This is a WORK IN PROGRESS and is not complete. J.K. Rowlings characters are her own. I'm just playing with them, and the inspiration they've given me. Thank you, Ms. Rowling. You've been a wonderful influence.

Harry Potter and the Dragon Without Wings

"Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandos"
Never tickle a sleeping dragon

The quiet of Privet Drive, oddly enough, was something of a blessing to Harry Potter. Normally, he hated being home for summer break from school. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, and their very rotund son, Dudley, had made it their top priority to make Harry's life with them as miserable as possible. They never missed the opportunity to point out the burden Harry was to them. Ever since Harry had been invited to attend school at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy he had counted down the days until he would return to school. That is, until last year when Lord Voldemort returned.

Harry had left school in June still in shock over the events of the Triwizard Tournament. Barty Crouch, an escaped convict from Azkaban, had kidnapped and impersonated Mad-Eye Moody, a reknowned and eccentric Auror who had been asked by Albus Dumbledore to teach the Defense Against Dark Arts class, to get close to Harry. He then switched the Goblet of Fire with a portkey that had transported Harry and Cedric Diggory right into Voldemort's clutches. Cedirc had been killed. Harry had battled Voldemort and barely escaped with his own life, and returned only to find that Cornelius Fudge, the Mister of Magic, did not believe him and would do nothing to prepare to fight Voldemort.

Harry had spent a very somber summer thinking about Cedric's death and what would happen when he returned to school. Harry blamed himself for what happened to Cedric. If he hadn't invited Cedric to take the Goblet of Fire with him, and claim the prize of the tournament, Cedric might still be alive. On top of his guilt over Cedric, Harry felt powerless to help his wizard friends in fighting Voldemort, trapped as he was here on Privet Drive. To make matters worse, he had no way of knowing what was going on in the wizarding world except from the little bits and pieces that his friends, Ron and Hermione, told him through regular messages sent by owls.

In the first few weeks of summer, Hermione had sent Harry her copy of the Daily Prophet, a popular wizarding newspaper, so he could read up on what was happening and know if there was any news about Voldemort's activities. The trouble came in disposing of the stack of newspapers. Harry considered his options on making the papers disappear, but it was against wizarding law for underaged wizards to practice magic outside of school. He knew he couldn't just throw them away, so he tried concealing the paper inside of Uncle Vernon's paper, stuffing it between the sports section and the local crime reports (Aunt Petunia read it every day to make sure there were no names there of anyone they knew). Harry's plan had worked at first, and then one day Aunt Petunia had found it when using the old paper to wrap up the remains of a fish dinner she was fixing, and that had been the end of the quiet on Privet Drive. Uncle Vernon had banished him to his room without lunch or dinner that day. In the days that followed, it wasn't Harry's empty stomach that troubled him. It was the not-knowing what was happening to his friends.

After that, Harry was so depressed and miserable that nothing the Dursley's could say would make him feel worse, which delighted them to no end. Seeing him so miserable and dejected made the Dursley's job of making Harry miserable rather pointless. Besides, Harry's aunt and uncle had other things to worry about that Harry's sullen behavior. Dudley's diet from last summer had been abandoned with no results. Uncle Vernon had insisted that a growing boy like Dudley needed all the food he could get. Dudley had also taken an interest in girls, though Harry could not imagine a girl who would want to date his globe-like cousin. Aunt Petunia cried whenever her Widdle Dudums talked about anything related to dating. Little did they know that Dudley's female fantasies extended to many magazines he shouldn't have.

Harry spent as little time as possible with the Dursleys, which was fine with them. He ate in silence, quietly excused himself and returned to his room after every meal. He had stopped expecting any notice of his birthday from the Dursleys and this year was even more unnoticed than the last. Not even Dudley teased him today about it being his birthday. Harry spent his birthday in solitude with only Hedwig as his company. The only time he smiled was when a small flury of owls arrived with his presents and cards.

Pigwidgeon arrived in his usual hooting, excited state carrying a card and gift from Ron. He flew into Harry's room like a giant dust ball in a whirlwind, carrying on and overly pleased with himself for accomplishing his delivery. Hedwig snapped her beak at him whenever he came too close and flat out refused to let him drink from her dish. Ron had sent Harry a picture of the entire Weasley family in a beautiful frame.


mom said that you might like this. I wanted to send you a signed picture of the Chutley Cannon's, but she said this might make you feel more like a part of the family. Everybody says happy birthday. Dad sent an owl to Dumbledore to ask if you can come stay with us, and he said only the last 2 weeks of the summer. So we'll be out to pick you up next Sunday. Buck up til then. Don't let the muggles get you down.

Your friend,

Another owl brought a wonderful cake from Hagrid that was both chocolate and cherry with a creamy icing, and more importantly it was made by Honeydukes Sweets Shop, the famous chocolate shop in Hogsmeade. Hagrid did not try to make it himself, so it was safe to eat. Harry couldn't imagine Hogwarts without Hagrid, but he also couldn't imagine eating anything Hagrid cooked or tried to bake himself. Hagrid's brief note only said that he was busy doing things for Dumbledore and that he'd see Harry at school on September first.

Hermione, true to her form, sent Harry a very large book that had to be carried by two owls. It was a book about protection spells. There was no letter, just a note on the inside cover. "Stay safe." But it was Sirius who sent him the best gift of all.

This belonged to your mom. It was the gift your dad gave her the day they were married. You should have it now. I wish I could spend your birthday with you. Know that you're in my thoughts.


Harry opened a small parchment envelope that had come with the letter and spilled the contents into the palm of his hand. It was a necklace with a small circular golden charm that fit perfectly inside a small gold hoop. Printed on the circle was a single word: Complete.

Harry smiled at the necklace in his hand, and imagined his mother's smile the first time she wore it. He held it up by the chain and it began to spin slowly -- the outer hoop spinning in one direction, and the circular charm inside spinning in the opposite direction. It spun faster and faster, magically charmed, until it looked like a blur. Through the blur, like watching a flip film, he began to see shapes appear until the charms spun fast enough to give a clear picture. It was an image of his parents, holding each other, then they turned and looked at him, smiled, and rested their heads together and waved at him.

The smile that was on Harry's face slowly began to fade with a sigh, and the charm stopped spinning. He draped the charm's chain over his head and tucked it under his shirt. Hedwig hooted softly at him, but Harry was too preoccupied to give her the smile she wanted from him.

