LeadVonE

Dodging Prison & Stealing Witches

Chapter forty-three: Daphne’s Birthday, Work and Play — Part Two

“WHERE — IS — HARRY!?”

Slytherin students watched in bemusement as the irate muggleborn professor stormed up the stairs to the Slytherin common room from the boys’ dormitories.

“It’s well past curfew! Where — is — he? Mister Malfoy! Do you know?”

“No, Professor.”

“Nott?”

“I’m afraid not — ahaha.”

“Miss Parkinson?”

“Sorry, Professor.”

Down in the second year girl’s dormitory, Tracey Davis’ heart was making a spirited attempt to beat its way out of her chest.

“Just act like you normally would around Harry,” Hermione said, uncorking a tiny vial of polyjuice.

“But what about his clothes?” Tracey asked frantically.

“I’ve got a set of his robes here.” Hermione had stripped down to her underwear and was bringing the vial to her lips. “Look away!”

Tracey spun around just as Hermione’s skin began to bubble. “Oh, Merlin and Morgana — if Professor Potter finds Harry in our dormitory…”

“Yes, I know! Look outside, is there anyone there?”

Tracey poked her around the door into the corridor. “No, it’s clear. What are we going to tell her?”

“Get Ginny! She can disillusion!”

“Yes, but what are we going to tell her?”

“Tracey, I’ve got this! Just go!”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Lily Potter looked around the Slytherin common room for the dozenth time in the last five minutes. Where could Harry possibly be? She knew he was still in the castle. The headmaster had confirmed it.

When she finally got a hold of him, he was going to be in so much trouble.

Then, something on one of the sofas by the fireplace caught her eye. A slight ripple in the air — almost unnoticeable — a disillusionment charm.

Lily narrowed her eyes and pointed her wand at the space. “Finite incantatem!”

There was a much more pronounced shimmer as the disillusionment fell.

Lily stared.

Her son, Harry Potter, was buried deep under a blanket, fast asleep, and next to him slept Ginny Weasley. The two were snuggled into each other, Ginny’s head resting in the crook of Harry’s neck. Even as she watched, Ginny tried to nuzzle her way even deeper into him.

Lily’s heart melted. Despite the curt way Ginny usually acted around her, any mother would be hard pressed not to find the tableau in front of her utterly adorable.

She approached cautiously, feeling a good chunk of her anger and frustration draining out of her. She then poked around with her wand, stretching her extremely limited magic sensing abilities to the limit, eventually deciding that, yes, there was also a silencing charm around them, which would explain why they hadn’t heard her shouting only a moment ago.

Had Harry cast them? It wouldn’t surprise her. He was already at NEWT level, after all — such a little genius.

Lily dispelled the charm, crouched down beside them, and put a gentle hand on Harry’s shoulder, slowly shaking him. “Harry,” She said quietly.

Harry made a noise something like, “Mwushlumphmmm…”

“Harry,” she said, a little louder.

Harry’s eyes flickered open.

“You can’t sleep here, Harry.”

“Mum?” He looked mildly confused.

“If you and Ginny want to sleep you need to go to your dormitories.”

“Ginny?” Harry looked to his side, noticed Ginny, and became fully awake. “Mum, why are you here?”

“Harry, where have you been all day? I’ve been looking for you.”

“Training with Ginny.”

“Didn’t Ginny tell you I was looking for you?”

“Well, yeah, but I figured if it was important you’d find me.”

Lily let out an exasperated sigh.

Ginny was starting to wake up now. “Lady Lily?” she muttered.

“That’s professor while we’re in school, Miss Weasley.” She turned to Harry. “I’d like you to be at my apartment for dinner tomorrow tonight. Say six o’clock.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “I had plans tomorrow.”

Lily smiled. “I know you work hard, Harry, but I’m sure you can take out a few hours from training to have dinner with your family, yes?”

Harry considered this, then looked down sheepishly. “Yes, Mum.”

“And bring one of your friends — John’s bringing one of his — maybe Ginny here.”

“Yes, Mum.”

“And now, off to bed.”

Harry slowly got to his feet and shuffled his way to the stairs, holding an equally tired looking Ginny’s hand the whole way. They only stopped holding hands when Harry took the stairs heading into the boy’s dormitory and Ginny took the ones heading to the girls.

Lily nodded to herself, stood up, surveyed the Slytherin common, and left, leaving behind her a rather incredulous group of onlookers.

At the same time that lady lily was leaving, at the court of the Dark, Draco, Nott, Pansy, and Alexandra all traded looks.

“That,” said Pansy, “was the largest amount of dragonshit I’ve ever seen Harry Potter shovel anyone.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

The earth turned.

It was morning in Iceland, and the sun was just now deciding to show itself.

In one of the magical hotel rooms a few doors down from where Harry and Daphne were staying, a lithe middle aged witch, dressed only in rather racy underwear and slippers, was leaning over in front of a dressing-room table mirror, applying a thick layer of bright red lipstick. She had sharp features, blonde hair, rather long, painted fingernails, and the air of a woman who has done many things, and, in some cases, people, to get to where she is, and isn’t ashamed about it in the least.

She was not alone in the room. A man relaxed in the room’s lone double bed, equally unclothed and smoking a cigarette.

“Rita, Luv, why the rush? The tour won’t be setting out for an hour. They’re probably both still at breakfast.”

Rita Skeeter was now busily stepping into a set of fashionable magenta robes. A small vial of muddy, goopy potion stood on the dressing-room table.  “Breakfast that I should be at,” she snapped. “Drat the editor, getting me the tip-off so late — drat portkey sickness….” She glared at the man watching her straighten her robes with an appreciative eye. “…Drat you, Bozo.”

Bozo grinned. “I’m just interested to see what tasty little crumpet you snatched a hair from this time.”

Rita ignored this, produced a hair from a silver cigarette case, let it settle into the goop, and gulped down the vial of muddy potion. As she did, her hair changed from blonde to pepper grey, her nails shrank, and her face shifted, becoming older, more wrinkled. Her robes auto-adjusted themselves to fit someone a little shorter with a stoop.

Bozo rolled his eyes and let out a disappointed sigh. “You couldn’t have just gone with a notice-me-not, could you, Luv?”

“Don’t be stupid.” Rita’s voice now sounded old and creaky. “Slytherin’s over-inflated reputation may be little more than smoke and mirrors, but I’m not taking the chance that the man could spot one of my notice-me-nots from a mile away.”

Rita then snatched up her handbag, hobbled to the door, opened it, hobbled through, and shut it behind her.

Bozo puffed out another long stream of smoke. “Well, Luv, you’re the first fashionable granny I’ve ever seen who doesn’t use a beauty potion.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

The wizarding enclave in Reykjavik was not, in anyway, a large affair, which was understandable. Iceland did not have a large population. At just two hundred wizards strong, they were so small, they could barely afford to field a national quidditch team. Some years they couldn’t even manage that. They didn’t have a ministry, per se. Maintaining the statue of secrecy was everyone’s responsibility.

What they did have was an ICW representative whose job it was to keep himself to himself when everything was going well and go cap in hand to the various other members when they weren’t — such as during an incident two-hundred years previously, when a beautiful breeding pair of Swedish Short Snouts had somehow found their way to Iceland from Scandinavia, quickly enchanting the locals, despite their power and ferocity.

It was all fun and games, until a muggle got eaten, and the Icelandic wizards realised they didn’t know nearly enough about dragons to keep them.

As was his duty, Iceland’s ICW representative travelled to Italy and politely asked the Kingdom of Sweden to come pick the dragons up. The Swedish representative refused, instead telling them to just slaughter the two beasts and have done with it. Not taking this for an acceptable answer, he then went to the Ukrainian representative and asked if they would like two free Swedish Short Snouts. The Ukrainian Minister of Magic sent word that they had no use for more dragons and to deal with it themselves. Finally, he’d petitioned the Emperor of the Magical Roman Empire, who’d told him to, “Get stuffed, and stop wasting my time you massive oaf.”

Ticked off no end, Iceland’s wizards did not butcher the dragons. They instead herded them into mountains, hired experts from Magical Britain to plug the gaps in their expertise, and set up a dragon reserve of their own. Twenty years later, Sweden was furious, Ukraine was jealous, and The Emperor of the Magical Roman Empire became the largest consumer in Europe of Iceland’s newest chief export — inexpensive Short Snout products.

Many of those products were proudly displayed in the windows of the dozen-ish shops that Harry (Lord Slytherin) and Daphne walked by on their way to the wizarding Iceland guided tour. Meat, blood, bone, horn (both ground and whole), individual scales, heartstrings, claws, even in one shop, a whole dragon’s head, mounted on the wall with a plaque beneath it saying, ‘Slain by [Your name here].’

The largest shop by far though, sold dragon hide armour — incredibly expensive stuff. A full set of shimmering blue duelling robes, including trousers, undershirt, boots, gloves, and the robe itself, would set the prospective duellist or auror department back a little over 160 galleons — nearly eight-thousand pounds — and an auror generally needed to replace their gear at least once a year.

They stopped by to admire a particularly fine set in the shop and ask some questions, before Daphne turned over the price tag, and whistled under her breath. “Wow — did my duelling robes cost that much?”

“Like I said,” said Lord Slytherin. “Spoiled pureblood princess.”

“Oh, shut up,” Daphne retorted, cheeks reddening. “But I suppose this explains why none of the other girls’ duelling robes are dragon hide.”

They continued walking at a relaxed pace until they reached the conclave’s main square, where someone had rolled out a half dozen carpets and tied them all together with rope. A small group of other wizards and witches were already there, dressed in what could only be described as ‘tourist’ dress. Several wore omnioculars around their necks and one woman was bundled up against the cold so tightly that she was practically round.

“All aboard!” shouted a huge man who looked like he might be distantly related to the Hogwarts gamekeeper. He waved Harry and Daphne onto the second carpet “Lord Slytherin — Miss Heiress.”

They didn’t have long to wait before the carpets all slowly rose off from the floor, causing Daphne to let out a little squeal and cling to Harry, and they were off, flying over the many houses of Iceland’s capital, and out over the desolate whiteness.

“I thought you loved flying,” Slytherin said, sitting cross-legged on the carpet the two had all to themselves.

“I love it when I’m the one doing the flying,” Daphne replied, still clutching her Lord’s arm tightly as the chill wind whipped through their hair. “Just sitting on a floating rug feels wrong.” She smiled. “Still better than sitting in the castle all day though.”

