SHAMELESS PLUG: Please check out my original fiction on Amazon. Strangers In Boston, by T.S. Mann. SPECIAL NEWS: Second edition of Strangers In Boston (to correct some errors and issues) is imminent, as is the SIB Audiobook which is coming to Audible. Both should be live before the next POS update.
Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations belong to J.K. Rowling.
and the Resurrection Game
Chapter 28: Here Be Dragons (Part 1)
14 November 1994
The Prince's Lair
"It's definitely dragons," Ginny said grimly.
The girl was sitting at the table in front of the Prince of Slytherin, with Theo, Blaise, and Amy also in attendance, along with Prefect Adrian Pucey. On the table was a platter of sandwiches provided by Tweak, the Slytherin house elf, for this emergency meeting of the Prince and his Inner Circle.
"You've heard back from Charlie already?" Harry inquired with surprise.
Even after reviewing the information Rita Skeeter had provided, Harry had been reluctant to pass it on to his fellow Champions immediately. He wanted a certain level of confirmation first, as well as a viable "source" for the information that was not Rita Skeeter. The boy hadn't told the reporter everything he knew about Jim Potter's Animagery, but he'd been forced to give up some information after judging that yet another Potter scandal would be less dangerous for everyone involved than going into the First Challenge blindly. But he still wanted plausible deniability for whatever Rita published next.
"This morning," Ginny replied. "And the reason the response was so quick was that Charlie's still in London! He was supposed to go back to Romania last week after St. Mungo's finally cleared him for International Portkey travel. But then, he got a message from the dragon sanctuary saying to just stay in London—and at the Ministry's expense—but not to let our parents know. Well, specifically, our father. I reckon that's because Dad is a Ministry employee who's also friends with both you and Jim."
"But no one told him not to tell his siblings?" Blaise asked, surprised at the obvious security hole.
"According to Charlie's letter, the head of the sanctuary specifically told him he was not allowed to say anything to his parents or—and I quote—any of his 'crazy Gryffindor siblings.' Nothing was said about his crazy Slytherin sister, however. Which might have been a mistake by the Director, or it might have been a deliberate and cunning effort to leak information about what's coming without getting into trouble with the Ministry. Or with the evil cursed Goblet, I suppose."
She turned towards Adrian. "Charlie mentioned that the Director's name is Magdalene Pucey. Any relation?"
Adrian laughed. "Ha! Aunt Maggie? Slytherin, Class of '69? Oh yeah, she deliberately left that security hole for us."
"Unfortunately, it's not much of a hole," Ginny added. "All Charlie knows is that he's supposed to meet a crew of eleven other dragon handlers here at Hogwarts week after next. And they've sent him all the gear they use when managing adult nesting females."
"But that's enough to confirm Rita's information," Harry said glumly. "The Champions are meeting tonight after dinner. I'll tell them all then. So, I guess the next step is to brainstorm about how to get past angry mother dragons long enough to steal from their nests."
"And Skeeter is sure that's what the actual challenge is?" Theo asked. "Stealing a fake golden egg from among the real eggs in a dragon's nest?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, her information seems pretty solid. But we've got two weeks to figure it out. So having done my part, I'm going to let the three Seventh Years in the Tournament take the lead on research for a bit while I sit back and make fun of whatever dumb ideas Jim comes up with."
"Be nice, Harry," Amy chided.
"Right now, that's as nice as I can get towards the Git. We are in the one place in Hogwarts where I won't be around Jim Potter or around anyone else who might judge me for trash-talking him. Which means I can finally let my Occlumency relax for a while."
And truth be told, Harry looked more relaxed at the moment than he'd seemed in weeks despite the fact that the group had just been discussing his upcoming date with a nesting mother dragon.
"So, setting the Tournament aside for now," he continued, "is there any other business to discuss?"
"Two things," said Ginny. "First, Amy and I have a little proposal that we wanted to run by you before we started selling."
The two girls looked at one another with a grin before turning back to Harry and responding in unison.
Then, to everyone else's surprise, Amy produced a bag from which they each withdrew a circular badge which they attached easily to the front of their robes, apparently with some kind of built-in Sticking Charm. The two badges both said "Support Harry Black" and in smaller letters underneath "The Slytherin Selection."
"It started out as an Ancient Runes project," Amy explained. "But then, we thought it over and realized that it might have some more practical applications. We were thinking of selling them for 2 Sickles, which would yield about 3 Knuts in profit."
Harry laughed. "Very nice. But do you really think people will pay 2 Sickles just for a badge showing support for me?"
Amy scoffed. "Of course not! Don't be ridiculous!"
As Harry sputtered at his cousin's dismissal, she reached up to tap a small mark at the bottom of the badge repeatedly. In response, the message on the badge changed, cycling through other slogans.
Support Cedric Diggory! The Real Hogwarts Champion!
Soutenez Fleur Delacour! Victoire Pour Beauxbatons!
Victory for Viktor! Go Bogatyrs!
"Hang on!" he exclaimed while stifling a laugh. "Amy, weren't you just lecturing me about being nice to the Git?"
"That's different," she said defensively. "This isn't anything personal or driven by an Oath of Enmity. This is just about effective sales techniques. Not every Slytherin will support you in the Tournament, but all of them will wear a Potter Stinks badge. And besides, there's also a pro-Jim option."
She tapped the badge again, and the motto changed to say "Support the BWL! Go Jim!"
"Fair enough, I suppose," Harry said with a note of pride in his voice at the two girls' cleverness. "Though you might want to raise that price a bit. I'm not sure it's worth the effort just for 3 Knuts per badge."
"Well, the thing of it is, it's not just about making money. Show him, Ginny."
The Slytherin Weasley pulled out a notebook from her bag, and Harry noticed it resembled the one he'd seen Colin Creevey using earlier that had been enchanted by the Weasley Twins to take dictation. She opened the notebook up to a page she'd bookmarked and touched her wand to a rune sequence at the top of the page before holding it up so that the others could see.
"It's really more of a long-term investment," she said. And to everyone's surprise, those words appeared on the page by magic.
"You bugged the badges you plan to sell?!" Blaise exclaimed delightedly. Ginny tilted her head at the unfamiliar term, even as the notebook dutifully transcribed Blaise's remarks.
"Well, if by bugged you mean 'incorporated a Listening Charm into the rune matrix' then … yeah. Only a few because it was very time-consuming. But Amy and I figured if we made a list of the most untrustworthy people who Harry thinks might be suspects in putting his name into the Goblet, we could make sure they got those badges. Then, we can remote-activate a notebook keyed to one of the badges so that it will take dictation on everything said around them."
