It was a different atmosphere on the hidden Platform 9 3/4 this year. Previously, it had been one of fun and anticipation as carefree parents dropped off enthusiastic children on their way to a quite literally magical school. This year, the feelings were muted, no one lingering on the platform for very long as they hurried the young ones onto the train. Some of the adults were happy to see that the Ministry was putting up a show of securing the area, a dozen uniformed Aurors well in view. Any fears allayed by the wizarding law enforcers was replaced by suspicion as the goblins on the train came into view to check the oncoming students against this year's list.
Harri watched all of it from the window of the compartment she had snagged early. She had hoped to speak with Tink, but the Master at Arms could only give her a few minutes as she coordinated the goblins on the train and arriving at the castle. Harri had voiced her concerns about Draco, and Tink informed her that her own efforts had not yet gleaned whether he was or was not a Death Eater. His mother Narcissa was being housed in one of the hidden Black estates outside Britain, both for her safety and against the possibility she would turn against then, willingly or otherwise. The letters sent to her son had so far gone unanswered. Harri didn't know if she wanted him to be just a coward, or truly evil.
So she sat and watched as the clock ticked closer to 11, her friends filling up the compartment as they arrived. Hermione arrived first, and the two of them discussed what impact the new security might have on classes and the prefect duties. Luna joined them with Bloodaxe firmly in tow, the two of them now inseparable, the goblin able to tell them a few things, confirming or denying their suppositions. Ron and Ginny were surprisingly punctual this year, which made sense since it was just the two of them to organise now. The two of them joined in, Ron once again lamenting the performance of the Chudley Cannons, to Hermione's amused snort. Ginny tried to have a conversation with Harri, but her eyes kept getting lost staring at one or another of the older girl's features. She gave up when her eyes accidentally drifted down to Harri's chest, blushing furiously as she turned to talk to Luna. In doing so, she missed the blush on Harri's face as she finally broke eye contact with her crush.
The biggest surprise came when Neville finally joined them, though initially none of them recognised him until he spoke.
"Neville?" Ron asked.
"Uh, last I checked?" Neville replied nervously. Ron wasn't the only one surprised. Gone was the slight chubbiness from his cheeks, replaced with a strong jaw and well defined cheekbones and just a hint of manly stubble. Harri had noticed a little of this at her party, but this was quite the transformation. Puberty had finally decided to be kind to their friend.
"Looking good mate," Ron said with a stoic nod. Neville just smiled a little, his shyness not completely triumphed yet.
As the train lurched forward to announce the hour, Hermione and Ron stood up.
"We'll be back in a bit, prefect duties and all that," Ron said as the two of them left. The four of them and Bloodaxe passed the time with stories of their summers. Harri said little about her dealings with the search for evil, instead taking an interest in the stories Neville told of finally getting his own wand and some of the more interesting plants he'd acquired for his greenhouse. He was going into detail about a plant that only grew and flowered under moonlight when Harri noticed that Neville was getting more than a few second glances from the older girls, as well as some younger ones and the occasional guy as they passed the compartment.
When Hermione and Ron returned, both of them had thoughtful looks on their faces.
"What's up?" Neville asked.
"Shepard. Commander Shepard," Ron answered, correcting himself. His voice betrayed a respect and fear that had previously been reserved for Professor McGonagall. "I mean we've seen her in action, but that meeting we just had was intense."
"She is taking the role seriously," Hermione agreed.
"And the way she shut down Anderson, the Head Girl? That is something I'm not gonna fidget in a hurry."
"Her argument was pretty persuasive; though I'm not sure belting her like that was entirely fair. Some if the prefects looked ready to start hexing."
"Yeah, well, maybe," Ron conceded.
Earlier, at the prefect meeting.
Hermione and Ron entered the front carriage and immediately felt the tension. The silence and stares the goblins in each carriage received seemed to crystallize as the leaders of the student body were met by the matching stern expressions of Commander Shepard and Captain Canin, both dressed in crisp, casual fatigues. She nodded at the two of them as they took a seat, causing some of the others to look at them as well, questioning the familiarity of the gesture. The strained silence continued until the last prefect arrived and shut the door.
"Let's begin," Shepard said, causing some of the students to flinch at the first sign of life from the intimidating woman. "As some of you may have gathered by this point, I am the Master at Arms for Hogwarts this year. My name and title is Commander Shepard, and as of this moment I am in charge of your safety."
"So you're the one responsible for the goblins?" Edie Anderson asked accusingly, glaring at Canin with contempt. Shepard took one look at the green and silver trim of the robes she was already wearing and the Head Girl badge displayed proudly on it and decided to make this a lesson for all of them.
"In my capacity, I have hired those I know to be the best," Shepard replied.
"You must be dense then, or foreign, everyone knows goblins are only greedy savages," Anderson replied with a sneer. Ron and Hermione flinched both at the comment, and the dangerous looks on both Shepard and Canin.
"Are you so sure of your superiority?" Shepard asked, to which Anderson scoffed as if it was hardly even a question. "Prove it," she added forcefully. Anderson looked shocked for a moment at being called out, but rallied quickly.
"If it means getting you to let me run this meeting like I should be, gladly."
"First, let's see how good you are. Could someone summon a set of targets please, three should do," Shepard said with dangerous politeness. Hermione was the first with her wand out, conjuring a set of human figures, complete with black cloaks and masks. Anderson sneered at the brunette, but said nothing as she pulled her own wand.
"Any spell I want?" she asked.
"As long as it incapacitates the target," Shepard answered. Anderson threw a set of spells, and Shepard was unimpressed that she needed five spells due to her inaccuracy. She merely gestured at Canin as Hermione reset the targets. With a flurry of activity that was over as soon as it begun, the targets were pinned to the wall behind them by wicked throwing daggers and shuriken.
After a second of silence at the speed and accuracy of the attack, Anderson did what all bigots do when presented with evidence that didn't agree with them, she ignored it.
"So it can throw things, they aren't capable of real magic," she said dismissively. Shepard looked at Canin and the two of them had a quick, heated exchange in Gobbledygook. Shepard then turned to the assembled prefect.
"What would you consider real magic then? A charm, some transfiguration, a curse perhaps?" she challenged. Most of the prefect nodded, but Anderson smiled.
"That kind of magic requires a wand, and goblins can't have wands."
"You seem to think pretty highly of wands, but no matter. You should all be honoured, you're about to see something no one has seen above ground in centuries. Canin, if you will."
With that the goblin captain pulled out what looked like a knife like all the other knives they had seen so far. He then took out an apple from a nearby bowl and placed it in from of him. Muttering in the goblin tongue he pointed the blade at the apple, which changed solidly into a banana, before floating and turning purple as he charmed it. Then without warning, a blast of power from the knife showered the Slytherins with mashed fruit as the controlled blasting curse hit.
"A charm, transfiguration and a curse, all with no wand in sight," Shepard said. Before Anderson could start again, Shepard continued.
"Just because humans need a wand, doesn't mean any creature capable of magic does. So, as you have seen, goblins are every bit as magical as you, though with their own specialties and weaknesses, just like the rest of you. That and I would trust my life to a goblin."
"It won't matter anyway, my father is a Governor, he'll have you and your goblins out by the end of the week," Anderson said snidely.
"You either haven't talked to dear old dad recently, or you haven't done your homework little girl. Luckily, I happen to have a copy of the school charter with me. Would someone care to read aloud the sections I've marked?" Shepard asked with a mocking smirk at Anderson. One of the new Hufflepuffs raised a hand, and as they read the clauses that stated the Master at Arms could not be dismissed or overruled by the Governors without the initiation and support of both the headmaster and deputy for such a motion, it meant that unless Shepard made a serious misstep, she was untouchable. Anderson and the rest of the Slytherin cohort looked on the verge of mutiny.
"Now, unless anyone else wishes to challenge me, the reason I'm here is to inform you all that this year, your prefect duties well be earned and checked, not just granted. Your curfew monitoring duties will initially see you paired with one of the goblin security detail."
"You can't make me patrol with a goblin!" Anderson said indignantly.
"Then you can hand in your badge, the door is behind you," Shepard replied calmly yet forcefully. "Being a prefect or head student is about assessing your suitability for leadership roles. That means being accountable and able to work with others. The goblins will be there to assist you, but also to report on your performance. Prove you can work with others constructively; you and your house will be rewarded. Prove unable to fulfill your duties, either by abusing your powers or being unwilling or unable to work with those tasked with the safety of this school; you will be replaced with someone who can."
She stared then all down, challenging them silently, but none rose to it. She wasn't fooled though; the looks some of the older ones were giving her meant she would be on her toes until she beat the first few to attack her either personally or professionally.
"Now, for your assignments..."