They passed over a small set of mountains.

“And if you look on your right,” came the voice of the tour-guide on the first carpet in the train, “you’ll see Katla, known for its violent eruptions, and known to the locals as the grand-father of dragons.”

Their fellow tourists all went Ooooo and a couple took magical photos with massive cameras that exhumed great puffs of green and purple smoke.

“My lord,” Daphne started, in a meaningful tone of voice.

Harry nodded and quickly cast a privacy charm.

“What do you think?” she said, once the charm had gone up. “Could that be the sign of the dragon’s roar from Luna’s prophecy?”

“It’s not impossible, although if it is then we’ve got quite a task ahead of us — that’s a big mountain.”

After that, Daphne and Harry continued to chat with each other under privacy charm, simply enjoying the scenery, the calm, and each other’s company. Three carpets behind them, an old woman watched the pair with sharp blue eyes.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Rita Skeeter wasn’t paying attention to the majestic scenery around her. Her gaze was instead fixed on the wizard and witch three carpets in front of her.

They’d put up some kind of muffling charm so that not even her sharp hearing could catch what they were saying to each other, but that didn’t matter. Quite apart from being an acceptable lay, Bozo had his other uses too. One of these was the ability to read lips as though reading a book. Slytherin, of course, wore a mask that covered his entire face, but the girl didn’t.

Despite being a backward dump hardly worthy of being an independent magical country, at least in Rita’s mind, Iceland did at least have a public pensieve. She mused that it was probably the only pensieve in the country, while her mind already started to write possible headlines and pen damning story threads.

“Lord Slytherin vacations alone with his betrothed…. Heiress Greengrass emerged from their shared hotel room that morning practically glowing…. The young Heiress spent the whole tour pressed up to her future lord’s side…”

Rita frowned. Was that too subtle? People were such colossal idiots. They generally had to be beaten over the head before they got what they were being told. What if she kept the story thread but changed the headline?

“PROPRIETARY CONCERNS OVER LORD SLYTHERIN’S SECRET VACATION WITH HEIRESS GREENGRASS.”

’I think it’s shocking,’ some random idiot she’d grab in Diagon Alley would say.

‘Just goes to show, you can’t trust someone who doesn’t show their face,’ or possibly, ‘They ought to do something about it!’

The problem was that no one knew anything about Lord Slytherin. If she started trying to tarnish his image without exposing who he really was, all she’d do was add another layer of respectful fear to the man’s already ridiculous image. When a powerful man gets away with something, it just confirms to everyone how powerful they are.

It was nearing mid-day by the time the tour finished, gently bringing them to stop back at the square they’d started at.

Rita hobbled after the girl and Lord Slytherin as quickly as she could back to the hotel, only turning from them when she reached her own room, just four doors down from theirs. She grabbed Bozo and together they rushed, or in Bozo’s case, sauntered, down to the public pensieve shop.

“S’no good, Luv,” Bozo said, shaking his head while they kneeled in front of the Greengrass Heiress of Rita’s memory. “That charm scrambles their lips too. All I can make out is that she really, really likes ice cream.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

“That old witch moved fast, didn’t she?” Daphne called up through the entrance to Harry’s trunk after changing into something rather more suitable for adventuring in. She still got a secret thrill every time she wore boys clothes. It just felt so taboo. Tracey’s reaction reminded her of that every time she did it in her oldest friend’s presence.

“Probably a spy,” Harry said, helping her out of the trunk. “We’ll make sure to lose her before we head off anywhere important.”

It turned out that wasn’t necessary. The bent over woman wasn’t anywhere in sight as the two made their way out of the capital and towards where the goblins had set up their expedition base of operations — a ring of warded wizard tents a little way off the muggle road.

“I’m still amazed Father is letting us do this trip unchaperoned,” Daphne said as they neared the tents. “Now that I’m in-between.”

Harry coughed. “Actually, Daphne, we are chaperoned.”

“What?!”

“One of your house elves, Milly, has been following us since we left Hogwarts. Not always easily, I might add. I had to drop her a trail to follow when we were on the broomsticks.”

Daphne huffed. “I should have known.”

They didn’t have any more opportunity to talk before they were greeted at the outer-ring.

“Good to see you again, Lord Slytherin — Miss Heiress.” Secured-Collateral gave them a wicked goblin grin. “A lot colder than London, out here, and a lot more desolate, but you can’t be wanting for dragons. We’ve got them in spades.”

“You came here for us?” Daphne asked.

Secured-Collateral laughed. “Someone with a prophecy poking around the old treasure hunting grounds — where else is there to be? We’ve already done a sweep of some of the areas that match what your looking for, but there’s a lot of wind here — and where the land meets it is just about everywhere.”

“Your sweep was comprehensive?” Harry asked from under his Lord Slytherin mask. They followed the perky goblin into one of the expanded tents.

“Very.” Secured-Collateral pointed towards a map stuck to a cloth wall. “I myself don’t see what else you’ll be finding, but who knows how fate works, hmm? Maybe you’ve got some special talents we don’t know about.”

Daphne’s face did not go blank. Only amateur’s faces went blank when presented with such an obvious probe for information. “We’ll take a look around and see if there’s anything you might have missed,” she said. “I know it’s unlikely, but you never know.”

Secured-Collateral nodded. “You got it. Ask one of the goblins in the next room for the maps — and I hope you’ve got warming charms on your brooms. You’re going to need them.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Daphne didn’t need a warming charm. She soared through the air as if she was born to be there, which, for a small part of her, was true. So much better than a carpet.

Her future lord, by contrast, did need a warming charm. In fact, not only did he need a warming charm, he needed several extra layers of robes too. A Slytherin Green scarf was wrapped around his neck.

Daphne couldn’t help think the whole thing was rather cute — not a sentiment she could ever remember thinking about Lord Slytherin.

“Not all of us can be Golden Eagles, my lady,” Harry said, Daphne holding formation with him as they cruised towards the most likely target on the map they’d been given.

Daphne giggled. “I can’t wait to be in the animagus hunt. A thousand feet up in the air — no one will get even close to me.”

“I think that might be counted as bad sportsmanship.”

“Too bad. What about falconry? Isn’t it expected for a lady to be on her husband’s arm?”

Harry chuckled. “Witty.”

“Thank you.”

They continued to soar towards their target for a little while longer, Harry’s scarf whipping around in the high wind. They reached their destination and hovered over the warded wreckage of a Viking longship — a Viking longship with a roaring dragon’s head at the front.

Harry shivered, even through all his thick clothes and magic.

“Is your animagus form cold-blooded?” Daphne asked. “I would have thought they were warm-blooded.”

She could practically hear the smirk form under Harry’s mask.

“Neither. I am, in fact, half-blooded.”

She matched his smirk with one of her own. “Witty.”

“Thank you.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

“What shall we do with this, Mistress?”

Convertible-Security looked up from her work. Two of her boys were holding what looked like a rather frightened old woman at pike point.

“Caught her poking around the camp perimeter,” one of the two elaborated.

“Please,” said the woman desperately, “I’m just a tourist. I didn’t know this was a goblin camp.”

Convertible-Security shrugged. “Put her in chains for an hour. If she’s clean of polyjuice, release her. Otherwise, bring her back to me and we’ll see what’s what.”

“Yes, Mistress.” The two goblins saluted.

The old woman whimpered as she was dragged away.

Convertible-Security went back to her work, which at the moment included a rather promising report by the team down in Ciro. There weren’t many things that the goblin clans worked together on, but this was most definitely one of them.

It was a full ten minutes before the word came through that the old witch, hindered by neither goblin wards nor goblin steel, had escaped.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Rita Skeeter shivered as she ducked back into her hotel room. This was absolutely not the kind of weather to use her animagus form in.

“Back already, Luv? Miss me that much?”

“Shut up, Bozo. I need another polyjuice. The little shits caught me.”

“On the dresser.”

Rita snatched up the vial of polyjuice, produced another hair from her silver cigarette case, let it fall into the potion, drank the potion, and changed.

Bozo whistled. “I like this one much better.”

Rita straightened her robes. They now hugged her body like a silk wrapped around an hourglass. “I’m sure,” she said, tartly. Her voice now sounded like honey dribbling into the listener’s ear. She made for the door. “And make yourself useful while I’m out. Ask around the place or something. I don’t pay you to just lie around the place.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Daphne had found an appropriate rock to sit on. She focused her magic into her fingers, pointed her index finger at the floor, and said, “Profero oculus Kilrogg.”

She felt her world shift. She opened her eyes, and then she opened her eye.

The longboat was beached far up a rocky slope. Someone had obviously dragged it all the way up here and left it, but not before surrounding it with ancient rune stones designed to conceal it from all but the most determined.

The goblins had been determined.

A set of much newer ward-stones now mirrored the old ones, encircling them in a power all their own.

Daphne manoeuvred her magic eyeball up and down the old hull, looking for the tell-tell sign that someone, a long time ago, had placed a fidelius charm. It was, after all, by far the most obvious way she and Harry might find an ancient treasure where no one else had.

“There’s a lot of ground to cover other than just the boat,” Harry’s voice said. “The beach has got to be a hundred meters away.”

Daphne nodded. “If it’s here, I’ll find it.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

“I think we should all go.”

Those were the first words out of Hermione’s mouth when she, Tracey, Ginny, Alexandra, and Luna all met in Hermione’s trunk at lunchtime to discuss that evening’s dinner with Lady Potter.

“If we all go,” Hermione continued, before anyone else could get a word in, “there’s far less chance of Lady Potter or John Potter discovering that one of us is Harry.”

I can’t be there,” Alex said. “Why would I be there?”

Obviously I didn’t mean you.”

“You said we should all go.”

“Yes, but—”

“Hermione — Alex.” Luna’s dreamy voice cut across the two. She was fixing a large white flower in her hair. “Let’s not fight. We all just want to help Harry.”

Alex and Hermione looked abashed.

“Hermione has a good point,” Luna continued. “The more of us that go, the more we can distract Lady Potter from any unusual behaviour.” The white flower snapped a fly from the air and gulped. “We must all do our best to act as normal as possible. I imagine Alex has stuff to do with the Dark.”

“What?” It took Alex a few moments to catch up. “Oh, yes, I do, lots. At the same time, in fact.”

“I still have trouble believing she’s a spy,” Tracey muttered.

Luna nodded. “Then we just need to decide who is going to be Harry.”

