dragon chirped before looking at the cauldron’s more closely. “Hey, what are you working on anyway?”

    2.11.1 Unwarranted attack, unasked for defense

    Hermione had arrived just the previous day back at the Lair after a little more than a week of visiting extended family gatherings with her parents. It had been fun, but exhausting, particularly since she just had to deflect whenever anyone started to ask about her schooling.

    The Statute of Secrecy had to be the most irritating thing she had yet encountered in the Wizarding World.

    Of course, she thought as she walked through the hallways towards her first class of the winter term, Ronald Weasley was rapidly approaching second place. The boy and his brothers had taken to following her around ever since that day when Percy Weasley had confronted her in the library, and Ron was at it again, following just far enough away from her not to seem threatening, but still always there.

    It had been creepy enough for her to ask Harry to carry her off before Christmas, and yet they still kept it up. Well, she could only hope that they would get bored eventually.

    And then, to complete the trifecta of irritation, the current second place holder of most irritating aspects of the Wizarding World appeared before her, blond hair slicked down to his skull like a particularly silly-looking helmet and face screwed-up in an exaggerated mask of contempt.

    “Well, look who managed to sneak back in after the break,” the blond, named Draco Malfoy, drawled to his ever-present flunkies, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle.

    The trio of first-year Slytherin boys were perhaps the most obnoxious in the school, though, given that Crabbe and Goyle almost never spoke, most of the obnoxiousness was concentrated within the person of their blond leader. The blond had made it a point to belittle and irritate most of the first-year class, particularly anyone born to non-magical families, ‘mudbloods’ as he called them, and he made it a special point to seek her out. She suspected it was because she did better than him in class.

    “I suppose it is too stupid to understand when it isn’t wanted,” the twit continued in what was obviously intended to be an intimidating voice.

    Well, Hermione would have none of that! Her roommate spent most of his time as a dragon, after all. If that didn’t intimidate her, then nothing would, and she had learned during the last term that if she didn’t do anything to fix the situation, nothing would get done at all.

    “I know perfectly well where I am wanted, thank you very much,” Hermione countered primly. “And presently, I am wanted in class, something you would obviously have known, were your own understanding not so sadly limited. Draco, try to find your way to class on time, you can’t afford to start missing them. I know that with only a single term to learn your way around the castle, you will likely find that difficult, but do try to keep up,” she finished as insultingly as she could manage.

    Performing her best approximation of a haughty sniff, Hermione set off briskly for her original destination, drawing even with a quietly chortling Ron Weasley just in time to hear a hissed spell coming from the sputtering blond menace she had just left behind.

    She didn’t recognize the incantation — something she resolved to remedy at her earliest opportunity — so she didn’t know what to expect when it hit, but whatever it would have been, Hermione certainly didn’t expect the hard shove from Ron Weasley’s shoulder slamming into her midriff, abruptly forcing her out of the way of the curse Malfoy had just cast. Whatever it was, it passed by her ear, and she could see it continue on to slam into a wall leaving a gouge about the size of a grown man’s fist in the enchanted stone.

    Hermione gaped at the damage to the stone from her vantage point sprawled out on the stone floor. If that had hit her head… she swallowed reflexively.

    The bushy-haired first year turned to her assailant just in time to see the blond would-be murderer double up over Ron Weasley’s fist buried in his solar plexus. As the twit collapsed, Ron stood between Hermione and her assailants, wand out and casting a rapid series of assorted jinxes and hexes. There was a trio of pained yelps as Malfoy’s two cronies fell down to join their leader in a jelly-legged, bat-bogeyed, embarrassing tangle of limbs, only for Ron to finish up with a thrown potion which rendered all three temporarily blinded, glowing, and unconscious — with bunny ears.

    Though Hermione didn’t know it, that had been Fred and George’s addition to the plan.

    “Bloody hell!” Ron said. “Are you okay?”

    “Ow, ow, ow, I’m okay, I’m okay what happened?” Hermione said as she recovered her wits and registered that her contact with the floor had been a little rough.

    “That great twat shot a bloody blasting hex at the back of your head!”

    “…I, oh. Um, well, thanks, I guess?” Hermione said as the ginger boy helped her to her feet.

    “Well, um, no prob, um… Look, I know I’ve said some dumb stuff, and I’m sorry about that. I mean, I didn’t mean for you to nearly get skelped by a troll, I just… I know I’m pretty bad at charms, and, well, I guess I kinda snapped when you reminded me, right? But anyway, it don’t matter for nothing because you’re a Gryffindor, and Gryffs are supposed to stick up for Gryffs, and I know I’ll probably be in a heap of trouble, but I don’t care because nobody says any sort of bollocks about Gryffindors, and if they think they can just go around hexing one of us, then they’ve got another think coming, and never mind if they try to kill one of us like that slimy git just did!” the youngest male Weasley emphatically stated, stuffing his wand back in his back pocket.

