Chapter Forty

Alexandra Black, Meet Death's Champion

Birds tweeted in the trees. A centaur, out for morning archery practice, sniffed the dew-filled air. Morning light shone onto the Black Lake, reflecting shimmering patterns as the water bobbed and ebbed. Some of that light passed through the surface and down into the depths — at first with ease, but as light blues gave way to darker, less cheery shades, it struggled more and more, until the morning sun consisted of only a few lonely photons in the deep, inky blackness. It was pretty dark down there.

Continue on just a bit further though, in just the right direction, and the blackness surrenders to a faint green glow — light from dozens of windows, each one embedded into a sheer underwater cliff-face. The largest of these windows belonged to the Slytherin common room, and students inside might occasionally expect to see schools of fish, or kelpies, or even the occasional whisper of the giant squid, but right now the outside waters were empty — empty and calm. Not so inside the glass.

"Come on, I do not wish to be late!"

"My homework! Oh Merlin, Snape's going to kill me."

"Hey, did you hear what happened to Judith in Herbology?"

"Bluhhh, too early."

And so on and so forth.

Near the middle of the room, Draco Malfoy relaxed at the head of his court. Unlike the rest of the room, no one in this small circle was moving fast or seemed to be in a hurry. Far from it in fact. The Malfoy heir held a set of five cards right up to his face in a manner suggesting that any attempt to rush him would see him take even longer, just because he could.

"Fold," said Theodore Nott, throwing his cards on the table. The cards started complaining loudly.

"I'll raise by three knuts," said Pansy.

Draco stared fixedly at his cards while in the background a sixth year couple argued all the way to the common room door. "I call," he said. The door closed with a loud thumphf.

And at the back of the common room, down the enchanted flight of stairs that led to the girl's dormitories, down to the very deepest level, a door flung itself open and a red headed girl burst out.

"Ginny, wait for me," Luna called from inside the room.

Ginny laughed. "Should have dressed quicker then!"

Moments later Luna appeared and made a theatrical grab for where Ginny no longer was.

"Hah!" Ginny giggled and danced away, Luna following close behind.

And in the first years girls dormitory proper, at the very back of the room, in a green and silver four poster bed with the curtains shut tightly, Alexandra Black sat, crosslegged on the bed, stroking a purring Amethyst with one hand, while her other hand held a quill, poised on empty parchment. An open letter lay on the bed next to her, the contents of which had greatly disturbed her.

Her hand trembled.

'Dear Father,' she began.

She shook her head slowly, crossed the line out, and wrote, 'Dear Daddy.'

She'd barely finished writing the 'y,' before she shook her head much more vigorously, crossed out that line too and replaced it with, 'Dear Dad.'

Then she crossed out the 'Dear,' leaving only the 'Dad.'

Frustrated, Alex ripped up the parchment and threw it in a small pile. She wondered why this had to be so hard before starting again with another sheet.

'Hi Dad,

I'm fine! Yes, I've been sorted into Slytherin house. Don't let the rumours get to you. I'm still friends with Harry. Yes, I'm working hard and yes, I'm keeping an eye out for Snape. You don't need to worry so much. No, I don't know what library you're thinking of—'

Alex paused and bit her lip. Her hand was still shaking. It seemed that Lord Slytherin had been right about Lord Black wanting to purge the Black Library. The mere thought of something so horrible happening to her library made Alex sweat, but that wasn't the only thing. Way at the back of her mind whispered a niggling question. How could Slytherin have possibly known? He'd warned Alex way back at the last Winter Festival and for a while she'd started to think he might have been mistaken. But he hadn't been. Slytherin's gaze seemed to reach as far as starlight. It was unreal. Far more like a character from one of her many story books than a real person. And he had not only seen, but also acted, unlike her father who Alex never saw do more than the bare minimum for the family. She continued writing.

'—,but if I remember anything I'll be sure to let you know. Hope everything is going well,'

Alex then wrote and crossed out several forms of signing off on a spare piece of parchment before simply settling on, '— Alex.'

She checked the letter several times before folding it up, tucking it away, nuzzling a mewling Amethyst on her cold nose, and leaving the dormitory. Most of the other students seemed to have already left for breakfast, so it was a surprise to find cousin Draco, along with Pansy and Theodore, sitting in a hunched circle. She wandered over.

"Four of a kind," said Draco, setting down a set of cards. "Robes."

Pansy and Theodore groaned.

"I was sure you were bluffing," Theo said.

Alex sat down in the one free seat at the low table.

"Black." Draco acknowledged her with a nod.

Alex looked at the table as Draco pulled a small pile of knuts towards him. "Bit early for this, isn't it?"

Pansy sniffed. "We were behind on our homework. Mother said if we didn't keep up with our lessons she'd see to it that our allowances were cut."

Alex carefully kept her face blank while a mild feeling of resentment swelled up in her. Poker as homework. Of course. They'd probably been playing since they were old enough to hold cards. They'd probably been trained to identify tells before they'd learned to read — no, probably before they'd finished potty training. Alex had never played the game in her life. She didn't even know how to play.

"Want to be dealt in?" asked Draco, "There's still time for one more round."

"I'll just watch," Alex quickly said, while her mind scheduled an appointment with Luna to get hold of a book of rules, and preferably lessons too.

"Suit yourself."

The round opened with two knuts from Pansy and continued from there.

"You wouldn't believe what my father sent me the other day, Black." Draco said, mid round.

"Oh?"

The corner of Theodore's lip curled upwards.

Pansy rolled her eyes.

"Seven Nimbus 2001s — for the Slytherin quidditch team."

Alex raised her eyebrows. "That's a lot of gold."

"Yes, it is, isn't it." Draco smiled while not looking at his cards. "You're looking at Slytherin's newest seeker."

"Really?"

"Yes," Draco drawled. "Flint was very impressed. The latest model is far more efficient than the old 2000 ever was — faster too."

Alex couldn't help remembering a conversation between her and Ginny in which Ginny had firmly stated that she was going to be Slytherin seeker or else. Alex wasn't entirely sure what the 'or else' would be, but she hoped it wouldn't interfere with her own plans to take over the Dark for Lord Slytherin. Which, incidentally, was a plan that she intended to put into effect right about… now.

"I'm sure you will astound us all," Alex said, and allowed a small pool of magical intent to pool on her finger tips. She'd found the spell in a Black family magic book ages ago. It was named the stress jinx by an unimaginative ancestor who'd been experimenting with dementors. The spell enhanced anxiety in the target towards things the target was already anxious about, and was undoubtably dark magic of the most insidious kind, slowly worming itself deep into the victim over multiple applications. It took a long time to wear off, and was supposed to affect the caster just as bad as the target. Strange that, since she'd never felt anything bad from using it.

Alex let the magic snake out, undetected, across the gap between them and sink into the Malfoy heir.

Draco stiffened and his breath hitched, but otherwise he seemed unaffected by the Black family spell, at least not outwardly. "Of course I will."

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

"C'mon, make a move. I know you want too," Ginny muttered to herself while glaring in frustration at the Marauder's map. A dot labelled, 'Virgo Malfoy,' sat in the library in a circle of other dots, one of which was labelled 'Susan Bones.'

"Still nothing?" Luna asked.

"No. It's sticking to Bones like glue."

The two were walking through the corridors after classes had finished. Harry had called a general meeting.

"Are you sure you're ready for her?" Luna asked. "This isn't like practicing on chickens."

Ginny felt a small pang of guilt that had nothing to do with Riddle and everything to do with Hagrid's chicken coops before firmly squashing it. "I'm sure."

Not far away, unseen behind several corners, two older boys in Gryffindor robes were on a collision course with the two girls.

"What do you think Harry wants?" Fred asked. He was idly spinning a protractor on his index finger.

"Probably news from our unknown benefactor who definitely isn't Lord Slytherin," George answered.

"You think?"

"Sure."

Fred grinned. "I bet it's about becoming animagi."

"How much do you bet?"

"A sickle."

"Done."

The two pairs turned opposite corners on opposite sides of the next long corridor and stopped at exactly the same time, leaving them facing each other like twin duellists at the O.K Corral.

"Well, well," said George sticking just his thumbs into the pockets of his robes in mock imitation of a teenage boy trying to be tough. "If it isn't the prodigal sister."

"The first Weasley ever to be sorted into Slytherin," Fred added. "For shame, little Ginny."

Ginny snorted. "Didn't the sorting hat offer either of you Slytherin?"

"That's for us to know and you to find out."

Luna smiled. "If it's for Ginny to find out, then asking those who know seems like a good idea to me."

The twins looked at each other. "She's got us there, Fred."

"Too true, George. Very well then, please allow us to clarify, your Heiressness Heiress Lovegood. We ain't telling."

"Oh."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "I assume there's a reason you two are here."

"Harry called us."

Ginny gestured to the door in the middle of the corridor. "Us too."

"Then after you, little sister."

It was the same classroom the girls and Harry trained in. Harry was already there, along with Hermione and Daphne. He got up and shook Fred and George's hands as they filed in. "I have news from our patron," Harry said, closing the door behind them while Ginny and Luna moved over to Hermione and Daphne and started conversing in hushed tones.

"Oh, yes?" George grinned.

Fred huffed, shoved a hand into the pocket of his robes and slapped a large silver coin into George's hand.

"Yes, Nimbus wants to make adjustments to our efficiency rings for next years model."

Fred nodded. "You know, Harry, you don't need to be so mysterious about our patron, it's incredibly obvious who he is."

The girls all looked up sharply.

"It is?" asked Harry.

"Yes, it is."

"Do tell, then. There are none here not in the know."

George pointed. "Daphne Greengrass and Luna Lovegood — both betrothed to Lord Slytherin — and you disappear for the whole summer with the prophet constantly hinting that Lord Slytherin 'kidnapped' you."

"Okay, I guess it's not all that hard to work out."

Fred smirked. "That and we got an owl from Dad last week telling us everything, but we were sure we knew even before that."

An unreadable expression passed over Harry's face. "When you say everything…"

Fred and George looked at each other. Then George said, "That we'd been dealing with Lord Slytherin and our partnership is official and that Dad supports us, but that we shouldn't tell Mum about it until he says it's okay."

There was a pause.

"…Yes." Harry eventually said. He smiled. "Yes, that probably just about covers everything. Right then." He clapped his hands together. "We're just waiting for our last member and then we're going to get down to business."

Hermione put up her hand.

"Yes, Hermione?"

"What exactly is our business? You didn't say."

"Animagus training."

Fred gave his brother a victorious smirk.

George snorted, reached into his pocket, grabbed the same silver sickle his brother had just given him and slapped it back into Fred's hand. He then fished out a small bag of bronze knuts and handed it over with a theatrical flourish.

