SHAMELESS PLUG: Please check out my original fiction on Amazon. Strangers In Boston, by T.S. Mann.

Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations belongs to J.K. Rowling.


Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game

Chapter 20: Meet the Visitors


25 October 1994
The Great Hall
3:00 p.m.

"You ready for this?" muttered Harry Black.

"Please," Draco Malfoy answered contemptuously. "Is anyone ever ready for the sort of business we keep getting up to?"

Harry sighed at the truth of the statement before opening the door to the Great Hall so that the two could slip inside. No one seemed to notice their late arrival, as the attention of most of those present in the Hall was fixed on an open area in the center of the room, where a group of burly boys in brown uniforms were engaged in what appeared to be strenuous calisthenics while occasionally spitting out gouts of flame from their mouths. However, their arrival was not completely unnoticed.

"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed in a loud whisper as she drew near. "Where have you two been?"

"We were off … doing stuff," he said. Hermione frowned. "Stuff" was often Harry's shorthand codeword for Azkabal-related business. "Have we missed the Frog Choir?" he added.

"No, it's up next."

"Damn!" he spat angrily.

"Never mind the Frog Choir. I mean, do mind the Frog Choir because Neville is in it, and we should support him. But right now, I need to talk to you two. Well, mainly you, Draco Malfoy!"

Draco was nonplussed. "Me? What did I do?!"

"You pulled strings to get me assigned as chaperone to a Quidditch star who is constantly surrounded by an entourage of screaming fangirls. And fanboys! I don't even like Quidditch!"

Both boys gave her looks suggesting that admission represented her single greatest character flaw.

"Okay, Hermione," Draco said, "just come out into the hall and I'll explain things."

"Use a Muffliato," Harry said as he scanned the room for Rita Skeeter in either her human or insectoid form. "You never know who might be listening in."

Draco scowled at that before taking Hermione by the arm and pulling her outside. Meanwhile, Harry finally found the person he was looking for: Severus Snape, who stood on the far side of the Hall, clapping perfunctorily for the Durmstrang pyromancy drill team with an utter lack of enthusiasm.

Harry also noted that he was standing quite near Igor Karkaroff, the Durmstrang Headmaster, but the two wizards (and former Death Eaters) were somehow managing to completely ignore one another while simultaneously conveying seething contempt for one another. Meanwhile, both of them were studiously ignoring Alastor Moody, who stood just behind them, presumably so that he would be in a position to intervene if either of the "dark wizards" dared show his true colors. Harry managed to make eye contact with Snape and then thought very loudly "Problem." Snape nodded slightly and then turned and made his way to the nearest exit. Harry followed, making his way as quickly as he could through the throng of excitable teens while trying to avoid being set on fire by some overexcited Slavic wizard.


Meanwhile …

"Okay, can you do the Muffle-thingy?" Draco asked. "I don't actually know that Charm."

"Muffliato, and of course I can."

Seconds later, the Sound-Cancelling Charm was up, and Hermione was studying Draco's expression. He seemed very on edge, even more so than when they'd met over the summer and his father had dumped everything about the Azkabal—the Azkaban breakout, Horcruxes, Regulus and Bellatrix being alive—on him all at once after swearing him to secrecy.

"Now then … stuff?" she asked, but Draco just shook his head.

"Sorry, but right now, I'm too paranoid to trust even your special anti-eavesdropping Charm. There is someone … flittering about who has a power that lets her spy on people and that can defeat most security Charms. Talk to Harry about all that later. He has the means to detect her."

She looked at him aghast. "Okay, fine. I'll ignore all that for now. But you can at least answer my questions about Viktor Krum."

"Of course, and you were actually on the right track. I asked McGonagall …"

"Professor McGonagall," Hermione interrupted.

"Okay, she's not actually one of my professors at the moment, so excuse me for ignoring the honorific. Now can I continue?"

Hermione gave him a sour expression for his disrespect for her favorite teacher, but then she nodded.

"So anyway, Viktor is the most famous non-professional Quidditch player in the world right now. And he's a great guy. Very humble despite his gifts. But he came from some tiny backwater village in Bulgaria that's best known for producing magical goat's milk cheese, so he's not the worldliest fellow. I wanted you to be his chaperone because you don't care about Quidditch. I was worried about someone else getting the job who at best will be a drooling fanboy or fangirl, which is something that makes him very uncomfortable. At worst, I was worried about someone who might start scheming to become the next Mrs. Krum. You have never struck me, Granger, as someone who might want to scheme her way into an advantageous marriage."

"Certainly not!" Hermione scoffed. She turned and looked back towards the doorway to the Great Hall. "So … what's he like? You described him as very humble, which is frankly not what I'd expect from an international Quidditch star."

"Trust me. You'll love him. I imagine you two will end up talking about Ancient Runes and other tedious forms of scholarship until the Hippogriffs come home." He paused. "By the way, what languages do you speak?"

"English, French, and Italian, not counting runic languages I learned for class."

"Good, good. Viktor speaks all those plus Bulgarian, German, and Russian, but he learned English through a defective Language Potion, so it's … not good. Hilariously so at times, to be honest, but he really does find it a bit embarrassing. That's another reason I wanted you to look after him. I was worried that another student might mock him when he says something barely comprehensible. But I trust you to be better than that. Plus, if you correct him in either French or Italian on anything he garbles in English, he's bright enough that he can usually figure out how to say it properly. Well … maybe not usually, but he'll do his best."

Hermione looked back towards the Great Hall. The Durmstrang pyromancy drill team had concluded their performance, and she could see the Hogwarts group setting up to go next.

"And he's not just an athlete? He's actually sitting his Ancient Runes NEWT?"

Draco laughed. "He's sitting six NEWTs: Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, and DADA!"

"Hmm," Hermione said appreciatively.

"Down, girl. Don't get too excited by the size of his … brain!"

Hermione slapped his arm and gave him a scandalized look. "Honestly, Draco, when did you become so … crude?"

He shrugged. "I'm a Bogatyr now. Lustiness is one of our House descriptors."

"I can tell. But no worries. I know quite enough about Durmstrang and the Balkan Alliance to resist finding Viktor Krum attractive in that sense no matter how many NEWTs he's sitting. And speaking of which: Will it present any problems for Krum—or any other Durmstrang students, for that matter—that a Muggleborn has been assigned his student chaperone?"

Draco hesitated, suddenly visibly uncomfortable. "Well … actually…"

But before he could finish his sentence, their conversation was interrupted.

"Hello? Excuse me?"