Further musing on Shepard's confrontational first meeting with the prefect cohort was interrupted by Ginny returning from the bathroom with a minor scowl and three embossed slips of card.
"What's that look for?" Hermione asked.
"Michael Corner tried to get fresh in the corridor, conveniently forgetting I dumped him after I found him with another girl in a broom closet before summer break. I was forced to remind him that I'm related to the Twins and know a few good, mildly disfiguring spells." She was so into her story that she didn't notice the looks coming from Harri.
"And those?" Luna asked, pointing to the cards.
"Oh, the new Potions professor saw the end of it, invited me to lunch. Asked me to pass along invites for Harri and Neville as well," Ginny replied, handing over the cards.
"Be careful around him," Harri warned. "He apparently likes to network with people, make connections to people with influence or their relatives. Sirius told me," she said at the inquisitive looks. "So don't be surprised if he asks to meet with your gran for instance Nev."
"Wait a minute, new Potions professor? Then who's teaching Defense?" Ron asked.
"Guess," Harri answered with only mild bitterness in her voice.
"Not Snape surely," Ron said. Harri just nodded grimly. "Well, bollocks."
"Language Ron!" Hermione chastised, which made Harri chuckle. There was just something amusing about the brunette and her priorities sometimes.
Harri got up around lunchtime and made her way to the front of the train, hoping to talk to Shepard. She found her still in the lead carriage, conferring with Canin over the new Marauder's Map.
"The map wasn't designed this way," Harri heard Canin tell Shepard.
"Well, it won't be the first impossible thing I've done," Shepard replied calmly as she worked on her omni-tool. Harri once again saw the glowing blue dust vial as Shepard attached it to the omni-tool's hard light interface. She watched in silent fascination as Shepard worked for a few minutes before the minifacturing function began, taking the last of the alien element and a few random electronics she had brought for this purpose and creating a sleek black half-dome the size of a soccer ball. Shepard pressed a few buttons on the new device, a set of legs deploying and positioning over the map, before a blue laser scanned it. Then, after a few seconds to process, it threw up a prefect hologram of Hogwarts, the new map filling in the positions of all those in the castle or ground in real time.
"That's cool," Harri said.
"Harri, snuck up on me there," Tink said as she shut down the projector. "I've got a bit more time now, if you still wanted to talk."
"Just wanted some advice about this," Harri said, extending the invitation. Shepard looked at it for a moment before handing it back.
"As I'm sure you've no doubt heard from Sirius, Slughorn is an infamous networker. There are very few people of influence that don't know his name, or listen carefully when he speaks. He can open a lot of doors you probably didn't even know existed, but there will be a price. It might not be now, it might be years away, but any favour he does is only in the expectation it will be paid back in kind. My advice, go and listen, see what he offers, but don't just take what he dangles with really thinking about it."
"Pretty much what Sirius said," Harri said.
As she made to leave, she turned around again.
"Did you get an invite?" she asked the older woman.
"No, at the moment I'm probably not in his good books. That will likely change once he sees my relationship with the goblins, but at the moment, he's avoiding me."
"Any reason in particular?"
"He's afraid of me. For the first time in his life, he didn't know who he was meeting or how to appeal to them. I also reminded him that just as good deeds come bearing gifts, bad deeds return with debts. I happened to call in one he'd very much like to forget."
"Alright, mind if I use your name to get him to back off?" Harri asked.
"You're learning," Shepard said with an approving nod.
As it turned out, lunch with Horace Slughorn was not the celebrity-induced headache she had been anticipating, unlike some of her early adventures in Diagon Alley. For starters, Ginny, Neville and herself made up half the table, the other side filled by a Gryffindor Harri recognised from the year above her, Cormac McLaggen; Blaise Zabini from her own year and a Ravenclaw she didn't know. At the head of the table and looking very pleased with himself was Horace himself. Harri suspected the lavish spread of food came from his own pocket rather than purchased from the trolley.
"Excellent, everyone make yourselves comfortable, no need to stand on ceremony," Slughorn urged them with a genial smile, loading some choice morsels onto a plate. "And while I think of it, some introductions. Hyacinth Potter I think needs no introductions, Neville Longbottom, his grandmother just became Chief Warlock; Miss Weasley here I saw perform a most flawless feat of inconveniencing spellwork, quite the little firebrand. Cormac McLaggen, his father owns a majority in Puddlemere United, and I believe has an aunt in the Ministry. Blaise Zabini, his mother has a very successful range of cosmetic spells and potions, though she obviously doesn't need them with her looks. A shame about her unlucky love life, seven husbands buried now, wasn't it? Terrible shame that. And of course Marcus Belby here. His uncle Damocles was one of my best students, invented the Wolfsbane potion. How is he these days?"
"We don't talk much since father disowned him," Marcus replied. "I mean honestly, making something for werewolves?" Harri noticed that Marcus wasn't looking at his host as he answered, and so missed the look of intense disapproval at the dismissal of Damocles. She was fairly certain that Marcus would find himself uninvited to future events. She noted too that of the rest of the invitees, none of them were ones that had any connection or family aligned with Voldemort. Notably absent was Draco Malfoy, though given his father recently landed himself a room in the state-run hotel Azkaban, it wasn't particularly surprising. Though the prefect badge on Zabini's robes was an interesting development, it meant Draco wasn't this year.
All in all it was actually a pleasant afternoon, though she didn't particularly like the contemplative and calculating looks she caught Slughorn sending her way. As the party broke up, she found herself unconsciously following Blaise to his compartment, where Draco was sitting there with his cronies and hangers on like Pansy Parkinson. She had the urge to slip on her invisibility cloak and listen in, but remembered her lesson from Shepard earlier in the summer. She returned to her compartment where Bloodaxe was teaching the rest of them some of the finer elements of Gobbledygook pronunciation. She waited until he was finished before she asked her question.
"Bloodaxe, are there any infiltrators on the train?" The goblin looked at her approvingly, before tapping the gold and green pin on his chest.
"Commander Shepard, HVT-1 has a question for you," he said in his native tongue. Not because he wanted to confuse them, simply operational discipline.
"Something you wanted Harri?" Shepard's voice came from the pin.
"Just wondering if there are any spies on the train," the teen replied.
"I already have several monitoring persons of interest," Shepard answered. "No need for you to do something that will later be called an adventure." Harri had the good grace to blush a little at the accurate description of her school life so far. It was a refreshing change to have an adult on her side though.
"Alright, I'll just get into trouble with my friends then, you know what bad influences they are."
"No arguments there," Shepard said with a chuckle.
"Hey!" Hermione protested, causing more laughter.
The Aurors were once again well in view at Hogsmede station, ushering the students quickly to the thestral carriages or the boats for the first years. Tonks gave Harri and her friends a wave as they passed, but being on duty meant she didn't have the opportunity for pleasantries. Harri went and gave the thestral an affectionate pat, and got a hand licking for her trouble. She carefully avoided looking in its eyes before she joined her friends inside.
"Blimey, we flew to London on those things?" Ron asked incredulously. "I think I preferred it when I couldn't see them."
"They are a bit confronting," Hermione agreed. Harri and Luna shared a look that communicated that the haunting beauty of the thestrals was countered by the fact that you had to have seen death and understood it to behold them. The ride to the castle was sedate this year, but new to them all was the sight of goblin defenders on the walls flanking the gates. More were visible next to Filch as the glared at the bane of his existence: teenagers.
"This is going to be an interesting year," Harri mused as she sat down at the lion's table.
The sorting ceremony felt like more of a chore to sit through this year, though she would never be able to say why. As the students sat with their new fellows, Dumbledore stood to make a few announcements. The return of Slughorn as Potions professor raised some spirit, but Snape's new DADA post produced only a few, half-hearted claps.
"And of course, while not a teacher per se, still a valued member of the faculty this year is our Master at Arms, Commander Shepard," Dumbledore said, gesturing at her. Standing and taking his request to say a few words, she stepped forward until she was beside his podium.
"As you are all aware, this year has additional threats, both internal and external. To that end, I have engaged the services of the goblin nation to ensure that every one of you is the best protected person in Britain. Hogwarts is a safe place, and will remain so as long as I have breath. For those who are interested, I will be running an elective course, not for any credit but for those who want a cross cultural experience and defense training. My office is always staffed, and I encourage any if you safety concerns to approach me directly, or through your prefects or teachers."
"Well said Commander. Now, let eat," Dumbledore said, the tables magically laden with food.
"I will not allow it," Snape said bluntly. Dumbledore tried to look sympathetic to Snape in his position as Head of Slytherin, but Shepard was pressing the issue, and he agreed with her in this case. The old man sighed internally, the day hadn't even ended yet and already the problems were beginning with that house.
"I'm afraid you are not in a position to stop her or her staff without credible reason why they should not have access to the common room," Dumbledore replied.