At that moment, they all heard the sounds of footsteps rapidly approaching through the corridor outside. The door opened and Alexandra burst in.

Ginny couldn't help wondering what sparks would fly when her childhood friend was finally let in on Harry's secrets.

"Sorry I'm late," Alex said. "I had to shake the Carrows."

The Weasley twins looked at each other again. "Was not expecting that, oh brother of mine," said George.

"No indeed not." Fred turned to Harry. "Isn't she a little… Dark?"

"Nah, she's one of mine."

"Hey! I am not one of yours, Potter. I'm—" Alex hesitated, her gaze flickering back towards the Weasley twins.

"It's okay, Black," Daphne piped up. "They also work with Slytherin."

"Well, okay then."

As far as Ginny could tell, Harry's process of becoming an animagus sounded a lot simpler than the normal version. He explained that the first step would be exactly the same — keeping a mandrake leaf in their mouths for a whole month — but that after they'd identified their animal form, they'd not bother with the aligning their soul to their inner animal through rigorous self transfiguration, which could take years, and instead each would build a special mindscape for their animal, before conducting a large group ritual involving themselves, seven massive clay pots, a pensieve, and enough phoenix ash to block a fireplace. They'd live the life of their inner animal all the way from birth in the blink of an eye, and die on the claws of the other six. Something about phoenix ashes ability to bend time and space and the way consciousness flowed in a okay, thought Ginny, as Harry finished up his rather lengthy explanation. Perhaps 'simple' wasn't the best way to think of it.

"Hang on a second," Fred said, frowning slightly. "You say seven pots because seven is a critically important number in soul magic. There are eight of us."

Everyone looked around, counting heads. There were indeed eight people present — Harry, Daphne, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Alexandra, Fred, and George.

"Yes," said Harry. "There are two ways we can handle that. My hope is after this we can repeat the ritual for the muggleborns a year from now. They're learning the needed occlumency as we speak. It might be helpful to have someone who's been half way through the ritual already to guide them through that…"

The twins crossed their arms in unison.

"The other way," Harry continued, ignoring the belligerent looks they were shooting him, "is to stuff the two of you into one pot and see what happens."

"And what might happen?" George asked.

"If you have the same animal, you might simply be born in the same litter and grow up together. Or you might fuse into some hybrid monstrosity, like a two headed cerberus — like Orthrus."

The twin's broke out into wide grins.

"Or the whole ritual could just not work and we'd have to try again. Or we could all die — although I have my reasons to doubt that would happen."

The twins exchanged looks then retreated across the room to whisper among themselves. After a few moments they returned. "We think," said George, "that we should find out what our animal forms are first and then decide."

"Sound thinking." Harry stood up. "Well, that was all. I'll let you know when I have the mandrake leaves. They're quite hard to get hold of at the moment." Everyone started to file out. "Oh, Ginny, a word please."

Ginny held back. The door closed as the last other students walked through.

"I heard from Luna you did the chicken killing training last night. How are you feeling?"

That twinge of guilt twisted itself in Ginny's stomach again. "Fine."

"You sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

Harry didn't look all together convinced.

"It's fine, Harry, really."

"Well… okay then."

Ginny let out a small mental sigh of relief. "Anything else?"

"Yes, Quidditch tryouts are tomorrow afternoon."

"Flint's going to make trouble." It was a statement more than a question.

"Not as much as he might have," Harry said. "I had a quiet word with him the other day. He agreed to give everyone a fair trial."

"How'd you manage that?"

"I calmly pointed out to him the benefits of allowing meritocratic placement to his future sporting career."

Ginny gave him a disbelieving look.

"I may have pointed this out while holding a pointy sword, pointing vaguely in his direction — I think he got my point."

"That does sounds more likely."

"I also slipped him a bag of gold to counter Malfoy's buying the whole team nimbus 2001s."

At that point several thoughts flew through Ginny's head. The first was, 'that Malfoy ratface scumbag,' the second was, 'it doesn't matter anyway, because Harry outsmarts him without even trying,' and the third was, 'oh wow, oh wow, when I get on the team, Malfoy will have, in fact, unwittingly bought me, Ginny Weasley, a brand new nimbus 2001.'

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

The new broomstick gleamed. The wood was polished, the handle smooth, a magic efficiency ring hovered behind the seat, and each individual twig in the tail bent out elegantly before sweeping back in a manner reminiscent of gull-wing doors on a muggle sports car — not that the broomstick's current owner would have appreciated the comparison.

"Impressive, isn't it?" Draco said, brushing an imaginary speck of dust from the tip.

Despite herself, Alexandra couldn't help feel a pang of annoyance. It really was a nice broomstick.

"It's so impressive, Draco," Pansy simpered. The girl turned to Alex. "Isn't it impressive, Black."

"Very impressive." Alex said dryly. She fired another hidden stress jinx at Draco. "Better make sure you win the cup. Daddy won't be happy dropping so much gold on a failure."

For just a moment Alex thought she detected a flicker of worry on Draco's face before it snapped back to his aloof mask. "You need to be more careful how you insult people, Black," he said. "You don't have your family on your side here."

Alexandra shrugged. Nothing new there, she thought. She was used to dealing with things on her own.

The three of them were on their way to the Slytherin quidditch tryouts, Draco already holding the nimbus 2001 he'd claimed from the seven his father had sent in. Alex walked a little way ahead of the other two, not wanting to give the impression she was hanging off Draco's arm the way Pansy practically was. They made their way outside and wandered down to the pitch.

Six nimbus 2001s were lined up on the grass. Harry and Ginny were already there, along with some other hopefuls and most of the previous year's Quidditch team. Alexandra broke away and went to find herself a good spot to watch from the stands.

Draco sneered at Ginny as he arrived in the middle of the pitch. "First years aren't allowed, Weasley. Push off."

Flint cleared his throat. "As a matter of fact, Malfoy, the baron has given Miss Weasley permission to try out so long as her broomstick is held by another." The bloody baron had replaced Snape as head of Slytherin house the previous year after Snape got petrified by the basilisk.

Draco looked Ginny over. "Well I suppose having a Weasley under my thumb wouldn't be too—"

"As seeker, Malfoy, not just chaser," Ginny cut in.

"What? I'm Slytherin's seeker."

There was a noticeable silence. Ginny smirked.

Draco whirled on Flint. "You promised me seeker!"

"No, I promised you a spot on the team. I'm not stopping you from trying out for seeker, but if someone does better than you, you'll be a full-time chaser."

"She's a girl!" Draco pointed at Ginny. "You never let girls…" He trailed off. He turned to Harry who'd been silently watching the entire exchange.

Harry tilted his head in a half acknowledgement.

Draco's eyes widened. He then whirled back on Flint. "You! You Gray-faced bastard! Have you no honour? People who are bought should stay bought!"

Flint shifted uncomfortably. "After we've chosen four chasers, we'll release eleven snitches — whichever chaser catches most will be seeker."

"I'm not being led by a Weasley!"

Flint's eyes hardened. "Then you'd better not lose then, had you?"

Draco scowled before seeming to calm down. "Fine. Like I'd ever lose to a girl anyway."

Way up in the stands, Alexandra heard none of this. She sat with her hands under her chin, looking bored, but carefully watching Malfoy for further signs of cracking. It was difficult to tell this early in the game how much of that little outburst had been her doing and how much was just Malfoy's own personality. Surely it had been her doing. At this rate she'd have the Dark wrapped around her finger by Winter Festival. Something Harry hadn't been able to achieve all last year.

The logic made perfect sense to Alex. Harry Potter was immensely powerful — everyone knew that. He'd also spent almost all of last year distancing himself from the Gray, just like she was doing now. What had he been doing during that time? Nothing, as far Alex could tell. And yet, here she was now, being asked by Lord Slytherin to take over the Dark — something she was sure could be achieved in under a week if she had Harry's powers. So how had he failed what for him should be such a basic task? Because he didn't want to use his powers?

Alex snorted to herself. The players down on the field were now throwing several quaffles about to each other several feet above the ground.

I mean, look at this, Alex thought. Harry could have Ginny on the quidditch team if he wanted to in an instant. All he had to do was put pressure on Flint, who was already Gray, and bam! But no, what was it Ginny had said to her before?

'Lord Slytherin has arranged something for me.'

Lord Slytherin! Not Harry! Why was someone like Slytherin having to stoop to arranging positions on quidditch teams when he had someone as obviously powerful as Harry, supposedly running the show down here? It made her sick.

Harry Potter seemed to be very much like her dad in that respect — powerful and influential, but unwilling to use that power to make what needed to happen happen. Or even like Dumbledore, if she believed the whispers.

And so, here she was, having to clean up someone else's failure. Still, it gave her the opportunity to prove herself to Slytherin, so she wasn't complaining at all.

Oh, speak of the devil…

Harry ascended the stairs towards her, looking as calm and cheerful as he always did — cute too — though she'd rather die than admit it — just one more thing that pissed her off — him being cute that is, not her determination to never let anyone know she thought so.

"Knut for your thoughts?" Harry sat down beside her.

"My thoughts are worth a lot more than a knut, Potter."

"Suit yourself." Harry pulled out a small bottle of orange juice from somewhere, popped the top, and took a sip.

"Why aren't you down there?" Alex waved her hands to the speeding broomsticks. "Ginny says you're better on a broom than even her."

"I'd like to, but I've got other stuff to do. Bubble water?" He held a can to her.

Alex took it. "Thank you."

They drank in silence for a few moments while Ginny scored twice in the time it took Draco to score once.

Then Alex asked, "What were you doing last year?"

Harry thought for a moment before answering. "Keeping my head down mostly. It wasn't a good time to be me."

"Why? You're so powerful, you could easily squash anyone who got in your way."

"It is sometimes better to hide your true powers. Unrestrained enthusiasm has a way of coming back to bite you later."

Alex snorted. What a Harry Potter response. What was the point in him hiding his powers now? Everyone knew his powers — knew them, and knew he didn't use them.

"Oh?" Harry leaned forward slightly. "What do we have here?"

Alex turned to follow Harry's gaze. A group of Gryffindors were walking onto the pitch, each one clutching very familiar looking brooms, Nimbus 2001s. Alexandra watched as Flint landed and started a loud argument with Wood, presumably about who had the right to the pitch. She watched as Draco landed in front of John Potter, followed by a lot of angry pointing between brooms and smug looks from John. She watched Ginny land not too far off. John eventually noticed her, standing there wearing Slytherin quidditch gear, and utterly lost his shit. Finally, she watched Harry next to her, calmly studying the unfolding drama with his fingers lightly steepled together — doing nothing, just watching.

