My first original novel, Strangers In Boston, is now available on Amazon under my pen name, T.S. Mann (get it?). It's free to Kindle Prime members and $4.99 to people who want to download the Ebook. Paperback copies are available for $12.99. The audio book version will be available soon. Check it out, and if you like it, please leave a review. Work on the sequel—Strangers In Dallas—proceeds apace. Chapters will be uploaded to my website and available for preview to patrons on the first of each month.

Sam Gabriel, the voice actor who is performing the audiobook of Strangers in Boston, is also reading Prince of Slytherin as a side project! The goal is an eventual (and 100% free) POS audiobook. More details on that later as they become available. The full backlog of raw recording sessions are available as a free download.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.

Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game

Chapter 17: A Busy First Week

Thursday, September 4, 1994
(Albus and Ted)

Early on Thursday morning, Healer Tonks had an unexpected visitor: the Headmaster.

"Good afternoon, Ted," said Dumbledore. "I hope I am not intruding?"

"Albus!" the Healer exclaimed. He paused to look around the room before grinning at his former teacher. "Luckily, you caught me at a time when I have no patients. Which, sadly, has been most of my first week here."

"Ah, that is a pity. I'd hoped more students would avail themselves of the benefits you offer. Have you not had any takers?"

"I'll start seeing Miss Granger next week for a half-hour every Wednesday. Her parents insisted. Other than that, no."

Albus looked thoughtful as he took a seat in front of Ted's desk. "Hmm. Well, hopefully that will change. But, in the meantime, I was wondering if I might be able to make use of your expertise."

"You want counseling, Albus?" Ted asked in surprise.

"Not … exactly. But I must nevertheless ask you for your Healer's Oath and that you activate the secrecy wards on this room."

Intrigued, Ted did so, and Albus finally felt it was safe to speak.

"Tell me, Ted. Do you have any experience with … psychic surgery?"

The Healer's eyes widened in surprise. "I wouldn't say I have experience with it. My specialty was not in Mind Healing, although I did have enough Legilimency training to understand the principles. That said, there are probably fewer than ten wizards in the world who are capable of performing true psychic surgery, and only two in this country. When just speaking of theory, I suppose I'm as knowledgeable as nearly any other British Healer."

He leaned forward with interest. "Why do you ask?"

Dumbledore hesitated. "I am limited in what I can say now, in part because of the operations of a Fidelius Charm that prevents me from speaking plainly. But I can say this much. It has to do with Voldemort."

Ted flinched at the name and then blushed at his own fear. "Go on."

"Without going into details overmuch, Voldemort was … the way he was because of an accidental misuse of natural Occlumency which burned out his capacity to feel love in any form and left him a complete sociopath. I wished to know whether there were any viable strategies for curing such damage."

"You … want to heal Voldemort?" Then, Ted caught himself. "And more importantly, are you saying that Voldemort is still alive?"

Of course, Ted Tonks was well-aware of the fact of Voldemort's continued existence. But Dumbledore was not supposed to know anything about the activities of the Azkabal. Granted, Ted had argued in favor of bringing Dumbledore into the fold, but the various Slytherins in the conspiracy (one of whom was his wife) were opposed for reasons that still eluded him. But Ted was acutely aware of the fact that, as one of the two Hufflepuff members of the Azkabal, most of the others worried that he was a security risk, so he fortified his Occlumency shields and then played dumb.

Few members of the other Hogwarts Houses ever realized the extent to which Hufflepuffs cultivated that skill.

"He is, I believe," Dumbledore said. "More importantly, I believe that he is still alive because of the damage he inflicted on his own mind. It is the very fact that he is incapable of experiencing or understanding the emotion of love that sustains the dark magic responsible for his longevity."

Ted's brow furrowed. "And you think that if he can be healed of that damage, it would end that longevity? That, paradoxically, healing him might be the only way of killing him?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Indeed. And you are correct. It is indeed quite a paradox that healing in this case might have fatal results."

"But Albus … I am not remotely qualified to do that level of psychic surgery. You should consider consulting with someone who has practical experience."

The older wizard chuckled. "Well, yes. But you yourself just said that there were only two Healers in Britain with the requisite practical experience. One of those is Clytus Burke and the other is Demeter Carrow. While neither of them was ever a marked Death Eater, they both have … connections that make me reticent to engage their services."

"Yes … yes, I can see why you would be. But still—I would have no idea how to go about even devising a treatment regimen for psychic damages as severe as what you describe for You-Know-Who."

"I understand. But what if you had, well, someone you could practice on."

"What?!" Ted spluttered. "Who on Earth would agree to having an untrained medical Legilimens experimenting on their mind?!"

"Me, actually," Dumbledore said with a sheepish grin. "As it happens, I have a psychic block that is very similar to the one affecting Voldemort. And I believe I can compartmentalize that block and allow you to study it without it damaging any of my faculties if something went wrong. Not that it would. I have complete faith in you, Ted."

"Well, that makes one of us," Ted scoffed. Then, he realized the import of the Headmaster's words.

"Hang on a minute. Are you saying that you have a mental block that interferes with your ability to feel love? Albus, I've known you for most of my life. You are one of the kindest, most loving wizards I have ever met! I refuse to believe that you are a sociopath and have just been hiding it somehow."

"That's very kind of you, Ted." Dumbledore said with a laugh. "But the damage I did to myself was more limited and more targeted than that which created Voldemort. I still feel love. I love my students. I love my co-workers and my friends. I love Hogwarts. And I love life and magic in general. I simply do not feel romantic love or even sexual attraction."

"That's still very serious, Albus. What led you to take such extreme measures?"

Dumbledore blushed slightly. "Well, the short version is—the first great love of my life broke my heart."

Ted was astonished. "And that was enough to make you swear off romantic love forever?"

"Oh, no! It caused me to do something much more foolish than that! Angry over my lover's betrayal and depressed over the recent death of my mother, I turned to drink. And then, to opium. And then, worst of all, I entered into a turbulent and extremely self-destructive relationship with a charming and manipulative psychopath who very nearly seduced me into becoming a Dark Lord. That liaison led to the death of my sister, my decades-long estrangement from my only remaining family, and, in a very roundabout way, to the bloodiest and most destructive war in modern wizarding history. And that led me to conclude that it would perhaps be better for everyone if I were no longer able to be manipulated by others simply on account of how attractive I found them."

Ted stared at the older man in shock.

Albus sighed. "It was a very bad breakup.".

1:00 p.m.
The Fourth Year DADA Class

"UNFORGIVEABLES!" bellowed Professor Moody to the Slytherin-Gryffindor DADA class. In response, nearly the entire class jumped slightly, both in response to the subject matter and the force of Moody's exclamation.

"We call'em that for a reason," he continued. "The three Unforgiveables are the only curses for which proven use is grounds for an automatic life sentence in Azkaban. Doesn't matter the circumstances. This isn't just because you can use 'em to hurt or kill people. There are thousands of spells that will do that. Rather, it's because that's all they're for. And worse! Using them makes you want to use them more! Regular use of an Unforgiveable strips away the wizard's morality and makes him more and more inclined to use that Unforgiveable in the future. In a very real sense, they are addictive! So, with that in mind, let's see who's done the reading! Longbottom! What are the three Unforgiveable Curses!"

Neville started at hearing his name called out. He knew the answer at once, but the Gryffindor couldn't help but sneak a glance towards the Boy-Who-Lived who sat next to him in the aisle seat. Everyone knew about Jim's connection to the Killing Curse, but Neville was one of the few who knew that he'd also been subjected to the Imperius. Then, Neville's heart clenched as he remembered the third Unforgiveable and the terrible damage it had wrought on his family.

"The Killing Curse, the Cruciatus, and the Imperius Curse, sir," the boy said confidently.

"Correct. Five points to Gryffindor. For today, we will only discuss the first two. The Killing Curse and the Torture Curse have a few things in common, and it makes sense to discuss them together. We'll get to the Imperius in a few weeks after I …"

Moody hesitated. "Well, after I get a few special lessons set up. For now, we will start with the Killing Curse. I won't cover the wand movement—for this or any other Unforgiveable. While the Killing Curse is not particularly hard, wandwise at least, I don't want anyone getting ideas. But the incantation is so well-known as to often be used as a synonym for 'the Killing Curse.' Avada Kedavra, derived from Aramaic for 'I destroy as I speak.' If cast properly, it manifests as a coherent pulse of green light that travels in a straight line out of the wand towards the target and flares bright enough on impact to illuminate a darkened room. Sort of like this."

And then, in a blur of motion, Moody whipped out his wand and pointed it straight towards Jim Potter!

"EVARA KATALA!" the ex-Auror bellowed, and there was a flash of green from his wand that shot across the room and struck the back of Jim's chair. Jim himself was no longer in the chair having hurled himself out of it and onto the floor before rolling up into a crouch with his wand already pointed at Moody.

"Heh!" Moody gave a gargled laugh. "Nice to see you're not just assuming you're immune to the thing, Potter. Ten points to Gryffindor for good reflexes."

