Disclaimer: Not the Rowling, not the Kanzaka.
I am so sorry this took so long to get out. Real life strikes again...
Once again, thanks to everyone who is following, has favourited, or has reviewed this story.
“Hello.” : voice.
“Hello.” : voice over phone, radio, TV... or telepathy.
‹Hello.› : thought.
Hello. : spellcasting, or other invocations of power.
JEALOUS! A Mother’s Blessing!
In the weeks following the trial, Harry and his nakama settled back into the routine of school life. He would have liked to spend more time with Sirius, but Dumbledore point-blank refused to let Harry leave Hogwarts’ grounds, even at the weekends, and was still ‘thinking about’ allowing Sirius to come to the school. So for the moment they had to make do with letters, and the occasional short, clandestine visit courtesy of Mandy.
Harry continued his efforts to make connections between his friends and the pupils outside Gryffindor, with some success. Daphne (whom they still called ‘Miss Greengrass’, with elaborate formality) was happy to occasionally pass the time of day with them, while Blaise and Tracey, with the adaptability of true Slytherins, would get together with them often. They also got on good terms with Susan Bones, Hannah Abbott, and Justin Finch-Fletchley of Hufflepuff, and Michael Corner and Sue Li of Ravenclaw. This led to a multi-house group of five to ten pupils (depending on timetables) regularly getting together to study, play games, and chat; and their example was beginning to be taken up by others in the lower years. There was, however, some resistance to this mingling among certain members of the staff; and when Harry and Hermione approached McGonagall with the idea of setting up a cross-house lounge for the first years...
“I’m sorry Mister Potter, but the Headmaster has denied your request.” McGonagall did look sincerely apologetic. Harry and Hermione’s plan involved opening up one of the many unused classrooms, and of course had to be approved by the staff. McGonagall had thought it was a good idea, but apparently Dumbledore disagreed.
“Did he give any reasons?” asked Harry. “I mean, if we could come up with a better plan, he might let us go ahead.”
“I’m afraid not,” said McGonagall. “He did say something about not wanting to disturb the House Elves unnecessarily, but I can’t see how they would be put out.”
“I have a theory,” said Hermione. “If I could speak plainly?” McGonagall nodded. “There’s a comic — a story told in pictures — that my father has been reading the last few years, and he explained some of the concepts in it to me. Apparently there’s a particular kind of boss who can’t approve of any idea or new suggestion without at least changing some aspect of it. It doesn’t matter how well thought out the idea is, or how well it would work; they don’t feel they’re ‘doing their job’ if they don’t make some sort of change — even one that doesn’t make sense, or is actually a bad idea. And often that sort of person will deny an idea simply because they didn’t think of it.” She paused to gain a little courage, then went on, “He described it as ‘marking their territory’. Do you think that might apply to the Headmaster?”
McGonagall reflexively started to deny the possibility, then caught herself and paused. “Perhaps... it would explain a lot, if that was the case.” She thought back to some recent events — particularly his refusal to allow Harry time to visit Sirius — and hoped that it was nothing more than that.
Harry sighed. “I was hoping you were exaggerating when you said we wouldn’t be allowed to socialise outside our Houses, but it looks like the Headmaster at least wants it to be that way.”
“What do you mean?” asked McGonagall. “I don’t recall saying that.”
“Before the Sorting, when you explained how the houses work,” said Hermione, “you said something like ‘your house is your family, you will sleep there, study there, and spend all your free time there’. It may not be what you meant, but it appears that’s what the Headmaster wants.”
McGonagall looked a bit upset at that, and was about to respond, when Harry chimed in. “And Blaise was telling us that Professor Snape has been very discouraging about them mingling with anyone outside Slytherin. He’s worried that they may be actually punished for it soon.”
“I will look into that,” said McGonagall firmly. “House solidarity is important, but it should not come at the exclusion of any contact with others. As for a place where you can socialise... leave that with me. I will speak to the Headmaster again, and see what can be done.”
Lina stirred in Harry’s mind as they left: she had her own ideas on how to encourage Snape to behave.
At other times the four would find a secluded spot away from the castle and try out new spells, occasionally with the Twins for company. After a few weeks, they all managed to produce faint streamers of Patronus mist, but the shield still eluded them. Harry and Lina’s attempts at the high-powered Spirit spells were more successful, though without a live target they couldn’t be sure. Lina also tried to impart the skill of Sorcery to the others, using the simple Lighting and Aero Bomb spells as examples. Hermione had managed to power Lighting with her own magic, but hadn’t got the knack of channelling yet. Neville had almost got it to work, but couldn’t quite get the cascade of external magic to start.
Lina’s quest to develop a multi-target version of her Illusion spell wasn’t going well. She eventually managed to produce an image in two of the others’ minds, but it required so much concentration that she couldn’t even walk without disrupting it.
“You might as well give up,” said Ron one day. He had abandoned all attempts to learn Lina’s style of magic after the first day of failure. “Can’t you just blow the stupid dog up or something?”
