Saturday morning dawned and it seemed as if the whole student body was gratefully taking the chance to sleep in except for a few creatures of habit that rose in spite of themselves. And two of these early risers were currently making their cautious way from their dorms to the vast grounds surrounding the school. They still weren't quite sure if they were breaking any school rules by going out onto the grounds so early in the morning but they had been at Hogwarts for almost a week and couldn't stand to walk The Path inside stone walls for yet another morning. They longed to do it out in the open even though they would still have to hide themselves from prying eyes; they wanted the freedom that came from being out in the elements and seeing the sun rise.
Their secretive journey ended in a secluded grove of trees near the lake and joyfully the two youngsters fell into position and let the natural movements of the Path take over their body. From the beginning of The Path until the end it was almost as if they ceased to exist, or rather became part of everything surrounding them as their awareness increased through the joining of mind and body in meditation. With a faint smile touching his eyes at the end Harry turned to Blaise.
"Good morning" he murmured softy before launching out with his foot at his companion.
With the ease that comes from training with one another Harry and Blaise blocked each others attacks and countered with their own. Then with a fist, a foot, and a feint Harry had Blaise right where he wanted her. He flipped over his friend using her own body as a projection point; his hands firmly grasping her shoulders as he threw his agile body overtop her head, forcing her to bend backwards so that her feet flew out from under her as gravity betrayed her. But Harry had misjudged trying out this new move and as Blaise fell onto her back her head and arms tangled with his legs as he tried to plant his feet into a landing. Down they both went, breathing heavily, neither inclined to get up at the moment.
"Dammit Harry" Blaise finally gasped out "next time you try some shit like that wait until Sensei is there to help you with it and don't involve me in it."
Giving a smirking grin Blaise couldn't see Harry nimbly jumped to his feet and gave a hand down to help Blaise up. It had been difficult on them not being able to practice sparring for the past week as they hadn't found a room they could safely use without getting caught that would also suit their training needs. They spent the next few minutes stretching various parts of their bodies and checking for any sore spots resulting from their screwed up falls before easing into a slow jog about the lake that would take them back up to the castle. Neither noticed the lone figure watching them from the parapets of the castle.
While they were ensconced in the grove of trees not even the high view from the castle parapets had allowed him to spy on Harry and Blaise, but now he watched their every movement with a calculating gaze as the two youths jogged easily about the lake and used the alone time to talk where prying ears couldn't hear. Of all the students in Hogwarts these two worried him the most. Perhaps it was what was and wasn't known of their families or perhaps it was the shocking placement of the golden-boy-who-lived into Slytherin house that made it difficult to categorize these two students. Then there was their ability to seemingly cut themselves off from their surroundings and show almost no emotion at all. If you looked hard and quick enough the reactions were there, not completely hidden though time itself would take care of that, but even if you spotted the emotions you had to take the time to decipher them and had no way of knowing if the analysis was correct. They were good students as well from their performance in classes so far, they seemed to already know the first year magics at least, and it had been noted that they had yet to break any rules even inadvertently. It was surprising how much they seemed to know and how well they adapted to the wizarding world. For both were new to this world as far as he knew, their presence had never been noted in any places wizards and witches congregated and the presence of Harry Potter would have been well noted. Harry Potter and Blaise Zabini were enigmas. They would have to be watched and more known about them before any further moves were made.
~~ ~~ ~*~
By seven Harry and Blaise had made their way back to the dungeons and to the showers where they made it seem as if they were just preparing for the day. A few other students were beginning to join them in the various morning rituals that took place though many of their house mates didn't look to be stirring any time soon. Harry didn't see how some people could sleep past eight or even until noon, they missed the best times of the day. They missed the dawn when it seemed as if the shadowy world was being reborn of crystal dewdrops and the quiet peace of early morning. Harry finished brushing out his dark, silky hair and expertly secured the long hair back in a black band to keep it neat and out of his face. A quick look in the mirror satisfied Harry that everything was in order. His black pants weren't wrinkled and fell neatly over the tops of his soft-soled boots where a knife was hidden and the sleeves of his soft black shirt were just loose enough that he could pull his wand in a heartbeat yet they weren't so loose as to get in the way. After tucking his necklaces down the front of his shirt so they wouldn't be seen Harry smirked and left to find Blaise in order to head to breakfast, with his dark looks people would be saying he was the epitome of Slytherin.