The waiting was awful and Harry wondered what all his friends were doing. How were they preparing to fight Voldemort? Professor Dumbledore had said he would need Arthur Weasley's help, and was sending Hagrid to go talk to the giants. Sirius had gone to Remus Lupin with instructions from Dumbledore to 'get the old gang together.' Harry wanted to be with them doing something. He wanted to know what was going on. He felt completely isolated from the wizarding world. He also felt completely responsible for Voldemort's return. It had been his blood that had fed the grotesque thing that Voldemort had become.

Harry's quiet reverie was broken by a scratching sound outside his window. When he got up and poked his head out to see what it was, he saw a thick brown and green lizard climbing the side of the house! It was over three feet long from nose to tail and it was casually walking up the side of the house as if it were walking along the road on a Sunday morning. He'd never seen a lizard like this before, not even during his one brief trip to the zoo several years ago. Harry knew instantly, however, that this was no ordinary lizard. It was a magical lizard. Around its neck was a letter strap just like the one owls had on their legs. The strap was tied to a small parcel.

When the lizard climbed onto the sill of Harry's window, its tongue shot out and caught a large black fly that was unfortunate enough to be resting on the shutter. It sprawled across the sill, eating its snack, and waited for Harry to take the parcel. The brown paper-wrapped package was small, no bigger than a book of matches, but twice as thick. As Harry unfolded the wrap, he saw words printed, and realized at once that the wrapping paper was in fact two letters bound around a small glass phial with a bright irridescent red liquid inside. The first letter was from Professor Dumbledore himself, addressed to someone Harry did not know.

My dear Sandesman
As you have undoubtedly heard, Voldemort has risen again. Our young friend is in need of your special protection. Please send enough for two weeks so he may safely get to Diagon Alley and prepare for the new school year at Hogwarts. Send him instructions for its use and this letter so he will know it is not a ruse.


The second note was written on cloth, not parchment, and it had a very distinct smell of burnt leaves. The handwriting was blockish, but it wasn't the writing that made Harry curious. It was the incredibly terse instructions and a reference to his aunt that was almost too familiar.

H. P.
Per D.'s request. ONLY one drop under your tongue. ONLY once a day. Keep guarded at all times. Do not show or talk about with anyone. Begin AFTER you leave Petunia's house.

Petunia? Who would know his aunt well enough to call her by her given name and refer to her in such a way? It was as casual as refering to a neighbor or a schoolmate -- neither of which could be possible since Aunt Petunia would never associate herself with anyone who could provide a protection potion. She even tried to forget her own sister because she had become a witch.

Harry sensed the great importance of the instructions, however, even if he couldn't explain why he knew. He looked closer at the cloth note and wondered if it had been charmed in some way to convey exactly that feeling.

Just then, there was a loud banging knock on his door that made him jump. His uncle bellowed from the other side, "Come out here."

Harry snatched Pigwidgeon out of the air and tossed him into his closet, much to Hedwig's delight. He turned quickly to shoo the lizard off his window sill, but it had already gone. Once he was certain everything was hidden from sight, he hurried to the door and looked up into his uncle's purple face. Then the most remarkable thing happened.

"We want you to shove off early so we can take Dudley on vacation before he goes back to school," Uncle Vernon said gruffly. "Tell those... people," he spat out, "to come and pick you up."

Harry's mouth opened and closed, both shocked by his good fortune and unsure if the Weasley's could let him come so soon and against Dumbledore's wishes.

"I... I don't know if they'll be able to," he tried to say.

"Well, we're leaving in two days and you're not staying here alone." Uncle Vernon didn't give Harry time to answer and turned to stomp away. "And tell them to use the front door this time!" he barked.

Harry stood rooted to the spot for a moment in shock, then grinned and rushed back into his room to write a letter to the Weasley's. Uncle Vernon pushing him out of the house on his birthday was the best present he'd ever gotten from the Dursley's! Pushing open the closet to let Pigwidgeon out, Harry pulled out his quill and parchment and began a hurried note. Pigwidgeon flew around near the ceiling like a great moth, just out of Harry's reach. He obviously did not want to be stuffed into a closet again.

Hedwig fluffed her feathers grandly and glared at Pigwidgeon as Harry tied his letter to her leg. She nipped his finger lightly with affection, then turned to the erratic Pigwidgeon and snapped her beak sharply at him before launching herself through Harry's window. Pigwidgeon followed her, flying circles around her like an over-excited Jack Russel Terrier.

Harry happily began gathering his things and stacking them into his school trunk, carefully gathering up all his birthday letters. He reached for Dumbledore's letter and several of the words popped out at him: enough for two weeks. Sandesman had said to begin using the potion after he left Privet Drive. Harry looked at his calendar that marked the days until he returned to school: three more weeks. The potion would not last long enough.

The great sense of urgency came over him again that he must follow the instructions exactly, so Harry pocketed the phial and thought no more about it.

Two days later Harry had still not heard from the Weasley's. He was beginning to worry what Uncle Vernon would say, but all the Dursley's seemed to be too preoccupied with their own packing. It wasn't until they were ready to pack the car and leave that they noticed that Harry was still there.

"Why are you still here?" Uncle Vernon snapped. "When are they going to pick you up?"

"I tried reaching them, but I don't know if they had enough time. You didn't give them very much notice, after all," Harry said.

"You want courtesy from me after what they did to Dudley and my fireplace? They don't know the first thing about common courtesy!" Uncle Vernon roared.

Harry gritted his teeth and held his tongue as the anger welled up inside him. "I could take the bus, if you want," he said feeling a bubble of mischief inside him, thinking about the wizard's Knight bus that came to any wizard who help up his wand for a pick-up.

Uncle Vernon's mustache twitched and he looked at his wife. Aunt Petunia shrugged, saying, "We did want to get an early start."

"I want to leave already!" Dudley whined.

"I don't know..." Uncle Vernon drawled skeptically. His thick eyebrows were drawn together.

"Vernon, let him take the bus," Aunt Petunia prodded.

"Where would we have to drop you?" Uncle Vernon asked suspiciously.

"It can pick me up right out front," Harry volunteered, careful to keep his voice nuetral.

Vernon Dursley looked out his front window into the street, then looked at his watch and finally the anxious faces of his wife and son. "All right," he finally relented. "Call them to pick you up. And be quick about it!" he snapped, not wanting Harry to think he was getting off easy.