    Hermione stared at him for a moment, her opinion of him edging up from rock bottom. Perhaps Abigail had been onto something about the Weasleys trying to make amends?

    “I would have been okay,” she said, more to reassure herself than anything.

    “Wasn’t the point,” Ron told her, shrugging. “I mean, I owe you one, right, because I opened my gob like a great twerp, and that nearly got you killed, and my mum’d have my guts for garters if she thought I was being a bully! I was being a great twat, and that’s the last thing I wanna be, just gimme one chance and I’ll try to sort my head out — and anyway, next time I open my trap and say something dumb, just tell me to shut my gob before I get my foot caught in it, okay?”

    Hermione considered that and then nodded. She could do that.

    “Apology accepted,” she said and headed for her class, rubbing at her hip where she’d bruised it when she fell.

    2.11.2 In for the penny, in for the pound

    Behind her, Ron spent a moment considering the unconscious Malfoy, then shrugged and planted his hobnailed boot firmly between a set of goalposts with all his might. He figured that if he was going to be in a heap of trouble anyway, he might as well give Malfoy something to really think about.

    “Don’t mess with my Gryffs, you shite!”

    Blow delivered, the boy withdrew to a short distance to await what was coming to him. He didn’t have to wait long before a thin-lipped Minerva McGonagall descended on the scene.

    2.11.3 A partial observer

    Just down the mostly-deserted hallway, one Marcus Flint watched as Ronald Weasley delivered a mighty blow squarely to the future of the Malfoy family.

    The animated paintings had fled in the interest of retrieving a professor as soon as the first hex had been cast, and Marcus had noticed the commotion in the paintings from the next hallway over. Sensing some good blackmail material, he had gone to the source of the disturbance, and it had paid off. The sixth-year Slytherin was the only witness to Mr. Weasley’s surprisingly vicious action.

    This… this had possibilities. Possibilities indeed.

    2.11.4 Bearing false witness

    “It saddens me to announce that we have a disciplinary action to deal with on this first day returning from our winter celebrations,” Albus Dumbledore announced to a suddenly quiet Great Hall during the busy lunch hour. “It seems that there was an altercation this morning between one Ronald Weasley and Draco Malfoy which has left Mr. Malfoy in Madame Pomphrey’s care for the foreseeable future.”

    A susurration of low talk swept through the student body only for them to fall silent once more as the Headmaster continued. “Mr. Weasley has given us his version of events and has graciously submitted himself to our judgement. As Mr. Malfoy is still unable to give his side of the sequence of events, we must ask if there were any other witnesses to the events in question so that we can properly assess punishments.”

    At this, Marcus Flint shot to his feet from the Slytherin table, “Headmaster, I saw the fight, myself. Was too far down the hallway to interfere in time, but given Malfoy’s behavior, I honestly wasn’t too inclined to in any case.”

    “I see, Mr. Flint,” the old man said. “And what is your account of the events?”

    “I showed up just after Malfoy cast a spell, I’d guess a blasting hex, judging from the chunk it took out of the wall,” Marcus explained. “Weasley was in the process of punching out Malfoy, then he took Crabbe and Goyle down with a set of hexes and some kind of topical potion. Then he helped his housemate up — frizzy-haired girl whose name I don’t remember — I think she was the target of Malfoy’s blasting hex. She left, and then Professor McGonagall showed up, and I figured I didn’t need to interfere.”

    “That matches with Mr. Weasley’s testimony, Mr. Flint,” the old man stroked his beard contemplatively. “But there was one more injury to Mr. Malfoy that was not accounted for by either of your testimonies…”

    Marcus screwed up his face thoughtfully for a moment before his eyes opened in apparent realization. “Oh, you mean the groin?” Marcus gave an entirely genuine flinch, that had been unpleasant to watch, even if the target was the little blond turd. “I saw Weasley get him with his knee, but I didn’t know it had been that bad. It was while Weasley was taking him down after Malfoy cast that blasting curse at the girl. Malfoy didn’t go down until the punch, so I thought the knee hadn’t connected properly.”

    “Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Flint,” the Headmaster sighed. “It seems that we have enough information to decide on how to deal with the situation now, thank you. You may all return to your meals, students.”

    And with that, the Headmaster swept out of the room. Only after the adults had left, did Marcus’s expression twist into a satisfied smile, nine parts truth to one part lie. That had worked out perfectly! He’d earned a favor from the Weasley brothers that he might be able to cash in some time in the future, but that was the lesser prize.

    The real prize was taking the Malfoys down a notch, and his manipulations had prevented them from taking proper revenge. Lucius had thrown Marcus’ uncle to the wolves with his ridiculous ‘imperius’ defense, and this would go at least a small part of the way towards redressing that insult. The rest would come later; his father had told him once of a slow sterility curse in the family library, and now that there was a plausible cause to cover their tracks… oh, yes.

    The Malfoy family would die with Draco, and the Flints would make sure of it.