Then, Ginny noticed that the notebook was still transcribing and tapped it with her wand to stop it and then again to erase what had been written.
"It's not perfect," Amy said. "You have to activate the connection by touching your wand to the rune sequence at a time when the target is wearing the badge to start the transcription. Or at least has it in a pocket or something. And it will only last for half an hour before the Charm has to be reapplied to the notebook, so you can't just leave the dictation spell running all the time."
"And finally, we still don't know how long the eavesdropping spell will last before failing, but it should last for at least a few weeks," Ginny added.
"This is amazing!" Theo exclaimed, causing both girls to blush. "Did you invent this spell?!"
The girls both laughed.
"No," Ginny answered. "We're not quite that awesome. I got the spell from Fred and George after I learned about their dictation Charm project. And they got the spell originally from Percy! He found it in the Restricted Section when he was a Fourth Year. Apparently, it was used by magical scribes in the Ottoman Empire, and he had to translate it from Arabic to get it to work. He used it for taking notes in History of Magic while he used the time to read for other classes."
Everyone laughed at that, but then, Harry grew thoughtful.
"Make sure Cassius Warrington gets one," he said.
"You think he's your biggest suspect?" Amy asked in surprise.
"I wouldn't call him my biggest suspect, at least as far as the Goblet of Fire sabotage goes. But he and his little group of aspiring Death Eaters have an annoying habit of meeting in rooms with no portrait frames in them, so I haven't been able to send a portrait snake in to spy on them yet. I'd like to have an idea of what they're up to even if it's unrelated to my current problems."
"Do you have snakes spying on everyone in Slytherin House?" Pucey asked suspiciously.
"Not everyone and not all the time. Most of the snakes aren't that intelligent, especially when I'm not around to direct them. But I have passed out to all the snakes a list of words and phrases with instructions to let me know if they overhear any Slytherins repeating them. Those who say anything on the list in the presence of a portrait snake get flagged, and the smarter snakes get dispatched to shadow them for a while."
"What words or phrases?" Adrian asked.
"Oh, the usual. Dark Lord. Death Eaters. Mudbloods. Harry Black must die. Stuff like that. So far, I've identified five or six Slytherins who definitely want to be Death Eaters someday. And I confirmed what Greg Goyle told us about Vincent Crabbe being a budding psychopath. Oh, and nine people hope I die in the Tournament for various reasons, surprisingly most of them involving Quidditch. But that's it so far. So, whoever you're dating in secret, Adrian, you can relax. None of the snakes have mentioned it to me."
"Not funny, Black," groused the prefect who was, in fact, afraid of his "broom cupboard adventures" being exposed by some voyeuristic serpent. Harry turned back to Ginny.
"Well done, both of you. Now, I believe you said there was another matter you wanted to discuss?"
Ginny tensed. "Yes. But not here. I have been asked to invite you to, well, sort of a Weasley Family meeting this evening before dinner."
"A … Weasley Family meeting?" Harry asked dubiously. The girl nodded, and he narrowed his eyes. "And just who asked you to invite me? And what is the topic of this … family meeting?"
Ginny gave an easy-going smile while carefully considering her response.
Four days earlier in Percy Weasley's room at Hogwarts …
In response to a soft knock, Percy opened the door to his private room and was surprised to discover Ron in the corridor and bearing a very pensive expression. He quickly invited the boy in.
"Ron? What is it?" he asked with concern.
"I … need some advice. You see, there's this … really delicate matter I need to handle. Actually, that I promised to handle for somebody else because that person … well, he doesn't do delicate very well. But then, I realized that I don't really do delicate very well either. So, after a week of trying to figure out how to proceed in this really delicate matter, I realized that the only person in our family who does do delicate … is you. So … here I am."
Percy blinked repeatedly before responding. "That was … incredibly cryptic and vague. Who is your friend and what is …?"
He paused and his expression soured.
"Oh, wait. Never mind. You have a friend who is such a walking disaster that even though you feel inadequate at diplomacy, you volunteered to speak on his behalf. So, what has Jim Potter gotten you into now?"
Ron frowned at that. "It's not like that, Percy! It's just … well, okay, it's kind of like that. Basically, I need advice on how to talk to Harry Black and … persuade him not to do something horrible to Jim even though he's probably justified in doing so and is also cursed to want to do something horrible to Jim whether he's justified or not."
Percy simply stared at his brother while trying to untangle that rather long and meandering sentence.
"Ooookay. Let's start with the basics. What has Jim done this time that would make Harry want to inflict a horrible revenge on him?"
Ron sighed. "Well, do you remember week before last there was that big meeting at the Wizengamot?"
"Of course. I was there with Mr. Crouch."
"Right. And do you remember at one point you were riding in an elevator with Jim, and you gave him this really harsh lecture about how he was irresponsible and reckless and it sometimes put people into danger?"
Percy sniffed disdainfully. "Harsh, yes, but fully justified in my view. Told you about that, did he?"
"Uh, yeah. Anyway, do you also remember that right after you gave him that lecture about being irresponsible and reckless, you then left him alone and unattended in the Ministry Headquarters?"
Percy stared at Ron for several seconds. Then, he slapped his hand rather forcefully against his forehead.
Two days ago in the headquarters of Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes …
The nerve center of "3-Dub," as Fred had taken to calling the Twins' future joke emporium, was a forgotten classroom on the long-disused fifth floor of the Astronomy Tower, a classroom that had been hidden behind Notice-Me-Not Charms since roughly a week after the Twins first learned how to cast Notice-Me-Not Charms in their Third Year. Percy didn't know whether to be impressed or appalled when Ron showed him where the Twins had set up their unsanctioned testing lab for their unsanctioned private business.
"I can't believe that you hid the existence of this … madman's laboratory for years when I was a Prefect, only to welcome me in now that I'm a government official!"
"Oh, put a sock in it, Perfect Ex-Prefect Percy," said Fred with a grin. "The Ministry has no say in what goes on at Hogwarts, and you're not a Prefect anymore."
"And besides," added George. "You have no reason to be concerned about what goes on in here. After all, there's a Sixth-Year prefect on hand to monitor things!"
George reached up and tapped the prefect's badge hanging from his chest. Next to him, Fred scoffed.
"Listen to him," he laughed. "Georgie-Boy may be a Prefect, but I am Professor Snape's favorite student!"
"You say that because he gave you five points … once!" George said mockingly, but Fred was undeterred.
"Five points? From Snape? To a Gryffindor? Oh yeah, that man loves me like a son! Even if he can't bring himself to express it more openly. Tragic how out of touch with his feelings that man is."
Then, Fred pretended to wipe away a tear.
