Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Echoes of Power, Part I: Anger

22. . . . And Turns

by moshpit 6 reviews

Chapter 22

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Angelina Johnson, Arthur Weasley, Barty Crouch Jr., Bellatrix, Bill Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Cho, Colin Creevey, Crabbe, Dean Thomas, Dobby, Draco, Dudley, Dumbledore, Ernie, Fleur, Flitwick, Fred, Fudge, George, Gilderoy Lockhart, Gi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2007-03-06 - Updated: 2007-03-06 - 14110 words

Chapter 22: . . . And Turns

. . .

Even though studies demonstrate that extensive magical training can increase the amount of energy that an individual conduit can channel, there are limits to the possible amount of change. The upper limits are partially due to the particulars of a given species' anatomy when in good health, or, more specifically, the ability to handle the peak rate of heat exchange. Other limitations are neither tied to the physical form of the entity using magic, nor are the limitations well understood. Those species that should be capable of handling extreme heat cannot alter any conduit's size beyond a narrow window. The boundary conditions on the conduit capacity parameter appear to be species-centric, although the exact mechanisms and causality remain unknown.

Conduits, in general, perform like other artefacts of the body and self-repair if injured, adjust to physical changes such as growth and puberty, and operate with an efficiency proportional to the health of the user. It is important to understand that individual conduits come in either input or output varieties, with output conduits representing the vast majority of all conduits present. While similar in nature, the actual connections involved between the output or input conduits are quite different. Output conduits, as previously discussed, drain specific types of fundamental energy particles from the magical core, releasing the energy primarily at the top of the epidermal layer. Similarly, input conduits adsorb specific types of surfeit magical energy particles, primarily from the top of the epidermal layer, and channel it back either into the magical core or to the dura mater surface, the latter making an extra sensory input to the central nervous system.

This so-called sixth sense is even present in lesser creatures that cannot directly use magic, although they are more prone to ignoring the stimulus itself at a conscious level. For the various magic-using species, such extrasensory input conduits are critical for self-regulation and feedback, much as the hand senses heat to avoid touching a fire. Without this feedback loop, it is speculated that conduits would drain the magical core too quickly, causing either immediate damage or more complex problems from the heat by-product.

It is important to note, however, that just as some forms of trauma are non-reparable to the body, conduits are also constrained by how much damage they can naturally or, with medical intervention, artificially overcome. It is well documented that excessive burning of the epidermal layer will destroy conduit micro-openings along with nerve endings, reducing whatever natural talent for magic use resided in the affected area. Other forms of severe trauma have been documented to yield different results depending on the form of trauma and location of injury.

If the body cannot sufficiently compensate for an excessive heat build up, any conduits exceeding their cooling capacity will literally burn out. There is no known cure for such a burn out. Destroyed conduits cannot be recovered through any amount of time or known medical techniques. The ultimate risk from repeated burn-out is what the Muggles term spontaneous self-combustion, or the eventual overload of a magical core that has reached peak capacity but can no longer drain energy through conduits even when the host is unaware of it. Denied any outlet, the magical core, which continues to charge, essentially breaks its containment, and the sudden effusion of high-energy particles throughout the body causes self-immolation to occur in less than one second based on recorded evidence.

Any device, magical or otherwise, which blocks all conduits is ultimately fatal if not removed. For most life forms, the magical core recharge rate ensures death within two to four weeks, dependant upon proximity to flux lines and ambient magical energy sources, as well as individual recharge rates. Whether the propensity for burn-out is a risk factor for other species is not known at this time.

The central mechanism to trigger a release of magical particles from the core and through the conduits is based upon . . .

. . . Excerpt from Theory of Magic, Volume I, Section I, edited by R.J.L.

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 11:57 am/


Her voice was tantalizingly close, but he would be hard pressed to care at this point.

Harry felt that breathing deeply, looking up at the sky, and laying perfectly still on his back as though he had just fallen to the earth were far more important than acknowledging the redhead suddenly blocking his view of the grey skies.

"Harry?" She sounded tentative and uncertain, which to his mind was a good thing. When he frowned at her, however, her smile mocked him with its brightness.

"It's nice to see you're all right after all. You could at least answer me when I talk to you, Harry."

Somehow, Harry lacked the energy for outrage or even irritation at her accusatory tone.

Drawing a deep breath, Harry let it out slowly while letting the breeze cool the sweat dampening his hair and robes. "Norman, eh?" He was pleased to note that his voice was calm, despite his urge to shake the girl standing over him like some kind of Lady over her servant. That would require movement, and presently that was the last thing he wanted to do.

"Well, I would have called him George, but that would just be confusing." Ginny seemed to wave the whole notion off as though it were perfectly obvious as she examined her wand casually. "I have to admit, though, I've seen all kinds of great flying tricks, but I've never seen anyone fly so well without a broom."

Harry grunted, still not prepared to get up. He wanted to continue lying there, letting his weary body relax, and to ignore the bruises he knew were forming under his clothes. "You should try it sometime."

Ginny nodded her head slowly. "It did look like fun, but you were using non-verbal magic, so I wouldn't know how to do it."

Harry was unable to stop the groan from escaping as he sat up. He would definitely be suffering from a closer relationship with Newton's Laws than he would have wished for over the next few days, unless he could somehow convince Madam Pomfrey to treat him without confining him again. "I thought you were paying attention in Charms last week."

Ginny's brow furrowed for a moment as she tried to connect the conversation to said lesson, and then her eyes flashed briefly. "You were using Summoning and Banishing Charms?"

Harry nodded slowly. "You focus them on the ground and apply more force. The only problem is that pesky Mr Newton and his so-called laws." With a jerking lurch, Harry clambered to his feet, hissing a bit as his ribs and arms protested mightily. "I think I'll be seeing Madam Pomfrey later."

"You know, Harry, I was ready to step in and calm Norman down. You didn't have to fight with him." Ginny sounded completely unapologetic, but Harry was already making the connections between the Venomous Tentacula and the Skrewt.

Giving her a once-over, Harry still felt mildly disgusted that she had so readily handled the Skrewt. She had not even dishevelled her robes, which were as pristine as ever if a bit worn in places. "I don't suppose you could tell me how you did that, could you?" On the one hand, Harry had to hand it to her that her opening salvo on their little bet had been quite thorough. On the other hand, he was horribly curious to know how she had managed to calm that thing down so easily.

Harry had been firing a mix of Banishing and Summoning charms to keep himself literally flying through the air to avoid the overtly friendly Skrewt, shooting off curses, hexes and any distractors that might work as often as he could in between the jarring laws of physics being applied to his body. The Skrewt seemed to propel itself using some variant of the Banishing and Summoning charms instinctively, as it too would literally fly from one spot to another. It lacked the control that Harry was able to exert over his own flight, but to see a twelve-foot-long, several-hundred-weight thing flying through the air at you with giant mandibles and pincers ready to tear you into little pieces was somewhat unnerving. It almost was enough to make the poisonous stinger a mere nuisance.

Harry had finally managed to pin the creature back into the crate it came out of, but he was losing the battle to keep it in there as it could break the spells he put up around it faster than he could cast them. The Skrewt's armour was on par with dragonhide at resisting magical damage. Right before the monster could free itself again, Ginny had flown down and landed in front of the brute. Calmly stepping around every outstretched lethal appendage reaching for her, she laid one hand on the strange smooth nub where it should have had a head.

Almost immediately, it stopped thrashing about, no longer trying to tear the girl to pieces. It also ceased attempting to escape the crate. After a moment or two of evidently soothing Norman, she had stepped back and casually let it scuttle off into the forest. Harry had seen both of their auras fluctuate as soon as she made contact, but beyond that, he had no idea what had happened. As soon as the Skrewt made it into the forest, Harry had expediently collapsed and enjoyed the relative calm that had followed.

Ginny smiled at him for a moment. "That would be telling, right?"

"Very clever, using my own words against me." Harry sighed as he somewhat peevishly took his bag and broom from the witch. "Food, then medical intervention."

Ginny just patted his shoulder very lightly. "Poor Harry, was Norman too much for you to handle?"

Glowering at her, Harry shook a finger in her face. "From what I can tell, I have to actually work with the creatures, keeping them alive and healthy. Without those pesky restrictions, I would've handled Norman just fine."

Harry pulled his broom under his legs and began gingerly flying back toward the castle as Ginny flew alongside him on her own broom. "Imagine that: Harry Potter, done in by his own cleverness."