Hermione and Draco turned towards the front doors to the castle and were surprised to see that a woman had entered. She was an older witch with black hair striped with grey locks, and she wore a red coat of the style that was similar to those worn by British Aurors, except that her badge read Bureau de la Justice Magique.

"Yes?" said Hermione. "Can I help you?"

"I hope so. I'm looking for Albus Dumbledore. I'm one of the Tournament judges. Porpentina Goldstein, at your service."


Meanwhile, inside the Great Hall …

"Bubble." Ribbit. "Bubble." Ribbit. "Toil and …" Ribbit. "Trouble." Ribbit. "Sooome-thing wicked this way comes!"

There was a smattering of polite (if confused) applause from the students watching, both from the Hogwarts students and their guests. Several of the Beauxbatons students seemed particularly condescending.

"Un chœur de grenouilles," one of the Beauxbatons girls said aloud. "C'est absurde!"

Her friends tittered in response until a male voice spoke up from behind them in English.

"There's an old proverb in my family," said Blaise Zabini. "People who dance around with butterflies shouldn't throw stones at frogs. Which is another way of saying: Don't gossip in a foreign tongue unless you're sure no one else around speaks it."

The girl who had spoken turned to Blaise and instantly sneered. "Zabini!" she hissed.

"Please, Sylvie, do call me Blaise. We are family after all. Which reminds me—how is your father doing? Has he adjusted to only having one hand?"

Sylvia Montessi snapped out some very unladylike Italian curses before stalking away with her coterie following in her wake.

"Ah, Blaise," said another Beauxbatons student: Fleur Delacour. "Once again demonstrating ze savoir faire for which you are known."

Blaise smiled. "Cousin Fleur. This is becoming a family reunion. Is your Uncle Gabriel here yet?"

"Tonight, I think." Fleur glanced in the direction of the departing Montessi. "Should you really be antagonizing Sylvie like zat?"

"I don't know. Should you be pronouncing that with a Z instead of a TH?"

The young woman wrinkled her nose. "You know the rules," she muttered just softly enough for him to hear. "Or rather ze rules. A perfect English accent would … draw attention."

"Uh-huh. And if you are not permitted to draw attention, does that mean that you are not putting your name in the Goblet of Fire?"

"Uncle Gabriel forbade it," Fleur said petulantly. "And Maman and Papa agreed. Naturally."

"So?" Blaise said with a shrug. "You're seventeen, are you not?"

She was silent for a moment before a ghost of a smile crossed her lips.

"Yes, I suppose I am."


The Headmaster's Office
Five minutes after the Frog Choir's second encore

Dumbledore ascended the spiral staircase to his private office with Tina Goldstein and Minerva McGonagall following after. As soon as Tina stepped inside, Fawkes began to trill merrily. Tina smiled and moved over to the phoenix's perch to scratch the feathers on the back of his head while Fawkes preened. Meanwhile, Dumbledore sent for a house elf and ordered tea service for three before taking his seat behind his ornate desk.

"It's wonderful to see you, Tina. It's been a long time. But from your early arrival and your somewhat pensive expression, I suspect this is more than a social call. Might I assume it has something to do with the fact that Newt is not here with you?"

Tina took her own seat. "To a degree. There are two matters I needed to speak with you about discreetly but urgently, and one of them involves Newt. He won't be attending the opening ceremonies and may not be able to join us for some time, if at all. Earlier this week, he was called away to Jakarta."

She hesitated and braced herself to deliver bad news. "The Indonesian Aurors found Yoo Ri's body."

Dumbledore leaned forward with a look of profound concern and sadness.

"She'd been missing since May," Tina continued. "The initial report said that her body had been terribly mutilated, which made identification difficult at first. Almost certainly the result of some kind of dark ritual for which she was a sacrifice! Of course, it didn't help for identification purposes that she was killed in the midst of transitioning into her other form, and the local Magical authorities weren't even sure that she was a human being at first. That was why they contacted Newt—they thought it was the corpse of some exotic creature."

McGonagall looked back and forth between Tina and the stricken Dumbledore in confusion. The Headmaster noticed and explained his history with Yoo Ri-El.

"Yoo Ri was someone who fought alongside Tina, Newt Scamander, and me in the Magical Expeditionary Unit that captured Gellert Grindelwald and brought about the end of that magical conflict. She was a woman of great heroism. After the war, she left Europe for Southeast Asia, eventually settling in Magical Jakarta."

"Well," said McGonagall, "I didn't even enter Hogwarts until 1947, but I thought I'd read everything written about your time in the War, Albus. I don't recall that name, however."

"You might well recall her by her stage name. When I first encountered her, she had been working in the Circus Arcanus under the name Nagini, and she continued to use that as a code name for undercover missions until the end of the Grindelwald conflict. She was a Maledictus, inheritor of a familial curse that manifested as a form of uncontrolled natural Animagery. She would transform into a large snake, one matching no known snake breed, whenever frightened or angered. She eventually gained a measure of control and could change at will, but always with the possibility that she might one day change and become trapped, unable to ever resume her human form."

McGonagall gasped, horrified at the thought of an Animagus like herself becoming trapped in an animal form. Dumbledore hastened to reassure her.

"Fortunately, by 1953, Nicholas Flamel, Newt Scamander, and I were able to devise a course of treatment for Yoo, one that ensured she would never become trapped so long as she took a series of potions regularly and refrained from assuming her serpentine form more than once per day and no more than an hour at a time."

He turned back to Tina. "Are there any leads on her assailant?"

"No. Newt promised to send me an owl as soon as he knew anything." She grimaced and gave Dumbledore a sad look. "And speaking of Nicholas Flamel, I'm … afraid I have some more bad news to share."

Tina reached into her coat and pulled out an envelope which she passed over to Dumbledore. His eyes widened as he instantly recognized familiar handwriting on the front. Swiftly, he tore the letter open and read the message contained inside. Then, without a word, he gently set the letter down on his desk and bowed his head, a single tear rolling down his cheek.

My dear boy,

I still plan to participate in your little academic competition as long as my health permits, though, for the first time in a very, very long time, I find myself sensitive to such issues. Do not expect to see me prior to the selection of the Triwizard Champions, as affairs of a most personal nature will keep me in Paris until then. To be more specific, I can now affirmatively answer the question you put to me in August of 1907:

The maximum longevity attainable through the Elixir of life is roughly 650 years, give or take a few months. Perenelle went peacefully in her sleep early this morning.