"Knock it off you two," said Ron irritably. "This is serious business. And I'm sorry, Fred, but it's George we need right now."
"Outrageous!" Fred exclaimed in mock dudgeon. "What does George have that I don't have? I mean, except for that unsightly and hideous mole on his face!"
"He's got a life debt owed to him by Harry Black," Percy said flatly. "And we need that for leverage to get him to do something. Or rather to not do something."
The Twins immediately straightened and folded their arms defiantly. Suddenly, they both looked quite serious.
"And what, may we ask…" "Do you think Harry Black is going to do …" "That is so awful that we need to invoke a life debt …" "Against our good friend …" "And biggest backer …" "In order to stop him?"
"Ha!" Ron exclaimed happily. "You're doing the Twin Speak thing again! Feels like it's been ages since you did that!"
"Yes," Percy added disdainfully. "Pity. I'd hoped you'd stopped that for good. It's terribly annoying. Anyway, we need George to invoke the life debt to stop Harry Black from doing something rash to Jim Potter."
"Something rash?" George repeated. "Like what?"
"Oh, I don't know," Percy said distractedly. "Ambushing Jim, knocking him out, and leaving him tied up in the middle of the Acromantula colony to be devoured whole. Something along those lines."
The other three boys went silent and stared at Percy.
"What?" he asked defensively. "It's what I'd do if I wanted to get rid of someone and make sure there was no body to find."
"Blimey, Percy," said Ron. "You've gotten cold since you graduated from school."
"Naturally," the older sibling said dryly. "I'm a civil servant now."
This morning, just before breakfast …
As Ginny, Amy, and several of their friends rounded a corner on the way to the Great Hall, she was surprised to see four of her six brothers waiting for her. All of them were giving her warm smiles, including Percy. It was almost disturbing.
"You all go on ahead," she told her friends. "I'll catch you up."
Then, she turned and strode down a side corridor towards the same broom closet where she'd once had private meetings with both Percy and George the day after her unexpected sorting. Unsurprisingly, the four males followed her inside.
"So," she said, "obviously either there's bad news about someone else in the family or you need something from your Slytherin sister. And you're all fake smiling, so I assume it's the latter. What do you need?"
The four smiles instantly vanished, and the boys all looked to Percy, much to his chagrin.
"I thought the whole point of graduating was to be free of school drama!" he thought to himself before addressing his sister.
"We need you to broker a meeting with Harry Black," he said.
"… Broker … a meeting?" Ginny responded in confusion. "You make it sound like Harry is a rival mob boss or something. Now what's going on?"
"Jim did something foolish, and Ron accepted the responsibility for cleaning up after him. We all consider Harry a good friend, but you have the benefit of also being his good Slytherin friend. We think he'll listen to us if you are also there."
"Listen to him about what?!"
Percy took a deep breath. "Well, it all started at the Wizengamot meeting earlier this month…"
"And just who asked you to invite me?" Harry inquired. "And what is the topic of this … family meeting?"
"Oh, I'm not entirely sure," Ginny replied after a brief hesitation. She also reached over the table for another sandwich in order to avoid eye contact with the budding young Legilimens. "But I think it has something to do with George's life debt. Perhaps he and Fred want to hit you up for a favor."
"So why don't they just come to me directly? They've never hesitated to before. Not even with borderline illegal things like gambling on the Triwizard Tournament."
Ginny just shrugged and bit into the sandwich. "I dunno," she said with her mouth half-full. "But I doubt it's anything serious."
Harry's eyes narrowed. He didn't think the meeting would involve anything dangerous. But "serious" was a relative term. Obviously, it was something he would not enjoy, but it was important to the Weasley family, of whom he'd grown quite fond. Then, he remembered that a Weasley family meeting would include Ron. And Ron + something unpleasant for Harry = Jim Potter.
He sighed loudly. "Fine. I'll be there."
After that, the meeting quickly broke up, but not before Pucey's eyes lit up.
"Oh, crap, I almost forgot. Ginny, how would you like to play Seeker in a Quidditch match against Durmstrang in early December?"
The girl's eyes widened. "What?! You want me to play Seeker against Viktor Krum?!"
"More importantly," Harry added irritably. "Where is my invitation to play against Durmstrang?"
"Sorry, Harry. I was told not to recruit any of the Champions because you've already got enough on your plate this year. Which means that Diggory, Potter, and Krum won't be playing either. But it also means that the Durmstrang Seeker will be Draco Malfoy! You think you're up to outflying him, Weasley?"
Ginny grinned almost maliciously. "I wouldn't miss it for the world!"
That afternoon, just before dinner …
"HE! DID! WHAT!"
All five of the Weasleys in attendance flinched practically in unison in response to Harry's outrage. They had agreed to meet in an empty classroom. Not the one which the Twins had been using for experiments, of course. They'd put too much effort into their research to risk Harry Black blowing it all up in a fit of rage.
Ron took a deep breath and calmly repeated himself. "What I said. Jim entered your private office at the Wizengamot. He said he was there less than a minute before he got nervous and left. He … was afraid he might have messed up your plans."
A shiver of fury passed through Harry's entire body, which Ginny found alarming. She knew how good Harry's Occlumency was, and if he was still showing that much of a visible reaction, it meant the true depth of his anger must have been titanic.
"How did he even get in there?!" Harry snarled.
Ron shrugged. "He says the door was unlocked."
At that, Harry was taken aback, and he blinked several times as the expression of fury on his face lessened, though it certainly did not disappear. Ginny relaxed slightly, as it appeared that learning of a security hole in his Wizengamot office must have distracted him from the effects of the Oath of Enmity.
After a very long and tense silence during which Harry fought to regain his self-control, he finally spoke again.
"Be that as it may," he said in a calm but precise manner, "that still doesn't explain why Jim isn't here himself to confess this and has instead sent the bulk of House Weasley on his behalf."
Percy coughed into his hand. "Well, what happened is … Jim told Ron who promised to resolve the matter peacefully. Then, Ron came to me for advice. And then, I went to the Twins for advice. And then, finally, we consulted Ginny who organized this meeting."
Harry turned his glare onto the youngest Weasley who stood impassively.
"Oh, I'm not entirely sure," Harry quoted. "That was what you said when I asked what the topic of this meeting was."
The girl shrugged, unrepentant. "Well, the meeting might have touched on topics other than Jim doing something stupid. So, it wasn't technically a lie."
"Uh-huh. And what about when you said you thought it might have something to do with the life debt that I owe George?"
"Well, I reckon that's not exactly a lie either," said George nervously. "Because I was going to offer to take 10% off the life debt if you promise not to, I dunno, do whatever horrible thing it is that Ron is afraid you'll do to Jim."