“I’d rather not,” said Lina, once the echoes of Hermione’s outraged reaction had died out. “It’s not exactly fair on the poor thing, and it’d mean I couldn’t have more than the one try.”
“What about those Elmekia spells?” asked Neville. “You said they could knock people out without hurting them.”
“The Lance can,” said Lina, “but the Flame is more likely to kill you outright. And while something that big will need a pretty hefty thump to put it down, I don’t want to risk killing it that way either.”
“Why not?” asked Ron.
“It lacks subtlety—” Lina paused, then said to the air, “And you can just shut up, Potter!” Her grin took the sting out of her words.
“What’s he saying,” asked Neville.
“I still can’t get real words from him often,” said Lina, “but he’s laughing a lot, and the impression I get is something like ‘do you even know what that word means’.” She giggled, then went on, “He has a point. If it weren’t for the need to keep things quiet and look after Harry’s interests, I’d probably just get past the daft mutt by blowing the side of the castle open.” Hermione looked appropriately shocked.
They also met up with Hagrid a few times, to hear his stories about their parents (or favourite red-headed role-model, in Hermione’s case). At first they wondered why Hagrid never invited them into his cabin, but after a couple of enjoyable story-telling hikes around the loch, they accepted the situation as normal.
Hagrid turned out to have a wealth of trivia about the castle and its surroundings, as well as many stories about former pupils. He tried to keep the children entertained with interesting facts and light, humorous tales, but their enquiring minds often led him back to darker topics: the last war, and the sacrifices their elders had made.
“It’ll be ten years this ‘allowe’en,” noted Hagrid one day. “Terrible times they were; you couldn’t wake in the mornin’ without worryin’ about who’d disappeared overnigh’. But then our ‘Arry—” and he clapped the unsuspecting boy on the shoulder, nearly knocking him to the ground— “‘e up an’ does in You-Know-’oo. ‘Tweren’t the end of it, but that broke the back of it.”
“That’s the thing Hagrid,” said Harry, recovering from his near-crushing. “I didn’t do anything. I know everyone thinks I saved them — I even had some people come up to me in the street and thank me, long before I’d heard of the magical world — but I really didn’t. Whatever stopped him, it was something my Mum did, not me.”
“Really?” said Hagrid. Harry had told him about his Dementor-induced revelations previously, but the grounds-keeper often needed time to digest information that contradicted his existing concepts. “It does make more sense, at tha’.”
“It’s a pity your mum doesn’t get the credit she deserves,” said Neville sadly.
“Maybe...” said Hermione. “Hagrid, like you said it’s going to be the tenth anniversary of that night soon. Do you think the Headmaster is going to make a big deal of it?”
“‘E might, at tha’,” rumbled Hagrid. “Sort of thing ‘e’d do, now you mention it. Maybe a’ the feast or somethin’?”
“In that case,” said Hermione, turning to Harry, “why don’t you say something to set people straight?”
Harry’s face twisted as he thought about putting himself forward like that.
“She’s got a point mate,” said Ron. “Let Dumbledore say his piece, then once he’s finished...”
They calmed Harry’s misgivings, and between them worked out a plan of action for the feast.
Of course they also had their formal lessons. Telescopes were peered through late at night, though more often than not the weather required that charts were examined in the shelter of a classroom. The various wand movements used when casting were listed, discussed, and practised. Common magical plants were described and cared for. The rules governing transformations were delineated and memorised. Potions were inexpertly brewed to mutters of “dunderhead” and “incompetent”. The first glimpses into the Dark were disentangled from a stream of stutters, stammers, and (for Harry anyway) the occasional sharp stab of pain. And, of course, there was the ever-popular ‘Nap Time with Cuthbert Binns’.
The remainder of their broom-riding lessons went without any hitch, thanks to Lina’s donation. By the end of the short series of classes, the combined Gryffindor and Slytherin class were all at least capable of staying aloft and performing simple manoeuvres. They spent the last two lessons flying simple slalom courses and playing tag or catch, depending on their skills. On the final day Madam Hooch set up an obstacle course, and the three best riders from each house, led by Harry and Draco, flew a relay race through it. Harry was outstanding of course, getting the fastest time for his own leg, beating Draco by a whole two seconds. Ron and Lavender Brown did very well, but they couldn’t quite match Miss Greengrass’ fluid grace, nor Millicent Bulstrode’s sheer power, and Slytherin took the day (and the deluxe box of chocolate frogs).
Draco’s trademark sneer began to creep into place as he faced Harry and his team. The Gryffindors said their congratulations (genuine, in Harry’s case at least), then just as Draco was about to let loose with a snarky remark, Harry cocked his head and gave a slight ‘come on then’ gesture.
Draco paused for a moment, drew a deep breath, then: “HAA-haha-haha-haa!” The Slytherins stared at him.
Harry gave a curt nod. “Much better. Still not there yet, but you’re starting to get the idea.”