Harry shrugged absently, wincing only slightly at the sensations it induced. "Won't be the last time, either, I'm sure."

"I'm quite sure of it," she replied with a grin. "But you learned something about Skrewts, didn't you?"

"Learned is such a delicate term. I'd suggest they are large, unattractive, combative, have some nasty natural magic, and don't like to take 'no' for an answer from their prospective meals."

Ginny flashed him a bright smile. "Congratulations. Now you know as much about them as anyone else does."

In the distance, Harry could see a post owl flying toward the castle, which was atypical as it was well past normal post owl time. By the time they reached the front steps, they could see a large barn owl perched on a railing, carrying what appeared to be a standard letter. Harry paused at the entrance to the castle, holding the door open so the owl could fly in, but instead it dropped onto the ground in front of Ginny.

With a fluid motion, Ginny untied the letter and the owl immediately took off toward the Owlery tower. Harry watched her glance at the note before handing it to him with a clear question in her expression. Harry scanned it while she continued to regard him with that questioning look on her face.

Ginny --

Ask Harry to get a book for you from his aufero scrinium. He'll explain what the book is for. Please tell Harry, "FM and working dinner." Thanks.

-- Remus

"Right," Harry sighed for a moment. "Don't meander too far. I'll be right back." Without saying anything else, he left the redhead behind as he flew off to his bedroom window by skirting around the outside of the castle.

After moving through the multi-facetted defences and charms he had placed in careful layers around his bedroom window, his attention turned to the trunk at the foot of his bed. Deactivating the locks and protections on his trunk, he pulled out his Transporter Box and set it on the bed. The slate grey box was far heavier than normal, even when considering the stone construction. Flipping it open, Harry had to suppress a chuckle as he spied the oversized volume within. Dropping the book onto the bed, he stowed the Transporter Box back in his trunk, reactivating all the protections before flying back down to where the redhead was pacing back and forth, obviously impatient and waiting for him.

When he landed, he tossed the book toward her, smiling slightly as her eyes widened as she bobbled the heavy book when it landed in her arms. While it had been awkward to carry, he had managed the entire trip without aggravating his self-inflicted damage from playing footsie with the Skrewt. Opening one of the doors leading inside, Harry motioned with his left hand for Ginny to precede him, while he absently scanned inside the entrance hall to see who was around.

When she failed to walk in, Harry glanced over to see a puzzled Ginny holding the thick book, the pages obviously well-aged and the cover worn in many places.

"Harry?" Ginny was obviously baffled by the book, as she stood there on the steps watching him. The cover proclaimed the truly exciting contents of the gift, /Albion Casuistry and Precedent, by Anne A. Ling/.

Harry, for his part, was trying not to laugh at how well Remus had passed off the responsibility for this onto him. "You talked to him about learning Occlumency, right?"

Ginny nodded.

"Did he tell you about how it works?"

"Well," she offered after a second, "it's protecting your mind from an outside attack. You focus on specific thoughts, and then use your willpower to keep them at the front of your mind."

Harry made a see-sawing motion with his hand. "Close enough for now. Remus will cover the details, but he's going to start by teaching you to do what we call Level One Shielding. That's where you focus tightly on just one memory, to the exclusion of everything else. Something your attacker doesn't care about, ideally. It's the key to building walls around your mind, and then it comes down to your willpower and magic versus the attacker's. But you'll learn about this with Remus, right?"

Harry motioned for her to follow him as he slowly walked into the Great Hall, heading for the empty seats by Fred and George. "The problem is that you have to focus all the time on that one memory. That's rather tiring, and being unable to think of anything else is pretty much detrimental to doing anything at all. So what really happens is a Level One Occlumens has no shields until they realise they are being attacked, at which point they focus intently on some image. The question is what your opponent will find during the interval between the start of the attack and when you can get your own mind back under your control."

"Okay, that makes sense." Ginny was nodding as she walked along with him, matching his somewhat slower than normal pace.

"Well, the mind isn't like a book, Ginny. You don't just thumb through it. It's like a sphere sitting in space, and at the centre of it are all your active memories. It's the focal point of any attack or defence. If you can control the centre, you can reach out and grab almost anything." Harry absently rubbed at his hip, which was bothering him faintly from his unplanned training exercise. "For what you need to do, or rather to learn, the trick is to make the sphere larger, so large that you'll have plenty of time to react to any intrusion. In order to do that, you need more spurious thoughts floating around. The more thoughts, and the more interconnected those thoughts are, the bigger the sphere that has to be punched through by your assailant."

Reaching the multiple empty seats across from the twins, Harry gratefully sank into one and let the pleasure of being motionless work on his body. The twins were watching them closely with gimlet eyes, but Harry ignored them to finish the brief lesson. "So what kind of thoughts are the hardest to deal with when you want to sneak a peek into someone's mind and find out something juicy? What kind of thoughts can trigger huge chains of related thoughts that never have sensitive information? It's pretty hard to beat legal treatise phrasing with regard to material that is obtuse, archaic, convoluted, irritating, distracting, and thoroughly tied together. So, Ginny, you get to memorise that book. It's the first of many, actually."

Ginny was suddenly staring at him in horror, while Fred and George were agape as they registered the title of the book. "You're not serious?" Her voice was hushed, and she clearly was hoping this was some elaborate joke.

"Quite. You wouldn't believe the amazing details you can find if you just dig around in those books." Harry pulled some kind of roast beef platter closer, intent on eating quickly before some annoying Professor came along to disrupt his meal entirely.

"Memorise?" Ginny had now transferred her horrified look from Harry to the book in front of her.

"Well, you'll try to. You won't succeed, of course, but you'll still be tested on it. After a while, you'll get a feel for the things you want to memorise, but that first book is mostly just amusing. Cows, property lines, dividing bones, that sort of thing. But all those details will be in your head, floating around the edges, irritating the hell out of anyone that tries to read your mind."

Ginny looked at Harry closely, clearly unhappy. "Remus said I had to make it to Level Three before I'd be considered reasonably safe. What's that mean?"

Harry gave her a vague smile, knowing it had to annoy her as much as his mentors' similar smiles rankled him. "You'll find out."

Harry went back to piling food on his plate until Fred cleared his throat loudly. "Harry, you might want to do your disappearing trick again, and right about now would be good."

"Oh?" Harry sat up a bit and glanced around before he spotted Umbridge making a beeline for him, a scroll held tightly in one dumpy fist. "Oh. Bugger that, I'm hungry."

Ignoring the approaching harbinger, Harry concentrated on getting all the decent foods in overly large portions onto his plate. If he had to make a run for it, he would at least take his lunch with him.

"Mr. Potter." Umbridge was no longer shouting, but her voice was ostentatiously loud and irritating no matter how demure she pretended to be. "I've been looking for you, and I'm so glad to have finally caught you."

"Yes, Madam Dark?" Harry ignored her condescending attitude as he quickly poured a goblet of pumpkin juice, hoping that it would be pleasantly bitter to counter the dangerously honeyed tones from the woman behind him.

"I have here the full copy of that trifling thing you were asking after - the Wizengamot Decree."

Harry found the scroll she had been holding thrust under his nose, while the woman was giving him a self-satisfied smile. In passing, he thought that her smile made her face appear even more repugnant and that her perfume reminded him strongly of the fetid fumes from the spray of a /Mephitis mephitis/. He ignored his revulsion as he unravelled the roll of parchment the purulent hag had forced upon him. Harry also became aware of the fact that Professor McGonagall had approached to within hearing distance, most likely to see how events would unfold.

Ignoring the random Party of the first part/, /powers vested by/, /whereas much/, and similar standard clauses, Harry hit the highlights in rapid succession. "Well, look at that. The post of Hogwarts High Inquisitor really /was created. That's exciting. It says the High Inquisitor has the right to ask anyone any question. Spivvy."

Setting the scroll aside, Harry proceeded to ignore both the parchment and Umbridge as he began cutting up his roast beef.

Umbridge had that same gloating smile on her face as she turned her beady eyes on him. "I'm so glad that you have finally recognised my authority, Mr. Potter." Harry felt that her feigned civility was about as effective as a vampire protesting to a victim that it was 'only one little sip.' "Now, then, I want to know what happened to put the Headmaster in the Hospital Wing, Mr. Potter."

Glancing up, he gave her a flat stare. "That's nice. We should all have wants in life. It gives us something to strive for, yet lets us realise what we already have."