There was the usual disturbance created by the owls flying in to deliver packages during breakfast and Harry relieved Ciara of a letter and package before feeding her some bacon and sending her off to the Owlery. Other than that breakfast passed pretty peacefully, or at least it did until near the end when the Great Hall was fuller of students all talking merrily about their first week. That's when the Duo of Mayhem struck. It was a gradual prank and most of the students remained oblivious to it until the teachers started to make some noise. Even Dumbledore looked a bit put out. The reason was noticed by the Ravenclaws first among the students, or at least the smell reached them first.
"Ugh" a cry came from the Gryffindor table next "what is that bloody stench. Smells like it's coming from the teacher's table."
It was unmistakably the twins that had spoken up. By then the smell seemed to have permeated the rest of the room and some students were turning green and fleeing the Great Hall. The teachers were also quickly getting up but Dumbledore decided to calmly wave his wand and try to dissipate the smell instead.
Unfortunately for the teachers the pranksters had planned for someone to try and use some form of magic to get rid of the smell and had taken the time to research counter measures. The fumes from the dung bombs suddenly became visible in a riot of colors anywhere from shit brown to a sickly puke green. Frantically the teachers tried to wave the fumes away from them when they became visible but anywhere their skin touched the now apparent scent trails it was dyed that color, leaving the teacher's skins splotchy as well as emitting a faintly disgusting odor. By then almost everyone had left the hall so Harry and Blaise followed, silently slipping away as the teachers tried to get things under control. As they passed through the doors they stepped over the Weasley twins who were waiting right outside rolling on the ground, clutching their sides and howling with laughter.
"T-th-the t-t-teach-ers gg-got pra-anked" they were laughing, barely able to get the words out "the-their s-sk-skin...D-dumb-dumble-dore..."
A few more steps down the hall Peeves was laughing just as hard in his cackling way and Harry and Blaise were just in time to see the poltergeist fall heavily out of the air and onto a suit of armor. The ancient suit of armor crashed inwards with a loud clanging sound and Peeves ended up rolling on the floor much like the twins until the armor magically repaired itself and began bludgeoning Peeves with it's club, the suit of armor standing opposite it joining in happily. For a moment Peeves kept laughing, still not having been able to regain control of himself, until one suit of armor rammed a spear through him and the other brought a club down on his head. Then the poltergeist managed to stop laughing and turned himself into his spectral form and zoomed away cursing nastily.
Harry and Blaise had almost made it to the steps that they could take to lead them to the library when angry shouts echoed from the Great Hall. It seemed Fred and George had finally been heard laughing outside the doors.
"FRED AND GEORGE WEASLEY" McGonagall was yelling at the twins, who suddenly stopped laughing and went rigid; Snape was also standing nearby leering menacingly down upon the hapless troublemakers.
That was a position Harry and Blaise didn't want to be in. Both Heads of houses were incensed and combined with their green and brown blotched skin they looked both frightening and absolutely hilarious.
Quickly they continued on up the steps, faintly hearing as the twins' vehemently protested their innocence and swore on all they held sacred that they had not pulled the prank. When they could no longer hear anyone near them Harry turned to Blaise with a devilishly-rakish grin.
"We'll have to make it up to the twins somehow since they're taking the rap for our prank even though they were the ones dumb enough to stick around and laugh. Not that we'll tell them we were the ones that pulled the prank though since they are conveniently playing scapegoat for us. Hopefully they'll get out of it if their wands are found clean of the trigger spell."
They ran the rest of the way to the library, not even slightly winded after running up so many stairs, to pick up a potions book before heading back down to the Slytherin common room and holing up in a corner to read their letters and open the package. Quickly Harry slit open the coded letter from his father and automatically translated it as he read, Blaise reading one from her father as well.