Draco had to stifle a sudden grin of satisfaction at his accomplishment.
By Hallowe’en itself, very little had changed in everyone’s routine. The extended circle of friends still lacked a place they could meet in comfort, but the Slytherin component hadn’t been explicitly forbidden from associating with them either: whatever Professor McGonagall had said to Professor Snape was certainly effective. The study groups were a great success — so much so that Professor Flitwick fell off his chair in delight when more than half the Charms class successfully levitated their feathers on the first try. There were no harsh words or hurt feelings, and everyone had a productive day, topped off with a most enjoyable feast.
After dinner, Professor Dumbledore stood. Holding up his hands for silence, he began in a most serious voice, “On this day, ten years ago, our world was on the brink of disaster. I will not dwell on the details, but you all know how badly things were going for the peaceful inhabitants of Magical Britain. Then, by some miracle, the dark wizard who had our world by its throat was vanquished: sent into the darkness by a small child. I believe I speak for all of us when I raise my glass in thanks to Harry Potter.”
As the hall erupted in applause, Harry reddened and began to hide his head in embarrassment; but then he caught sight of the sneer on Draco’s face and straightened up. Glancing up at the staff table, he saw most of them nodding in approval, but Snape’s face was strangely blank.
The pupils began a chant of “Speech! Speech!”, led by the Weasley twins. Harry felt a wave of encouragement from Lina, then glanced round his friends, receiving nods of support from them. He stood, then climbed onto his bench and raised his hands, mimicking Dumbledore’s call for quiet.
“Thank you,” he began, as the room settled down. “But I must correct our Headmaster. I did not vanquish Voldemort.” He waited for the gasps to subside, then went on, “No-one knows why he came to our house that night.” (Behind his eyes Lina watched Snape twitch ever so slightly, as if stifling a reaction. ‹That’s worth looking into...› She went back to bolstering Harry’s confidence with all the force of her personality.) “Until recently, no-one knew what happened once he arrived. But the Dementors which were posted around the school brought out the memories I had locked away, allowing me to see once again the events of that night.”
Harry paused, allowing his statement time to sink in. He looked around the packed house tables, at the eager faces gazing at him. The realisation that they were hanging on his words sunk in, and a twinge of panic rose... but was quickly suppressed from within, before he could lose his momentum. ‹Thanks Lina.›
“When Voldemort came for us, James Potter stood against him. He fought, valiantly trying to hold him off long enough for his wife and child to escape. We couldn’t get away, but my father’s sacrifice bought enough time for my mother to put in place a protection so strong, that even though she was mercilessly cut down, her shield reflected back the Killing Curse that should have taken my life.” Harry knew that his story wasn’t strictly accurate, but he still didn’t understand why Voldemort offered to let his mother live. That detail might be important some day. “That reflected curse sent the so-called Dark Lord shrieking from his body and into the darkness.” He paused again, then lifted his goblet of pumpkin juice. “So yes, let us all give thanks today. But let’s thank the heroes who truly vanquished the evil. Here’s to James and Lily Potter!” He drained his goblet as the hall filled with cheers again, then sat down with his friends.
“That was wicked!” said Ron.
“Yes, well done,” added Hermione, throwing an arm around him. Harry dropped his head and leaned into her. “Thanks guys. If you don’t mind, I’m going to have a panic attack now.” He looked around at his friends, and gave them all a wan smile. Glancing at the staff table again, he saw Dumbledore wasn’t entirely pleased with his little speech: his expression was genial enough, but the twinkle was absent from his eyes. He also noticed Snape staring at him with an unreadable expression on his face.
“‘E’s a right ‘un, that ‘Arry,” rumbled Hagrid approvingly.
“He t-truly is,” agreed Quirrell, then lowered his voice a little. “H-how’s your other f-friend getting on?”
“‘E’s grand, Perfesser Quirrell.” Hagrid leaned over to murmur in Quirrell’s ear. “Flame-freezing charms are ‘olding up a treat, but I wouldn’t say no to you ‘avin’ a look at the space expansion. I reckon ‘e’s gettin’ a bit cramped again.”
“Of c-course,” said Quirrell. “I’ll l-look in on S-sunday, if you l-like.”
‹Simpleton,› sneered the voice in the back of Quirrell’s head as the half-giant nodded in thanks. ‹I must congratulate you, my servant. Luring a troll into the school would have caused chaos, but not much of a diversion. A dragon appearing as everyone comes out to catch the Yuletide train, on the other hand...› The evil mental laugh that followed wasn’t the kind that Lina was looking for, but she’d have given it at least eight out of ten for style.
Once the well-stuffed pupils were all safely in bed, Lina rose silently and made her way down to the main staircase — for the last time, she had decided. Thanks to her illusion’s silent disapprobation, Snape had become an almost acceptable teacher, and was no longer blatantly picking on anyone or showing gross favour to his own house. The remainder of his journey could be made without the help of the phantom Lily.