Moody's eye whirled wildly for a second. "And two points to each of the seven people in the room who pulled a wand or took some other defensive action in response to what I just did. Minus three points from each of the twelve people who just sat there like slack-jawed gawkers while your DADA professor was firing green curses at a fellow student! CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"

Jim rose slowly and moved back to his chair with his wand still out. To his surprise, there was now a glowing green paint splotch about one-inch in diameter on the back of the chair. From its positioning, it would have struck him center-mass instead had he not dodged. He ran his fingers across it, and it felt dry to the touch.

"The Evara Katala, which I will be teaching you, was developed for training purposes in the 15th century by the Ottoman Magical Janissaries, the precursor to the Turkish Auror Corps. It has become part of the standard training program for Auror Corps around the world. While it looks and sounds as much like the Avada Kedavra as the requirements of spell design allow, it is completely harmless and merely tags whatever it hits with magical fluorescent marking that will vanish after about an hour. But most importantly, other than its non-lethality, Evara Katala behaves like the Killing Curse in terms of color, definition, speed, and range. If Mr. Potter here had so much as a drop of green paint on him right now, it would mean that a Killing Curse cast instead would have killed him."

Moody paused. "Well maybe not you, Potter. It's obviously an open question that we won't be answering in this class. But any of us mere mortals would definitely be as dead as a doornail.

"Anyway, when I say the spell mirrors the Avada Kedavra as much as possible, that includes one of the most dangerous aspects of the Killing Curse: There is no known shield spell capable of blocking it! It just passes through the strongest Protego Maxima like cobwebs. Which means if someone is throwing a Killing Curse in your direction, your best chance of survival is to dodge like Potter here did."

As Moody spoke, he paced around the room, his stump leg klunking loudly with each step. "But, of course, sometimes dodging isn't an option, whether due to terrain or other factors. So what can you do in such a EVARA KATALA!"

This time, the spell—cast mid-sentence for maximum surprise—targeted Harry Black. In a flash, Harry reached over to grab a startled Blaise Zabini by the shoulder before yanking him into the path of the spell. There was a flash of green light, followed by a tiny splotch of glowing green paint appearing in the center of Blaise's forehead. Harry released his friend who pulled himself back into his own seat with a huff.

"Seriously?!" Blaise snapped. Harry was unrepentant.

"Professor Moody said the spell was completely harmless, and I believed him," Harry said blandly.

Moody snorted. "An … interesting strategy, Black. Would you have used it if you hadn't known beforehand about the Evara Katala?"

"Probably not, sir. But my alternative would have been summoning your desk and interposing it in the path of the curse. The Killing Curse would have destroyed it, but I'm assuming your paintball spell would have just marked it with green paint right before it landed on Miss Brown and Miss Patil."

Both Gryffindor girls gave soft squeaks.

"Anyway," Harry continued, "if it had been the actual Killing Curse, I would not have considered using a human shield."

Moody gave him a look, which could either have been disappointment in his lack of ruthlessness or simple disbelief in his claim. Harry shrugged.

"Or if I did use a human shield, I would try to make sure it was … someone bad."

The professor just shook his head. "Ten points to Slytherin. And ethical concerns aside, Black is correct. The Killing Curse, once fired, will continue in a straight line, which means that if you dodge, it might just hit someone behind you. The maximum range is unknown and appears to vary from caster to caster. You-Know-Who reportedly nailed someone from a quarter mile away, but they say all kinda things about him. To be honest, a lot about the spell is unknown, and what we do know about the Killing Curse comes to us from the writings of dark wizards who were happy to use the damned thing and take notes. Ekrizdis wrote entire books on his experiments with the Avada Kedavra!

"That said, Black was on the right track. While the curse will instantly kill anyone if it so much as touches the hem of their robe, it can be dodged and it can be blocked with a physical object of sufficient size and mass. Or, as Black's strategy suggests, with any living creature, though it takes real skill to parry a Killing Curse with anything smaller than a large dog. As for inanimate objects, how big or tough it needs to be varies according to the caster's proficiency. A chair might be enough to block a particularly weak Killing Curse from an inexperienced caster. When You-Know-Who cast one, it would take something at least twice the size of a man and solid stone, if not harder, to provide any meaningful protection. And whatever you're using has to be real. It can be a transfigured object but not a conjured one. Cast Avis Oppugno in hopes of putting a flock of birds between you and someone aiming a Killing Curse at you, and it will slice right through them just as though it were any other kind of conjured shield.

"We'll be studying what Mr. Black here calls the Paintball Hex over the next few sessions before getting into practical strategies for defending yourself. Those same strategies would apply to the Cruciatus Curse, which can also bypass shields. And if it hits you …"

The man hesitated, and Harry shuddered as he recalled the memory of Moody's personal encounter with Voldemort that ended with the death of all of Moody's loved ones. Deaths that came only after Moody was forced to beg for it as an alternative to them all being tortured to permanent insanity with the Cruciatus.

"It hurts," Moody finally said. "It hurts so much that calling it pain is inadequate. It is every nerve in your body screaming all at once. And while the Killing Curse manifests as a green pulse that can be dodged if you're fast enough, the Cruciatus is a barely visible red flash when cast by someone inexperienced. When cast by someone who knows what they're doing? It's practically invisible! Very difficult to dodge. And if it hits you with even a glancing blow, the caster can then maintain that unimaginable pain indefinitely just by keeping their wand trained on you! Only the most powerful and experienced dark wizards can hold it for more than a few seconds, but three to five seconds will cause lasting psychological damage to most wizards and witches. And long-term exposure can …"

Moody trailed off as he made eye contact with Neville again. The boy's face was pale but resolute, and Harry contemplated the fact that they'd both had loved ones subjected to the Cruciatus. Of course, Harry had suffered the curse personally, but didn't consider it worth obsessing over.

"It was just Tiberius Nott," the Slytherin thought stoically.

Moody coughed loudly to clear his throat before resuming.

"We're covering the Killing Curse and the Torture Curse together because they have common characteristics. Neither can be blocked by any known shield spell, but they can be dodged or blocked by a sufficiently strong barrier. But there's another thing the two curses have in common. I am informed that you lot were taught by Gilderoy Lockhart about the nature of esoteric magic. Which is, frankly, astonishing in light of the quality of DADA instruction at this school over the last few decades. So I reckon Lockhart was a pretty good teacher right up the point that he went bug-nuts crazy and lobotomized himself.

"Anyway, all of the Unforgiveables are esoteric in nature. To be able to cast them effectively, you must be able to think a certain way as you do so. And both the Killing Curse and the Torture Curse share the same esoteric component: You must absolutely hate someone. Enough to kill them in the case of the former, or to torture them in the case of the latter. And more, enough to enjoy it. If you cannot bring yourself to contemplate strangling someone to death with your bare hands and a smile on your face, your Killing Curse won't do more than tickle. If you cannot imagine enjoying someone's screams as you flay them or stretch them on a rack or shove hot needles under their fingernails—whatever form of manual torture most pleases you—then you could never truly hurt them with a Crucio."

He raised a finger. "But! Here's the trick: The person you hate enough to do that to does not need to be the same person you wish to target with your curse. So long as there is someone for whom you have such burning hatred, such a willingness to take joy in their death or suffering, you can apply that emotional state to anyone you point your wand at."

The class was deathly silent as they contemplated that information.

"Any questions?" Moody asked. Hermione was the first to raise her hand, but to Harry's surprise, her question had nothing to do with the Unforgiveables.

"Professor, I had a question about the Evara Katala spell. Do you mean to say that it can also bypass shields? I thought only Unforgiveables could do that."

"Good catch. And yes, Evara Katala can bypass all the shields of the Protego series." Moody looked around the room. "It's not in the assigned reading and is actually pretty obscure, but does anyone have a clue why that might be? Another ten points to anyone who can guess."

Neither Harry nor any of his close friends knew, but he was quite surprised when Ron Weasley raised his hand.

"Does it have something to do with the fact that Protego means 'I protect,' and because your paint spell is designed to be completely harmless, a Protego shield doesn't recognize it as something to defend against?"

"Well done, Weasley!" exclaimed the ex-Auror. "I remember your dad being a dab hand with a Protego back in the day. Did he tell you about that little wrinkle?"

Ron blushed slightly. "Actually, it was my mum. See, when my brother Bill turned 17, Mum heard him using some bad language around the house, she told him that just because he could use magic freely didn't mean she couldn't wash his mouth out with soap. He laughed and said something rude, and she shot a cleaning spell at him. He threw up a Protego like it was nothing, but her spell passed right on through and he started coughing out soap bubbles!"

Moody laughed. "Molly! Bless her! And you're exactly right! A necessary design flaw in the Protego series is that there are certain spells that can pass through because they are deemed inherently harmless. Of course, a determined and powerful wizard can usually block even those spells. And anyway, none of the spells that can get past a Protego can actually hurt anyone. Well, not unless you're really, really clever about it!"

At that last remark, Moody's magical eye suddenly fixed itself for a second on Harry, and the boy wondered if Moody was challenging him to be really, really clever about that bit of magical trivia. Then, his eyes widened as he had an epiphany. The previous summer, Harry had participated in a major dueling competition in Paris, and he'd gotten to watch the World Class duelists in action. Unlike the lower competitive levels, which made use of approved spell lists appropriate to each age group, the World Class competition just had a list of banned spells. He'd forgotten to ask Regulus about it, but until now, he'd wondered:

Why on earth was Scourgify banned in World Class competition?!