"They're goblins, what other reason do I need?" he replied with a derisive sneer. Oh, he knew now that Shepard was the woman who vexed both Dumbledore and Voldemort, and now she was here to make his life difficult. At least she was close now so he could learn about the mysterious power she wielded.
"I am charged with securing the castle from dangers, external and internal," Shepard replied with forced calm. "A task made more difficult by the fact that I know for a fact that you serve two masters, and I know or strongly suspect several of your charges have similar loyalties. If you are unwilling to work with me on this, I will go over you, and trust me; it won't end well for you."
"What I or my students do behind closed doors is none of your business," Snape argued.
"Did you not read the Charter?" she challenged. "I am responsible for all aspects of castle security, not three quarters of it. If you keep pushing this, I will tell you the same thing I told Anderson: you can be replaced with someone who isn't so bigoted and obstinate."
"You wouldn't dare," Snape retorted.
"I've killed ten Death Eaters and fought Voldemort himself to a standstill, and that was on my own. You think you and a bunch of teenagers scare me when I have a small, capable army behind me?" she challenged back.
"Severus, please be reasonable. She is only asking for access to the common room, not the dorms."
"Very well, but I will not be held responsible for any student or their behavior."
"Trust me, I am more than capable of dealing with them," Shepard replied ominously. Snape took the look in her eye and knew it would end badly for someone, and soon. He would give his charges one last warning and hope they listened this time.
Later that evening, the Heads of each house met with their prefect cohort so they could be introduced to their patrolling partner goblins. For Gryffindor, aside from Hermione and Ron, the attitudes were mostly neutral. Pomona Sprout and her Hufflepuffs earned the immediate favour of the Under Corps as they hunkered down to debate optimal pathways and scheduling. A badger wasn't afraid of hard work after all, and the best way to measure someone was to work together on something.
Shepard personally oversaw the meeting for Slytherin, though based on the looks she was getting she didn't expect many of the faces in there to keep their status. Some of them might eventually accept their new situation, but she suspected it was more likely for them to try and make their new goblin partners befall certain accidents. She already had hidden surveillance installed in the Slytherin dungeon along with making a visible entrance earlier to prove she could.
It was in the Ravenclaw tower that the most unusual meeting took place. Canin himself was curious as to the parentage and circumstances of Professor Flitwick after the report from his scout after Shepard's test during the holidays. He was largely unprepared for the barrage of questions the prefects threw at him on a variety of subjects, but mostly the way he cast magic with a blade. He eventually made them stop by promising a session with himself and Shepard later for any of them with questions. He could almost feel the headache he was going to have later when they began quickly writing down questions.
The next morning was Sunday, and most of the student body turned up after breakfast to the main courtyard for Shepard's first class. Goblins circled the perimeter as Shepard stood at a relaxed but alert rest stance.
"Good to see so many of you eager to learn. So first thing first, wands away for a warm-up."
"What spells are you going to be teaching?" one if the Ravenclaws asked.
"None, this will be about practical defense, and soon learning about the goblins that will be here this year," Shepard replied.
"No magic, what are you, a squib like Filch?" One of the older Slytherins, Nott probably, had come down to assess Shepard, and did not like what he had found.
Shepard sighed in mild frustration, standing up and turning to her detractor.
"Nott, isn't it? Step forward, you've just volunteered for a practical demonstration." Nott seemed less sure about being singled out, but stepped forward anyway, putting on a facade of bravado. Shepard waited until he stopped, then turned her back on him and put some more distance between them.
"Alright Mister Nott, since you seem so sure that magic is the only thing you need to protect yourself, prove it. I'm going to slap you across the face; your job is to stop me." She turned to spell already on its way towards her, on par with the underhanded yet effective tactics she expected from him. She leaned away from the incoming spell, and began taking deliberate strides forward.
His targeting was predictable, aiming at her chest with spells meant to impede or injure, which she kept nimbly dodging, to his growing frustration. She had crossed more than two thirds of the distance when he stopped trying to hit her directly and started using the environment against her, summoning or vanishing rocks, even blasting the courtyard around her. She swatted away his clumsy projectiles, steadily gaining ground. When she was almost within striking range, he panicked and performed a blasting curse which hit her right in the chest, creating a veritable fireball where she had been. He thought she deserved no less for daring to disrespect proper wizards, but then his arm was almost wrenched out if it's socket. His confusion turned to dread as the smoke cleared to reveal Shepard unhurt, grabbing his wand arm forcefully to bring him into range to slap him in the face a little harder than she had originally planned, but that last one had hurt. She pushed him to the ground before she turned to address the rest of the assembled students.
"You wizards think that just because you have a wand, that is the only way to fight. As you just saw, spells have to hit you before they hurt. Dodging is more effective than shielding nine times out of ten. Now, unless anyone else wants to get slapped, let's get back to our warm up." Several of the older students looked at her more shrewdly now as Nott stormed off, wondering exactly how she had survived that last spell. Some of the older Slytherin students left as well, not wanting to lower themselves to not using wands.
Once they were warmed up, Shepard split them into smaller groups, allowing the goblins to take over as she moved from group to group. She frequently got asked about how she shielded that last spell, but she would only rely that it was her secret. It was lunch time before any of the students realised, Shepard sending them off for the afternoon. She knew she wouldn't change attitudes overnight, but at least the younger students seemed less distrustful of the goblins now. The older ones she knew would take more time, if they ever did.
Lunchtime saw most of the students rapt in conversation, those who had been to Shepard's class eagerly telling those who weren't there. The Slytherin table seemed to be more subdued, eyeing Shepard at the staff table carefully. Breaking up the student chats were the Heads of house delivering and discussing the timetables for the coming year. As McGonagall handed Harri her parchment, the young ravenette was confused.
"Professor, why do I have potions?" Harri asked. "I thought you needed an O for NEWTs"
"That may have been the case for Professor Snape; however Professor Slughorn welcomes those with EE in his class."
"I didn't get this year's book."
"Then you will need to have it delivered. However, I'm sure you can borrow one of the school editions, though be warned it may be out of date."
"Also, I've talked to Miss Bell and she was adamant that as this is her last year, she was unwilling to be the captain of the quidditch team," McGonagall continued. "As the next senior player, the option is yours."
"Sure, sounds good," Harri answered.
"Wonderful, let me know when you want to schedule tryouts and I will book the pitch for you. A shame you'll only have two experienced players, but then again, it's an opportunity to make the team what you want it."
Harri considered her options against what she knew of her house mates, which admittedly was only Ginny as a chaser and Ron as a keeper. This would take a bit of thought. As she thought about players, her mind drifted to the broom situation at the school. Most of the team players supplied their own, but the quality varied and some brooms definitely had different capabilities. She remembered from the World Cup two years ago that only the chasers and seeker used Firebolts, the beaters and keeper used top of the line brooms that traded the Firebolt's pure speed for acceleration and maneuverability. She might send Hedwig later, seeing if Sirius wanted to sponsor the Hogwarts Soaring Bacon Initiative. She giggled at her own little joke, seeing someone like Remus saying "the school teams will have evenly matched brooms when pigs fly!"
In her office, Amelia grumbled at yet another letter with nothing but praise for Shepard from Susan. It rankled against her very being that Shepard was backing up words with actions, yet still showed no allegiance Amelia could find. It was the lack of information more than anything that annoyed her. She put it from her mind for now as she left the ministry building, heading to the marble edifice to monetary excess, Gringotts. She entered and expected to line up like everyone else, when she was approached by an armoured envoy.
"Greetings Minister, if you will join us your account manager and some interested parties are waiting in the conference room."
Amelia didn't know what to expect as the group formed a protective circle around her as they marched her deeper into the back than she had ever been before. She was escorted to a well-appointed conference room where her account manager was already waiting.
"Madame Bones, good to see you. I assume you'd like to know about your accounts?" he asked.
"No, I was here to talk to you about something else actually," she said.
"Well, I may be able to," he began, but was cut off when a hidden door opened to reveal a goblin in ornate blue robes with his own bodyguards.
"Minister Bones, how fortuitous you should come here today," the positively ancient goblin said as he sat down. Amelia looked over to her account manager, who was almost flat on the floor from bowing.
"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage," Amelia replied, a little uncertain.
"I suppose I do. You may have heard of me: Ragnok, Grand Auditor." Amelia grimaced, she had indeed heard of him, but no one alive had ever had a confirmed meeting with him, not even Dumbledore.
"I'm honoured to meet you," she said quickly.
"I'm sure, but that's not why I'm here. You recently met with one of my people, Captain Canin. As a result, you have changed the policies of your Goblin Liaison Office to allow us to appoint our own person, in addition to your own people."
Amelia had, but aside from a notification they had received the change in policy, she hasn't heard a thing from the secretive underground nation.