Snape appeared in due time, cautious as always. Lina floated her illusion in from the corner of his eye, and moved it in to face him. She had it raise one hand, intending to give a sad wave and slowly vanish— but nearly fell from her perch in surprise as the ghostly figure held its hand out instead, floating forward until it gently cupped Snape’s cheek.
“You’ve come a long way, Sev,” said the projection. “I know it’s been hard, but you’ve managed to overcome all the bitterness you built up over the years.”
“Lily—” choked Snape. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know the prophecy was about you.” Lina pricked up her ears at that. “I tried to save you—”
“I know, Sev. And I know that you’ve sworn to keep Harry from harm. You’ve very nearly gone back to the person I was proud to call friend.”
“Nearly? What else must I do?” He sounded desperate.
“Rein in the worst of your House. You have the power to do it now; you don’t have to toe the line of the strongest any more.”
Snape dropped his head. “If only that were true. Dumbledore insists I be lenient with them, to ‘guide them back to the light’. He believes that punishing them will only turn them away.”
“Nonsense,” scoffed Lily. “Dumbledore is all good intentions and bad mistakes. His desperate need to control everything may well be the downfall of everything he loves. I know you can stand up to him, Sev.”
Snape drew himself up a little. “I will do what I can. I’ve already rejected his plan of keeping my Snakes isolated from the other pupils.”
“And some of them have already moved much closer to the light because of it. Even spoiled little Draco will turn, if Harry’s ‘friendly rivals’ plan bears fruit.”
Snape rolled his eyes at the reference. “Is there anything else I should do?”
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt to smile occasionally,” said Lily with a grin. “I know, I know; you’ve invested too much in your ‘sarcastic Professor’ persona to let it go completely, and to be honest it’s all to the good now you’ve stopped blatantly picking on some of the kids. But you can relax around the other members of staff, you know.”
“Those that aren’t complete dunderheads would collapse in shock,” muttered Snape.
“I don’t mean change all at once!” laughed Lily. “But to be serious: your House has been poisoned by mis-sorting over the years. Certain personalities that would be safest spread amongst all the houses have been concentrated into Slytherin. Dumbledore may not know about it, but if he did he would almost certainly want to keep it that way. Forget all the old stories, and try to instil Slytherin’s true values into your charges.”
“What true values?” asked Snape, confused.
“Ask Harry about the Aspects of Water some time,” said Lily. “It would help both of you to discuss it, and his insight may surprise you.” Reluctantly, Snape nodded. “Now, I’m afraid I must go. You won’t see me again — not for some years anyway, I hope! — but when you meet Harry’s new guardian, know that you can trust her as you did me.” She floated forward and laid a spectral kiss on Snape’s forehead. “Goodbye, my friend.”
“Goodbye Lily,” whispered Snape. He watched as her translucent form glowed white, then turned into a streak of light that shot away to the heavens. Struggling to not be overcome by emotion, he lowered his head and slowly made his way to the dungeons.
Far above, Lina gaped in awe as Lily’s glowing spectral form coalesced in front of her.
“Thank you Lina, for providing a conduit for me to talk to Severus,” said Lily. “And thank you again, for taking up my responsibilities to Harry and Neville. You may not have been what I would have looked for in a guardian, but you have risen to the challenge and have done very well indeed.” Lina gulped down a lump in her throat and nodded. “And know this: there will be setbacks, and you may come close to giving up hope, but before too long you will stand beside Harry in your own body.”
Lily drew back and began to fade into light. “Tell Harry I love him,” she whispered as she vanished.
It was a very pensive Lina that returned to Harry’s dorm that night.
Harry had never been more frustrated with his inability to carry on a conversation with Lina than he was that first morning of November. He had long since got into the habit of sleeping through her nocturnal excursions, as they often ran very late and usually involved a lot of (to him) boring reading, so the first he knew of Lina’s encounter with his mother was when he checked for any overnight notes from her.
To be fair, Lina had done an exceptional job of recording everything she saw, heard, and thought during the encounter, but even so Harry was fair exploding with questions.
“Hermione!” he shouted as soon as she appeared in the common room.
“Harry? You’re down early,” she replied.
“I need your brain,” said Harry.
“I beg your pardon?” Hermione chuckled.
Harry waved his hands around vaguely. “You’re always the one who comes up with the good questions. I need questions asked. Let’s go find somewhere private.”
“Well, thanks for the compliment Harry, but shouldn’t we be going to breakfast?”
“This is too important!” said Harry, almost shouting in frustration. Hermione flinched slightly, and he went on more quietly, “Sorry, but it really is. Look, we could go grab some bacon sandwiches or something.”
“What’s going on?” asked Neville, who had just come down with Ron.
“Harry has...” Hermione thought for a moment, eyeing Harry’s desperate expression, then went on, “well, I’m not sure, but could you do us a favour Neville?”
“Sure,” he replied.