"First of all, life debts still don't work like that!" Harry snapped. "Second, you can invoke a life debt on behalf of a family member, but not your little brother's idiot friend! And third, even if they did and you could, you still shouldn't value 10% of your life for Jim Bloody Potter!"
George started to respond, but Harry raised his hand to silence him while massaging his forehead with his other. He felt another migraine coming on. Finally, he looked up.
"Before we go any further, what do you all know specifically about what Potter did while he was illegally in my Wizengamot office?"
"Ron only told me that Jim entered your office without consent and presumably illegally," said Percy. "And once inside, he did something unbelievably stupid and Jim-like that was likely to provoke you to terrible rage and cause you to seek a horrible revenge against him. But Ron has not told any of us any details. That's all any of us know."
Harry nodded. "Right. Everybody out except Ron." There was a brief objection to that which Harry silenced. "You want to avoid rage and horrible revenge? Then I talk to Ron alone."
"It'll be okay, guys," Ron said. Somewhat grudgingly, the other Weasleys departed, and then Harry cast a Muffliato spell.
"Alright, spill it! What exactly did the Supreme Git of the Universe tell you?"
Ron fought down the urge to object to the insulting name for Jim Potter as he thought that defending his friend from the accusation of being an idiot at times might be unhelpful at the moment.
"He said he saw you leaving your office and, as he put it, looking shifty. After you'd left, he went to your office and tried the door and it opened. Inside your office, he … "
Ron took a deep breath and plunged in. "He found the Toymaker's portrait awake and, according to Jim, singing and dancing, which he thought was weird. Then, the Toymaker noticed him and thought he was you for a few seconds before realizing that it was your twin. They talked for a bit, but then Jim got nervous about the questions Wilkes was asking him and left. He wasn't there for more than a couple of minutes."
Despite himself, Ron swallowed nervously at the look on Harry's face. He knew he'd waited a ridiculously long time between his promise to Jim that he would handle Harry and him actually doing so, but the truth was … Harry Black could be really scary at times.
"And what specifically did Wilkes and Potter talk about?" Harry bit out.
"Well, I don't know word for word, but I think the gist was that Wilkes was asking questions about the Boy Who Lived and how he beat Voldemort as a baby. And also about you and Jim and what your relationship was. Jim says he didn't think he gave away anything major, and he realized pretty fast that Wilkes didn't seem to know much about you even though you'd just been talking. That's when he figured that you were running some kind of con on Wilkes, and he might have just screwed it up. So, he left right then."
At that, Harry's angry expression was replaced by one of surprise. "That's … surprisingly cunning for Jim. I guess he does have at least a little bit of Slytherin in him. Such a pity he's never learned to cultivate it."
Harry paced for a moment before turning back to Ron.
"Okay, here's the deal. Take it or leave it. One, I want a copy of Jim's memory of everything from the moment he entered my office to the moment he left. Two, I want a secrecy oath from both you and Jim covering everything you've learned about the Wilkes portrait being active and about me interacting with it. Do that, and I promise I won't do anything to Jim for revenge or punishment. Or at least, not because of this. Of course, it's Jim we're talking about. I imagine he'll give me some other reason to seek revenge or punishment against him any day now. But I'll let him slide for illegally trespassing into the office of the Ancient and Noble House to which House Potter is a vassal."
Ron nodded. "I'll pull Jim aside and tell him. And if he gives any guff about what you're asking for, I'll browbeat him into it."
Then, he paused and studied the Slytherin more closely. "Are you okay, by the way? You don't look so good."
"I'm fine," Harry replied. "Just a stress headache."
In response, Ron pulled out his wand, and pointed it at Harry, who merely crooked a suspicious eyebrow but made no move to defend himself.
To Harry's surprise, the pain in his head lessened significantly, though not completely.
"Thanks!" he said sincerely. Then, Harry suddenly regarded Ron speculatively.
"There's one more thing I want for letting Jim off the hook," he said. "Something specifically from you."
"Oh?" Ron responded cautiously.
"Given how my life has gone so far, I suspect that, at some point, I or one of my friends will need healing under circumstances where I can't just go to Madam Pomfrey or someone else who would treat us in an official capacity. I want to be able to call on you, and, assuming that whatever needs fixing is within your abilities, I want you to fix it, no questions asked."
Ron was taken aback. "What?! All I did was hit you with the Anti-Migraine Charm!"
"I'm aware you're just starting out, but I know that you're studying with Ted Tonks to become at least a Mediwizard someday. And I know you've already taken some preliminary Healer's Vows. But am I right that you have not taken any vows that require you to report any suspicious things you come across while doing healing magic?"
Harry paused as he considered the question he'd just asked. "Assuming any such vows exist, I suppose. I haven't seen a lot in the wizarding world that makes me think 'mandatory reporter' laws exist here. But in any case, there might be times when coming to a friend and fellow student might be better for me than a fully licensed Healer or Mediwitch."
The Gryffindor scowled. "I'm not helping you cover up any crimes or anything like that, if that's what you're proposing!"
"Even though that is exactly what you're doing by getting me to ignore Jim's illegal trespassing? Relax. I won't get you involved in anything criminal. Just perhaps a few things that are … sketchy, as Jim likes to call it. That's the deal. As I said, take it or leave it."
Ron's face showed the conflict between his desire to protect Jim and his fear that the big badSlytherin was trying to seduce him into what might be a criminal enterprise. And perhaps a certain amount of pride as well that Harry was trusting him to act as his secret and unlicensed Healer. Protectiveness and ego won out, and Ron shook Harry's hand and immediately swore a vow that he would not reveal Harry's involvement with the Wilkes portrait nor anything he learned about "Slytherin stuff" as result of healing Harry or his friends as needed.
And with that, Harry left the room, his anger at Jim mollified by the knowledge that he'd just acquired the services of someone who (theoretically at least) could heal with Parselmagic. Now, he only needed to fulfill his part of the deal by not hexing Jim during the Champions' meeting scheduled for just after dinner.
Just after dinner …
Jim turned sharply upon hearing his name called out by an unfamiliar feminine voice. He was on his way to a meeting of the Champions which Harry had called, and he didn't want to be late. Ron had assured him that the business of his stupid mistake in entering Harry's office had been taken care of, but he still had no wish to antagonize his brother, who was magically cursed to hate his family and had the power to hurt that family in a number of terrible ways.
The girl who called his name turned out to be an older Durmstrang student who he'd seen around the school since their arrival. She had raven-black hair pulled back into a bun and had an intense look about her. Like all her classmates, she wore the unisex military-style uniform common to all Durmstrang students: a tunic and breeches in shades of brown, cinched by a thick black belt and black boots. As he looked closer, however, Jim noticed a medal on her chest which looked like the equivalent of a prefect's badge, and on her left shoulder was an embroidered patch carrying the emblem of what looked like a dragon.