"You'll have to forgive the lack of notification from us, we are an argumentative bunch at times. More than a little friendly stabbing went on, I assure you," Ragnok continued. "Anyway, we have finally reached a decision, and in light of the fact that we don't trust you enough yet to assign one of our own, we have elected to appoint Miss Fleur Delacour, part time of course as she is attached to one of our high value operations."
Amelia needed a moment to organise her mind, coming back to the fact that she recognised the name.
"Wait, the Beauxbaton competitor in that fiasco two years ago?" she asked.
"Yes, she is one of our most skilled linguists and negotiators," Ragnok said calmly.
"So, instead of a goblin, you have decided to grace me with a French veela," Amelia confirmed. The smile Ragnok sported now was all the confirmation she needed. "You sneaky little buggers, don't do anything by halves, do you?"
"There's a reason you bank with us," was all Ragnok said.
"Alright, now that you've had your fun, mind if I ask something in return?" she asked.
"Well, you did spoil my fun a little by not throwing a tantrum like Fudge, but yes, ask."
"I have a list of people I suspect of financing, either directly or indirectly, criminal organisations, and I was hoping to get more detailed information about their account transactions."
"I suspect you heard the first time, but I said no. We take the privacy of our clients seriously, so we cannot just release their records." Amelia cursed inwardly as she noticed Ragnok crack another grin. "However, since you seem to be such good friends with Commander Shepard, I'm sure she has all sorts of valuable insights." With that he stood up and left the room.
Amelia turned to her account manager, who was only now removing himself from the floor.
"Did he just say what I think he said?" she asked him.
"If that was to talk to Commander Shepard without delay, then yes," he replied with a shaky voice. He had never been in the presence of even the lowest member of the Panel of Auditors, and now he has spent several minutes with the Grand Auditor himself! Amelia just grumbled at being reminded yet again that the country's problems couldn't be solved without external aid.
As Harri joined the rest of the sixth year Gryffindor and Slytherin students at the potion lab entrance, she was pleased to see some of the worst students of both houses had decided to bow out, voluntarily or otherwise. Draco still sneered at her, but it was different now, like his heart wasn't in it. She filed in and selected her seat, seeing that while the decor was not much changed from Snape's tenure, instead there was a smiling Slughorn at the front of the room, three potions gently simmering at his bench.
"Come on in, no reason to be shy," he said jovially. He called each name off the roll, before turning to all of his students. "Now, I assume everyone got the text for this year?" Harri raised her hand and informed him she had not, as she wasn't expecting to take this class.
"That would have been a terrible shame, your mother was quite talented as I recall. I may have a workable text in here," he said, rummaging through the contents of a cupboard and producing a copy of the text that was noticeably worn. "Might not be as fancy, but they haven't changed the material since that edition, so the worst is that you'll have different page numbers."
The lesson itself was much more interesting than any with Snape had been, Slughorn not just knowledgeable but passionate about teaching the subject. It also helped that Harri could thank whoever the Half Blood Prince was, the annotations in the second hand text proving valuable in squeezing the most out of the ingredients they had to work with, literally in the case of the beans. She ended up taking the prize of the tiny vial of Felix Felicis. Hermione wasn't so happy that Harri beat her, but that may have more to do with the fact that whoever the annotator was, they knew better than the original author. She was a bit touchy like that.
Harri though was pleased that she finally found something that would help her enjoy a subject she had dreaded for years. There were plenty of other markings in the margins though, not all of them related to potions. Maybe she needed to read more of them before making a judgment. She remembered vividly just how much damage a seemingly harmless book could do.
Shepard was surprised that the first week of patrols had gone off without an incident with the prefects. There had of course been several couples inconvenienced by the more efficient routes (not to mention the new holographic interface of the castle in Shepard's office). She was not surprised though when mid-way through the second week, an incident occurred that required her presence. She came to find an unconscious goblin being attended by a first aider, a pair of Slytherin fifth year prefects being held at the points of various weapons, looking murderous.
"What happened here?" Shepard asked with a calm force.
"The stupid goblin had an accident," one of the prefects said. The other nodded in agreement, though Shepard could see the worry on her face. Turning to the goblins, she asked the same question in their language.
"If this was an accident, I'll eat my boots," the first aider replied. "Even if a fall could have broken bones, the rest of the damage is obviously magical in nature. I suspect one of them cursed her."
"Can she be moved?"
"Yes, the injuries well not prevent that. She'll be able to return to duty by tomorrow evening."
"Good, bring her," Shepard said to the goblins near their downed colleague.
"You two are coming with me," she said to the defiant prefects. "Someone fetch Snape and tell him to head to the Headmaster's office. We are going to get to the truth of the matter." With a hand clamped down on each of their shoulders, the prefects and goblins marched to the gargoyle where they meet Snape waiting for them.
"What is the meaning of this?" he asked with a sneer.
"That is exactly what I aim to find out," Shepard replied. "I don't take kindly to my staff being assaulted."
"That is a serious accusation," Snape said threateningly. Unfortunately for the head of Slytherin, it was all bark and no bite behind it, but his students didn't need to know his weak position.
"With serious consequences," Shepard replied as the gargoyle permitted them entrance.
The walk up to the Headmaster's office was done in silence. One of the prefects tried to whisper something to the professor, but he was quickly silenced with a withering glare. Dumbledore looked up as Shepard, several goblins, Snape and the youngest Slytherin prefects came inside.
"I trust there is a reason for this impromptu meeting?" the old man asked.
"There was an incident tonight involving one of my staff, I intend to get to the bottom of it quickly," Shepard replied. "Since the use of truth serum is probably going to be objected to," she continued loudly, cutting ahead of the protests, "I was going to impose upon you to use your pensieve."
Dumbledore considered this request for a moment, looking at the students in question. The girl was practically shivering, and not from the cold, while the boy was standing defiantly. It didn't take his not-inconsiderable skill as a Legilimens to see what had likely transpired, but just because Shepard preferred transparent dealings to his more common secret ones, did not mean he disagreed. As he retrieved the device, he heard the girl ask what was about to happen. Shepard answered that this device was for viewing memories, to which the girl gasped with fear. As he emptied the device of his own memories and placed it on the desk, he looked expectantly at Shepard, this was her show, and he was just the facilitator.
"Alright, I'll need the memories of everyone involved, now," Shepard ordered. The goblins were quick to comply, the hilt of their magical knives pressed quickly to their temples and pulling the silvery strands away, placing them into the stone bowl. There was a conversation of glances between the students, the girl looking fearfully from her counterpart, to her professors, and finally to Shepard before she filled and made her decision.
"How do I do this?" she asked.
"Merely think of the memory you wish to review, then do as the goblins did," Dumbledore explained. "The memory will be copied, not removed, so don't worry if something else is also transferred, it takes some experience to do it perfectly." The girl complied a little hesitantly, leaving only the boy prefect.
"No," he said with false bravado.
"You do realise that between the other memories, we will likely be able to determine the truth of the matter?" Shepard asked in reply.
"So you would trust the word of a goblin over a proud pureblood student, one whose family has been attending Hogwarts for over four centuries!?" he asked incredulously.
"I don't care if you personally had been at this school for all those years, the minute you decide one life is better than another based on parentage, then perhaps you do not belong at this school," Dumbledore said quietly, the threat behind it all the more powerful for the restraint. The boy paled as he realised the consequences were much more severe than he had bargained for.
"Wait, if I could give you something else?" he asked with visible panic. "Someone put me up to this!"
"We may be able to negotiate your punishment if there are extenuating circumstances," Dumbledore said after a glance at Shepard. She was all for it, especially since this prefect wasn't the one she wanted. She knew one of the older ones would try something, getting a younger one to do their dirty work had been a likely situation she had considered. Getting them to flip on their fellows was also considered, Slytherin was after all the house of the cunning, not the loyal.
"Look, here's what you need, just don't expel me, my grandfather would probably disown me." Unsaid was the fact that since he had yet to take his OWLs, expulsion would mean snapping his wand, and being disowned meant he would be a pariah forever to his own society.
Shepard watched patiently as the prefect put in his memory, then spoke.
"Professors, as representatives of the students and the school, I'll need you to review these memories with me. You two," she said to the students, "don't even think about leaving." With that she was joined by Snape and Dumbledore as they entered the pensieve. There was a tense silence for several moments before the adults exited the memories, all of them looking extremely displeased.
"Mister Aspen, Miss Taylor, while we can appreciate the fact you had been coerced to varying degrees, your conduct was still far short of what is expected from Hogwarts prefects," Dumbledore said with obvious disappointment. "You will of course be stripped of your status immediately and placed on probation. Professor Snape will take your wands, and ensure you only have them for classwork until the new year. Further incidents like this will see you suspended or expelled."