It sounds like you are getting along at school pretty well. Trevor says he is glad you aren't having trouble learning the spells and sternly warns that you had better keep up with your studies. When am I going to hear from that school that you are being a troublemaker? It only took you two weeks, not counting the Chauvez incident, when we enrolled you in public school and that was without the use of magic. Things are quiet here so far. Among the men there is no suspicion that you are anywhere but a boarding school in France and among our known enemies there is no knowledge that you are anywhere but home. I dislike being so far from you if you should need help. Take care of yourself and Blaise and make sure to have at least one other weapon on you besides your wand. Though I would prefer for you to be fully outfitted I know it might be hard to be so at school. I miss you Harry.
Harry gave a soft smile that was quickly gone from his face just as immediately as it had come. He missed his father as well though it would have been much worse had Blaise not come to Hogwarts with him. He also knew that no matter how far away he was from his dad that if he needed help Manuel would find someway to get to him. It was part of the laws of a father's love. Trevor was the same way with Blaise. It was enough to make any child feel secure and safe. Tucking the letter away in his pocket Harry and Blaise turned to the package and eagerly slit the tape that had been used to close it. On top was a simple message scrawled in Manuel's handwriting: If you get caught I had nothing to do with this! Trevor charmed the package but he doesn't know what is going in it.
Inside laid every pranksters dream kit to the perfect Halloween night. Yet the best was hidden near the bottom with another note: New toy from the labs. Tiny charges, not enough to do much damage but enough for a shock. Problems: too small for a decent fuse but magic can probably circumvent that. Carefully taking out the packets Harry and Blaise surveyed the tiny, silver paper wrapped pellets and grins crossed their faces. This was going to be much better than any elementary school prank they had pulled and the year had only just begun.
Harry and Blaise spent the rest of the weekend slipping unobtrusively through the old castle and avoiding as many people as they could, especially Theo. It wasn't their style to hide or run from problems but they couldn't afford a confrontation yet. Harry knew he had told Blaise to be cautious about a friendship with the slightly younger Slytherin but to go ahead, now he was beginning to regret it. The boy tried to cleave to them too much and was full of questions that they didn't want to answer. It was almost as if the boy had been instructed to find out as much about them as possible but Harry wasn't quite sure who. It could have been a teacher, the headmaster, or even some of their fellow Slytherins. It didn't really matter who though, the boy was getting annoying. Almost as bad as Ronald Weasley. If the youngest Weasley male had actually had guts instead of making idle and completely unstable threats he might have been a worthy opponent and belonged to Slytherin. In the end Harry finally had to tell Theo in no uncertain terms to back down and he had acquiesced. They still talked occasionally but Theo had given up on his prying, understanding that it was for his own good.
Yet all in all the avoidance technique did do them some good while they had employed it. They learned their way around the castle better than most first years and found a few passageways that would greatly cut down on the time it took them to reach some of their classes. The most profitable part of their wanderings turned out to include a run in with Peeves who was still being pettish over his encounter with the suits of armor.
Upon sighting them the mischievous poltergeist immediately launched into a singsong tune of "Scarhead! Scarhead! Scary-scar-e, scarhead..." while trying to pelt them with a handful of stones he had.
"Shut it Peeves" Harry finally snapped at the annoying little man "the Bloody Baron is around."
Peeves flipped himself upside down and blew raspberries at Harry.
With an irritable sigh Harry tossed a few of the spare dung bombs from their breakfast prank at the poltergeist "here, go cause trouble with these somewhere else but don't you dare say where you got them or you won't get any more."
An unholy light lit itself in the eyes of Peeves and with a gleeful cackle and a nod the irritant flew through the wall and in the general direction of Filch's office.
At Blaise's urging Harry headed back to the dungeons with her. Unlike most students they felt comfortable in the dungeons and it was one of the areas they had explored the most so far. It was a veritable maze of rooms and passageways that one could head down into and disappear without a trace, easily allowing a person to lose any pursuer they might have picked up. It reminded them a bit of the tunnels winding under the Darkov mansion that were to be used in extreme emergencies and as escape routes. Harry shivered and remembered how just about a year ago they had been made to use the tunnels for the first time, never had the safety of their home been so threatened as it had been that night.