“We’re going down to the Charms corridor for a bit of privacy; can you make up some sandwiches and bring them to us?” She turned to Harry. “Is this something that Neville and Ron can help with?”
“I don’t know...” said Harry, wringing his hands in frustration. “I don’t mind if they come with us though.”
“Skip breakfast? How important is it?” said Ron.
“Really important to me, but don’t let me keep you from your food,” said Harry, rather sarcastically.
“Harry,” warned Hermione when she saw Ron’s face redden.
Harry sighed, hanging his head. “Sorry mate. It’s just— this is really important to me, and I want to share with my friends.” He glanced around the room; they were starting to draw something of an audience. “But it’s a bit private too... family business, if you know what I mean?”
“Ah,” said Neville, catching on. “Ron, why don’t you help me put together some food, and we’ll join them down there?”
Ron dithered for a moment, then gave in. “All right, I’ll be there.”
Once down in an empty Charms classroom, Hermione turned to Harry. “Right. Maybe you should sit down.”
“Can’t,” said Harry, almost bouncing on the spot.
Hermione cocked her head. “What’s got you so worked up?”
“Last night— well, Lina... Look, read this, okay?” He thrust Lina’s note at her.
“Snape... illusion... lost control...” Hermione mumbled as she scanned the note. “Wow,” she said, once she was finished. “This is... wow, Harry. This is a really major breakthrough in— but that’s not what you want me here for. You’re right, I have a lot of questions for Lina, but I’m not sure what you would want me to ask that she hasn’t already written here.” She sighed. “I mean, I get that this is really important to you — it’s your mum — but Lina’s covered everything.”
“There has to be something!” said Harry in frustration. “Even just a little?”
Hermione looked at him for a moment, then said slowly, “Harry, are you jealous?”
“What? No! Well—” spluttered Harry.
“I mean, you don’t seem to mind that Neville gets hugs from Lina more than you can, but it must bother you. And now Lina gets to meet your mum, sort of at least, and you—”
“I slept right through it!” wailed Harry, almost in tears. “She was right there, and I didn’t wake up!”
Hermione dithered for a moment — this really wasn’t her thing — then said, “Oh, come here,” and pulled Harry into a hug. He stood stiffly for a moment, then collapsed against her, finally letting the tears loose.
Harry was still clinging to Hermione when the other two arrived, laden with plates of bacon, sausage and bread. Hermione gave them a desperate ‘help me!’ look over Harry’s shoulder.
Neville rose to the occasion and, with Hermione’s help, transferred his godbrother’s sobbing form to him.
With the reassurance of his friends, and a lot of internal support from Lina (once she woke up), Harry eventually pulled himself together. Once he had delivered a burst of apologies to the others for his behaviour (especially to Lina, for feeling jealous), the remainder of the day went as well as any Friday. By dinner time he had largely got over his upset, and the last vestiges of it were erased when, towards the end of the meal, Professor McGonagall came over to him.
“I have some good news for you, Mister Potter. The Headmaster has decided to allow your godfather to attend the Quidditch match tomorrow.”
Harry looked stunned for a moment, then smiled brightly. “That’s brilliant,” he said. “When will he be arriving?”
“Shortly after breakfast,” said McGonagall. “He will need to leave before dinner, but will be able to spend the whole day with you.”
“Fantastic,” said Harry, still grinning. “Thank the Headmaster for me, please?”
“I will be sure to,” said McGonagall, and left them to finish their meal.
“I wonder why he changed his mind,” murmured Hermione.
“No idea,” said Neville. “But we’ll need to be careful to act like we haven’t seen him in weeks.”
“No problem there,” said Hermione, nodding at Harry, who was still grinning like an idiot.
“Huh?” he said.
“I take you’re happy to be seeing Sirius, then?” said Neville with a grin.
“It’s the first time we’ll be able to be with him in public,” said Harry. “And maybe the Headmaster’s starting to lighten up, as well...”
“Yeah...” said Ron, distractedly picking at the remains of his dinner.
“What’s up, Ron?” said Hermione. “You look uncharacteristically thoughtful.”
Ron gave her a quick glare, then said, “I dunno... it’s just a bit odd. All month old Dumbledore wouldn’t let you meet with Sirius in private, and now he’s letting him come to the Quidditch match. Family never get to come.”
Harry’s eyes immediately snapped to the Headmaster’s ostentatious throne, but he had already left the hall. “What’s he up to...”
The day of the first Quidditch match of the season was clear, with a crisp coldness just on the mild side of frosty. Even though Harry and his nakama had seen Sirius just the weekend before, they didn’t have to feign excitement at his first official visit: they were down in the Great Hall as early as possible, and ate their breakfast as quickly as they were comfortable with (Hermione taking about three times as long as Ron, who sat impatiently while she finished). Of course, this just meant that they spent the best part of an hour hovering restlessly about the main doors waiting for Sirius to actually arrive.
Then the thin (but no longer emaciated) figure of Lord Black appeared around the bend of the drive, and as he ran forward to greet him Harry discovered he didn’t need to fake his enthusiasm at all.