Six o'clock on Thursday evening
(Albus and the Dark Lord)

Seconds after the Headmaster knocked on the door, a voice called out "Enter!" He did so and found a very surprised Alexander McAvity looking up at him from his dinner.

"Headmaster! What a pleasant surprise! Though I fail to see why you should knock before entering. You are my jailor, after all."

"I prefer to think of myself as your host, Alexander," Albus replied.

"And I would prefer to think of you that way as well, but as I am confined to this room for the foreseeable future…" McAvity grinned amiably.

The Headmaster shook his head. "I should remind you, Alexander, that you were the one who requested sanctuary here. And I do believe that your accommodations are far better than you might have had in a DMLE holding cell. Or worse, Azkaban."

"Yes," McAvity drawled. "I suppose that's the level of intelligence I would expect from the British Ministry. So has there been any progress in resolving this dispute?"

"That was the purpose of my visit. I have negotiated an interview between you and Amelia Bones, the Chief Auror, for next week. Amelia is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect, and I believe she will strive for a diplomatic solution to this … situation."

"Just the Chief Auror?" the expatriate asked mildly.

"I will also be present to mediate, Alexander." Dumbledore coughed into his hand. "I should inform you that Barty Crouch will also be in attendance in his capacity as the nation's top diplomat."

McAvity barked out a laugh. "Oh joy. And I'm sure he'll be quite diplomatic, too. It's not like he blames me for the murder of his wife, after all. Even though it happened months after my banishment. Still, could be worse." He gave the older wizard a pointed look. "Your government could have sent that Death Eater currently serving as DMLE Director to interview me as well."

"Alexander," Dumbledore chided.

"Look me in the eye, Headmaster, and tell me that you believe that Corban Yaxley only served You-Know-Who because of the Imperius. Or Lucius Malfoy. Or Tiberius Nott. Or Randolph Parkinson's boy."

"Actually, I've always suspected that Andrew Parkinson may well have been Imperiused. Randolph was an unrepentant bigot and blood purist, but he was a staunch believer in law and order."

McAvity laughed. "Oh, don't I know it! You may recall that he was the DMLE Director who wanted me sent to Azkaban for publishing academic papers under the name of a falsified Pureblood. Law and order in the service of a fascist regime is not something to be commended, Headmaster."

"I do understand your feelings, Alexander, but the fact remains that the elder Parkinson vigorously opposed the Death Eater Insurgency and was assassinated for it. And Andrew Parkinson, who I happen to know was a devoted son, joined the group that killed his father and later claimed—convincingly, in my opinion—to have done so only under the Imperius."

"That still doesn't excuse leaving them in power. At a minimum, everyone who bore the Dark Mark should have been stripped of any Ministry positions and Wizengamot titles. Even if they were innocent, they proved themselves too weak-willed to be trusted with the power the undeservedly have."

Dumbledore shook his head. "I did not come here to debate political history, my friend. You know as well as I the social and political forces that would have torn the nation apart had we disqualified that many Wizengamot members and other influential wizards whose Imperius defenses had been ratified by Minister Bagnold."

He peered over his glasses at the expatriate. "And I hope, Alexander, that you can refrain from bringing up such unpleasant history in your meeting with Chief Auror Bones and Director Crouch."

McAvity raised his hands as if to appear nonthreatening. "I'll be on my best behavior. But this nation has silenced the voices of the Mudbloods for too long. Things are bound to change whether the Purebloods like it or not."

The Headmaster frowned. "I do wish you would not use that word, Alexander."

"What, Mudblood? After all these years, I'll be damned if I cede the power of that word back to those for whom it's only an insult. I'm just sorry I didn't pack any of my old 'Mudblood Pride' t-shirts for this trip, assuming any of them still fit."

Albus sighed discontentedly. "I am well aware of your feelings, but that attitude at this moment in time … Well, it makes me quite reticent to move on to the other matter I wished to discuss."

"Oh? What other matter?"

The Headmaster reached into his robe and removed an envelope. "Assuming that the legal issues are resolved and you are free to leave this room … a request has been made of us."

McAvity's forehead creased in surprise. "What sort of request?"

"Well, to be more accurate, it's a petition presented to me by one of our students pursuant to the Hogwarts Charter provision governing student organizations. It asks that I extend an invitation to you to give a lecture on the history of the Muggleborn rights movement of the 1960s and the events which led to your forced departure from these shores."

"A lecture? And who at this school wants to hear from little old me about ancient history?"

Albus handed the envelope to McAvity, who opened it and reviewed the first few lines.

"Hmm. And who, pray tell, is Hermione Granger, the President of … SPAM?!"

Meanwhile at the First SPAM Meeting of the Year

"Are you INSANE?!" Justin Finch-Fletchley practically shrieked at Hermione after her dramatic announcement. "You invited WHO to come deliver a lecture?!"

Hermione glared at SPAM's treasurer almost disdainfully. "Under the circumstances, I'll resist the urge to say, 'you know who.' And yes, I sent an invitation to Alexander McAvity to give a lecture to our group and anyone else who wants to attend. I mean, he's here in the castle, and he's easily the most famous Muggleborn in modern British history."

"Most infamous, you mean," Justin replied.

"Through no fault of his own, Justin! Mr. McAvity was a civil rights leader attacked by the government with fabricated charges and threatened with imprisonment and death before he was exiled. It's a story we Muggleborn should all know well if we've studied the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others! His story is our story!"

Then, Hermione's eyes flashed angrily. "Unless it's no longer a part of your story … Heir Prince."

Justin almost shot up out of his chair before Kevin Entwhistle put a hand on his shoulder.

"That was uncalled for, Hermione," Kevin snapped. Before Hermione could respond, Jim Potter spoke up.

"I know you feel strongly about Muggleborn rights, but I kind of agree with Justin. You shouldn't have sent that invitation on your own before letting the rest of us discuss it."

Meanwhile, Justin fixed Hermione with an icy glare of his own. "Yeah, I mean, it's only the first meeting. We haven't even officially reelected you as President … yet."

That remark clearly stung the witch. "I … you …" Then, she deflated a bit. "Okay, that was a valid point. It was presumptuous of me to send the invitation without bringing it before the group. And I'm sorry, Justin. What I said was out of line. But I just think that, with everything going on right now, we really ought to take this opportunity to hear what McAvity has to say."

"And I agree," said Anthony Goldstein. "But … 'everything going on right now' includes our Pureblood classmates getting so angry at our mere existence as a club that they tried to poison us last year! I don't mind taking a stand for our civil rights—to be honest, it sort of runs in my family—but I think we should all know what we're getting into and discuss it as a group first. Inviting McAvity to speak to us after everything that happened at the World Cup is extremely provocative. You know that associating SPAM with McAvity will provoke the Hogwarts Death Munchers, possibly to violence!"

Hermione started to speak only to be distracted by the unfamiliar term. "Death … Munchers?"

"He means Junior Death Eaters," Jim explained.

"Excuse me!" said Tracey Davis, one of the new attendees. "Junior Death Eaters?! I know things got tense between SPAM and the CPS last year, but I really don't think anyone in the CPS wants any of you murdered! Also, as one of the few Slytherins in the room. I hope you're not assuming my house is full of … Death Munchers! As I recall, it was Cedric Diggory of Hufflepuff who took the blame for that stupid prank!"

"And he was responsible," added Susan Bones. "Because his mind was addled from that ridiculous Ultimate Sanction business. He feels awful about it, and he wanted me to ask the group if you would permit him to come to a future meeting and make a formal apology to us all. He also wants to talk to us about some sort of joint SPAM-CPS activities. 'Bridge the gap between us,' is what he says."

A few SPAM members quietly scoffed at that, but others seemed open to the idea of trying to cool the tensions between the two groups. For Tracey, it just raised a different question.

"So does this mean, Granger, that you're willing to forgive Cedric Diggory for his actions against this group last year?"

Hermione sighed. "If his apology is sincere and everyone else is willing to let bygones be bygones, then so am I."

"Uh-huh," Tracey continued. "And do you feel the same way about Daphne?"

Hermione stiffened. "What do you mean?"

"Look, I'm here because I'm a Halfblood. And barely that—I'm the daughter of a Muggle and a second-generation Squib. So, opposing blood purism is important to me. But Daphne is my best friend and my sister in every way that matters. And I know you have an intense dislike for her for some reason. If it's because of the CPS-SPAM divide, are you willing to forgive her for whatever she's done to make you so angry with her?"

The Gryffindor witch was silent at first, her impassive face revealing nothing of the emotions churning inside her.

"First, Blaise," Daphne said with a vicious sneer. "Then, Harry and Jim. And now Amy Wilkes has been stolen away by werewolves while two-thirds of your foster family was burned alive! Tell me, Outcast, is there anyone left who's made the mistake of caring about you that hasn't died because of it!?"

Hermione took a slow deep breath before answering. "It's not anything to do with SPAM or CPS. My issues with Greengrass are completely my own and will not interfere with any opportunities to make peace with the Cultural Preservation Society."

She looked around the room. "Is that satisfactory to everyone? Good. So, let's set the McAvity debate aside for now."

With some grumbling, the club moved on to other matters on the agenda. About an hour later, as the meeting was breaking up, Tracey approached Hermione somewhat contritely.