Harry rushed upstairs and got his wand, stowing it safely in his pocket, hidden under the huge sweatshirt that had been Dudley's. He brought down his trunk and Hedwig's empty cage and carried everything out to the curb. When he looked back at Number 4 Privet Drive, he saw his uncle staring expectantly up and down the road. Aunt Petunia was sneaking a peak around the curtains. Dudley couldn't possibly hide behind a curtain, and stood in the front of the window like a great Christmas tree.

"Well?" Uncle Vernon asked expectantly.

Harry smiled broadly and pulled out his wand, holding it high in the air. Inside the house, Aunt Petunia made a yelping sound of horror. Dudley dropped to the ground like a giant rock. Before Uncle Vernon could rush out to stop him, there was a huge bang and the triple decker Knight bus appeared at the curb.

"Harry!" shouted a familiar voice from the bus.

"George??" Harry cried, then looked back over his shoulder at Uncle Vernon who looked like a giant beet with a mustache that was being squeezed by a juicer. "Nik this up, George! Hurry!"

Ron suddenly jumped out along with Fred and George. "Hiya Harry!" he said frantically hauling everything up into the bus as Uncle Vernon rushed forward to stop him.

"Neville!" cried Stan Shunpike, one of the Knight bus drivers.

"Go! Go!" shouted Fred.

Uncle Vernon was bearing down on them when the door closed and the bus disappeared with a huge lurch.

Harry lie on the floor of the bus laughing, which soon infected all three of the Weasley boys, Stan and even old Ernie. "Did I ever need to do that," Harry panted, still grinning.

"I hope you don't regret it next summer!" Ron said, shaking his head.

"What are you guys doing here?" Harry asked incredulously.

"We got your letter," Ron told him. "Mom and Dad have been gone the last couple of days talking to some friends of theirs and telling them Dumbledore's plans, and we knew they wouldn't be back in time to pick you up."

"We knew we shouldn't try to use the floo powder again," Fred said. "So we decided to fetch you on the Knight bus ourselves to take you home with us."

"Brilliant, aren't we?" George said humbly.

Harry grinned at the three brothers and for the first time in weeks, the dread and uselessness melted away and he felt better.

"These friends of yours, Neville?" Stan asked.

George, Fred and Ron all looked at Harry at once, the same question in their eyes. Two years ago, Harry had unintentionally flagged down the Knight bus when running away from the Dursley's house. Afraid that he was in trouble for using magic outside of school, he had given the first name that popped into his head; Neville Longbottom, his schoolmate.

"Yes," he said, giving a quick look at each of them to keep them quiet. "We're going to sit in the back, if that's all right."

"'Acourse, make yourselves t'home, Neville. Where will you chaps be heading then?"

"The Burrow near Ottery St. Catchpole," Ron answered.

"Righteo," Stan acknowledged with a grin. "Be a while," he warned them. "I'll wake you if you snooze off."

"Thanks, Stan," Harry said, pulling his trunk to the back of the bus with Ron's help.

The four boys settled down in the back of the bus in an area that looked like a parlor with sitting chairs, end tables and fringed lamps. There was even small porcelin figurines of beagles and an odd colored lace on the arms of one chair.

"I've been going mad stuck in that house with no word," Harry said. "What's been going on? Has anything happened?"

"Plenty," George said, "but none of it really connected with You-know-who."

"At least nothing that the Ministry of Magic will own up to," Fred added.

"Dad's had plenty of owls from Dumbledore, though," Ron said. "He won't talk about it much, but you can always tell it isn't good. Gets those lines on his forehead, Dad does."

"He and Mum always go into the other room and whisper after one of those letters arrives," George said with a frown.

"Is anybody in the Ministry doing anything at all?" Harry asked.

"Oh sure," Fred answered. "Just not anybody who talks too much to Fudge."

"Dad's got a lot of contacts in the Ministry. Percy's almost as bad as Fudge, though. It's like he can't believe anything that doesn't come from the top. Thinks Dumbledore's over-reacting."

"You'd have thought that finding out old Crouch was killed by that nutter son of his, Perc would have been up in arms, but he's so determined to toe the straight and narrow he just can't see what's going on. It's like he'll only believe what the Ministry tells him to believe."

At this, the three brothers exchanged glances at each other that conveyed their worry, even if they did not voice them outloud.

"So people know about Crouch and his son?" Harry asked. If people knew even that much, they knew enough to be worried.

"Er... yes, and no," Ron answered.

"Yeah, they know Crouch is dead, but they don't know it was his son what done him in."

"And they don't know that Fudge let a Dementor into the school to give the kiss to Barty," George added.

Harry sighed and leaned back into his chair watching the blur of trees and road signs jumping out of the way of the bus.

"You okay, Harry?" George asked.

"Yeah," he answered, giving his friends a bit of a smile. He didn't try to explain how he felt responsible for all of this. "How's your joke shop coming on?" he asked instead.

"Fantastic, thanks to you," Fred answered with George nodding beside him. "We've got a little owl-post shop set up behind the garden."

"Yeah, we're even thinking of renting out a store front in Hogsmeade next summer."

"Any new inventions?" Harry asked, happy that at least somebody was doing something good with the gold he had won at the Triwizard Tournament last year.

Fred and George grinned at each other, but it was Ron that answered. "They've come up with a chocolates trick box. It has the canary creams, the ton-tongue toffee and three new ones: lightning licorice whips, monkey-head marzipan and feather fudge."

"The lightning licorice makes you sneeze sparks out of your nose," Fred said proudly. "That one would have been fun to test on your cousin, Harry!"

"And when you eat the feather fudge, it makes you so light that you can be blown over with a strong puff."

"Best of all," Ron said, "they made enough money that they said they'll buy me some new robes."

At that, Harry looked at George and Fred. He, Harry, had given them the thousand galleons with the condition that they buy Ron some new dress robes without letting him know that it was actually from Harry, himself. It seemed they had convinced Ron that they could buy his robes with their own money which was just as well. Ron was overly sensitive to the fact that his family did not have much money. George gave Harry a wink.

"That's great, Ron. Now all you have to do is ask another girl to a dance that hasn't talked to Padma Patil," Harry teased. Ron had taken Padma to the dance last year and ended up spending all his time with Harry. "Or anyone she might have talked to since then."

"Based on the way the girls at Hogwarts carry on in their little packs," Ron said, "I'll never get another date."