    2.11.5 Facing the music

    “Six months’ detention…” Ron muttered, slumping inwards on himself. “Oh, boy.”

    Fred gave his youngest brother a companionable clout on the shoulder as they walked back towards the Gryffindor common room. “Buck up, Ron. You really learned Malfoy one.”

    As they passed through the portrait-covered entrance to the common room, Ron glumly confirmed, “Um, you’re remembering I busted one of his bollocks open and lost us every point we had, right?”

    “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke, except maybe that cunt, Stoker,” Katie Bell told him from her seat on one of the common room couches, “and I reckon seeing that arrogant little bastard cut down to size like that was worth five hundred points any day.” Katie was a chaser on the House quidditch team, and so her opinion held some real clout with Ron, who was an insatiable fan of the game.

    It was why his brothers had asked her to speak up beforehand, drawing on their friendship as teammates. None of the brothers wanted their efforts to get Ron to shape up to go to waste over something as unimportant as the Malfoy heir’s lost reproductive capabilities. It wasn’t like any Weasley would have shed a tear over the extinction of that blight of a family.

    “Amen to that, Katie,” Lee Jordan, another close friend of the Weasley twins, echoed. “Oi, Ron, next time one of those twats messes one of us around, let me and the twins know, and we’ll cover for you, right?”

    “Yeah, count on it, bro,” Fred agreed, flashing a thumbs-up to his friends from behind Ron’s back.

    2.11.6 Mitigating consequences

    “You realize that Lucius and Narcissa will be out for blood, do you not, Albus?” Severus Snape stated more than asked from his seat in the Headmaster’s office.

    Before Albus could respond, Minerva objected, outraged, “The laddie was defending his housemate from a murder attempt by their son, Severus! How on earth could they object, when the injury wasn’t even intentional?”

    Snape replied, “Provoked or not, unintentional or not, the Malfoys are vindictive, self-absorbed monsters. It might have been better for the Weasley boy had he been expelled; at least then, the Malfoys might not have pursued him for further revenge.”

    “Severus, expulsion was unwarranted, and you know perfectly well that it would not have helped in any case,” Albus chided.

    “True,” the potions master reluctantly allowed.

    “In any event, we must do what we can to ensure the safety of our students,” Albus continued briskly. “Minerva, please alert Mr. Weasley’s father to the situation so that we can allow him to take what steps he deems necessary. Perhaps a disciplinary visit to properly scold the boy would give him appropriate opportunities…”

    “I will see to it immediately,” Minerva said briskly before sweeping out of the room.

    After the woman had left the room, Severus spoke up once more. “Albus, are we certain that our students were telling the truth? It is exceedingly difficult to cause that sort of injury with an incidental blow from a knee. The situation might benefit from the use of your time turner.”

    “No, I am not certain,” Albus allowed, “but given the corroborating testimony from Mr. Flint, a young man who should have every reason to back Mr. Malfoy over Mr. Weasley, we have no cause to make use of my time turner and invisibility cloak. Should we set this level of uncertainty as a precedent, we would end up four years older by the end of the term.”

    The two men settled into a contemplative silence for a time before Albus broke it.

    “Severus,” the bearded man continued, “when you next speak with Lucius, be sure to inform him that Arthur has already been alerted to the situation. It may help to delay his response long enough for the Weasleys to prepare properly.”

    Severus nodded as he rose to leave the office. It was a fair point; Lucius had always been overly cautious when it came to risking his own skin.

    2.11.7 Parent-teacher conference

    Bright and early the next morning, Arthur Weasley, proud father of six sons and one daughter, approached the gates of Hogwarts for the first time in almost a year — the last time having been a disciplinary meeting to discuss his twin sons who had pulled a surprisingly inventive prank that their Head of House chose to simultaneously show off and punish by calling in the boys’ father. This time, Minerva had implied that there was more to discuss than simply discipline for his youngest boy.

    The lady in question was waiting to meet him at the gate.

    “Arthur, it is good to see you again,” the transfiguration mistress greeted. “Come, walk with me to my office, I have Ronald waiting for us there.”

    As the pair set off, Arthur asked, “What exactly has Ron done to prompt this visit? He was never one for pranks before.”

    “He stepped in to defend one of his housemates from a blasting hex cast by Draco Malfoy, and he was perhaps a wee bit overenthusiastic…”

    Huh. Well, Arthur wasn’t sure just how to handle that as a father. On the one hand, it was his duty to raise his son properly, and violence was generally not something one should resort to immediately or casually. On the other hand, he also knew the Malfoy family quite well, and there had been bad blood between their Houses for over seven hundred years — bad blood to the tune of a private, and therefore quite illegal, blood feud. Plus, the circumstances had to be considered…

    “Where was the blasting hex aimed?”