"Yes?" he asked. "Can I help you?"
The girl smiled as if to put him at ease. "My hope, Mr. Potter, is that we might be able to help each other. My name is Natalya Dragomirov. I am the Sixth Year Prefect for House Zmeyevich. I was hoping I might have a moment of your time."
Dragomirov spoke excellent English with just the faintest hint of a Russian accent. Jim glanced back down the hallway towards his impending meeting before turning back to her.
"I was actually on my way to a meeting with the other Champions," he said.
"I know. I heard Viktor mention that he was meeting you all tonight. But I believe you have a few minutes before it is set to commence. And I assure you that you will be very interested in hearing what I have to say."
Jim studied the older girl suspiciously. "Go on."
"This way, please," she said. "It would not do to be overheard by … certain parties."
She led the way to a nearby empty chamber. Jim cautiously followed. Waiting in the room were two other Durmstrangers, both male. One was olive-skinned with shaggy black hair. The other was paler, with neatly styled dirty-blond hair and bushy black eyebrows. Both wore the same Durmstrang uniforms as Natalya, but where the first boy wore the same dragon insignia as she did, the blond boy's insignia was that of a black wolf. Natalya closed the door and set a privacy Charm on it.
"Mr. Potter, these are my good friends. Antonio Foscarelli and Count Rudolf Andrenyi."
"Buonasera, Signor Potter," said Foscarelli with an easy smile and a light Italian accent.
"Well met, Heir Potter," said Andrenyi with a crisp, formal bow. Despite his foreign name (and title!) Andrenyi spoke flawless English. Though Jim did not know what Received Pronunciation was, his first thought was that Andrenyi reminded him of Justin Finch-Fletchley.
"Um, well met … and hi," said Jim with confusion. "Mr. Foscarelli and, er, Count Andrenyi?"
"Mister is fine," said Andrenyi. "Count is a courtesy title I inherited from my late father. Meaningless outside of Magical Hungary. And I would be very honored if you called me Rudolf."
"And my friends just call me Tony," said the other boy amiably.
The Gryffindor nodded. "Jim, then. And now that the introductions are over, what can I do for you three?"
The three Durmstrangers glanced at one another before Rudolf, who was apparently more skilled at diplomacy, took the lead.
"We wished to confirm for ourselves what we have heard from Draco Malfoy and from various newspaper reports—that you are a Parselmouth."
Jim crossed his arms defiantly. "And why exactly is that any of your concern?"
Natalya interrupted before Rudolf could reply. "Let me rephrase the question. Can you underssstand what I am sssaying?"
Jim's eyes widened at the hissing sound Natalya made when she switched from English to Parseltongue.
"Yesss, yesss I can." Then, he looked at the two males, both of whom were clearly following the conversation. "Can you two ssspeak the Founder'sss Sssacred Tongue?"
Antonio chuckled. "I would sssay that I ssspeak the Ssserpent's Tongue, inssstead. Asss would Natalya, I think."
"While I do indeed Ssspeak the Founder'sss Sssacred Tongue," hissed Rudolf somewhat imperiously before he switched back to English. "It is interesting that you should call it that as well, Jim. Your impulse to use that term when trying to say 'Parseltongue' in Parseltongue is a characteristic of those of us who inherited the gift from Salazar Slytherin himself."
"Whereas those of us who had to work at it, like Nat and me," added Tony irritably, "translate Parseltongue as just 'the Serpent's Tongue.'"
At that, Jim was taken aback. "Wait, you two learned Parseltongue? And you, Rudolf, you're a descendant of Slytherin?"
"Through our ancestors," Natalya said. "Rudolf and I are cousins. The House of Dragomirov was founded by one of Slytherin's descendants, a bastard who moved to Magical Russia in the 14th century. Parseltongue was passed down among the males of the line, but we have had a long tradition of insisting that our females learn to speak it as well. Many generations later, a great-aunt of mine married into the House of Andrenyi, which had been part of the Hungarian nobility before passage of the Statute of Secrecy, and Rudolph was born with the gift."
"Okay, that's actually very interesting," said Jim. "But you still haven't said what you want from me."
"Mainly, just to get to know you," she answered. "To learn how you developed this gift. Are you a descendant of Salazar Slytherin? Or was it, as the papers said, some strange transference from your defeat of the British Dark Lord in your infancy? While only the three of us came on this trip, our … association has over a dozen Durmstrang students who have either inherited Parseltongue or taken the enormous effort of learning it."
"To be honest," Rudolf said, "it's something of a secret organization, as even in Eastern Europe, official and public views towards Parselmouths are … complicated."
"But the thing is, Jim," added Tony. "We know a lot about Parseltongue that you might not know. About Parseltongue … and Parselmagic. And we think there might be a lot we could learn from you as well."
"So," said Natalya with a smirk. "Do we have your interest?"
Soon after …
"Good of you to join us, Jim," Harry drawled without looking up from the file in front of him.
Jim frowned. The other Champions were already sitting around the table looking at file folders of their own, each bearing their own expression of disapproval over whatever they were reading. Fleur's face was pale even as she absorbed every detail in the file with perfect clarity. Meanwhile, Viktor was fuming, while poor Cedric looked like he was about to vomit.
"So … something horrible then?" he asked while taking the empty seat that was left for him and opening the file sitting in front of it.
"Fairly horrible," said Harry. "The first Challenge will require each of us to steal an egg from a nesting mother dragon using only our wands."
"WHAT?! Are you sure?!"
"Uh, yes, Harry," Cedric added in a shaky voice. "I mean, I'm not doubting you or anything but … how did you find all this?!"
Harry shrugged. "Slytherin cunning. I know someone who knows someone who has an in at the Ministry. Beyond that, I'm not revealing my secrets. You are, of course, free to assume that I made it all up as some sort of bizarrely pointless scheme to undermine you in the task if you want."
"Viktor believes Harry!" said the Bulgarian firmly.
"Fleur believes—I mean, I believe zis information as well. Some of zese are official government documents, are zey not?"
"No comment," said Harry. "I certainly was not involved in pinching anything from a Ministry office."
"Of course not," Fleur replied almost sweetly. "You have, how do you say, 'people for that.'"
"Dragons," Jim mumbled in amazement as he thumbed through the file.
"At least we don't have to fight the bloody things," Cedric muttered. "It looks like a stealth challenge more than anything."