The four of them talked away the day. Stan hadn't been exagerating when he said it would be awhile until they reached the Burrow. He had stopped by to offer them egg sandwhiches at lunch, and then cold roast beef sandwiches and tea when the sun began to set. It wasn't a Hogwart's welcoming feast, but Harry couldn't remember sandwiches tasting better.

There was only one other wizard on this level of the triple-decker bus. He was asleep on a day bed. He was a strange-looking man, very tan and short, with short black hair. He had a vague oriental look about him, but it was his clothing that Harry found himself studying. He wore some sort of cloth wrapped around his waist like a skirt. It was brightly colored with huge exotic flowers. His shoes were styled like sandals and laced over the top of his foot with some kind of long blonde grass. He wore a regular white button-down shirt with short sleeves, and he clutched his wand in one hand as he slept. The wand was remarkable in itself. It was made from some sort of blue wood that had ridges on it, like bamboo.

Ron, Fred and George had started to doze off one by one even though the Knight Bus lurched and rattled along, but Harry was too anxious to sleep. Voldemort had said that Harry was protected from him when he was at the Dursley's. He had said that Dumbledore had cast ancient magic to keep Harry safe. He had said that he couldn't touch Harry when he was constantly under Dumbledore's nose. None of that was true now. If the Dark Lord was watching, he'd know that Harry was out alone with his friends, unprotected. Harry swallowed hard and glanced out the window again and admired the sunset. He stared at it for several long minutes before he remembered that it had been sunset when Stan had brought around the sandwiches for dinner.

Harry got up and walked to the front of the bus, trying to shake off his anxiety. "Where are we, Stan?" Harry asked.

"Oy, there, Neville!" Stan said. "We're a bit off the beaten path, ain't we, Ern," Stan said with a chuckle, giving a friendly punch on Ernie's shoulder.

"Ar," grunted Ernie.

"East, we is," Stan replied. "Gotta drop off ol' Mister Tomi back there." Stan pointed back to the wizard Harry had just been scrutinizing.

"Where is he going?" Harry wanted to know, bending down to look out the front window of the bus. There were strange things jumping out of the way of the bus now, things Harry had never seen before. There were no trees here, but lots of rocky hillsides covered with brown grass. A herd of sheep with long wool and funny curled horns bleeted angrily at the giant purple bus as they fled from its lumbering path.

"Singapore, innit Ern?" Stan answered in a question.

"Ar," Ernie answered again.

"Singapore? But I thought we couldn't go out over water," Harry said, startled.

"Aye, but all we had to do was jump a bit of water onto the mainland, Neville. Never said we couldn't jump a bit of water, I didn't," Stan answered, confused.

The bus lurched wildly as if hitting a series of potholes and everyone was jostled from their beds and seats, except Ernie. There were several cries of pain from the upper decks.

"Crickey, Ern!" Stan scolded. "Best get back to yer chair there, Neville, while I have a check on Madame McGuffin upstairs."

Harry went back to the sitting room area and found all three Weasley brothers grumbling about the ride and slipping back to sleep. He wondered if he should worry, being so far from Hogwarts and everything he knew. Could Voldemort attack him from so far away? How far could a wizard travel using Apparate?

No sooner had he thought this, than Harry quickly shoved his hand into his pocket and pulled out the phial of irridescent red liquid. He looked around quickly to make sure no one was watching and unstoppered the top, tipping back his head and let a single drop fall into his mouth. He closed the phial and shoved it back into his pocket, then frowned at what he'd just done. It was like somebody had used the Imperious curse on him, but it wasn't that blissful feeling of floating and dreaming. It felt more like a reflex. Like taking a deep breath of air after a long dive. It was just something that had to be done in order to survive. Before Harry could wonder at what magic had been used on him, he tasted a sharp burnt and bitter cinnamon flavor in his mouth. It filled his senses and burned his nose, but unlike hot butterbeer that warmed him all the way down to his stomach, this warmth filled his head and made his ears buzz.

Harry's eyes went wide with surprise at how awake and alert he suddenly felt. The buzzing in his ears seemed to spread to the air around him, and the little hairs on his arm stood up like chicken skin. It felt like a tiny jolt of static electricity was shooting out from his heart and tingling all over his body. He could feel it travel over his arms and back, and down his legs.

When the tingling began to fade, Harry looked around the Knight Bus again, and wondered why he had been worried about being so far from home. He could take care of himself, and he had his friends with him. Hadn't he faced Voldemort three different times now and gotten away? He had kept the Dark Lord from taking the Soccerer's Stone, and defeated a Basalisk, and faced a giant spider in the Forbidden Forrest. He even helped rescue Buckbeak, and helped Sirius escape the Dementors. Harry ticked off his victories in his head and felt a calm assurance settle on him like a warm cloak. He knew he wasn't powerful enough to defeat the Dark Lord, but he knew he could run away, and he knew he could do enough magic to keep himself safe.

With a contented smile, he settled back into his chair and let himself doze off.

"Oi, Neville!" somebody was shouting in his ear, shaking him roughly awake. "G'up!"

"Huh?" Harry mumbled, rubbing two fingers into his eye. Ron and Stan were standing over him.

"S'yer stop, Neville," Stan said again. "Crickey, I been tryin' to wake you for a full minute!" He grinned at Harry showing off his missing tooth. "Musta been a willy of a dream, eh?"

Fred and George were already pulling and pushing Harry's trunk out the door. Ron grabbed Harry's wrist and pulled him up. "C'mon, Mum and Dad are just getting home."

"Bye there, Neville!" Stan shouted as the two boys jumped from the Knight Bus.

"Why is he calling you Neville, Harry?" Ron wanted to know.

"It's a long story," Harry said with a smile, still feeling the effects of the potion he had taken. He explained his first encounter with the Knight bus to Ron and how he had been afraid the Ministry of Magic would expell him from Hogwarts for inflating his Aunt Marge two years ago.

Even as he recounted the story, he couldn't understand now why he had been so afraid the Ministry. They wouldn't just expell him out of hand. They would mention that it was his second warning, and he would have been able to tell them about Dobby's visit and how he had been improperly blamed the first time, and he'd be able to explain how he had been provoked by Aunt Marge the second time.

Ron was still laughing about the irony of being afraid of the big black dog, now that they knew it was only Sirius in his animal form, when they entered the kitchen.

"Harry!" Molly Weasly cried, pulling him into a strong hug. "It's so good to see you, dear."

"Thanks," Harry said, happy to see them, too.

"How have you been, Harry?" Arthur Weasly asked, clapping Harry on the shoulder.