    “At the girl’s head,” Minerva relayed in a deeply disapproving tone. “It was fairly anemic as far as blasting hexes go, but had it connected it would have had a chance of killing the poor girl. We are waiting for Mr. Malfoy to regain consciousness before we determine whether he should be disciplined for unacceptably reckless behavior or for attempted murder of a classmate.”

    Ah, well that gave some context. Arthur couldn’t say that he disapproved of his son’s actions in that case, and going by her tone, he suspected Minerva felt much the same. Not that she would ever say as much. Still, calling him in for this seemed a tad excessive.

    “In that case, why have you called me in?” Arthur asked. “The case seems fairly straightforward, no need to involve me in the boy’s punishment.”

    Minerva frowned uncomfortably, “That would be true, except for the nature of the injury sustained by Mr. Malfoy. Your son managed to rupture the boy’s testicle, damaging it to the point of requiring amputation. Madame Pomphrey was able to repair the other one —mostly. The boy will be able to father children, but Poppy is not certain whether his fertility will ever reach normal levels as he matures.”

    Arthur winced, “Ah, that would explain things.”

    “We have no baseline for his condition before the incident, and low fertility has long been common among the pureblood population which calls into question whether the damage is the cause of the condition, but Severus raised concerns about the Malfoy family’s reaction,” Minerva said delicately. “They are not ones to give the benefit of the doubt about such things.”

    Indeed they were not, Arthur’s face screwed up in thought as they ascended the stairs. So the Malfoys were likely to be out for blood, and this was as much to give him time to prepare as it was to discipline Ronald. He’d have to speak with his eldest, Bill, about arranging wards for the Burrow. The family home would be a prime target.

    The children would be safe at Hogwarts, and Bill could take care of himself — not to mention his fellow cursebreakers would not take kindly to an attempted hit on their compatriot.

    That was a hornet’s nest even Lucius couldn’t pay someone enough to poke.

    Charlie, though… his second son was working at a dragon preserve in Romania, and despite the reputation, those were fairly safe for a prepared wizard. He’d have to let him know to be on the lookout. Arthur shook his head, that was going to be a mess. Even so, he couldn’t help but be proud of his youngest acting in the defense of another.

    And if that defense resulted in the Malfoy line finally ending childless and unlamented in the next generation… well, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

    2.11.8 Coming clean

    Ron waited in his Head of House’s office for his father to arrive staring down at his own hands where they were folded in his lap. He was having a dreadful time. Six months’ worth of detention and five hundred points was one thing. That was just some time out of his day and a bit of disapproval from his friends.

    Disappointing his parents was an altogether different animal.

    He looked up as the door opened, and his father entered the room with a stern expression on his face. Then he looked back down at his hands as Professor McGonagall explained the situation to his father before his father asked her if he could speak to Ron alone.

    As his Head of House left her office, his father asked, “Ronald, is there anything else you want to tell me?”

    “Um,” Ron struggled for a moment. He knew it was a bad thing, but this was his dad! Lying to his father was a few steps too far, even by omission. “Well, I actually knocked Malfoy down with the punch to his gut, the groin shot was after he was already out of it.” Ron winced. “I just, well, I figured if I was in for it already, I might as well make it worthwhile, so…” he trailed off.

    2.11.9 Parenting is hard

    Arthur looked down at his son, that was… not unexpected. He had thought there was something missing due to his boy’s reaction during Minerva’s explanation, and the truth of the groin shot was something that made sense.

    The Malfoy men had always been effete little brats, and Arthur had taught his boys how to throw a punch. A son of Lucius Malfoy taking a knee to the groin and still coming on was something Arthur had had trouble believing.

    That said, kicking the boy while he was down was more than a little out of line.

    “Son,” Arthur began gently, “I know I’ve told you before, kicking a man while he’s down is not a gentlemanly thing to do.” Ron hung his head even further. “Also, while I can understand the sentiment, you should reserve that sort of attitude for more serious issues than a schoolyard fight.”

    “But he tried to kill Hermione!” Ron objected. “That’s a serious issue!”

    “It is, and I’m proud of you for stepping in on the girl’s behalf,” Arthur clapped his son on the shoulder. “But that issue had already been resolved when the boy went down.”

    “Oh,” Ron acknowledged glumly.

    “Do you understand why what you did was a bad thing?” he asked to ensure his son understood the situation.

    “Yes, Dad,” Ron answered, “I shouldn’t have kicked Malfoy when he was down and couldn’t defend himself.”

    “Good lad,” Arthur smiled and ruffled his son’s hair before giving him a hug. “Good lad.”

    “Now the detention is going to stand,” he said. “It was well deserved after all.”

    Ron nodded staring down at his feet without a hint of complaint, as he usually did whenever he was being told off and he knew he had really mucked things up.

    “And, Ron,” Arthur dropped the stern lecturing tone.

    “Dad?” his son said, looking up.

    He knew he really shouldn’t, but he just couldn’t resist.