Something was wrong. Harry knew it. Something had woken him and he had realized that the house had never seemed so still and silent before even though all occupants of the house were stealthy in their movements even when just walking around in the open. His fears had escalated when his father had burst into the room with five other fully armed guards and Trevor who was frantically clutching Blaise in his arms. This was no ordinary attack where Harry would be told to stay put and be ready to fight should an assailant somehow make it to the upper levels and into his room.
"The basements tunnels" even Manuel's voice had sounded odd and Harry had moved quickly to obey.
But Harry either hadn't been moving quickly enough or Manuel was afraid that it would be the last time he would get to hold him. His father had scooped him into his strong, sheltering arms and ran as if the legions of hell were breathing flames upon their heels.
Manuel, Trevor, and the guards who were protectively flanking them had expertly maneuvered the escape routes and Harry found himself reciting the turns from memory. It was only after the third right turn in the tunnels that he realized where they were going and he stiffened in his father's arms. They had practiced such drills before but never this one. This one had only ever been mentioned in passing along with the directions. They were heading for the Hole. Blaise whimpered and Harry realized she had understood where they were going as well. Reaching a section of the uniform wall that could only be found by counting your steps Manuel knocked in a few bricks and pressed a trigger on the inside of the wall causing the section to swing open and reveal a blackened space behind. Two blankets, four bottles of water, some crackers, and a flashlight were all that was in that little space. Manuel had hugged him fiercely and settled him in the Hole beside Blaise.
"Three hours" Manuel had told them sternly "three hours and then you flee through to the end and barricade yourselves in the safe-house. Only move before then if things get to dangerous to stay here and no matter what don't look back. Someone will come for you when it's safe and give the signal, don't let them in otherwise."
The wall swung closed and one of the guards replaced the few bricks that had been knocked out to make it seem as if there was nothing out of the ordinary with that section of wall. Harry's last view of his father through that opening had been of Manuel arming his gun as Blaise choked back her cries for her father next to him. They had huddled together under the blankets for both warmth and comfort, not knowing that the safe haven of their home had become a warring ground of two powerful Mafia's.
Beside Harry, Blaise was having similar thoughts. They had grown up together and went through many of the same things so that some situations triggered identical thoughts in the both of them. Yet that one horrifying memory was most often blotted out by the fonder memories they had of scampering through the tunnels, avoiding their fathers as a simple game of hide and seek was turned into a lesson the two children hadn't known they were learning. There were many things they had learned under the guise of childhood games only to recognize it as training later on. It was something they enjoyed and wouldn't give up for anything. It also made tedious but necessary training more interesting and they tended to never forget those lessons compared to some others that were merely told to them. One lesson they always forgot was the stern lecture on how immature pranks were. But then Manuel tended to counteract Trevor's anti-prankster lessons by giving them new ideas and new products from the lab to use. For a Mafia King Manuel sometimes seemed to be an immature kid trapped in an adult's body. Harry wouldn't have it any other way.
~~ ~~ ~*~
Meanwhile the teachers weren't having nearly as much fun in the first official staff meeting of the year. Albus was sitting there just as jovial as usual, forcing tea on them all and trying to futilely hand out his beloved muggle lemon drops. Snape sneered and once again declined an offer of the sweet and wished there was somewhere he could dump out the third cup of tea the headmaster had just pressed upon him.
"Can we get on with this Albus" he dared speak up knowing the others wouldn't out of deference to the old man "I have an important potion brewing that I do not wish to leave unattended for too long a time."
"Very well Severus" Albus answered with his eyes twinkling madly in that infuriating way as if knowing there wasn't really a potion brewing "we will begin. Does anyone have anything to say before we go about the usual routine?"
At the various negative nods and murmurs of 'no' Albus continued.
"Then it will please you all to know that the Weasley twins have been found innocent of the prank played during breakfast, the only crime they have committed is one of indulging openly in their mirth, not that such a thing constitutes a crime."
McGonagall gave a small groan "that means we have some anonymous pranksters on our hands capable of pulling things off Weasley style."
Severus bit back a retort and resisted the urge to roll his eyes skyward; it was going to be an even longer year than he had thought. If Albus thought that such news would please them he didn't want to know what the man considered unpleasant news.