The funeral will be private and limited to myself and two or three close friends from L'Inconnu who I trust to see to the disposition of Perenelle's body without "getting any funny notions" if you know what I mean. You are certainly welcome to attend if it is not an inconvenience in light of your other responsibilities, but I do not ask you to do so. Porpentina and Newton have agreed to hold a memorial service for us both after my own passing, which my calculations suggest will not come until next summer. It may be selfish, but I should prefer that all my oldest friends grieve for me rather than with me.

In the meantime. I promise you I will do my level best not to die during the Triwizard Tournament, or at the very least, not to die in a manner that discomfits any of your students. I know how emotional young people can be. And by young, I mean less than 100 years old.

I have already destroyed the Stone, so you need not fear on that account.

I shall see you on the 31st for the Goblet's selection, after which, we shall open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin that I've had under magical stasis since 1821. It was left over from that party Nell and I threw to celebrate the death of Napoleon. A fitting way to commemorate those who have gone before us and those we will join soon.

Until then,

Nic


Back in the Great Hall

Harry and Snape met with Draco and Hermione as they entered the hall, where Snape announced that he had already arranged with both Dumbledore and Karkaroff to escort Draco home to see his father. In the meantime, Harry gallantly offered to introduce Hermione to Viktor Krum on Draco's behalf, as he was rather eager to renew his own acquaintance with the Quidditch superstar. They made their way through the crowd to where Krum stood amidst a throng of friends and admirers. As they approached, Harry noticed Hermione stiffen slightly before frowning himself. Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang (both Seekers for their respective House teams) were talking animatedly with Viktor over glasses of punch. More importantly, Diggory and Chang were also the President and Vice-President of the Hogwarts Cultural Preservation Society and so had been Hermione's nemeses the previous year.

And to be fair, Harry wasn't a huge fan of them either on account of that time the two had conspired to poison him and several of his friends as a joke.

Luckily, Viktor saved Harry the trouble of intruding on the conversation by loudly calling out his name.

"HARRY BLACK!" he practically bellowed in excitement. "Is grand to see once more! Come talk to Viktor about progress with fish-broom!"

And with that, he stepped past the Seeker couple ("Fish-broom?" Cho whispered to Cedric in confusion) and approached Harry with his arm outstretched. Expecting a handshake, Harry put his own hand out, only to be surprised when Viktor grasped his arm just below the elbow and they ended up clasping arms instead. Harry assumed it was some sort of Eastern European wizarding thing.

"The, er, fish-broom is coming along," Harry said. "Though … other projects seem to eat up all my time lately."

Then, the Slytherin gestured towards Hermione. "Viktor, please allow me to introduce Hermione Granger, one of my year-mates who has been assigned to show you around the school and answer any questions you may have about Hogwarts or Wizarding Britain in general."

In response, Viktor clicked his heels together with military precision and gave a short bow before extending a hand. Hermione reached out to shake it but was surprised when Viktor lifted it up and kissed her knuckles.

"Priyatno mi e da te vidya," he said in what Harry assumed was Bulgarian. "Viktor is honored to meet Herm-own-ninny."

Hermione suppressed the urge to either correct the Bulgarian's mangling of her name or laugh at it. In fact, when combined with his earnest expression (and, it must be noted, his remarkable physique now that she could see it up close), she found the introduction rather charming. Naturally, Cho ruined the moment by opening her mouth.

"You're Viktor Krum's guide? But you're …"

"I'm what, Chang?" Hermione interrupted with cool defiance.

"A fourth year," Cedric said quickly before Cho could say anything else. "One would have expected Professor McGonagall to have picked a Sixth or Seventh Year for that. Isn't that right, Cho?"

"… Of course," the Ravenclaw finally said. "That was all I meant."

Viktor looked back and forth as if aware of some subtext he didn't fully understand. Meanwhile, Harry was just focused on maintaining a poker face. After all, he and his friends were presently scheming to take over the CPS in the near future and picking a fight with its current leadership would be counterproductive. Even though he really wanted to say something cutting to Cho Chang at the moment. His mood didn't improve one bit when he noticed another Durmstrang student stepping over: Giles Yaxley, the elder son of the current DMLE Director, Corban Yaxley.

"Black!" he exclaimed. "Wonderful to see you again! Will you be entering the dueling competition that's part of the Tournament? My brother Albert is here somewhere, and I'm sure he'd love to have a rematch!"

With that, he clapped Harry on the arm with an approximation of friendliness.

"I'm certainly hoping to, schedule permitting," Harry said with a much more persuasive example of false amiability. "And I hope you will call me Harry. Since that way, I can call you Giles rather than referring to you and your brother both as Mr. Yaxley."

And now that the idea was presented, he certainly wasn't opposed to another chance to duel the son a Death Eater. It couldn't hurt to have another chance to study someone he might one day have to defend himself against in a fight to the death.

Giles Yaxley laughed. "Sure thing, Harry. And who is your little friend here? The lovely young lady who will be chaperoning our Viktor around for the next few months?"

Harry's eyes glinted. "Of course, Giles. This is my dear friend, Hermione Granger."

But then, he turned back to Hermione and froze in surprise. She was staring intently at Yaxley, and her face bore an expression that Harry was startled to realize he didn't recognize. It was literally an expression he'd never seen on the girl's face before. Oblivious to the effect his presence had on the girl, Giles Yaxley smiled and gave a slight bow.

"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Granger," he said. "Giles Yaxley, at your service."

"Yes! I know!" Her voice cracked slightly. "I mean … yes, you are. Giles Yaxley, that is." Then, she winced and took a deep breath. And fought down a shudder. "It's … nice to meet you, Mr. Yaxley. I hope … Nice to meet you."

Then, she quickly looked down at her wristwatch. "Oh goodness me, look at the time!" she said entirely too quickly. "It was lovely to meet you all. But I've got to dash. Things to see and people to go! Viktor, I'll meet with you later, okay?"

And without even waiting for a reply, Hermione turned and strode quickly towards the door. Completely flummoxed, Harry quickly excused himself from the others and followed after her, but he was unable to get through the crowd without making a scene, and by the time he got to the foyer, she was already gone.

"… The hell?" he muttered to himself.

Back inside, the other students looked at one another in confusion. Giles Yaxley just chuckled.

"Mudbloods," he said under his breath but still loud enough for the others to hear. Viktor's face darkened, but he said nothing, while Cho Chang snorted softly before quickly schooling her features into a more neutral expression. Cedric just looked back and forth with wide eyes between his girlfriend on one side and the son of one of his father's Ministry peers on the other before taking a large gulp of punch from the cup in his hand.


