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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Author Notes:

 

Chapter Forty

LES CHEVALIERS DE SAINT-PIERRE

November 11

“Ron, take your feet off the table,” Harry said idly.

Ron snorted, “Are you turning into my Mum?”

Harry looked up from the thick tome he was poring through. “Only if you keep your feet on the table,” he said.

“Crikey, you’re an irritable one!” Ron protested. “See? My feet are flat on the floor – are you happy now?”

“It’s not my furniture,” Harry explained.

“That’s what a good cleaning charm is for, Harry,” Ron sighed; “Are you going Muggle on me?”

Neville slammed his book closed in disgust. “If Detheridge asks for a spell, wouldn’t you think it would be in one of the books he’s referenced?” he fumed.

Harry set aside his book and capped his inkpot. “I’m picking up a fair bit from him,” he said to Neville; “What’s the spell?”

“Detheridge said that there’s a healing spell specially crafted for scratches and small cuts, but I can’t find anything other than Episkey,” Neville complained.

“He must mean Consanesco,” Harry said immediately.

Ron put down his Muggle Studies text. “Consa…huh? What’s this about?” he asked.

Harry went to the table in the corner of the informal study hall that his sitting room had somehow become. “Budge over, Finnigan,” he said.

“A fellow might think you own the place, Potter,” Seamus laughed.

Harry pulled up his sleeve and set his forearm on the tabletop. “Now, Consanesco feels a bit twitchy,” he explained. “The tip of your wand actually needs to touch the cut, because it’s not a wide area spell like Episkey.”

Neville, Ron, Seamus, Lavender, Parvati, Katie Bell, Terry Boot, Susan Bones and Ernie Macmillan all crowded around as Harry ran his wand along his arm and silently cast a spell that left behind a shallow cut. Most of them winced as blood welled up.

Harry told them calmly, “It’s a different sort of grip… Watch what I’m doing, right? Consanesco.”

“I’ve, er… never seen a wand held like a quill before,” Susan managed to say.

Parvati was less affected by the sight; she said, “You hold your wand that way for cosmetic spells used around the eyes.”

“I’ve never used any eye glamours,” Susan said.

“Are you thinking of colour charms for the eyelids, Parvati?” Lavender explained. “You know, this is probably the best way to hold a wand for any sort of fine work…”

“Two points to Lavender,” Harry muttered as he closed the last portion of the cut on his arm.

“I can’t see where the cut was, not a trace of it,” said Ron.

“That’s the idea,” Harry said. “I can’t see how it would be useful in a fight, but it does keep scars from forming… takes a bit out of you, though.” He flexed his wand hand gingerly.

“Brilliant… consanesco… Thanks, Harry,” Terry said.

“You’ve still got it, mate,” said Seamus; “So when are you taking over the Duelling Club?”

“Taking it over? No thank you – I’m happy to leave it to Tonks and Bill,” Harry said.

“I like Tonks well enough, but she isn’t half the teacher that you are,” Katie countered, just as the door from the corridor opened hard.

Hermione stomped inside and threw her book bag to the floor in disgust. “Tonks is twice the teacher that Professor Croaker is – he’s a horrible man!” she fumed.

Ron gaped at her. “You threw your books!”

“You’re not taking Runes this year; why do you have Professor Croaker?” asked Terry.

“Professor Dumbledore assigned me to him as part of my independent tuition. This fellow Ogden that’s working with Croaker, he’s little better. Between the two of them… it was simply awful. I left early,” Hermione said. “I can’t believe I did that, but I couldn’t take another moment!”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “What did Croaker do?”

Hermione exploded. “He dismissed two months’ work – two months! – and said that I could have saved myself the trouble if I’d known the first thing about wizardry. He foisted a children’s book on me, of all things, and he had the nerve – the unmitigated nerve! – to tell me that this book presented the basis for scientific enquiry! That man couldn’t find the scientific method with a point-me spell if he thinks that silly book has anything whatever to do with science!”

“What book was it?” Neville asked.

Hermione’s nose wrinkled. “It was called Pursilla Pepper and the Persnickety Pygmy Puff,” she snapped.

“Of course,” Susan said matter-of-factly; “I should have guessed as much.”

“I hate to say this, Hermione, but the Professor did have something of a point,” Ernie told her. “I admit that it’s childish, but the point of the book is to teach science.”

“You see magic at work, you find a pattern in what you see, you create an incantation, and then you keep casting until the incantation matches up with the pattern – even I know that,” explained Ron. “That’s how science works: you see the magic at work and then bind it into a spell.”

“But… but… what if the spell’s incorrect?” Hermione huffed.

Ron looked at her blankly. “If it works, then how could it be wrong?” he asked.

“That’s not science – that’s… that’s tinkering!” she insisted. “It’s no different than what your dad did in his shed, Ron!”

“It certainly is science!” Ron fired back. “Just because Dad’s the only one who wants to apply it to Muggle things doesn’t change things!”

“Science is about finding the universal from the particular,” Ernie said calmly. “That’s rather basic knowledge for wizards… well, the ones who make it to Hogwarts, at least. I take it that Muggles have a different view?”

“So if you and Ron and Harry and Neville hang your brooms by the handle, then all teenaged wizards hang their brooms by the handle?” Hermione asked Ernie.

“Of course they do – how else would you hang a broom?” Ernie scoffed.

“If all the cauldrons in the Potions classroom are black, then all cauldrons are black?” Hermione pressed on.

“You’d have to look around a bit more, of course,” said Ernie.

“How much more?” Hermione demanded.

Ernie rolled his eyes. “Apply some common sense, Hermione; you’re making this far too complicated.”

Hermione clenched her jaw and took sharp breaths before she asked Terry, “Help me! You have to know about the scientific method…?”

“I’m not exactly a scientist, you know?” Terry said. “Sure, I was raised in a mostly Muggle household and I attended a day school, but science was mostly about weather and toads – at least that’s how I remember it.”

“Do you know what deductive logic is? Hypothesis testing…?” Hermione asked with not a little desperation.

“Oh! Now I understand your point,” Terry said. “Wizards do induce things, don’t they? Hmm… that explains quite a lot; I hadn’t thought on it before. That’s why there are no actual theories of magic…”

“Of course there are theories of magic; there are laws of magic, as well!” Ron said. “You’re all wet, the both of you!”

“The laws of magic explain what appears to work and what doesn’t work. There’s not a hint of why that’s the case, just a handful of observations,” Hermione countered. “The theories of magic aren’t theories; they’re schools of thought. That’s philosophy, not science.”

Ron’s neck reddened. “So it’s the entire wizarding world that’s wrong? I’m glad to see you’re not full of yourself!”

Ernie held up his hands in a peaceful gesture. “Come now, we’re splitting hairs here – it’s nothing to fight over.”

Hermione advanced on Ron. “The fact that you’re all wet, Ronald, says nothing about wizards in America or Japan or anywhere else,” she returned. “You’re making another false assumption – but that’s hardly a surprise.”

Ron shot up from the sofa and made for the door. “I don’t need this right now, thank you very much,” he snapped.

“Ron, wait!” Lavender said. She collected both of their sets of books and dashed after him.

“Well… that’s it for study period,” Neville said. “It’s off to classes, or dinner, or what have you…”

“That’s right – move along, nothin’ to see here, mind the gap,” said Seamus with a small smirk. “Thanks for the spell, Harry. Hermione… um… here’s to better days…?”

In short order, everyone left Harry’s chambers save Hermione and himself.

“That bad, was it?” Harry asked.

“Croaker actually despises me,” Hermione huffed. “I was so close to hexing him, Harry. I can’t understand why Professor Dumbledore would assign me to that… that… ooooh!”

Harry couldn’t hold back a rueful chuckle. “So, you’ve been ordered to work with someone who can’t stand the sight of you? Welcome to my fifth year. Would you like me to speak with him – Dumbledore, I mean?”

“It’s my problem to resolve,” she said sharply; “It’s not as if Professor Dumbledore will be swayed. He seems to think that this is for my own good.”

“Croaker’s making you start from the beginning, then?” Harry asked.

“He may as well; he found fault with the underpinnings,” said Hermione. “He did call out two legitimate errors in my calculations, but the rest… he’s wrong, Harry. I have a hypothesis for what happened in 1981 and it can be tested. Croaker wants me to give him a rationale for the test by induction, but that’s just nonsense and it’s not as if he’ll accept the results anyway. What Croaker calls science is just an excuse for him to control enquiry. If that’s how the Department of Mysteries works, it’s no wonder that there hasn’t been any legitimate advancement in the understanding of magic since the seventeenth century. Who knows what knowledge they’re hiding down there?”

“Erm… that sounds a touch… um…?” Harry started.

“I sound paranoid, don’t I?” admitted Hermione. “It’s difficult to stay clear of it, honestly. I can’t understand how wizards as influential as Croaker and Ogden can actually believe this nonsense!”

Harry gave a shrug. “Look, I don’t understand half of what you’re going on about –”

“I don’t claim to be a Muggle scientist,” Hermione said, “but these are basic concepts.”

“Even if I can’t follow this theory business,” Harry went on, “the solution seems rather simple. Keep on with what you’re doing and just write up what Croaker wants, right?”

“But that dishonest... isn’t it?” she stammered.

“What’s the problem? You’re certain he’s wrong?” he asked.

“It will take much longer to do things his way, and he’s much more likely to be wrong in the end,” she said.

Harry gave her a challenging look. “What are you going to do, then – try to change his mind?”

“It would be the proper thing to do,” she returned.

“Will it work out?” he asked.

She sighed and said, “Doubtful, isn’t it?”

“It’s not as if this would be your first go at breaking the rules for the right reasons,” he pointed out.

“I suppose it wouldn’t. You don’t care for Croaker, either,” she observed.

He said, “I don’t trust him. There’s something off about him, but he isn’t dodgy like Detheridge.” After a pause, he added, “I think he’s dangerous. Take care around him.”

“Dangerous? Harry, that might be a stretch, don’t you think?” she said. “He’s an old man who’s set in his ways… irritating as anything, but dangerous?”

“I know my hunches aren’t always spot on, but there’s something about him,” said Harry.

Hermione looked to her book bag. “Oh, I do hope I didn’t break an ink bottle! I can’t believe I threw my books… would it be all right if I did some revising?”

“I have some papers to mark for Detheridge, anyway,” Harry said. “Are you coming to Duelling Club?”

“I don’t know…” she hesitated. “Professor Detheridge is still wary of me practicing. At any rate, I’m beginning to wonder if I have an aptitude for it.”

“What? That’s mad – of course you can do it. You’ve had great marks, and not just on the theory,” insisted Harry. “I’d prefer it if you’d come… I’d rather you kept it up, that’s all.”

She nodded and then went to fetch her books.

* * * * * * * * * *

November 15

Croaker looked up from Harry's work with a scowl. "You need to stop thinking and start memorizing, Mr. Potter."

“Stop thinking...?"

"You're trying to problem-solve without a thorough understanding of the rigor behind the calculations and design – quite like your little friend Granger in that respect," Croaker said disparagingly.

It was hard for Harry to keep from rising to Croaker's near-constant baiting. "That's Miss Granger," he said.

"Yes... well... Miss Granger seems to think that arithmetic and spell calculations are one and the same. Only a Muggle-born would spout such stuff and nonsense."

"You say that like arithmetic is a waste of time," said Harry.

"Not at all, Mr. Potter, not at all," Croaker returned. "I have more than a passing understanding of Muggle maths. If I wish to know how high I might construct an unsupported wall, then I'll turn to my maths. If I wish to know why the wall must be a certain length and thickness in order to sustain wards, then Muggle maths won't do. I imagine it requires extensive maths for a Muggle to fly, but the most elegant calculus cannot explain the simple levitation of a feather from desk to ceiling.