    Ron’s jaw dropped as Arthur solemnly grabbed his son’s hand in the Quidditch-style high-five handshake and said, “Good shot, son.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2018
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  22. Threadmarks: Section 2.12 - On the importance of measurements
    Dunkelzahn

    Dunkelzahn No one of consequence

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    2.12.0 On the importance of measurements

    Yet again, the staff of Hogwarts, or at least a particular subset thereof, gathered in their increasingly well-appointed staff room to discuss their ongoing projects at the end of the first week of the winter term. The usual suspects were missing, but as Filius made the rounds passing out drinks — drinks of his own make this time — the room hosted three highly unusual additions.

    Two were students. The third was a centaur.

    “Thank you all for coming,” Albus began, “particularly Mr. Potter and his two guests. Miss Granger, Miss Suze, please be welcomed.”

    “Um, thank you,” the bushy-haired girl squeaked, horribly intimidated at the thought of meeting with so many teachers at once. The centaur maiden nodded solemnly.

    “It falls to me to explain that we have made something of a tradition of indulging in unusual beverages on these occasions,” the elderly wizard continued. “As these are generally alcoholic in nature, Filius has agreed to provide non-alcoholic alternatives for those who are underaged, if you would alert him to your preferences, it would be much appreciated.

    “I’d like water, please,” came Hermione’s response, while Suze graciously accepted the same, and Harry requested a goblin tea, prompting a smile from the half-goblin professor.

    “We have asked Mr. Potter to come in order to obtain his insight into a few knotty problems we have encountered in our ongoing research into the circumstances of his transformation,” the Headmaster said. “Specifically, we are hoping that your talent for languages and your ability to see things that wizards cannot might provide more insight into the structure of the devices which triggered your remarkable change.”

    Harry nodded agreeably while sipping his tea, “I can do that!”

    “Thank you, Mr. Potter. If you would, Bathsheda and Septima will join you in the pensieve we have set up with your uncle’s memories of the incident, and they will direct you further.”

    Harry gulped down the rest of his boiling-hot cup with no sign of discomfort and scampered over to the professors so named before all three of them dunked their heads into what looked like a particularly wide bird bath full of silvery liquid that looked suspiciously like mercury and promptly vanished from view.

    Hermione gaped at the sight, while Suze took it all in stride.

    “While Mr. Potter is occupied,” Filius began, “let us continue our investigation into the worldwide problem. Girls,” he said, indicating the two younger visitors, “if you have any insights, feel free to speak up. No need to waste your time just sitting there!” The diminutive man smiled brightly. “In our last meeting, we were attempting to plot the locations of the various nodes as revealed by Sybil’s efforts, and we have done so, as you can see here,” he flicked his wand, and a large sheet unrolled with a world map drawn and small pins embedded at various points both on and off the various landmasses.

    “It is apparent that our plotting efforts leave something to be desired,” the small man said sadly. “Almost half of our plotted locations are underwater, and we know from our studies that ley lines do not form defined intersections within the ocean due to seawater’s high magical conductivity. The things spread out over massive areas.”

    Hermione looked at the map, a horribly inaccurate thing — she could tell — even in comparison to the cheap world maps that had adorned the walls of her primary school classroom. It looked rather like it had been hand drawn by someone with only the vaguest notion of geography and then never checked against real measurements.

    As her scholarly disgust with the poor excuse for cartography welled up, the professors around her floated various theories on why the ley line intersections — or whatever it was they were looking for, Hermione really didn’t know — were in places where they were certain they could not possibly be, until she snapped.

    “This is really a rather bad map,” Hermione said politely. Well, it was Hermione after all, so it was a polite and gentle snap.

    “And where would you suggest we obtain better?” Snape asked, cocking an eyebrow. Something in his manner gave her the idea that he knew what was coming.

    “Well,” Hermione said, a little flustered at the attention, “there’s the Ordinance Survey maps, or maybe something like a National Geographic Atlas. I’m starting to think that muggles are quite a lot better at map-making than wizards, and if there’s any islands or anything that’re hidden from muggles, we could easily add them to a good map. It’s one of the things I’ve noticed that are most different between the wizarding world and the muggle world, measurements are much more precise and consistent in the muggle world.”

    Snape considered that for a long moment before looking to his colleague. “Filius, will you be able to work with such a map if I go and obtain one?”

    “Absolutely,” the half-goblin was almost vibrating with eagerness, “accurate maps would be a godsend.”

    He flicked his wand and looked briefly at the resulting smoky numbers. “My usual bookseller is open for another half-hour, I will be back shortly.” And with that, the potions master swept out of the room at a rapid clip, leaving Hermione’s frizzy hair fluttering in the process.

    The room fell silent for a time, before Dumbledore again broke the tableau. “That was a remarkable insight, young lady, for one so new to the wizarding world. Congratulations, and thank you.” Hermione colored at the praise. “We had been struggling with that very issue for the last month.”

    “Um, thank you, Headmaster,” the girl stammered. “It may not help, but at least it should be a real issue rather than the map if it doesn’t.”