Just a moment later, down a nearby corridor …

Theo No-Name and his (sort-of) brother, Alexander Nott, had withdrawn to an empty classroom for a (sort-of) family reunion. The effects of the Ultimate Sanction had been cancelled, and so Alex no longer felt hatred for the other boy. But Theo had still been magically disowned from House Nott, and until that was undone, Alex was still under a mild compulsion that prevented him from openly treating Theo with his prior affection. The older boy (now the Durmstrang head boy, in fact) said as much.

"I received a letter just last week from … her saying that Father was still down with Spattergoit and that I was not to come home because he was still contagious." Alex laughed. "As if I'd actually wanted to see him. Hopefully, the Spattergoit will do the bastard in at last. I'll claim the lordship, kick Narcissa out of the Nott Manor, and reinstate you somehow."

"Yeah," Theo said slowly. "About that …"

But before he could continue, they were both distracted by the sound of someone running down the hallway outside. Someone apparently sobbing. Theo poked his head out the door and got a brief glimpse of Hermione as she fled down the corridor. He called after her, but she didn't slow down. Then, from the opposite direction, he could hear Harry's voice calling out Hermione's name. A few seconds later, Harry came around the corner.

"She went that way," Theo said as he pointed. "What's going on?"

"I have absolutely no idea, but I mean to find out."

"Do you need me to come with you?"

Harry looked over Theo's shoulder and saw Alex staring after them in confusion.

"No, I've got this," he said. "You haven't spoken to your … Alex in months. And I reckon you've got plenty of things to tell him."

Theo blanched. "Yeah," he said ruefully. "More than I'd realized, it seems. Okay, you go on, but send a Patronus if you need me."

Harry nodded and darted off after their friend, while Theo stepped back into the classroom and closed the door.

"Hermione," said Alex. "That's your Muggleborn friend, right? The one who will be showing Viktor around the school?"

"Yeah. She's great. I hope she's okay."

Alex smirked. "Is she cute?"

"It's not like that! I mean, I think she's cute. But we're just friends."

"Every great couple starts out as 'just friends,' Theo."

The Slytherin scoffed. "I think the existence of Amortentia kind of disproves that. And anyway, it doesn't matter. If she ends up coupled with anyone, it's going to be Harry."

"You never know when you're going to meet the right person," Alex said. Then, he grew thoughtful. "And she's truly Muggleborn? In the British sense?"

"If by that you mean she was actually raised by Muggles before Hogwarts, then yes. Is that a problem?"

"No, no. I … was just curious. Has it been difficult for her being Muggle-raised? Adapting to the Wizarding World, I mean."

Theo hesitated. "In some ways. She's adapted well, but I think it's been difficult for her at times. In large part because Purebloods insist on looking down on her. Why do you ask?"

Alex looked away for a second. "No reason. As I said, just curious. And even though I went to Durmstrang, I promise you I'm not biased against Muggleborns. Or, at least, I try not to be. In fact, it was because I went to Durmstrang that I'm probably a lot less prejudiced against them than if I'd gone to Hogwarts and spent the last seven years surrounded by the children of Father's old hunting buddies."

He sneered at his own veiled reference to the Death Eaters, but Theo was more interested in what else he'd said.

"Really? How so?"

"Well, everyone talks about how the Slytherin Solution means that there are no Muggleborns in the Balkan Alliance and therefore none at Durmstrang. But the truth is that there are plenty of students at Durmstrang who were born to Muggle parents. In fact, while there's no way to confirm this, I've heard speculation that as many as one Durmstrang student in five was born to a Muggle family and then removed and fostered out in infancy or early childhood. But since the records are sealed, no one actually knows who any of them are. And you would never be able to tell which students were born to Muggles and which to wizards and witches based on either their grades or their conduct because all of them have been raised to act like Purebloods whether they are or not. So as far as I'm concerned, there's no difference between a wizard whose blood is pure going back ten generations and a Muggleborn wizard so long as the latter is raised the same way as the former."

Alex gave his younger (sort-of) brother a funny look. "So I guess my question is: Is your Hermione really a part of our world or not?"

Theo shrugged, oddly uncomfortable with the line of questioning. "I think so. I hope so, anyway. She had some … difficulties last year. In a way, it was my fault. Or really, Tiberius's fault. Some of my Muggleborn friends started a group to support me. SPAM, it's called."

Alex's brow furrowed in confusions. "SPAM? What is … SPAM?"

Briefly, Theo related the history of SPAM, its origins involving a Muggle meat product and some kind of aerial circus (which left Alex even more confused than Theo had been about the topic), and its conflicts over the last year with the Cultural Preservation Society. Then, he hesitated.

"Hermione … saved my life last year."

Alex's eyes widened and he sat up straighter. "What? Why haven't I heard about this before now?"

"Well, you sort of despised me at the time because of the Sanction. And then, so much other stuff happened that I sort of forgot about it."

"So much has happened in the last year that you forgot about nearly dying?" Alex asked disapprovingly.

Theo nodded. "And it wasn't so much that I 'nearly died.' It didn't get to that point. But with everything that had happened up to that point … I just got into a really dark place and …" He swallowed painfully. "I was really close to just …"

Theo trailed off in embarrassment. A painful expression passed over Alex's face.

"Come here. Brother or no, I can definitely hug you for this."

Theo accepted the (sort-of) brotherly hug and sniffled a bit. "Anyway, before I had a chance to do anything, Hermione showed up and talked to me. Just talked. But that was enough to pull me back out of … of where I was. It even helped me learn to make a Patronus!"

"Really?" Alex asked in surprise. "Amazing! I can't even do a Patronus! Let me see!"

Theo rubbed his sleeve under his nose and then pulled out his wand and summoned Fiver into existence. Alex was astonished as the silvery hare darted around the room.

"Incredible. I'm so proud of you, Theo. And I promise you, we're going to get you back into House Nott and be real brothers again no matter what it takes!"

At that, Theo winced, and Fiver faded from view.

"Yeah, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. I just keep getting sidetracked. And I thought about writing you weeks ago, but … I figured it best to say it in person. I was afraid you might, I dunno, do something foolish."

Alex grew concerned. "What is it?"

Theo took a deep breath. "Our … your father isn't in bed with severe, contagious Spattergoit. Tiberius Nott is dead. He's been dead since the end of August. Narcissa is keeping it a secret so she can run the House on a regency basis."

"What?! Father is … dead?! How do you know this?"

And Theo took a second, even deeper breath. "Because I'm the one who killed him."