“Ooo! Can it be me?” Ginny grinned. “I’ve always wanted to try it.” She put on a serious face and a tried to drop her voice as low as she could. “I’m afraid I must ask you not to torture muggles, mister pureblood supremacist. It is most undignified.”

Hermione scoffed. “Harry doesn’t talk like that.”

“Lord Slytherin does.”

“Well, you’re not going to be Lord Slytherin.”

“Nope!” Ginny grinned again. “I’m going to be Harry.”

Hermione let out an exasperated sigh. “I should be Harry.”

“Why?”

“I’ve done it before!”

“No, you’ve been Lord Slytherin. And that was only for, like, thirty seconds.”

“But Harry would want—”

“Ginny — Hermione.” Luna’s dreamy voice cut in, again.

They both looked at her.

“I think Ginny should be Harry tonight.”

“Why?” Hermione asked, sounding miffed. “Lady Potter is expecting her to be there.”

“Ginny is devious,” Luna said. “This mission will need a devious mind. She has many of the same skills that Harry possesses, like wandless magic and swatting. Her friendship with Harry is also less well known than yours is. It might be better it stays that way. And if she is spotted as a fake, she is best able of all of us to leave without being caught. We could tell Lady Potter that Ginny isn’t feeling well.”

Hermione grumbled and folded her arms.

Ginny beamed.

“Besides,” Luna continued. “There is another role that we’ll need you for — and you’re perfect for it.”

“What?”

“Distracting Lady Potter, of course. Who better to distract a professor than the best student in the year?”

Hermione perked up. “When you put it like that…”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Rita Skeeter was pissed off. She’d been flying all over the place trying to catch a hint of where Slytherin and the girl were, but they just weren’t to be found.

Eventually, she arrived back at the hotel room, shivering with cold and sniffing badly.

Bozo was sitting up in bed with his shirt off. His hair was messed up, and the room smelt of sex. There was a piece of paper on the desk on which someone had written a floo address. It was also amazingly warm. That just pissed her off even more. “I thought you were going to go find something useful,” she snapped.

Bozo didn’t bat an eyelid. “Yeah, Luv — I did. There’s a rumour Slytherin’s here for the dragons. Perhaps he snuck off to see one up close.”

“You want me to go sneaking around the dragon’s nests?!”

“I’m just telling you what I heard. One of the sales girls at the dragon armour shop told me they’d been in there — asking some very interesting questions, apparently.”

Rita huffed, scrunched up the paper with the floo address on it, and threw it at Bozo’s forehead, before stomping out of the room and slamming the door shut behind her.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

The lake next to the Volcano was crystal clear and as still as a mirror. A single rock thrown into it would cause perfect ripples to spread out in ever-expanding circles until the ripples broke into bobs, and, slowly, settled back down again. The surrounding scenery could put the viewer in mind of some alien planet, all rocks, and rocks, and, well, more rocks.

Daphne sat back on her rock, as the eye of kilrogg zipped back towards her. She released her grasp on the divination magic, and the eyeball faded from the world.

“Nothing?” Harry said.

Daphne shook her head. “No — I don’t think it’s here either. The longboat felt like a better bet, to be honest. Besides, there’s no wind.” She picked up a pebble and chucked it into the water. It went ‘Ploop.’ “I was really hoping we’d find it by now.” Daphne sighed. “And now?”

“Afternoon Tea.”

Daphne brightened up. “Where?”

“Right here.”

Ten minutes later they were both enjoying a picnic of buttered scones and jam that Harry had been hiding in his shrunk-trunk. A small pot of tea boiled under an emerald green flame. The afternoon sun was halfway down in the sky. They sat opposite each other on the same blanket they’d been wrapped up in the previous evening.

Daphne allowed herself to just enjoy the peace and quiet for a while.

Eventually, she put her plate down, dabbed at the side of her mouth with a napkin, and asked, “Where are we going to look next?”

Lord Slytherin put down his teacup with a little clink. “I think it’s time we got a bit closer to the source of the prophecy’s main identifier.”

“You mean dragons?” Daphne couldn’t help a little bit of excitement creep into her voice.

Her lord tilted his head. “I mean dragons.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

“I’m not sure about this, Black.”

Draco was nervous. This seemed to be his default state of being around the Black Heiress, but this was pushing even those boundaries, and if he wasn’t careful Pansy or Theo would be sure to notice something was up.

“Look,” Black said, clearly impatient, “Do you want to always be in your father’s shadow, or do you want to forge your own path?”

“I am the Malfoy Heir,” he said, “I serve the house of Malfoy until it is time for me to become its lord.”

“And you can serve your house better by taking initiative!” Black snapped. “Now grab the rope and stop being a pussy.”

Draco winced but did tentatively take hold of the rope that was dangling from a hole in the castle ceiling.

“A lady shouldn’t use words like that,” he muttered, as the rope went taut and started lifting him up into the air.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” Alex was already in the secret passageway above.

“No,” Draco quickly replied, “Nothing.”

The passageway in the ceiling was dusty, dirty, and cramped. They crawled forward on their hands and knees at about the same speed as a flobber worm after a particularly large dinner.

“My robes are getting filthy,” Draco complained.

“Shut up.”

“Please don’t tell me you’ve been doing this all year.”

“Shut up.”

“Not even the self-cleaning charms are going to get this out.”

Black glared back at him. “Don’t you do dirty stuff all the time? Like the animagus hunt?”

That’s different.”

“How?”

“You’re supposed to get dirty then.”

“And I’m telling you that you’re supposed to get dirty here, Malfoy. Now shut up and keep up.”

They crawled on through what felt like miles of cramped tunnel, Draco silently cursing the first year girl in front of him all the way, until eventually they dropped down into another, far more roomy passageway, one in which someone had placed what looked like miniature runestones in a circle around a bare patch of wall.

“Keep close to me,” Black said.

Draco nodded.

Black tapped the wall with her wand, and the wall swung back and out.

They stepped through the gap in the wall and found themselves in…

“The library?” Draco said, nonplussed. “You took me through all that, just to go to the library?”

“Not just the library, Malfoy.” Black gestured towards a sign at the end of one of the shelves which read, ‘Necromancy and Demonology.’

Draco’s eyes widened, “We’re in—!”

“Shhh!”

Draco crouched down and lowered his voice. “We’re in the restricted section?” he hissed. “Do you have any idea how much trouble we could get into by being here?”

“Yes, which is why you’re going to keep quiet and follow me.”

They walked through the shelves until Black found what she’d obviously been looking for. She picked out a book, flipped through with a practised thumb, and started reading. Eventually, she looked up at him. “Well?” she asked. “Aren’t you going to look for something?”

Draco hesitated. He really shouldn’t be here. He really shouldn’t be doing this. Everything about this was wrong and dangerous on so many levels.

But…

His eyes flickered to a book titled ‘Unraveling the Dark Arts, Volume II.

But, if he was going to be here anyway

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Daphne and Harry stood at the entrance to a massive valley. They’d felt the ward magics all around them as they entered. A team of wizards had turned up shortly after that to find the intruders, but they’d simply hidden under the invisibility cloak until they’d given up and left.

And now they stood facing the valley.

Daphne’s mouth was dry.

Dragons were everywhere.

Large adults rested on the tops of mountains, watching the goings on down below with apparent disinterest. Younger ones played further down, blowing fire on each other, and butting their crystal blue heads together. Massive nests made of rock could just be made out atop the many crags and gullies. Off to one side, a somewhat small female nuzzled a much larger male.

There were dragons everywhere, and there were the signs of dragons everywhere.

The rocks were scarred with frightening claw marks, and the ground was blackened, almost glassy and scattered with countless reminders of where they were, from fragments of bone to teeth, claws, and ash.

As if to emphasise the point, one of the larger dragons chose that moment to let out a bellowing roar.

Daphne felt a chill go down her spine.

“You’re safe with me, Daph.”

Daphne smiled and stepped closer to Harry. “Yes, my lord. I know.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Damn Slytherin!

Why did Bozo have to be right?

Rita Skeeter ducked behind a massive boulder in the valley of dragons, heart pounding, breath heaving. She’d barely avoided being caught by the dragon preservation wizards by hiding out in her beetle form, and had nearly frozen to death because of it.

She rubbed her freezing skin and desperately tried to get some warming charms to penetrate her shivering body.

What the hell was he doing here?

Why the hell was he here?

Why the hell was she here?

Having almost literally frozen, Rita then figuratively froze as a large, dragon-shaped shadow briefly eclipsed her, before the weak sun found her again.

She had half a mind to just give up and fly back, but she couldn’t do that now. Not now. Not when Slytherin was clearly up to something. He’d never expect anyone to be following him here. If he’d ever let anything slip, it would surely be now.

Rita steeled herself, cast one last warming charm, and changed.

The beautiful jewelled beetle flittered across the desolate dragon landscape, towards its unsuspecting target.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Daphne snapped her real eyes open in triumph.

“I’ve found it,” she whispered.

Harry was by her in an instant. “Truly?”

“Yes,” Daphne’s voice was hushed, excited. “There’s a fidelius charm at the end of the valley. It’s not large but it clearly hides a cave.”

Harry winced. “I wish you hadn’t said that. We really need Hermione for this.” He gestured vaguely, and, as it happened, in completely the wrong direction. “Quickly. Guide me.”

Daphne nodded, grabbed his hand, and led him up the valley, taking care to keep a good distance from the many reptilian eyes that tracked their movement.

“It’s here,” Daphne whispered.

“What is?”

Daphne cursed, and pulled Harry inside.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

In her little beetle mind, Rita cursed.

They’d disappeared. Where had they gone? They’d been there, clear as day, and then suddenly, they weren’t. And it was far too cold to stay as a beetle.

She shifted back into her human form, and hid behind a convenient rock. No way was she staying out in the open with so many animal eyes around.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Daphne quickly found the rune stones which anchored the fidelius charm to the cave. Since they didn’t have Hermione to temporarily wipe Harry’s memory, and let him install a new set behind the old ones, Daphne knocked the stones over instead, with a thirty-foot pole, from the other side of the cave.

Harry blinked, looked around and firmed his jaw. “Right. Good work, Daph. I’ll take it from here.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Rita stared. There was a cave on the other side of the valley. That hadn’t been there before. Where the hell had that come from?

Is that were Slytherin and Greengrass had gone? Should she make a break for it? But she was so cold. If she ran for it, and a dragon attacked, she was as good as dead. If she changed into her beetle, she could make it across the distance to the cave, but would she be able to stay as a beetle for how long it would take for Slytherin to cough up his secrets?