“The girl is modestly clever and rather diligent but hopelessly naïve. She wasn't offering a novel idea, you know? Modern wizarding has been around for a thousand years; I assure you that others have tried to apply Muggle mathematics in order to answer the great magical questions." He made a mark on Harry's paper with his quill and added off-handed, "I expected you would rise to her defence several days ago. Surely she ran to you in the throes of adolescent angst?"

Harry's shoulders tensed. "I don't like your tone," he said.

Croaker made another mark on Harry's paper, this time in red ink. "How unfortunate for you," he said as he scribbled a lengthy note in red letters, and then added, "She's not a genius, you know?"

"Pardon?"

Croaker didn't bother to look up. "I said that she's not a genius. Granger's strength is persistence - she's a plodder, a grind. The rest is the product of what I must admit is a superior memory. There's little originality in her work; it is pedantic, derivative, and often mere recitation. That makes for brilliant performance on controlled examinations, but does not translate into brilliant witchcraft. She will only be as great as the writers and theoreticians from whom she borrows. She simply hasn't the gift for it, which is typical for those of her heritage."

"She told me you didn't like her – that’s rather obvious, isn't it?" Harry accused.

"I do not dislike the girl per se, Mr. Potter; her problem is that she doesn't understand her place in the order of things," said Croaker.

"Her 'place in the order of things'? What's that supposed to mean?" demanded Harry.

Croaker wiped his face with his hand in frustration and shook his head sadly as though Harry was a small child asking a foolish question. "Muggle-borns are critical to the wizarding world," he said; "Without them, the bloodlines would stagnate and our world would be gone within a few generations. Some pureblood lines deny that truth, and it is to their peril. Even with controlled infusions from muggle-borns, too many of the lines have crossed too frequently. Many hundreds of years ago, this was clearly understood. Salazar Slytherin is often accused of believing that Muggle-borns should not have a place in the wizarding world. That is inaccurate. Slytherin advocated that Muggle-borns be brought into the wizarding world and raised with their birthright, rather than allowing eleven years of confusion and the creation of bonds in a world where they simply did not belong. That was common practice in the days of the Founders, even though the other Founders cast Slytherin out over a related argument.

"Raising Muggle-borns in the wizarding world, together with the application of suitable marriage laws, kept the wizarding heritage fresh and strong for more than three hundred years. It was also better for the Muggle-borns themselves: they had a better understand of wizardry, and advanced much farther than is the case today. It was the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff descendants who put it asunder. The Wrights and the Molyngtons were your forebears, and they were part of the movement that changed the old ways. They were wrong; worse, they were hypocrites. The primary role for Muggle-borns is to strengthen wizarding bloodlines through intermarriage - which should, in my view, be planned and coordinated - and to make modest contributions to wizarding that do not excessively disrupt the established order of things."

Harry gaped at Croaker for quite a while, unable to find the right words; he finally blurted out, "You're joking, right?"

"Certainly not," said Croaker; "We live in a world predicated upon the absolute need for secrecy. Such a world cannot tolerate sudden and uncontrolled change – there is no place for such risks."

"So you're saying that Hermione is actually right, but you're just standing in her way?" Harry asked.

"Oh, no, no - her work is misdirected," Croaker replied. "I am discouraging her stridency, as it will gain her nothing. There are limitations to what she can achieve in our world. I do not say that out of smugness or hatred or anything other than a clear-headed observation of how the wizarding world functions. The truth is that your own status as the son of a Muggle-born will only be circumvented because of your relative wealth, the prominence of your paternal line, and the cache that will come from defeating Voldemort - which you will do, make no mistake. We cannot allow it to be otherwise."

"I don't have to listen to this -" Harry started.

Croaker cut him off, "I told Albus fifteen years ago that it was foolishness to have you raised in the Muggle world. You're proving my point famously... or... is it that you have more than a child's fancy for your little Muggle-born friend?"

"I'd take Hermione over ten Malfoys any time, Croaker," growled Harry.

"That's Professor Croaker, Mr. Potter, and in that we agree. Not only does the Malfoy line infuse their magical practices with malice that borders on evil, but they have also failed to recognize the risk of continual inbreeding. The Potters, on the other hand, have faithfully sought Muggle-born wives for the primary heirs every three to four generations since the days of Bowman Wright. Do you see why I think your ancestors hypocrites? They fought to abolish the old ways and then continued to follow them for more than six hundred years. Your father was the most recent participant in the tradition, but only two generations after your great-grandfather's marriage. This is why you should not consider a Muggle-born for any other role in your household beyond that of a concubine. It poses an unacceptable risk to the strength of your lineage," Croaker instructed him. "I suspect that if you seek it out, you'll find that your father - or perhaps your grandfather - made suitable arrangements for you. It wouldn't surprise me if you were betrothed in the olden form."

"There are no betrothals - that's what the goblin's records say, and I wouldn't go through with one anyway," Harry said.

"If it was done in the olden form, in the way of the marriage laws, then you would have little choice," Croaker explained. "The old betrothals were a vow that transcended generations; they were made under pain of magic itself. I wouldn't trust the goblins on this one, young man; they always have an agenda of their own. They would care little if you lost your magic, if as a result they gained what they sought. It is also possible that your father broke a betrothal in order to marry your mother - had you considered that? If so, then that obligation may extend to you. In any case, a thorough search for a betrothal might right your thinking on this. I can think of four young ladies approximately your age who have not crossed the Potter lineage for several generations; in fact, it would be the same four I've recommended to Neville and Augusta -"

Harry started, "Laws like you're talking about are gone, and good riddance to them. Besides, my mum would have found a way to break any arrangements -"

Croaker cut him off once more. "And how would you know that? Perhaps your mother was made to understand the proper role of a Muggle-born - even for one as brilliant as her reputation suggested? If she understood the potential implications of two consecutive intermarriages, then she might have welcomed such an arrangement on your behalf."

"This isn't why I'm here," Harry fumed; "You've no business teaching; you're worse than Snape." The books on Croaker's shelves began to rattle.

Croaker said calmly, "Albus assigned Miss Granger to me for a reason, Mr. Potter. He did so because he knows his own weaknesses. I do not share Albus's fascination with Muggles, nor do we agree on the role of Muggle-borns. He does know, however, that there are both social and natural limits on just how far a Muggle-born can progress in this society. Perhaps that's why you are here as well?"

"You might be right about England; you can't speak for the rest of the world," Harry countered.

"That is true, after a fashion... I can, however, cite a list of wizarding communities who failed to keep a balance and subsequently failed. If you're thinking of our friends across the pond, then I ask you to check back in a few decades. America is an experiment, just as is Australia; both are the products of rebels and felons who railed against Mother England. The Americans haven't even managed a unified government. After three centuries, they're nothing more than a loose collection of four factions who barely tolerate one another. Like other such experiments throughout wizarding history, they will fail - allow them enough time to show their true colours," Croaker said with certainty.

"So, let's just sit back and enjoy the ride, eh? Let's hold the Muggle-borns in their place. Long live the purebloods! Is that it?" Harry snapped.

"That's not what I said -" Croaker started.

Harry stood angrily. "Why don't you just put on a mask and say 'mudblood' instead of Muggle-born?" he spat.

Croaker swept his quill, Harry's paper and most of the items of his desk onto the floor with an angry swat. The shelves shook violently and a number of books fell to the floor. He stood, shaking, with his palms pressed against the cleared desk top and said coldly, "I - am - nothing - like - those - vile – creatures. You will never accuse me of that again, is that understood?"

Harry was shaken but stood his ground. "You're a bigot, and I'm through with you; Hermione should be through with you as well. I thought you were no better than Snape, but it's worse than that. You're no better than my Uncle Vernon. That's my fat, lazy, good-for-nothing, bigoted, prejudiced Uncle Vernon – the Muggle," he said; the air crackled with his anger.

"Do you know what the Department of Mysteries is, Mr. Potter? Do you honestly know?" Croaker asked.

"No, and what does that have to do with anything?" Harry shot back.

"Of course you don't, and that's my point. Some things shouldn't be meddled with. Muggle-borns often disregard that to their detriment. Consider that before you decide that I've set out to harm your little friend. I'm doing quite the opposite, but you're too young and impetuous to see that," said Croaker.

The temperature in the room dropped sharply. "I'm not stupid, Croaker. You're saying that the Ministry will hold things back for its own interests – that it'll quash anyone to protect itself and its friends. I've already learnt that lesson, but thanks for the warning," Harry said. His breath condensed in the sudden cold.

"I can play parlour tricks as well, Mr. Potter. Put away your magic before you hurt yourself," said Croaker. The sconces on the walls flamed high, and the temperature in the room soared.

"You're dangerous, Croaker. I knew you were dangerous - I've told people so, and I was right from the start. I won't take back what I said: you may as well be a Death Eater!" Harry shouted at him.

Croaker closed his eyes and took a long, slow breath. "You misunderstand me," he said at last, "and you are clearly incapable of putting aside your petty biases in order to see the truth of things. Get out, Mr. Potter. Get out, and do not darken my door until you are prepared to face reality. When you do decide to return, I expect to see either betrothal papers or evidence that they do not exist. If nothing else, I will see that you shed some of the naiveté you share with Miss Granger."

Harry turned toward the door. "Leave her out of this, Croaker - it's between you and me," he said as he grasped the handle.

"How I conduct independent tuition with my assigned student is my business," Croaker said as Harry stepped through the doorway. "Granger will know the truth of things before I've finished with her... you have my word on that."

Harry's neck twitched and he felt as if he was on fire. He turned slowly; Croaker's wand was drawn but not raised. It felt to Harry as if he was trying to force flames from his mouth, but he managed to say thickly, "If you ever hurt her - if you ever hurt any of my friends..." His right hand came across in a slashing motion. Croaker's desk separated into a mass of tiny bits that collapsed and spread across the floor of the office.

Croaker visibly flinched, but then slowly tucked away his wand. He and Harry cursed each other with their eyes for several long seconds. At last, the old wizard - the former Unspeakable - said with Snape-like silkiness, "The qualities of your magic are unlike mine, unlike Albus... I'm reminded of Grindelwald, but your magic is purer... it is hotter. Then again, much of Grindelwald's power came from a decade's worth of dark rituals. My former colleagues are most interested in how you came to be, in how you survived, in how you retained any magic at all, and not merely because of your potential to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Despite what Albus thinks, it would be best for everyone if Miss Granger were never to find the answer to that particular mystery."

Harry said nothing; he turned and left. Croaker's voice trailed him into the corridor - it was too quiet for anyone else to make out but somehow felt as if it was slicing into Harry's head:

"Oh, Mr. Potter...? My obligations to Albus demand that I tell you this: Never perform wandless magic of that calibre in the presence of an active member of the Department of Mysteries. If you do, then Voldemort or no Voldemort, you'll never again see the light of day."

I'll show him, Harry thought, and Hermione will show him, too.  The remarks about marriage contracts weighed on him, and he resolved to set Ted Tonks onto the matter.  He looked forward to shoving Mr. Tonks' reply down Croaker's throat.

* * * * * * * * * *

LIGHTNING ATTACKS BY YOU-KNOW-WHO’s MEN!

In an hour-long spree reminiscent of You-Know-Who’s darkest days, six families were attacked in a swath that ran from Winchester to Dover. Independent observers reported the Dark Mark above at least four of the six residences. Unidentified sources within the Department for Magical Law Enforcement report that the Unforgivables and other highly destructive curses were used in abundance. At least nine persons lost their lives, and no fewer than twenty persons were received at St. Mungo’s Hospital. The same DMLE sources told this reporter that one Auror was amongst the dead and that two additional DMLE officers were amongst those taken to hospital.

Speaking at Minister Fudge’s behest, Ministry official Percy Weasley said that neither You-Know-Who nor his associates have been confirmed as the attackers. “The Ministry for Magic will not tolerate acts of this kind, no matter who may be responsible,” Weasley said. “Minister Fudge has asked Director Bones and the DMLE to pursue all available information so that the perpetrators of these dastardly acts may be apprehended and put to justice.” Minister Fudge was unavailable for further comment. The names of the deceased and wounded have not yet been made available.