A few moments later in a nearby girl's bathroom

Hermione stared intently at her reflection in the mirror and clutched the sides of the sink in a death grip as her whole body shook. There was a soft knock at the door, and she heard Harry's voice.

"Hermione? Are you in there?"

She didn't answer but merely squeezed her eyes shut and hoped Harry would go away. She didn't want him to see her like this. After a few seconds, he moved on. She opened her eyes and focused once more on her reflection as if trying to command the person she saw looking back at her in such distress to get hold of herself.

"Calm down, calm down, calm down," she whispered in a desperate mantra that did nothing to slow down her racing heartbeat or her rapid breathing. "It didn't happen. Things are different. Calm down!"

"Do you really think good grades mean anything to our world, you stupid Mudblood bitch! Do you really think you can pass enough OWLs to save your miserable life if my father decides to put you and those Muggles who raised you down like the animals you all are!"

And with that memory, Hermione's composure broke completely, and with a loud sob, she burst into tears.


Blackstone
4:00 p.m.

With an angry expression, Archie Goodwin nursed his right index finger, the one that had just been bitten by a Crup puppy that was still snarling at him from inside the crate containing the magical dog and its two siblings. He'd nearly forgotten how much he hated Crups. His mother, Walburga Black, had owned one that she doted on, a vicious little ball of fluff that hated everything except Walburga, who'd allowed it to gorge on table scraps. Tricki-Woo had been its name. After his return to Britain, he'd asked at one point what had happened to it. Andromeda said that despite her expulsion from House Black, she still attended Walburga's funeral, and she'd gathered that Tricki-Woo had been buried alongside its owner. She was uncertain as to whether the beast was actually dead at the time.

"Dobby! Elmo!" Archie called out.

Instantly, the two house elves appeared and regarded each other coolly. Dobby was Harry's personal elf, while Elmo was the chief elf for the former Potter Manor. Apparently, house elves were not above status games.

"Do you think you could handle these things until Sirius returns?" Archie asked almost pleadingly.

"Of course, Master Archie," Elmo answered quickly before Dobby could respond. "There are kennels on the grounds from when former-Master Fleamont Potter—former Master James's grandfather—occasionally engaged in foxhunting! Elmo is skilled at handling dogs, sir."

"Good, good," Archie said. "So I'll leave this to you, alright?"

Elmo bowed and levitated the dog crate with his magic before turning towards Dobby and raising his chin slightly. Dobby merely smiled back at the older house elf almost sweetly.

"Dobby hopes that after many, many, many years of service, Dobby will be as experienced as Elmo."

Elmo sniffed. "Elmo is glad that Dobby has ambitions and goals." Then, he Apparated away. Meanwhile, Archie watched this insight into house elf dynamics with faint amusement. Dobby turned to address him.

"Also, Master Archie—or Master Regulus, as the case may be—a Floo message came while you were out. It requests your presence at Malfoy Manor as soon as possible."

"Oh? Did the message say why?"

"The message was terse, but Dobby gathers it was in reference to Lord Lucius Malfoy chopping his own arm off."

The wizard blinked twice.

"… What?!"


Moments later at Malfoy Manor

Draco struggled to keep his face impassive, but his eyes couldn't help but be drawn to his father's left forearm. Or rather, the stump where his forearm used to be. Lucius Malfoy himself was unconscious and looked so much weaker than Draco had ever seen him. Nearby, Andi, Ted and Snape were arguing softly but urgently about how much to tell Lucius about the day's events. Losing a limb and nearly his life to a Horcrux was one thing, but the threat of exposure by Rita Skeeter was a stress of a very different sort.

"I still say you should have let me poison her with Manticore venom," Andromeda spat angrily.

"It's not too late," Snape said acerbically.

"No, no!" Ted exclaimed. "No murders! Besides, I'm a Hufflepuff, and even I know Skeeter's probably got some mechanism set up to expose all her accumulated secrets if she dies suddenly."

Andromeda smiled. "Oh good! It seems I'm finally rubbing off on you!"

Before he could respond, the door opened and Regulus Black entered, now back in his true face.

"Okay, what the hell did I miss while I was out buying bloody Crups for Sirius's forbidden experiments into Wild-influenced Animagery?!"

"Regulus!" Andromeda snapped. "Kindly stop bellowing! Lucius needs his rest!"

"It's quite alright, Healer Tonks," said Lucius softly without opening his eyes. "I've been awake listening to your furious whispers for several minutes."

Then, he opened his eyes and gave his son a tired but fond smile.

"Hello, Draco. Letting your hair grow out, I see."

Draco nodded. "Someone I look up to keeps his long, so I decided to see if it would suit me."

"Lucius," Andromeda interrupted. "Let me get you another potion. You need rest."

"Rest can wait," he said while painfully adjusting his position so that he could sit up against his bed pillows. "From what I've overheard, our conspiracy has been penetrated and possibly compromised by Rita Skeeter. And I am the only person in our group with the necessary social acumen to devise a strategy against her. Now, tell me what happened."

While the other Slytherins were sputtering about the suggestion that they lacked "social acumen," Draco succinctly outlined what had happened earlier that day in Ted's office at Hogwarts.

"Unfortunate," said Lucius. "But how was she able to eavesdrop on that office without being discovered? Weren't the protections of your Confidential Healer's Oath active?"

Draco started to answer but then his mouth snapped shut because of that same oath.

"The oath was active and covered the whole room," Ted explained. "Skeeter gave us permission to share with the Azkabal what we discussed except for the means she used to spy on us."

"Which was presumably the same means she used to spy on you, Regulus, when you made your ill-considered decision to blather on endlessly about our secrets to your father-in-law who was a retired Auror!

"I trust Buck with my life, Lucius!" Reg said hotly. "And I did put up an array of secrecy Charms when I first told him about the … the Azkabal!"

"And I will never forgive Sirius for that name," he added under his breath. There was a brief silence before Draco spoke up.

"Hang on a minute. Regulus, did you say that Cousin Sirius is experimenting with the limits of Animagery?"

"He is," the younger Black brother said with a sour expression. "He's trying to see if he can do more with it than just change into a big black dog."

"Really? How interesting!" Draco said with exaggerated excitement. "I've always been fascinated by Animagery. I wonder what the smallest animal is that an Animagus can change into."

"Honestly, Draco," said an exasperated Ted Tonks. "I don't think this is the best time to go on a … tangent … about …"

He trailed off as he realized that all the Slytherins in the room were giving him a "don't be stupid" look.

"Hmm," said Lucius. "So Rita Skeeter is an Animagus, one whose form is small enough for her to sneak into a warded room undetected. Interesting. I suppose that explains her odd pseudonym."