Probably not.

She grimaced and cast another warming charm. Once her fingers felt like they weren’t about to drop off, then she’d change, and go.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Daphne sat staring at Harry, sat cross-legged and eyes closed in the middle of the cave.

She wasn’t sure how long it had been, but it had been a while, that much was certain. Harry then opened his eyes, grinned, tapped his wand on the new primary rune stone in front of him, and said, “Fidelius Occultum.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Warmth! Finally!

Rita poked her head over the boulder.

Now she could finally make a break for…

For what?

A feeling of fuzziness crept into her brain. She tried to think, but every time she tried, the thoughts flowed out as though her brain was a sponge and someone was giving it a jolly good squeeze.

Rita blinked. She cursed. Something had happened again. She wasn’t sure what, but it had.

Damn it! All this way and she’d missed them, again!

“DAMN IT!”

The words rang out across the valley, bouncing back and forth like a siren’s call to hungry sailors.

Rita froze in horror as soon as the words left her mouth, all thoughts of Slytherin forgotten. In the distance, something roared.

She was just about to change on instinct and fly away when, once again, a shadow eclipsed her.

Dread filling her, Rita slowly turned around, and looked into the eyes of a winged predator 100 times heavier than her, fully capable of swallowing her in one single gulp. A puff of flame instantly told her that to change meant instant death.

The dragon inspected her critically.

“P-Please.”

The dragon lunged, Rita screamed, something popped into being in front of her, and the glorious squeezing of an apparition enveloped her entire body — an apparition somehow capable of going straight through apparition wards.

She fell on the ground in a heap, and, miraculously, not bitten clean in half. She breathed in great gulps of wonderful, wonderful air.

“What’s all this then?” said a horribly familiar female voice.

Rita slowly looked up. Goblins.

A house elf stepped up beside her. “Milly is being watching this nasty witch trying to snoop on the young mistress, oh yes. Milly is being considering letting her being dragon food, but Lord Greengrass is preferring to use his enemies rather than killing them.”

Rita groaned. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

In the Icelandic cave guarded by dragons, Daphne and Harry looked down at the small chest they’d dug up.

Daphne wiped wet sand off her hands and frowned. “Is that all?”

The all in question was a small chest half full of golden galleons and half full of old books. A substantial fortune to the man on the street, but not much in the grand scheme of things.

Harry pulled one of the books free. “It seems so. Maybe there’s something of value in these.”

“There’s only got to be, what? Maybe four thousand galleons?”

“Could be.”

“That’s not going to be much help.”

“It’ll keep us afloat for another half a year.”

Daphne sagged. “I was hoping for rather much more than that. It doesn’t seem much considering what Luna had to go through for it.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

The Hogwarts library was vast, containing much of the accumulated knowledge of a thousand years of scholarly activity. For the adventurous soul, there are many treasures to be discovered, if said soul could avoid being caught. In the previous school year, Harry Potter had gone so far as to install a fidelius charm to make his own rummaging that much easier.

He’d taken it down at the start of this year when he discovered the limitations on the number of fidelius charms a single caster could maintain.

But that didn’t mean that hiding in the forbidden section was no longer possible — far from it. The Hogwarts Library was vast, as has already been mentioned, and just like the rest of the school, bent space in strange and sometimes very convenient ways.

Among the shelves of the forbidden section, Draco Malfoy cautiously navigated through an archway made of books and into yet another area he’d not encountered on his last lap of this section.

He’d spent the last few hours scanning the spines of hundreds of tomes, pulling out books at random, and skimming their contents—mostly boring, sometimes gory, occasionally fascinating—all the while unable to keep his heart from pounding in his chest at the thought of what would happen if he were caught.

He poked his head around the next corner and gazed down the main corridor of what turned out to be the necromancy section. Alexandra Black was sitting cross-legged on the floor, nose deep in a book, seemingly unaware of her dangerous surroundings. Another pile of books sat beside her.

This girl was the source of all his headaches and fears, but, at the same time, Draco couldn’t help feeling something strange — something he so rarely felt. Being here, where he shouldn’t be, without his parent’s permission or knowledge, was, there were no other words to use, thrilling.

He edged his way up the corridor, ears constantly alert for the sound of approaching adult footsteps, or just any footsteps at all.

He reached the first year girl and glanced down at the pile of books.

They reeked of dark magic — exactly the kind of books he’d been strenuously avoiding since they arrived. You never knew what you might find. Perhaps it would scream the moment someone picked it up, or curse you to only speak in tongues, or instantly turn your kidneys into soup. There were many dark curses that could kill you before you could get to a trained healer. 

Did Black not know?

Without looking up, the girl then put down her current book and reached for the next one on the pile. Draco was just about to shout a warning when black chains sprang from nowhere, wrapped around the book, ripped it open, and dragged it in front of Black’s face, all while the book struggled and writhed like a condemned man being held down by four or five stronger men.

Black turned to the front page, frowned, and looked up. “Oh, it’s you.”

Draco clenched his fists. “Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?” he hissed. “It could have killed you.”

“No.” Alex pointed to a book on the far shelf. “That book would kill you. This one is merely charmed to fight back.”

“You couldn’t know that.”

“Yes, I can.”

“How?”

It should not be possible to look down your nose at someone who is sitting cross-legged beside you, while you are still standing, but Alexandra Black managed it. “It’s just so obvious,” she said. “Magic whispers to me.”

Draco hesitated. The way Black had said that last sentence screamed Dark Lady at upper sonorous levels. Eventually, he said, “But still — necromancy, Black? Don’t you think that’s a bit much? We’re not grownups yet.”

“Why shouldn’t we?” Black shot back. “We have occlumency, which makes our minds older, but our parents would have us use it only to make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves. We are capable of so much more.”

“Maybe your father, does, Black. Mine trusts me with dark magic.”

Black snorted.

“It’s true!” Draco bit out.

“Show me then.”

Draco slipped his wand out of his robes, pointed it down the corridor and whispered, “Serpensortia.” A large black snake shot out of his wand and fell at the end of the corridor. A small cloud of dust rose where it landed. It looked around and hissed.

Alex nodded.

Draco looked at her triumphant. “You see?”

“I see talent that is being wasted.”

“What?!”

“You cast that easily, without even thinking about it, and yet that was your ‘most impressive’ piece of dark magic? Give me a break.”

“Well, what would you do?”

The black chains holding the still struggling book slammed said book shut. “I would find something more ambitious to attempt. We are Slytherins after all.”

“Ambitious like what?”

Black waved a vague hand at the rows upon rows of books. “I don’t care. Pick something.”

Draco’s eyes scanned the books. He reached towards a book, and a chain grabbed his wrist.

“Not that one!” Black said, sharply. “Unless you want to go through life speaking only Russian.”

Draco shook the chain off and glared. “What about this one?” he asked, pointing at the next book down.

“Sure. That one’s okay.”

Draco opened the book and his stomach turned. The artist had been quite graphic with their illustrations. Necromancy, apparently, covered a huge range of topics, but by far the most basic was… “This,” he said. “We could do this on a spider or something.”

He handed the book to Black.

Black read the page he’d selected and gave him a funny look. “The inferi ritual?”

Draco mistook Alex’s look of bemusement for worry. “What? Scared, Black? You’re not backing out now, are you?”

Black smirked. “Not at all. I was just surprised. Meet me at the Black Lake at six.”

“What? Tonight?”

Black rolled her eyes and turned back to her books. “Yes, Draco, Tonight.”

They didn’t stay in the restricted section much longer after that. Draco spent the time memorising the details for the inferi ritual, which seemed to be shockingly simple, if terrifying in its results. Just before he slipped the book back in its place, his fingers traced the symbol they’d need to create for the ritual. A memory flashed through his mind — a memory of a giant undead tree tearing itself out of the ground to crush anyone that got in its way. That tree had been created with the same symbol — the symbol of the deathly hallows.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

As Draco left, a large grin formed on Alexandra’s face. That had been so much fun. The look on Malfoy’s face when she’d given him the, ‘you are wasting your talent,’ line, and when he’d actually picked up the inferi ritual it had been all she could do to keep a straight face. She’d been this close to bursting out laughing.

Alex made her way out of the restricted section, with its crazy geometry and cursed books, and then doubled back to the normal library, or as normal as a magical library could get. She found herself a quiet nook, dashed off a quick note for Luna, stuffed it into an official-looking envelope, and, checking that no one was watching, pulled another library book out of her bag. It wasn’t a book from the restricted section, but that didn’t matter. Getting caught with this book would be, in its own special way, much, much worse.

“Come now, Malcom, look at everything he has — money, fame, friends — don’t you want that too?” The Black Witch of the North smiled seductively and beckoned Malcom closer. “The Boy Who Lived is nothing compared to what you could be.”

Alex smirked and curled up in the armchair.

Malcom frowned and walked forward. “He shouldn’t have done what he did. But that doesn’t mean I trust you. I remember what you did before.”

The Black Witch of the North walked over to the mirror on the wall, covered with a large black drape. “The fate of the world, Malcom. I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but we must put that past us. The Boy Who Lived is too blind to see what is really there. You are not!” And she pulled off the drape to reveal—

“Miss Heiress?”

Alex’s heart leapt into her throat. She snapped the book shut, and just had the presence of mind to look annoyed rather than guilty. Hestia and Flora Carrow walked around the corner and stopped when they saw her.

“Yes?”

“Please, Miss Heiress,” probably Flora said nervously, “It’s nearly dinner.”

“Is it?” Alex blinked. She and Draco must have been longer than she’d thought.

“And since you said we weren’t to be at dinner without you, we had no choice but to come and find you,” probably Hestia continued. She paused. “Are you sure you don’t want us to call you The Dark Heiress?”

Alex hopped off the chair and slipped the Lockhart book back into her bag, careful not to show its cover to the twins. “No — Miss Heiress is fine.” Alex slung the bag over her shoulder. “Let’s go.”

They left the library, each twin falling into step beside her. The Carrow twin’s reaction to the common room incident had been perhaps the most extreme of all her classmates. Alex had entered their shared dorm room after lights out, taken in the looks of fear on the two girl’s faces, and barked, “Go to bed.” She’d gotten two squeaks of acknowledgement in return, and two pledges the next morning to be at her beck and call for anything she might ever need while they were at Hogwarts, “anything at all, Miss Heiress, just please don’t hurt us.”