"What about Nott?" Aspen asked.
"We will deal with him later," Shepard replied ominously. Snape, as much as he hated to agree with her, was incensed that after all of his warnings, Nott had been so foolish and arrogant to think his plan would work. The idiot deserved what was coming to him.
At breakfast the next morning, Harri could feel the tension coming from the Slytherin table. Two of the prefects looked green to the gills, the silence was maddening, but stranger still was the look of anger coming from Snape directed at his own house. Harri had only seen him look like that when dealing with her, or perhaps the Weasley Twins. She looked around and noticed that the goblin presence had been increased subtly, and Shepard was nowhere to be seen.
At least until the doors to the Entrance Hall were flung open dramatically, revealing Shepard leading in a group of Aurors, including Minister Bones herself.
"What's going on?" Harri whispered to Hermione, who had arrived before her.
"I don't know, but I'm guessing it has to do with the Slytherins. Maybe something happened last night?" the brunette ventured. The time for speculation was cut short as the party arrived at the head table and had a short, sharp discussion.
Once it was over, Shepard stepped forward to address the students.
"Last night, there was an assault on one of my staff by a prefect." The few seconds of frantic whispering was all it took for Harri to confirm it had been the greener looking Slytherins. "As the goblins are here under my command, an attack on them is the same as attacking me. As such, the punishment is immediate expulsion, and the Aurors here will be taking them for questioning."
Harri felt a momentary pang of sympathy for the two fifth year prefects, but then something happened she didn't suspect.
"Aurors, please remove Mister Nott from the castle," Shepard said seriously. Everyone looked over in surprise at the latest revelation, and they all saw as he went from quiet calculation to rage in an instant.
"I challenge you to a duel!" he thundered as he stood and drew his wand.
"No," Shepard replied bluntly.
"Oh, but you must!" Nott shouted back. "According to the Hogwarts Charter, the Master at Arms must accept all challenges to the school or its honour, and nothing would dishonor the school more than a pureblood being expelled over the attack on a mere creature," he sneered.
"I must congratulate you then Mister Nott, you have managed to surprise me by doing some actual work rather than just assuming the world and all its treasure will be handed to you by an accident of genetics," Shepard answered with a slow, condescending clap. "Since you seem so eager, I suspect these fine law enforcement officials will have no problem with escorting us to the quidditch pitch on their way to taking you to the cell they no doubt have waiting." Her comments were designed to make him angry and lash out, but he proved himself slightly more in control than she had given him credit for by restraining himself.
The two of them went down, escorted it seemed by the entire school. The two combatants took the field while the school filled the stands, the goblin security and Aurors forming a perimeter stood the pitch.
"What exactly do you hope to win Nott? An honorable death?" Shepard asked.
"Once you're dead, the goblins will be forced out and the school returned to the purebloods it was always meant to teach, not the filth they let in now," he replied viciously, safe in the knowledge no one could overhear them. Shepard just shook her head at the sad reality of zealotry, taking position and bowing to her opponent as the rules of the challenge demanded.
The bow had barely finished before Nott raised his wand, churning out a succession of curses. Shepard was of two minds as she dodged the incoming spellfire. She could beat him by avoidance and skill, not getting hit before taking him down a peg. She could also act the tank, similar to her favourite Galaxy of Fantasy character, take the hits she was fairly certain wouldn't injure her in order to show the rest of the assembled crowd that she was not to be trifled with. It meant giving up the element of surprise in the future, but might mean any opponents might fear her powers, a useful trade-off. She quickly came to the decision that fear was more useful than surprise as a curse came too close and connected with her biotic barrier.
Nott watched with macabre satisfaction as the dark curse flew true, about to connect with the woman's body and kill her slowly and painfully. He was not ready to see the flickering purple fire envelop his foe, that wasn't what the curse was meant to do! He barely had a second to process the fact that the curse was stopped by whatever surrounded Shepard now, before she once again began to advance towards him. He snapped himself out of his stupor, remembering from the last time as he threw out blasting curses and other high powered fire and conclusive spells, mixed in with the odd dark curse taught to him by his older relations.
Shepard dodged a few of the more dangerous spells and absorbed the rest on her barrier, impressed dispute herself that he had remembered what had happened last time and learned from it. She knew she would be sore later as she did something Gunny Ellison would have her pulling latrine duty for the rest of her deployment. Focusing biotic power into her gauntlet, she backhanded a curse as it flew, warping its path behind her. It exploded the ground behind her, showering her with dirt and flames, but she burst through the smoke unscathed and tossed the first offensive power of the challenge, the ball of purple light flying quickly and impacting Nott, freezing him in place as he was about to fire another spell.
The stasis field held until Shepard reached him, her own biotics attuned to its frequency allowing her to reach inside. The first thing she did was remove his wand, making sure to show it to his wide, terrified eyes as she unleashed her biotics, the unstable mass effect fields reacting violently with the magical wood and core, burning the wand into nothing but ashes. She then reached in to tear off the left sleeve of his robes, revealing the Dark Mark on the inside of his wrist.
"I beat your master once before, did you really think I could be so easily defeated by a boy?" she asked rhetorically. She cancelled the stasis field and held him firmly until the Aurors stepped forward to take custody of him, noting the Mark on his arm and promising 'special' treatment for him.
The spectacle over, the teachers began the difficult job of getting the students to their signed classes. More than one of them was thinking furiously as they went.
Draco still hadn't had time to sneak into the room the vanishing cabinet had been moved to, the house elf's instructions not easy to follow. Now with the goblins patrolling with the prefects and Shepard cementing her place with Nott's public defeat, he would have to consider his options very carefully. He once again cursed his mother in his mind; she had forced him into an impossible position. Either follow his father's path and likely end up dead or ruined, the name Malfoy spoken in the same sentence as le Fey, or to defy one of the most powerful wizards alive and grovel to the girl he hated above all.
Snape viewed the one-sided fight with extreme interest, as this is what he had been waiting for, a chance to see whatever mysterious ability Shepard utilised against Dark Lord. He would have preferred to be even closer, get some subtle magical scans, but his memories would have to do. From what he had seen it had been an innate ability, though her gauntlet would also be worth a look if he could wrangle it. Armed with this new information, he started to formulate plans. Unfortunately it was too late in the lunar cycle to start this month, but next month would work just as well. He was a patient man after all.
Amelia looked at the Aurors escorting Nott away so they could give him a stay in a holding cell, then at Shepard herself, now speaking to one of her goblin allies. Seeing this prompted her reason for being here, approaching the Master at Arms with a firm, steady gait.
"Don't look now, your favourite Minister is coming, looks like she means business," Canin warned.
"Great," Shepard muttered. "Minister, let me stop you there," she said, raising her hand at the approaching witch. "I am heading to my office, if this is official business, please join me there. If not, please send an owl like an ordinary person."
Bones fumed a little at the dismissive tone, but knowing the woman as she did, the lack of hostility was almost a gesture of friendship. She held her tongue for the moment, electing to follow the spy and her goblin offsider to her office in the castle. Bones was momentarily in awe of the holographic castle filled with points representing everyone inside. She even spied her own name among the chaos, as well as finally learning the name of the person who at the same time irritated her and had earned her grudging respect.
"So, since you followed me I assume you have something to talk about?" Tink asked as she began to apply some healing salves to preempt the bruises from over exerting her biotics against Nott's magic.
"Why didn't you use those whips of yours, or the gun?" Amelia asked.
"It wasn't just about winning today, it was about sending a message," Tink replied.
"I imagine slapping that spell will be talked about for years."
"Exactly, and the next idiot to face me still more likely than not have heard about that, and not the whips or pistols. A small loss of surprise for a decent chance people will fear me."
Amelia wasn't sure if she wanted more of people with Shepard's abilities, or was terrified of the implications of someone like Voldemort with them.
"You didn't come here for that though," Shepard said, getting Amelia back on track.
"No, it did give me an excuse to speak to you and your captain," the Minister replied.
"He's his own captain, but I'm listening," Shepard corrected.
"Yes, well I need a favour," Bones replied. "I did what you asked and talked to my account manager. She except it turns out that he's just handed my accounts over to his grand-nephew to get his teeth on an easy account. First meeting I had with him was gatecrashed by Ragnok himself, so now he's shakier than an Aspen leaf."
"And this is leading where exactly?" Canin asked finally.
"I need you to vouch for me so I can organise a meeting with someone a little more senior, like your manager, or Black's would be better still."
Shepard and Canin shared a look of intrigue and some words she didn't understand, before turning back to her.
"Goldfinger is probably too senior now; the Black accounts going active, as well as absorbing what was left of the Lestrange vault, he's a busy man," Canin explained. "Silverfang on the other hand could probably help you; he's the Potter account manager."