Yes, Alexandra thought. Harry would be far better put to use under the command of another. Far better to have someone else be leader of the Gray at Hogwarts. That would be a good thing to work towards, even if only to make sure Greengrass got the position. Daphne was Slytherin's betrothed after all, and already led the Gray in public. Surely she wouldn't squander Harry's many talents.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

For Hogwarts students, sneaking out at night shouldn't be easy. What it should be is a terrifying ordeal with unknown threats lurking around every corner. Paintings, ghosts, teachers, prefects, house elves, they all should form a security system so tight as to make even an animagus gnat think twice about breaking out. And that wasn't even taking into account the caretaker, Argus Filch, whom, despite being a squib, nevertheless seemed to have the magical ability to turn up exactly where ever out of bed students might be, never mind the fact that the castle bent space in such a way as to make his beat several times larger on the inside than the outside — and Hogwarts wasn't a small castle to start with. Sneaking out at night shouldn't be easy.

"Pass the crisps, Daphne."

"Ooooo, look, he restocked the fridge."

"Do you mind? Some of us are trying to do homework."

"C'mon Hermione, it's hardly a long trip."

"You don't have healer classes, combat lessons, and teaching the muggleborns."

"I do have combat lessons — we have them together!"

"You know what I mean."

"And I have seeker training now too. Flint was all like, 'I'm going to work your cute little arse right off!'"

"He didn't really say…?"

"No, of course not. Who's got the peanuts?"

*Sigh* "Well, I guess there's no point in working now. Where does your eye show us, Daphne?"

"We just reached the grand staircase."

"I'd love to be able to do that. Oh, thanks, Luna."

"Don't get your hopes up. Hermione, Harry, and I all tried last year and only I was able to open my inner eye. It's not a common ability."

*Munch* "Luna will be able to."

"I might be able to. It's always hit or miss with us Lovegoods."

"Hey, Daphne, have you ever used that to spy on Harry in the showers?"

"No! I — have — not!"

*Munch* "Ever been tempted?"

"No! Besides… Harry can sense magic, so he'd know it was there."

"Aha! So you have thought about it!"

And so on and so forth.

Not too much later, there was a tapping on the lid of the trunk. The girls all quietened and looked up. The trapdoor lid at the top of the stairs opened and Harry stuck his head inside. "We're there."

Sneaking out at night shouldn't be easy, but most students don't have a two-hundred galleon shrinkable trunk, the ability to fly, and a cloak able to hide the wearer even from the gaze of Death himself.

"Daphne! Hermione!" A beautiful ghost with a slight baby bump glided over as the two girls climbed out of the trunk. "I've missed you!" It was Angelystor.

Daphne and Hermione both smiled. "You as well," Daphne said. She couldn't help thinking the ghost looked a lot more solid these days. So much magic in the air had to be doing her good.

Angelystor turned to the others. "And who are these two?" she asked with a warm smile.

"My lady," said Harry, "may I present Luna Lovegood, of the Ancient and Noble House of Lovegood and Ginny Weasley, of the House of Weasley."

Luna and Ginny both gave slight curtseys.

"A pleasure." Angelystor turned back to Harry. "Is Heiress Black not with you?"

"Alexandra couldn't make it. Next week, I hope."

"Right." Angelystor clapped her hands together and motioned for the girls and Harry to gather round. She then spoke of the wondrous magics of divination, mostly for the benefit of the two newcomers, both of whom listened with rapt attention. She spoke of the many spells she learned as a student at the shoe, and of after her death — of the rise of Muggleborn Light Lord Dimwiddy, the role both divination and the ever-strengthening Albion Family Magics played in his Second Magical British Empire, and finally of his eventual defeat, the chaos that followed, and the subsequent establishment of the ICW.

Daphne had heard it all before but that didn't matter. Angelystor spoke with more passion and strength of purpose than Binns ever did. After the introductory lecture, they split up and set to work on their individual projects. Hermione and Harry sat off to the side working on homework, Daphne practiced controlling her inner eye with the large mirror set off to one side, and Ginny and Luna sat in the middle of the room with Angelystor, wands out, crystal balls in front of them, looking either giddy with excitement or relaxed with dreamy dreaminess. If by this point you need to be told which witch was which, then you haven't been paying attention.

"The wand incantation is 'videt immino,'" Angelystor said, repeating exactly the lesson she'd given the previous year. "the wand movement is three jabs diagonally upwards to the right, and a single small left spiral, along with the intention to know the severity of the threat you will face, all passed through your inner eye before being released from the tip of your wand and into the crystal ball at the exact end of the final spiral." She smiled. "Remember, finding your inner eye is by far the most difficult part, so go slow and try to feel it out."

Five minutes later, Luna Lovegood was rolling on the floor, screaming her lungs out, writhing in pain, eyes literally on fire.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

Nearly four hundred miles away, in a dimly-lit room, deep, deep under London, a woman dressed all in grey with a hood that magically hid her entire face, jerked up sharply. On the shelf high above her desk, several arcane looking implements—dusty and squeaky after years of non-use—started, ponderously, to move.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

"Remember, finding your inner eye is by far the most difficult part, so go slow and try to feel it out," Angelystor said. She floated backwards and studied the two girls carefully.

Daphne couldn't help but be curious. She lowered her wand from the mirror in front of her, and turned to watch. Only then did she realise that Harry and Hermione had also set down their quills. Harry in particular seemed especially interested.

"Videt immiono," said Ginny, poking her wand into the crystal ball.

Nothing happened. Ginny pouted.

Luna still had her eyes closed.

"Try again," Angelystor suggested.

Ginny raised her wand.

And then Luna's eyes flew open, glowing white so brightly that shadows flickered across the dimly lit room.

Daphne gasped.

As though he'd been waiting for exactly this, Harry leapt to his feet, chair crashing to the floor behind him, just as Luna started to speak in a voice that was not her own. The words weren't many, but by the time they were over, Daphne couldn't help smiling. They were good words.

She stopped smiling when she saw Harry's face.

Harry wasn't smiling. His face was instead the colour of pure chalk.

"I need to go," he started, but just as the last word left his mouth, all hell broke loose. Luna let out an ear piercing scream and the light in her eyes flared — brighter than the sun, brighter than burning magnesium. It filled the whole hut and moments later, she was on the floor, rolling around, screaming her head off.

Luna's eyes were on fire.

"Luna!" Everyone scrambled to do something, but it was Harry who got there first. He grabbed the girl and forced away her hands — hands which had been engaged in a spirited attempt to claw out her own eyeballs. He jabbed his wand at her face, shouted an incantation, and dragged away the burning fire the way one might drag away a lassoed animal. Moments later, water splashed into two empty eye sockets.

Daphne flinched away. It wasn't a pretty sight.

Luna kicked one last time and then went limp in Harry's arms. She'd fainted.

"Hermione!" Harry shouted in a firm voice. "Help her!"

Hermione hurried over, waving and jabbing her wand like she was trying to swat a fly. Daphne recognised the spells as healer diagnostic chains.

"She's not going to die for at least thirty seconds," Hermione said quickly. "No, a minute — no five minutes — no, she's good for at least thirty minutes, I think, although there are some signs here I don't understand."

"Anything you can do?"

"No, this is way beyond my level."

"Take her to Madam Pomfrey. Contact me on our rings if anything critical comes up. There should be just enough range." Harry marched towards the door.

"Where are you going?" Daphne asked, while Hermione continued to wave her wand over Luna.

"I have to make sure that only we hear what Luna just said." And with that, Harry threw Daphne the trunk containing the spare broomsticks, shut the door behind him and shot up into the air, heading straight towards the nearest floo point to the shrieking shack,

The floo, despite what people who rarely use it are led to believe, is not instant. It might indeed only take a few minutes to get from the Burrow to London, but the Burrow is actually quite close to London. Hogwarts, on the other hand, is not. But fifteen minutes is still quicker than the next best alternative, and certainly quicker than say, broomstick or thestral.

Harry had snuck out of Hogwarts dozens of times before, but if sneaking out of Hogwarts shouldn't be easy, then it is nothing compared to how easy it should not be to sneak into, say, the Department of Mysteries, which is why Harry Potter, now ducking into the floo of his Hogsmeade apartment, had no intention whatsoever to sneak.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

To the ministry at large he was Ian Mikenther — Cornwall Academy drop out, and 'that cleaner guy' they occasionally saw in the bathroom or canteen. That is to say they saw him using the bathroom and eating in the canteen, not cleaning them. But he had to be a cleaner — it stood to reason — he wore the uniform, a dust grey robe purpose made for getting grubby.

It never occurred to the vast majority of them that there was something fundamentally wrong about having human cleaners when they already had a large team of house elves — nor that there was, in fact, another group of people who walked around in dust grey robes — the only difference being that they always kept their hoods up.

It was way past midnight. The large entrance hall was filled with the eerie silence unique to places people expect to find loud and bustling. Ian blew on his cup of hot chocolate and made his way to the janitor's service door, each foot step echoing in the empty space. He opened the door, walked to what looked like a perfectly normal stretch of corridor, and tapped on a bit of wall. The wall swung inwards to reveal a set of stairs.

When he reached his office, Ian sat down on his cheap swivel chair, took a sip of his hot chocolate, and got back to work on the rather finicky arithmancy calculations required to predict last quarter's spread of the Albion Family Magics. Cornwall Academy hadn't taught arithmancy. That had frustrated Ian no end. What it had taught was that muggle born students who experimented with magic not on the curriculum got a one way ticket to mind wipe street. It had been only sheer luck that saved him from waking up in a muggle coma ward.

The room was totally silent except for the ticking of the clock on the wall and the scratching of his magic quill on the paper. He focused on the work in front of him. F(x) becomes the derivative of the perenelle equation…

He'd only been working on the numbers for a few minutes when he heard footsteps in the outside corridor. They stopped outside his door. He didn't look up. His office door opened with an unusually enthusiastic bang. Then he looked up. A not-plump but not-athletic woman poked her bespectacled head through. "C'mon! What are you still doing here?"

"Mary?"

"You're going to miss it!"

"Miss what?" Ian stood up.

"You heave't heard?"

"I was getting hot chocolate."

"A prophecy's coming through!"

"What?!"

"C'mon!"

Ian stumbled towards the door, all thoughts of arithmancy left behind, and tried to follow the rapidly retreating woman, his mind revving up into high gear. "How long has it been?" he asked. "Three years? Four?"

"Four years, one month, and twenty-four days," Mary replied as they marched through an eternally revolving door and into the hall of prophecies. "We averaged one a week for a thousand years, and then, suddenly, nothing, and now… something!"

"Who gave it?"

"Well, we don't know yet. The magic hasn't got that far."