“You need to send an owl, Miss Heiress?” probably Flora asked, pointing to the envelope Alex still carried. Alex had instructed them to wear different coloured hair ornaments to tell them apart.

“No,” Alex said. “This is for Heiress Lovegood.”

“Lovegood?” Hestia wrinkled her nose. “She’s loopy. What business could you have with her?”

Alex felt a stab of anger, but held it down. “That is a Black family matter,” she drawled. “I am still the heiress of a Light family, regardless of my personal feelings.”

“It must be terrible, Miss Heiress.”

Alex nodded. “Quite terrible.”

They arrived at the great hall and took their places at the Slytherin table, but not before Alex made a great show of giving Luna the letter. After all, if you didn’t want anyone to think you were in secret communication with someone, the second best way to do that was to not keep the communication secret.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

“Where have you been?” Pansy asked Draco as he sat down at Dinner.

“Nowhere,” Draco replied, perhaps a tad too quickly. “Have you done our astronomy homework yet?”

“Of course,” Pansy replied. “Have you done our astronomy homework yet?”

“I’m doing it tomorrow.”

“So, you weren’t doing homework, then. C’mon, Draco — you can tell me. You’re running off alone all the time now. We used to do everything together. Remember when we were little and climbed into your father’s greenhouse?”

Draco couldn’t help a small smile, before quickly erasing it. “Yes, I remember. But I still haven’t been doing anything important.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

In a trunk in the Slytherin second year’s girl’s dormitory, four young witches were in full on ‘getting ready to go out’ mode. The fact that ‘out’ in this case merely meant elsewhere in the castle was of no consequence to the proceedings.

The two muddy potions on a side table, however, were.

Hermione and Tracey looked on as Ginny and Luna picked up the potions and downed them in two quick gulps. Suddenly, their skin began to bubble. Ginny’s hair got shorter, while Luna’s changed from dirty blonde to fiery red.

Moments later, where Ginny had been standing was a perfect copy of Harry, and where Luna had been standing was a perfect copy of Ginny.

“Okay,” Tracey said, “I understand that Ginny can act Potter better than Luna, but isn’t this needlessly complex?”

“Lady Potter is expecting Ginny to be there,” Ginny said, adjusting the boy’s robes that now tailored her frame perfectly. “Wow, this feels so weird. I totally get why boys sit with their legs spread now.”

“Even so…”

“And Luna needs to leave before dinner is over,” Luna said. “Harry can’t do that without getting into trouble with Lady Potter.”

Tracey smirked. “Well, Tracey is just glad she doesn’t have to drink that muck. What was that letter that Alex gave you at dinner?”

“The letter is why Luna needs to leave early,” Luna said.

“Oh.”

“Can we please stop talking in third person now?” Hermione was busy fixing her earrings in place. “It’s rather irritating.”

“Ginny thinks its fun,” Ginny said, grinning impishly.

“Harry doesn’t talk like that.”

Ginny shrugged, stood a bit straighter, and adopted a face of mild good humour, laced with a touch of steel. She tilted her head. “Thank you, Hermione. You are, of course, correct. Please pass me my bag.”

“What?”

“My bag, Hermione, if you please.”

“Can’t you get it yourself? It’s right there.”

“Hermione,” Tracey said cautiously. “That’s Potter you’re talking to.”

“Not until we’re in public. And anyway, Harry wouldn’t ask me to pass him his bag when it’s just us. He’d summon it himself.”

“Yes, but if he did, you would get it for him.”

“Harry needs me for things more important than passing his bag.”

“Yes, but if he did—”

“—Then it would just be for show.” Hermione turned to Ginny. “You’d better not abuse this. Harry would not approve.”

Ginny smiled. “I trust Ginny to do what’s needed on a mission. And I know I can rely on you to do exactly what I say, when I say it, Hermione.”

Hermione huffed. “I do what Harry says because Harry knows what’s best — you’re not actually Harry — just remember that.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Stew was bubbling in a small cauldron over a light blue fire. The smell rose into the air full of the promise of rich, meaty flavour, fighting for nasal dominance with the smell of freshly baked bread coming from a small magical oven. The aroma of fresh flowers dotted around the apartment in jars and vases barely stood a chance.

Lily Potter checked the stew once more and smiled.

And all without a single house elf, she thought to herself. James wouldn’t understand, although he’d pretend to understand, but James wasn’t here. Being the lady of an ancient and noble house was hard work. There was so much parchment floating around — something that her new teaching duties only made worse — or would have, if she didn’t have a teaching assistant. Sometimes it was nice to just spend an afternoon doing something different — preferable something involving actual magic. Again, thank Merlin for that teaching assistant.

Being the lady of an ancient and noble house was hard work, but it was not without its perks.

Lily Potter brought a spoonful of the stew to her lips and sipped. Not quite ready, yet.

A loud knock came from the living room. Lily left the kitchen, crossed the space, and opened the door. It was Harry.

“Hi, Mum.” Harry smiled winningly at her.

And Harry had brought not only Ginny, but Miss Davis and Miss Granger as well. “Good evening, young man. I wasn’t expecting this many.”

“You said I was to bring Ginny,” Harry said quickly. “And it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t bring Hermione.”

“And Miss Davis?”

Tracey gave her a nervous smile.

“She’s also my friend,” Harry said brightly. “And she’s ever so clever. If it wasn’t for Hermione, and Daphne, and well, me, I’m sure she’d be top of the year.” Harry paused. “Well, John too, I guess,” he finished rather less enthusiastically.

Lily put a hand on her hip. “Well, I can’t really say no can I?” She turned to the girls and her voice switched from parental to reassuring. “Of course you’re all welcome, girls. Come into the kitchen and I’ll show you some useful charms. I’m sure you’d like that.”

Lily switched the wizarding wireless on as she passed it on the way to the kitchen. “There you are, Harry. I know how much you enjoy listening to the news.”

Harry thanked her and sat down on the couch next to the wireless to listen by himself. Behind her, the girls all filed into the kitchen and started to ooo and ahh over the stew.

Lily frowned. She hadn’t known her second born son (by about five minutes) at all while growing up. They’d only been reunited during the summer, but after a whole month of getting to know him, she thought she knew him fairly well, and she couldn’t help shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Ginny sat on the sofa, listening to the wizarding wireless how she imagined Harry would — like a secret mastermind planning world domination.

*Wibble-wobble* The Union of African Ministries has stated that there is no connection between this week’s spate of disappearances and a similar string several months ago. Nevertheless, a Uagadou representative has gone on record as stating that the school is upping security measures and that parents should be alert when transporting their children. One of the missing persons is a sixteen-year-old Uagadou student, last seen five days ago on a day trip to a local village. All future day trips have been suspended until further notice. * Wibble-wobble*

*Wibble-wobble* The ICW voted last night to recognise the Full Moon Ministry as a legitimate wizarding government and provisional member of the ICW after thirty years of civil war between Full Moon Rebels and Transylvania. The last-minute peace deal between the two warring factions was hammered out in the chamber, and spearheaded by Supreme Mugwump Albus Dumbledore. Critics have blasted the deal as condemning hundreds of innocents to a fate worse than death, while supporters have praised the tough stance the deal takes on Full Moon activities outside of their new borders. *Wibble-wobble*

*Wibble-wobble* And in local news, Cork’s petition to the ministry for funding to build an extension to the community’s enclave has been turned down on budgetary grounds. Of all the mixed wizarding enclaves in Britain, Cork currently has the largest ratio living outside its walls, with only one enclaved wizard to every four living among the general muggle populous. By comparison, London, which has a magical population nearly three times as large, has a ratio of just one to one. A spokesman for the ministry said that it was regrettable, but until Cork could afford to galleon match the project, there was nothing they could do. The mayor of Cork has expressed his dismay, calling the ministry’s decision, ‘short-sighted and dangerous.’ *Wibble-wobble*

*Wibble-wobble* And now it’s time for the wind report. Light breezes across the country make for perfect flying condi—

Ginny leaned over and fiddled with the knob.

“—Mason passes the quaffle to Halbert! Oh! That was a close call!”

Ginny leaned back and grinned. Masterminding was a hard job, after all, and everyone knew Harry liked quidditch too.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Back in the kitchen, four wands pointed at the walls, four voices said, “Plates!” and a dozen plates flew from the shelves, spun around the room, and settled onto the kitchen counter, evenly spaced out, and without so much as a crack between them.

Lily smiled at her students. Two of them had got it right on their very first go, and Tracey had managed it on her second attempt. If only all her other students were as good as this group was. “Well done, girls,” she said. “Ginny, I’m especially impressed with you.” And she was. She’d heard from Flitwick about her and Luna Lovegood’s impressive progress in his class, but seeing it was something else. And her attitude had practically done a 180 since the start of school. Spending time with Harry was obviously doing her good.

Ginny smiled dreamily. “Thank you, Lady Potter.”

Tracey looked at her wand. “But, when are we going to need household charms? I mean, really?”

Lily fixed her with a knowing look. “You say that now, but there may well come a time when you’ll be glad you learned them.”

“I know what you mean,” Miss Granger enthused. This girl also seemed to be making a special effort to get along with her, counter to her usually frosty demeanour. “I couldn’t stand always being reliant on a servant to do everything for me. It would drive me mad.”

“I think,” Ginny said, “that lady Potter was more referring to the adage that the way to a boy’s heart is through his stomach.”

“Perhaps.” Lily gave Ginny a sideways look. “Do you have a boy you’re interested in, Ginny?”

“Harry of course.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

Lily just smiled and softly shook her head. “Why don’t you go and see if Harry is ready for dinner?”

“Okay.”

When the stew was finally ready to be served, Lily re-entered the living room to find Ginny smiling brightly in Harry’s lap — something that Harry, while clearly trying to play it cool, nevertheless looked more than a little uncomfortable with. Lily frowned. Something still seemed off.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Ginny was doing her best not to panic. Luna had just come in from the kitchen, plopped herself down in her lap, and then snuggled up against her as though she were, well, Harry. Which would be fine, sort of, if Luna really were Ginny, and she really was Harry — and Luna was betrothed to Lord Slytherin, who was also Harry, so it was okay, but most people didn’t know that, so it also wasn’t. But more to the point, her body, that is to say, Harry’s body, whose form she, Ginny, was currently borrowing, was reacting to Luna, or rather to her, Ginny. She was reacting to herself — or was that Harry’s form was reacting to her? Or was Harry form reacting to Luna? Arghhhh!