Umbridge took a small step back to form, puffing up slightly and turning faintly red in the face as she shook a finger at him. "I am asking you to tell me what happened, Mr. Potter. Are you refusing to answer me?"


"You can't do that." Her voice dropped to a venomous whisper.

"Really?" Harry picked up the scroll and waved it at her as though she were being particularly naughty. "Would you like for me to tell you why I can? First, this has yet to be posted for a period of not less than seven full days in public places, including those institutions funded by the Ministry. Second, this document conveys the position of High Inquisitor upon the Minister of Magic and makes no provision for delegation of that authority. Third, this document says that the High Inquisitor, who does not legally exist yet, is entitled to ask questions, but it does not say that the Inquisitor is entitled to answers. The only power conferred is the power to ask questions of anyone under the jurisdiction of the Albion Wizengamot, which brings us to the fourth point - I am not under the jurisdiction of the Albion Wizengamot. So even if you had the powers you think you do, which you do not, I still wouldn't have to answer you."

Any pretence of self-discipline was abruptly thrown out the window as Umbridge's eyes bulged and her face darkened fully. Her jaw worked for a moment as she registered everything Harry just stated. "That's sophistry!"

Harry was almost positive that Umbridge could not produce a shriller whine if she practised late into the night. He shook his head. "No, Dark Madam, it isn't. It's the law. This is the decree, those are the words, and that is all that can be enforced. If you don't like it, well, procure yourself a new decree."

"But Cornelius is out of the country until Sunday!"

Harry went for the vague smile again. "I'm sure he's having a splendid time of it, too. Maybe he'll take an extra week from his busy and challenging life here, eh?"

McGonagall's precise, clipped tones cut across their conversation. "Is there a problem here, Dolores? Mr Potter?"

Harry gave a carefully neutral glance to the Deputy Headmistress. "No, Professor," he said in an excruciatingly polite tone. "Professor Arts here was just leaving so I could eat my lunch before class."

"I see." McGonagall kept her eyes on Harry for a split second before turning her gaze to Umbridge. "Are you planning on having lunch today, Professor?" The very slight emphasis on the title conveyed to everyone that she was perfectly well aware of the exchange between Harry and Umbridge.

With a malevolent glower, Umbridge stalked off to the Head Table for lunch, leaving Harry in peace.

"Harry?" Ginny's voice caused him to turn and look at her again. "I'll know how to argue like that when I'm done with these books, right?"

Harry shrugged. "Depends on how well you study the material."

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 12:44 pm/

Harry could hear Cyril arguing with a woman whose voice he failed to recognise, both of them in the back of the Infirmary. The curtains around Cyril's bed were firmly drawn shut, however, so he had no idea what exactly was going on. While the precise words were unintelligible, Harry had been on bed rest for medical purposes often enough to understand that his Mentor's words were more about unwanted restrictions than about being in medical care.

Madam Pomfrey, surprisingly, had given Harry a potion and a bit of wand work to repair his bruising problems without any comment. She had raised an eyebrow at his reappearance but motioned him to be quiet as she gestured toward the curtains hiding the argument currently taking place. Harry tried to ignore the wicked grin covering her face, rationalising that anything that could make the matron smile like that was something that Harry desired no knowledge of in this lifetime.

"Mr. Potter," she whispered after she had finished. "I'm glad you had the sense to come and see me now. If you had waited until tonight for treatment, you would be spending the evening with me again. Oh, your Mentor asked me to get this to you before two o'clock. Now, be off with you."

Harry walked in mild bemusement toward the staircase so he could proceed outside to the castle grounds. The mediwitch's face had been alight as she moved back toward Cyril's section of the Infirmary, indirectly causing Harry to bolt from the place.

He had left the lunch table in a hurry as soon as he had finished eating, noticing the hostile glances still coming from Umbridge. Dean Thomas had waylaid Ginny for some matter, and the twins had gotten into a Quidditch team argument with other broom-wielding Gryffindors, so his escape had been easy to attain. Curiously, he had noticed that Neville, Hermione, and her tag-along Ron had not been at lunch, but that at least gave him the chance to not be grilled for an hour or so.

As he walked back from his little sojourn to the Infirmary, Harry flipped open the note to read Cyril's request. Invariably, it would be something innocent sounding that would involve another clash with the multiple groups out to get him, but that, at least, managed to keep life interesting.

Harry --

Cease DADA classes, the temptation is simply too great. Today, come to the Infirmary during that time. Thereafter, pursue Vencil's instructions.

-- C.F.

Harry wanted to chuckle at the thought that he would crack again and leave the Defence instructor defenceless and disabled in her own classroom. Pulling him from the class, however, would have the added benefit that he would have zero direct interaction with the woman and would further remove him from her soon-to-be-growing sphere of influence. Perhaps the best part was that by leaving her class, he would irritate the woman even further, and she would have to work so much harder to find a pretext to talk to him. She would have no way to keep an eye on him and no good reason to try.

Stuffing the note into a pocket, Harry resumed walking toward the staircase as he brought his broom around. Seeing the staircase was out of alignment, usefully leaving him facing an open gap into space with a precipitous drop of twenty feet, Harry hopped onto his broom and enjoyed the dive down. It was only as he began pulling out of the dive that he recognised the suit of armour that was clanking along an upper balcony, lance and all, trying to navigate the stairs that kept shifting. Unwilling to stick around and discover what the armour thought proper chastisement ought to be for an accidental bump, Harry threw the Firebolt into a full-on acceleration, timing it so that as a group of students were headed outside through the main doors, he would shoot through the space over their heads.

As he shot through the open doorway, Harry saw the surprised expressions of his Gryffindor year-mates angling for the Care of Magical Creatures class, but he was moving too quickly for any words to be exchanged as he cruised down to Hagrid's cabin.

Hagrid was already standing outside, with half an ox partially wrapped up in an old heavy canvas tarpaulin. The tarpaulin itself looked rather used and abused, an unsurprising condition considering it was carrying food for the Thestrals.

"Hullo, Harry," Hagrid said cheerfully.

Harry was the first to arrive and gave Hagrid a smile and a wave as he pulled out the special case for his broom. "Hello, Hagrid. Thestrals again today?" Stowing his broom and the case back into his bag, he looked up to see Hagrid striding off to a giant locker on his porch.

As Hagrid pulled out what appeared to be the other half of the ox, he grunted a bit as he carried it over and dropped it onto the tarpaulin. "Yeah, we'll be finishin' this unit today, barrin' an accident or summat."

"Sounds good, Hagrid," Harry offered. "Ginny tells me you helped her with Norman this morning?"

Hagrid stretched his arms out with an almighty /crack/, but his face was slightly puzzled. "Yeah, I was surprised at tha'. I didn't think yeh'd be ready for 'em for a few more months."

Harry made a mental note to discuss the lovely Tentacula and the schedule change with Neville as soon as he could get the boy isolated from Ginny's glares. "No worries, Hagrid. I found it all rather, uh, inspiring. She's quite good with Norman."

Hagrid waved at the other students either walking or flying down to his cabin, taking the apparent shift to regular broom travel rather easily. "Yeah, she's about th' only one tha' can really calm a Skrewt down. She's good with most all o' th' critters, s'why I told Dumbledore to get 'er tutoring yeh. If yeh can learn how to treat 'em like that, you'll be fine come O.W.L.s, Harry. Won't make no never mind abou' startin' late at Hogwarts."

Harry paused to reflect about that for a moment or two before he was distracted by the arrival of a flying Ginny. Neville was leading the pack of others walking as they arrived, most of them casting a frown or two at either Harry or the tarpaulin and ox carcass. Hermione waved from behind Neville, but Ron was still clearly keeping his distance, even if he was not quite as obvious about it as he had been. Ginny shot him a smirk for reasons he was sure he would never comprehend, while Neville stepped up next to him and nodded at both Harry and Ginny.

"Thestrals again, I see." Neville's quiet voice made Harry lower his own.

"Hagrid said today closes this unit," Harry returned in a near whisper. "So let's think about what friendly creatures we'll see on Wednesday." Harry shot a withering glance at Ginny, but she was just smirking at him and literally patting herself on the back. "Pride, Gin-Gin," he muttered to her, "pride."

"Gather roun', you lot," Hagrid called. "Today we'll wrap up Thestrals, an' that means yeh all need to give me essays on th' care, habits, an' habitat of 'em. Min'mum one scroll, an' Hermione, no mor'n three, please. Due Wednesday, right?"