"Okay. Just worried about all of you," he answered. "I couldn't keep up with the news. What's been going on?"

Mrs. Weasley looked at her husband and he nodded. "It's starting all over again," Mrs. Weasley answered. "It's all very minor now, mind you."

"Mostly muggle disappearances," Mr. Weasley added. "Dumbledore has had a fight on his hands to keep the school."

"What?" Harry exclaimed. "Why?"

"Fudge isn't coming right out and saying anything, but he's making a lot of less-than-flattering noise about how the school is being run to members in the ministry. Only thing keeping Dumbledore in the headmaster's role has been the support of the parents and staff. Fudge would lose a lot of support in the Ministry if he gave Dumbledore the boot." At Harry's distressed expression, Mr. Weasley added, "It's a fine line that Dumbledore is walking, Harry. He cannot come out against the Minister of Magic and expect everyone to remain undivided."

"I wish there was something I could do," Harry muttered.

"You're doing it, dear," Mrs. Weasley said.

As the students stepped out of their horseless carriages, there was a gasp and all eyes turned skyward. People froze in fear or started backing away from what they saw. Ron had just jumped out of the carriage when he stopped dead in his tracks, staring up. Harry gave Ron a nudge forward so he could climb out and see what was going on.

High above them in the cloudless gray sky was a perfectly formed circle of fire and smoke. Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle at the sight. After the tumultuous year that saw the rise of the dark lord it was no wonder that a scared murmur rose from the students. Some of them ran inside for cover only to bump into teachers who were running out.

McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout began shouting to students to get inside when Dumbledore strode out and asked for calm. He turned his pale blue eyes skyward and smiled.

"At last," he murmured. "Everyone on the steps," he called out, and the teachers immediately began directing the students. Dumbledore strode out onto the lawn and pulled out his wand. A small green iridescent bubble began to form at the tip and it grew and grew until it was too big to hold in front of him. He held the wand over his head and the bubble grew more still until it was the size of a small elephant. Then it made a soft popping sound and disconnected itself from Dumbledore's wand and rose gently into the sky like a giant balloon.

Everyone watched silently as the bubble rose high into the sky. When it reached the center of the circle of fire, it burst into a shower of golden sparkles that rained back down. The circle of fire changed shape and began a spiral motion downwards leaving a trail of smoke as the flame burned out. The smoke hung in perfect shape because there was no wind, and it looked like a giant corkscrew in the air.

As the thing that made the fire grew closer, they could make out a dark shape at the head. With only a few hundred feet to spare, the fire extinguished and they could clearly see what had created it.

"It's a dragon!" Fred Weasley yelled out, pointing. The frightened murmuring returned louder this time.

The large black dragon circled the school. The students didn't know whether or not to be afraid with Dumbledore standing there obviously happy to see it.

"What's going on?" Ron hissed to Harry.

"Look, there's somebody on it," Hermione said, tugging on both their arms as it got closer.

Indeed, there was the figure of a man astride the beast and as they flew out over lawn, Dumbledore walked out as if to greet them. Even from this distance they could feel the heat coming off the powerful flap of its wings as it landed with a heavy earth-shaking thud.

The dragon lowered itself onto all four feet and a man slid from its shoulders onto the ground, smoke still billowing from his cloak. When he spotted Dumbledore, he smiled and they could see white teeth shine from a black sooty face. He met Dumbledore halfway and embraced him.

"Too bad Hagrid isn't here to see this," Harry said with a shake of his head.

"You mean to say it's a GOOD thing he isn't here," Ron said sarcastically.

Dumbledore escorted the smoking man toward the castle with one arm on his shoulder, and he had to reach up to even do that. The man wasn't so tall as Hagrid, but he had to be over six feet. He was broad in the chest and shoulders and his hair and skin were black with soot. As they approached, there was a distinct acrid smell that the students who were closest recoiled from.

"When I didn't hear back from you, I had begun to think the worst," Dumbledore was saying.

"I didn't see a point in sending back an owl when I could get here just as quickly myself," the man answered.

"Look at his eyes," Hermione whispered, noticing that there were no
whites in his eyes at all. They were completely black like a birds.

"The stink of him," Malfoy sneered behind Harry. His thin rat face was pinched up.

"You'd think you'd be used to it by now, Malfoy," Ron said, "hanging out with Crabbe and Goyle as long as you have."

Not being able to simply punch him with so many teachers around, Goyle shouldered Ron hard, pushing him forward into a small knot of third years whom turned to square off with several sharp words. Dumbledore and the new man both turned to look at what the commotion was just as McGonagall and Sprout stepped in to calm things down.

"I thought dragons couldn't be tamed, Professor," Hermione said to Professor McGonagall.

"They can't," the smoking man answered her loudly without turning. When he slowly lifted his head to look at her, Hermione's ears went pink. "And I'd be careful of any more sudden movements like that." Harry was sure the man looked directly at Goyle when he spoke.

"Then how can you ride one?" Hermione asked.

"No questions now," Dumbledore interrupted. "Into the Great Hall everyone. Teachers, if you could please? We have to get a start on this new year." The other students parted to let Dumbledore and the dragon rider into the castle.

Harry, Ron and Hermione hung back with Fred and George who were ogling at the dragon with mischief in their eyes. Ginny peeked out from behind George's shoulder. The dragon's skin was black and green at the same time. As it moved, highlights of green moved over its scales. It had folded up the large wings close to its body and was getting comfortable to lie down. Its piercing yellow eyes never strayed from the quickly thinning knot of students.

"Have you ever heard of somebody riding a dragon?" Harry asked Fred.

"No, never."

"Maybe Charlie has, but that's a pretty good trick. He'd have said something if he knew about it," George added.

"Come on," Hermione said, still staring at the dragon. "We better get in there before the Sorting starts."

As the passed through the great arch doors, Harry saw the stranger standing off to one side with Dumbledore and Snape, who looked decidedly uncomfortable. The stranger had pulled out a handkerchief and was wiping the soot from his face and neck. Harry nudged Ron and inclined his head toward the trio.

"Come on," he whispered, and they carefully let the crowd maneuver them closer to hear what was going on.

"...YouÕve had your differences," Dumbledore was saying. "But these are dangerous times and we need to work together now more than ever. You'll have to trust my judgment on this matter."

The stranger was staring down stony-faced at Snape, standing almost a foot taller. Harry had to give Snape credit for standing his ground in front of such a large intimidating man. The expression on Snape's face was one Harry had not seen before. Snape actually looked ashamed. He reached out his hand as if to shake, but the stranger did not move. He only looked down at the proffered hand.