"But it isn't as simple as walking in and asking," Shepard added. "Where's the fun in that?"
"So what exactly are you saying?" Amelia asked with a grimace.
"Look, you've noticed that my people can be canny, underhanded and downright petty at times, yes?" Canin asked. Amelia just nodded. "Well, it's a result of centuries of having to deal with humans who are just as bad. We are warriors at heart, just that sometimes the weapons aren't about spells or steel, but lawsuit and paperwork. Don't attack the problem head on, use the art of warfare the same way you would plan a raid on a criminal enterprise."
"I feel like I was just hit by a law textbook," Amelia said, squeezing the bridge of her nose.
"Yes, I'm sure it does, and they are exactly the type of people who can really help. You'll have to find good ones on your own though, I don't know any lawyer I trust," Shepard said.
"I'd suggest, if you are going to go through Silverfang, that you approach Boywe, Fookem and Howe," Canin suggested. "They have worked together for quite some time on the Potter accounts, including collaborating on legal action."
"You are, as ever, a useful and infuriating person," Amelia said as she stood to leave. "It seems you are always at least one step ahead of everyone."
"Even if you believed I told you the truth, you wouldn't believe how accurate that statement is," Shepard answered. "Do stop in on your niece before you leave, she's been an exemplary prefect so far." Amelia nodded but said nothing as she left, plans beginning to take shape.
Angelique dusted her hands like the proud craftsperson she was as the final nail settled in to the refurbished guest bedroom. Which was good, it meant that she could start spending nights here in London, which would increase the amount of time she could spend here working instead of having to come from France every morning.
It certainly had nothing to do with Lord Black. Certainly.
To his credit, he had stopped interrupting her as often, and he was getting better at assisting her. However, the man was an incorrigible; he'd just gotten better at picking his moments. Like now as he clapped from the hallway.
"I never thought I'd see the day I'd be happy to stay in any room in this house. Please, let me show you to dinner, it's the least I could do to show my appreciation."
"I'm not sure I could survive another dinner prepared by Dobby," Angelique replied, a hand on her stomach at the memory of a dinner that was delicious but way, way too large for a mere human.
"No, I was thinking something a little different. Moony found this great Italian place on the muggle side of town, swears by the pasta."
"And you'd trust your friends who, correct me if I'm remembering this wrong, glued you to the ceiling last week," Angelique replied with a mirthful grin.
"Well, you make a good point, but I'm pretty sure he won't have pranked the food there. Not unless he was there too, and I'm fairly sure Tonks has him busy tonight."
"How sure?" Angelique pressed, grin widening. She would have to thank Remus later as Sirius' eyes became slightly panicked.
"Sure enough," he eventually said with a confident harrumph.
"Then I will join you, however this week be going on my expense charge," she added. It was his money, after all.
Felix Corbin knocked hesitantly on the door, unsure whether it was a good idea to be here. He contemplated leaving, better to be considered rude than a bringer of false hope. His courage faltered when the door opened, those warm brown eyes looking up at him with happiness, so rare to see in them as the full moon approached.
"Felix, what you doing here, I thought you were working today!" the woman said as she pulled him into a hug.
"I switched shifts to come see the two of you Abby. I assume Damocles is around?"
"Off in his own little world, but that's who he is and why I love him," Abby Belby answered. "Dam, Felix is here!" she called into the house, pulling her brother inside. The potioneering prodigy was soon pulled from his bench, the three of them catching up like the old friends they were.
Abby though was a werewolf, and could tell from all the little cues Felix was giving that this wasn't just a social call.
"So, what really brings you here?" she asked.
"That obvious?" Felix asked in reply. An eye roll from his sister was his answer. "Well, it's about this," he continued, pulling out the vial of the lycanthropy cure Shepard had given him, as well as the odd printout she had given him, and the notes he and Poppy had been making on the condition of Remus Lupin.
"You can't be serious Felix; someone actually claims to have a cure?" Damocles erupted. Not only was his professional pride as a healer and potion expert being called into question, but also his abilities and conviction as someone married to a werewolf.
"It's more than just a claim my friend, as you can see. I was skeptical as well at first, but after reviewing the patient's condition, medical history, as well as a memory of the event itself from a credible witness in law enforcement, well... Does it hurt so much that someone else got there first?" he asked, looking to his sister.
"Was he really cured?" she asked quietly.
"Well, he didn't exhibit any of the morphic instability the next night, as he had previously been known to, and all our tests have shown that aside from some lingering transformation remnants, he seems to be cured."
"I can't believe it, who is this Wednesday Addams anyway?" Damocles asked, looking at the name of the author on the printout.
"I do not know, I received the paper and this sample from a third party, who made it clear she didn't know the author personally, but just followed the steps," Felix replied.
"I'm not even going to entertain this until I see it for myself," Damocles insisted. "I won't trust your life, our lives, to something just given by a stranger, no matter how good it seems," he added at the look his wife gave him. Her glare didn't stop, but the intensity learned somewhat. Volunteering as she had so much for his own attempts at curing or even helping her condition, she could understand his caution.
"As it happens, I do have an appointment with Lupin tonight, I don't think he'll mind the extra company."
As the clouds began to thin, Remus felt a little silly to be in the cage again.
"Is this all strictly necessary?" he asked.
"Just because you had one good night, and the tests so far came back positively, didn't mean I'm not taking precautions," Poppy replied. Taking a rare opportunity away from the castle, she was actually waiting for Felix, who was just as invested in this.
"I'll make you a deal wolfie, you turn out ok and I'll join you in there," Tonks whispered loud enough for only her lover to hear. The lecherous smile on her face certainly put one on his.
A pair of pops signaled the arrival of Felix and Damocles to the secluded glen.
"Poppy, good to see you again," Damocles said.
"You didn't say you were bringing company," Poppy said with a glare at Felix.
"He wanted to see for himself, for Abby's sake," Felix explained.
"Alright, but only because it's you," Poppy said to Damocles. The three of them walked over to where Tonks was having a whispered conversation with the patient. Damocles couldn't tell if the strained look on his face was due to his presence, or what had been said to him by the Auror.
"Who are... Wait, you're Damocles Belby, aren't you?" Remus asked.
"I am indeed."
"Well, thank you. Until very recently, Wolfsbane was quite literally a lifesaver."
"I have heard of your changed circumstances. I'm here to see it for myself," Damocles said gruffly.
"Well, your timing is impeccable," Remus replied as he felt the first beams of moonlight hit his body. In the past, the physical and mental changes were almost instantaneous. Now, he retained his mind as his body transformed to its new shape. Nowhere near as painful as it had once been, Remus was only mildly discomfited before his body finished changing. The three healers looked on in shocked silence, a lifetime of medical knowledge challenged in a few short minutes.
"Well, what's the diagnosis docs?" Remus asked in a deep, rumbly voice. A barrage of medical diagnosis spells were fired at him for several minutes, before the three of them were satisfied.
"So simple," Damocles said softly.
"Not if you read that paper fully. Some of those reagents I haven't even heard of," Felix admitted.
"But it's possible!" Damocles practically shouted. "So many years, so many failures, thinking it's impossible, and someone actually did it!" Remus decided against revealing what he knew of the cure's origins, it would only upset the healers.
"Alright, are you convinced enough to give it to Abby?" Felix asked.
"Merlin, I hope we're not too late!" Damocles said, before apparating away.
He reappeared in his home, thankful that the chamber they used for Abby's transformation usual didn't get the light of moonrise. He ran in, vital in hand as he pulled out an old fashioned hypodermic needle. He filled the syringe from the vial and ran to the door.
"Abby, I need your arm," he said through the window.
"What, no, it's too close to my time," Abby protested.
"No, it works, I've seen it. Quickly, before the moonlight comes!" Damocles begged. Abby had not seen him so animated in such a long time that she held out her arm, receiving a quick injection.
"I feel strange," Abby said as the empty needle was extracted.
"Apparently that's normal. Now, if your case follows the precedent, it should begin writing any minute now."
"Why not instantly?" she asked.
"It needs the moonlight to trigger the final stage," Damocles replied, just as the moonlight peeked over the forested hill behind their property.
Abby turned to her old nemesis, but instead of the painful loss of physical and mental control that had been her life for decades; she felt her body and mind war and rage within. Damocles watched helplessly as Abby's body and mind fought the transformation with its new reinforcement, her screams of pain making him doubt everything until they finally subsided. Damocles looked cautiously inside the reinforced room, and his heart skipped a beat as he saw that though weary, his wife still looked human. He began carrying diagnostic spells at her to confirm it, which brought her back to full wakefulness. The only sign note of her condition was the eyes that reflected the light in a way no human eye ever could.
"It worked," they said in a unison exclamation of surprise and relief. There were no words between them for a long time, and Abby was the first to regain her full mind. She began undressing, casting cushioning and warming charms in the room.