Not bothering to see if they were nodding their understanding, Hagrid grabbed a corner of the tarpaulin and began walking into the Forest, the two bloody lumps of an ox leaving a distinctly rancid odour in the air. It always reminded Harry of the metallic taste of aluminium foil for some reason, but the colour of their blood was a glossy ebony as the shadows of the forest preventing direct sunlight from letting the red flavours emerge.

They had no need to go far into the forest, as the recent classes had all been about Thestrals and the creatures had come to anticipate Hagrid's arrival with fresh - from their perspective - food. Easily a dozen Thestrals were congregated less than thirty yards into the Forest, and Hagrid let them happily tear away at the flesh of the ox as he began his final lecture on the strange winged horses. Their skeletal bodies and protruding fangs, coupled with the black leathery wings, left little to the imagination as to why many people naively thought the creatures Dark.

The students drew to a halt, but much to the unhappiness of several, Hagrid motioned them to come closer. "'Ere, now, come look a' this." Hagrid reached into one pocket and rummaged for a minute before extracting something small and squeaking. "See here?"

Harry could see Hagrid holding up a bat. "This 'ere is a Noctule, see th' fur?" Hagrid made a great show of passing the bat in front of everyone, showing the rich golden colour on top of a dark brown skin. Behind him, the Thestrals were happily consuming the ox carcass. "Right fast li'l bugger, this type can get up t' 30 miles an hour when he flies. But see, see th' wings?"

Despite some shifting of the students, they all took what Harry would describe as a cursory glance at the bat at best. "These wings, they're long here aroun' the hand joint, but overall pretty short. An' 'ere at th' tips, see how pointy they are? Right, this type o' wing, an' th' long thin body, them's what lets this wee bat fly so fast."

The entire bat fit comfortably into Hagrid's palm as he pointed out how thin and lightweight the body was. "Th' low body mass, see, coupled with these wings -- this fellow can fly fast an' turn sharp, but it has t' pay a price for it. Tha' much wind, well, it's hard on th' wings, an' this simple bat can't get any bigger."

"Now," Hagrid said, giving the bat a gentle lift into the air, then watching it fly off into the shadows of the forest. "These Thestrals most o' you lot can't see, th' wings are very much like tha' bat. Narrow membrane, long around the apex joint, but still rather short . . . barely eight feet fully stretched out on either side, I'd say, for Tenebrus here, who is sort of the Alpha male adult."

Hagrid was absently stroking a Thestral that Harry, Neville, and Ginny could see, but the rest were just looking warily in its general direction. "Now, the wing isn't attached like tha' bat, see, on Thestrals th' membrane runs from th' hind underbelly up t' th' shoulders 'fore it stretches out t' th' wing proper like. But it's th' narrow shape, the pointy tip, tha's what gives Thestrals their amazin' flyin' skills."

Hagrid went on to describe how the magic within a Thestral kept its invisibility intact, yet also made Thestrals very light-weight, almost like their magic kept a Featherweight Charm on them at all times. Otherwise, the wings could never take the strain of moving such a heavy load at the speeds Thestrals could attain. Hagrid mentioned that he knew a Thestral could match any broom not built along a racing design, but no one had ever measured just how fast one in a hurry could move. There were unconfirmed reports of up to 100 miles per hour, but they could only do that for short periods of time.

Travelling at excess speeds used even more of the innate magic of the creatures to reverse the vortex shedding effects, allowing more efficient flight as the magic created a low-pressure vacuum in front of the Thestrals. This had the beneficial side effect of lowering the air pressure on any rider, although there would still be substantial enough wind to make long-term riding of a Thestral unpleasant at best.

When Thestrals were sickly, or too tired, their magic would begin to falter. It was recorded in the Monster Book of Monsters that a sufficiently drained Thestral actually became visible for brief moments to anyone. Common speculation held that the origin of seeing a Thestral as a harbinger of misfortune was probably from such an overly tired specimen. The person seeing the Thestral, reacting poorly to the surprising and almost certainly frightening physical countenance, likely told everyone of what he saw before having a serious accident in the excitement and surprise of the moment.

The magical point of note about Thestrals was that their magic was capable of a form of self-defence which would stun an attacker. The drawback to this was that if a Thestral attacked continuously for enough time, or if one drained too much magical energy from protracted flight and became fully visible, the magical reserves of the creature might deplete to a state where it could no longer maintain its body's lightened weight. Such Thestrals invariably collapsed under their own mass. Their skeletal bodies, never having adjusted to their actual weight, shattered when they impacted the earth. Invariably, a drained Thestral was a dead Thestral, but seeing one die was no key to seeing otherwise healthy Thestrals.

Hagrid finished his lecture by discussing the defensive nature of the Thestrals' magic. It was believed to act much like a Stunner, except it only affected areas, not specific targets with a tight focus. The exact nature of the defensive magic was a bit of a mystery, as it had been rarely encountered. No two accounts ever quite agreed on what triggered the reaction or on what exactly the reaction was.

During the walk out of the forest, Hagrid voiced what he claimed was the most curious aspect of Thestrals: the problem of why they could fly so fast, why Thestrals had defensive magic, and why they were invisible to anything that had no sentient understanding of death.

To the best of anyone's direct knowledge, Thestrals had no natural predator.

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 1:58 pm/

"Harry, where are you going?" Neville's voice cut across the students universally walking back from Hagrid's class on Magical Creatures. "Aren't you supposed to be in DADA next?"

Harry shot a tight smile at the few students who paused to hear his response. "I've been told to stop attending as my Mentor has other plans for me. I'm sure you'll all learn /loads/, though, so do have fun." Ignoring the looks of incredulity, Harry hopped on his broom and flew over the misaligned stairs, heading for the Infirmary.

No longer being required to sit through Umbridge's classes would be a boon he could rapidly learn to appreciate, especially given that she would not be allowing practical sessions under her tutelage. Harry was already so far ahead of his supposed peers in the O.W.L. level class that Dumbledore's original argument to learn directly from Moody was the only reason he showed up in the first place. Unfortunately, with Fudge recalling Moody to beat the Auror force back into shape, that meant putting up with the hag. With Moody gone, Cyril's decision to remove him from the class was perfectly logical.

As Harry dropped off his broom and pushed open the doors to the Infirmary, he found himself looking at McGonagall's back as she towered over Cyril's bed. The curtains were pulled back, and his Mentor's torso was so swathed in bandages that he appeared to be wearing a Muggle space suit around his chest, given how far out the pyjamas were from his body.

"Really, Cyril," McGonagall was saying, "you're being childish, not to mention petulant."

Cyril's view of Harry was blocked by McGonagall, so Harry strolled over as his Mentor argued with the Professor. "I am not, Minerva. That woman spent too much time learning Muggle medicine. Sponge baths are not inherently better than cleaning charms!" Harry had to admit privately that McGonagall's comment might be spot on, as Cyril sounded like he was almost whinging.

"Did she not explain it to you? That a comforting hand of compassion and humanity actually helps people to heal faster?" McGonagall paused as she seemed to realise that Harry was standing beside her, sparing him a brief flicker of her eyes. "Patients who feel that their Healers care about them consistently heal better than those patients of Healers who have a strictly wand-only approach to healing."

Cyril transferred his gaze to Harry, not yielding an iota to the woman that was apparently teasing him. "Harry, I'm glad you're here. Get me out of these bandages and help me find my wand. That Healer is coming back, and I want to be out of here long before then."

Harry immediately held up both hands in silent protest. "Ah, Cyril, if I help you flee, do you know what Madam Pomfrey will do to me? Especially the next time I'm in need of her aid?" The evil grin she had faced Harry with earlier was all he needed to know of the matter underlying this argument, as he would not cross the mediwitch and then have her out for payback along with the majority of the Weasley clan.

Cyril's eyes flashed with irritation as he folded his arms and frowned at both of them. McGonagall gave Harry a faint smile before she conjured a beautiful and plush chair to sit in. Harry had to admire her style. It strongly resembled a straight-backed and rigid wooden seat, but, standing next to it, he could tell that it was well padded and appeared very soft. From a few feet away, he would never be able to distinguish between a real unpadded wooden chair and what she had flawlessly conjured.

Harry, for his part, was far too lazy to conjure something and just sank into the somewhat comfortable chair by the bedside. "Your concerns over your Healer aside, you wanted to see me?" Harry attempted an innocent tone, but he never could manage it.