"Jack?" Dumbledore implored the stranger. "Now's not the time for old grudges."

"I trusted you once before, Severus" the stranger said.

Snape did not lower his hand. "You have every right to mistrust me, so just trust Dumbledore."

The stranger's expression changed to calculating regard. He apparently did not expect Snape to say such a thing and slowly took Snape's hand and then with a strong motion, he pulled Snape forward a step, his left hand coming up and firmly grasping Snape's forearm. Now it was Snape's expression that changed suddenly to squint-eyed pain as strong fingers dug into the hidden blackened mark of the dark lord that had been branded on his skin. Harry knew that mark was there under the sleeve of Snape's robes. He'd seen it on Snape's arm just last year after Voldemort came back.

Snape's lip curled as he begged in a low hiss, "Please."

Whatever death grip the stranger had on Snape slackened and his shoulders released the tension that had been in them. He released Snape's forearm and reached up to loosely hold his elbow in a manner much friendlier.

Tipping his head at Dumbledore the stranger said slowly, "For his benefit, I'll give you one more chance."

Snape seemed to have been holding his breath and released it with a small shaky huff. He nodded his head and met the stranger's eyes. "It's perhaps more than I deserve."

"We shall see," the stranger said. "Headmaster, may I clean up before I join you?"

"We'll meet you inside," Dumbledore said, patting the stranger on the back. When he had left, Dumbledore turned to Snape with a nod.

Harry and Ron had to stay up with the other students or it would be obvious that they were eavesdropping, so they didn't hear whatever else Dumbledore said to Snape.

"What do you think that was all about?" Ron whispered to Harry, as they followed the others into the Great Hall.

"I don't know. I've never seen Snape act like that around anyone."

"Yeah, it was like he was a real person."

"A real guilty person," Harry added.

Hermione was craning her neck around to spot them and waved them over to seats she had saved for them. The first years were already lined up behind the Sorting Hat. They had missed the Sorting Hat's introductory speech and several of the first years were already taking their places at their house tables. Harry and Ron weren't the only ones who were just taking their seats. Dumbledore and Snape had just come in, and Hagrid was trying desperately to see out any window that might show him a glimpse of the dragon on the school lawn.

"Same old empty chair," Ron said, indicating the chair that had known Professor Quirrel, Gilderoy Lockhart, Lupin, and Mad-Eye Mooney -- all former teachers for the Defense Against the Dark Arts class. It was firmly believed that the position was cursed since no teacher lasted more than one year.

When the sorting was finished, just like every year their plates filled with delicious steaming hot food of every variety. Roasted chickens, glazed hams, mashed and baked potatoes, puddings, cakes and pies of every flavor magically appeared on the salvers before them. Harry and Hermione were refilling their glasses with pumpkin juice when the whispering and gossiping around them about the stranger and the dragon suddenly stopped. Everyone looked up at the head table where a man was walking toward the table in silence and took a seat in the formerly empty chair. It was the dragon rider.

He was still intimidating even cleaned up. His clothes were no longer smoldering and he looked quite presentable now that he was no longer black with soot. He was a ruddy skinned man with short black hair and dark eyes with thick dark eyebrows. His robes were black, but piped with red at the collar, cuffs and shoulders. Only when the stranger had time to eat a bit did Dumbledore stand to make his beginning of the year announcements.

His pale blue eyes were grave this year as they regarded the students before. "Our numbers are fewer this year," he began. "Many of you know the sad events of last year when we lost one of our brightest. Many of you look around now and do not see the friends and classmates who were here before, because they or their families are too worried about the rumors of the Dark Lord's return. They have good reason to be concerned. Those of you who have returned to school will find many changes this year, more restrictions, more precautions. They are for your well being and safety. We hope we can make this a productive year despite all the misgivings so many may have. You all still have so much to learn, and making sure you learn all you can is more important now than ever before. To that end, I would like to introduce you to a new addition to our outstanding teaching staff. Our new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Professor Riddle."

"Riddle??" Harry repeated loudly in shock. He wasn't the only one. A fury of voices rose into the air. The din mounted as people explained to those who didn't understand what the Riddle name meant.

Tom Riddle was a Hogwarts student who later became known as the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Born to a muggle father and a witch mother, he reigned terror on the wizarding and muggle world for almost twenty years.

Dumbledore nor any of the teachers did anything to quiet the students for several minutes as if they had known what this announcement would mean. Professor Riddle sat quietly in the face of the student's reactions as though he were used to it. Even when Dumbledore raised his hand for quiet, it still took some time for people to settle back into their seats.

Harry shushed people who were still muttering, eager to hear what explanation Dumbledore would give about his choice of teachers for this now critical class. His waiting was in vain, however, as Dumbledore did not explain himself.

"The dragon now on the school grounds is very strictly off limits since we do not feel it could be anyone's life ambition to know what it feels like to be a piece of bacon, and because there really is no hiding it, we will simply tell you that the dragon will be staying in the boat chamber beneath the castle, so there will be no activities on the lake this year."

"Harry, are you okay?" Ron asked, seeing Harry blanche with this news.

Harry felt as though the floor had dropped from under his feet and he was falling into a dark hole. His heart hammered painfully in his chest and he swallowed hard, feeling sick. He didn't hear anything else Dumbledore said after that.

"Riddle," he whispered, unable to stop staring at the man at the table.

When they arrived at their first Defense Against the Dark Arts class, they found Seamus, Neville and several other students hovering outside the door, hesitant to go in.

"I'm not going in there first," Seamus said, crossing his arms.

By the time class was supposed to start, they were all standing in the hall afraid to enter.

"Oh, honestly," Hermione snapped, and pulled open the door. She stopped suddenly only two feet in.

"Hermione! What's wrong??" Harry said, feeling the sick feeling return.

She turned to look at them, blinked once, then shrugged. "He's not here."

"What do you mean, he's not here?" Ron said, shouldering his way past Neville into the room. Hermione was right. The room was empty. "Great," Ron snorted. "Standing outside like a bunch of silly gits." He stomped into the room and took a seat, followed more slowly by the others.

Harry took a seat next to Ron, carefully looking around the room. He didn't know what he was looking for, but not seeing it did not make him feel any better.