Viktor growled. "Yes, but ve must steal fake egg from among real eggs. And there is big penalty for any eggs destroyed. Viktor's first thought was Conjunctivitis Curse. But is too risky if mother dragon is near nest."
Harry nodded at that. "A good point. I've only gotten this information, and I passed it on as soon as I could."
Which was not strictly speaking true—he'd waited a few days, both to get confirmation from Charlie Weasley through Ginny and to divert suspicion that Rita Skeeter was his source. Rita had also graciously agreed not to publish any stories relating to Jim's illegal Animagery until after the First Task so the Boy-Who-Lived wouldn't be distracted during a life-or-death struggle with a dragon.
"My thinking is that we would take a few days and each consult our own research sources before meeting up again."
The Champions agreed on that strategy, and after another hour of brainstorming, they went their separate ways. Jim and Harry were the last to leave.
"So … should I do the secrecy oath now?" Jim asked cautiously.
"That depends," Harry replied coldly. "Have you told anyone about your little B&E other than Ron?"
Jim's brow furrowed. "I don't know what a Bee-Annie is."
Harry huffed in annoyance. "Breaking and entering. Your illegal entry into my office and what you said and did there."
"Oh. No, just Ron."
"Your oath of secrecy, then."
Jim grimaced but swore the appropriate oath. Then, after some prompting from Harry, he withdrew the memory of his brief exchange with the Toymaker.
"So … are we okay, now?" Jim asked cautiously.
"We will not be okay until this stupid Oath is removed, you get your head cleared of your father's Imperius Curse, and you, in general, stop acting like an idiot!"
With obvious difficulty, Jim pushed down the spike of anger triggered by Harry's insult, which Jim attributed to the Oath of Enmity. And also to the fact that it was justified—he had been an idiot by entering Harry's office even if his estranged sibling had apparently left the door unlocked. Instead, he simply nodded and made his way to the door before turning back to Harry.
"Seriously, though … are we good? For now, at least?"
"I have agreed to Ron's request," Harry said coldly, "that I not take any 'horrible revenge' on you for interfering with my affairs."
Then, Harry smirked maliciously. "Beyond that, Little Brother, I guess you'll just have to trust me."
Jim swallowed at that before quickly departing. Behind him, Harry exhaled slowly and willed the tension caused by his brother's mere presence to drain away. Then, he held the vial of liquid memory up to the light and inspected it.
"Okay, brother mine," he said. "Let's see what you've been up to."
A memory …
"Hello?" called out the memory of Jim Potter as he eased open the door.
"Back so soon?" called a jovial voice that Harry knew all too well. "I'll stop singing if you really think my voice is that unbearable. Though that's a horrible thing for a son to insinuate about his dear papa, I must say!"
Memory-Jim stepped carefully into the main office, past Harry and several of his Inner Circle, none of whom Memory-Jim acknowledged.
"…Lord … Wilkes, I reckon?" Memory-Jim said with a slight hitch in his voice.
"Well, of course! Who were you expecting? The Trolley Lady from the Hogwarts Express?!"
Memory-Wilkes snorted. "Mind you, if you were, I can understand your caution. Why the rumors I could tell you about her would curl your …!"
"The Trolley Lady?" Blaise muttered incredulously before Harry shushed him.
Then, the man in the painting paused, tilted his head, and blinked repeatedly. His attention was suddenly and fully focused on Jim's appearance and clothing. And especially his Gryffindor tie.
"Hang on! You're … you're not Harry … are you?"
"Uh, no. I'm Harry's brother, Jim."
There was a long silence as the Toymaker stood perfectly still … until it was broken by the sounds of most of the Slytherins slapping their hands to their foreheads.
"Idiot!" hissed Theo.
"Jim … Potter, per chance?" Memory-Wilkes finally asked.
"Yeeeeeaahh," Memory-Jim said slowly. "Has Harry mentioned me? I mean … to you?"
Memory-Erasmus's face lit up in a broad grin, but something in his eyes made Memory-Jim want to take a step back. He wasn't the only one; Amy Wilkes shuddered as she finally got to see her dead father in the flesh … so to speak. Beside her, Ginny noticed her distress and grabbed her hand to give a reassuring squeeze.
"Oh, only in the broadest outlines, m'boy. You're Jim Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived and the Slayer of the Dark Lord! A legend in your own time! And seeing you in the flesh, it's no wonder why your brother is so terribly jealous of you! Why, the awful things he said!"
"Oh?" he asked. "What kind of things has he said about me?"
"Well, for starters, he whines constantly about how the entire world worships you for destroying my Lord as a baby, even though you have no idea how you did it. Only that it couldn't have been anything intrinsic to you, on account of what a pathetic wizard you are."
Memory-Jim made a face at that but did not immediately respond. Meanwhile, Theo leaned over to Harry.
"Well, to be fair, you do kind of …"
"Zip it!" Harry snapped while maintaining his focus on Memory-Jim. The boy's face clouded with anger but just for a moment before he regained control of himself before speaking.
"Does he really? That's too bad."
"Yeeees, well. You know how younger siblings can be, Jimmy m'boy."
"Actually," said Memory-Jim, "he's the older twin."
At that, Memory-Wilkes paused and stared at Memory-Jim in confusion. "Twins, you say? I hadn't noticed the resemblance."
"Uh, yeah," said Memory-Jim, who was slightly confused himself. "Identical actually. So, anyway, since my older brother is now Lord Wilkes and I'm his only male wizarding relative, I guess that makes me the Wilkes Heir. So … is there anything you want to share with me about House Wilkes? Since we're kin and all?"
"Seriously!" exclaimed Blaise angrily.
"Oh, be quiet," Ginny said. "For Jim, that passes for subtlety."
Suddenly, the Toymaker threw back his head and laughed. "Wait, wait, wait! Little Harry is Lord Wilkes?! Harry Potter is the Lord of my House?! What is he? Thirteen?!"
"Fourteen now," Memory-Jim snapped. "Yeah, I know. He did a Slytherin thing and got emancipated so he could claim it early. And it's Harry Black, actually. He got expelled from House Potter and took sanctuary under Lord Sirius Black."
Then, Memory-Jim looked confused. "Did Harry call himself a Potter?"
Memory-Wilkes waved off the question. "So, if Harry's the Lord and you're the Heir, I guess my next question is … can you underssstand thessse wordsss?"
Memory-Jim nearly hissed back a response but caught himself. "What was that hissing sound? Was that … Parsel-whatever? That snake language?"
"Credit where it's due," said Amy as she cast the spell to grant her a temporary understanding of Parseltongue. "That was almost a convincing lie."
Meanwhile, Memory-Wilkes did not answer Jim's diversionary questions. He just studied the Boy-Who-Lived carefully as his mind raced. Memory-Jim grew nervous at the lack of response.