Cyril gestured abruptly at McGonagall, refusing to do more than sulk faintly at the lack of aid Harry was offering his Mentor. McGonagall, however, kept her faint smile firmly in place as she gave Cyril a look so full of tolerance that only a blind man could miss it.

"Harry," she offered at last, "we need to discuss what happened with the Wizengamot yesterday, not to mention that . . . incident in the corridor. I swear I am going to block off that corridor and force students to use some other path."

"Yes, ma'am." Harry believed that being polite and discreet would give him the best chance of avoiding any residual wrath from the Malfoy conflict.

McGonagall made a show of staring at Harry for a long moment. "Respect, Mr Potter, be it learned ever so late, is a good habit." Clearing her throat while Harry flinched at the barb, she adopted her customarily stern Professorial demeanour. "While I have been informed that the Weasley children petitioned for an inquiry into Mr Snape's teaching, I have no doubt they were aided in some manner by at least one person in this room." Harry's look of polite inquiry fooled no one, he was sure, but he did feel obligated to at least act the part. "Mr Snape has lost all rights to teach or instruct anyone not yet of age and was forcibly removed from the castle last night. Aurors escorted him off the grounds and served him with notice that he is not to return without a written invitation from the Headmaster or Deputy Head."

Harry felt like cheering but instead opted to maintain his innocent countenance. "That's a shame, a great teacher like that, being forced to find a new way to make a living at the expense and suffering of others."

Cyril coughed abruptly while McGonagall glowered slightly. "Respect, Mr Potter, is a good habit that you should try to cultivate. Be that as it may, I happened to be made . . . privy to part of the evidence used in the Wizengamot decision. While I may personally think he was out of line, his departure does leave us in a bit of a quandary. Students not in their O.W.L. or N.E.W.T. year may not mind, but for those two groups, the loss of their Potions instructor will be quite problematic."

Harry shrugged slightly. "I'm almost certain there has got to be at least one other Potions master out there in the world looking for a job, Professor. Is a 'help wanted' advert truly so hard to place?"

McGonagall paused to watch Harry with what he felt to be exacting scrutiny, leaving him with the desire to shift around in his seat. Concentrating on his breathing exercises, Harry let the long silence pass while striving to maintain mental balance. Any reaction on his part to her stare would invariably set up a later pattern of his submission to her power, and while he had to admit to an abiding respect for the woman, he was unwilling to set the precedent of capitulation.

"Indeed, Mr Potter. Professor Emeritus Horace Slughorn, the Potions master who taught here for many years before Mr Snape, will be returning to the castle on Wednesday. Mr Snape was his protégé, but do not hold that against him." McGonagall seemed to hesitate about saying anything else before she made a show of checking the room for others. "I dare say you can find reasons enough to dislike any man, Mr Potter, but Professor Slughorn does tend to be somewhat polarising in his own way."

Cyril snorted slightly. "Polarising? Is that how you'd describe him? Might as well call him a jolly old boy, and let the wolf in amongst the sheep."

McGonagall turned to glare at Cyril. "Wolf? Sheep? Are you sure you should be out of St Mungo's already? The man has never hurt a student, you know that."

"Oh," Cyril shot back, "never hurt a student, fine. That doesn't mean he's never used one, however."

"Cyril, must we go over this conversation again? He knows the curriculum, he's completely knowledgeable of the subject, he has agreed to take over the remainder of the year, and it gives us time to search for a long-term replacement." Harry thought McGonagall's tone was one of resignation to an argument that had been going forward for hours if not days.

Harry was situated perfectly to see the Infirmary doors swing open silently as a woman in long flowing green robes walked in briskly. Cyril and McGonagall were glaring at each other and had no reaction to the new presence. The new arrival was followed almost immediately by Madam Pomfrey, who once again had that disconcertingly evil smirk upon her face.

Harry guessed that the unknown woman was in her late twenties. Her lustrous dark hair fell well below her shoulders. She had warm eyes that were almost twin wells of brown in her delicate face, and her light frame moved with a carriage he generally only saw in people that were very self confident. Her skin was surprisingly light in colour, as though she rarely was in direct sunlight for any amount of time. All in all, she had a refined appearance and facial structure that Harry could only describe as quite pretty.

The dazzling smile she levelled at McGonagall, however, surprised him. "Auntie Minerva!" She rushed to the Professor and wrapped her in an embrace, causing McGonagall to cough lightly as the Professor turned slightly red.

"Really, Celeste, do remember that we're not all your age, would you? These old bones aren't what they used to be." The Professor had a gentle smile openly on her face, before she turned and scowled at Cyril. "Did I not mention that you have been disparaging my favourite niece all this time, Cyril? You should be thrilled an attractive young woman is actually paying attention to you, rather than trying to spoon porridge down your feeble throat!"

Harry suddenly understood the wicked smirk on Madam Pomfrey's face, and he knew he was about to have a similar expression. Quickly and silently leaving the brewing row between the just-met Healer, Cyril, and McGonagall, Harry decided it was time to head home.

On his way out of the castle, Harry noticed that Umbridge had finally posted the Wizengamot Law regarding the High Inquisitor in the castle. It appeared to be posted every three feet in the entrance hall, and multiple copies adorned the doors into the Great Hall.

As Harry stood outside the gates of Hogwarts, he let his eyes run over the castle and grounds. It was an exquisitely picturesque sight, something he was glad he had been able to finally see. On the other hand, it was also a rat's nest of problems he really wanted nothing to do with. As with everything in life, you had to take the good with the bad.

Before using his secure Portkey, Harry paused to consider his own security. While Dumbledore was out of action, there were others that invariably wanted to keep tabs on him. Conducting the routine sweep and collection for tracking or locating charms, Harry was disturbed to find one of each lingering on his person. Flicking them off and binding them to the gates of the castle, Harry just shook his head as he activated the Portkey with a soft cry of "Cobalt Sanctuary!"

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 2:24 pm/

"Remus!" Harry was surprised but happy to see his friend sitting at the kitchen table, nursing what appeared to be a cup of coffee. "How are you?"

"Hello, Harry." Remus' eyes seemed to light up a bit as he regarded Harry. "I'll be fine. I'm just a little tired. Not taking every dose of Wolfsbane leaves me out of sorts, you know that. And that's not even getting into the little fracas here and there that associating with you brings along. Now, aren't you somewhat early? Please tell me you didn't instigate another skirmish with Umbridge."

Harry just grinned at Remus and took a seat across from his friend. "Yeah, like I need to pick a fight with her. She's good at picking them all on her own. You won't believe this . . ." Harry spent a few minutes relaying the gist of the day, emphasising in particular the bits around Cyril and his current status of unwilling patient.

"Okay, we need to get those memories from you. Blackmail on Cyril. Who would have thought that this day would come?" Remus was looking almost gleeful. Sirius had come in during the conversation and had a beatific smile on as he considered the implications. "You know we never did get anything on Nicolas no matter how hard we tried. I thought Cyril would be equally difficult."

Harry winced a bit at remembering the elaborate yet failed pranks and set-ups they had tried to work against Nicolas, but he let the pain go for the moment. It was better to remember the fun times than how everything ended. "Speaking of which, I'm using my last sensory monitor. I need to get the old ones back and cycle out the ones I've filled up."

Harry rummaged around in his pack before he handed over a small steel case nearly full with ten used sensory monitors inside. Remus told him the others were ready and in his room, just waiting for him to pick them up.

"Perfect. Thanks." Harry stood up to retrieve them when Remus' voice caused him to pause.

"Harry, did Ginny pass along the message earlier?"

"Family meeting and working dinner? Yeah, I got that."

"Good," Remus said quietly. "There's a stack of documents you need to go through on your desk that have to be dealt with immediately. Do that before training, all right? Tonight we'll discuss everything else."

"Right, okay, Remus." Harry jogged up to his room, spotting the pile of paperwork on his desk next to another steel case for carrying sensory monitors. Hedwig, who had been sleeping in the corner, cracked open one eye at his sudden arrival and let out a soft "Hoot!"

Harry walked over to her, smiling the whole way. "Hello, girl. It's been a few days, hasn't it? Maybe tonight I can talk to Remus about bringing you to Hogwarts." Harry absently stroked her feathers as he carried her and her perch over to his desk. As he settled down to read, he enjoyed the soothing sensation that the feathers provided under his fingers, ignoring the occasional playful nip of her beak. Harry had almost a full hour before training would begin with Master Gata, and, given the size of the paper stack, he was clearly going to need every last minute.