The meeting continued on with them addressing the usual concerns and planning various activities. Hogsmead weekends were planned out as well as Quidditch matches. Flying lessons were also planned for the first years and Severus wanted to strangle Albus for putting his Slytherins with the Gryffindors. Didn't the old coot understand yet that the two houses loathed each other and didn't even want to attempt to get along? The worst thing though was pairing the two houses in Potions. He had to constantly breathe down the student's necks while hoping to prevent sabotage attempts on some of the extremely volatile concoctions they brewed. Any event that had Slytherins and Gryffindors in the same room or Merlin forbid, paired together for work, was bound to land students in the hospital wing with a variety of ailments and injuries both magical and physical. Not that he didn't purposely pair the two houses together in class for just that reason on some of the days he was feeling slightly more sadistic than usual.
Finally to every professor's relief Albus came to the final point he wanted to discuss during the staff meeting. They had just finished talking about the adjustment and performance of the new first years when Dumbledore singled out two that had been preying on his mind the most.
"We also need to discuss two of our first years a bit more in depth; Harry Potter and indirectly the influence of his friend Blaise Zabini. Minerva?"
"There isn't a whole lot to say about them. Both are quiet students and seem to ignore most of the house rivalries when they do speak with others though there seems to be some contention between them and Ronald Weasley. They are adept at magic and I cannot find fault in their work, they do not goof off in my class but take their learning seriously."
So it went around the room, none of the professors had anything they could really fault the two children on.
Filch was the exception and he merely muttered about "nasty little children being all the same. Trouble."
Severus merely sat back and processed what he was hearing from his colleagues while his quick mind went over what he was going to say.
"Severus?" Albus had finally singled him out, saving him for last as he was their head of house.
"I must agree with most of the assessments made already. They are quiet in class and get their work done even if they could use a little work on their brewing" everyone smiled covertly at Severus' way of saying they weren't complete dunderheads "They don't seem to pay attention to house rivalries but they don't go around trying to make friends. They keep their emotions in check as is common for my Slytherins. Neither child has come to me for any problems as of yet."
Here Severus paused as if he was merely thinking but inside a fierce debate was waging. Finally Slytherin nature won out.
"Other than both Mr. Potter and Ms. Zabini being among the first students to breakfast and therefore early risers I cannot think of anything else to currently add."
Sighing Albus learned back in his chair after he had dismissed the meeting only to realize that Severus was still in the room.
"What can I help you with Severus?" The omnipresent twinkle was coming on in full force.
"I didn't want to bring this up in the meeting Headmaster since we had not had a chance to previously discuss it but in my first year Slytherin/Gryffindor potions class the other day something unusual happened."
Severus went on to describe the explosion of Neville Longbottom's cauldron and how the caustic potion had seemed to hit an unseen barrier in the air before falling harmlessly to the stone floor, none of the students getting doused with the potion that surely would have sent many to the hospital wing with painful injuries.
Albus mused over this information a bit "from what you say we cannot conclude if it was desperate accidental magic or a more controlled magic. You did not see any student with a wand out and such a thing would be very advanced for a first year. It will take some watching to figure out who but I must say that it appears that there is power amongst the first years and we need to find out who possess it."
Severus left the room quickly after that not wanting to hear anymore of the Headmasters talks of power. He had a very sharp suspicion of who wielded the power and knew the Headmaster held the same idea. He knew which student or students would be watched more closely. He had basically sealed the boy's fate by uttering that it had happened during the lesson with the Slytherin and Gryffindor first years. He could only be glad that he had not revealed all his observations on his student during the staff meeting or to Albus afterwards. The child may be the son of the Potter that had made his life hell during their school years but the boy was a Slytherin and he was very protective and possessive of his Slytherins. No one messed with them without going through him first. This would take cunning and secrecy but he would do his best to shield his students from outside manipulations. Not that they would be needing as much help as most of his Slytherins from what he had observed so far. Severus was starting to revise his opinions a bit; after all no true Potter would be caught dead in Slytherin. It was time to find out more about the boy currently in his care.