Then, Memory-Jim, Harry, and the other Slytherins all flinched as Memory-Wilkes put his hands on the inside of the painting and leaned against it as if it were just a large windowpane. Indeed, his face was so close to the surface that his breath fogged up the surface!
"A secret for a secret, Jimmy, m'boy," said Memory-Wikes with a leer. "I'll answer any of your questions if you answer mine. Let's start with what you know about … the Diary."
Memory-Jim went pale. "Oh crap," he whispered under his breath, as he realized the painting had been playing him instead of the other way round. Then, he spun on his heels and practically ran out of the office, with Memory-Wilkes calling after him.
"Jim! Jimmy-Boy! Heir Wilkes! Come back! Was it something I said?"
At that point, the memory came to an end, and Harry and his Inner Circle withdrew from the Pensieve, which had been sitting on the table in the Prince's Lair.
"Idiot Gryffindor!" Blaise muttered. "But I repeat myself."
"Don't bring House politics into it," Ginny snapped. "Percy would never have handled a task like trying to trick a portrait that badly. Neither would Hermione or the Twins. Not all Gryffindors are as bad as Jim."
The other Slytherins just looked at her.
"Just, you know, most of them," she added lamely.
"So how bad is this?" Theo asked Harry.
"Not as bad as it could have been, I suppose. But bad enough. Wilkes knows I'm not his son. He knows I've obtained the Wilkes Lordship. He knows that I acquired the Ring Horcrux and also the Wilkes vault key, but also that I haven't found the vault itself yet. He probably assumes that I am in league with Dumbledore or, at the very least, against Voldemort. I won't be able to get any more information out of him. Or at least not with the strategies I've been pursuing so far."
Then, Harry frowned. "Jim also told him that we're identical twins, but I altered my appearance to look like someone who might be related to him. So, the question is: Is Erasmus Wilkes—or his portrait, at least—clever enough to deduce that I'm a Metamorphmagus?"
"That would be quite a leap," said Blaise. "Especially since the minor changes you made to your appearance—hair and eye color mainly—are NEWT level Transfiguration. Probably beyond a student our age, but he might assume that there are adults involved capable of changing your appearance that way."
"Plus, he may know you were lying to him before," Amy said. "But other than your true identity, he has no idea what all you were lying about. For all he knows, you could be working for Dumbledore or even Unspeakables, both of whom I'm sure could have changed your appearance. If you have to give up pretending to be his loyal son, maybe you can still manipulate him by lying about who you're really working for."
"Moving on from what Wilkes got from that exchange," said Theo, "you should also worry about what Jim got out of it. Wilkes practically told him you were a Parselmouth."
Harry just waved that off. "Jim has suspected that since the end of Second Year. And he may not have picked up on the implications of Wilkes being a Parselmouth. We'll see if Jim tries to make something of it in due course."
"In the meantime," added Ginny, "you should probably see about getting that hole fixed in your office security."
"There is no hole in my office security," Harry replied while leaning back onto the Hydra Throne with his eyes closed. "It's sealed so that only my biomagical signature can open it."
Ginny chuckled. "Yours or your identical twin's, you mean."
But Harry just shook his head. "No, I don't, actually. Seriously, Ginny. Between the Oath of Enmity and the curse Jim is under, do you think I would have neglected to even ask if Jim could access my office? Well, I did, and he can't. Or at least he shouldn't be able to. Identical twins do not have identical biomagical signatures."
The others looked at him in confusion.
"So how did Jim just sashay into your office then?" asked Theo almost crossly.
"That's a very good question. But one which is not currently even in the top ten on my priority list. Especially since slots 1 through 7 are presently occupied with research on dragons!"
"Heh. I'd love to hear what slots 8 through 10 are," quipped Ginny. Harry looked at her with narrow eyes.
"Well, coming in at number 10, Ginny, is taking a bigger interest in your psychic arts studies. Blaise, how's Ginny's Occlumency coming?"
"I'd put her at a low 2," answered Zabini.
"Push harder, both of you. Because when you reach level 3, Ginny, I want to start teaching you Legilimency."
"Why?" the girl inquired. Harry fixed her with a stern glare.
"Because you tried to manipulate me earlier into attending that meeting with your brothers in a way calculated to make me curious enough to go and then more open to letting Jim off the hook. Very effective use of both the Life Debt and peer pressure from a family I'm rather fond of. Naturally, I wasn't fooled and knew at once it was something to do with Jim. But I was curious enough to go anyway."
He leaned forward in his chair in a way that Ginny almost found intimidating.
"For future reference, however, just because you can charm and manipulate your brothers into doing what you want, do not think you can do it with me!"
Ginny flushed. "So, what does that have to do with Legilimency?"
Harry smiled. "Because despite the moral qualms that being raised in an all-Gryffindor family has instilled in you, you are very good at manipulating people. But if you study Legilimency, you could be great at it."
Ginny said nothing, though her expression reflected two warring impulses: embarrassment at being called out on her manipulative behavior … and excitement at the thought of honing that skill to a supernatural degree.
"That's all well and good," interrupted Amy. "But what about my … I mean, what about the Toymaker?"
Harry shrugged. "Dragons first. The First Challenge is in less than two weeks. Erasmus Wilkes may know I've been lying to him about being his Voldemort-worshiping son, but there's nothing he can do about it while the Ministry has him locked inside a portrait frame in a room that only I can get into. So, we focus on the Tournament right now, and then finding the Wilkes Vault after it's over. If we haven't cracked that puzzle by the end of term, I'll try talking to him again at Christmas."
Harry turned his attention back to the agenda on the parchment in front of him.
"Let's just forget about the Toymaker for now. He's not going anywhere."
The official business office of the House of Wilkes
The Toymaker wiped the sweat from his brow as he studied the runic array he'd just finished inscribing in chalk on the floor of his sitting room. The array included nearly 200 runes carefully written in a tiresome and arduous process, and this array represented his 317th attempt. In the real world, he might have run out of chalk by now, but he was a portrait wizard using portrait chalk to craft the portrait of a runic array, so it took just a flick of his wand to summon the chalk dust from the 316 prior failed attempts back to his hand. In life, Erasmus Wilkes had been known for his persistence where runeworking was concerned, and death had only increased his resolve since he had nothing else to occupy his time. After all, 317 attempts wasn't even close to how many experiments he'd run before he got the rubber duckies to work.
After making one final review of the array, the wizard knelt to the floor, steeled himself, and touched his wand to the foundation rune, one which resembled a capital V.