They exited the hall and made their way down another corridor. The whole department seemed as empty as the rest of the building, which certainly wasn't normal. Unspeakables often treated the idea of work/life balance as something to be optimised by merging the two as completely as possible. They tended to date only among their own, often through the ministry's signature flying notes, which also spared the trouble of actually having to meet face-to-face. The reason for the department's emptiness soon became apparent.

"Standing room only?" Ian said, loudly enough to be heard over the eight other people all pressed into the tiny office. Most of them were crowded around the desk, where an arcane piece of magical machinery was busy blowing smoke through a series of glass tubes, all twisty and turney like a muggle roller coaster.

"Ian!" shouted one of the mass, standing by a large cork board on the wall. "Want to update your bet before the orb rolls out?" The cork board was filled with newspaper clippings, official reports, and hand written notes, all attached with strings and randomly pointing to each other, giving the impression that a spider shitting string had tripped on LSD.

One official looking paper started:

Report on the Great Accounting Incident

July, 1989 — September, 1989

A newspaper headline next to it read:

Daily Prophet

Lord Slytherin Takes his Seat

December, 1989

And what looked like an excerpt from a meeting transcript pinned over the top said:

"The centaurs have cracked, I tell you, Barty! Now they're saying the stars themselves are wrong!"

In the middle of the cork-board someone had pinned up a piece of A4 printer paper titled, 'The 'Who is Lord Slytherin?' Pool.'

Current odds

Long lost descendant of Salazar Slytherin — 1:3

Jacob Greengrass or other high ranking member of the Gray — 1:10

Non Human (half-breed) — 1:15

Son or other relative of 'He Who Must Not Be Named' — 1:20

You Know Who— (This is not funny. Don't even joke about things like this.)

Gray Lord Tebola — 1:30

Nicholas Flamel — 1:35

Incubus — 1:40

Horcrux of Salazar Slytherin — 1:50

Rogue Unspeakable — 1:65

MaCUSA agent — 1:70

Reincarnation of Salazar Slytherin 1:80

The Mafica — 1:85

Abe no Seimei — 1:98

The Emperor of the Magical Roman Empire — 1:98

Quetzalcoatl — 1:98

Dracula — 1:105

Dimension traveller — 1:150

Time traveller — 1:165

Fate — 1:195

Other Higher Power 1:225

Alien — 1:500

Ian shook his head. "No thanks. I'll stick to Occam's razor. The simplest explanation is usually the right one."

"Ah, but that's the trick, isn't it? Figuring out what is the simplest explanation."

A voice from the table shouted, "It's starting!"

All heads spun around.

Ian leaned in to see better.

A glass orb dropped out of a hopper and started to fill with smoke. In the middle of the desk, a small piece of parchment settled into the middle of the table. A quill dipped itself into a small pot of ink, moved over to the parchment, and started to write. In the silence of the room, the quill's painfully slow scratching had the same general effect on the audience as being forced to watch paint dry, water boil, and wait for one of those old fashioned toasters that refuse to pop until you look away.

17th September, 1992 — Heiress Luna Lovegood…

"Lovegood," someone whispered.

"Aren't they necromancers?"

"That was ages ago."

to Heiress Daphne Greengrass, …

From a long way away, through several layers of wall, a faint voice started to fade into hearing range. No one paid it any attention

"Both the Slytherin girls," said an older woman Ian recognised by sight at the table.

Vassal Hermione Jane Granger, …

The voice was getting closer, vaguely squeaky.

"And the Slytherin Vassal," the woman said. "This is totally about him."

Ginevra Molly Weasley, …

"Damn, just how many people heard this thing?"

and Lord …

Nine pairs of lungs breathed in sharply.

There was a loud 'bang!,' a rush of air, and the orb and paper ripped away from the table, just as the quill finishing writing…

and Lord H—

A trail of ink scribbled down the paper at the end of the H as it flew towards the door.

"My Lord! You can't just barge in here without an appointment!"

Nine faces turned towards the door. Ian's stomach dropped at exactly the same moment as the magic washed over him. Lord Slytherin stood outlined in the doorway, tall, imposing, and exuding more raw power than he'd ever felt in his life. In that one moment, he seriously considered upgrading his bet to 'Other Higher Power.' Just behind Slytherin, a much smaller man wearing a security guard uniform bounced up and down, clearly trying to stop the masked lord, but without doing anything so bold as, say, actually pulling a wand on him.

"I believe in efficiency," Slytherin said. He turned to leave and froze. Then he spun round again, waved a hand, and wandlessly summoned the betting pool right off the cork board.

Nine pairs of lungs forgot to breath.

The masked wizard read the paper thoroughly for several moments. Then he snorted and slapped it onto the nearest wall, where it stuck. "Keep up the good work, boys," he said, and left, the security wizard slowly trailing behind him.

There was utter stillness. Then, once it was clear they weren't all about to take a one way trip through the veil, everyone starting talking over each other. Theories were updated, numbers crunched, and the co-worker who ran the betting pool started to update the odds.

"You want in now, Ian? Fate's been reduced to 1:145."

Ian shrugged. He thought about his hot chocolate waiting for him in his office. "Put me down for four sickles."

On the way back to his office he came across the security guard, nervously milling around with the air of someone who's never been in a place before and can't quite believe they're there now.

"You need help finding your way out?"

The man jerked on hearing his voice. "What? Oh no, I… I think I'm okay. It's this door right here, isn't it?" He pointed to the door that led to the public entrance, rather than the secret entrance Ian had used earlier.

Ian nodded.

"Good. Good, I just wanted to be sure." He wiped his brow, then looked Ian up and down as though he'd only just noticed him. "Wow, unspeakables really are untidy aren't they?"

Ian tilted his head.

"I mean," the man continued. "They must be, to need so many of you lot down here."

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

Daphne sat next to Luna's bed in the hospital wing. Luna still hadn't woken up. Ginny and Hermione had both left for the Slytherin dorms, ushered out by a truly baffled Madam Pomfrey. Daphne managed to finagle permission to stay by playing the sister betrothed card. On the other side of the bed, Pandora Lovegood softly stroked Luna's hair.

Behind her, Madam Pomfrey was having a conversation with Lord Lovegood. The conversation was almost out of hearing range, but not quiet.

"Utterly shocked, your lordship. I assure you this wasn't anything to do with us."

"I believe you. What else can you tell me?"

"We'll be able to re-grow her eyes, no problem, but it will take time and be very painful. Eyes are nothing like bones. Bones just need a dose of skele-gro. Eyes need continual careful wand work."

"How long?"

"Around a week, but…" The 'but' hung in the air like a noose.

"…But what?"

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but whatever happened to your daughter caused a huge magical surge through her body and it wasn't only her outer eyes that were damaged. It also totally shattered her inner eye, and there's no known way to fix it. Any talent that she might have had for divination is gone."

"I see."

Daphne clenched her hands on her knees. If she closed her eyes, she could still hear Luna's screams ringing in her ears. It had been so loud.

Plenty of things happened over the next ten minutes, all of them triggered by Luna waking up. The first words out of her mouth were, "Can someone please turn on the lights?" followed quickly by, "Umff! Is that you, Mum? I assume it is, because Ginny doesn't have boobs that big and Harry doesn't have boobs at all."

Immediately following, Madam Pomfrey cast several diagnostic charms, Lord Lovegood took up station by his wife's side, and Daphne whispered where Harry went into Luna's ear when no one else was watching.

Daphne was just walking back to the Slytherin Dorms after being finally dismissed by Madam Pomfrey when a hand wearing the Slytherin Lordship ring appeared out of thin air and motioned her into an alcove.

"My Lord?" Daphne asked, once she'd stepped inside.

"How's Luna?" Harry's voice asked.

Daphne told him.

There was a rush of cloth, and the invisibility cloak enveloped her, pressing her right up against Harry. Daphne's breath caught.

"I want to talk to her," Harry said. "I want you to be lookout."

Daphne nodded her understanding and together they made their way back to the hospital wing, soon arriving again at Luna's bedside. The room was bathed in total darkness.

Daphne cast her magic eye and sent it into Madam Pomfrey's office.

Madam Pomfrey was sitting at her writing desk, nose deep in paper.

"She's busy," Daphne whispered.

"Daph?" Luna whispered.

"And Harry," Harry whispered.

Daphne thought she felt Harry cast a privacy spell.

"You're back."

"I am."

"Daph said you went to the Department of Mysteries."

"I did."

"Does that mean I gave a…?"

Daphne felt like slapping herself. Of course. Those who gave prophecies didn't remember giving them.

"You did."

"And is everything okay?"

"You mean, apart from the obvious?" Harry asked.

The image of Luna's eyeball-less face flashed through Daphne's mind again.

"Yes," he said. "I got there in time to grab it before anyone else heard it or connected me with him."

Luna let out a relieved sigh. "That's good. Was it a good prophecy?"

"Yes," said Harry, his voice containing only a hint of uncertainty. "I think so."

"What did it say?"

Daphne's voice left her mouth as little more than a murmur. "Where the land meets the wind, find the sign of the dragon's roar. There awaits you in the silt, ancient magics and gold and more."

They weren't words easy to forget, especially with what happened immediately afterwards. She'd been turning them over in her mind at every free moment she had, trying to spot any kind of meaning apart from the brain dead obvious one.

Luna giggled. "It rhymes."

"Yes, more poem than prophecy," said Harry. "And not in anyway ambiguous."

"We could really use a financial wind fall," Daphne said. "So long as we're paying off the debt on the manor, it's like we're constantly fighting with our hands tied behind our back. We've had to turn down so many good opportunities."

"Indeed."

Silence descended on the room.

Daphne watched Madam Pomfrey re-ink her quill before starting on another piece of parchment.

"Luna?" said Harry's voice.

"Yes, Harry?"

"You know I value your council, right?"

"Yes, Harry."

"And you know I trust you, right?"

"Yes, Harry."

"Is there any thing we need to talk about right now?"

Silence again.

"Yes, Harry."

"What?"

"Alex."

Silence.

"What about Alex?"

"You're going about her the wrong way."

"Go on."

"Tell me about when you first met her."

"You mean this time around or before?"

"This time around."

Daphne listened in interest as Harry recounted in detail about how he first met Alexandra outside number twelve Grimmauld Place — how she'd refused to study occlumency with him and then made a deal with Harry to trade books from their respective libraries. She'd obviously gotten a lot better since then, but Daphne could definitely still see bits of the little brat Harry now described.

"I've known Alex all my life," Luna eventually said when Harry had finished. "You couldn't have handled that first meeting any better, given what you then knew about her."

"I didn't know if I could trust her." Harry's voice sounded rather quiet and not because he was whispering.

"Alex will not submit to anyone until they have earned her respect. Right now, she respects me and Ginny more than you. Lord Slytherin is like a rock — sticks that attack him break themselves on him. Harry Potter is like a stream — a stick smacked into him does little to either the stream or the stick. Alex respects the rock more than the stream."