"Abby, what are you doing?" Damocles asked in confusion.
"I always told myself that if we ever found a cure, we could finally have a child," Abby said as she finished carrying and began taking of her underthings. Damocles took a minute to put two and two together, but when he did he was almost treating if his clothes in his need to be naked and with his equally naked wife.
Howls of an entirely different nature to the usual filled their house that night.
"Commander, we have a person of interest approaching R-Room," one of the goblins on duty next to the hologram reported. Shepard walked over to confirm, seeing the little dot marked Draco Malfoy heading towards the Room of Requirement, but without his usual bookends.
"Alone? That's not usually his style," she mused.
"Should we intercept?" the duty officer asked.
"Are there any infiltrators close enough to him before he gets inside?" she asked back.
"One, but it will be close."
"Follow him inside if possible. I want to confirm what he is doing."
"Aye," the officer replied, relaying orders to the near invisible goblin one floor below Draco.
Shepard watched for a moment, and then made a decision she hoped she wouldn't regret later.
Draco had no problem getting into the room; it was what he found once inside that was the problem. He had not expected to find a space larger than the Great Hall packed to absolute bursting with the junk of centuries. The house elf he had asked did not warm him of this, though it wasn't a malicious omission, Draco simply hadn't asked for more detail than the room itself and how to get inside. An oversight he promised would not be repeated if he wished to live long enough to fulfill his task. As he started his search, he did not notice the door behind him had not fully closed. He was too far away to biotics when someone else slipped in several minutes later.
Draco cursed and muttered for what felt like hours as he trudged along rickety paths through the junk room. He had lost track of the time when a bright light flashed in the distance. Draco turned instinctively, wand out and ready, to see it was a purple beacon, pulsing gently. He advanced cautiously, wary of who might have followed him, dismissing the idea that it was some innocent coincidence. He took his time, trying to remain hidden while getting a look at who had interrupted him. He grit his teeth as he found Shepard standing under the beacon.
"Who goes there?" Draco called out, trying to disguise his voice. With a gesture, Shepard cancelled the biotic pulse she had used as a beacon, turning to look directly at where the teen was hiding. Her body glowed purple and her eyes lit up as the cybernetic implants compensated for the low light.
"I think we both know who we are, Mister Malfoy," she called back. Draco said nothing as he stepped out, his wand pointing downwards but ready.
"What do you want then?" he asked pointedly.
"I figured I would save both of us some time this year," Shepard said calmly. She pointed to a section of the cluttered heap that was blackened and misshapen.
"I think you will find, with the proper analysis, that the cabinet you were going to find has already been found by someone else."
"Why the hell would I want a piece of junk cabinet?" Draco asked with exasperation. In truth he was trying to control his panic, half of his plans this year had hinged on that thing!
"Don't take me for a fool, I have ways of finding information," Shepard countered. Draco looked away from her eyes, fearing Legilimency.
"So, unless you think you can do something with the ashes, I suggest you go back to bed Mister Malfoy, and save me the trouble of having to escort you back every time I catch you out after curfew. And don't think I don't know when you are. I know where everyone is in the castle," she added at the look in his eye.
"Is it curfew already?" Malfoy asked with faux innocence. "I must admit I've lost track of the time." Shepard said nothing, as he was correct in that it had still been before curfew when he had entered.
"Then let me escort you back to your common room," Shepard said neutrally.
"I think I can manage that on my own," Draco sneered.
"As a matter of castle security, I can't have students wandering alone after hours. Unless you want to go to your Head of House instead?"
Draco didn't want to be escorted, but he equally didn't want to give Snape another chance to interrogate him on his plans. Rookwood had warned him of the potion master, and not to trust him with any information of the task the Dark Lord had set.
"Very well Commander, I shall return to the common room." The walk back to the Slytherin dungeon was silent, and watched by many eyes as they passed.
"My duty is to protect the castle and its inhabitants Mister Malfoy," Shepard said finally add the reached the entrance to the common room. "I suggest you think long and hard on that," she said ominously. Draco gave no indication he had heard as he went inside, but his mind was racing as he went to his room.
The day was bright and sunny as Harri and Katie began setting up the pitch for the tryouts.
"Glad it's you and not me this year," Katie said as she looked at the hopefuls lining up.
"Can't be that hard, Oliver started earlier than I am," Harri replied.
"Oliver was also mad, remember?" Katie asked rhetorically. Harri had no problem remembering training sessions in weather that was absolutely dreadful.
"Well, maybe less like that hopefully," Harri said with a nervous smile.
The two of them looked over at the second create, one of four that had been delivered that morning by a team of human couriers, as even a parliament of post owls world have difficulty carrying it. Harri had almost snorted her juice as Professor McGonagall had asked if anyone knew who was behind the Soaring Bacon Initiative. It was almost worth it as Snape, resident DADA professor, opened the one largest one addressed to the school, only to find a stack of new, quality riding brooms inside. Madame Hooch almost flattened him as she rushed forward, her sharp yellow eyes widening in disbelief. That started a rush as McGonagall, Sprout and Flitwick rushed to open the crates addressed to them as Heads of House. Snape looked even less cheerful than usual as he realised that there was no crate for Slytherin.
"Well, this is interesting, it seems whoever is behind this gift feels that quality, safe brooms should be available to everyone who wishes to use one," Dumbledore said merrily. Only those close to him would have been able to spot the minor look of disapproval he sent Snape.
"Where is the crate for my house then?" Snake asked predictably.
"There's a letter here if you asked that question," Hooch said, holding out the sealed parchment as she read the bigger note and compared it to the crate's contents. Snake took the letter and began to read. Harri almost chuckled as Snape provided an admirable impression of her uncle Vernon that one time he'd gotten a letter from Inland Revenue. First it went white, then red, and verged on purple before he reigned in his temper, though only just.
"The answer to your question, Professor?" McGonagall asked.
"Apparently, the purchase of several new brooms for the Slytherin team four years ago was taken into consideration, though I can request the same brooms personally if I feel this is required," Snape bit out, almost tearing the parchment. He did not say that he would have to personally request it from Sirius Black, the one man on the planet he hated above all.
"I see," McGonagall had said with a small smile, having of course been witness to that expression on Snape for many years now.
On the pitch, Harri and Katie began to split up the hopefuls. There were too many fit the number of brooms, so they spilt them up for basic flying laps, quickly separating out those who had come for reasons other than quidditch. Once the serious contenders were identified, the two of them began testing for specific positions. They managed to find four potential chasers, not including Katie and Ginny, who had some talent but would need some practice to work well as a team. Peaks and Sloper were the best of a lackluster handful of beaters, but Harry would put work into all of them for future teams or potential to miss games. There was another girl, a tiny little thing from New Zealand, that Harry world work with as a replacement seeker for the future.
It was the keeper position that proved the most difficult. Most of them needed a lot of work before Harri would even consider them. Her problem was that the two best candidates still had major problems. Ron, for all that he seemed a natural talent, unfortunately let his head affect his performance. He made his first two saves, but missing the third obviously affected him so he missed the fourth, and the fifth save was down more to luck than skill. Cormac on the other hand was skillful and consistent, but his arrogance made it obvious he would be a terrible team player. Harry was also fairly sure she saw Hermione's wand wave when he missed the fifth save by a confusing turn. In the end, it was Katie who persuaded her that a better team was worth more than a better player. Cormac was unsurprisingly upset, but he was savvy enough not to do anything rash, especially with the goblins watching the proceedings.
Much though Harri would prefer not to go just to avoid Cormac once again trying to pressure her to dropping Ron and picking him instead for the Gryffindor keeper, she ended up going to the end of the month gathering Slughorn was hosting. She and Ginny had once again garnered invites, Neville declining after corresponding with his grandmother. Harri was surprised when she and Ginny entered the room to find a much larger gathering than had been on the train. Harri thought about it for a second and realised it made sense, on the train he hadn't had time to discover all the connections or potential of the students. After teaching for a month, no question he'd expanded his circle of hopeful influence.
They found their host looking a little lost as Luna talked at him. They recognised the look on his face, most of the DA last year had worn a similar one at least once.
"Hyacinth, Ginevra, good of you to come," Slughorn said, latching on to the newcomers as an excuse to change the conversation.
"Good of you to invite us Professor," Ginny replied. "Luna, can I ask you about something?" she asked the blonde, leaving Harri alone with Slughorn, but the teacher looked grateful indeed.
"That Miss Lovegood certainly takes after her father," Slughorn muttered.
"How is that?" Harri asked with an edge to her voice. Slughorn, consummate professional, knew that tone well, as well as how to diffuse it.
"A sharp wit and a quick tongue, speaking much but revealing little, like any good reporter," he said with a complementary smile.