She played it as dignified as she could while Lady Potter had the other girls set the table, which felt really weird to be excluded from, and they almost had everything set up just so, when a knock came from the door.

“Ah, that’ll be your brother.”

Ginny tensed, which was probably a good thing, as it was the only thing stopping her from swearing when John walked in accompanied by Susan Bones, and none other than the diary — AKA Virgo Malfoy.

John froze as soon as his eyes landed on her and it took Ginny a moment to realise what the situation looked like.

Oh, it was just too perfect. She couldn’t not do it.

Ginny looked John right in the eye, smirked, wrapped her hands around Luna’s waist, pulled her in close to her, and mouthed, “Mine.”

The look on John’s face was worth a million galleons.

The first course was amazing after that — or as amazing as dinner can be with a murderer, a betrayer, an abandoner, and last but not the least, your best friend who, up until that point, you’d thought of in purely platonic terms, and who had then spent over half an hour sitting in your very unusually male lap.

It was rather a surprise when Luna suddenly got up and announced she was going to the bathroom.

“But Ginny,” Lady Potter called after her, “We have a—“

The front door closed shut.

“—bathroom in the apartment,” Lily finished with a confused look on her face.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Rita Skeeter stormed into her hotel room and slammed the door behind her. “Pack your things. We’re going.”

“Already?” Bozo made no move to start packing even as Rita started throwing clothes into her magically expanded bag.

“Yes! How many hours have I been gone?”

“Gotta be close to five or six.”

“Damn Goblins!”

Bozo raised an eyebrow. “Goblins?”

“Bloody House Elf nearly caught me while I was transformed. Didn’t — but that’s a small mercy. Dumped me with the little rat-bags, who handed me over to the dragon preserve after Merlin knows how long. I tried to tell them Slytherin was there too, but they weren’t having it.”

She grabbed a file from the desk and chucked it at Bozo. “Here. He’s yours if you want.”

Bozo caught the file, chuckled, and leafed through the rather thin document. “Don’t mind if I do, Luv. Don’t mind if I do.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Ginny was sweating. Ever since Luna had left, the line of discussion had turned from the innocuous and was leaning more towards the interrogatory — of Harry specifically.

Even more worrying, she’d realised, with horror, was that the diary seemed to be interested, especially, in her, Ginny. It kept asking questions about her. How Harry knew her, where they’d met, what they liked about each other — questions that she could easily answer, but the focus was disturbing.

Lady Lily’s questions were more circumspect, but still had a certain weight and thrust to them that suggested she thought there might be something wrong.

John just glared at her.

The only person not in their group who wasn’t focused on her was Susan, who was happily chatting with Tracey about potions homework.

Thankfully, she did need to answer a call of nature. That would give her time to breath.

“Excuse me, I think I’m going to also go to the bathroom,” Ginny said, pushing her chair back and standing up.

“It’s the second door on the right,” Lily said, quickly.

“Got it!” Ginny called back. It was just after she’d locked the bathroom door, and turned to the toilet, when she realised what she was about to do, and remembered to blush.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

“Does Harry always focus so hard on his studies?” Lily asked Hermione.

“Oh, yes, he’s a very hard worker, he’s taught me so much, but then, many of my classmates do. Like in herbology there’s this plant we’re working on, and Professor Sprout says that the plant makes an excellent anticoagulant, but Neville Longbottom, he’s a Gryffindor, says that it’s only the stems, leaves, and roots that have that effect and you can get a more potent extract if you first remove the—“

“You aren’t worried that he might be overdoing it, do you?”

“What?”

“You aren’t worried that Harry might be overdoing it?”

“Oh no. Harry’s always careful to take regular breaks and stand up and walk around and stuff like that. He makes me do that all the time. I read in a book one time that a wizard’s body can hold much more magic if it’s fit and healthy, and so ever since then, I’ve been doing jogging and swimming and stuff like that and it helps me out a lot. I don’t understand why more wizards don’t do it. I know that the quidditch teams and duelling teams do, but they’re just a few and I know that we have great healing spells to counter diabetes and liver disease and so on, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t—”

“Can you think of any reason why Harry might be acting differently?”

“Differently? Harry? No. Not at all. Why? Do you think Harry’s acting differently?”

Lily looked at Hermione for a moment before sighing and standing up. “Never mind — it was just a thought. If you’ll excuse me, Miss Granger. I’m going to make a cup of tea.”

On the other side of the table, Virgo Malfoy watched the conversation with a thoughtful expression.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Ginny was just closing the bathroom door behind her, and trying not to look like she’d just done something unbelievably dirty. When a hand grabbed her shoulder, she recognised who it was in time to avoid stunning them, mores the pity.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” John Potter hissed from less than a foot away. “Ginny isn’t yours!”

Ginny smirked again. “Yes, she is.”

“I’ll tell her you said that.”

“Go ahead.”

“Ginny hates possessiveness.”

“Ginny hates lots of things,” Ginny said. “Your dumb arse just happens to top the list.”

“Ginny has no reason to…” John trailed off.

Ginny raised her eyebrows.

John then stayed silent for so long that Ginny started to feel uncomfortable.

Finally, he spoke. “You told her.” Three words — simple, and, once spoken, obviously true. His face turned at once from understanding to furious. He leaned closer and hissed, “You bloody told her! You fucking hypocrite! You said not to tell anyone! What did you tell her? You lied to her didn’t you?! I would have saved her! I would have—”

And that was as far as he got before Ginny kneed John in the groin.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

“Also, I think Lady Potter is getting suspicious,” Hermione said in a low voice.

John Potter had arrived back in the living room a few minutes after Ginny looking beyond murderous and was currently being talked down from whatever rash action he was considering by Susan.

“Jeez,” Tracey replied, looking around the room. “What tipped you off?”

“Well—“ Hermione began.

“That was a rhetorical question,” Tracey interrupted before Hermione could get started. She shook her head. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll take care of this. Trust me.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Ahhh. Lily took a sip of warm tea. Perfect. She frowned. Now, what about Harry?

“Lady Potter?”

Lily looked around and smiled warmly at her favourite student. “Yes, Miss Davis?”

“I mean no disrespect, but if you wanted to know about why Harry might be acting strangely, Hermione is probably the worse person to ask.”

Lily’s ears picked up. “Oh?”

“Yes.”

“Why’s that?” She took another sip of tea.

“You didn’t hear what happened on Hermione’s birthday?”

“No? What happened at Hermione’s birthday?”

“Well…”

BOOOM!

The shockwave of a massive explosion from a long way away shook the room, causing the windows to rattle in their frames.

Lily firmly put down her cup and snatched her wand. “Stay here!” She ran into the living room. “All of you!” she barked, before running for the door and slamming it behind her.

Tracey, Hermione, Ginny (disguised as Harry), John, Susan, and Virgo all looked around at each other.

“Wizard’s Chess?” Susan suggested, hopefully.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

[Some time earlier]

Draco Malfoy looked around furtively as he left the dungeons and passed into the maze of corridors that made up the rest of the castle. He was feeling that feeling again — an almost overwhelming rush, fuelled by the knowledge that what he was doing was not only against the rules, and also certainly the law, but more importantly, that his parents had not given him the go ahead, and he hadn’t even asked.

Draco heard approaching female voices and ducked behind the large statue of a manticore, then cursed himself for it.

“Oh, Professor Sprout likes me a lot,” said one of the girls. “I just don’t necessarily like her that much — I just smile a lot in class to get the good grades.”

“No,” said the second girl. “No, Tim hates charms. I mean he absolutely despises it. He said, right, he said he’d give it up if he could in an instant.”

“Oh Merlin, imagine Tim in Arithmancy.”

“Or Runes.”

“Wait — how about this — next charms class—”

The two voices faded away as they turned the corner. Draco stepped out from behind the statue, and mentally shook himself. He hadn’t done anything wrong yet.

The only other person he met on his march to the grounds was a random fifth-year Ravenclaw, whom he gave a curt nod, and then he was out — out in the chilly October evening air, heavy with light mist and dark with blocked sunlight. He pulled his robes tighter around him.

“Draco?”

He jumped and spun around. It was Pansy. She was standing in the doorway behind him and looked determined. “You followed me?” he asked.

Pansy nodded. “You’re sneaking out again, aren’t you? Without me.”

Draco sighed. “Look, I can’t bring you with me. I can’t explain why, but I can’t.”

“Is it Malfoy House business?”

Draco didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” he said.

“And if I sent an owl to you father asking for confirmation?”

Now Draco hesitated.

Pansy smirked. “I knew it!” She stepped up beside him.

Draco growled. “No, Pansy — I mean — it’s not that it’s family business, it’s just…” he trailed off before finding his words again, “it’s just that there are things that you don’t share with everyone. I’m sure you understand.”

“I do.”

“Then go back.”

“No, I’d rather go with you.”

Draco cursed. A brief debated warred in his head over whether to call the whole thing off. Eventually he decided to probe deeper. “What I was planning to do tonight might be considered legally… questionable.”

Pansy frowned. “All the more reason for me to go with you then. You’ve been distancing yourself too much from the rest of us. We don’t like it.”

Draco groaned, translating that last statement as, ‘I don’t like it.’ He knew Theo couldn’t give a damn, and Crabb and Goyle likewise. “Fine, you can follow for now, but you might have to go back anyway.”

“Why?”

Draco didn’t reply, instead choosing to let the reason why became apparent on its own. Pansy’s eyes widened as she caught sight of Alexandra Black waiting for them by the Black Lake.

“I know I didn’t say you couldn’t bring anyone,” Black said, without preamble, eyeing Pansy up and down. “But I assumed it was assumed.”

“She wouldn’t be denied,” Draco drawled. “I guarantee she will keep her silence.” He shot Pansy a sideways look.

Pansy hastily nodded. “Lips are sealed.”

Despite Pansy’s assurance, it actually took many more minutes of discussion, negotiation, and promise making before the Black Heiress seemed satisfied. The three of them then moved from the edge of the lake, and into the forbidden forest, Pansy holding tightly onto Draco’s hand.

Draco didn’t blame her. The forbidden forest was the great bogeyman of the students. “Don’t upset the teachers,” the older ones would say, “Or they’ll send you for detention into the forbidden forest.”

Pansy’s hand-grip became almost vice-like when Black produced a large slab of cow meat from a shrunk-trunk, deposited it in a clearing, and directed them all to hide in the trunk.