"Granger, I … I'm sorry if I stuck my nose in where it didn't belong. I hope you and Daphne can get past … whatever it is."

Hermione grimaced slightly. "It's … complicated. But like I said, I'll try to work past it and not let it affect our two groups."

Tracey nodded. "And for what it's worth, I also hope the CPS and SPAM can figure out how to get along as well." She hesitated. "To be honest, I wonder if the two groups don't have some mutual enemies out there."

"What do you mean?"

"Well … I'm sure you noticed that the Prophet claimed that the attack on the World Cup was driven by Australians supposedly working at the direction of McAvity. With some of them dressed as Death Eaters to sow confusion. That's what the DMLE claimed, anyway."

The Gryffindor witch bristled. "I've read those news reports, yes. I think it's nonsense."

Davis held up her hands reassuringly. "I know, I know. But the thing is … I don't think it was just a matter of two groups of people wearing different costumes. One of the attackers grabbed me and tried to take me hostage. Luckily, Lord Malfoy was there and … took care of him. But the guy landed on the ground right next to me. I'm certain that he was wearing Death Eater robes, as were the other two that the Weasley Twins took down. But Daphne and Astoria were right next to me, and they were convinced that the attackers were dressed as masked Australians. We were all looking right at the man's body, but we saw him in different clothes."

By that point, Jim Potter had approached the pair.

"Hang on," Jim said. "Are you saying that the people who attacked the Cup wore, what, enchanted clothes? That were designed to make people see what they were most afraid of?"

Hermione's eyes widened. "No, not what they were most afraid of. But what they were most afraid of out of two options: Death Eaters or Australian partisans!"

"What makes you say that?" Jim asked.

"My father! He was there as well. As a Muggle, he had no preconceived ideas about either Death Eaters or Australian Muggleborns working for the Dark Lord McAvity. And to his eyes, the people who attacked us were just wearing plan white robes and hoods. He initially though they were the KKK!"

The other two looked at her blankly. "It's an American white supremacist organization. It was in the news a lot in the 50s and 60s during my dad's school days. They wore plain white robes."

"So, who would want to provoke both sides of the blood purity debate at once?" Tracy asked.

Hermione frowned. She, of course, knew of someone who'd been working on both sides of that divide for decades: Tom Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort. But how she knew that wasn't something she could share right now. After the three talked for a few minutes more, Tracey made her good-byes and departed, leaving Jim and Hermione alone in the room.

"Listen, Hermione," Jim began cautiously. "I just wanted to say—if you want me to, I'll stop coming to SPAM meetings."

"What? Why?"

"Because so long as I'm here, Harry won't be. And it looks like neither will Theo or Zabini. And while I love SPAM, I don't want that stupid Oath of Enmity to come between you and them. It's bad enough that Ron's skipping out because I'm here."

Hermione looked at the Boy-Who-Lived sadly. "It's alright, Jim. Whatever has come between you and Ron, I'm sure it will pass. You and he have been friends too long for it not to. As for Harry … well, he's made his decision. And anyway, we're still in the Innovation Club together. SPAM this year is more about promoting the rights of Muggleborns and Halfbloods now instead of just supporting Theo No-Name and organizing against mind control magic in general. I want you to stay in SPAM so long as you enjoy being here."

Jim smiled and then said his goodbyes. As Hermione packed up her notes, she thought about what he'd said and tried to work through her own feelings. Harry had, of course, explained to her that the Oath of Enmity would make it hard for him to be in the same room with Jim for any length of time, and she understood that. She truly did.

It was where Harry had decided to spend his time instead of SPAM that rankled.

The first meeting of the Cultural Preservation Society
(Which was held at the same time on the opposite side of the castle)

As soon as Harry entered the CPS meeting, all eyes were upon the Silver Trio. Blaise and Theo flanked him. Harry had planned for them to attend both CPS and SPAM meetings to be his eyes in the latter group, but at the last minute, the CPS meeting time was changed to coincide with SPAM's. Daphne assured Harry that it was unintentional and that the two groups would work out a mutually agreeable schedule just as soon as she and Hermione could "come to terms," whatever that meant.

Harry quickly scanned the room. The Cultural Preservation Society presently hosted about fifty students from all seven years. More than twenty of them were Slytherins, but a third of that contingent consisted of Harry and in-house allies there at his request. He could see Amy and Ginny over by the refreshments table. Ginny was chatting animatedly with Michael Corner, a Ravenclaw in Harry's year and (as near as Harry could tell) the only other Halfblood in the room beside himself. Amy was nearby conversing with Neville and the Greengrass sisters, though Harry noticed Daphne sneaking glances in Ginny's direction.

Elsewhere, Harry noticed Cassius Warrington's coterie clustered together in a corner: Cassius himself, Derrick and Bole, Vincent and Drusilla Crabbe, and the Carrow Twins. Also with that group was Greg Goyle, who turned in Harry's direction and nodded in a manner the boy probably thought was subtle. Harry frowned. Greg had volunteered to stick close to Warrington's clique in hopes of getting useful information, but he was woefully transparent, to the point that Harry was considering reassigning him to watch over some other group. Then again, Warrington was probably the brightest person in that faction, and he seemed taken in by Goyle's apparent loyalty. Harry looked away after giving a barely perceptible response gesture.

In another corner sat a group of Pureblood Quidditch fanatics: Diggory, Chang, Pucey, Bletchley, and young Ewan Urquhart, among several others, all grouped around what appeared to be an Eye-Spy mirror showing one of the QWC matches. A Second Year Slytherin, Urquhart showed great promise at Quidditch, and Adrian was already pushing him as a replacement Chaser for next year's team once he was gone. More importantly (from Harry's perspective, anyway) was the boy's family pedigree. While not a Noble family, the Urquharts had a long history in wizarding politics, and Ewan's late great-uncle, Elphinstone Urquhart, had served a lengthy term as DMLE Director. And somewhat amusingly, Elphinstone had also briefly been married to one Minerva McGonagall! Harry had not been aware of that little fact the year before (he had been quite preoccupied as a Third Year), but he resolved to strike up a conversation with Urquhart, if only to find out the boy's thoughts on his erstwhile aunt.

Harry was distracted from his sudden interest in young Urquhart by an unexpected voice.

"Oi! Black! Welcome to the party!" exclaimed a surprisingly amiable Cormac McLaggen loudly enough to startle the Trio. Then, the Fifth Year Gryffindor paused as he drew near, and his brow furrowed in confusion.

"By the way, have we been formally introduced yet?" Cormac asked with genuine curiosity. "I know your brother—or whatever he is to you now—fairly well, but that's mainly from us glaring at each other across the Common Room. But I don't think we've interacted beyond you kicking my cousin Angus's arse when you were a Second Year. Blimey, he was furious. Said you hit him with an Incontinence Hex!"

"Um … sorry?" Harry replied tentatively. Cormac barked out a somewhat abrasive laugh.

"Don't worry about it! The gormless tit deserved it! He liked to use that hex on me when I was little!"

Then, he thrusted his hand out. "So anyway … Cormac McLaggen, Gryffindor Fifth Year."

After a tiny hesitation in response to the older boy's forwardness, Harry reached out and shook McLaggen's hand. "Hadrian Remus Black Lord Wilkes, but I prefer Harry Black. Or just Harry to my friends."

"Harry it is!" Cormac then turned to Harry's associates and introduced himself to them as well with the same brash cheerfulness. Bemused, Blaise and Theo introduced themselves and returned the older boy's handshake, which was firm but not intimidatingly so. Then, Cormac leaned in towards Theo.

"And before we go any farther, Theo. I'd just like to say I hope there are no hard feelings about last year. I said a lot of things I probably shouldn't have back when you were an Evil Outcast or whatever. And I think I probably hexed you a few times in the halls, but nothing serious. What do you say? Water under the bridge?"

Theo blinked, not just due to Cormac's clumsy pseudo-apology but also due to the complete sincerity with which it was offered.

"… Sure, Cormac. Water under the bridge."

Meanwhile, Harry glanced over to Blaise as he was wondering why the boy had not said anything sarcastic yet only to do a double take upon seeing how the normally unflappable Blaise Zabini was oddly fixated on the Gryffindor. And also visibly flushed. Harry sighed internally. "Hormones. Is no one immune?"

Then, Harry looked over Cormac's shoulder at the refreshments table and saw that Daphne had noticed them. The poor girl was visibly aghast at the fact that Cormac McLaggen had somehow become the person to welcome Lord Wilkes and his entourage to the CPS. He fought down the urge to snicker at her dismay.

"So anyway," Cormac continued after taking a swig of punch (which might have been spiked, but Harry wasn't sure). "I wanted to give you some late congratulations, Harry. I got to see your final round at the dueling competition in Paris, but my family had to leave early. You were bloody amazing!"

"Thank you," Harry said. "Are you interested in dueling?"

Cormac shrugged. "I dunno about circuit dueling, but I thought I might want to be a Hit Wizard some day and that I might need to get better in a fight." He paused thoughtfully. "Say, do you ever do any wand fencing?"

"Wand … fencing?" Harry asked in confusion, but it was Theo who answered .