The Voldho rune lit up. Then, an adjacent rune also began to glow. Then, two more. Wilkes held his breath in anticipation while rune after rune activated. Finally, the last one lit up, and the whole array was charged.
The runic array gave off a flash of brilliant light that illuminated the whole portrait. And it was accompanied by a crashing sound, as if a great many glass windows had been shattered simultaneously.
"YES!" Wilkes exclaimed while thrusting his arms up into the air. "I AM A GENIUS!"
He jumped up from the floor and grabbed his discarded smoking jacket to don. With a flick of his wand, all the furniture that had been jammed up against the back wall to make room for the runic array was flung to one side. The mad wizard marched up to a small bookcase and reached for a particular novel. It was The Secret Garden by a Muggle named Frances Hodgson Burnett. He'd never read the book, but he came across it in the home of a family of Muggles he'd murdered (brutally but creatively) and thought it might be useful for a bit of sympathetic magic he'd been planning. He tugged the book forward on the shelf, and there was a loud click as that portion of the wall slid forward to reveal a secret door.
Once Wilkes had passed through to the other side, the door closed behind him. On this side, the door was carefully hidden behind an ivy trellis that was part of what was, indeed, a secret garden. For this new portrait was a large panoramic depiction of the garden that had once stood in the backyard of Wilkes Manor (or Funtime House, as the Toymaker preferred to call it). He strode purposefully past the Deliriosos Lacrimae bush from which he'd taken the berries that he'd used to drive his grandfather into madness and death. He paused only briefly to visit with the portrait representation of a tamed Venomous Tentacula he'd kept as a pet.
"Hello, Harpo," Wilkes cooed as he tickled one of the deadly vines, and the carnivorous plant quivered in response.
Harpo had been gifted to Wilkes by a Death Eater named Mr. Petal who the Toymaker had taken as a protégé but who had tragically died young, not long before Wilkes himself. Emotionally, Wilkes cared nothing about the young man's death, but as an artist he deplored the loss of someone with so much potential for mayhem.
From there, Wilkes proceeded on towards what, from the perspective of a living observer, would have been "the front" of the landscape. From inside the painting, Wilkes saw the boundary as a large window, ten feet long and five feet tall. Nothing could be seen of the other side save darkness.
Wilkes put the tip of his wand against the glass. "LUMOSSSS!" he hissed. And there was light.
A series of orbs hanging from the ceiling lit up in sequence illuminating the infamous and long-missing Wilkes vault. But to call it a vault was, in all honesty, grossly inadequate, for the space was far larger than even the most impressive Gringotts vault. A Muggle would describe it as a warehouse, easily 100 yards on each side, with each wall covered in carefully inscribed runes that maintained the vault's structural integrity within the strange realm called wizard-space.
In one section, there were entire pallets of orichalcum bricks. Row after row of shelves held deadly toys and cursed objects of all kinds. There were also antiques that were not cursed but were rather heirlooms of House Wilkes that had been withdrawn from Gringotts to this place because of Erasmus Wilkes' deep-seated fear and distrust of the Goblins. An enormous bookshelf contained all the Death Eater's experimental notes and accumulated lore. Nearby, commanding a display case all its own, was the Wilkes copy of the Anathema Codex, still wrapped in chains due to the will of Erasmus Wilkes' grandfather that his deranged grandchild should never again touch it.
But in the center of the vault, there was a large, mostly open space that functioned as a work area. For while a Muggle might have called the vault a warehouse, Erasmus Wilkes preferred to think of it as his factory. The Funtime Factory.
Wilkes cast the Sonorous Charm on himself and then bellowed out commands like a drill sergeant.
"ATTENNN-HUT! BUILD-IT BEARS! FRONT AND CENTER!"
Instantly, the silence of the deserted Funtime Factory was shattered by the sound of thunderous clanging, as if giants were marching in formation through the building.
CLANG. CLANG. CLANG.
But it wasn't giants that were marching into the work area. Instead, it was a dozen teddy bears marching two by two to present themselves to their creator for inspection. Each was a different color that would have seemed bright and cheerful had they not been covered with cobwebs and faded with age and neglect.
CLANG. CLANG. CLANG.
Of course, the comparison to giants was not inapposite, as each of the teddy bears was twelve feet tall. And while each bear was covered in faded and decayed fabric, the sound that accompanied their marching suggested that there was a skeleton of heavy metal beneath the plush exterior. The Toymaker broke into a broad grin as the bears fanned out to form a single row in front of the huge portrait of their creator.
"BUILD-IT BEARS! PRESEEEENT ARMS!"
As one, the Build-It Bears thrust their arms forward. And with an ominous SNIKT, large tools extended from each bear's hands. Hammers and screwdrivers, drill bits, and even buzzsaws. Metal tentacles to which smaller tools were attached for more intricate work slid out of each bear's forearms.
And every tool was made of orichalcum.
Wilkes clicked his heels together smartly and then gave an exaggerated military salute before bursting out into maniacal laughter. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus had the colossal Cyclopes to aid him in crafting the legendary artifacts of the gods of Olympus. And now, the Toymaker had his Build-It Bears to help craft the wonders that would aid Voldemort and his New Pantheon in achieving the Goal.
"Right, lads!" said the Toymaker with an infectious grin. "Let's get to work!"
Next: Dragons of a more literal sort ...
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:
Same Old, Same New by Arkodian (AO3). Kind of a fix-it fic, but instead of Adult Harry going back to start over again at the age of 11, it's 11yo Harry getting imperfect memories from the future. He's still basically a child, but he has just enough future-knowledge to change things. Among other details, it has a redemption arc for Petunia and Dudley, and a slightly endearing relationship between Harry and Walburga.
Peter Pettigrew and the Ghost of Christmas James (AO3): Three years after the events of Halloween 1981, Scabbers the Rat is visited by the ghost of James Potter late one night at the Burrow. And everything changes. One of the best and most interesting Pettigrews I've ever read. The hook is that Peter is and has always been a high-functioning psychopath with absolutely no moral compass. (He suggests murdering Walburga instantly when he learns about Sirius's abuse at age 12). So why did he betray the Potters to Voldemort? Because he concluded that Voldemort was going to win and so ensuring that all his friends died quickly was a kindness!
AN3: Special thanks to my Discord editors: Aph, Cas, Chaskel Velvel, ChowPow123, Daniel?, EssayOfThoughts | Aich, Farsight, Forge, Idefix, iqnmrfc, Jiiti, kean, PrettyPinkCupcake, raveenamarcus, sehrrhes, and skyari. Thanks guys!
AN4: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 19,317. Followers: 21,468. Favorites: 19,755. Communities: 255 Discord followers: 5,733! Go Team POS!