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 6:17 pm/

Harry had spent the past twenty minutes putting the finishing touches on a dinner that Sirius and Remus helped him cobble together from an unusually bare larder. Remus had said he would be running to the store on the morrow, but he just was not in the condition for it today. Sirius, of course, was unable to go anywhere in human guise unless they found some way to clear his name.

Edgar was moving casually about the table while talking, pouring out the preferred drinks for each seat. He and David would be taking wine, Remus and Sirius a bit of lager, and Harry would have butterbeer unless things got tiresome, in which case he would break out the tea collection.

"The first task we set out to achieve is complete. Severus has been isolated from the others and is now much more likely to report directly to Voldemort on a frequent basis. His excuse of serving as a double-agent that has to maintain a low profile while teaching is no longer valid." Edgar began rummaging through some papers from his case. "The best part is that he is unaware of our goals and assumes Harry is merely using the Weasleys to front a personal grudge."

Edgar proceeded to slide a scroll of parchment directly in front of Harry, neatly avoiding the knife Harry was using. Unrolling it, Harry was amused to see the full text of the Wizengamot decree that Umbridge had handed him earlier. Harry gave it a second careful reading, being sure that what the hag had given him matched Edgar's version. As far as he could discern, the two were identical.

"I think this is brilliant, by the way." Harry chuckled as he passed the parchment over to Remus. "She was completely surprised that she was not, in fact, the High Inquisitor, and that even if she were, the post only allows the Inquisitor to ask questions."

Edgar almost visibly preened under the observation from Harry. "I do what I can, you know. It was quite challenging to change that under their noses, but all the preparation work with the various riders was quite useful. I wrote that onto the end of the Asset Redistribution Rider, which I also managed to get through." Remus started laughing as he read through the official decree from the Wizengamot, giving Edgar a wide grin.

"So where does this leave the Malfoys?" Harry wanted to move this working dinner back onto the topics they needed to cover before Edgar could turn it into a self-congratulation ceremony. The vampire had his quirks and quite an ego, but he was a fiendishly clever mind.

"Lucius Malfoy is, quite simply, out of liquid assets. I'm certain he has cash reserves at the family Manor, but according to the Goblins, his vaults are quite empty of hard currency. He asked our firm to represent his family and their colleagues involved with yesterday's mess. I suspect he was acting under orders, as his usual manner is more subtle than that farce." Edgar shuffled the papers on the table for a moment. "Ah, yes. Due to the multiple parties involved and the sheer number of laws broken, I asked for the standard 10,000 Galleon fee for complex cases, plus expenses of course. When I had to inform him the Goblins refused to honour his note due to insufficient funds, he became most agitated. I left as he was sending for his wife."

"Hmm." Harry leaned back as he enjoyed the butterbeer and aromas of a dinner just waiting his father's arrival. "Doesn't that put you in a delicate position? They all know you've worked with me and against Snape."

Remus rejoined the conversation, having finished his scrutiny of the parchments on the table. "No, it shouldn't matter. They know this is a new Business, backed and run by the Goblins, and it operates on the same tenets as Gringotts does. Business is Business, and there's never anything personal involved, even if they wanted to make it personal. The oaths don't allow it."

Edgar nodded his head in agreement. "We've made it very clear to every client that we operate by Goblin Business Laws, so while we may represent them today, tomorrow we may represent their opponents. It's strictly a matter of who has the resources to hire us." Edgar paused as he let a vicious smile cross his face, the tips of fangs flashing in the soft light. "Of course, when I told Lucius that I demand more compensation when working for such a risky figure as our Mr Potter, well, he seemed quite satisfied."

Sirius groaned and put his head on the table. "You're too clever for your own good, Edgar. More compensation? You're already raking it in hand over fist!"

Harry and Edgar shared a smirk. "That was the idea, wasn't it?" Harry asked the room at large.

Remus tapped one slip of parchment he had left on top. "So when Malfoy tries to liquidate some of his tracts of land, this rider will kick in?"

Edgar once again adopted the self-congratulatory smile as he poured himself a second glass of wine, having smoothly drained the prior one. "Naturally. It has a no-grandfather clause. After all, we can't have our historically vital places just parcelled out willy-nilly. We need Wizengamot oversight for such things, wouldn't you say? And when you consider the existing requirements for land transfer, this will be in full force long before the Malfoys will have sufficient cash to pose a problem."

Harry was surprised by the statement. "How do you know? I thought they collect routine stipends and rents, not to mention the quarterly profit sharing from their investments."

Edgar waved the question off. "The Goblins let slip a tiny detail or two. Purely accidentally, you know. I'm sure if they knew I was within hearing distance, they would have said naught. The Malfoy family is reduced to the same state as yourself, Harry. They have what cash they have in their pockets, and no more until the end of this month. It's too bad, really, that Fudge is out of the country for a few days. He doesn't need to be here for trials, after all."

The laughter at the table was anything but sympathetic to the Malfoy plight, which Harry felt was long overdue. "Right, so what's this nonsense about that moron Draco being reinstated at Hogwarts?"

Edgar shrugged. "Well, he was reinstated. That's been rescinded pending the ongoing investigation. I think it's safe to say that the Malfoy heir may be exonerated, but his readmission to Hogwarts is likely to be revoked indefinitely. Either he was a willing participant in the masquerade, or else his father was abusing him. In the first case, he's going to spend some quality time in Azkaban. In the latter case, he's going to become a Ward of the Ministry and spend some quality time in therapy."

Sirius waved his own hand, gathering everyone's attention. "What if old Lucy tries to claim that Draco was never returned to him? That it's all the fault of the Ministry?"

Edgar merely shrugged apathetically, savouring his wine. "That would be a most unwise move. Malfoy requires the good will of the Ministry, and the Minister in particular. Such claims would not be well received."

Remus nodded once before asking what Harry wanted to. "And what of the others?"

"The Goyle and Crabbe boys are apparently enjoying their time at Durmstrang. Rumour has it that Snape moved into the Hog's Head pub in Hogsmeade, but I have yet to obtain confirmation of that." Edgar rose and brought the sliced bread to the table that Harry had forgotten about, passing around the plate after taking one piece for himself. "Apparently Master Auror Moody has taken his two students to task rather sharply over their loss to your Mentor and yourself, Harry. That doesn't even begin to describe the tongue lashing they received over not knowing who they were escorting, or for failing to detect Polyjuiced impersonators. I've heard rumours that he is planning to reinstate an obstacle course that was dismantled after the first fall of Voldemort. This time he'll be removing the 'safeties' from the obstacles."

Sirius and Remus both visibly winced at that statement, leaving Harry curious to know what they suspected about Moody's obstacle course. Having routinely run his own gauntlet with his various mentors and trainers, he had a deep and abiding appreciation for how diabolical and merciless that type of training could become. If his mentors were cringing at the idea of a Moody-designed course, then it had to be a true work of art to witness.

Harry looked back at Edgar, wondering why the Wizengamot meeting took so many hours for so few items of business. It was a peculiarity of the process that back in the 1800's, a rule was passed that all old business must be settled before any new business could be addressed. "So was there anything else of interest at the meeting?"

Edgar said nothing as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Harry knew from long association that this was simply the method the vampire preferred to use when reflecting upon a topic. After a few long moments of companionable silence, Edgar sat back up and regarded them all. "There was the usual mishmash of items, old matters of no relevance. There were a few things that did not make sense, however, but they were merely status assignments. For example, Walden Macnair has apparently been missing for some months, and his family has petitioned to have him legally declared dead. That was granted. Aberforth Dumbledore petitioned that the provisional status of the Hog's Head as a historic magical landmark be granted, and it was. Neither of these makes sense to me, but perhaps they do to you?"

Remus, Sirius, and Harry all exchanged glances, making it obvious that nothing was known about these two events. "Well," Remus said after a moment. "Aberforth always has been a bit strange. If he can pull it off, I suppose it might mean more business for him. But Macnair . . . we all know he's on our list of Death Eaters to watch. He disappeared before Voldemort's rebirth, which is puzzling, but he also never stood out as anything other than violent, somewhat slow witted, and aggressive."

Harry shrugged in turn. "I've not heard anything at the castle about it. Maybe he finally found a creature that beheaded him instead of the other way round?"

"Well, why did you have to go to the Manx Wizengamot?" Remus asked, switching the focus back to what really was happening. "I thought I understood that you went there first?"