"Skeeter's name is a pseudonym?" Snape asked.

Lucius nodded. "Her official Prophet bio page is a tissue of lies, albeit well-constructed. I pierced its falsity years ago but was never able to pin down her true identity so that I could suborn her to my interests. At best, I could only narrow it down to four likely individuals."

He turned to his son. "Draco, have you your wand with you?"

Draco nodded. "Does the Trace affect me at the moment? What with me being a Durmstrang student who's just visiting the country on a school trip?"

"It doesn't matter for this," Lucius said. He held up his remaining arm, and his wand floated over from his bedside table. Floated, everyone noted. Not flew instantly with a snap as one might expect from a wizard of his considerable skill. At his father's direction, Draco held his wand out, and Lucius crossed it with his own wand near the tips.

"This is my son in whom I am well-pleased."

There was a soft crackle, and for a second, Draco's wand felt warm in his hand. He felt a warmth in his chest for a different reason thanks to his father's words.

"Go to my office," Lucius ordered. "It will admit you now. On the bookshelf nearest the desk, you will notice a large green book entitled Gulliver's Atlas of the Magical World. Tap it three times and then recite our true family motto."

Regulus and Snape glanced at one another, surprised to learn that the Malfoy family motto was not, in fact, Sanctimonia Vincet Semper, or Purity Will Always Conquer.

"That will open a door to my private vault. Inside on the third shelf is a series of black leatherbound journals. Those are my blackmail journals. Bring me the one marked with a Roman numeral four. Do not permit anyone to accompany you. The air in the vault is deadly to anyone not of Malfoy blood and can defeat even a Bubblehead Charm."

Draco's eyes widened and he nodded before exiting the room.

"To be honest, I'm surprised you only have four blackmail journals, Lucius," said Ted. "I'd figured you would have a lot more than that."

"I have six," Lucius said as he closed his eyes to rest for a moment. "But they are all large volumes."

A moment later, Draco had tapped the atlas and said the words that Lucius had told him one night near the end of his Second Year. Specifically, the same night that his mother Narcissa had walked out of their lives and cut him off as if he were nothing.

"Alis Volat Propriis," the boy said with a lump in his throat. One flies with one's own wings.

The bookshelf slid aside to reveal a small room that was most likely the product of Wizard Space, as Draco was quite certain there was not enough room beyond the study wall for a vault of this size. He spotted the black journals instantly, but as he moved towards them, he was distracted for a moment by the sight of four identical travelling valises sitting on a table, each of which had two Magical passports lying on top. Curious, Draco picked up a passport off the first valise and opened it. It contained a picture of a man who was obviously Lucius Malfoy despite his short black hair. The name underneath the picture identified him as "Gabriel Lorca," a citizen of Magical Brazil. Draco was even more surprised when the other passport that came with it contained a picture of himself but also with black hair and bearing the name "Federico Lorca." Idly, Draco considered checking the other falsified papers to see what his name would be if he and his father ever had to flee to some country other than Brazil. But his father had entrusted him with a task, so he put his curiosity aside and turned to the book he'd been sent for.

Soon, he was back in his father's bedroom, and the hefty tome labeled simply with a gold embossed "IV" was floating in front of Lucius, who caused the pages to flip with a flick of his wand.

"Hmm. So the Skeeter woman is an Animagus whose form is very small. She claims to have been a Ravenclaw and suggests that she attended Hogwarts contemporaneously with both Regulus and Severus, though that might be misdirection."

He paused to review the information on a particular page with a contemplative expression.

"Perchance was Skeeter's Animagus form that of a beetle or something similar?"

Ted opened his mouth in surprise only to snap it closed again as his Healer's Oath of Confidentiality kicked in before he could reply.

"I shall take that as a yes," Lucius said drily. "In which case, Rita Skeeter is almost certainly one Margarite Scarabee, Ravenclaw, Class of 1978. Halfblood. Father was Claude Scarabee, whose parents immigrated to Britain from France during the Grindelwald Conflict when Claude was an infant. Historically Pureblooded, but not politically so. Mother was a Muggleborn named Louise Scarabee nee Campbell. In 1964, Claude Scarabee abandoned his wife and 4-year-old child and returned to France for reasons unknown."

"So Rita Skeeter is a Half-Blood?" Regulus exclaimed. "What makes you so sure this Scarabee is her?"

"Well, for one thing, the nomenographic signs are obvious. Scarabee suggests scarabs which suggests beetles. Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus which means she was self-taught and likely has a nomenographic connection to her animal form, much as Sirius Black became a black dog. Indeed, I would not be surprised to learn that there is a family history of Scarabees having the power to transform into beetles or other insects, a power they've kept quiet about because of the particular usefulness of such a form for intelligence-gathering purposes. Scarabee's career trajectory is also suggestive. After leaving Hogwarts, she went to work for the Daily Prophet as a copywriter. Of course, as the Half-Blood offspring of a divorced Muggleborn and an absent father, advancement was probably slow. But then, in 1980, 'Rita Skeeter' exploded onto the scene with a lurid exposé about the peccadillos of Armando Dippet. The Prophet signed Skeeter to an exclusivity agreement—apparently without doing any sort of background check at all—and then, Skeeter made a point of hiring the lowly Half-Blood Margarite Scarabee away from the Prophet to be her personal assistant, a job that Scarabee has publicly held ever since."

"I remember Margarite Scarabee now," Snape said. "She was in my year, I believe, but we had few classes together, and I never paid much attention to her. Good with Charms and Ancient Runes, but overall rather quiet and shy."

"Very good with Charms and Ancient Runes," Lucius added as he consulted his notes on Margarite Scarabee. "Transfiguration as well. Outstandings on all three NEWTs, but she either decided not to pursue a Mastery or, due to her parentage and lack of income and status, was simply never offered one."

"So," said Regulus. "A gifted witch deprived of opportunities because of her parentage becomes a beetle Animagus in order to ferret out the secrets of powerful individuals and then adopts an ostentatious false identity who publishes those secrets for profit. And then the false identity hires the true identity? But why?"

"Obviously, she's particularly good at Notice-Me-Not Charms," said Ted. "I mean, I'm a decent Legilimens, and I had no idea she was in the room until Harry spotted her and forced her back into her human form. And he could only do that because of a magic item that detects Animagi. Maybe she keeps her identities separate so that Scarabee can go places where Skeeter can't be seen and talk to people who wouldn't talk to Skeeter."