"It's a technique for using a wand like it's a melee weapon. Lucius Malfoy was going to give me lessons at one point but then … stuff happened. It's fallen out of fashion in Britain, but I think Beauxbatons teaches it as an athletic sport for kids who can't make the Quidditch team."

"Yeah, that's the ticket!' Cormac exclaimed excitedly. He quickly drained his punch and then glanced around the room for the nearest waste basket, which was about twenty feet away. He took aim for a second and tossed the cup into it.

"Yeesss!" he hissed (though not in Parseltongue) and pumped his fist as if he'd made some remarkable Quidditch goal. Then, he pulled out his wand and pointed it upwards.

"Basically, it's a modified Stinging Hex, but instead of shooting out of the wand tip to strike someone at range, it forms a narrow tube that stings anyone you touch with it. Like this! GLADIUS MORSUS!"

There was a mild commotion from the nearby students as, with an audible whoosh, a three-foot-long column of pale blue light shot forth from McLaggen's wand. Blaise's eyes widened.

"There's a spell to make a lightsaber, and I'm just now hearing about it?!" he exclaimed.

"Hmm. Never heard it called that, but sure! I mean, it's not a great weapon compared to what a regular wand can do. It can't actually hurt anybody."

To prove it, McLaggen slapped the "blade" against his palm only to spit out a loud "ouch" followed by an equally loud "Shit!" which was finally enough to get an angry Daphne Greengrass headed in their direction.

"Well, it can't hurt worse than a regular Stinging Hex, anyway," Cormac said with a laugh. "I'm trying to drum up interest in CPS for a wand fencing group. I reckon we could get Ole Flitwick to teach us. He used to be a dueling champion, you know."

"So I've heard," Harry said, as if Flitwick hadn't spent the previous year as one of the faculty advisors for the Hogwarts Dueling Club.

"Why just in CPS?" Theo asked innocently. "I'm sure there's plenty of people in SPAM who'd like to whale on CPS members. And vice versa."

Far from being offended, Cormac's eyes lit up. "I like the way you think, Theo! Say, aren't you in Potter's Woozy Dough group? Maybe we could combine them!"

But before Theo could correct the Gryffindor's mispronunciation of Wu Xi Do, they were interrupted by someone else.

"CORMAC!" said Daphne in what was not quite a shriek. She took a deep breath and started again. "Sorry to intrude, all of you, but Cormac dear, would you mind helping Cedric set up the chairs for tonight's lecture?"

"Oh, sure thing, Daphs!" Cormac said easily as he dismissed his "wand-sword" with a flick of his wrist. Meanwhile, Daphne's eye twitched slightly at being referred to as "Daphs." But before Cormac had taken two steps, he turned back to Theo.

"Hey, now that we're friends, you wanna get together after the meeting and talk more about fencing and dueling and Woozy Dough?"

"Uh … sure?" Theo answered while hiding his confusion about the state of his new "friendship." Cormac grinned and gave him two thumbs up before he walked away to help Cedric, whistling as he went.

Daphne glared after him before composing herself and turning back to the Trio.

"My apologies to you all for that … whatever that was. And let me officially welcome you to the Cultural Preservation Society."

"Thank you," said Harry. "We're glad we could come … Daphs?"

The girl's eye twitched again. "Daphne is fine. Please ignore Cormac's … exuberance. He's a Gryffindor, so allowances must be made."

"I'm sure," Harry replied. "Especially for a Gryffindor who's the nephew of the newly appointed Director of Magical Transportation."

Daphne gave him a knowing look. "Just so. Come, let me introduce you to everyone."

With that, the Greengrass Heiress took Harry by the arm and led him away, leaving Theo and Blaise following behind.

"So," Theo said under his breath. "Does this mean you'll be taking up Wu Xi Do with me?"

"Pfft! And why on earth would I do something as foolish as joining a martial arts class that meets at 8:00 am on Sunday mornings?"

"Perhaps because it looks like Cormac McLaggen is going to join it? And probably be shirtless a lot as well."

Blaise glanced over in McLaggen's direction. "Eh, he's not that good-looking."

Friday, September 5, 1994
7:00 p.m.
Organizational Meeting of the Innovator's Club

"BLOODY HELL!" exclaimed Sue Li, as she examined the parchment in front of her.

"Language, Sue" chided Hermione as she unfolded her own parchment. "There's no cause to resort to vulgarity just because BLOODY HELL!"

"Language, Hermione," most of the group chided practically in unison even as several of them were just as astonished by their own parchments as the Gryffindor witch.

At present, the Innovator's Club consisted of ten students representing all four Houses, and, except for the Weasleys, each of them was either a Muggleborn or a Halfblood who'd been raised in the Muggle world. And the various exclamations now being uttered were caused by the profit statements from Eye-Spy, Inc. which Harry had just passed out to his junior business partners—Hermione, Anthony, Sue, Ginny, George. (Fred was absent from this meeting.) While hardly a fortune, for underage students, it was a lot of money. The senior business partners—Sirius, Lucius Malfoy, and Malcolm Finch-Fletchley—would be getting their statements directly from Gringotts.

"And there's more than that coming soon," Harry announced. "I got official confirmation from my solicitor this morning. Ludo Bagman signed a contract for Eye-Spy coverage of the Triwizard Tournament! We'll be issuing Gringotts bank drafts from that agreement to all of you who participated in Eye-Spy development last summer in accordance with our contracts on the first of the month. Just in time for the first Hogsmeade weekend, I should think."

That revelation sent another wave of excitement through the group, and Jacob Harrison (a Third Year Ravenclaw who was at the top of his year) raised his hand.

"So, um, for those of us who weren't on the ground floor of your business venture … how do we buy in?"

Beside Harrison, Colin Creevey nodded earnestly. While perhaps the least academically gifted of the Innovators, Creevey was one of the best in his year at Charms and (surprisingly) Potions, and he was following in Harry and Hermione's footsteps by taking Ancient Runes and Arithmancy as his Year Three electives.

Harry smiled at the two Third Years. "You can buy in … by impressing us. Jacob, keep doing what you're doing. Colin, get the rest of your core classes up to the level of your Charms grades. Do that, and we'll get you both scholarships to the summer program at Blackstone as well as an employment contract with the possibility of an ownership interest in one of our companies."

"One of?" Colin asked in surprise.

Harry nodded. "While we're all working together under the umbrella of The Innovator's Club, we each have our own interests and specialties. To keep things separated and also to keep the bookkeepers happy, we each have our own companies. Well, for whatever the term 'companies' means in the Wizarding World. Ask Justin Finch-Fletchley about it if you want a rant on how dumb Magical Britain is about corporate identities."

"And believe me," Justin spoke up. "It's very dumb."

"Anyway," Harry continued. "Hermione and I are listed as the owners of Eye-Spy, but everyone helped out with that last summer and so we agreed to share some of the profits from that. Fred and George own Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes…"

"Or 3-Dub, to our friends," George interjected.

"Ahem, 3-Dub, which is the research and development wing of what will eventually be their joke shop. And finally, Anthony and Sue's projects fall under The Goldstein Group, at least until Sue's had enough and browbeats Anthony into changing the name."

Everyone laughed as Harry turned towards the two Ravenclaws. "So, what's the big project for TGG right now, or are you not abbreviating your company like the Twins?"

"How about we compromise and just call it The Group?" said Sue acerbically.

"We'll talk later," replied Anthony before he turned towards Jacob Harrison. "And I'm sure we can find a place for a clever young Ravenclaw and take him under our eagle wings."

Jacob favored Anthony with a disdainful expression. "I'm sorry. Is that the sound of a Fourth Year Ravenclaw being condescending that I hear?"

Anthony flushed slightly, but Sue just laughed and then explained when the others looked at them funny.

"There are ten Claws in our year, but only three are ranked in the top ten school-wide and no one higher than third: Padma Patil, who after three years still can't seem to catch up to Harry and Hermione. Ant and I are presently in fifth and seventh place, respectively, which, in the eyes of our Housemates, makes our year one of the dumbest Ravenclaw classes in Hogwarts history. But anyway, to answer your actual question, Ant and I are blatantly ripping off those communication parchments you and Hermione made back in your First Year. We're trying to figure out how to network several of them to allow for group communications and also allow for a longer range."

"Oh, and don't forget about the Aqua-Brooms," Anthony added drily. "Can't forget them, can we?"

"… Aqua-Brooms?" Hermione asked.

"We're working to perfect Harry's idea for a submersible broom," Anthony explained.

Even Harry, who came up with the idea, seemed dubious. "Aqua-Brooms, huh? Do you think there's really a commercial value in that?"

Sue sniffed condescendingly. "Not everything has to be about money, Black. Having studied your notes and the magic involved, I want to build a functioning submersible broom as an academic exercise."

"And also because you want to find Atlantis," Anthony said sarcastically.

"Shut. Up." The Asian witch snapped back.

But before any discussion of legendary Atlantis could commence, the entire group was startled when the door violently flew open, and Blaise Zabini burst into the classroom with a wild look in his eyes.

"I DEMAND THAT YOU PEOPLE MAKE ME A LIGHT SABER!" he practically bellowed.

He was met with complete silence, as the members of the Innovator's Club stared at the boy in openmouthed astonishment. Blaise coughed into his hand, and he looked around the room before speaking again.