- The Daily Prophet, November 16

* * * * * * * * * *

November 20

Tonks gritted her teeth, and then shouted, “Stop… stop… OI! WANDS DOWN!”

Bill started, “The silent casting is coming along, but on the whole your accuracy –”

“THAT WAS THE MOST PATHETIC DISPLAY I’VE EVER SEEN! IF YOU WERE AURORS, YOU’D BE SENT PACKING! I WAS WONDERING FOR A MO’ IF ANY OF YOU LOT HAD EVER SEEN A WAND BEFORE!” Tonks screeched.

Bill said with a shrug, “I don’t know if it was quite that bad…”

Harry crossed his arms and leant against the wall. He said, “Ernie, you looked like you were half-asleep out there. Justin, you should have easily disarmed him. Susan, Hannah… embarrassing. Harper, Collins, Stanley, Townshend… with aim like that, I wonder if I should check the corridor to see if anyone’s stunned. I want all four of you back to working on your aim. All of you… mind what you’re doing! If you don’t want to be here, then shove off!”

“Harry… we’re just sparring…” Ernie said tentatively.

“There’s no such thing as sparring anymore – people are dying out there. Do you want to be next?” Harry snapped.

“All right, you lot,” Bill cut in; “It’s swordsmanship for the next hour, so let’s clear the floor now… that’s it. The toughest thing about wand wielding in a duel is to keep the body calm and the senses sharp all at once. It’ll come – just be patient. Harry, help me set up?”

As the students collected their things, Bill opened a supply cupboard and pulled Harry just behind the door where neither could be seen. “Are you and Tonks trying to scare them all away?” Bill whispered forcefully.

“This is serious business,” objected Harry; “You've seen the Prophet – it's starting.”

Bill shook his head. “This is student practice,” he said; “Most of these kids are here to raise their marks in Defence, or so they can tell their mum and dad that they sparred with Harry Potter –”

“That’s a fine reason for them to be here, isn’t it?” Harry growled.

Bill shook his head and said, “They’re students – that’s exactly why they should be here. These aren’t soldiers… they aren’t even your study group from last year.”

“Tonks gets it,” Harry said.

“Tonks is just Tonks,” Bill laughed, and then added as an aside, “Besides, it’s that time of the month.”

“Keep it up, Weasley, and it’ll be time for you to beg!” Tonks growled from the other side of the room.

“Tetchy, isn't she?” Harry muttered.

“I heard that, Potter; the next time we spar, your arse is mine,” Tonks snarled, still twenty paces away.

Bill levitated the rack of swords free of the cupboard and placed it against the wall. He gave his wand a complicated wave and the soft mats on the floor were replaced by hardwood, and then said sweetly, “I’ll see you later, Tonks – let the victims in, would you?”

As the students filed in, Bill’s demeanour changed. It was obvious from the start that Bill took the swordsmanship group much more seriously than the ordinary duelling club meetings, and certainly this session would be no exception. The students lined up against the far wall without being prompted.

Bill waited for a minute or more after the last student entered, and then waved the door closed. “Present yourselves for the roll,” he said. “Abbott, Hannah…”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” Hannah returned quickly.

“Betancourt, Elston.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” said the seventh year Slytherin; he was apparently Adrian Pucey’s closest friend and a quiet sort.

“Bones, Susan.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms.”

“Bruce, Holly.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms…”

Bill stopped and snapped, “That was tentative, Miss Bruce – again.”

Present, Master-at-Arms!”

“Better… Cadwallader, Robert.”

Rob Cadwallader was a seventh year Ravenclaw of whom both Flitwick and Detheridge spoke highly. “Present, Master-at-Arms,” he snapped off.

“Entwhistle, Kevin.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” the seventh year Hufflepuff said.

“Finch-Fletchley, Justin.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” Finch-Fletchley said. Justin had been a dab hand with a foil from the start, having been trained in fencing from an early age.

“Goldstein, Anthony.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” Anthony said blandly.

“Goyle, Gregory.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms, sir,” Goyle said. His voice was as harsh and thick as always, but Harry couldn’t deny there was something quite different about Goyle’s manner this year; his performance in History of Magic was only one indication. He wasn't pretty with a blade, but made up for it with sheer force.

“Greengrass, Daphne.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” said Daphne. As always, she was dressed differently than the rest: rather than her school uniform, she wore tightly cuffed trousers, a shirt that was tight at the collar and loose in the sleeves, and short flat-heeled boots.

“Longbottom, Neville.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms.”

“Malfoy… Draco,” Bill said with an edge to his voice.

“I am here and prepared to duel, Master Weasley,” Malfoy said lazily. The response was an acceptable but archaic form; Malfoy was, of course, keenly aware of that. He stood comfortably and with grace, however grudgingly Harry had to admit it.

“McDougal, Morag.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” she said; after a pregnant pause, she inclined her head toward Malfoy and added, “Is the pretentious prick allowed to answer that way, sir?”

“McDougal –” Malfoy started.

“You will address your peers in the proper form, Miss McDougal,” snapped Bill.

“My apologies, Master-At-Arms; I was referring to Mr. Prick,” McDougal said without missing a beat.

“Noted... and do put it to rest,” Bill said evenly. Malfoy bristled but said nothing as the roll continued with, “Pucey, Adrian.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” said Pucey, with a respectful bow of his head.

“Weasley, Ginevra.”

As with all the previous sessions, Ginny flared red at her formal name – though it was now mostly confined to her neck. “Present, Master-at-Arms,” she said with slightly clenched teeth. Harry didn't have much sympathy for her, though; she had been the one to wheedle her way into what was supposed to be an upper-form-only group, having appealed all the way to the Headmaster.

“Weasley, Ronald.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” Ron said. Harry had wondered how Ron would fare with his brother as instructor, even in an unofficial capacity; it had gone much better thus far than he would have expected.

“Zabini, Blaise.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” the sixth year Slytherin said smoothly. Like Finch-Fletchley and Malfoy, Zabini had been raised with a blade in hand.

“Potter, Harry.”

“Present, Master-at-Arms,” Harry said. Bill insisted on the same formalities from Harry, and Harry had agreed immediately; if he was to be a participant as well as an assistant, Harry figured that he needed to show the others that he was willing to follow the rules.

Bill gave them all a quiet and cool appraisal before he observed, “There are fewer of you than at our last meeting. We began with fifty-one, and now we’re down to seventeen plus Mr. Potter.”

He paced the room as he continued, “This is a demanding art. At Durmstrang, swordsmanship has been part of the duelling curriculum since the school's founding. All students are required to duel, but none can advance to sixth year Duelling Arts without achieving excellence with a blade. By seventh year, only twelve students remain in their duelling program, and all of these participate on the Junior European circuit. Beauxbatons has similar requirements, and also advances twelve students to the circuit. Hogwarts hasn't offered formal duelling instruction for sixty years, and since then only three students have qualified for the junior circuit. Of those, two were admitted to participate.” Harry noticed the briefest flash of anger cross Bill's face, and wondered if perhaps he had been the third student.

“So you're trying to get us on the circuit?” Malfoy asked.

“Any Hogwarts student of age who wants to join the circuit should have that chance,” said Bill. “After... some debate... the Headmaster has agreed to allow a twelve-member Duelling Team, styled the same as Beauxbatons. Professor Flitwick and the Marquis de Maupassant will sponsor the team. Professor Flitwick will evaluate your skill with the wand, and the Marquis and his assistant will conduct the swordsmanship evaluations.” He paused to let the students settle, and then added, “Professor Flitwick was, of course, a four-time European champion in wand duelling as well as the World Champion twice in the 1930s. What you may not know is that the Marquis won ten consecutive European duelling championships with the sword as well as three World championships, and six European and two World championships in mixed duelling.”

“I wonder when... the Stone Age...?” Pucey muttered.

“You're only allowed four European championships and two Worlds; after that, they retire you,” said Zabini; “How could the Marquis have won that many times?”

“The limit was ten and three until 1834, and six and two until 1855. I think you can guess why the limits were changed,” Bill said.

“So it was in the Stone Age,” Pucey chuckled.

“The Marquis has probably forgotten more about duelling than you lot will ever know,” Bill returned; “The man's a hundred years older than Dumbledore, and he beat me nine times out of ten last month. It would have been ten of ten if he hadn't been toying with me.”

“Do you think there'll be a circuit at all next year, with everything that's happening?” Cadwallader asked.

“The schedule is set, and we'll be training toward the certification matches in May. There's no way of knowing for certain, of course,” Bill said. “Any other questions?”

Malfoy crossed his arms and asked, “What about Potter?”

“As a member of the staff, Harry can't qualify for juniors,” Bill said.

“I won't have time for competitions,” Harry added.

Justin gave his rapier a quick swish, and said, “Twelve spots for seventeen, then? I'm game for it.”

Bill gave a curt nod and said, “The Marquis will be here to observe this session two weeks from today. I do not expect to be embarrassed.” He clapped his hands sharply and added, “Take your positions!”

* * * * * * * * * *

COWARDLY ATTACKS CONTINUE

For the third time in ten days, wizarding families were attacked in the dead of night. This time, the terrorists struck in four different locations spread from Inverness to Bristol. The Dark Mark was spotted above all four attacks. Five deaths have been reported, with eleven persons received at St. Mungo's Hospital. Amongst the dead was one Auror, according to unidentified Department of Magical Law Enforcement sources; this brings the ten-day toll to four Aurors, or nearly seven percent of the currently active force.

In an unscheduled appearance on the Wizarding Wireless Network, Minister Fudge urged the Wizengamot to approve an immediate increase in funding for the DMLE. Later in the same broadcast, former Minister Millicent Bagnold observed that even with increased funding, there would be no significant impact on the number of available Aurors until 1999. Three Auror candidates are currently in training, according to the Ministry's Office of Information; two will be available for service in 1997, and the third in 1998.

The Ministry may have to rely on outside sources to bolster its forces should these attacks continue, according to Dark Forces Defence League associate director and spokeswizard Gilderoy Lockhart. “The League is prepared to stand in substitute for Ministry security services at Hogsmeade, the Ministry, St. Mungo's and other public sites, just as we have done at Diagon Alley. Ministry security professionals would then be available to support the Auror force in defending the British citizenry against these cowardly attacks,” Mr. Lockhart said.

DMLE Director Amelia Bones asks that any citizens with information regarding these attacks or the wizards responsible for them please contact the Ministry as soon as possible; information will be received in confidence. With regard to Mr. Lockhart's comments, Director Bones said, “It is regrettable that eight consecutive years of funding cuts for the Auror Corps have left us in this position. We will of course consider offers of support from any qualified and legitimate sources.” Minister Fudge was unavailable for comment due to a previously scheduled trade meeting with Bulgarian and Albanian officials, according to the Office of the Minister.

- The Daily Prophet, December 8

* * * * * * * * * *

December 10

“Lemon sherbet?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry hesitated and then gave a shrug. “Why not?” he said.

Dumbledore's eyes lit; “Truly?” he asked.

“Come to think of it, I've never actually seen you take one... they aren't from Fred and George, are they?” Harry wondered.

“Certainly not!” Dumbledore laughed. “Honestly, I do partake of them. Shall we both make a go of it?”

Harry took the round golden sherbet from Dumbledore and let it sit in his mouth for a while. “Not bad,” he decided.

The Headmaster smiled broadly. He said, “Unlike many of our fellows, I am not particularly fond of chocolate, or anything powerfully sweet for that matter. Algernon favours crystallised pineapple – can you imagine?”

“I can imagine a lot with Croaker,” Harry said flatly.

“And thusly we commence our business,” said Dumbledore. “I had intended to bring up the matter of Professor Croaker, had you not first done so. I await your version of events.”

“My version? Here it is in one: he's a right bastard,” Harry said.

“Harry! I won't have such language, and certainly not with respect to colleagues!” Dumbledore chided him.