Andromeda looked at her husband with surprise and, oddly, pride. "What a wonderfully cunning deduction, darling! We'll make a Slytherin of you yet!"

"Gee … thanks," Ted answered sarcastically.

Lucius looked thoughtful. "A bold scheme to achieve fame, wealth, and personal status through the use of a false identity to become a media darling. A scheme that combined Slytherin cunning with Gryffindor daring and Ravenclaw ingenuity. I wonder if she was a hat-stall."

"I'm surprised you don't have that information in your little black book," Reg said irritably. "You seem to have everything else about the witch. But you still couldn't figure that Scarabee and Skeeter were the same person?"

"No." Lucius said ruefully. "Ironically, I only focused so much interest on Scarabee because of her apparent status as Skeeter's employee. I'd had ideas about blackmailing the former into spying on the latter. And given their true connection, I am glad that I never attempted to do so, or things might have gone very badly for me."

Then, he rubbed his chin and suddenly looked annoyed at the feel of his five o'clock shadow. He wondered if shaving would be more difficult in the future with only one hand and whether he should delegate the task to a house elf.

"She must have used a Sympathetic Occlusion spell of some kind," he said with authority.

"What's that?" Draco asked.

"It is a spell which causes certain types of connections between individuals to become hidden or distorted," answered Snape. "Lily Potter used one to make the entire Wizarding World forget that she had a second child named Harry. Regulus used a variation to make everyone think that he had died without there being any actual evidence that was the case. It is a powerful, flexible spell, but it is far more fragile than, say, the Fidelius. A Sympathetic Occlusion can be pierced by anyone who simply comes across enough evidence to doubt the false idea, as we have just done with the Scarabee-Skeeter connection."

He turned back to Lucius.

"Is there anything else useful in your journals about Scarabee?"

Lucius flipped a few pages and shook his head. "She was born male, if any of you think that's possibly relevant."

None of the others seemed to think so except for Draco, whose head jerked in confusion.

"Wait … what exactly do you mean by that? Rita Skeeter, or whatever we call her, was … born male?!"

Andromeda answered. "There's a somewhat rare magical condition that affects between 1-2% of wizards and witches. At birth, there is a disconnect between how the person's sex is reflected in their physical body and how it is defined by their souls. Essentially, a female soul in a male body or vice versa. There's a potion that corrects the disconnect and causes the body to transform to align with the soul. It's generally not a big deal."

"There's a potion that permanently changes a person's sex?" the boy asked in surprise.

"No, there's a potion that causes a person's sexual characteristics to permanently change so as to match their sex as reflected in their soul. It's one of the few elements of soul magic that's not illegal in Britain. If your soul and body are already in harmony, the potion does nothing. If they're out of alignment, it will change your physical form to match your soul, but it won't have any effect if you take it again later."

"That's not always the case," Ted interjected. "An even smaller subset of those who have the condition actually have souls that don't fit neatly into a male-or-female identification, and for them it gets a bit more, well, complicated. But most magicals take the potion once and they're done. Usually in infancy or early childhood for Wizard-raised children."

Draco blinked in surprise. "Why have I never heard of this?"

Lucius chuckled. "Because you have not had children, Draco. It is generally viewed as simply another facet of early childhood healthcare. You were tested a day or so after you were delivered, and the results were negative. I gather most newborns who are delivered at St. Mungo's or by a private Healer are tested at around that time and given the potion if needed."

Ted nodded. "Yes. Though it's a little more problematic for Muggleborns and Muggle-raised because, well…"

The Muggleborn Healer hesitated with what might have been embarrassment. "Well, because Muggles don't have magic that lets them easily discern the characteristics of a human soul and don't have magic that would let such a person instantly transition even if doctors could identify any issue. And so, the families of Muggleborns usually don't really understand what it means for a child to be misgendered and … don't take it well when their son comes home from Hogwarts as a daughter or vice versa."

Snape nodded. "There was a child in Hufflepuff just a few years after I started teaching. A Muggleborn who began school under the name Clarice Williams and after a few years transitioned to become Mike Williams. The child's parents were utterly outraged and banished the boy from their home. Eventually, things progressed to the point that it threatened the Statute of Secrecy, and they had to be Obliviated of their only child's entire existence. Luckily, as a Hufflepuff, Williams had no shortage of friends, and he was taken in by a wizarding family until he passed his OWLs, at which point he was emancipated. I believe he presently works somewhere in the Ministry. Odd to me that his parents should be more accepting of the fact that their child had magic than they were about the fact that their child was a boy instead of a girl, but that's Muggles for you."

"Oi! Muggles aren't that bad!" Ted said irritably. The others simply looked at him with varying degrees of pity. "I mean, yes, historically, Muggles have been pretty horrible about such things. But they're a damned sight better in 1994 than they were in 1894 or even 1974. I have every confidence that within a few decades only the most ignorant or bigoted Muggles will care in the slightest about people who want the freedom to be who they really are!"

"I've no doubt," said Lucius blandly, as he had no such optimism. "But we have wandered far from the topic. Is there any conceivable reason to think that Margarite Scarabee's birth-sex could be used for blackmail purposes?"

The consensus of the wizards and witch present was that the answer was no, as no British wizard or witch was likely to think it at all scandalous that Rita Skeeter was born with a different sex than her current one. As Andromeda had said, it was simply "no big deal."

"Well then, blackmail does not seem a viable solution. I suppose that leaves bribery or seduction."

"Or violence," Andromeda added.

"Have you taken your meds today?" Ted asked accusingly.

"Let us set violence aside as a last resort," Lucius said firmly. "Aside from it being gauche, Rita Skeeter is a potentially valuable asset I have wanted to acquire for many years, but circumstances have always precluded it. Now, she is already voluntarily keeping our secrets and even offering us her services. Let us meet with her in a neutral setting and see if she is someone with whom we can deal."

"With whom we can deal?!" Regulus exploded. "The woman wants to write a bestseller about our highly criminal activities!"

Lucius just shook his head.

"No, I think not. From what has been related to me, I think Skeeter simply wants to know our secrets. She also wants to increase her own wealth and fame and sees publishing those secrets as a way to do so. However, Houses Malfoy, Black, Wilkes, and Prince collectively have more money than Croesus, and I am certain she will find that dealing with us on our terms will be more profitable than her projected book sales."

"And the fame she wants?" Regulus asked.

"That is something we'll have to work on. Perhaps you and she can come up with alternatives that will raise Rita Skeeter's stature whilst preserving the sanctity of our conspiracy when you meet with her for dinner."

Reg did a double take. "When I meet with her?!"