"The Dumbledores are joint citizens of the Manx and Albion Wizengamots," Edgar replied with a vague wave. "Since Aberforth had to petition in both places, and old business must be finished first, we started at the Manx council and then moved back."

The sound of the front door loudly opening and closing cut off the conversation as they all heard David coming home. "We're in the kitchen, Dad," Harry called out. "Remus said you'd be a bit late, so we went ahead and made dinner without you."

David entered the kitchen moments later, dropping a small bag of groceries and a case onto the counter. Harry rose and exchanged a quick hug of welcome with his adoptive father, happy to see the light in his father's grey eyes as they regarded each other. Moving back to the table, both took their places silently.

Harry understood intellectually that many teenagers were in a mild state of rebellion, trying to strike out on their own and show their independence from their parents. Harry, however, understood that he might not have the chance to get another hug. Fate might suddenly still a beating heart; a killer might attack. He had more independence in his life than most teens, and he could not fathom the idea of avoiding his father simply for some silly moment of pride.

Silence settled on the group as they began to eat. Harry became aware that Remus and Sirius were acting unusually nervous for reasons not explained as yet. Edgar, while not being hasty, was certainly eating more quickly than his usual unhurried manner. The entire scene was leading up to something that clearly only David wanted to discuss. Deciding to take his time and wait for everything to fall out naturally, Harry opted to eat in peace.

"Well," David finally said, "I guess I should start this, eh?"

Harry was mildly relieved that they were finally going to talk about whatever was going on. "Start what, dad? Remus said you wanted a family meeting, but no one has said why."

David pushed around his food while staring at the plate, seemingly lost in thought. "Harry, I heard about the weekend. I heard about the Horcrux, the Headmaster, and, through Edgar, about the Malfoys and Aurors." Harry continued to eat calmly, knowing his father was slowly working his way to a point. "I acquiesced to Remus and Edgar when they told me that you needed to train under Dumbledore, but now Dumbledore's apparently lost his magic or some such, which I was also told wasn't possible."

Remus shifted a bit but kept silent. Sirius looked uncomfortable. Edgar just closed his eyes. Harry had seen that expression when the vampire was expecting some kind of axe to fall, so it was only a matter of moments.

David was now toying with his glass of wine, having given up on dinner entirely. "I find that the assurances of your safety, Harry, that I was given have been quite hollow. The safety of the castle, the safety of your care, the theory and rules you all have been working out . . . none of it is supported by the evidence from where I'm sitting. Cyril has the experience and knowledge in general, but he's not intimately familiar with our Riddle, now is he? And his inexperience is attested to by this weekend."

David stopped playing with the glass and met Harry's gaze. "I think, Harry, that I must ask you to stop attending Hogwarts."

Harry found himself neither entirely surprised by the statement nor particularly alarmed. On the one hand, he knew he was under a magical contract and could not simply stop attending unless released directly by the Headmaster or Deputy Head. On the other hand, Severus Snape was now dislodged from the building and unable to return. The only reason to remain would be to study advanced magic under the guidance of Dumbledore, but that at present was not an option.

"I see," Harry said at last. "Well, it's certainly possible to stop going. Would it actually solve anything? I'll agree right now that there's no pressing reason for me to continue there, although I have promised some people I would help them. I'd have to find a way to do that without being at Hogwarts."

Remus and Sirius both exchanged a long look. "Er," Sirius offered, "what about the oath?"

Harry waved it aside. "Easily overcome," Harry said quietly, pushing his finished plate away. "Edgar knows that as well." The vampire nodded his assent, still keeping his eyes closed. "Why do I have the feeling that this isn't an argument you plan on winning, Dad?"

David suddenly closed his eyes and affected the same posture as the vampire. Over the past year or so, Harry had noticed that the mannerisms of his father were gradually becoming more and more like the vampire. Likewise, he thought the vampire was picking up a few of the peculiarities of the David. It was an odd blend of traits between the two, but it was amusing to watch. His father was a rather remote man, and Harry thought it was good he had found someone to talk to openly about topics he would shy away from with anyone else.

"I know that ultimately one of you will talk me out of it." David sat up and looked back at Harry. "So this is my concession price. You get to stay, but you no longer go off the castle grounds by yourself. Not once. The only exception is when you're coming here. At the minimum, Sirius and Remus will both escort you everywhere whenever you leave the gates or grounds proper."

Harry paused to consider what that meant. Trips to Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, or the like held no interest for him as casual excursions. Any time he left, he was already in the company of at least one of those his father listed. Being in the company of both would be a little harder to coordinate, but it would ultimately change nothing.

"That's fine," Harry offered with a shrug. "Doesn't seem to change much. The only problem I can see is if Cyril wants me to do something specific that they aren't legally allowed to come along for."

David nodded at that. "That's an acceptable exception. However, you will notify them of where you're going, how long you'll be gone, and such. At least as much as you're able to."

"Okay. So why is Edgar still looking like he wants to run out of the room?"

"Er," Remus offered quietly. "That's more of, uh, my doing, Harry." The tangible nervousness of his friend was starting to really worry Harry. "I talked to everyone about how things have been going, showed them some memories, and Edgar turned up a copy of your memory of the Malfoy conflict."

Harry turned his full attention onto Remus as he waited for what was coming.

"We, uh, think . . . well, we think you need to start therapy again, Harry."

Harry froze, his eyes widening slightly albeit unconsciously. "Oh?" He knew his voice was like ice but was unable to stop that.

Sirius broke in to the conversation, staring hard at Harry. "Look, it wasn't your fault what happened last time. You know that, right?"

Harry's voice was completely flat. "I'm perfectly well aware of that, Sirius. I'm also aware of that fact that I cannot tell anyone anything about my life, which makes even the idea of therapy ludicrous. I appreciate your concerns, but nothing has changed since the last time we talked about this."

Without saying another word, Harry collected his dishes, placed them in the sink, and went to sit in the study. Aside from his father's desk, covered in work, and the many books, the study also had photographs all over the walls. Some were distant relatives, pictures of vacations in other places, and far too many to count had Remus, along with the Kepson family, doing something crazy. Harry had no idea how long he stood there, moving among the pictures, echoes of times and places long gone flitting through his mind.

He knew the soft tread of feet behind him belonged to his father, but he was not willing to revisit the memories and emotions that had ruled his life once before. The time for weakness and uncertainty was over, and it was time for movements, plans, and action to all coincide at precisely the right time.

"Son?" The hand on Harry's shoulder was supporting, but the tone was as rocky as what Harry knew he was fighting himself. "It's not your fault. You're smart enough to know that."

Harry said nothing but let his eyes glaze over as he began to count powers of eleven in his head. The problem with non-prime powers was that they rapidly became patterns of prime powers. Harry had learned long ago that, when all else failed, working the digits of prime powers kept everything properly leashed and put a safe distance between what he was feeling and what he outwardly revealed.

His father turned him around, and they exchanged a long look. Harry was already into seven digits from long habit. His father's eyes were sad and tense, while Harry tried to both meet the eyes and yet not actually see them. "We're going to try and find a way around the problems, Harry. We're telling you this so you won't be surprised if we succeed. Remus is already looking for someone who knows of the magical world and has the training, someone we can put the Fidelius on."

Harry was getting lost in the digits, confused as to where the seven belonged - it was either the fourth or fifth most significant digit, but it was getting too hard to concentrate. Giving it up as a bad job, Harry backed down and began working the powers of three through his head, while nodding absently at his father. His father would understand the distance. He always understood.

"It's getting on toward eight, Harry. Remus asked if you would go back and escort the Weasley girl to the Shack tonight, show her how to get in and out safely. He'll use that for a tutorial place for now."

Harry stopped at five million and change. "Right." His voice was a bit unsteady, but that was the way things went. "I'd best be off, then." Ginny needed training from him too, and that was easy to think about. Physical conditioning first. Something tangible, something simple. He needed to talk to Ginny to get her schedule locked down and fixed.

With a cursory hug to his father and a nod to the others sitting quietly at the dinner table, Harry stepped outside and moved to the Apparition point. In the darkness, he could feel Hedwig flying about, hunting for her dinner. Somewhere in the distance, a garden snake out in the open fell to the forces of nature. The jerk behind his navel as he activated the Portkey was a welcome sensation of familiarity.