“You weren't there. The things he said...” Harry returned.

“The Professor seems to believe that he was offering a reasoned view on the way of things in wizarding Britain. He also allowed that his views on Miss Granger were presented, views which differ from my own,” said Dumbledore.

“As far as he's concerned, Hermione is just... I don't even know what the right words are... breeding stock, I suppose? The only reason I'm a real wizard is because my family was wealthy,” Harry said; “Everything's about blood with him.”

“That doesn't make Professor Croaker a Death Eater – we've discussed this before with regard to others,” Dumbledore pointed out.

“I suppose not, but people like him make it easier for Death Eaters to get what they want,” Harry protested.

“I imagine the Professor would argue that by making his own views clear, he helps provide those who believe in pureblood ideals with the opportunity to be something other than Death Eaters,” Dumbledore countered.

Harry shook his head and said, “You shouldn't make excuses for him. I'll say the same to you as I said to him: he's a bigot, plain and simple.”

“He says as plainly that you are ignorant and that Miss Granger is misguided, and that the both of you are arrogant,” said Dumbledore.

“He's done with me, and I'm done with him. Hermione should be done with him, as well,” Harry fired back.

Dumbledore let out a pained sigh. “Algie presents the scientific take on the prevailing pureblood sentiments -” he began.

“It's not science. Hermione can tell you what science really is, and what she says matches up with what I know,” Harry cut him off.

“Ah, but you are not referring to wizarding science,” said Dumbledore; “Wizarding science is by necessity different than the science practiced by today's Muggles. I imagine it bears more in common with Muggle science from many hundreds of years ago, when maths and measurement and such things lacked precision and when the view of the physical universe was phenomenological rather than rational.”

“I don't pretend to understand that; most of this is like sitting through an hour with Binns, honestly,” Harry admitted, “but if what you're saying is right... then how do we ever really know anything?”

Dumbledore let loose a bit of the eye twinkling that grated on Harry, and responded, “That is a question asked by wizard and Muggle alike since time immemorial, albeit in different ways and under differing circumstances. It is a question with no certain answer.”

“If that's true, then why are you putting Hermione through this?” Harry asked.

The Headmaster gave a small smile. “I do like that you jump to your friend's defence, Harry, I truly do. Nonetheless, Miss Granger needs to learn how to interact with people who do not share her views, and even with those who reject her views entirely. This is a critical tool for accomplishing that which she so strongly – even desperately – wishes to accomplish. Without learning this, any achievements that she might make will be despite herself.”

“Sometimes you have to take a stand, though. Some things are right and some things are wrong,” Harry argued.

“Oh, quite right – quite right,” Dumbledore agreed at first. “Good and evil, right and wrong: these are manifest truths. I ask you, however, when should one take a stand? In what way should one take a stand? Is the purpose of taking a stand to encourage change, or simply to be correct? Can one effect real and lasting change without first understanding the true state of things and the reasons why that state came to be? Can one effect real and lasting change without the involvement of those who are to be changed, or at the very least some measure of agreement that change should occur? Good and evil are real; right and wrong are real; and very few people, very few situations are unequivocally one or the other. It is wrong to kill, Harry... except in defence of self or others, of course. It is wrong to steal... but what if that theft robs an evildoer of a weapon to wield?”

“It sounds like there aren't any standards at all,” said Harry.

“That is certainly not the case,” Dumbledore assured him. “Some standards of behaviour are eminently sensible, and most of the world's peoples agree upon them. Do not kill or steal except in the defence of others. Respect one's parents and elders. Keep one's oaths, both to self and to others. Engage in charity for its own sake. Avoid envy and jealousy. Leave things better than you find them. Love one another. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Honestly, this is not as complicated as philosophers would from time to time have us believe.”

“Those things aren't always easy,” Harry said.

“We must do what is right rather than what is easy... but I know that I've already shared that bit of wisdom with you. You're a good person, Harry, and your actions are generally well meaning. Miss Granger has her own life lessons to master, and she possesses the intelligence and goodness of heart to muddle along. Look after her if you wish, but don't fret just yet. Have another lemon sherbet,” said the Headmaster.

* * * * * * * * * *

MURDER MOST FOUL!

Bagman's body found on Knockturn Alley

Ludovic “Ludo” Bagman, former head of the Ministry's Department for Games and Sports, was found dead last evening on Knockturn Alley. Reluctant witnesses from the vicinity of the Alley described Mr. Bagman's body as 'slashed', 'hacked' and 'a right mess'. One anonymous observer commented that the injuries looked to be from a blade rather than from spell fire. The DMLE offered no further information at this time, citing the need to protect information as an investigation is mounted.

Mr. Bagman, aged 46, was a notable figure in the world of Quidditch in the 1970s and early 1980s. He was the best-known – and most notorious – player for the Wimbourne Wasps during their League-winning campaigns of 1977 and 1980. He also captained the English side at the 1982 World Cup.

Mr. Bagman left his Ministry headship last year under a cloud of allegations that he had placed wagers on League matches and other Ministry-regulated sporting events. The strongest allegations centred on the 1994 Quidditch World Cup final, during which he was believed to have incurred large losses to a goblin gambling syndicate. When asked for comment, a senior Gringotts official bared his teeth and soundly shut an office door in this reporter's face. Darker activities were alleged over the years. Mr. Bagman was accused of having involvement with You-Know-Who's cause in the early 1980s, and those rumours rose again in the wake of You-Know-Who's re-emergence. However, no charges were ever brought.

Mr. Bagman leaves behind a string of jilted women, numerous creditors, and his crup, Bennie.

[Picture 1 – caption] Mr. Bagman and his Wimbourne mates, at the 1980 League final

[Picture 2 – caption] A pale and paunchy Bagman, seen at a Daughters of the Goblin Wars charity event earlier this year

- The Daily Prophet, December 14

* * * * * * * * * *

December 15

The only similarity between Croaker and Tiberius Ogden was their stoutness, as far as Harry could tell. Where Croaker gave off a sense of bitterness, Ogden was at times as jovial as the Fat Friar. Where Croaker seemed not to have a good word for anyone, Ogden went out of his way to see the best in everyone and in every situation – even when it was a lost cause, to Harry's mind.

“You must understand the world in which Algie and I were brought up,” Ogden insisted. “If you find us backward today, imagine where things stood in the 19th century! To our eyes, Muggle-borns were ill-mannered, scruffy interlopers. They had the arrogance to think that they could be self-made men, when we surely knew better. They brought their ideas of meritocracy straight into a medieval world – madness, we thought! The difference between the magical and Muggle experiences was far greater then than is the case today, hard as that might be for you to believe. There was no question in the minds of most Muggle-borns then: they were going to drag us into modernity, and the pox upon anyone or anything that stood in the way. It was something that needed to happen... but it would have been better to take it in degrees, don't you know? We haven't come far enough, mind you – your young lady shouldn't be held back from her full potential, but I can't deny that there is a fair chance of that.” “It sounds like you've changed, so why can't he?” Harry fumed.

“Well, I've never been quite so hard-headed as Algie,” Ogden laughed.

“He is that,” Harry agreed.

Ogden settled heavily behind a desk littered with papers and books and scrolls nearly to the point of collapse. He was using an old classroom as a place to work – on what exactly, Harry was uncertain. After a prolonged sigh of satisfaction, the old wizard said, “Young man, I've learned a thing or two about human behaviour over the course of a very long life, and this much is true for wizard and Muggle alike: we all see what we want to see. I prefer to see the positive in life; it's not always easy, mind you, but worth the effort. Algie seeks order above all else, and he has a rather well developed viewpoint on the order of the universe in general and wizarding in particular.”

“We're not exactly in fine order, what with Voldemort running about?” Harry said with a snort.

“Algie and I have seen dark wizards come and go. For him, this is part of a normal pattern in wizarding – an orderly one, if you will,” Ogden returned. “That is not a view we share. This one – Voldemort – he's something altogether different. He's not acting out of some sort of ethic, some twisted sense of morality. In a way, he’s like the one Flamel was pitted against.... yes, rather like Racine. This is all about him, about seizing power for its own sake. It's a game to Voldemort. In truth, I wonder how he might respond to victory; he might have no idea what to do with power if it were in his grasp.”

Harry pressed to the point. “So what do I do about Professor Croaker?” he asked.

“Do? I'm not certain there's anything you can do,” said Ogden. “What do you want to accomplish, young man?”

“I want him to stop treating Hermione like she's something to be scraped off his boots,” Harry fired back.

“He is harsh to the poor girl, but I've not yet seen anything worthy of that description,” Ogden protested.

Harry couldn't resist adding, “She doesn't seem fond of you, either.”

Ogden steepled his hands and remained silent past the point of comfort, before he said, “I don't want to say anything hurtful, Harry, nor do I want to seem as though I don't like young Miss Granger, because that is not true. She is energized by her studies, she is insightful, she brings a perspective to magic the likes of which I've not seen or even contemplated, and she can be charming when it suits her. She might have been the greatest Slytherin of the age, if she had come from other than Muggle parentage – and that is not a criticism, it is a compliment. I am a product of Slytherin House, and I despise much of what I see in the last two generations of students.

“Algie, on the other hand, is the quintessential Ravenclaw, for good or ill. He pursues knowledge for its own sake, but he also believes that some knowledge is too dangerous for the eyes of mere wizards. He would have invented the Department of Mysteries if it hadn’t already existed. A place where arcane knowledge is locked away from the eyes of all but a handful of wizards worthy of the privilege… yes, Algie couldn’t help but aspire to such a place. Miss Granger – rather like myself – understands that knowledge is too often used by the powerful to control and subjugate the weak. Neither she nor I think that is anyway to achieve a just and good society. She takes it a step further, I think; she seems to believe that knowledge should be completely unregulated in order to prevent abuses. Miss Granger lacks access to most forms of power by accident of birth, you see? Thusly, the idea of being held at wand's length from knowledge... well, I imagine that is quite an affront to her sensibilities.”

“And you – what do you think?” Harry asked.

Ogden said, “With regard to knowledge? I agree with Algie that some knowledge is indeed dangerous. I disagree with him that there is some special standard of worthiness. You're being tutored by a number of very capable wizards, Harry. They teach you by building upon what you already know. They expose you to complex spell work piece by piece, and stagger that complexity by subject. In doing this, they prepare you for more advanced work. It wouldn't be right to start a first year in the seventh year curriculum, would it? This should be no different for Miss Granger's independent studies. She needs to learn enough in the way of fundamentals to safely take on some of the magic she's exploring. Highly advanced magic can pose any number of dangers… from spell backfire to chaotic discharge to... well, the oldest of magics often levy permanent changes on those who attempt to use them. It happened to us – the thirteen of us who faced Grindelwald in the end – and it could happen to your friend if she should proceed without a care. At this point in her development, she is rather like a firstie who has decided to sit for her NEWTs. She hasn’t yet mastered the foundations for the knowledge she seeks. Can you understand why I have asked that she measure her pace?”

Harry nodded and said, “Thank you for that. Have you explained all of this to her?”

“I have tried,” Ogden said; “For her sake, I will continue to try. Perhaps Algie and I should separate our tuition? I'll discuss that with Brian.”

Harry's brow furrowed. “Er... who is Brian?”

Ogden looked startled for a moment and then began to chuckle. “Oh, dear... well... ehh... the truth is that Albus didn't care for his name as a young man, so he went by one of his lesser names instead. I didn't know his given name was Albus until he sat for his NEWT examinations, and he was quite well known during his school days. If Martha – Martha was his wife, you see – if she hadn't said that she actually liked his name… well, I dare say that Brian Dumbledore would be the Headmaster of Hogwarts,” he said.

“Oh, that’s brilliant,” Harry said with a smirk.

Ogden said quickly, “You didn't hear it from me. If it should come up, I trust you'll blame Algie?”

“That’s more than a little Slytherin of you, isn’t it?” Harry snorted.