“I thought we were using a spider?” Draco hissed once they were all safely inside the trunk.

“We are,” Alex whispered back.

There was movement outside the trunk — a skittering, clicking sound, which made the hairs on the back of Draco’s neck rise. He wanted to say, “What kind of spider do you want to attract with bait that large?” But didn’t. Every instinct was telling him to shut the hell up. Beside him, Pansy, still clueless as to what they were actually doing, whimpered.

When they eventually emerged from the trunk, Draco just stared. It was an acromantula as large as a horse — possibly larger — drugged or dead, he wasn’t sure. Dear Merlin. Yes, he’d said they should practice on a spider, but he’d meant a normal one! Like normal people used!

“Black,” he said, managing not to let his voice tremble, as Alexandra started clearing away piles of dead leaves from the ground in a matter of fact kind of way. “I’m not sure this is a good idea. The book said, ‘power equal to the power to be chained.’”

“Trust me, it’ll be fine,” Alex said, sounding unconcerned.

Pansy was now clinging to his arm. He whispered into her ear what they were doing, to which her eyes widened, if possible, even further, but she didn’t run or object.

Black finished clearing the space and handed Draco and Pansy a paintbrush each and a bucket full of chicken blood between them. “I only brought two brushes, so it’s up to you.”

It took quite a while, but between them, he and Pansy succeeded in painting the dread symbol of the deathly hallows around the massive spider while Alex tied it up with heavy, heavy looking chains. A horrible feeling of déjà vu was steeling over Draco, but it was firmly pushed from his mind when Alex brought out a number of items from her trunk, including what looked like a highly polished, white stake, but which, apparently, was  a dementor bone.

“I thought dementor bone was a type of plant!” Draco half-shouted.

“I don’t know why you’d think that,” Black said with a shrug. “Can you think why he’d think that, Pansy?”

“No,” Pansy weakly replied. “But, is that really a dementor bone? I thought dementors were unkillable.”

“They are.”

“So how?”

I don’t know.”

The ritual, when they actually came to perform it, was the most terrifying thing Draco had yet done, and he was certain it was for Pansy too. It had first required them to strip naked. That alone was pretty scary. They then chanted the words of the ritual and focused their magic into the dementor bone foci.

Then, terror. The beast lurched, even while chained down, struggling against the metal bonds, which to Draco suddenly looked far too thin and flimsy.

They poured all the magic they could into the ritual. Pansy was shaking. Draco was sweating. He’d already used all the ready magic he had. He was now running directly from his core, and still the newly raised monster wouldn’t submit. He looked towards Black, who was similarly struggling, and then, Draco thought he saw something, but it might just have been his imagination. A faint shimmer in the air behind Black — a faint shimmering hand on Black’s shoulder. But then Black’s magic surged like a dam had broken and the shimmer settled into the air as though it had never been there.

Draco felt the pressure lessen. He felt the ritual strengthen. He felt the beast give one final cry of defiance, before the laws of magic exerted themselves and claimed its slavery, even from within the throes of death.

He collapsed to his knees and panted.

It was over.

He looked up. The beast stood stock still in the middle of the ritual circle, ready to take their commands. He could feel his and Pansy’s faint link to the monster, even if it was Black who was ultimately in control. He started to laugh. They’d done it.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Not far away, hidden in the trees and bushes, the three students, now celebrating, clearing up, and making plans for what to do with their new spider inferi, were being watched by a half dozen heads, these ones quite a bit smaller than the one they’d just raised, and several dozen times again that many actual eyes.

*Click* “Monsters!” *Clack* “Unnatural!” *Click* “Insult!” said one.

*Clack* “Danger!” *Click* “Powerful!” *Clack* “Magic!” said another.

*Click* “Father!” *Clack* “Speaks!” argued the first, clearly agitated. The acromantula then sensed something behind it — something not visible to any one of its several dozen eyes, but nevertheless, very much there.

And then, it died.

Several very hectic moments later, all the others died too. All except one, which sped away from the scene through the trees, and was soon lost to sight.

Luna Lovegood shimmered into view and bit her lip, looking at the space where the retreating spider had fled. “Oh, poo.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Alex, Draco, and Pansy had decided to send their new inferi away to lurk among the forest trees. They didn’t want to release it, and they certainly couldn’t keep it close by. Even if it could theoretically fit inside Alex’s expanded trunk, it certainly wouldn’t fit through the lid.

They cleaned up the symbol of the deathly hallows, packed up the dementor bone, and scattered the leaves back around the clearing.

Something heavy was weighing on Draco’s mind. “Black,” he started, “What would you say if I asked if it was possible to raise an inferi tree?”

“I’d say it sounds like an interesting project. Did you have a tree in mind?”

The two stared at each other with equally blank expressions.

Pansy looked between the two before putting a hand to her mouth. “You think Alex was the one who—!“ she cut herself off.

It would explain a lot, Draco thought to himself. It would explain why she seemed so familiar with that they were doing. It would explain why she just happened to have a dementor bone with her at Hogwarts. It would explain why an eleven year old girl didn’t seem at all fazed at the prospect of subduing a class XXXXX beast the size of a horse. She was a necromancer! Their champion. No wonder he’d lost.

Black shrugged. “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about,” she said, and Draco knew pushing now was useless.

Just then, a small paper bird flapped its way out of the trees.

They all watched it as it landed in Black’s hands and unfolded itself for her to read.

Everything changed. Black’s expression went from unconcerned to serious. Her movements went from casual to sharp. “Spiders! Run!” 

Pansy gasped.

Draco took a step backwards. “Can’t you take them?”

Black scrunched the paper up, shoved it into the pocket of her robes. “Too many!”

“How many?” Pansy asked.

Black reached for her trunk. “Hundreds!” she barked. “Move!”

Draco didn’t need telling twice. He grabbed Pansy’s hand and together they ran, trying not to trip over tree roots as they dashed through the thick forest. Black soon caught them up and powered through to lead their retreat. She seemed to move through the trees as though born to it, never missing a foot step as she blazed their trail, but never letting either him or Pansy fall behind either.

Draco wasn’t sure how long they ran, but it felt like hours. It felt like hours. It was probably only a few minutes.

A massive explosion sounded behind them. And then another. And another. It was as though the whole forest was under attack from one of the horrible muggle weapons his father had told him horror stories about. And then spiders. Spiders everywhere. Draco refused to let go of Pansy as one of the massive ones snatched them both up and into the trees. Black screamed her defiance, getting a couple of them with her magic chains, but soon, even she was overcome, trussed up, and hauled away from the safety of the school, and deep, deep into the forest.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Lily Potter arrived at Hagrid’s hut just in time to find the game keeper loading his massive crossbow. Severus, and Minerva had somehow got there ahead of her.

“Tha’ ain’t good,” Hagrid said as another massive explosion rocked the forest. “Not good at all.”

“What is it?” Lily asked.

“We do not yet know,” Severus said, smoothly.

“We need the headmaster!” Minerva almost shouted, “Where is he?!”

In the end, Filius, Filtch, Sprout, and Septima all arrived before Lockhart, looking like he’d just stepped out of a magazine shooting for Witch Weekly. “Hello, all!” he called out cheerfully. “What’s all this hullabaloo?”

“Headmaster!” Minerva said, “We need a student headcount!”

“Ah,” Lockhart scratched his nose. “Is that really necessary? I mean, surely this will resolve—”

“Headmaster!”

“Oh, alright, alright — one moment.” Lily then watched, almost in pain, as Lockhart, someone who she used to idolise, but who had since clearly demonstrated his skills lay more in the literary than the practical, slowly and clumsily reached into the wards and counted the students’ presences, the way a toddler might arrange coloured blocks.

“Everyone’s in the castle,” he eventually declared, “except for Mister Malfoy, Miss Parkinson, Miss Black, and Miss Lovegood. “They’re still somewhere on the grounds, but it’s rather complicated to tell exactly how far away they are, or—”

Lily looked towards the forest and cursed.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

The ride through the forest was one the most uncomfortable things Pansy had ever been through, and by far the scariest. Eventually, they were unceremoniously dumped in the middle of a clearing, so full of spider webs it resembled snow.

Clinking and clacking filled the air. “Aragog! Aragog!”

“Stall!” Black mouthed in silence. “I’ve got a plan!”

Pansy and Draco both nodded and as one, the three students locked down their occlumency and stood up, blank-faced and dignified. Behind the facade though, Pansy still felt the almost overpowering urge to throw up, cry, and wet herself, possibly all at once.

An absolutely massive acromantula emerged from the trees, as large as a small dragon, milky eyed and hairy legged.

“These are the monsters?” it said.

“Yes!” came a skittery cry.

“Kill them.”

“Wait!” Pansy shouted. “We’re not monsters!”

“They tell me you carry the mark of the great terror,” the huge spider said. “Your clothes bear its mark.”

“Slytherin?”

Angry clicking noises filled the clearing.

“Do not speak the name!” Aragog spat, and a spider really knows how to spit. “Keepers of the great terror! The house that banished me!”

“That wasn’t Slytherin,” Black said carefully, as though this conversation wasn’t her main focus. “That was Tom Riddle.”

“He was of the Slytherin family. You are of the Slytherin family. Therefore, you are of Riddle’s family.”

Pansy felt a slight pull on her mind.

“Slytherin is a school house, not a family!” Draco shouted. “And we don’t even know what this great terror is! How can we be keeping it?”

“We do not speak of it!” Aragog started to turn away. “You are meat — fit only to nourish my brood.”

“Wait! My father leads the Dark!”

“My father is head auror!”

“My father is very influential in the construction and packing industries!”

Draco and Black both looked at Pansy.

Pansy grimaced. “Well, he is!”

Aragog made a definite clicking sound. “It matters not. Fresh meat is fresh meat. Goodbye, keepers of the terror.”

An explosion, much closer this time, rocked the clearing, sending spiders flying, and something burst out of the trees. Acromantula inferi. Pansy shrieked as Draco grabbed her arm and hauled her onto its back, helped by Black’s magic chains. The spiders gathered themselves quickly, but not quickly enough to stop their flight from the clearing, all eight inferi legs skittering along the forest floor at top speed.

A wave of spiders gave chase. Draco and Pansy did the best they could with their wands but only Black was having any real effect. The wave of angry, skittering legs closed in. One set made a leap for Pansy. She screamed, but before the spider landed, an arrow slammed into it, piecing it right through the thorax. It slid off the side of their ride and was gone from sight before it hit the ground.