"I smack her around a lot in combat training."

"She knows you are powerful. She knows lots of people are powerful. Power by itself isn't what matters."

"I can't tell her I'm Lord Slytherin until she respects me as Harry Potter."

"Then the next time she refuses to follow you as Harry Potter, you must be the rock rather than the stream. You will have to unify the two eventually anyway — when you go public as Lord Slytherin."

Harry went silent.

In her office, Madam Pomfrey stood up from her chair and stretched.

"Harry," Daphne said urgently. "We might be having company soon."

"Understood." Harry paused again before speaking. "Thank you for your council, Luna. I believe you are right."

"I serve only you, my lord."

"Night, Luna," Daphne whispered, and the two of them made their way out of the hospital wing.

They were some way away before Harry whispered, "Do we have any more details of Draco's plans for Alex?"

And so Daphne spent the rest of their walk back to the Slytherin Dungeons updating Harry on the details she'd gathered about how Heir Malfoy was planning to deal with Alexandra Black.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

Ginny lay on her front in her four poster bed, pouring over the marauders map with the countenance of a bored channel surfer. The most interesting thing going on was Percy in an empty classroom with a girl called Penelope Clearwater. Both their dots were right up against the wall and had been like that for some time. Ginny filed that under 'perfect blackmail material'. In another part of the castle, headmaster Lockhart was pacing in his office.

The dot marked Virgo Malfoy had been sitting in its dormitory for hours now. Didn't the thing ever move?

Her thoughts drifted to the dagger hidden in her trunk and another twinge of guilt pinged through her, but she shook it off. One night in her dreams, Harry had handed her a copy of that exact dagger and spread his arms wide.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he'd asked.

"Yes," she'd replied.

"Okay. Then do it."

Ginny darted forward and thrust the dagger straight at Harry. It needed a surprisingly large amount of force to pierce his robes, but once through sank into him like, like, well like a hot knife.

Ginny winced as the blood oozed over her hands and Harry gasped out in pain. She kept herself together by constantly telling herself that it wasn't real, that this was just a dream, that she wasn't really killing Harry. They both collapsed to the ground, Ginny forcing the dagger in further, putting all her weight onto it. Harry gasped one final breath, then his eyes closed, then his body went limp.

"Well done."

Ginny's heart leapt into her throat. She jumped up and whirled around. "Don't do that!"

Harry — another Harry that is — smiled at her. The Harry on the floor faded away.

"How did that feel?" Harry asked.

"Horrible."

"Are you still sure you want to do it?"

Ginny glared at him. "Yes! It was only horrible because it was you. You're not the diary."

Harry nodded "We still need to get you some real world experience before you go after it though, so sometime in the next few days, I want you to sneak out at night, go down to Hagrid's chicken coops, and do to them what you just did to me."

Ginny had looked at the dagger in her hands and frowned. Then looked back and nodded.

She hadn't done it. She'd snuck out, gone down to Hagrid's coops, broken in—just to prove to herself that she could—and then headed back. Killing the chickens just didn't feel right. Her family kept lots of chickens at the burrow, and she'd helped prepare countless of them, but killing them just to prove she could didn't feel right. It was needless killing. She knew she could already, but she had a feeling Harry wouldn't see it that way. And afterwards, when she got back, she'd told Harry she had done it. It was that one little fib that now gnawed away at her like a wood beetle through old teak.

In the Gryffindor first year girl's dormitory, the Diary still hadn't moved, but it wasn't in bed. Ginny glared at the map. What the hell could a teenage dark lord be doing for so long in there?

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

In the Gryffindor first year girl's dormitory, Virgo Malfoy sat in his trunk, stirring a cauldron of bubbling potion with the precision of a German robot watch maker. The young girl in his mind was being annoying again, insisting that girls his age should be building friendships, not trying to tear them apart. He ignored her, although with every passing day that little feat was becoming more and more difficult. In front of him, a stained potions book was set open to a page marked hate potion.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

It was the end of another school day at Madam Goose's Home for the Magically Gifted. In the large steel toe, students were forming an orderly queue in front of the school's main floo place. In the heel, a couple of rather elderly house elves cleaned classrooms with the exaggerated slowness that comes with age and indifference. And up behind the laces, the borders—over half the student body—were throwing bags onto floors, flopping down onto pastel coloured patchwork quilts, and saying thing like, "Finally," followed shortly by, "Oh god, please don't tell me we still have homework, as well."

In one dorm room, several older girls already had their books open and their notes strewn around them, although there didn't seem to be much actual work going on.

One girl said, "I'm hoping to get a job with the ministry. It'd be fascinating seeing how the wizarding world is run."

Another girl said, "I'll probably end up with Honeydukes, or WitchCo, or one of the other big houses. My grades aren't good enough for anything else."

A third girl said, "Paul told me he'd help get me into Kings Cross. He said I'd be perfect for it."

The second girl gave her weak smile. "Must be nice having an older boyfriend. I don't think I'm pretty enough for the portkey port."

"Oh, Jane, no! You're beautiful!" said the first girl. She was the kind of person who believes that true beauty is a function of confidence and that everyone would be a lot happier if they just believed in themselves. After all, she went out without make-up or properly done-up hair all the time and boys still tripped over themselves to please her.

Jane shifted uncomfortably.

"Clare, tell her she's beautiful!"

The fourth occupant of the room looked up from where she'd been nose deep in a loose leaf folder, sitting crossed-legged on the shaggy rug that covered the room's floor from wall to boot-leather wall. She had an iron collar fixed around her neck with no sign of clasp or hinge. Clare Cooper pursed her lips. "Jane, all jobs have requirements, but you can't truly know what they are until you apply. If don't apply, you will needlessly limit yourself."

The first girl looked appalled. "Clare! What the hell?"

"Also, you need to stop letting your mum dress you. She has terrible taste."

"Clare!"

"No, it's okay," said Jane, quietly. "She's right."

"She's not 'right'!"

"Yes, she is!" Jane snarled.

The first girl reared back, shocked at the force in the girl's words.

"There are potions," suggested the girl with the older boyfriend.

"But they're expensive," said the first girl. She was looking at Jane as though she'd never quite seen her before.

"Yeah, but they work. And they only take seconds to drink in the mornings — not, like, an hour. She could skip the ones for her hair and figure. They're the most pricy ones. She just needs to even out her face a little bit. Look there's an article all about them in Witch Weekly."

Jane took the magazine and started reading with the intensity of a blowtorch channeling fiendfyre.

"I suppose it can't hurt," The first girl finally conceded. Her name was Sarah and she'd been the de facto leader of most of the girls in her year group since they'd first been introduced to the magical world six years ago. Clare's friends had graduated at the end of the previous year leaving the mysterious woman unattached. Inviting her into her circle had been a spur of the moment decision — one that certainly had nothing to do with her connections with one of the most powerful lords in the country. No, Sarah thought to herself, she would never be that mercenary. "So, what are you reading?" she asked the woman in question. "That's not a school book, is it?"

Clare shook her head. "Notes from defence against the dark arts class." The girl with the older boyfriend frowned. "I've never heard of that class."

"It's taught at Hogwarts."

"Oh," the girl said, "Hogwarts."

"What's it about?" Sarah asked.

"Mostly about how to defend yourself against dark spells and creatures."

Sarah frowned in confusion. "But if we have problems like that we're supposed to go to St Mungo's or call the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."

Clare shrugged.

"Are you thinking about getting a job there?" Sarah asked.

"Probably not."

"How'd you get those notes anyway?"

"My guardian's daughter gave me copies. She's going through Hogwarts in the same year I am. I have notes from charms, transfiguration, and potions too."

"Not culture or safety? What about lit?"

"Hogwarts doesn't teach those classes."

"It doesn't?"

"I think the assumption is if you're going to Hogwarts you already know that stuff."

"What does Hogwarts teach?"

"That Shoe doesn't? Defence, arithmancy, ancient runes, astronomy, healing, and care of magical creatures."

Sarah looked horrified. "You're not studying all of that are you?"

"No, just defence."

Jane looked up from Witch Weekly. "But what does studying defence actually look like? I mean, what do you learn?"

"Mostly you learn the counters to all sorts of dark spells. Or you learn the magic to control various pests and other dark creatures. You also learn some of the lesser dark spells yourself, so you have something to practice on."

The three girl's looked at her with widening eyes. "You know dark magic?" Sarah asked in a whisper.

"A bit."

"I've heard rumours about dark magic," said the girl with the older boyfriend. Her name was Henrietta. She looked around the room before lowering her voice to match Sarah's whisper. "I've heard there's a spell that completely locks up your body so you can't move even a muscle. You can still see and hear and everything, but you can't do anything else."

"That sounds like the full body bind."

Three pairs of eyes grew wider.

"Can you do it?"

"No, I haven't got that far yet."

"What can you do?"

"Well, there's this spell that causes your legs to turn to jelly. Not literally," she quickly added, on seeing their horrified expressions. "I mean it makes you fall over. Your legs just give out from under you."

"Oh, that doesn't sound too bad," Sarah said.

"Could you show us?" Henrietta asked. Her eyes gleamed.

"We'll get into terrible trouble if someone finds out." Jane looked around nervously. "We're not supposed to play with magic."

"No one would find out," Henrietta said. "You can reverse it, Clare, right?"

Clare nodded.

Henrietta grinned. "Do it on me, then, I don't mind."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"Okay then." Clare withdrew her yew wand from the inside pocket of her robes.

The other girls eyed its movement the way a group of isolated pacific islanders might eye a smartphone they'd been told was about to ring.

Clare concentrated and moved her wand in slow, careful strokes — up, down, cross, swirl right, swirl left, flick. The movements were slow, deliberate, and took several seconds to complete. She pointed her wand at Henrietta and said, "locomotor wibbly."

Henrietta let out a small squeak and fell over backwards.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

It really was frustrating how slowly everything progressed here, Clare thought, making her way through the leather corridors towards the floo in the toe. Hermione's notes showed just how quickly Hogwarts students moved by comparison, and her being around a decade older than her classmates wasn't helping matters. It depressed Clare no end to see the suspicious looks her teachers threw her for achieving what she knew full-well to be a normal learning rate. Hell, compared to Hermione, she was practically a tortoise, and wasn't that just the cherry on the top of the magical cake? Easily out-paced by a thirteen year old.

Clare reached the floo, threw a pinch into the flames, and said, "Granger Cottage."

As she rushed through the warm air like a pingpong ball through a vacuum pump, she pulled a book from her bag and paper-clipped the current page. One of the few advantages of living right at the very end of the floo line was that you didn't have to pay attention to where you needed to get out.