A smile spread across Ogden's face. “I do have my moments,” he said.

* * * * * * * * * *

December 17

Harry was on his way from the staff reading room in the Library to a late meal in his quarters, when Anthony Goldstein stopped him in the corridor.

"Do you have a few minutes?" Anthony asked.

"We can talk in my quarters, if you don't mind watching me eat," said Harry.

Anthony shook his head.  "There are things you need to see," he said.

"And this important?" Harry asked.

"Very important," Anthony returned, and the look in his eyes bore testimony to that.

Harry said, "After you, then."

Anthony led him to a room in the lowest reaches of Ravenclaw's tower.  They actually had to enter the tower and climb to the alcove just outside the Ravenclaw Common Room, and then take a recessed spiral staircase three levels down in order to reach it.  He waved Harry back from the closed door. 

"It's been re-warded.  Can you take these down?" Anthony asked him.

Harry closely examined the door and its frame for runes or runic engravings.  This was at the outer edge of his competency, he knew, but he decided to make the attempt.  Anthony seemed to be playing it straight with him, and the Ravenclaw's seriousness on the matter was palpable.  He found a tiny rune set just to one side of the door handle.

"This is Hermione's," he said automatically.

"Have you seen this before?" Anthony asked.

"No... I just know it's hers," said Harry.

"You're right about it," Anthony admitted; "She's been using this as a workroom."

Harry's eyes narrowed slightly.  "Why do you know that?"

Anthony said, "She's been behaving strangely - very strangely.  Surely you've noticed?  Frankly, I was wondering if she was under some sort of compulsion.  Look... the muggle-borns have been meeting regularly.  They've kept it close so far, but you must understand why they're concerned?  I've fallen in with them, because I'm concerned about the same things..."  He stopped for a moment, as though he was saying too much.

"You're from Golders Green, right?  Hasn't your family been magical for a long time?" Harry asked.

Anthony's eyes darkened.  "The purebloods around here don't care about my heritage.  My mother's family have been stewards of magic for twenty-eight centuries, Harry.  They were mages when Warrington's forebears lived in rude huts and had no written language.  But to them, we're blood-traitors at best and sub-human at worst.  They can't tolerate the idea that we put our faith in something - in someone - greater than ourselves and our own magic.  They're arrogant enough to believe that somehow we make our own magic, that it wouldn't exist without us - can you imagine?  We're nothing to those people.  My father wouldn't bow to them and they slaughtered him - they slaughtered him, Harry - like he was a bit of common livestock -"

Harry choked out, "Slaughtered...?  When did this happen?  I mean... your family?  Is the rest of your family all right?  Do you need anything, is there anything I can do...?"

Anthony sagged.  He said, "It happened while we were on the Express, on our way home at the end of last year.  My mother is living with my aunt and her family now.  My brother is running the family business, and I've been taking care of the rest of our interests.  I... I appreciate your concern, Harry, truly I do.  I suppose you would understand, wouldn't you?  You understand this sort of thing, what has to be done to set things right?"

"This is why you've been so serious about the Defence Club, isn't it?" Harry asked.

Anthony nodded.  "Never again," he said.

"You're right, I do understand that," Harry said, and then asked, "So how does Hermione fit into this?"

"RIght, right... so the muggle-borns have been meeting, and that means I've seen her weekly for quite some time.  She's changed.  It's hard to put my finger on it, or to give you a specific instance, but I've found it worrisome," Anthony said.

"She has changed," Harry admitted.

"Anyway, I noticed that she was in the area of our Common Room regularly, but then she would disappear.  It was more than passing strange... and I freely admit that we Ravenclaws are a curious lot.  That's when I discovered this room," Anthony said.  "Yesterday, I saw her at the spiral stairs and decided to ask her about all of this.  When I reached here, she was nowhere to be found but the door was open.  I... well... you really need to see this."

"I'm not keen on breaking into her workspace," Harry objected.

Anthony frowned.  "I'd rather it be you than Professor Flitwick or the Headmaster, truthfully.  This had to be reported to the staff, and I'm not exaggerating.  If it was anyone other than Hermione, and if you weren't involved with her... this really needed to be reported, Harry.  It's for her own good."

Harry let out a frustrated sigh and returned his attention to the rune set.  "There's something similar to a  Notice-Me-Not... and an alarm... and... all right, that would hurt... I think the best bet is to just overpower them and then recharge the runes afterward."

Anthony's brows rose.  "You can do that?" he asked.

Harry shrugged and said, "I don't see why not.  Wards are all about intent, really.  She wanted to protect the room, of course, but she wouldn't set out to hurt me or anyone else who cares about her.  On the other hand, she'd probably burn Croaker to ash."

Anthony said with surprise, "Really? He's a prickly fellow, but obviously well qualified."

"Talk to him about blood sometime, and then tell me what you think of him," Harry shot back.

"I'll have to do that," Anthony said, with noticeably less warmth in his voice. 

Harry returned to the warding on the door.  "My point is that the wards probably aren't intended to kill or even hurt me in particular.  In turn, my only intent is to make sure that Hermione's safe.  I don't care to interfere with what she's doing unless that can't be helped.  Another thing in my favor is that I can tell these are hers.  If I recharge them afterward, I can make them just like hers because I understand her intent."

"Er... I can't say I've ever heard warding explained in that way..." Anthony said hesitantly.

"Spend a few days with an Icelandic war witch sometime - it's enlightening," Harry threw out, as he touched his wand to the rune set.  A sharp tingling shot up his arm and then down to his feet.  It was as though energy drained from the door, through him and into the stone floor.  The door opened with an audible click.

Most of the room was taken up by bookshelves and cabinets, brimming with papers and scrolls and tomes.  A small potions work station sat in one corner, surrounded by ingredient binds and a few things that Harry couldn't identify nor did he care to.  A table sat in the middle of the chaos, loaded to near-breaking with books that sat in a semi-circle around a stack of parchment, an inkwell and quill, a goblet filled with biros and three Muggle notebooks.

Anthony drew Harry immediately to the table.  "See?  See?  Look at some of this stuff!  De Praestigiis Daemonum... the Steganographia of Trithemius... Le Veritable Dragon Rouge... München Handbuch der Magie der Dämonen!  She has the Munich Manual of Demonic Magic, by all that's holy!"

"That sounds bad," Harry acknowledged.

"Bad?  It's more than bad.  You don't know what these are, do you?  These didn't come from the Restricted Section, I can tell you.  Le Veritable Dragon Rouge... The True Red Dragon... that's for summoning a demon.  Have you ever heard of 'making a deal with the devil'?  You'll find the instructions in there.  Vodou practitioners swear by it," Anthony explained.  "And this one, this is the Codex Gigas, the Devil's Bible!  If you look at the illuminated letters - the big, fancy capital letters - they're full of magical text.  It's Transitus Fluvii, and even some Muggles know what that is.  Don't look too closely, though, unless you like to be possessed.  The Munich Manual... that one's outright illegal.  And these are some of the more pedestrian things in here."

He led Harry to a nearby shelf.  "This is the Ghayat al-Hakim fi'l-sihr.  Non-believers call it the Picatrix.  We use this in our... um... well, it's enough to say that we use it.  The thing is, we have two millenia of experience with this sort of thing.  If you were to mess about with some of the rituals in here without applying the proper magical seals - seals which require more than simple instructions to properly apply - I don' t want to think about it.  All of the ones on this shelf... and about half of the books on the table... are alchemical tomes.  The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage... The Black Pullet... this is some of Flamel's work, and I don't think it's of the published sort.  Harry, she's mucking about with alchemy.  Does this look supervised to you?  It doesn't look supervised to me."

Finally, he held up a book teetering on the edge of the table.  "And this... we call this one the Lesser Key of Solomon.  The few wizards who would recognize it would call it the Lemegeton.  This is all about spirit evocation.  This first section, it tells you how to make a brass container that will hold an evoked spirit in place.  And in the fourth section... that's about how to make an almadel, so you don't just evoke spirits but conjure them instead!  Harry, there's enough stuff in here to send Hermione to Azkaban for two or three lifetimes, but set that aside for a minute - "

"Set it aside?!" Harry snapped.

"Even if that wasn't an issue, there's enough stuff in here to get her killed or worse," Anthony said.  "If she's doing this on her own, someone has to stop her.  If someone's helping her do this, then they've earned a visit from the Aurors - but If you ask me, it should be from the Hit Wizards."

"What in hell is she doing with all of this?" Harry wondered aloud.

"Are you going to deal with this, or not?" Anthony demanded.

Harry debated over what to say.  Finally he offered, "Hermione is working with the Headmaster on a really serious project.  Even I don't know everything about it, but I do suspect that it could be dangerous.  It's possible - and I'm not making excuses - but it is possible that she has these books for a reason."

Anthony said sharply, "I love books, Harry.  I love learning; I love knowledge for the sake of knowing.  I can tell you, though, that some things shouldn't be known.  Other things shouldn't be known unless you're completely prepared to know them.  Still more things shouldn't be known unless you're completely prepared to put them to use.  It's dangerous to even read some of these books, let alone use any of the contents."

"And why do you know so much about them, then?" Harry returned.

"Remember: two millenia of experience.  Some of this is only safe if you believe what's contained inside, and I mean if you truly believe it and are committed to not merely using it but protecting it.  Do you know the story of Pandora's box?  Actually, it would have been a clay jar... but that's not the point.  The point is, you're standing inside the box right now.  If Hermione opens this box on her own, she won't be the only one to suffer."

"I'll talk to her.  I'll talk to Professor Dumbledore," Harry said.

"I'll hold you to that.  Do it before the Yule break is over, or I'll go to him myself," Anthony promised.

* * * * * * * * * * *

December 18

Harry stayed at least twenty paces behind Hermione as she made her way through the castle.  He was Disillusioned, his footsteps were silent, his scent was masked, and his Invisibility Cloak was at hand in the event that all else failed.  It hadn't been easy to free his entire day - Detheridge was going to make him pay for it in a hundred small ways, he knew - but he had to know what she was doing.

She made for the Ravenclaw tower, but then turned down a little-used corridor and onto stairs that Harry had never before used.  He strayed behind even further in hopes that she wouldn't spot his footprints in the dust.  The stairs ended somewhere beyond Dungeon Seven, deep in the bowels of Hogwarts.  She turned to the right and shortly stopped to knock on a nondescript door.  He heard a ragged cough from the other side of the door.  It opened to reveal the last person Harry expected to see.

"Granger," Severus Snape said evenly.

"Mr. Snape," Hermione returned.

"Your services are no longer required," said Snape.

Hermione said, "You're welcome."

"It is... true that I have benefitted from your efforts," Snape barely acknowledged.

Hermione barely reacted to him; instead, she said, "This isn't about my services.  It's about yours."

"You are most persistent.  In other circumstances, I would bring a quick end to your persistence," Snape said in the cold tone that Harry knew so well.

"Yes, well, you've really no choice in the matter," said Hermione.

Snape gave her a haughty look and said,  "Less and less a Gryffindor each day, aren't you?"

"And you've no reason to care about that anymore," Hermione fired back. 

"Touche, Miss Granger.  One hundred points to perfidy," Snape said in his silkiest tone.

"Whose perfidy: yours or mine?" Hermione asked.

"That was reminiscent of wit," came Snape's reply; "Fetch my bag, then.  We shall use Dungeon Nine today."  He then broke into a hacking cough.

"Have you run out of potion?" Hermione asked.

"I am quite capable of making my own," said Snape.

Hermione pursed her lips and said, "I see... and you're hands aren't shaking anymore, is that correct?"

"Fine - eight more doses, then, and you will reduce the lacewings over a medium flame, not a high flame.  It should have been you who noticed the difference in quality, and not me," Snape hissed.

"You're welcome," Hermione said once again.

"There are limits to my obligation - you do realise that?" Snape grumbled.

"I'll gladly let you know when we bump up against them," Hermione said; "Do you need an arm?"