    Minerva smiled proudly at her student as she raised her glass in salute and then sipped her single malt. If Filius was offering a choice, she knew exactly what she was going to pick.

    “Um, not to be too much trouble, Professors,” Hermione began after she calmed down a little, “but what are we trying to plot?”

    “Oh, dear,” Minerva exclaimed, “I cannot believe we forgot to explain!” she hung her head in exasperation. “Well, I suppose I’ll have to remedy that right now.” And so she did.

    2.12.1 Earthshattering insights

    About halfway through Minerva’s explanation, Harry and the two professors who had accompanied him finished up their investigation with the sad conclusion that the pensieve didn’t support whatever methods Harry used to see magic, so he would have to investigate in person. He was, however, able to offer some significant insight into the meanings of the runic inscriptions, so it was not a total loss.

    By the time the transfiguration mistress’ explanation was finished, Severus had returned with a detailed atlas and a cheap, mass-produced world map he had picked up at the local service station near his home, which was nonetheless of far greater use than the wizarding map they had been using. Filius fell on the thing, and using a series of absurdly abstruse charms, he had the entire list plotted out in just a few minutes, and it was then down to verifying them individually.

    “This makes much more sense,” Septima said as she examined her fiftieth pin. “Everything I’ve checked so far is on land.”

    “Same here,” Filius echoed. “All on land, though I feel like something is missing in a couple of places when I look at the whole thing.”

    Bathsheda chimed in as well, “I know what you mean, you can follow the pattern, there’s a certain flow to it, but there’s a few regions that don’t make sense, like there ought to be extra points that aren’t there and the flow is disrupted.” She frowned, “Filius, are you sure you got the whole list?”

    “Absolutely. Where do you think there are missing points?”

    “One’s in southern England, another is in Anatolia, and the third is in the East Indies,” the runes professor said slowly. “I don’t see any others…”

    “Could the southern English one be Avebury?” Minerva volunteered.

    “That… that would make sense,” Bathsheda said, with growing excitement as she added a different-colored marker to Avebury. “Then… would the others be similarly discharged nodes?”

    That question prompted everyone in the room to take a closer look at the two other areas of the map she had indicated. After much head scratching and contemplation, Bathsheda took out a protractor and mapped out where she thought the missing points would have to be for the magical flows to work intuitively — it was a surprisingly common technique in spell design. The one in England mapped to Avebury, as expected. The one in Turkey came out to a point on the coast of the Black Sea some distance east from Istanbul. The one in Indonesia, though…

    “It should be… here,” the runes professor said as she finished her measurements. “In the Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java.”

    “There is naught but a few islands there…” Snape said thoughtfully before passing his colleague a more detailed atlas. “Perhaps if we map it to a closer projection?”

    A little more work led to a circle on the map which should house the missing node.

    “There’s naught but some tiny volcanic rock called Anak Krakatau there,” Snape said. “Likely miserable and storm-wracked.”

    “Did you say Krakatoa, Professor?” Hermione said as her attention jerked away from the book she had taken up while the professors worked through a problem so far over her head she couldn’t even follow along properly.

    “No, the name is Anak Krakatau,” Snape clarified, showing her the map to illustrate his point.

    As she peered closer, her eyes widened, “It is! Oh my God!”

    “…I beg your pardon?”

    “Krakatoa was an island in the straits between Sumatra and Java that erupted in, oh, 1882, I think, no 1883 — it was 1883.” That year raised a number of eyebrows among the rest of the professors. “The island was almost completely destroyed by a series of volcanic explosions. I can’t remember if it was three or four — it’s been quite a long time since I read about it — anyway, the explosions were audible in Australia, and I can’t remember whether it was four or five days later that they were still recording the pressure wave going around the planet.” She made a rough scrawl on the map. “That’s about the shape of the island that was there before the eruption, if I remember correctly.”

    “Someone give me the thaumometer graph readings for the years 1882, 1883, and 1884,” Septima said, sounding alarmed and abruptly leaving off in her survey of the various plotted locations. McGonagall, who was nearest to that shelf, hastily dug out the box of files in question and handed them over. “Miss Granger, I will need the exact date and local time when these, these eruptions occurred.”

    “The book I have on the subject is back at home, Professor,” the bushy-haired girl said apologetically.

    “I will handle that,” Snape volunteered. “Miss Granger, if you would, please write out the title of the volume in question. Your parents will still be awake at this time, correct?” At the girl’s nod, he went on, “I will apparate there and retrieve the volume, then. Minerva, if you would relay the appropriate coordinates, please.” As Hermione scribbled out the title in question, the transfiguration mistress did as requested, and for the second time that evening, Snape left the room in a hurry.

    Through all of this, Septima did little more than grunt in acknowledgement as she and Filius pored over the records in question.

    “…why is it that Professor Snape always seems to be the one who goes and runs errands to the muggle world?” Hermione asked Pomona Sprout, who was seated next to her watching the proceedings closely, sotto voce.