"That is all."

With that, Blaise stepped back out of the room, pulling the door shut again behind him.

The Innovators looked at one another in confusion. Finally, Hermione sighed loudly, almost resignedly.

"Is there anyone here that would like to add 'make Blaise Zabini a light saber' to their to-do list?"

Jacob laughed. "Honestly? I've had 'build a light saber' on my to-do list since I first got my Hogwarts letter!"

As George Weasley was exiting the Innovator's Club meeting, he was surprised to see his brother Fred waiting for him down the hall. George frowned. Fred had been forced to skip the organizational meeting due to a detention with Snape. Probably a bad one judging by Fred's expression. The older Weasley Twin seemed visibly upset as he led George into an empty classroom and closed the door behind them.

"Right," George began. "What did the Dungeon Bat do that has you so twitchy and pale?"

Fred said nothing. He just held out a handful of parchments out for his brother to take. George did so and slowly shuffled through the papers. His eyes widened in surprise.

"These are formulas for our joke items! You mean you actually gave in and handed everything over to Snape?!"

Then, he looked closer and noticed that the pages were also covered in notes and markings drawn in vivid red ink.

"And he, what, graded you on them?!"

Fred just shook his head while he snatched the pages back and flipped through them.

"Forget about the grading, brother mine. Just look at this!"

George studied the page in his hand and his eyes widened. "This is our Canary Cream formula!"

"Yeah, but check the note at the bottom!"

The boy read the note his twin was pointing towards. Then, he grew pale, as pale as Fred was, as Snape's notation became clear.

"Foxglove and Essence of Toad in this combination will trigger allergic reactions in approximately 10% of all wizards and witches. In about 2%, the reaction will be fatal. In the future, I recommend you compare all of your exotic and untested concoctions against the Allergen Reaction Table found on page 75 of Jigger's Guide to Magical Poisons if you do not wish to see your activities lead to a lengthy stay in Azkaban."

George gulped. "Azkaban?"

Fred shook his head. "Forget Azkaban. I gave one of those cremes to young Colin last year! He spent three hours in the infirmary and that was a mild case!"

"You mean he was in that 10%?"

"Yeah, but it could have been so much worse. He had a one in fifty chance of dying! From one of our little pranks!"

The two stared at one another in silence for a moment.

"I reckon," George finally said, "that we need to take a step back and review our safety procedures some more. By which I mean, come up with some safety procedures, right?"

Fred nodded. "And before we do anything else, I think we need to invest in a copy of Jigger's Guide to Magical Poisons."

Ron Weasley's Room
Saturday Night
Just before curfew

Ron blinked his eyes and then tried for the fourth time to read his Charms assignment for Monday before finally giving it up for a lost cause. Pulling his wand out, he tapped it against the textbook and cast the spell he'd been taught to change the book's typeface. Then, he did it again and a third time before finally the letters resolved themselves into something he could read easily. Having temporarily overcome the effects of Mordenkainen's Disjunction, he resumed his studies only to be distracted by a knock on his door. The boy frowned in annoyance at the interruption before rising to open the door.

It was Jim Potter.

"Can I come in?" the Boy Who Lived asked timidly. After a moment of hesitation, Ron nodded and stepped aside.

"So, what can I do for you, Jim?" Ron asked as he sat back down at his desk. Jim looked around for a second before sitting on the bed.

"Well, I have two things for you. One … is an apology. Ron, I hate the fact that we haven't been talking all this time. So, I've decided that … well, you win." Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded parchment, which he held out to the other boy.

"Here's the other thing I have for you. It's my entry form for the Triwizard Tournament. I still think I can get in and have a decent chance if I did. But … I miss my best mate. Without that, there's no way I can enter the tournament without permission from my parents, which they won't give. I want you to be the one to destroy it so you know it's gone. I don't want there to be any doubt."

Ron's eyes widened in surprise. He took the parchment and unfolded it.

I hereby offer myself as a candidate to represent
Hogwarts in the Triwizard Tournament.
Name: Jim Potter
Parent's Name: James Potter

Ron's face flushed. "Jim … I … don't know what to say. I've been really worried about this ever since we last talked."

"I know, Ron. I shouldn't have let this come between us. Go on then."

Ron nodded and tore the parchment in two. Jim chuckled.

"Oh come on. You can be more thorough than that. I could still piece that back together with a Reparo, after all."

"I trust you, Jim," the other boy said earnestly.

"I'm glad, Ron. But I don't want there to be any doubts."

Ron smiled. Then, he placed the torn parchment fragments into a metal trash can and hit it with an Incendio. Jim watched the paper intently as it burned. A few seconds later, Ron followed up with an Aguamenti to douse the flames.

"Satisfied?" he asked.

"Only if you are," Jim replied before rising from the bed. "With that out of the way, I need to get to bed. I've got Wu Xi Do in the morning at 8:00 a.m. And now that this is behind us, I hope you'll come. I wasn't sure if you would, even though you're probably doing better than me at it right now."

Ron looked away bashfully. "I seriously doubt that. But yeah, I'll be there."

Jim nodded and headed for the door only to stop with his hand on the knob. He looked pensive suddenly.

"Ron? I won't be entering my name. But … I was serious about what I said last time we talked. It's still entirely possible that I'll somehow get pulled into the Tournament anyway. Some stupid Boy Who Lived thing or something like that."

"And if that happens, I'll be there right by your side. What else are best mates for?"

Jim grinned. "Glad to hear it. See you in the morning."

The boy departed, and Ron sat back down at his desk, now in a much better mood and with a somewhat dopey smile on his face.

Just a few moments later, Jim entered his own room and locked the door behind him. He was not smiling. The boy moved over to his bed and lifted the mattress a few inches with one hand. Hidden between the mattress and the springs was a folded parchment which he retrieved and looked over.

It was his Tournament entry form signed by his father. The original one, as the copy Ron Weasley had just incinerated was nothing but a product of the Gemino Charm. Jim stared at the parchment impassively, even as his stomach churned from the fear that Ron would never forgive him if and when the truth came out. Part of him wanted to destroy the original rather than lie to his closest friend, but somehow, he just couldn't bring himself to do so.

"I need this," he whispered softly before putting the entry form back in its hiding place and then laying down on the bed without even bothering to undress. For a long time, he just stared up at the ceiling in silence.

Later that night
The Entrance to the Chamber of Secrets

Harry stared up at the huge vault door with trepidation. With him were Theo, Blaise, Amy, and Ginny. Originally, it was just going to be Theo and Blaise, but after considering the matter, Harry decided that he couldn't completely exclude the possibility that his absurd quest—to seek out the latest version of Slytherin's Basilisk and milk it of venom!—might go horribly, horribly wrong, and of all of them, Ginny had the best Bat-Bogey Hex. When he explained that to Blaise and Theo, they both looked at him as if he'd gone mad, but then he explained that, astonishingly, the Bat Bogey Hex was one of the few curses capable of deterring a Basilisk, at least long enough for them to hopefully escape. And naturally, once Ginny had an invitation to return to the Chamber of Secrets, Amy refused to miss out on it a second time.

Happily, there would be no terrifying slide from Myrtle's bathroom to the Chamber this time, which was a good thing since Harry assumed that Dumbledore had placed wards on the sink entrance Jim had opened at the climax of their second year. Instead, after some cajoling, the Hydra Throne informed Harry about a different entrance complete with an elevator platform that was only accessible to the Prince of Slytherin. And so it was that just after curfew, the five Slytherins descended into the bowels of Hogwarts in search of one of the deadliest creatures on earth. Soon enough, the party reached the final entryway.

"Okay, we're here," said Harry. "Time to try out that spell I taught you."

Harry's four companions all nodded and cast the spell. "LINGUA SERPENSIS" they all said practically in unison, but there was no obvious effect.

"Was something supposed to happen?" Amy asked.

"I dunno," Harry replied. "Let's see."

He took a step towards the door and hissed at it. "Open." In response, the vault door unlocked itself and slowly moved aside. Harry turned back towards his friends.

"So, you guys hear that?" he asked.

"I just heard you say Open," Blaise answered.

"No," Harry corrected. "You heard me hiss Open."

All four looked at him with surprise.

"You mean to say it's that easy to learn Parseltongue?" Ginny asked incredulously. "Just a single spell?"

"Well, learn is overstating it a bit," Harry said as he led the group forward into the Chamber. "For the next half hour or so, you'll have limited access to Parseltongue. You won't be able to speak it, but you'll be able to understand a Parselmouth like me or Jim, and you'll be able to understand snakes that are naturally intelligent. Which is to say all the snakes found in portraits at Hogwarts, all of which are already smart enough to understand English. Oh, and possibly my Patronus since it's a snake that's also a manifestation of my will. We'll have to check that later. Magical snakes are 50-50. Runespores probably. Ashwinders maybe. Boomslangs probably not. Nonmagical snakes definitely not."

"Uh-huh," Theo said. "And Basilisks?"

"Good question," Harry said cheerfully. "We're hopefully about to find out without dying horribly in the process."

Blaise scoffed at that. "Dammit, Harry," Blaise snapped. "You're letting your Inner Gryffindor have its way again!"