"Yes, I require your assistance - does that satisfy you?" roared Snape.

"Honestly, no, it doesn't.  I'd prefer that you were well," said Hermione.

"And alas, the Gryffindor returns... or is it the Hufflepuff?" sneered Snape.

Hermione took Snape's arm and led him into the corridor, where Harry had his first clear look at his old classroom nemesis.  He was pale and stooped, and one of his hands constantly shook.  His eyes were rheumy and his robes appeared quite loose.  His gait was unsteady and it seemed as if his bravado diminished with each step.  After two hundred paces, Hermione had her shoulder beneath Snape's armpit to brace him, although he stubbornly continued to walk.  He leant against the wall at the entrance to Dungeon Nine and breathed heavily.

"I'll finish the potion this afternoon," Hermione said.  "You're not still overdosing with Pepper-Up, are you?"

"As if I'd tell you, Granger," Snape tried to sneer, but another fit of coughing seized him.

"You'd better not die until June," Hermione said.

Snape laughed, and Harry could barely keep his feet with the shock of it.  "Your warmth overwhelms me.   Yes... a Hufflepuff to the core," he managed between coughs.

"Shall we?" Hermione asked.

"I trust your Sectumsempra curse will at last meet my expectations?" Snape retorted.

"It exceeded that Death Eater's expectations at the Goblin Hunt," said Hermione darkly.

"Nonetheless, I have yet to see tangible evidence," Snape insisted.  The door to Dungeon Nine closed with a loud squelch before Harry heard her reply.

Harry collapsed against the corridor wall.  He was still virtually paralyzed when Hermione and Snape exited the dungeon nearly two hours later.  The two exchanged words as Snape stumbled back to his chambers under Hermione's care, but Harry didn't take any of it in.  He recovered enough to follow her back toward Ravenclaw's tower and down the spiral stairs. 

Hermione stopped at the warded door and let out a long sigh.  She said aloud, "I imagine there's an even chance you're here, Harry.  I know you took down my warding and put it back again.  It was well done, but I know it's your ward.  It just feels that way.  If you're here, then we may as well have a talk.  If not... then I'm talking to myself."

Harry allowed himself to reappear.  "Why?" he asked flatly.

"That's my question, isn't it?  Why did you break into my workroom?  Why did you find it in the first place?  Why are you here now?" Hermione fired back.

"Why are you studying with Snape?" Harry growled.

"You've been following me," Hermione said coldly.

"I shouldn't need to do it, but there you are," said Harry.

Hermione moved her wand in a complex sequence and the workroom door briefly shone with a bluish light.  "Come in, then.  Obviously you know where to take a seat," she said.

They sat at the table and stared at each other for a long while after the door once again sealed.  Hermione broke the silence.  "I found Snape lying in a dungeon corridor, in a pool of his own vomit," she said; "Dumbledore did nothing!  You did nothing!  You cut the man off from an addictive potion and then you left him alone.  Don't you dare to lecture me about what I've done for him!"

Harry was again stunned.  "I... uh..."

Hermione said quickly and angrily, "Don't make excuses to me, because the whole thing is inexcusable.  Dumbledore deserves most of the blame - and yes, it's Dumbledore, not Professor Dumbledore, not Headmaster Dumbledore.  I was fool enough to think that he actually cared about me, but not anymore.  Snape is one of the more vile people I've ever met, but Dumbledore discarded him like a Chocolate Frog wrapper when it suited him.  I asked Madam Pomfrey for help, and she told me that her instructions were to leave Snape to his own devices, as he was no longer a member of staff.  She did end up providing me with ingredients, but I think that was just a means to satisfy her Healer's Oath.  I chose to keep you clear of this, because you would have no desire to help him and because there's nothing you could possibly say to justify the situation - nothing."

Harry crossed his arms.  "You're right, I wouldn't go out of my way to help him," he said; "Snape's a right bastard, and I'm not all that sorry he's suffering.  With that said, do you really think I would have left him in his own spew?  Look, it never occurred to me that he'd need any help.  If the Headmaster left him that way on purpose, then you're right: there's no excuse for it."

"All right, that's a start -" Hermione began.

Harry cut her off, "Now, then: why are you letting that, that thing teach you curses?  Why are you reading these books?  Are you casting anything from these?  I know what they are."

"Who came with you?" Hermione asked.

"Who says anyone did?" Harry snapped.

"You wouldn't know any of these books," she said confidently.

"Well, thanks for that!" Harry groused.

"Almost no one could identify more than one or two of the books on this table," Hermione returned.  "Who came here?  It wasn't Dumbledore, or I'd already have been in his office.  Was it Croaker?"

Harry said immediately, "No!  Croaker's an arse - I'd never involve him in something like this!  He'd probably be thrilled to have you arrested."

Hermione nodded and said, "You spoke to him, then?"

"I talked to Ogden, too," Harry told her.  "I think he's trying to do right by you; he made some good points.  Croaker, though... Merlin!  I wanted to choke the life out of him!" 

"We agree on something, at least.  That's good, isn't it?" Hermione said.

Harry returned to the topic at hand.  "These books are dangerous," he said.

"Many of them are," she admitted.  "I'm only using three of them, if that helps you.  The rest are references."

"I'm told that some of them are even dangerous to read," he said to her.

She rolled her eyes and said, "Most of those tales are myths."

"Who told you that?" Harry asked.

"It's so obvious; anyone could see through the inconsistencies," she assured him.

Harry was far from convinced.  "Are you certain?" he asked.

"There's very little risk," she answered.

Harry picked up The Lesser Key of Solomon and asked her, "Spirit conjuring?" 

He set it down and then picked up The Black Pullet.  "Alchemy?  Didn't Lucia muck about with alchemy on her own?"

He replaced that with the Codex Gigas.  "Are you planning to make a deal with the devil?" he asked her.

"There is no such thing," she said flatly.

He repeated his earlier question: "Are you certain?"

"I don't need to be, because I'd never even consider a ritual like that," she answered.

He sat back in his chair.  "Back to it, then.  Why?" he asked.

"It's to confirm my work... well, that's what most of it is for," she told him.  "I have the answer, I think.  I know what happened in 1981."

"You know...?  You think you've figured it out?" Harry spluttered.

"I'm almost certain of it," Hermione said.

"I need you to be safe," he said.

"I'm cautious," she said.

"Bill Weasley had to fix your arm in the Black Library," he pointed out.

"I'm more cautious now," she said.

"The person who came with me... he'll turn you in if he isn't convinced that you're putting a stop to this," he said.

"That's none of his affair," she sniffed.

"He thinks it is," he countered.

"Most of these aren't mine," she said;  "Most are to be returned before the Yule break."

"Good," he said.  "Where did they come from?"

"That's really not any of your affair," she said.

"It is my affair if you're putting yourself in danger.  I work here, Hermione," he reminded her.

"You're the one crashing wards by overpowering them, and you think I'm in danger?" she responded.

"Stop training with Snape," he said.

"You don't own me," she returned dangerously.

"It's no good for you," he said.

"I'll be done soon.  He's already turning me over to a duelling partner," she said.

"You're taking his advice on a duelling partner?" he asked.

"It was good advice," she said; "Stop training with the war witch."

"I have to do it," he said.

"It's no good for you," she said.

"It's not the same thing," he complained.

"So you say," she allowed.

He took a slow breath and then said, "This is getting us nowhere."

"You're right," she agreed; "What do we do now?"

"We find a way to trust each other?" he offered.

"I'll return most of the books," she said.

"Er... I won't break into your workroom?" he ventured.

"You're right - you won't," she growled.

"I won't follow you around?" he said.

"That's a start," she said.

"Uh... I'll rub your feet while you revise?" he said.

"Hmm... that's a reasonable offer," she said with a smirk.

"It's dark in here.  Let's go somewhere with some light," he said, and she agreed.  It wasn't settled, but there was a measure of peace.

* * * * * * * * * *

December 20 

"Come in, Monsieur Potter, come in!" the Marquis said brightly.

"Thank you," Harry said; "Erm... this is a nice office."

The Marquis gave a Gallic shrug.  "It suits me," he said.

'Nice' was an understatement.  'Opulent' was closer to the truth.  There was no doubt that the Marquis had expensive taste, and Harry knew through the castle grapevine that the Marquis had rejected nearly every furnishing Hogwarts had to offer.  Virtually the entire contents of the south tower were ultimately transported from the Marquis' chateau.

"Did you need something from me?" Harry asked.

"Non, Monsieur Potter.  It is you who need something from me," the Marquis announced.  "Mme. de Flandres, please join us."

The Marquis' apprentice joined them in the office.  Harry had for the most part avoided her since making a referral to Mr. Tonks.  She was too forward for his taste, and he was stil unsure whether she was purely interested in a business partnership.  Once seated, she remained silent.

"I have asked M. Potter here today so that he may learn of the, ehh, travails of the hero," said the Marquis.  "Apprentice, what is it that the heroes have in common?  I speak of those who have come in the times since my birth."

"Each of them had a group of close supporters, Your Grace," Mme. deFlandres said immediately.

"Quite so, quite so - well spoken," the Marquis said.  "M. Potter, it is Albus' group that you have met: the ones you have named the, ehh, 'old-old crowd', yes?  Some of these were of my group before that, as I was of Nicolas' group before that.  Apprentice, what is my age?"

"Two hundred and forty-one years, Your Grace," she answered.

"Yes, yes... two hundred and forty-one years.  You will not speak of this, M. Potter.  Some think me to be three, four, even five years younger than this, and I am grateful for the illusion of youth," the Marquis said; Harry had to stifle a chuckle.  He went on, "I was born two years to the day before my cousin Marie-Joseph.  He is a rather well-known fellow in his own right, for the Muggles in America.  They know him as the Marquis de Lafayette.  Why do I say these things, you are asking, yes?  It is because of this: it will not be Albus who wins the war that is coming.  It will not be this 'old-old crowd' that tries to train you, even in the face of the curse.  Alas, it will not be me, though I would gladly suffer the victory, and the riches and fine women and fine cognac that would come my way.  It will be you, M. Potter, and it will be your companions.  Some will be older, some will be of the same age as yourself.  For another hero, some would be younger, but when one is as young as you, then not so much."

"That does make sense," Harry admitted.

"Of course it does; I would not tell you this if it were otherwise," said the Marquis.  "And thus, it is time that the hero begins to assemble his group.  The rules, Apprentice?"

Mme. de Flandres hesitated for a moment before she asked, "The rules, Your Grace?"

The Marquis huffed, "Yes, of course: the rules.  The rules by which the hero, he forms the successful group -  those rules?"

"Are you referring to the Rule of Thirteen, Your Grace?" she asked.

"Among others, yes," the Marquis said.  He turned to Harry and explained, "Your group - your, ehh, team, if you like - should consist of yourself and twelve others.  There is to be thirteen in total, not twelve and not fourteen, but thirteen.  You will see this again and again and again in the history.  Even the Muggles have the best and biggest example, you know?  The Christ, he had the Twelve, yes?  Not the first to do this, and not the last.  Continue, Apprentice."

Mme. de Flandres said quickly, "Yes, Your Grace.  The twelve should be sworn to service in an order determined by lot, such that neither they nor you know the order in which the oaths are sworn.  The last to swear is the most likely to either die in your service or to commit betrayal, but many believe that this is self-fulfilling.  Therefore, it is best that the order remains unknown to all."

The Marquis nodded approvingly.  "Well stated, Apprentice," he said.  "The team - the, ehh, order, if you like - she must be sworn around the common object... the ring, the pendant, the watch... the sword is nice, yes?  And then there is the name - the name, she is very important.  She must be fitting, she must be strong, she must be noble.  In this modern age, I am told that she must fit on the, ehh... what is the word?  The, ehh, tee-shirt - she must fit on the tee-shirt."  Harry couldn't hold back a snort on that, and even Mme. de Flandres' expression broke for a moment.