One and a half chapters later, she stepped out of the floo in the Granger's house on Gairsay island.

"I'm home!"

There was no answer.

Clare wandered into the kitchen, put her bag down on the counter, opened the cupboard, pulled out a WitchCo forever-ready meal, popped it in the oven, and tapped said oven with her wand. A pillar of flame shot out from a hole in the top. Twenty seconds later there was a little ping noise, the flame stopped, and the oven door opened. Clare retrieved the now piping hot meal and was about to turn her back on the oven when a hitherto unnoticed panel in the front opened, and what looked like a wooden toy lizard in a tiny wizard's hat popped out on the end of a spring.

"We're very sorry," the lizard said, "but you appear to have salamanders in your oven. Please contact your nearest ministry representative for immediate removal. Failure to do so will void your warranty. Thank you." The wooden lizard bounced back into the oven and the tiny panel shut.

Clare stared.

She eyed the oven door and then the meal in her hands with considerable suspicion. Then she made her way to the door that led to the basement.

It wouldn't be unfair to say that Clare Cooper had a bit of a chip on her shoulder about the ministry. The prisoner collar around her neck was a ministry prisoner collar. During her time in the wizarding world, Clare Cooper had seen many things, many of which she'd much rather not have. Many of those things had been people, usually in various states of undress, and many of those people had worked for the ministry.

In fact, her feelings towards the ministry didn't constitute so much of a chip on her shoulder, as a whole McCains frozen oven bag, and were just about as cold.

Having said that, and despite what a reasonable person might be led to believe, Clare hadn't come out of her ordeal in Knock-Turn Alley with a pathological loathing of sex itself. Far from it. Which was just as well, because life with the Grangers when Hermione wasn't about was one large amusing incident after another.

She did try to be polite though.

As Clare descended the stairs to the basement, she made loud stamping sounds with her boots. Half way down she paused and coughed loudly. When she reached the large wooden door at the bottom, she spent far longer than necessary rattling the door handle.

When she finally entered the massive machine-filled cavern with the small lake and tunnel, it was to find Dan standing to one side nonchalantly while a flushed Emma smoothed down her robes.

"Afternoon," Dan called to her in a far too cheery a voice.

"There are salamanders in the oven," Clare called back, walking over to the main work area, pausing only to bend down and snatch up a pair of knickers lying on the floor.

"That's the second time," Emma said, pocketing the now proffered underwear with mild embarrassment.

"I'm pretty sure Clare's seen you without you knickers on more than—"

Clare hurriedly cleared her throat.

Dan smirked.

"Salamanders?"

"You were at school," Emma said. "We called Jacob and he took care of it."

"You called a wizarding lord to do pest removal?"

"He didn't come by personally. He sent a woman. I think I have her floo address somewhere."

"Oh, good." Clare shuffled. "I hate still being so useless."

What she really meant, but which was left unsaid, was that she really hated being so vulnerable. The Grangers understood though.

"You'll get there. How are Hermione's notes helping?"

"So much," Clare said, suddenly far more animated. "It's crazy how much better Hogwarts lessons are."

"Really?" Dan pointed to a letter on a table. "She sent the latest set, by the way."

"Fantastic." Clare scooped up the package. "And how is Hermione doing?"

Dan and Emma exchanged a meaningful look.

"Fine," Emma said. "We'll see how she's doing after her birthday."

"Why? What's happening on her birthday?"

"Wizards start formally dating then."

Clare considered this. "That seems pretty normal, all things considered. Thirteen is about when girls and boys start noticing each other, right? I was noticing boys far earlier than that."

Dan indicated a stack of letters next to the package Clare had just picked up. "Let me put it like this," he said. "When we first had Hermione, I never thought that one day, while Hermione was dating boys, Emma and I would be dating their parents."

"Oh."

"Many of them aren't sure what to make of us. We confuse them. Are we like them, with all their knowledge and understanding of wizarding culture? Or are we ignorant muggles who wouldn't know which end of a wand is which? Some assume one, others assume the other, and we've had some who switch back and forth, even within the same paragraph. Those ones tend to be the most patronising."

"What are you going to do?"

"Work through them with Slytherin when he gets back from where ever he always disappears off to," Dan said.

"And if he doesn't show in time, I'll ask Lady Greengrass," Emma added.

"But he should do," Dan said. "We have some stuff he asked us to acquire."

Clare nodded and looked around the cluttered workshop. "So, how's the sub project going?"

Dan's face went from seriousness to boyish enthusiasm in a heart beat. "Oh! Oh! Oh! We've had a breakthrough! It's awesome!"

"We think we've had a breakthrough," Emma corrected him. "Clare, be a dear and get changed, would you?" She handed Clare her swimsuit.

"Seriously?" Clare eyed the chilly water of the underground lake.

"And here's the details for the warming charm." Emma thumped a thick book onto the table. "It's pretty advanced, but they say motivation is a great aid to learning."

It took a couple of hours—a couple of frustratingly cold hours—but eventually Clare succeeded in casting the warming charm on herself. "Now what?" she asked.

Emma unclamped something from the inside of a large milling machine and handed it to Clare. It was a broomstick.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

He's late, Alex thought. For someone with so little apparently to do, Harry Potter could certainly keep people waiting.

"Luna should be out of the hospital wing soon," Hermione said. "Healer Pomfrey still doesn't have any clue what caused her magical surge and I don't blame her. I haven't been able to find any reference in any of my healer books to such a thing happening during prophecy before."

Alexandra, Hermione, Ginny, and Daphne were all sitting in one of the many abandoned classrooms in one of Hogwarts' upper spires. Each one had a pumpkin pasty they'd saved from lunch.

"That's good," Alex said, halfway through her pasty. "It isn't the same without Luna." She'd gotten so used to Luna being close that the dorm room felt strangely empty without her.

The door opened and Harry walked in. "Ready girls?"

Ginny, Hermione, and Daphne all got to their feet, followed shortly after by Alex. Half-eaten pasties found their way into pockets and bags. Alex took out a single compartment shrinking trunk, unshrunk it, tossed her patsy inside, and quickly shut the lid behind her, smirking to herself as she did so. Combat training was getting too predictable. She had a surprise for Potter this time.

"Ready," Ginny said, bouncing on the tips of her toes with her wand already out.

Harry nodded. "Before we begin. We need to talk about the situation with Alex."

Alex perked up. "What about it?"

"Draco has been petitioning the various families of the Dark to help him deal with you, and he's nearly got enough of them on board. Probably sometime in the next few weeks, Heir Malfoy will approach you in the Slytherin Common room and give you an ultimatum — swear yourself to his loyalty during your time at Hogwarts, or get the living shit kicked out of you."

Alex nodded to herself. She'd been expecting something like that. She'd have to speed up her plans, but she could handle it. In the worst case, she'd take the punishment and simply refuse to submit.

"Obviously, this isn't optimal," Harry continued, "So when Draco approaches Alex, the rest of us will be hiding under cloak and disillusionment nearby, and when he—"

Alex's thought's screeched to a halt. "Hang on!" she interjected. "This is my project."

You could have heard a pin drop.

Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but Harry waved her quiet. "No. Alex, please do go on."

Alexandra hesitated. Something about the way Potter had said that last sentence seemed subtly different from normal. She ignored the feeling and plunged on anyway.

"I'm in charge of this project. Slytherin gave it to me. It's mine. I already have a plan and I'm perfectly capable of completing it on my own, thank you."

"What is this plan?"

"I don't have to tell you."

More silence. Then, "I think I am going to have to insist."

"Insist all you want, I'm not telling."

"Alexandra, this is a team effort. If you're not willing to work together, then I will have to take steps."

"Oh, what are you going to do? Go whingeing to Slytherin?"

"No, actually. This has nothing to do with Slytherin. Let me guess. Your plan was going to be something like, 'take the beating and not give in?'

"What of it?"

"Well, if that's your plan, then I feel the need to test your ability to pull it off."

A little voice in the back of Alexandra's mind told her this wasn't going the way it usually did. She ignored it, crossed her arms and scoffed. "You don't have the balls."

There was a subtle shifting in the room. She looked around. Ginny and Daphne were backing away from her, Daphne leading a worried looking Hermione in one direction while Ginny retreated in the other, leaving Alex alone in the middle of the room. She turned back to Harry.

"Submit," Harry said.

"No."

The magic slammed into Alex like a tidal wave and sent her spinning across the room. She hit the ground hard and jerked her head up, adrenaline surging through her body as her whole being went into fight mode. Her wand leapt to her hand without her even thinking about it. "Tumultus irrumator!"

Black chains shot out from her wand. She leapt to her feet, only to be blasted off them again moments later. Pain stabbed through her. Anger flowed. She shielded herself and charged towards her enemy. If she could get ahold of him…

Again she was blasted off her feet. She rolled on the floor before falling to a stop.

"Submit." The voice was as hard as diamond.

Alex clenched her fists on the floor and raised her head. "No!"

Spells fired towards her. Not raw magic this time, but real hexes and jinxes. Alex snarled and shielded and dodged and countered. Everything felt clearer, the room seemed so bright, the colours vibrant, the pain making everything clear as crystal. A jelly-legs jinx flew towards her. She dodged it be mere inches. A slug belching hex splashed into the floor where she'd been standing only a split second earlier.

An expelliarmus ripped her wand from her grasp. She caught it in a summoning charm while it was only half way to him, but not before a stinging hex zipped past it, heading straight for her face. Time seemed to slow down. Magic intent pooled on her finger tips. She pushed it outwards and swiped.

The stinging hex bounced off her fingers.

Her wand flew back into her hand.

She looked at the wand in her hands, then at her fingers. Triumph roared through her. She'd done it! She'd swatted a spell! She laughed, loud and clear in the middle of her battlefield.

A flurry of spells shot towards her and she could see them. Everyone of them! After trying so hard for so long! Her arm became a blur, catching each and every one of them. "Hah! Yes! Suck on that, Potter!"

The floor in front of her melted and a giant stone lion leaped at her. She had just enough time to scream in fury before it crashed into her, pinning her to the ground.

"Submit."

"Fuck you!"

The lion picked her up and threw her across the room. "Tumultus irrumator!" Her black chains wrapped around the monstrous statue. His flame whip shredded them. "Bombarda Maxima!"

The front of the lion exploded only to reform moments later.

Another wave of banishing magic slammed into her, sending her tumbling across the room again. She rolled and skidded and came to a stop right in front of her trunk. Potter still hadn't moved from where he'd started. Well this would make him move. Alex scrambled up off the floor, gripped the edges of the trunk, and threw open the lid.

The latent connection in her mind snapped into sharp focus. She sent out a command.