The entire class took their seats in complete silence. The tension in the room was unbearable. A pin drop would have scared the skin off half the people in the class, so it was surprising when nobody really reacted to a soft knock on the door in the front of the classroom. They all just looked at each other. The knock came again a bit more loudly this time.

"Uh..." Neville said, looking around at the others. "Hullo?"

The door opened slowly and Professor Riddle's head appeared around the corner. "May I come in?" he asked quietly.

When nobody answered, Neville looked around again and shrugged. "I - I guess."

Riddle opened the door and entered his class. He regarded them quietly for a moment, then pulled off his pointed hat, undid the collar of his robes and sat on the corner of his desk. Nobody said a word. In fact, they barely dared to breathe. Riddle took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh.

"My name is Jack Riddle," he said, turning to wave his hand at the black board where his name appeared in perfectly aligned block letters. "I don't like titles, but the headmaster prefers that students refer to teachers by using the title Professor, so you should call me Professor Riddle."

Nobody moved. Not even Hermione made some silent gesture of understanding by nodding her head. It was as if the entire class had become frozen in time.

"Yes," Riddle stalled. "Well, then... I don't suppose we'll get much of anything done like this, hey?" He smiled faintly. "How about we just get this business right out of the way then?" he said. "I was once related to the person known as Tom Riddle."

The class did not even gasp, though a few of them turned as white as a sheet and slouched lower in their seats. Whatever reaction he had hoped for, he was disappointed that he still hadn't shaken them out of their fearful stupor, so Riddle continued.

"We were cousins. When I was young, through circumstances too long and personal to discuss here, I had the grave misfortune of ending up in a dragon's nesting lair. And again, through circumstances too long and personal to discuss, I found myself adopted by a female dragon... Miss Granger," he added pointedly, looking directly at Hermione. "So in answer to your question several days ago, no, you cannot tame a dragon. Believe me when I say she is as wild and unpredictable as any dragon you would find in the wild. Perhaps more so, as I am her son and she is very protective of me."

The fearful stupor they were in had become replaced with a shocked stupor.

"I am not boasting when I say that I am the only creature in the world who can ride a dragon." His expression was not one of gloating at this fact, but rather one of sad resignation or even cynicism. "Or rather," he added, "the only one who can ride a dragon without the dragon wanting to rip me to shreds."

Every mouth was hanging open, but Riddle was still no closer to shaking his class out of their silence.

"Your reaction at the feast when Headmaster Dumbledore introduced me was not unexpected. In fact," he chuckled wryly, "if you had reacted in any other way, I would have been more than surprised."

Harry's stupor was breaking, as was Ron's and some of the others. He blinked and frowned as a hundred questions buzzed through his mind. As if knowing this, Riddle said, "So we must establish trust, and trust can only come with understanding. What questions can I answer?"

"Why you? Why this class?" Harry blurted out without raising his hand. Ron and Hermione gaped at him as if he were standing up and asking to be shot at.

Riddle's eyes closed briefly and he murmured, "Harry Potter."

Harry was too angry to feel threatened. He stood up and demanded again, "Why you? Why now?"

"Harry, for goodness sake, sit down!" Hermione hissed. Ron pulled out his wand in case Riddle tried anything.

"Why me?" Riddle repeated slowly. "That is a very good question that I do not have the answer for. When I received the headmaster's summons, I asked myself that very thing. Why would Albus Dumbledore want me?" He shook his head. "I can't even begin to imagine his reasons, nor would I hazard to guess at them. All I can say in answer to that is... he knows me."

Harry felt some of his suspicion and anger slip away. He knew Dumbledore felt the same way about his own godfather, Sirius Black. He even trusted Professor Snape. Wasn't that exactly what Snape had said when he met Riddle. 'You don't have to trust me, trust Dumbledore.'

"Why this class?" Riddle continued, answering each of Harry's questions. "Perhaps because I have been an Auror. Perhaps because I have been outside of the wizarding world for so long. Perhaps because I can brew up a wicked butter beer that would curl your toes with delight."

Several students chuckled quietly and Riddle shrugged.

"This class was my favorite when I was in school. I like to think that I did fairly well in it. But probably more to the point, would you say no if Albus Dumbledore asked YOU for a favor? A very particular favor?"

Harry had to admit that he would not and when he repeated his third question, "Why now?" it was much less anger than before.

"I would think that is obvious," Riddle said. "You were there, weren't you? When it happened?"

Harry slowly took his seat and realized he was sweating.

"Mister Potter isn't the only one who is justified in his feelings. Many of your families suffered under Voldemort's wrath." The class gasped at the mention of his name. Several girls threw their hands over their mouths.

Riddle shook his head and said sharply, "As long as I'm teaching this class, you'd better get used to it. I'll tell you right now that I will not pussyfoot around with all that shall-not-be-named hooey. He was my cousin and I'll call him worse than that if you catch me in the right mood."

Several of the boys laughed nervously. Harry felt a twinge of fondness for this teacher at that. He thought of his own cousin, Dudley, and some of the few choice names he would like to call him. It was with that thought that something suddenly occurred to Harry. Comparing Jack Riddle to Tom Riddle was just as ridiculous as comparing him to Dudley. They were nothing alike. In fact, Harry flat out despised his portly cousin. Was it the same with this man?

"Miss Granger?" Riddle said, nodding to Hermione who had raised her hand.

"Why do you keep saying you WERE cousins? I mean, if you were cousins, you still are cousins. That can't change."

Riddle smirked. "Can't it?" His smirk turned into a smile. "I suppose someone might think it's just a matter of denial. I was cousins with Tom Riddle, not Voldemort. When Tom Riddle left this school, he quite literally changed into something that I no longer recognize as my cousin. However, above and beyond that, as easy as it might be to gloss over, I, personally, am not the same physical being I was when I knew Tom."

He had them now. They were students with inquiring minds now, not just fearful zombies.

"It all goes back to that 'circumstances too long and personal to discuss' issue of being adopted by a dragon. You cannot be human to be a dragon's nestling. Or rather, you cannot smell human, so on some fundamental level you must be altered in order to become one of them."

"So they all think you're a dragon?" Seamus whispered in delight.

Their combined expressions of awe and disbelief seemed to unsettle Riddle, and he said sharply, "Before you go and get any ideas, let me tell you that the transformation is nothing you'd ever want to experience. It is pain beyond pain. Mindlessness beyond mindlessness." He thought about it a moment. "It is death, in almost every respect of that word."