Zabini and the other three looked to one another nervously and then followed Harry further into the Chamber. Moments later, they stood before the massive statue of their House Founder. Harry cleared his throat and then called out to the statue.

"Ssspeak to me, Ssslytherin, Greatessst of the Hogwartsss Four!"

"That's the password?" Amy exclaimed with a laugh. Harry just shrugged.

"There's a story behind it that's actually somewhat amusing, but we're on the clock."

As Harry spoke, the statue's mouth opened wide. All five Slytherins tensed and gripped their wands tightly, but nothing issued forth to attack them. Cautiously, Harry poked his head into the interior chamber before leading the others inside. The Hydra Throne had coached him on how to approach the Basilisk (assuming a new one had hatched already), but Harry was still a bit nervous, mainly because wherever Voldemort was now, he was still connected to the Ravenclaw Diadem, which gave him control over Slytherin's Monster. Did it grant direct control only when Voldemort (or one of his Horcruxes) was present? Or did it impose an actual loyalty onto the King of Serpents regardless of distance? That was the question of the hour.

The interior chamber was unchanged from Harry's last visit during the harrowing climax to his Second Year. It was a circular room with a domed ceiling that was about twenty feet at its highest point. Directly below that was an opening in the floor just a few feet across. Harry frowned. He was fairly certain he'd closed that the last time he'd been here. He crept closer. There was a recessed area below him, and inside, he saw eggshells where the Basilisk egg previously sat.

"Well, at least we know it's hatched," said Theo. "But where is it?"

Before Harry could answer, a powerful hiss echoed through the chamber.


Harry gulped but then steeled himself. "I do!" he hissed. "I am Harry Black, the Prince of Ssslytherin! This isss my inner circle! We are here on the Prince'sss businessss!"

There was a low rumbling sound that Harry thought was a sign of the Basilisk's displeasure.

"The lassst time a Prince of Sssslytherin came, he enssslaved my predecesssor and causssed her to attack ssstudentsss and teacherss alike. Your ssstatusss as Prince meansss little to me. Without the blessings of Salazar or Rowena, your power to ssspeak the Founder'sss Sssacred Tongue meansss even lessss."

Harry's friends looked around nervously, as there was no sign of where the voice originated from. Harry persevered.

"That isss why we are here, Great Basssilisssk. The lassst Prince to come here was Tom Riddle, who later went mad and became the Dark Lord Voldemort. It isss him we ssseek your aid againssst."

"And what do you asssk of me, Little Prince?"

Harry cleared his throat. "Your venom."

There was another angry rumble. "You ssseek the deadliessst venom on Earth and sssay that it is for a noble purpossse?"

"It isss! Riddle made powerful objectsss with the Darkessst magic to contain partsss of his sssoul! He cannot be defeated while they exissst, and we think only your venom can dessstroy them!"

There was a pause followed by a low, dangerous hiss. "Horcruxesss."

"You know about horcruxes?" Blaise asked in surprise. Everyone looked at him, startled by his voice as they'd all gotten use to Parseltongue hisses.

"I know many thingssss, Blaissse Zabini," the serpent's voice echoed. All five children wondered nervously just how the Basilisk knew Blaise's name … and what else it might know about them. "I remember the falsssse Riddle who wasss here the night my predecesssor died. And I know that Riddle usssed the Ravenclaw Diadem to exercissse control over my prior ssself."

"How do you know all that about Tom Riddle?" Theo asked. "For that matter, how do you know about horcruxes? Or us?"

"I know many sssecrets passed down from the daysss of the Founder. As for Riddle, though enssslaved by the Diadem and Riddle's Parssseltongue, my predecesssor could yet obssserve what wasss said here thossse many monthsss ago. And that knowledge wasss passed to me. Jussst as you are now a Sssecret Keeper to the Dark Lord's true name, Princeling, ssso am I."

That was followed by a low rumbling "ki-ki-ki." It was the first time any of Harry's companions had ever heard a snake laugh.

"How and what I know about each of you ssshall remain my sssecret for now."

Harry nodded slowly. "Interesting. Ssso, will you help usss?"

There was a hesitation before the Basilisk replied. "Yesss. I ssshall give you a sssmall quantity of my venom. But you mussst ssswear only to use it to dessstroy horcruxesss!"

Harry nodded and pulled out his wand before swearing an oath. It wasn't an Unbreakable Vow, but it would mark him as an oathbreaker if he used the venom for purposes other than destroying a horcrux. The others followed his lead. A few seconds later, there was a soft grinding sound as a small opening in one of the walls slid aside, and the Basilisk slithered into the room. The five Slytherins stared at it in amazement.

"That's … it?" Ginny asked dubiously, and the others shared her reaction. For Slytherin's Basilisk, the King of Serpents, was only about three feet long. It was a brilliant green and had crimson feathers crowning its head, a feature that marked it as a male Basilisk. But not even that plumage could overcome the let-down of seeing that the legendary monster was not much bigger than a common garden snake.

The Basilisk stopped and lifted its head as if to glare at them.

"Well?" the serpent hissed with obvious annoyance. "Go ahead. Sssay it."

"You're, um, a little smaller than we were expecting," Amy finally said.

The Basilisk snorted. "Thisss body broke free from its shell lesss than four monthsss ago, hatchling. What isss your excussse for being so sssmall?"

"Hey!" Amy said, but the snake ignored her.

"And besssidesss, you ssshould be grateful. After all, each of you is rather ssstupidly looking right into my eyesss. Were I older and grown into my full majesssty, my gaze would have petrified you all."

Harry nodded. The Hydra had already advised him that the Basilisk probably wasn't up to petrifications at this point in its life cycle, but he chose not to share that with the serpent.

"Ssso," he said instead. "It takes time for you to develop all of your powersss. Will your venom be asss powerful asss Basilisssk venom should be?"

Despite its small size, the Basilisk looked up at Harry quite imperiously. "It will take many more monthsss if not yearsss to develop my full potential, but I am ssstill a Basssilisssk. From the inssstant of my hatching, my venom was asss deadly asss that of any of my kind."

"That isss good to know … Great Basssilisssk," Harry hissed. "Ssso … what isss your name?"

The serpent looked intently towards Harry, and the boy got the odd but distinct feeling that the Basilisk was annoyed with him for some reason, if not outright angry at him.

"… Basssil," the creature finally said.

The five Slytherins stared at Slytherin's Monster in perplexed astonishment.

"Basil … the Basilisk?" Harry said uncertainly (and in English, for he was too surprised to even hiss). Behind him, both Blaise and Amy struggled to keep from snickering. Theo and Ginny were just as amused but also canny enough to know better than to laugh at a Basilisk, even one as tiny as this.

The serpent responded with a hiss of consternation.

"Asss you are a hatchling and thusss obviousssly ignorant of the sssubtler facetsss of the Founder'sss Sssacred Tongue, I ssshall explain. When a ssserpent is addressssed by a Parssselmouth for the very firssst time, that ssserpent'sss name is impresssed upon it by the inherent magic of Parssseltongue but filtered through the nature of the Parssselmouth in quessstion. It isss thereafter fixed and will not change during the ssserpent'sss lifetime, not even if the one who named it passssesss away. My predecesssorsss were all named by Great Sssalazar himssself and all carried namesss of dissstinction: Typhon, Medusa, Apophis, Manassa, Ophion, Adalonda. Sssadly, the firssst Parssselmouth to asssk my name wasss an impudent hatchling who imaginesss himssself to be … witty. And so, thanksss to you, Princeling, I ssshall, for the ressst of my daysss, be known asss … Basssil the Basssilissk!"

Harry winced at the intense disdain that Basil the Basilisk somehow imbued in an angry hiss. "Um … sorry?" Then, he reached into a pocket and fished out a glass vial. "So anyway … the venom?"

"Well, that was … interesting," Harry said to the others after the five Slytherins had returned to the Prince's Lair.

And it certainly had been an interesting excursion. After carefully milking the tiny Basilisk of its deadly venom, they had talked for a brief while with Basil, who, despite his earlier surliness, turned out to be an engaging and somewhat droll conversationalist, albeit something of a sarcastic curmudgeon despite his youth. Indeed, he reminded Harry in many ways of Professor Snape. The young Basilisk estimated that it would be another year or two before it could petrify with its gaze, and a few decades or even centuries before it reached the mammoth size of the previous Basilisk, Adalonda, who had been nearly a thousand years old when Jim Potter stabbed her to death back in 1993.

Basil was also a potential treasure-trove of information about both Salazar Slytherin and the other Founders as well as Tom Marvolo Riddle. Unfortunately, Riddle had commanded Adalonda never to reveal any of those secrets, and that command carried over into the Basilisk's rebirth as Basil. The Basilisk speculated that if the Ravenclaw Diadem could be recovered and cleansed of Riddle's Horcrux somehow, he might be free to answer Harry's many questions about ancient Hogwarts history. Or, alternatively, he might be free to do so if the Diadem were destroyed, but most likely only after Voldemort himself was permanently destroyed as well, a detail that gave Harry yet another reason to see the Dark Lord dispatched as quickly as possible.