“Well... that was...” said Harry, as the group walked with the dispersing crowd after the Gryffindor vs. Slytherin Quidditch match.
“Terrifying?” suggested Neville. “I mean, I’ve got the hang of flying, but the thought of being up there in that mess... no ta.”
“Frustrating,” said Ron firmly. “Bloody Snakes can’t play for toffee, so they cheat all the time, and Hooch lets them away with it.” Hermione gave him a stern look for his language.
“Hilarious?” said Sirius. “The interaction between Minnie and your commentator, I mean.” The others grinned and nodded their agreement; Lee had been in fine flow.
“How about ‘interminable’?” supplied Hermione. “Although I suppose it’s not strictly accurate; the match did end, even if it took eight hours.”
“I was going for something between ‘confusing’ and ‘stupid’,” Harry finally said. “Who came up with such a daft game?”
“WOT?!” said Ron, offended to his very core. “It’s the best game ever!”
“Oh sure, the whole passing-and-scoring bit is absolutely amazing,” said Harry in a conciliatory tone, “and the Twins’ position makes sense, given what you can do with magic, but that thing with the Snitch? If the two Seekers hadn’t been utter pants, the game would have been over long ago, and the team that caught it would have won, no matter how well the Chasers had done.”
“It was added almost by accident in the late twelve-hundreds,” said Hermione with a sniff. “Originally they used small birds.”
Ron’s jaw dropped as he stared at her. “How did you—”
“Ron, this is Hermione,” said Neville, making the gestures associated with a formal Society introduction. “She reads stuff.”
“But how did such a ridiculous idea stick?” said Harry.
“Tradition,” said Sirius with a grin. “Wizards are suckers for it.”
“That explains why we still have it,” Harry replied, “not why it caught on in the first place.”
“No-one has ever explained it really,” said Hermione. “My own theory is that it resonates with magical society as an allegory for the unique way internecine conflict is resolved.”
Ignoring Ron’s “Huh?” of incomprehension, the others gestured for her to continue.
“Well,” said Hermione, shifting into lecture mode, “normally conflict in the Wizarding world is between two ideologies — often Light and Dark, but other divisions occur as well. However, unlike in the Mundane world, each side is always championed by a powerful individual, whose ability far outstrips the normal magical by a considerable factor. For example, the Headmaster and Gellert Grindelwald. The conflict is only resolved once one of those champions defeats the other, and which one wins that combat has a large influence on the overall outcome. However, if the conflict is drawn out long enough, the damage caused by their followers can be such that the winner of the final duel has no support left, leaving his (or her) ideology the loser even so.” She indicated the end of her presentation with a short bow.
“Like today,” said Sirius. “Even though that Higgs fellow caught the Snitch in the end, the Flying Foxes had racked up enough goals to win the day.”
“See?” said Ron. “It does make sense!” His face fell. “We definitely need a better champion though.”
Harry nodded. “McLaggen can fly, but he’s too busy talking to the others to be any use.”
“Fred-or-George was saying he keeps trying to tell everyone what to do,” Neville added. “It really gets Wood’s goat, apparently.”
“Didn’t Hooch say you should have a go next year?” said Ron to Harry. “You’d be way better than that git. And trust me, playing Seeker is usually a lot more interesting than those two made it look.”
“Plus, it’d be the best position for you,” said Neville with a slight smirk. “Being the Boy-Who-Lived and all.”
“Shut it,” growled Harry with a smile. “Maybe I will. I certainly couldn’t do any worse than McLaggen.”
“I think the Twins had something planned in case his performance didn’t match his boasts,” said Hermione with a slight smirk.
“I wish I could stick around to see it,” said Sirius. “Unfortunately Dumbledore insisted I leave before dinner, so I made plans for the evening.”
“Hot date?” asked Harry.
Sirius barked a laugh. “Well, I am going to be spending time with a most impressive lady...” He laughed again when the four rounded on him with wide eyes. “Not like that though. Mandy’s accompanying me to my family home to see if we can get it cleaned up in time for Christmas. House Black can’t impose on the charity of House Inverse forever. And I’ll need somewhere suitable for my godson and his friends to stay, if they would care to visit for a few days over the holidays?” He looked around the four hopefully.
“Of course!” said Harry, giving Sirius a hug. The others gave their own agreement.
“If the clean-up goes well, I’d like to host a small gathering between Christmas and New Year,” Sirius went on. “To mark my return to society, you know. Get me a list of everyone you’d like to come, and I’ll send out formal invitations in a fortnight or so. Families included, of course.”
“Even my mum and dad?” asked Hermione.
“I don’t see why not,” said Sirius. “I’ll make sure it’s safe for them. My family would have had a fit at the idea of Muggles entering the ancestral home, but I’ve never bothered about that nonsense. They’re your parents, so they’re welcome.”
The others thanked Sirius for the invitations, then waved him goodbye as he set off down the drive again.