A leg appeared from the trunk, followed quickly by the large body attached to it, squeezing through the much smaller opening in utter defiance of the laws of geometry. It was furry, had five legs, a manically grinning human-ish face—filled to the brim with dagger like teeth—and most importantly, was highly magically resistant.

The inferius quintaped skittered beside her and stood perfectly still.

Potter hadn't lowered his wand. He gave no sign of surprise or fright at the XXXXX inferius magical beast in front of him.

Alex snarled, leapt on its back, and commanded it to charge.

It did.

It leapt through the air straight at Potter. It's trajectory, a perfect arc, all the way from one side of the room to the other. Alex shielded herself behind her steed's mass, waiting for the inevitable banishing charm. But the banishing charm never came. They crashed down onto the space where Potter had been standing. Alex jerked her head up, turning it this way and that, looking for her target.

"Submit."

Alex felt a chill straight down her spine. The voice was right behind her. Before the shiver had time to reach the bottom of her spine, something grabbed the collar of her robes, and yanked her roof-wards. She screamed.

Beneath her, the stone lion pounced on her quintaped.

She reached up behind her, grabbed the wrist holding her, and tried to crush it, but all this resulted in was a warning spark of elemental lightning straight through her body.

She gasped and craned her neck to see behind her.

Potter was flying in mid air.

"Submit."

"Not going to!"

Potter threw her.

She screamed as she once again fell, landed heavily, and skidded across the floor. She came to rest, and slowly clambered back up to her feet, flinching and wincing, her wand held tightly in a hand that hung limply. Her body ached. Her clothes felt like sandpaper on her skin, dipped in vinegar and salt. Everything hurt. But she couldn't give up. She couldn't. She mustn't. But it hurt so badly.

He descended back down to the ground like a dementor from a horror book. In between them, off to one side, the stone lion had her quintaped pinned to the floor.

She looked into his eyes and saw nothing but hardness. No mercy. And in that moment, Alex understood. He would not stop until she'd said the words — even if he needed to keep going all night. It was hopeless. Anger welled up in her. Frustration, bitterness, resentment, but most of all disgust — disgust at herself for being weak. Potter was only a year older than her. She shouldn't lose to him this badly.

She felt the disgust mould itself in her chest, felt it add to the anger, the humiliation, the unfairness of it all, channeled it all into the tip of her wand, pointed it her enemy, and screamed, "CRUCIO!"

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

"CRUCIO!"

Hermione gasped. Her wand flew into her hand.

"No!" Daphne's hand gripped her wrist.

"But she's—!"

"—Look at Harry."

Hermione looked. Harry wasn't writhing on the ground in pain. "But she did try to cast it!"

"Yes. It's wonderful!"

That made Hermione stop. She turned to Daphne and found triumph sparkling in her eyes. "I don't understand."

"She trusts us, Hermione. In front of four witnesses she cast an unforgivable. Don't you see?" Daphne smiled a tiny smile. "Before, Harry wasn't sure if he could trust her. Now he knows he can. Whatever happens from now on, no matter what, Alexandra Black is ours."

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

The grounds of Hogwarts castle were quiet and peaceful, giving no hint that up in one of the towers, a battle of wills and magic was raging.

"CRUCIO!"

Alex felt her last chance leave her wand, travel straight at Potter, and strike him clean in the chest. Nothing happened. FUCK!

"Oh, Alex." The voice was deep and powerful and hauntingly familiar. "That spell requires a lot more than mere frustration."

The rage still flowed through her, but tinted with something else now — apprehension.

"Perhaps you need to see how dark magic is really done."

The air was getting heavier, the light from the windows, dimmer. Alex wanted to shiver. She wanted to give up and submit. Everything hurt and Potter was as unbreakable as a mountain. Nevertheless she managed to pull herself together, straighten her back, look right into his hard eyes, and say, "Show me."

Potter flicked his wand up, flicked it back, flicked it forward, and to Alex's horrified disbelief, yelled, "Malus ignis totalus diabolus!"

Fiendfyre. Alex knew very well what fiendfyre was, and just how dead they all now were. It raged out from Potter's wand, roaring and burning, billowing outwards and upwards, searingly hot, and from the main fireball, animals surged, eating each other, turning in on themselves in a fury of cannibalistic rage, each victim feeding the victor, growing larger and larger, until finally, a huge flaming snake, larger than any beast Alex had ever seen, emerged and hissed in the roar of the fire. It dived to the side, and consumed her quintaped in an instant, melting the stone lion until it was nothing but slag on the floor. Then it reared over her. Alex couldn't move. She couldn't breath. She was the mouse before the snake and every part of her mind screamed in terror.

A warm stream ran down her inner thigh.

"sssssSSSSSssss!" Harry hissed.

The beast dived at her. Alex flinched, shut her eyes, and just managed to scream out, "PLEASE!" before heat wrapped all around her.

After several moments of not burning into oblivion, she snapped open her eyes to find herself in the coils of the fiendfyre snake, not close enough to burn, but close enough to slowly cook. The snake's head was looking down at her from only a few meters away.

"You submit?" Harry asked.

She screamed out, "YES! YES! I SUBMIT! PLEASE!"

"To Harry Potter?"

"YES!"

The snake tilted its head at her.

Harry hissed something at the snake. It backed off, but not before giving her one last hungry look.

Harry waved his wand and the fiendfyre slowly shrank, growing smaller and smaller, until it finally winked out of existence.

Alex felt her breathing, hard and fast, her heart still pounding, her limbs shaking.

Harry looked at her from across the room and said, "Crawl to me."

Even on hands and knees burning from heat and batted from bruises, Alex scrabbled to obey. She ignored the pain and when she reached him, kept her head down, looking at his feet.

"Kiss my hand."

Alex raised her head, sought out his hand, found it, and without hesitating, kissed the back of it with trembling lips.

Then she stopped and stared. There was a ring on Potter's hand. In fact, there were several, but the other's weren't important. This ring was though. This ring… but that was impossible. To have this ring, Potter would have to be…

Alexandra slowly raised her head to search out Harry's eyes. She found them. They weren't cold and hard any more, rather they told a tale of weariness and understanding.

And in a small, quiet voice, Alex said, "Oh."

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

Five minutes later, Hermione, Ginny, Daphne, Alexandra, and Harry were safely ensconced in Hermione's trunk. Ginny and Daphne sat off to one side, watching as Hermione prodded away at yet another of Alexandra's massive bruises. Alex winced as it slowly faded away. They'd already had to apply liberal quantities of huntsman's sorrow on her cuts and scrapes. It was a good thing wizards were naturally more robust than muggles or else she'd for sure have a lot worse than that.

"I still don't see… how?" Alex asked.

"Patience," Harry said. He was fishing memories out of his head and into the pensieve Hermione used to teach the muggleborns.

Alex lapsed back into silence.

When he was done, Harry beckoned Alex over to him, they both touched the liquid, and disappeared into the pensieve with a loud whoosh sound.

The three remaining girls all looked at each other.

"Wow," Hermione breathed. "I knew Harry was powerful, but, wow."

"I nearly wet myself," Ginny said.

"Alex did wet herself," Daphne supplied.

"I don't blame her." Hermione stood, walked over to the pensieve, and looked down into the swirling memories. "You don't think we went too far, do you?"

"No," Daphne replied quickly. "Alex needed that, even if it was terrifying."

Ginny grinned. "I thought it was kinda hot."

"Oh, ha ha. How long have you been waiting to say that?"

"Since he casually waved his hand and dismissed a friggin' fire demon."

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"He was all like, 'Yeah, I'm done with you now, thanks.'" Ginny put on a snooty face and dismissively waved her hand.

Daphne and Hermione both smiled.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

Alex landed with a jolt. She looked around. They were still in the castle, but now they were in the dungeons. Moments later, Potter—no, Lord Slytherin, landed beside her.

"Hogwarts?" she asked.

"Fifty years ago. Look."

Alex looked. In front of them, a student was crouched over a box, except the student in question was huge.

"C'mon… gotta get yeh outta here… c'mon now… in the box…"

Suddenly, an older boy leapt from behind a corner — a Slytherin prefect. "Evening, Rubeus," the boy said in a sharp voice.

A door slammed shut. "What yer doin' down here, Tom?"

"Bringing you to justice, that's what." The boy had tears in his eyes and the same jet black hair as Harry. "Everyone knows how I felt about her, and you—! You—!"

Alex narrowed her eyes. Those tears looked fake.

Rubeus's own eyes widened. "That weren't never me!"

"No." The boy's voice went from angry to cold. "It wasn't. It was your pet. Monster's don't make good pets."

"It never killed no one!"

They continued to argue several moments longer, then the Slytherin prefect attacked. An acromantula burst out from the door Rubeus had been guarding and fled down the corridor. Tom tried to get a spell off on it, but Rebeus bellowed, "NOOOOOOO!" tackled him to the ground, and seized his wand.

Poor situational awareness, Alex thought. Luna or Ginny would eat him for breakfast.

The world swirled around her and she found herself standing next to Harry in an empty room.

"What was that?" Alex asked.

"The start of Lord Voldemort."

Alex gasped. "That was him? He didn't seem anything special."

"He had a lot of catching up to do. He was raised in a muggle orphanage. His first few years at Hogwarts were not pleasant. It took him till fifth year to get the respect he craved, which, as a half-blood muggle-raised of dubious origin in Slytherin house, was quite a feat."

"So, what was that with the acromantula?"

"In his fifth year, Riddle—that was his name—opened the chamber of secrets and unleashed the beast within, attacking several students. He needed to solidify his place in Slytherin house, and this was the best way he had to go about it. There were rumours going around that he was courting a Ravenclaw muggleborn three years his junior."

"Was he?"

"Yes."

"I bet Slytherin house didn't think too much of that."

"They didn't, but it was something they were prepared to overlook provided he went about it properly. By this time, Riddle had internalised many of the customs of the wizarding world, something that Myrtle Warren hadn't. When her parents learned what was going on, they dug into Riddle's background and found out he was an orphan bastard without a penny to his name. A muggle family these days might have been more understanding—at least about his background—but these were different times. They forbid their daughter from seeing him, and when they found out she'd disobeyed them, decided to pull her from Hogwarts. Riddle can be quite possessive. He did not take this well."

"So that with the acromantula…"

"That was Riddle framing Rubeus Hagrid for the murder of Myrtle Warren after he'd killed her and used her death in not just one, but two dark rituals."

Harry made a gesture in the air. "Ready for the next memory?"

Alexandra nodded. She then watched with wide eyes as a brief history of Voldemort played itself out in front of her, right up to his war against Magical Britain, which ended with his death while trying to murder John Potter.

Dumbledore regarded the lightning bolt scar on Baby Harry's face. "So he chose Harry…"

If Alexandra had been drinking, she'd have sprayed it out all over the room. "Y-You! You're the boy-who-lived!"