"Yes, Regulus," Lucius answered with the ghost of a smile. "We know she is staying at the Three Broomsticks. She practically invited us to contact her, you in particular. And she freely admitted to a youthful infatuation with you."

His ghost of a smile broadened into a smirk. "I did mention, did I not, that seduction was one of our remaining approaches under consideration."


That evening …

Despite his best efforts, Harry was unable to track down Hermione, but he found out from Neville that she was "feeling a bit peaky" and so had obtained permission from McGonagall to skip the formal Welcoming Feast that was being held for the visiting students, faculty, and other guests. Whatever was going on with Hermione, Harry assumed that staying in her room and getting some rest might be just what she needed. He'd find out tomorrow what had upset her so.

As he entered the Hall, Harry was surprised to see that the space had grown—someone (most likely Dumbledore) had magically expanded the Great Hall by something like 25% and extended the tables by the same amount to accommodate the guests. Harry was even more surprised to notice Sirius Black sitting at the head table next to Serena Zabini. The boy frowned, as he realized at once that Black had accompanied the Countess just to have a pretext for meeting with him at school. He resigned himself to what would probably be an annoyingly long conversation about his feelings.

Glancing again at the head table, Harry made note of the guests. Some he already knew, like Director Crouch, Director Bagman, Percy Weasley, and the two foreign Headmasters. Oh, and Rita Skeeter, of course, who was sitting next to Ludo Bagman and chatting away with him about Merlin knew what. The other guests he did not know until Dumbledore introduced them. One was Porpentina Goldstein, an instructor from the French Auror academy. Idly, he wondered if she and Anthony were related somehow.

Then, he noticed a conspicuous absence: Lily Potter, the Muggle Studies instructor and accused murderess of her own Muggle brother-in-law. Glancing over at the Gryffindor table, he saw that Jim was present and that his twin had also just noticed their mother's absence. Harry assumed that Lily was hiding in her room, unwilling to face a large crowd after the events of the day, especially a crowd that contained Skeeter. That assumption, like his earlier assumption about Hermione, was incorrect.


4 Privet Drive, Surrey

As the Welcoming Feast was commencing, Lily Potter was actually sitting on the floor of the "Magic Room" at 4 Privet Drive next to her open trunk, which was how James Potter found her when he stepped out of the nearby Floo from the Ministry. Lily was weeping openly, and in her hands was a book that she did not recognize but which was filled with notes in her handwriting scribbled in the margins. Applied Pharmacology was the name of the text.

"Lily?" James said tentatively.

"James," she said in a terrified whisper. "I think I may have murdered Vernon Dursley."


Back at Hogwarts

Hermione Granger, who did not feel the least bit "peaky," summoned her Gryffindor courage and knocked sharply on the door. After a few seconds, it was opened by a wizard who was understandably surprised to find a student waiting on the other side.

"Good evening. My name is Hermione Granger. I was wondering, if it's not inappropriate, whether I could visit with you and ask you some questions."

"Questions, Miss Granger?" asked Alexander McAvity. "What sort of questions?"

Hermione bit her lip before answering.

"Questions about your movement, sir. And about … how to make things better."

McAvity smiled broadly. "My favorite topic. Please, Miss Granger. Do step inside."


Next: The Goblet Chooses! Yeah, I know that was supposed to be this chapter, but that was overly optimistic from the start.

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: So, Rita Skeeter. We have now reached the part of the narrative where Rita Skeeter becomes plot relevant. Which means we've also reached the point where certain issues about J.K. Rowling's socio-political views can no longer be avoided. I assume you know what I mean. If not, Google "J.K. Rowling transgender," and you will quickly be educated on the topic.

Without getting into a discussion of JKR's views on this matter (which I find repellant), those views are relevant to the topic of Rita Skeeter because of the widespread view that the canon depiction of Rita Skeeter was intended by JKR to represent her perceptions of a trans-woman. Rita is depicted as having "mannish features" such as "a strong jawline" and "large hands." And the very first time we see her in the flesh, she's dragging a frightened 14yo boy into a closet to take advantage of him. By authorial design, Rita Skeeter is, after Dolores Umbridge, arguably the most hated Potter character who is not an actual Death Eater. Viewed in that light, it's all, well, kind of gross.

So, here's where we are. In POS, Rita Skeeter was born biologically male. And at a certain point, most likely early childhood or even infancy, it was determined that on the inside, where it really matters, she was female. So she transitioned and became a girl (now a woman). And in the eyes of the wizarding world she is a woman in every way that matters, and only the most ignorant and retrograde wizards and witches would disagree. Which is how I think it should be.

The part of Rita Skeeter will be played by Miranda Richardson as in the movies except that she's about ten years younger. The part of Margarite Scarabee will be played by Miranda Richardson as she looked when she played Nurse Mary on Blackadder Goes Forth.

AN3: Nagini's "real" name of Yoo-Ri-El was the stage name of South Korean actress Kim Soo-hyun before she changed it to Claudia Kim (under which name she played Nagini in Crimes of Grindelwald).

AN4: What the Sinister Man is reading:

Wandwood by . A WBWL story with Sirius adopting the supposedly Squib Harry, finding out he has magic, and sending him to a different magical school that then gets tangled up with the Tournament in 4th year. The added wrinkle is that Albus assumes Sirius used dark magic to give magic to the Squib Harry and they are both "dark wizards." Reads better than that description.

A Sad Winter by AuspiciousAutumn (AO3). Actually an older story that I thought had been abandoned but I was delighted to find it complete on AO3. A WBWL mystery told from the perspective of the WBWL who is surprised and disturbed by the arrival at Hogwarts of Harry Potter, a twin he never knew existed prior to their Sorting.

Tramps Like Us by greenandmoss (AO3). Sirius avoids Azkaban and later steals Harry from the Dursleys and goes on the run. Wolfstar.

Harry Potter and the Blood-Soaked Succession by NonsensicalRants. The war goes very badly, to the point that a dying Harry, the only survivor of the Order of the Phoenix, is driven to make a horcrux of his own just to survive long enough to carry on the fight. Among other bits I like are the Evil!Flamels and Harry's aggressive use of the Resurrection Stone.

AN5: AjithSen, blowback123, brucetheamericanguy, DontBanMeImScared, Farsight, Idefix, kean, ohana, PrettyPinkCupcake, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, Sandyna (Melanie), sigud, and StillPossible. Thanks guys!

AN6: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 18,553. Followers: 20,502. Favorites: 18,803. Communities: 2523 Discord followers: 5,471! Go Team POS!