The party in the Gryffindor common room was riotous, but the Twins’ revenge on McLaggen was the highlight of the evening: a subtle variation of the Confundus charm that caused him to use malapropisms whenever he used a didactic or condescending tone (which was almost all of the time). It frustrated him so much that they ended up leaving it on for the following week.
And so the routine of school life went on, much as before. Harry’s extended group of friends had taken to meeting in the less-travelled corridors of the castle’s upper floors, spreading blankets and cushions on the floor for comfort. They made a game of never meeting in the same place twice, to avoid issues with the Headmaster.
Classes, too, went on. Only Potions was different. There were still the mutters of “dunderhead” and “incompetent”, but they were becoming spread more evenly and usually were only elicited with cause. Points awards and deductions also became more equitable, and soon some actual teaching occurred: the various methods of preparing potions ingredients and stirring were demonstrated in detail, and the reasons for including specific ingredients at specific times were explained. And the Professor, who had stopped glaring at Harry after the first few weeks in favour of avoiding looking at him at all, was now seen to occasionally let his glance linger on him, an inscrutable expression on his face.
Sirius’ clandestine visits became much rarer, as he threw himself into the work of repairing his family home. Mandy wrote that he had taken Lina’s advice, and given her a large budget and a wide remit to redecorate the place. She was enjoying herself immensely, and apparently work was progressing well, as the last week of November saw the arrival of invitations for Harry’s extended group of friends, and some of the staff, to Sirius’ ‘Coming Back’ party.
Lina still walked the corridors of the school at night, but avoided Snape completely, keeping mainly to the library. She was beginning to lose hope of finding any reasonable solution to her problems there — no ways of getting past Fluffy without risking killing him, and only one potential solution to her lack of a body. Unfortunately the latter involved the murder of a baby to form a homunculus, and while ‘bloodthirsty’ was a term that could fairly be applied to her in some circumstances, Lina would never countenance harming a child. Sirius had promised her access to the Black family library, but had warned her that any solutions there would likely be just as Dark.
Eventually the end of term came around, and the pupils gathered at the main entrance to head for the station.
“Try not to burn the school down or anything,” said Harry, giving the Twins manly claps on the shoulder. “And keep Ron company.”
“Try and get your homework done before the party,” said Hermione to Ron, who just rolled his eyes and grumbled in response.
“At least you won’t be lonely,” said Neville, who had been saying goodbye to Blaise and Su Li. “I’ll be stuck in that giant mausoleum with only Gran for company most of the time...”
“Your gran’s all right,” said Ron, giving Neville a bump on the shoulder.
“Boys,” said Hermione. “Can’t you say goodbye properly?” She grabbed Ron by the shoulders and pulled him into a hug.
“Not like that we can’t,” said Harry, then squeaked as the Twins enveloped him, one from each side. “Gerroff!”
“The carriages are coming!” announced Hannah. “Bye Blaise, bye Su! Bye Ron!”
Harry looked around to see a procession of carriages coming up the drive, each pulled by a skeletal, leathery-winged horselike creature.
“Creepy,” he commented.
“It’s probably just an animation charm of some kind,” said Hermione.
“Why make them look so weird then?” said Harry.
“They’re just carriages,” said Neville.
“Well, maybe those things are normal in the magical world, but I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Oh come on Harry,” said Hermione. “They’re rather outdated, but surely you’ve seen a carriage before? Normally they’d have a horse between the limbers, but making them move on their own is simple enough magic.”
“Simple for you, maybe,” muttered Ron, as Harry looked at them in confusion.
“Hang on, are you saying you can’t see the things pulling them?”
“What things?” asked Ron.
Harry sighed. “They look like horse skeletons covered in scaly black leather, with big bat wings.” He cocked his head, examining the lead one. “They look frightened.”
“I can’t see anything,” said Neville, “but I think I know what it is you’re seeing.”
Harry nodded absently. “Whatever they are, they really don’t look happy.” The crowd gasped as the lead carriage stopped and jerked backwards, with its limbers swinging up. Harry — and those others ‘privileged’ to have witnessed Death — saw the Thestral in its traces shy up and half-extend its wings, obviously in panic. Its fear quickly infected the rest of the herd, and they began to bolt, dragging their carriages across the lawn towards the Forbidden Forest.
Hermione looked back along their line of flight, but saw nothing out of the ordinary — just Hagrid’s hut. “But there’s nothing— LOOK!”
The others turned, just in time to see the ramshackle building fall apart as a series of space expansion spells suffered a cascade failure, forcibly depositing twenty metres of rather annoyed Norwegian Ridgeback onto the lawn.
Screams broke out among the pupils. They were mostly spread out along the drive in anticipation of the carriages, putting the dragon closer to the castle gates than they were. En masse they turned and ran after the Thestrals, towards the forest. The majority of the staff had turned out to see their pupils off; though closer to the castle, they ran off after their charges at the Headmaster’s command. Power flowed from Albus Dumbledore as he turned to face the dragon.