"Guilty."

"That's how you have the Slytherin lordship! Right of Conquest!"

"Indeed."

"…But you're still too young."

Harry held up an index finger in the universal symbol for patience.

Alex settled back down.

The next few memories were confusing. They featured events that were clearly real, but which made no sense. Like Hermione being in Gryffindor, or Luna being sorted into Ravenclaw.

Then, suddenly, they were in a prison cell. Dirt clung to everything and it was difficult to tell the difference between the fixtures and the single occupant on the raggedy cot.

Alex stood waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. Eventually, unable to take it any more, she asked, "what is this?"

"This is where I spent ten years of my life, from the age of twelve, to the age of twenty-two."

Alex ran this statement through her mind, trying to find a way for it to make sense given what else she knew. "You're from the future."

"I am."

"You somehow managed to find a way to come back into the body of your younger self."

"Yes."

Silence.

Then, into the silence of the Azkaban prison cell, Alexandra started to laugh. It started out quiet, tentative, but once the laugh found a crack to slip through, it burst out of her like a busted dam. Alexandra laughed and laughed and laughed some more, the sound echoing throughout the memory of the worst prison in the world. Implication flowed into implication in an ever expanding river, washing away the old valley of understanding, and replacing it with the new. This boy, Harry Potter, had pulled off the greatest plot she'd ever encountered, even from her vast collection of fiction novels. He'd slipped back in time and built an empire from nothing but a mask and a name. Incredible. Alex laughed so hard her legs gave out for the second time in less than an hour and she slowly sank to the floor. "No wonder I never stood a chance! You jerk!"

Harry stood watching her with obvious amusement. Eventually her laughs subsided. He helped her to her feet. "You ready for the next bit?" he asked. "I think you'll find it just as amusing, if not more so."

Alex looked at Harry incredulously. She didn't see how that was possible, but she couldn't wait to find out. "Show me."

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

The pensieve glowed.

The girls all perked up.

Harry and Alexandra spun out of the pensieve and landed heavily, Harry holding Alex by the shoulder to stop her falling. Alex broke off from him and took a few steps back.

Hermione, Daphne, and Ginny all watched them with different levels of owlishness. It was hard to pinpoint the exact look on Alex's face — perhaps something between mild awe and extreme embarrassment.

"You are the champion of Fate and Death."

"So it seems, young necromancer."

"You're going to defeat he-who-must-not-be-named — the Dark Lord of the lords of the Dark."

"Yes."

"And conquer Magical Britain."

"If needed, yes."

"And you want me to help you."

"Yes. I trust I can rely on you?"

"Trust? Rely?" Alex seemed to be struggling for words, eventually settling on. "Of course you can!" And once the floodgate was open she didn't seem able to stop. "Are you insane?! This is like every story book I've ever read! No, it's better than that! And you've already done so much! You trained Ginny, and Luna, and the others. And the Gray, and…" Her voice dropped to a whisper. "You stole the Dark Lord's memories, everything he has, straight out of his head, and he has no idea. That's just…" She trailed off.

Daphne cleared her throat. "If that has all been settled, Alex, we still have to go through our lord's plan for how to handle your situation with Malfoy. I believe we got as far as 'we'd all be hiding nearby under disillusionment.'"

Alexandra blinked. "Oh, yes, that's right." She looked embarrassed again. "Your plan, my lord?"

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

Draco Malfoy inspected his allies, inconspicuously scattered around the Slytherin common room in ones and twos, and found them to be good. The last few weeks had been torturous. He'd lost his rightful position as seeker to Weasley, who turned out to be a devastatingly good flyer, Lovegood had returned from whatever mysterious ailment had her up in the hospital wing for a whole week, and whenever he so much as looked at Black he couldn't help feeling a seeping feeling of dread. It was time to nip at least one of those problems in the bud.

"How long will it take her to crack, do you think?" Theo asked after playing a pair of lords into his set of three wands.

"She's stubborn," Pansy said, pushing two knuts into the middle of the low table. "I think she'll hang out for at least three minutes."

"How much do you bet?" Goyle asked.

"A sickle."

"Done."

Crabb grinned and cracked his knuckles. "Not allowed to beat up girls often. Will be fun."

Draco turned his attention away from the game and back onto the common room door. He was down twenty knuts to Pansy already, but right now he just couldn't focus. Ah.

The door swung open and Black walked through.

"That's my cue." He dropped his cards on the table and walked to intercept the first year girl. "Stop right there, Black."

The babble around the common room dropped. Around the room, many older students shifted in their seats.

"What is it, Malfoy?"

"Your attitude. It has to stop, right now."

Black scoffed. "Oh, get out of my way." She made to get around him, but stopped when he pointed his wand at her face.

"I don't quite think you understand, Black. You've pissed off a lot of people over the last few weeks." Draco felt that slight feeling of dread wash over him, but he shook it off. Around the common room, his allies were slowly standing up from armchairs and sofas, stretching their muscles and reaching for wands. He carefully watched Black's face, waiting for the dawning moment of horror as she realised her situation.

Black looked around. "So that's it, is it?" She started counting. "eleven, twelve, no, thirteen wizards to take on one little girl?"

"Best think of this as our little wizengamot. Each one of my friends here comes from a well respected family, Black, just like you. This is to show that, in this case, the few are acting on behalf of the many. This is the will of the Dark. The Ancient and Noble House of Black must be raised to it's rightful status, once again. Submit to us, and take your honoured place among our ranks." Draco allowed himself a smile. The twelve other students stepped away from their seats.

"Submit? To you?"

"Yes. Submit." Draco's eyes turned hungry. Here it came. If she was smart she'd submit, if not…

Black looked thoughtful for a moment. She pressed one finger to her lips as if trying to solve some kind of fascinating, but unimportant puzzle, as if her next words would have no greater significance than choosing between sweets on the Hogwarts express. She smiled cheerfully. "No."

And then everything went wrong for Draco Malfoy.

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

Screams, bangs, explosions, smoke, chairs turning into attacking animals, animals turning into attacking chairs, students flying through the air and slamming into walls, frantic attempts to fight back, frantic attempts to retreat, chains, whips, curses, hexes, jinxes, and in the middle of it all, an eleven year old girl in a whirlwind of magic and destruction, spell swatting almost everything that got within range and shielding anything that got past that.

"Magic flush," said Theo, laying his cards on the table.

"Rats," said Pansy.

Theo pulled the pool towards him with theatrical care and dealt the two of them another five cards each. "I wonder if—"

A particularly loud, blood-curdling scream cut him off.

Pansy raised an eyebrow.

"— I wonder if we might have been a bit hasty," Theo continued.

"It's a point of view, certainly. I'll start us with four knuts."

"That is a bold opener."

Somewhere in the chaos, Gregory Goyle managed to claw his way into grabbing range, but found himself inexplicably thrown onto a nearby sofa by an arm that didn't look like it had ever even heard of push-ups. Said arms then turned both him and the sofa on their heads, trapping him underneath it.

"It was Granger's birthday last week," Pansy said, a little later into the hand.

"Yes, It's surprising for a muggleborn to get so many intention gifts, but then, perhaps Granger is an exception."

Next to them, a rug turned into a rabbit the size of a wolf and started hopping after a crying fourth year witch whose hands had been transfigured into cabbages.

"I don't suppose the House of Nott has anything going on there?" Pansy asked, casually edging their table out of the way as the rabbit bounded past.

"Me? Hell no. I'm not about to throw away my family's linage for some mud— I mean, for some upstart muggleborn."

"I doubt you'd have a chance anyway. Have you noticed the way Granger's been blushing every time she looks at Potter?"

"I might have. Definitely something interesting happened there."

The general chaos seemed to be dying down by now. The smoke that had been drifting around the room started to thin. Most of the room was in ruins. Furniture was smashed, ash from the fire place covered everything, and all around them came the whimpers and groans of the soundly thrashed. Many Dark students had gotten over enthusiastic at the start, even though they hadn't even been part of the disciplinary team, and were now sorely regretting their uncharacteristic Gryffindorness. Most of the others, Dark and Gray alike, were huddled in a protective corner, right up against the unbreakable glass to the Black Lake, staring at the destruction with wide, disbelieving eyes.

"Tempus." Pansy flicked her wand, careful to keep it pointed well away from the combat zone. "Oh, look, I won the sickle."

"I'm not sure if this counts under the terms of your bet."

Somewhere on the other side of the room, Goyle made little bubbling sounds under his sofa.

A grinning female figure landed on the sofa beside Pansy. It was Black. "Room for another?"

Theo nodded respectfully. "Certainly. Wonderful performance, by the way."

"Thank you."

"Where's Draco?" Pansy asked.

"I think he's having a nervous breakdown in his dorm room."

— DP & SW: NRiCaD —

In the middle of the common room, a shape in the air nimbly climbed down from the top of one of the many supporting pillars, using the stone serpents that entwined them from top to bottom as convenient handholds. When it reached the floor, it made it's way to the front of the common room and quietly slipped outside. That was so much fun, Ginny thought. Her spell repertoire may be limited, but she liked to think she'd more than pulled her weight in the general chaos. And now Harry and the others could handle the aftermath. She had other responsibilities.

Not that it seemed to matter. The diary still hadn't budged a single inch from any of its usual haunts. It was being almost Hufflepuff-like in it's unwillingness to split off from its 'friends' when outside of Gryffindor Tower. Ginny fished out the map from her robes, ducked into a convenient alcove, quickly scanned it, and gasped. The dot labeled Virgo Malfoy was alone, finally, and heading straight for the girl's bathroom on the second floor.

Ginny's heart beat faster.

Still under disillusionment and silencing charms, she fished in her other pocket for her trunk, unshrunk it, climbed inside, drank several potions, attached a mask firmly to her face, checked all her toys were in place, packed back up, and left for the castle stairs at a swift clip. It was time for Tom Riddle to meet Ginny Weasley.

—End of Chapter Forty —

A/N: A bunch of fans on Twitter got together and set up a discord server for DP&SW where you can discuss the latest chapter, ask questions, or just chill with other people who like DP&SW. You can find the invite link through my website, which you can find through my profile. They also set up a Wikia project and filled it with tons of DP&SW information for quick access. So if you need to look something up, that's the place to go.

A/N: Conversion rate is:

1 Galleon to 50 British Pounds

1 Sickle to 3 British Pounds (roughly)

1 Knut to 10p (roughly)

All prices are normalised to 1991 values — about half of 2017's value.

Sticky Note: As always, if you want to stay up to date on schedule changes and other bonuses before anyone else, you can get them on my mailing list, which you can find by following the breadcrumb trail through my profile page.