After bidding his friends good night, Harry tapped the Lair's bookcase with his wand, and several shelves slid aside to reveal a hidden safe. It had no visible keyhole or tumbler but rather a lock consisting of several interlocking metal snakes that looked quite like the entryway to the Chamber of Secrets. Harry put his hand over the door and hissed a quote from Marcus Aurelius that Salazar Slytherin's memoirs had cited approvingly:

"A man'sss worth isss no greater than hisss ambitionsss."

The safe door clicked open, and Harry placed the magically reinforced vial of Basilisk venom inside, next to the Black Wand and the Potter Invisibility Cloak, before locking it up again. Then, he let out a chuckle over the events of the evening.

"Basil the Basilisk," he said to no one. "Merlin, what a strange life I lead."

The First Official Meeting of the Wu Xi Do Club
(Sunday Morning)

"Are you nuts?!" Padma snapped angrily at Jim. "I am nowhere near skilled enough to teach Wu Xi Do to other people!"

"Why not?" Jim asked, trying to reassure the young Ravenclaw. "You were a great teacher to me and Ron when we just got started."

"That was different! It was just two of you to start with, I really only taught you relaxation katas, and for most of our training we were under Brother Chandra's supervision! And now …!"

With that Padma Patil gestured angrily towards the other people who'd shown up on the Quidditch pitch for what had apparently blossomed into an actual school club. There were nearly twenty students in all, a mixture of all four houses. Oh, and one student in particular she knew quite well.

"If you don't feel like your up to teaching the class, Padma," said Parvati with a smug expression, "I'd be happy to take over. I mean, I've been taking lessons for as long as you, even if I slacked off after starting Hogwarts. Plus, you only studied Air and Water Styles, while I practiced all four."

"Please," Padma said coolly. "You studied all four styles, but you're only at level 7 in Fire Style and not even that high in the other three. That doesn't make you broadly experienced, it just makes you a dilettante."

"You take that back!" yelled Lavender Brown, who was incensed at the perceived insult to her best friend.

"Dilettante is not an insult, Lavender," Padma said in a weary voice. "It just means she doesn't take it seriously. Which she hasn't based on my personal observations over the last five years of our lives."

"Well, maybe I've decided to start taking it seriously," her twin said defiantly.

"Hey!" Ginny called out. "Are we actually going to do anything? Or just watch 'twin drama'? Because if I wanted to see that, I could just go find Fred and George and ask them which one of them was smarter."

Padma gave out a longsuffering sigh. "Fine. Let's do this."

Then, she cleared her throat and called out to the group.

"Okay, everyone, welcome to … the Wu Xi Do Club, I guess. For those of you who don't know what that is … well, I honestly have no idea why you're even here. But to greatly simplify, Wu Xi Do is an Eastern magical practice that involves using martial arts techniques as a way to channel magic through the body. It has a great many uses, from self-defense to stress relief to improving memory, brain power, and general magical fitness. Unfortunately, I should warn you all that none of us are very far above the beginner level of Wu Xi Do, so all I can really teach you are the basics. I'd been hoping that our teacher from last year, Brother Chandra, who you all know as Professor Lupin, would return."

She paused suddenly and turned to Jim. "By the way, where is Lupin? He said at the end of last term he'd be coming back to teach again."

Jim coughed with some embarrassment. "He's out of the country … doing stuff."

Padma looked at him blankly. "Gryffindors," she muttered before turning back to the group.

"Anyway, before I start, I'd like to know what you all know about Wu Xi Do, if anything, and also what you hope to get out of this experience." She frowned. "And also, I suppose, who all of you are because there's a few here I've never met."

She turned towards Theo, who grimaced at going first. "I think you know me already, since we studied together under Mr. Lupin all last year throughout his various name changes. I got a lot out of it and want to learn more."

"Susan Bones, Hufflepuff. I want to be an Auror someday like my Auntie. I thought learning a self defense style might be helpful. I don't really know much about it."

"Marietta Edgecome" said the somewhat haughty Ravenclaw. "Cho Chang nagged me into it. Said I needed to get out more."

Cho Chang gave a sour look to Marietta before speaking up. "I was born in Britain, but my family emigrated from Magical China, and I grew up with stories about Shamballa. I wanted to connect with my ancestry."

"Hello, all! Cedric Diggory, Hufflepuff prefect and moral support for Cho. Also, I'm trying out for the Triwizard Tournament, and I reckon I'll need every advantage I can get."

Cormac McLaggen stood with his arm resting on Theo's shoulder as if they were the best of friends. "I talked a bit about it with my mate Theo at the CPS meeting, and it sounded like fun. I was planning on trying out for Keeper this year, but there's no Quidditch on account of the Triwizard business, so I suddenly have more free time than I'd expected."

Amy Wilkes stared at Theo's new "friend" before shaking her head disdainfully. "Amy Wilkes, Slytherin. And I had people try to kidnap me twice last year, so I want to be able to defend myself."

"It's MAGICAL KUNG FU!" Colin Creevey exclaimed while practically bouncing up and down. "Why WOULDN'T I want to study it?!" The Gryffindor's exuberance was met with blank stares from the assembled Purebloods who knew even less about kung fu than about Wu Xi Do.

"Hi, I'm Ginny, the Slytherin Weasley. My best friend Amy is joining, and it's also an excuse to hang out with Ron who I never get to see anymore." In response, Ron smiled at her and gave a thumbs up.

Next came Luna Lovegood who looked around the group with her usual dreamy expression. "Oh, I don't know," she said casually. "Blame it on the nargles, I guess."

The Gryffindors who knew Luna best took that remark in stride, but everyone else was duly baffled by her remark. After a brief pause, the remaining ten or so attendees introduced themselves.

"Okay then," said Padma. "Now that we all know each other, let's …"

"You kids have a faculty adviser for this do-it-yourself dojo?" asked an unexpected voice that caused several students to start in surprise. It was Alastor Moody, who had appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

"Professor Moody!" exclaimed Jim. "How did you sneak up on us like that?!"

"For an old fat guy with a wooden leg, I am surprisingly stealthy. Also, CONSTANT VIGILANCE! And now that that's out of the way, I repeat my question."

Padma looked over to Jim in annoyance. The Boy Who Lived swallowed.

"We, uh, didn't know we needed a faculty adviser, sir."

"Heh! Probably because you don't. It's not a requirement for student clubs. But in this case, you've got one anyway. Me!"

There was a brief murmuring among the assembled students at that announcement.

"Is … there a reason you've volunteered to become our … faculty advisor, Professor?" asked Padma.

Moody shrugged while idly conjuring a chair to sit on from a vantage point that allowed him to see everyone.

"I've spent decades learning every way there was to fight against dark wizards. So, imagine my surprise when I found out last year that there was an entire magical combat style I'd never heard of before! I didn't have a chance to explore it before now, so I'm taking this opportunity to abuse my position and horn in on your club. Just as an observer, of course. I rather doubt I've got the physical dexterity nowadays for all that running and jumping and karate-chopping. Though if I'm impressed with what I see, I might be talking with Amelia Bones at some point about getting some Wu Xi Do instructors in from the Far East to add it to the Auror Academy curriculum."

The scarred wizard gave one of his hideous smiles to Padma. "No pressure or anything, Miss Patil."

The Ravenclaw quailed slightly under the intimidating man's gaze. But then her resolve stiffened, and she turned back to the others.

"Right then. Let's get to it. I'll start with an introductory lecture, including a discussion of what kinds of clothes you'll need for this club since classroom attire won't cut it, followed by an overview of what Wu Xi Do is and what you can do with it. So, for right now, everybody take a seat."

And with that, the students all sat down on the grass of the Quidditch pitch. Luna moved to the back of the group and off a bit to one side before sitting down.

It was probably just a coincidence that her new position allowed her to watch Padma while also maintaining an unobstructed view of Mad Eye Moody.

Next: The Dark Lord McAvity gets his hearing. The visiting schools arrive. And an unexpected adversary finally pulls the trigger.

AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is being written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.

AN2: What the Sinister Man is reading:

Departure from the Diary by TendraelUmbra, in which the confrontation in the Chamber of Secrets ends with an uneasy truce between Harry Potter and Lady Voldemort, with the latter taking up residence inside his mind.

Casualties of Politics by the always interesting Lomonaaeren. At first blush, it appears to be a standard WBWL story. But the twist comes from the fact that the only reason Harry was sent to the Dursleys was because of Dumbledore's obsession with Muggle-wizard harmony, which he thought could be achieved if the Heir of House Potter and the Brother of the BWL was raised Muggle. Goes about as well as you'd expect for a WBWL story.

Harry Potter et al and the Keystone Council by OlegGunnarson is an utterly brilliant fic that I only recently discovered. Basically, it's Sens8 … except instead of 8 random humans around the world psychically linked, it's five AU iterations of Harry Potter on different worlds, two of whom are female and one of whom was raised by goblins. (And no, it's nothing like Harry Crow.)

AN3: Special shout-out to all my Discord editors: Aelia, Asmund, BlueWater5, cheeky_elf, haegl wynn, Idefix, Joker_1005, kean, Lars, Molly, Nemo's Flower Song, notFalkon, ohana, PrettyPinkCupcake, raveenamarcus, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, Sigurd, TheColt, VadderDarth, and watergoby. Thanks guys!

AN4: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 17,939. Followers: 19,709. Favorites: 17,065. Communities: 251. Discord followers: 5,276! Go Team POS!