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 8:09 pm/

Ginny was sitting in the middle of a long sofa, the tome on magical theory on the table in front of her, protruding slightly out of her bag. Neville was next to her, and the pair were talking in hushed tones. Harry recognised them as soon as he entered the Gryffindor common room, ignoring the oppressive silence that descended as implicit acknowledgement of his presence.

Moving to the sofa, both Neville and Ginny looked up in some surprise, probably from not expecting him to willingly enter the domain of regular students any time soon. "I need to talk to Ginny, Neville. Do either of you mind if I join you while I wait?"

Ginny was looking at Harry closely, but he merely shrugged off her visual inquisition. "Ah, that's fine Harry." Neville sounded a little uncomfortable, but no more so than what appeared to be normal when confronted with the unexpected. The unwanted scrutiny and whispers of everyone in the common room seemed to deflate the kind soul immensely.

Motioning Harry down to the empty seat on her other side, Ginny returned her attention to Neville. "I'm telling you not to worry about it, Neville. Twice doesn't mean anything. You were there, you were understanding and your usual gentle self, and that probably led to the second time. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a third and fourth time. I doubt it's even a conscious act at this point. She's probably seeking the only comfort that is certain right now."

Neville looked a little uncertain himself. "So you think I should just act like normal?"

"Exactly." Ginny reached out and patted Neville's shoulder. "Just be yourself, Neville. It's not like anything is going on. You're just being good to a friend in need."

"All right," Neville said after a moment. "Thanks, Ginny."

"No problem," Ginny said. Harry though she sounded a bit cynical. "It seems to be the day for these questions."

"Oh?" Neville was obviously curious as to what had led to that statement. He shot Harry a glance, but Harry shrugged his own ignorance of her meaning.

"Don't worry about it, Neville," Ginny said with a wave. "Just stupid boys and their testosterone interfering with their little brains." She said the last with a sweet smile at Harry. "Isn't that right, Harry?"

Harry held up both hands in silent defence. "You don't really expect me to walk into that, now do you?" Given what he witnessed at the greenhouses that morning, he had to secretly admit he was now rather curious as to what the entire conversation had been about.

"See?" Ginny said with a triumphant smirk. "I win again."

Neville laughed a bit as he rose and gathered his books. "I'm off to meet Hermione in the library. I'll see you two later." Neville shook his head on his way out of the common room, and Harry had to admit that Neville knew when to leave before things became pointlessly confrontational.

Ginny faced Harry fully, a hint of a smirk about her features.

"Remus wants to talk to you." Harry watched her eyes flicker about the room for a moment. "Not here. Follow me, right?"

Ginny gathered up her own things as she followed Harry back into the corridor, and they began making their way down the halls. "Uh, Harry, where's your broom?"

Harry paused mid-stride, unconsciously reaching for a bag and broom that were not present. "Bugger!" Harry had the sinking realisation that they were both in his bedroom. "Guess I left them at home. I'll have to get them after dropping you off."

Ginny said nothing as they began walking again. When they were finally descending the main staircase, she broke the silence. "You don't seem like you casually forget things like that."

Harry continued in silence, not particularly desiring to talk about why he had forgotten something so simple.

"So where are you taking me, Mr Potter?"

Harry held the doors open as Ginny moved past him to the grounds. "You'll see. No noise, now, right?" When Ginny nodded, Harry guided her into the deep shadows on the side of the castle. Harry cast a Disillusionment charm on both of them in rapid succession, ignoring her faint shudder. He was warm enough, but she was wearing lighter clothes than his habitual boots, heavy pants, and long sleeved shirt. "Walk slowly, now, or else the charm ripples. Put your hand on my shoulder, there, right. No talking."

As they moved slowly across the grounds toward the Whomping Willow, Harry paused to pick up a fist-sized rock from the ground. "At the base of tree, that large knot - I'm going to Banish this rock into it to make the tree stop moving. Remember this trick." With a flick of his wand, the rock slammed into the knot with a soft crack! The tree continued to gently sway in the light wind but reacted not at all as the pair slipped into the tunnel at its base. The whole way into the tunnel, Ginny's grip on Harry's shoulder was painfully tight.

Once they were safely in the tunnel, Harry released the Disillusionment Charms and looked at Ginny in the flickering light from the twilight outside. "You seemed anxious about the Willow. Problems?"

Ginny shook her head. "Not like that. I've seen it smash Quidditch brooms with unbreakable charms, though, so I didn't like the idea of being so close to it." Harry lit his wand with a silent Lumos! and Ginny shuddered slightly again as the wind stirred the leaves around their feet. "How long will it be frozen?"

Harry pointed up needlessly. "It's already back to normal. You have maybe thirty seconds to get in here. You can do the Banishing Charm accurately enough?" At Ginny's nod, Harry waved her to follow him down the tunnel. "I'll teach you the Disillusionment Charm this week. In the meantime, talk to Remus about keeping your schedule to dark hours so you won't be seen coming and going."

"Where does this tunnel go?"

Harry glanced at her briefly as he walked along. "The Shrieking Shack."

Ginny stopped dead in the path. "Uh, isn't that supposed to be, well, the most haunted building in Britain?"

Harry smirked. "Right. That's where Remus goes when he's missed his potions and has to transform. Good façade to spread rumours about it being haunted, wouldn't you say?"

Ginny visibly swallowed once or twice before she fell into place with Harry. "You know, Harry, the way you casually shrug off some of the stuff that I grew up learning is kind of . . ."


"Ha ha." Ginny hit him hard in the arm. "More like disturbing. That's it. You're a disturbing fellow, Harry."

Harry sighed softly. "And disturbed, also." Before Ginny could ask the question in her eyes, Harry indicated that they had arrived. Climbing up into the Shack, they found Remus sitting in a chair with Harry's bag and Firebolt at his feet.

With a wave, Harry picked up his bag and broom with a quiet, "Thanks." Remus said nothing but nodded his head. "Ginny," Harry said as he moved toward the exit, "meet me outside the common room tomorrow at 5 am. We need to start your training."

Without waiting for a response, Harry dropped back into the tunnel and made his way back to his room. Casting the Disillusionment Charm on himself had become habitual whenever he approached the exit of the tunnel, and he opted to keep it on as he moved through the corridors just to avoid being bothered by anyone. It meant he had to walk a little slower, but he was in no hurry.

When safely ensconced in the privacy of the suite he shared with Cyril, Harry dropped onto his bed and stared idly at the ceiling. He had dropped off his bag and broom on the small desk, reminders that he had homework he should complete. Cyril's damn mirror was there as well, taunting him with his inability to see clearly.

Rolling onto his side, Harry looked into the mirror. The mirror was merely a reflection of reality, but the eyes that beheld the reflection were still skewed by the mind behind them. Harry idly wondered what most people saw when they looked into a mirror: minor imperfections, scars, messed hair, something simple, something profound?

All Harry could see before he drifted off was the faint scar running down the left side of his neck.


SIYE is apparently completely b0rked right now with story updates and everything else.

Wanted: Brit-Picker volunteers (see below).

Using the information revealed in Chapters 21 and 22, you may find some obscure things suddenly less so back in the earlier chapters - perhaps 1 through 8.

To really start understanding the relationship between wing shape, body mass, lift, drag, forward velocity and vortex shedding, there are quite a few articles out there. You might try reading Thollesson and Norberg's
"Moments of Inertia of Bat Wings and Body" (J. Exp. Bio., 158, 19-35, 1991) as an introduction. This isn't my field, but it's still fun to read and think about.

The Brits and their use of the "." is slowly driving me insane. "Mr." should generally be "Mr" unless some corner case crops up. Similarly, "St." should be "St". Why they can't just sell us the UK version is some obscure rule meant to torment us. Do they think our brains are incapable of handling a few minor shifts in language? Sigh. This chapter has begun the "conformance" effort, so ignore prior A/Ns on the topic.

Thanks, as always, to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. Immeasurable thanks to cwarbeck and Chreechree. Thanks also to Reg for Brit-picking, Treecat for slang checking, and Sovran for a pre-publish sanity check plus a bit more this time.

I'm searching for new/more Brit-Picker(s) to move things along. Minimum qualifications: adult age, half a brain, native of England or at least lived there for 10+ years, wide range in sense of humour, and plenty of time to slog through a lot of material. Ideal qualifications: adult, full brain that's actually engaged 90 percent of the time, native of England having lived there for at least the first 20 years of your life, and a sense of humour that would put Robin Williams to shame. Obviously, I'll take what I can get. PM me if you're interested.

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