"Enough of the humour.  Apprentice, bring forth the cases, would you?" the Marquis ordered.  Mme. de Flandres briefly left the room and then returned with thirteen long cases levitating three feet above the floor.

Harry put it together quickly.  "Swords, sir?" he asked.

"Quite so, M. Potter," said the Marquis.  "Kanzan, he will not return to this place.  In his stead, he offers these to you.  You will find thirteen identical blades, engraved with the sign of House Potter and the sign of Hogwarts and the sign of Britain.  These shall be the common object for your, ehh, order."

Harry cautiously opened one of the boxes.  "It's brilliant," he said quietly.

Mme. de Flandres stood and asked, "May I?"  Harry put the blade in her hands.  She gave a few slices and then slid fluidly into a duelling pose.

"Your impressions, Apprentice?" the Marquis asked.

"The grip is supple and the weight is superb, Your Grace.  They are subtly but powerfully charmed," she said.  "These are remarkable blades.  Anyone would be honored to bear them."

"Kanzan, he is the greatest living craftsman of the blade," said the Marquis; "I would expect nothing less.  He took these from the metal rods to the magical blades by his own hand and wand, M. Potter.  These were not left to the journeyman or the apprentices."

"How can I ever pay for these?  I can't even imagine the value..." Harry wondered aloud.

"There is no paying," the Marquis told him.  "The payment, it is to rid the world of this Voldemort of yours.  The name, she is what remains before us.  She must be noble, she must be worthy of a chevalier such as M. Weasley, and she must be worthy of the clothing, yes?  And so, I, Alexandre, the Marquis de Maupassant, shall grace you with the perfect name, the name that will forever mark your, ehh, noble order in the annals of the history.  Les Chevaliers de Saint-Pierre, this is the name."

Harry felt run over.  He managed to say, "I appreciate, erm, what you're doing... Les Chevaliers de... I'm sorry?"

Mme. de Flandres explained, "The Marquis says this in French, of course.  The name which he has provided you is said in English as 'The Knights of Saint Peter'."

"So you've been calling Ron a knight?" Harry asked.

"This is correct, M. Potter.  M. Weasley, his place is to be the hero's knight," said the Marquis.  "It goes without saying that M. Weasley will be a part of your order."

"And Hermione, of course," Harry added.

"Non, non.  Mme. Granger, she will not be such," the Marquis pronounced.

Harry's eyes widened.  "Pardon?" he asked.

"Ahh, this is not to say that Mme. Granger is unimportant, not at all.  The goblins, they have already spoken on her place.  Sataaja, they said to us all.  Mme. Granger, she is your guide.  She is, ehh, soror mystica for your noble quest," the Marquis clarified.  "In this way, she is more important than this order you will swear to your service.  That which is between you and she, this is already sworn, yes?"

"I suppose it is," Harry said quietly.

"So, it is finished, yes?  We have the number, we have the blades, we have the name, and we have the first chevalier," the Marquis said with great satisfaction.

"Er... not that I'm ungrateful... because certainly I'm not..." Harry began.

"Ahh, yes.  My Apprentice, she is of course at your service,  Her skill with the blade, it is legendary.  Her mind, it is in the same realm as the sataaja.  Her courage, it is that of the chevalier," the Marquis declared.

"It would be an honour, Your Grace," Mme. de Flandres said immediately.

"Eh... that's... that's great.  I'll... once all this is organised, we can speak about that..." Harry managed.

"You were breathless with the question, M. Potter - please continue with the thought," the Marquis said.

"Oh, right, yes... uh... about the Knights of Saint Peter?  What's behind that name, exactly?  I'm afraid I don't follow," said Harry.

The Marquis nodded knowingly and said, "I see, of course... the hero, he must know the whys and wherefores of the name, for it is part of the heroic tale, yes?  The Knights of Saint George, they have a history in your country, and the Saint George, he is the patron saint.  This means no for the Saint George.  The Saint Patrick, this would be a possibility if you were of Ireland but you are not.  The Welsh names, they do not flow from the tongue, so even though the hero's family lived in Wales... no.  But then there is the holy Saint Peter.  He is the first saint, the most important, the right hand of the Christ.  He speaks of power, yes?  But... but...!   He is also the patron saint, yes?  Saint Peter, he is the patron saint of many, many things.  The thing that makes sense, though...?  The thing that gives us the noble name?  Saint Peter, he is the patron saint of potters.  Thus the name, she is settled."

"Patron saint of Potters... that's great... brilliant, actually... er... can't tell you how much help this has been... eh..." Harry babbled.

The Marquis grinned madly.  "It comes naturally to me," he said.  "Now is the time when we toast with the cognac and tell the stories of the oats we have sown..."

Harry went from rattled to positively uncomfortable.  "Erm... oats?  Does that mean...?"

The Marquis' eyes widened.  "Ehh, let us step back from that!  It is easy for me to forget your young age.  You have not sown the oats.  Perhaps you have not found the oats, although you have found the sataaja, and thus the oats are close at hand... unless you seek different oats entirely..."

"Perhaps another line of conversation is in order, Your Grace?" Mme. de Flandres ventured.

The Marquis raised one eyebrow.  "But of course... oh, my.  How shall I say... M. Potter, it is possible that the sataaja, she is not the right sort of oats?"

"I'm really confused about the oats..." Harry offered.

The Marquis stared intently at Harry and asked, "You are not the, ehh... pederaste?  Not that I sit in judgment, of course -"

"Your Grace!" Mme. de Flandres squeaked.

Harry sat back in his chair, alarmed.  "You're not asking...?"

"M. Potter favours women," Mme. de Flandres said without hesitation.

Harry stood quickly and shook the Marquis' hand.  "Thank you for all the advice.  The swords are great.  I'll remember the rules and I'll think on the name.  Have a wonderful day," he blurted out in a single breath, and then left the office as quickly as possible.

Ron stopped him in the corridor, which he was moving through as quickly as possible without running.  "What's happened?  You're pale as Sir Nick!" he said.

"Met with the Marquis - he thinks you're a knight - gave us some swords - wants us to start an order - I gotta go," Harry bit out.

"Swords are cool," Ron said to Harry's retreating back.

* * * * * * * * * *

December 22

Long after the usual gaggle of visitors faded away, the packet from Ted Tonks still sat on Harry’s desk. Every time that he walked away from it, Hedwig let out a sharp cry and fixed him with an unforgiving stare. The fact that Mr. Tonks had sent a packet at all left open the possibility that Croaker had been right: that Harry was under some sort of marriage contract, or betrothal, or whatever it was actually called by wizards. Not for the first time, Harry recognized how little he truly knew about the world in which he lived.

He barely noticed when the tray holding his half-eaten dinner disappeared, nor did he hear Spat return until there was a firm tug on his sleeve. “Not-Professor Potter needs something more potent than his usual butterbeer…?” the house-elf said.

“Why would you think that?” Harry asked.

Spat immediately answered, “The Not-Professor is not his usual crabby, growly and easily annoyed self.”

“Charming,” Harry said with a grimace.

Spat put on an expression that passed for a smirk, and remarked, “The Not-Professor still puts up with Spat despite Spat’s constant offenses. Spat thinks that the Not-Professor is the only wizard strange enough for Spat’s liking. Spat also thinks the Not-Professor is afraid of the papers on his desk. Spat asked the Johtaja what to do for the Not-Professor, and the Johtaja reminded Spat that the Not-Professor is the head of House Black. This means the Not-Professor is the rightful owner of all the things that Professor Nasty Portrait packed away.”

Harry let out a sharp laugh. “Professor Nasty Portrait? Do you mean Phineas Black?”

Spat nodded furiously. “Spat means the very same, and so Spat brings you Professor Nasty Portrait’s hidden refreshment.” With a flourish, he made a very dusty bottle and a glass pop onto the desk.

“What is this?” Harry wondered as he brushed at the dust.

“Spat presents a bottle of Dunwoody Single-Malt Firewhiskey from the year 1832,” Spat said. “The Johtaja told Spat that this would strip paint from the Not-Professor’s insides.” His big eyes opened wide, and he added hesitantly, “Has the Not-Professor been eating paint? Is this why the Not-Professor picks over his meals?”

Harry said, “It’s just an expression. Er… this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about the Johtaja. Who is that, anyway?”

Spat began, “The Johtaja is the One-Who-Leads-From-Behind. One must lead, there has to be one who leads, but…” He broke into fidgeting, but went on, “To lead, the Johtaja must lead. It is… difficult for us… there are those who… some think that only one who is not right in the head would be Johtaja.”

“And what do you think?” Harry asked.

“Spat thinks that it would be an honour to serve as Johtaja. Other house-elves think that this proves their point. Spat’s clan thinks that Spat spends too much time serving the Johtaja. Spat’s mother thinks that Spat is young and stupid and going through a phase of thinking he is greater than his station,” the house-elf returned.

“Well, Harry Potter thinks that Spat’s all right, for what it’s worth,” Harry said.

Spat bowed with a flourish and said, “Spat is pleased to serve the head of the great Houses of Potter and Black. Spat has decided that Not-Professor Potter is to become a great and barmy wizard like the Headmaster. Spat is ceasing hostilities with the Not-Professor’s Miss Hermione Jean Granger. Miss Hermione Jean Granger treats Spat well, though Spat has made himself undeserving.”

“That’s, erm… gracious of you,” Harry said, and then he asked, “If I ask a favour of you, Spat, are you allowed to give it?”

Spat’s brow crinkled. “Spat’s place is to serve the Not-Professor in all things that do no harm to Hogwarts and do not stand against the orders of the Headmaster or Johtaja. Spat does not need to give favours, and Not-Professor does not need to ask them of Spat.”

Harry nodded in understanding. He said, “Three things, then. First, this Not-Professor business has to stop; my name is Harry. Second, if you’re really finished with your row, then you should refer to Hermione by name as well. Third… I need you to keep watch over her. There are some people who think she’s dabbling in some magic that’s best left alone. I need to know if she’s doing anything dangerous. Be sure that she doesn’t see you.”

“Spat will obey within the bounds of his oaths,” the house-elf replied.

“Oh – two more things?” Harry added.

“Harry Potter, sir, does like to draw things out,” Spat said blandly.

“You’re permitted to appear in my quarters whenever needed; I don’t care if you’re seen by anyone who might be visiting,” said Harry.

“Spat has already gathered that,” the house-elf said; “There was one more thing, Harry Potter, sir…?”

“Right, then. I’m not much for servants. Dobby thinks for himself, and Winky… well, at least she doesn’t grovel. Even if you’re a little irritating, I don’t want you to change yourself for me. Do what you do best… though I’m not quite certain what that is,” Harry said.

Spat nodded furiously, and promised, “Spat will be the house-elf he is meant to be, Harry Potter, sir. Spat’s clan says that Spat is the most disagreeable house-elf at Hogwarts, and that Harry Potter’s Dobby is the only one more strange. Spat assures Harry Potter, sir, that no self-respecting wizard will ever accept Spat’s services.”

“Er… if that’s what you want…?” Harry managed.

The house-elf disappeared for an instant and then reappeared with a steaming cup of tea. He dribbled some of the firewhiskey into the cup. Harry’s eyes burned from the fumes. “Spat will leave Harry Potter, sir, to quail at his scary papers,” he announced as he disappeared a second time.

Harry took in a long breath, let it out slowly, and tore open the large Muggle envelope in a single go. There were at least a hundred pages of papers within. A single sheet of Ted Tonks’ stationery topped the stack.

Harry,

I’ve enclosed the information you requested, as well as your monthly statements.

The wizarding economy is going through a spot of turmoil. Apparently the Swiss gnomes decided to peg the florin to this new Muggle currency that the European Union is sorting out, but told the goblins that they were going to use the thaler as the benchmark. The goblins called a banking conference, where the nissens from Norway (they’re a bit like gnomes, but never tell them that) in turn decided to ignore the Euro altogether, which broke the agreement that all the banking communities had previously negotiated. The chupacabras from Brazil (nasty business, those) crawled away from the proceedings entirely, and the zombie bankers from New Orleans apparently left behind a limb at the negotiating table. That’s a tremendous insult, of course, notwithstanding the stench. Never cross the zombies, by the way, as they are the most relentless debt collectors you could possibly imagine.