Harri was impressed at his mental gymnastics, but the opportunity was also good to ask a question she'd been meaning to ask since she'd read more of her second hand potion text.
"Professor, did you ever teach someone by the name of Prince?" she asked.
"Seems an odd question," Slughorn commented. "Why do you want to know?"
"Whoever had the textbook I borrowed before me made some annotations in the margins. Useful ones too, from what I've read so far."
"Oh, well it's definitely going back a while, before even your parent's time, but I do remember a Prince. Can't quite remember her first name, I just remember it was such a shame she disappeared not too long after graduating."
"Did she die?" Harri asked.
"No, fell in love, which I suppose has some similarities. No, she met someone and withdrew from her job, which as I said is a shame, she was quite bright. If she's left you some notes, you'd do well to take heed. Anyway, I best keep mingling. Do enjoy yourself," Slughorn said, heading over to a group of students near the table he'd set up with food.
Harri didn't know what to make of that, or the fact he hadn't mentioned anything he wanted to offer her this time. He made no secret of the fact that he had all sorts of connections, yet aside from one mention that he knew Gwenog Jones of the Hollyhead Harpies, he'd made no overt offers to curry favor. Though as she was thinking, she caught the sight of the moving shadow near the ceiling, recognising the goblin stealth technique and wondering if it was someone she knew. She gave the shadow a wave anyway; unsure if the subtle movement afterwards was it being returned. She looked back down at the party, her chest feeling light as she caught sight of Ginny staring at her. She still hadn't been brave enough to talk to girl about how she felt yet, but given the way she blushed and looked away at being caught staring, Harry held out hope that it might not be one sided.
Lord Voldemort opened his eyes after what had seemed like hours with them closed. The process of reviewing his memories, of all the knowledge he had accrued in his time, had been a slow labor, but now was about to bear fruit. He stood up from his throne and strode purposefully forth.
"My Lord, how may I serve?" Rookwood said as he appeared at his side. Bella appeared soon after; her recovery obviously progressed enough for apparition.
"I have no need off you tonight," Voldemort replied coldly. His burst of energy had obviously bled through his connection to his servants. But he had no need or want of them this night, it would not do to give information, and therefore power, to those who could scheme to supplant him.
"Have you prepared to strike the league game?" he asked pointedly.
"Yes my Lord, we stand ready to serve and strike!" Bella replied devoutly.
"Then do so." Voldemort couldn't care less about the actual target, he just needed his minions busy and away from him. His servants bent to their task, donning robe and mask in expectation of violence. Voldemort waited until they were gone, before disappearing himself.
He appeared again, but did not recognise the place. Which made sense, for it was not marked on mortal maps, nor could it ever be charted conventionally. Only the coordinates for apparition existed in the mad scribblings and raving writings he'd discovered of a Middle East necromancer. The moonless night made it difficult to make out any detail of his surroundings, hearing more than seeing the faint ripples that distinguished the shore from the unknown sea. Voldemort waited for a moment, the writings never mentioned how long it would take, but soon he heard a disturbance out in the water, and caught sight of the hint of reflective eyes beneath the surface.
In the blink of an eye, the waters surged with movement, misshapen figures to horrible to be human breaking the surface. They moved with alarming swiftness belied by their monstrous forms, quickly surrounding the lone wizard. Voldemort responded, as the writer had, by surrounding himself with magical fire. The first of the monsters charged in unnerved, its body charred and ashen by the time it fell dead mere steps forward. Seeing its kin laid low, the rest of them held back warily, unwilling to advance, but not able to retreat. Voldemort waited again, for the thing the necromancer wrote would happen next.
It started with the monsters cocking their heads in unison, as dogs to some otherworldly whistle. Then he felt it as much as he heard it, a bass rumble at the edge of perception. The rippling water began to make tiny waves as the sound drove it, larger waves pulsing randomly. The things all looked towards the horizon as one, and Voldemort turned to see their master rise from the waves. It was like nothing he had ever seen before, a grotesque amalgamation of flesh from a dozen different things, all held together by eldritch lights and wires.
Its three mismatching, glowing eyes locked on to his own, and he felt a primal terror creep down his spine. It opened its massive maw and roared; a bass sound that felt like it was vibrating his very soul. This only increased his feeling that this may have been a mistake as he saw that inside the cavernous mouth there were dozens of human heads, there empty eye sockets glowing with unearthly light. This was as far as the necromancer had dared stay, leaving this encounter as his mind began to fray. Voldemort was made of sterner stuff, he had cheated death itself, and this thing would not scare him.
It advanced with a lopsided, ponderous gait until it was just outside the circle if fire, starting at him with cold, calculating look. Up close, Voldemort could see that it was even more horrible in the light, its slimy skin a horrible amalgam of parts of creatures he hoped he didn't recognise. The thing opened its maw again, this time speaking in an unknown tongue. The words themselves were unintelligible, but the intent behind them unmistakable.
"I am Lord Voldemort, and I am here to deal with you, foul thing," he said as confidently as he could.
"You speak of deals, when you should kneel before me," it replied in prefect English.
"I bow to no one, and I can offer much."
"Your offering has even less meaning than you do, mortal."
"I am no mere mortal!" Voldemort shouted hotly, temporarily losing his cool. He took a breath to centre himself, this beast's presence was affecting him more than he realised.
"I have beaten death already. I am immortal now!" he ground out forcefully. The thing looked at him more closely, as if peering at something beyond flesh and bone.
"A rudimentary solution at best," the thing said disinterested. "You fumble at the edges of reality, never knowing true power or immortality. I have lain beneath these waves since before your kind crawled from the muck you now stand on. I have outlived things stranger and more terrible than you, even death," it continued. "This exchange is over," it said, raising a fist of flesh and metal. Voldemort lashed out with spellfire, his eyes widening in realisation of how deep he'd stepped when a flickering purple field, identical to that of the woman who'd beaten him, manifested and absorbed his spell. But the shield was obviously weaker, blinking out as the third spell impacted and the subsequent spells collided with corrupted flesh.
"You know not that which do," the creature intoned ominously.
"Oh, but I think I do," Voldemort countered. "I have seen this power before."
"Impossible, this planet is barren of that," the thing replied, but slowed its next attack.
"Some might have called you, called us, impossible once," Voldemort said. "I have seen her though, fought her. Her power, unlike yours, is strong and fresh." The thing was still now, contemplating. It was true that what little reserves of element zero had been on this planet had been depleted over the eons, by time and by itself and others like it collecting it for the device that drove them, that gave them life and purpose. A new source would have to be investigated; perhaps these creatures had advanced further than it had seen. If so, maybe they needed to be included the next time, when the stars were right. But there were more immediate concerns regarding this person and their power.
"You will bring her to me, or I will prove to you that there are far worse fates than mere death," it threatened.
"I told you before, I bow to no one," Voldemort hissed. "If you want whatever power she had for yourself, you will have to join me and take it from her corpse." The thing, and the ancient device beneath the waves that fashioned it, considered this for what was for it eons, but to the wizard mere seconds.
"Your proposal is acceptable," it rumbled, turning its back on Voldemort and heading back beneath the waves.
"Aren't you coming with me?" he asked pointedly.
"We will contact you when we arrive by our own methods," the thing said dismissively, before it sunk below the waterline. Its minions watched him with dead, soulless blandness, before they too returned to the briny depths, leaving Voldemort alone as he had been on arrival.
Finally dispelling the fire he had summoned, he left this strange and unsettling place to return to England proper. He was greeted by the sound of revelry, the sight of his own minions celebrating.
"Report," he said with a slight twitch of mirth. A party like this could only mean that success had been had.
"Oh Master, it was glorious!" Bella reported quickly. "You should have been there, Serb their faces when we all came in! Half the targets didn't even know what hit them, and by the time the other half did, the whole place was anarchy. So much fun!"
Voldemort let her prattle on, he was no longer listening. This was a good strike at those who had thought that without having his people inside the Ministry, that he was finished. He knew it would not be so easy to strike at another event like that, but making that bitch Bones go crazy thinking about what he might do spread out her forces just enough so that he would have an easier time when he finally revealed what he was actually doing.
The only wrinkle now was his latest ally. While he was confident in his own power, that thing was a complete unknown. Was it powerful enough to actually kill him? Possibly, if even half of its mutterings had merit. The fact that it shared whatever source of power wielded by Shepard, a power that did rival his own, caused him not a little hesitation. It would be prudent then, to make plans to eliminate it once Shepard was removed.
A/N: Yes, I'm alive. No, I have no idea what possessed me to write in that last scene, but it feels so good.
Have fun trying to figure out exactly what it is. Bonus points for the first person to correctly guess the inspirations (hint, there is more than one!)
Also, Andromeda IS a great game, and EA are fools of the highest order to pay it so little love.