    “Severus was born and raised among muggles,” the woman explained, “in Sheffield, if I remember rightly, and unlike most wizards and witches with his background, he maintained some contact with his roots.”

    Some fifteen minutes later, Severus returned with a familiar book in his hands, which Hermione immediately opened and paged directly to the chapter and page in question without even consulting the index. She then pointed out the relevant dates to the feverishly-working researchers.

    “…thanks,” Septima muttered, giving the passage a quick read before frowning to herself and returning to the thaumometer records.

    Everyone in the room instantly knew when she had found it. Her eyebrows shot up, her eyes visibly bugged out, she went white as a sheet, and she started very quietly swearing up a streak that’d make a sailor nod in respect.

    “Septima?” McGonagall asked tentatively. Hermione got the idea that this was not normal behavior for the young woman.

    “Not yet!” came the snapped reply. “Filius, check this for me,” she demanded, pointing out the relevant section of records.

    The half-goblin took a quick look himself, and his eyes bugged out as well as he took a second closer look before he began swearing as well — in Or’zet. Only Dumbledore and Harry were able to follow well enough to be suitably impressed.

    “I wasn’t mistaken, then,” Septima sounded resigned, though her hands were shaking.

    “How bad?” Dumbledore asked with a truly un-Dumbledore-ish level of concern apparent in his voice.

    “Miss Granger is quite correct,” came the reply. “Look, the thaumometer spikes massively, reaching the limit of its recording capabilities, four times throughout the afternoon and evening of August 26, by Hogwarts time, in the year 1883, and from that point onwards, the background levels remain at an overall 10.28 percent increase over the previous levels.”

    “The Anomalous Excursions…” Minerva breathed in realization.

    “And these coincide with the eruptions?” Albus confirmed.

    “To the second,” Septima confirmed, staring fixedly at her notes as if searching for some further revelation.

    “Well, it seems we have tentatively identified an example of one of these devices overloading,” Albus said. “It does serve as excellent motivation, I do say.”

    The adults in the room imbibed in a round of drinks to settle their nerves, as did Hermione, though her water may not have had the desired effect. Harry simply looked proud that his damsel had contributed so critically to the investigation, and Suze stood calmly by his side, facing the news with her usual aplomb.

    Just as her colleagues were starting to recover their equilibrium, Septima voiced her thoughts on the matter and stunned them again.

    “But why was the explosion so small?”

    “I beg your pardon?” Severus asked, understandably a little shocked at the descriptor applied to one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history.

    “When Filius and I worked out the potential power of the Avebury event,” the concerned arithmancer explained, “we figured that an undirected explosion would have left a crater the size of London and rendered Europe uninhabitable due to wild magic effects. This one removed less than a sixteenth of that material and the Indies are no more magical than the rest of the world. What happened?”

    “Perhaps the device was smaller?” Pomona offered uncertainly. “If Avebury was a particularly powerful example, that might account for the situation.”

    The room fell silent as the various experts in the room tried to incorporate this new information into their previous understanding of the situation. They did not have much luck, until the smallest adult in the room brought up another point.

    “We might want to consider the other mystery here?” Flitwick proposed, tentatively. “We know what happened at Avebury, and there’s a good chance that the local intersection was involved in the Krakatoa eruption. We’ve found out there’s another point missing in Turkey, though. What happened there?”

    That question brought a new wave of silence to the group, until Albus broke said silence with a bit of additional information. “I do not know, but I can assure you after having gone through our entire body of records during my calibration efforts last year that there are no other similar events on record.”

    Poppy, who looked like she was struggling with the beginnings of an idea, then raised the question, “How far back do the records go?”

    “Nicholas has been running the measurements for nearly four hundred years, but you are correct, they would not have recorded anything happening before that point.” Albus grimaced, “Though I would be reluctant to speculate on just what the world would have been like to live in a world before that release. If the amount of magic increased similarly at the time, most of the world would have had magical levels low enough to make even basic charms exceedingly taxing. I daresay the Dead Zone would have been completely uninhabitable for magicals.”

    As the school nurse seemed to be working through her own ideas, Harry decided to speak up and satisfy his own curiosity. “Dead Zone?”

    “Oh?” the old man looked over at the dragon who had been silent for quite some time. “Ah, yes, Mr. Potter. The Dead Zone refers to the region with the lowest magical background levels in the world. It extends from Sinai in Egypt north through the Jordan River valley all the way beyond the Sea of Galilee and into Lebanon. As I recall, it encompasses the entirety of the non-magical nation of Israel, most of Lebanon, and small regions of Egypt and Jordan.”

    Albus chuckled, “I can relate from personal experience that, at least prior to your transformation and the attendant increase in ambient magic, performing even the simplest magic there was akin to attempting to breathe at the top of the highest mountains in the world. Quite taxing, if I do say so myself. Reducing that level by a fifth — I do not believe it would have been possible to cast any magic there at all, simply surviving would have been a major challenge.”