The result of all this kerfuffle is that the wizarding currency markets are arse-over-teakettle. Only the Americans and our friends in Oz seem to be doing well at the moment. You’ll see some losses in your principal holdings, in addition to all the approved expenses.

Your generosity is admirable – for example, making good on Diggle’s dealings in St. Ebb, and the victims’ fund, and the potions research you’re sponsoring – but both Madam Bones and I must advise that you take a more conservative position in your financial dealings. I know this is in poor taste, but it’s true that Dark Lords are bad for business. It took Britain five years or more to recover from the last war. If this currency contraction heralds the beginning of a wartime economy, then we’re right to worry about your accounts.

By contrast, your Muggle holdings are doing quite well. The Ministry is encouraging Gringotts to stiffen the limitations on currency conversion, and one of my contacts believes that they may soon impose a new tariff on conversions. It is worth considering the conversion of additional Galleons to sterling. A recurring scheduled transaction would yield the most ready cash under limitations without triggering tariffs, whether old or new.

Most of your request for information was handled by the General Recording Office at the Ministry. Modest unscheduled fees were assessed in order to guarantee confidentiality. I located the rest of the material among the various Potter family records that we have gathered and catalogued on your behalf. If you have any questions about the information, Andromeda would be the one to ask. I’ll be in Hogsmeade on the weekend, and will be available to meet with you upon request regarding your accounts.

Kind regards,

Ted

The first thirty-seven sheets of parchment each contained a formal proposal for marriage or betrothal, extended to the Head of House Potter after the death of Harry’s parents. Some names were familiar: Abbott, Bones, Brocklehurst, Bruce… Hargrove… Turpin… Vane… All of these were labelled as “decision to be made within five years of installation of a new Head of House”. As he looked closer, Harry saw that more than twenty had been withdrawn by the family in question; all of those withdrawals had taken place since 1991. Some had been betrothed to others, and it occurred to Harry that perhaps these proposals were extended to several families at once. He saw one from Niall Pucey, and it took him a few moments to realise that it referred to Adrian’s older sister; she had finished Hogwarts after Harry’s third year. That one had been withdrawn in 1994, when she had become engaged to someone whose name Harry didn’t recognise.

The next twelve sheets were labelled as “rejected by conservator on minor wizard’s behalf”. These names were familiar and the reason for their rejection was clear to Harry. Nott, Parkinson, Gamp… it was a Death Eaters’ Who’s-who list. In this instance, he was very pleased with the Headmaster’s meddling.

The final sheet stopped Harry cold. He read it through a second time, and then a third.

On this, the Twenty-Third day of December, in the Year of Our Lord 1980,

Melisende Mhairi McIlvaine and Connor Bruce MacPhail,

Mistress of the Original Noble House of McIlvaine and her consort,

Do pledge the troth of their daughter,

Dierdre Jehanne MacPhail McIlvaine

to Harry James Potter

Son of James William Potter and Lily Evans Potter,

Head of the Most Noble and Courageous House of Potter and his consort.

Either of the betrothed may negate this agreement of their own volition and without penalty between the eleventh anniversary of the birth of Miss McIlvaine, on the Ninth of October, 1990, and the seventeenth anniversary of the birth of Master Potter, on the Thirty-First of July, 1997.

The parents of the betrothed may negate this agreement only under the terms established in the Year of Our Lord 972 by the Founding Council that predated the current Ministry for Magic. As a condition of the Agreement, House McIlvaine shall allow Miss McIlvaine to accept an invitation to attend from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at such time as it is received, provided that Master Potter accepts same.

Should this agreement remain in force on the First of August, 1997, the betrothed shall marry within five years and shall sire an heir or heiress within ten years of marriage. The first son borne to the betrothed shall be designated as Heir Presumptive of House Potter. The first daughter borne to the betrothed shall be designated as Heiress Presumptive of House McIlvaine and shall bear the surname Potter-McIlvaine. Should the marriage produce no female issue, the first son borne to the betrothed shall be designated as Heir Presumptive of House Potter and Regent of House McIlvaine, and shall pass Heirship of House McIlvaine to his first daughter. Should that first son produce no female issue, then the second son of the betrothed shall be named Regent, and his first daughter shall be named Heiress Presumptive. Should that second son produce no female issue, then the first son of the betrothed’s first son shall be designated as Regent of House McIlvaine, and a similar progression shall be followed until such time as a valid Heiress Presumptive of House McIlvaine may be named.

Such monies and assets as House McIlvaine may possess following the natural death of the Mistress shall pass to Miss McIlvaine, excepting a designated residence and lifelong stipend for the consort of the Mistress. Fifty percent of the monies and assets shall be retained as the property of House McIlvaine until such time as they may be passed to a valid Heiress Presumptive following the natural death of Miss McIlvaine. Fifty percent of the monies and assets shall be provided to the betrothed to do with as they will. In the event of an unnatural death, all House McIlvaine assets shall be frozen until the legal disposition of said death is established. All magical artifacts and the House Grimoire are designated as the property of House McIlvaine. The lawful Head of House Potter shall always be permitted to read the McIlvaine House Grimoire, and may practice the spells and rituals therein with the consent of the Head of House McIlvaine at that time. This Grimoire arrangement shall be reciprocated.

House McIlvaine and House Potter enter into a perpetual relationship upon execution of this betrothal. Each House shall work for the preservation and protection of the other; shall share or expend such assets as may be required in order to assure such preservation and protection; and shall extend protection and comfort to such Houses as each respective House may have previously joined in a reciprocal relationship.

In the event of the death of the Master of House Potter and his consort prior to the execution of this Agreement, House McIlvaine shall grant Master Potter houseroom and protection. In the event of the death of the Mistress of House McIlvaine and her consort prior to the execution of this Agreement, House Potter shall grant Miss McIlvaine houseroom and protection.

Both of the McIlvaines and both of Harry’s parents had placed their signatures and a single drop of blood at the bottom of the document. Harry traced his fingertips along first his father’s signature and then his blood; he gave an involuntary shudder. An addendum was written in the remaining inch below the signatures.

This Betrothal Agreement is negated under the terms established by the Founding Council, on account of the death of Deirdre Jehanne MacPhail McIlvaine.

Signed on the Twenty-Second day of October, in the Year of Our Lord 1981, by

Melisende Mhairi McIlvaine

Mr. Tonks had clipped a half-sheet of typing paper to the back of the parchment, with a hastily scribbled note:

Madam McIlvaine appeared before the Wizengamot in November 1981 and offered to fulfil the Agreement made with your parents by offering houseroom, protection and a reciprocal arrangement between the houses. This was no small gesture given the history of House McIlvaine.  The McIlvaines can be traced to the pre-Founders era, you see.  Dumbledore informed the members that you had already been placed with Muggle relatives. I believe that this was the first occasion at which Dumbledore publicly acknowledged your placement. One of my clients who sat on the Wizengamot at the time insists that Dumbledore referenced your parents’ will in order to quell the uproar. Either Dumbledore or my client is being dishonest with me. I think it’s Dumbledore, but you’re well aware that I don’t trust the old man.

I understand that you’ve already met Madam McIlvaine, though a Board of Governors hearing was not the best sort of introduction. In our limited experience, Melisende is an honourable witch. She may be a useful ally in what is to come. I suspect she would be pleased to receive your correspondence.

TT

Harry had no idea what to think, what to say, what he might write in a letter, or who he would – or even could – seek out for advice. His parents had betrothed him. He could scarcely take in the idea, nor could he put it away. He recalled Madam McIlvaine from the Board meeting, and his mind conjured up a girl his own age with long and wavy reddish-brown hair and an enigmatic smile. Deirdre Potter. It was what might have been and what could no longer be. It dawned on him that Deirdre had died in October, 1981. Harry didn’t have to think long about why she might have died, or at whose hand.

She tried to take me in, Harry thought. She could have taken me in - my parents wanted her to take me in - and he stopped it.

“Fucking Dumbledore!” he growled. He snatched up one of the wooden chairs at the table in his personal common room. He swung it hard against the stone wall and let forth a ragged shout.

“Fucking Voldemort!” he lashed out. He picked up the largest piece of the chair and gave it another swing, and then he reduced another piece to glowing ashes. He looked at a shattered chair leg and saw a hint of a red eye; in a flash, the chair leg joined the first pile of ashes.

It was one more thing he had been denied, and there was one more person who had paid the price for the snake-faced monster's misdeeds. Harry resolved two things with little effort. First, Voldemort would die by his hand, and it would be sooner rather than later. Second, he was finished with waiting for what he wanted in life. Voldemort could very well snuff out the good things in Harry's life before he even knew they existed. He certainly wasn't going to let the things in his grasp slip away. He wondered why he'd ever allowed that in the first place. The third resolution came shortly thereafter. He would ally with Dumbledore, he would even trust that the Headmaster's intentions were noble, but he would never again trust that the Headmaster was actually looking out for his interests. This was one example too many. His mind raced onward. It occurred to him that if this was true, then there was no good reason to believe the Headmaster was working in Hermione's interests either. What had Ted Tonks said once – that the Headmaster loved everyone but no one in particular? He finally understood what Mr. Tonks had meant.

“Not a chance,” Harry snarled aloud; “I won't let it happen.” The rest of the chairs at his table crumbled, and the table itself collapsed.

“Harry, what on Earth...?” Hermione gasped from the doorway. He opened his arms and she moved hesitantly toward him.

“Thank God you're here,” he mumbled into her shoulder.

She eased him back with her hands so that she could look him in the eyes. “What's happened? Are you all right? What can I do?” she asked in quick succession.

He took a ragged breath and crushed his lips to hers. She stiffened for a moment and then seemed to realise that this was Harry's answer to her question. The kiss was returned with a fervor they hadn't shared before. It was passionate and needful and on the edge of desperate.

Hermione pulled free to catch her breath.  "Not that I'm complaining, not at all, but -"

"You're mine, and I'm yours," Harry growled.

Hermione's brow furrowed.  "I'm not something to be owned," she protested.

"That's not it.  No one's going to take you from me, not Voldemort, not Dumbledore, not Krum -"

"Viktor?" Hermione laughed.

"Not the whole sodding Ministry," Harry said seriously.

"Harry... what...?" Hermione gently asked.

"Don't ever leave me," he said.  "I won't let it happen."

"I... I'm not going anywhere..." she said.

"I'm not trying to tell you what to do,  I just wanted you to be safe," he said.

"I returned the books, honestly," she said.

"I'm glad.  You can't take those kind of chances," he said.

"You need to understand that I won't be controlled, Harry.  I won't have it, not anymore.  In doing all this research... I think I may have discovered something, something about the nature of magic itself.  I'm not certain yet... it may take some time to be sure... but if I'm right, it's going to turn their whole world upside down.  Croaker, Fudge, Malfoy, people like that - they'll try to stop it, but I won't let them.  I won't let them stop me," she said.

"I won't let them, either -" he said.

"I know," she said. 

"- and they'll have to come through me first," he finished.

"That kiss... what was that about, really?" she asked.

"It's because you're mine," he said.

"No, you're mine," she smirked.

"That's bloody well right," he grinned.

"Harry, language," she chided him.

He kissed her again, with as much need as the last.

"What do you want, Harry?" she whispered.

"You," he said.

She stammered, "I... I'm not... er..."

"What do you want?" he asked.

She buried her face in the crook of his neck and said, "More than we've had."

He took her hand, led her toward the sofa and said, "Then show me."

"Maybe we should set this aside until Christmas?" she teased him.

"Or maybe not," he said as he kissed her once more.

"Or maybe not," she agreed.

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