A horn sounded.

More shadows moved among the trees — different shadows — four-legged, cantering shadows.

And the sky was filled with arrows.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Lily Potter pushed her way through the bushes and stared at the trail of dead acromantula, ranging in size from cat sized to goat. A piebald centaur stood next to them, holding its bow in its hands. “Greetings school teacher,” it said. “I am glad you have come.”

Severus stepped out behind her. “They don’t look blown apart.” He looked up at the centaur. “Why are you glad we have come?”

“The treaty has not been broken for forty years. Yet tonight it was broken. Such is the way of fate.”

“What did they do,” Lily asked gesturing to the dead spiders.

“Three students from the school were eating by the lake. They were grabbed and taken away. We saw it all.”

“—And you didn’t help?!” Severus glared. “Where are they?”

“Heading north-east at speed. Much of the herd is in pursuit. They’ll pass the wards soon.”

“I thought you weren’t helping,” Lily asked.

“A common human thought.”

Severus whirled around, cloak billowing. “We’ll head to the front gate and apparate around the edge.”

Lily nodded and the two hurried off, leaving a silently watching centaur, standing in a sea of dead spiders.

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Alex was exhausted. The effort of directing such a powerful inferi, combined with the constant use of her magic chains had long since drained her. She was starting to feel the effects of magical exhaustion.

Pansy and Draco were still holding on for dear life, occasionally adding a hex of their own, but most of their contribution came in the form of screams and yells on the line of “Look out!” and “Tree!” and the ever popular, “AAAIIIIIII!”

There hadn’t been any time to navigate. Simply getting away was the priority. Alex smacked away a dog sized acromantula and fell back onto their ride’s back. “Don’t you have anything stronger, Malfoy?” She shouted.

“My father didn’t let me learn anything stronger!”

“Wonderful! ARGH!”

Dark shadows had given way to sunset oranges. Their inferi acromantula had burst out of the forest and skidded to a halt to stop itself plunging into water, jerking the three Slytherins off it’s back and onto a shoreline. Pansy fell first, slamming onto the ground and crying out in pain. Then, Alex and Draco joined her, coming to within an inch of braining themselves on a massive ward-stone that marked the forest’s borders. Water lay in front of them. Forest lay behind them. They were trapped.

A rush of many legs shot out of the forest, and made an immediate grab for Pansy. Massive front legs wrapped around her waist and yanked her off the ground.

“Draco!” Pansy screamed.

Draco staggered. “Black! Do Something!”

“Tired,” Alex muttered. “No magic.”

“Draco! Help!” Pansy was almost back at the forest’s edge now, even while two more spiders closed in on Malfoy and Alex.

“Pansy!” Malfoy screamed, raised his wand at the nearest spider and put his hand on the ward-stone to steady himself.

Alexandra saw what was going to happen almost before it did, and had just enough time to shout, “Don’t!” before Malfoy bellowed, “Serpensortia!”

It was like watching a magical lightning strike. Power so dense it was practically visible thrummed down Malfoy’s arm from the stone, pulsed straight through his body, and into his wand, which exploded.

A massive snake, as large as a boa constrictor, burst from nowhere and landed in-between him, the spiders, and Pansy. It was black, tall, and crested — one might go so far as to say, ‘crowned.’

Alex reacted first. “Shut your eyes! Pansy! Draco!” She slammed her own eyes shut and proceeded to listen as a dozen spider voices screamed in terror, and, in many cases, death. She had no idea if the others had listened to her, or what else was going on, all she knew was that if she opened her eyes, she was sure to die.

The fight didn’t last long. The sounds of slaughter soon died down, replaced by the gentle lapping of ocean waves, and a far scarier noise — a slithery noise. Alex trembled, functionally blind and helpless, convinced that at any moment she was going to feel fangs puncture skin, and that would be the end of her.

“Obscuro!” Bellowed two voices — one male, one female, — voices she knew. “Bombarda! Reducio! Expluso! Sectumsempra! ”

She kept her eyes shut tightly.

Something screamed in pain.

And then silence.

“You can all open your eyes now,” said the woman.

Alex did so.

The young basilisk was dead on the ground. Their inferi acromantula was in several extremely mushy bits . Many other dead acromantula lay along the shoreline, scattered among the rocks or up against the cliff face to their side, but they didn’t look like they’d been cursed, rather they had simply died.

“Explain yourselves,” Snape said.

“Severus!” Lady Potter shot him a disapproving look. “They need rest.”

Draco groaned on the ground. Pansy was shaking, but still alive.

“They can rest, after they tell us anything we might need to know.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Explaining turned out to be quite easy. The two professors already believed they’d been simply chatting and eating by the lake when they’d been taken by the spiders, so it was no large matter to re-tell what had happened after that, carefully leaving out the part with the inferi acromantula. The way they spun their tale, one acromantula from the nest had simply decided to go rogue.

Lily gave the remains of their evening project a sad look. “We didn’t know.”

Snape jerked his head. “Mister Malfoy is in mild need of healer attention and Miss Parkinson is visibly distressed. We will take you back to the castle and return for you, Miss Black.” Her head of house glared at her. “Do not move from here.”

Lady Potter took Pansy gently by the arm and Professor Snape took Malfoy, and together the two disappeared with a loud crack.

Alex didn’t try to get up, instead simply allowing the waves to crash behind her and her body to slowly embed itself in the silt. To think they’d run all the way from Hogwarts to the coast. That had to be, what? Twenty miles? Fifty? A long way anyway.

She looked around. The ward-stone marking the boundary of the forbidden forest was set against a natural cliff face that rose up from the shore. Even from here she could feel the thrum of it’s magic.

She crawled closer to inspect it. Runes covered the base, and the pillar — incredibly complex patterns that would take any professional days to decipher. Except… She looked closer. Deep within the rune patterns was another shape, one you might overlook if you didn’t know what to look for, but Alex did know what to look for. Harry had shown her what to look for, after all, all over Hogwarts — the tiny scratched sign of a snake.

“Alex!”

Alex jerked up. A centaur trotted out of the forest, carrying Luna on its back. She jumped down and embraced her. “I was so worried! Where are the others? Are they okay?”

“They’re fine,” she replied quickly. “But there’s more important things.” She told Luna about Snape and Lady Potter, and that they’d be back soon. She then decided to point out the snake on the wardstone.

“Do you think Potter already knows this one?”

Luna looked at it, then around the shoreline, at the dozen or so dead acromantula, then back at the ward-stone. She laughed. “That was Draco’s work was it?” she pointed at the dead spiders.

“Yeah, kinda. He did the summon that killed them.”

“How did he summon it? Was it a whisper?”

“No it was definitely loud.”

“A shout?”

“More like a bellow. They had Pansy and we were about to die.”

“Mmmm.” Luna put a thoughtful finger to her lips. “Where the wind meets the land find the sign of the dragon’s roar, there awaits you in the silt, ancient magics, and gold, and more.”

— DP & SW: NRiCD —

Events passed swiftly after they all got back to the castle. Luna managed to persuade the teachers that she’d merely been visiting the thestral herd. Draco found his way to the hospital wing, and Alex joined him soon after it was discovered she was suffering from acute magical exhaustion.

Hagrid could be heard crying himself to sleep as the sun set. Aragog had been one of the casualties of the fight with the centaurs. Lady Greengrass, standing in for Harry, had been summoned to an emergency meeting of the Wizengamot early next morning, which passed a new act right there in the chamber forbidding Draco Malfoy from practicing ‘his’ new version of the Serpensortia, regardless of how impossible it was for him to recreate the circumstances that led to its use.

The ministry sent agents from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures into the forest, who emerged several hours later with an agreement to oversee a new set of negotiations between the acromantula and the centaurs, with special provisions for the breaking of the old treaty by the acromantulas. The monster spiders, apparently, were not at all happy.

When Harry and Daphne finally arrived back at the castle it was to find the girls with many updates to give on the situation with John, and Virgo, and Draco, and everything. It was Luna and Alex’s report, however, that most interested Harry.

$Open$

A stone creaked, opening a path in a cliff-face that, by all rights, could not exist. Harry held his wand up high, the better to illuminate the dark passageway beyond.

He stepped down into the corridor, dusty and dank, senses alert for hidden traps or curses. There weren’t any. The passage way soon opened up into a small room. He held up his wand and the light glittered off of something sitting on a table in the middle of the room.

Cautiously, Harry edged forward to inspect the object. No, he thought, that couldn’t be right. But it was. He knew it was from Voldemort’s many memories. The object was a Mesoamerican relic of some kind, solid gold, highly ornamental, wonderful craftsmanship, and clearly very, very old — far older than colonisation of the new world. But here it was in Scotland — in a secret parseltongue only cave that hadn’t been disturbed for centuries. What was it doing here? How much was it worth? If it was of muggle origin rather than magical…

Harry licked his lips.

Muggle gold artefacts tended to be very, very valuable.

He held up his wand again and looked around the room proper.

Books. More books. Just like the Icelandic cave. He picked one at random and read the title. Or he tried to read the title.

“Sea — Important person — Diary,” he said, out loud and rather slowly. He flipped it open. Mesoamerican pictograms filled the pages. A dead language. Useless. He flipped some more. Suddenly, the writing changed from pictograms to Old Norse, but it wasn’t any kind of old norse that Harry had seen. It was all scrambled up and made absolutely no sense. “Code,” Harry said, put it aside, and proceeded to flip through more of the books.

As he did, his excitement and anticipation grew. The vast majority of the books were written with the same pictograms as the first, and were clearly magical in origin, even if the gold statue on the table felt distinctly muggle. Any secrets they held might well be unique, but only if he could read them.

He flipped through all the books, looking for anything that might help, but it wasn’t until he returned to the first book he’d picked up that he struck pay dirt. In his haste to check the other books, he hadn’t realised that the book was actually divided into three parts, and that the third part was written in Latin — a language that he certainly could read.

The very first paragraph read — This sea log is to be written in three parts so that both the war-leader and captain may read, as well as the people of the court of feathered serpent.

Harry closed his eyes in rapture. He now possessed a rosetta stone for an ancient American civilisation and a ton of unknown magic books to go with it. Forget a chest containing a handful of galleons and some random tomes. This was truly worthy of a gift from Fate.

And he had just the witch to crack it.

Way off on the other side of the forbidden forest, in the Hogwarts library, in a fortress of books surrounding her the way a pyromaniac might surround themselves with candles, Hermione Granger sneezed.