    “Why did you go there, if it was so hard?” the dragon asked, curiously.

    “Ah,” the old man chuckled with uncharacteristic embarrassment, before continuing “it was on account of a dare with a youthful friend of mine.” His expression fell, “Ah, I do miss those days…”

    “I wonder if the device in Turkey did something similar to Avebury?” Poppy suddenly interjected into the mostly-quiet room, interrupting the quiet conversation between Harry and Dumbledore. “If we assume that the node disappeared before our records were being kept, and we look for unexplainably powerful individuals who appeared in the area more than four-hundred years ago…”

    “We have Mr. Tepes, who first exhibited his absurd magical strength some five centuries ago,” Snape finished for her with a shudder. “That does seem plausible, and it would explain why such an absurdly powerful individual appeared out of nowhere.”

    “And if we assume that these devices tend to discharge into already functioning people or events,” Poppy theorized, “Could it be that the Krakatoa device simply boosted an already present eruption? It would fit with the way undirected magic acts in living beings, amplifying the function of their various organs. Could it amplify the function of a volcano as well?”

    The question prompted a round of contemplative looks from the adults, an interested look from Harry, and nothing at all from Hermione, who had fallen asleep during the one of the lulls in the conversation about half an hour previous.

    “I believe it is possible,” Filius acknowledged quietly. “And I will attempt to verify it in the near future. For now, though, I suspect we have gone on for long enough as Miss Granger has been kind enough to point out.” He gestured gently to the dozing girl. “There is a great deal of new material to work with, and I suggest we retire for the evening to think things over.”

    2.12.2 Rude awakenings

    It had been three days since he had awakened in the infirmary, three days of sitting painfully as he waited for his injuries to heal, three days of embarrassing sessions with the school nurse prodding things with her wand that were only supposed to be prodded by his future wife — and possibly a collection of discreet mistresses — and Draco Malfoy was still attempting to process what had happened.

    It had started the same way it had so many times, he’d go put the frizzy-haired mudblood in her place, she’d run off crying like the inferior creature that she was, Crabbe and Goyle would laugh with him, and they’d go on to class. But it hadn’t gone to script.

    Instead of running off crying, the mudblood had shot back with a condescending insult of her own and gone on her way as if she owned the place! And to make matters worse, the Weasel was laughing at him because of it. It was intolerable!

    Father had always said that Malfoys were better than the rest and that it was his duty to uphold the family reputation. So he’d done the right and proper thing and shot a blasting hex at the mudblood for what she said. She was just a worthless mudblood, and the reputation of the noble Malfoy family was infinitely more valuable than her pathetic little life.

    Just like his father always taught him.

    Then everything was a painful blur followed by darkness. From what the professors had told him, the Weasley who had been laughing at him took exception to his perfectly reasonable correction of the mudblood’s behavior and assaulted him like some kind of common muggle. The boy sniffed dismissively. Typical of the poor excuses for wizards that their youngest couldn’t even face him with a wand like a proper wizard. Probably too weak.

    Worse yet, though, the teachers agreed with the ruffian’s reasoning! Sure, they gave six months’ detention, but when Draco explained his perfectly good and just reasons for retaliating against the mudblood, they told him that it was attempted murder and the only reason he was avoiding prosecution was because of his age. As if you could murder a mudblood, really! It wasn’t like they were people! They’d said something about expulsion once he got out of the medical wing, but Draco was sure his father would get him out of that.

    No, the most important thing was his injury, and that was what was keeping Draco up at night. Apparently, in the scuffle that blasted Weasel had struck him in the groin hard enough that one of his testicles had to be amputated.

    Draco didn’t know how to handle that. He was the sole heir to the Malfoy family, and it was his responsibility to father the next generation of the family. Yes, he was also supposed to manage the family assets, but his father was healthy, and by the time that became an issue, Draco fully expected to have great grandchildren of his own, so his primary duty was to father children to carry on the Malfoy name.

    Despite that, he had lost one of the boys, and according to Healer Pomphrey, his future fertility was not assured due to the damage. It put his responsibility as the heir to the Malfoy family at risk.

    It put his very identity at risk.

    That pathetic Ron Weasley might well have destroyed the great and noble Malfoy family on account of a mudblood!

    Oh, there would be a reckoning, Draco’s thoughts turned dark as his shocked horror sublimated to rage. There would be a reckoning, indeed…

    …when he told his father about this!

    2.12.3 An unwelcome suspicion

    The weeks since she returned from winter break had been an odd time for Abigail.

    Her Head of House had been strangely attentive to her for the past few weeks. Outside of class, the man was normally about as talkative as he was soft and empathetic, which was to say he was normally about as talkative as a brick. Since the break, though, he had been singling her out for discussions on the nature of wizarding society and government, paying particular attention to her views on such things.

    They were generally philosophical discussions, and she h