Hagrid had been too busy getting the Thestrals ready to feed his dragon that morning. Norberta was hungry, and confused by all the screaming and running around after the calm of the hut. She focussed on the Headmaster as the source of all her problems, and roared at him. When he failed to back down, she inhaled again, then blew a gout of flame towards him. Dumbledore leapt back out of range.
Harry and his friends had hung back beside the castle while bidding Ron and the others farewell. They were able to get inside without difficulty, but Harry dodged aside, stepping into the secluded corner of the gatehouse.
“What are you doing?” Harry turned at Hermione’s voice, to see that she, Neville, and Ron had followed him.
“Lina wants to handle this,” said Harry confidently. “Cover for me, please?”
Ron looked sceptical, but nodded jerkily and turned to join the others. Hermione and Neville stood their ground and gave him pleading looks.
“We’ll be fine,” said Harry, then swapped with Lina. “You can trust me, I’ve done this plenty of times.”
“In a book,” said Hermione, nearly in tears.
“It was real enough for me,” said Lina, grinning.
“Take care, Big Sis,” said Neville, drops spilling from his own eyes.
“Hey, no problem,” said Lina, and struck a victorious pose, one fist in the air. “I’m awesome.” She bowed to them, then went on, “You get back inside though, just in case. First off though: a proper mist spell. Swightflange!” Fog sprang up around Lina, spreading outwards. She poured power into the spell, sending more and more vapour out along the line of the drive, shielding the fleeing students and staff from the dragon. Once the cover was thick enough, Lina cut off the spell, let her aura flood out, and strode forward into the mist.
Let us take a moment out of the flow of narrative, to discuss those wonderful creatures known as ‘dragons’. In every universe graced by their presence, all dragons — whether naturally evolved, genetically engineered, or called forth by magic and imagination; whether intelligent or animalistic — have a connection to the great Draconic Overmind. From Pern to the Discworld, from Krynn to the many variants of Earth, all dragons share the same dreams. And through those dreams stride a handful of entities.
Each individual dragon’s reactions to one of these entities depends on their character and that of the dragon itself: some are viewed with camaraderie, some with reverence, some with hatred. Most are of no consequence to our story. But there is one who is known to all dragons, from the most brutish Horntail to fabled Ruth, from the meanest swamp dragon to great Bahamut himself. That one elicits only one emotion in any dragon not of impeccable character.
Norberta was, by any standards, a very young dragon, and was already very upset by the antics of those tiny creatures. Then the mist came down, and out of it stalked a figure pulled from her deepest nightmares.
The Dragon Spooker.
With her hair and cloak swirling in her flaring aura, Lina strode through the fog towards the hazy bulk of the dragon. The creature recoiled, bellowing at her, then inhaled. “Balus Wall!” shouted Lina, just as the dragon blew a massive gout of flame at her. The stream of fire splashed against her shield, spraying off in all directions.
Once the flamed died down, Lina stalked forward again, glaring right into the dragon’s eyes. It reared back, inhaling again, but something about Lina’s stare forced it to back down, letting the breath out with a whimper as it laid its head on the ground in front of her.
Lina went right up to it and smacked it on the nose. “Bad dragon!” she said sternly as it cringed further down, covering its head with its wings. “Now, are you going to fly off and find others of your kind, or do I have to get...” With a twist of her hand, Lina produced a ball of concentrated magic, and bounced it up and down in her palm a couple of times. “...angry?”
Norberta shook her head vigorously, then rose up above Lina. With a mighty leap she took to the air, the first flap of her wings shredding the fog like tissue. Steadying herself against the blast, Lina watched as the dragon gained height, circled once, then headed off towards the north-east.
A quick scramble back up the hill, a quicker change, and Harry slid into the entrance hall behind Neville. “Told you we’d be fine.”
Neville turned, relief warring with concern on his face. “Thank goodness. But we have another problem...”
Ron came over, pulling Fred and George with him. “When that bloomin’ monster popped out of Hagrid’s hut, I thought to myself, ‘that would be an excellent diversion’. So I got the Twins to watch the map...”
“straight for the”
“on the third floor.”
“Snape followed him”
“caught up with him”
“at the door, but”
“Snape hasn’t moved”
“Quirrell’s gone into”
“a bit of the castle”
“we’ve never seen before.”
Harry sucked in a breath. “He’s going after the Stone.”
To be continued...
Oh dear... a cliffhanger! Also, the Dragon Spooker shows her true power.
(Fear not: the next chapter will be up within 24 hours. I was so badly blocked writing this one, I almost had the next completed at the same time.)
It’s never stated in canon whether or not they have more than one flying lesson. I seriously doubt that they only had one.
For an alternative view of Quidditch, see Silently Watches’ Deal with a Devil chapter 18, which came out as I was writing my section. (Actually, you should read all Silently Watches’ stuff, due to it being awesome.)
Hermione’s dad reads Dilbert.