The awe was slowly being replaced by trepidation. He knew that wasn't enough to shake out what they might perceive as a great adventure. "Imagine all three of the unforgivable curses at once."

Neville Longbottom cringed in his chair. He was knotting his fingers into the material of his cloak.

"I did not go out looking for this and I certainly did not want or ask for it," Riddle said. "Do I look like a strong man?" he asked the class.

A few of them nodded. "Do I?" he asked again, louder.

"Yes," the answered in one voice.

"Do you think I look like a brave man?"

"Yes," they answered this time, without being prodded.

"And yet if I had to do it over again, I would run from it."

This seemed to reach them. "But you get to ride dragons," Seamus said.

"Seamus Finnagan," Riddle said. "Does the end justify the means, Mister Finnagan? Tell me, would you volunteer for the Imperious Curse? Cruciatus Curse? The Killing Curse? Have you ever experienced any of these curses, sir?" he asked.

Seamus shook his head.

"You learned about the unforgivable curses last year, is that right?" Now, all of the students nodded in response. "Did you experience any of them?" Again there were a few nods. Can I see a show of hands? How many experienced Imperious?"

Almost everyone raised their hands. Mad-Eye Moody, or the person who had been impersonating him, had cast the curse on each of them so they would know what it felt like.


All the hands but three had dropped. Harry's hand had stayed up as well as a boy named Deacon from Ravenclaw... and Neville Longbottom's.

"There's really no point in asking about the last," Riddle said, much to Harry's relief.

"So of you three," Riddle asked, not pointing out any one of them in particular, "would you willingly do it again?" They all shook their heads. "Even for a million galleons?" They still shook their heads. "And that is only Imperious and Cruciatus. Imagine adding the Killing Curse, Mister Finnagan, and that is what you must do 'just to ride on dragons'. No, sir, I would not volunteer myself to that fate again if I had to do it over. Not even knowing what I now know, that I had survived it." Riddle's eyes grew distant with some past memory. "Some prices," he said softly, lowering his eyes, "are far too crippling to pay."

"Professor Riddle?" Hermione called out. "Professor?"

A fire flickered somewhere in the chamber and danced along the bottom of the steps, but they didn't dare go any further down. A large shadow moved over the wall in the staircase and it moved in a very strange way before it was recognizable as that of a man.

"Miss Granger," came the soft echoing voice from below. He stepped into view and looked up at them. "Are the others with you?"

"Yeah," Ron and Harry replied, moving into sight.

Riddle nodded and gestured them down. Harry, Ron and Herminoe all exchanged nervous glances and started slowly down the steps. The usually cool and damp boat chamber was dry and hot. They began to sweat in their long robes almost immediately. When they got to the last step, they stopped.

"It's all right," Riddle said softly. "You'll be safe."

Ron gulped nervously and took the last step down. A small passage led to the left and the large chamber beyond glowed red. He could see a large fire burning just inside the chamber, and from where they stood, they could all see the thick back legs and heavy tail of the Horntail.

Riddle looked between them and the dragon, and made a strange sound. Harry took a step closer to hear what he was saying. It almost sounded like he was saying 'Tree friends so chips green clap learners toast.'

"Parseltongue?" Ron whispered.

"I don't think so," Harry answered. "Sounds like jibberish to me."

"A dialect actually," Riddle answered, having heard their voices echo down the stone passage. "Very similar to parseltongue."

As they came closer, they could see more and more of the dragon who was rising up to move back and make room for them to enter. She was enormous and terrifying this close up. It was nothing like the second challenge from the wizard's cup last year and in this confined space her heavy musk seemed to stick to the walls. It was almost too much to take in, but Riddle was still talking, trying to draw their attention.

"Dragon parseltongue sounds more like a heavy accent or slang, rather the way a good Cockney accent would sound to an American, I'd imagine."

"So you can't talk to snakes then?" Ron asked.

"Only enough to get my point across," Riddle said. "It's easier for me to talk to them than for them to talk to me." He gestured for them to sit by the fire.

"Why's that?" Harry asked, taking a seat on a big rock.

He held up his hands. "I can make gestures. They can't. I'm sure I must annoy them greatly never fully understanding what they're trying to tell me."

They might have laughed if they hadn't been staring at the dragon who was staring back at them. Her scales gleamed like black glass dusted with emerald powder. Her great yellow eyes were cut in half by the thick black line of her pupils that made her face look like it had been cut horizontally across her eyes.

"Gleed," Riddle said, and the dragon's eyes turned toward him. He made a soft hissing sound, and this time Harry could not make out anything he said. The dragon snorted a bit of smoke through her nose and settled down, closing her eyes.

"What does 'gleed' mean?" Hermione asked, still looking at the specatular beast.

"That's just her name," Riddle answered, sitting with them next to the fire.

"Wow," Ron whispered under his breath, his eyes as wide as hen's eggs.

"Mister Weasley?" Riddle asked.

"It's just," Ron stammered. "They're just a lot bigger this close up. I don't know how you kept your wits, Harry, to summon your broom last year."

"Accio Firebolt were the only two words in my head," Harry reassured him.

"A dragon's appearance is one of its greatest weapons," Riddle said. "Surprise can keep your foe off balance, and a dragon is nothing but surprising."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

Riddle leaned back and crossed his legs at the ankle. He looked completely comfortable, and Harry realized he looked very cool. Unlike the three of them, he was not sweating in the heat of the chamber.

"Shock," Riddle said. "If you turned a corner and saw a man rushing at you with a large stick, you'd experience a moment of shock as your mind tried to register what was happening. In those few seconds of delay, he would be upon you, and you'd be unconscious. If you knew he was there, you could prepare yourself for what to do. The element of surprise in battle can be a useful tool. Catch your enemy unaware and unprepared. A dragon's fierce appearance provides that moment of shock. Only with training and quick thinking can you learn to overcome that shock and react without hesitation.

"That is why I wanted to talk to you all, especially you, Mister Potter."

"Why me?" Harry felt that bubble of distrust in his stomach.

"Why do you think?" Riddle asked in return. "Voldemort is nothing but a brilliant egomaniac. Do you think he'll let you best him without retaliation? He knows he has to beat you or he'll always been seen as less than invincible by his followers, that a young boy such as yourself can thwart him time and again."

"I didn't thwart anything!" Harry snapped. "I ran away."

Riddle bowed his head to hide his smile, but Harry saw it plain enough and he jumped to his feet, angry. Gleed raised her head quickly, arching her neck menacingly with her ears laying back against her horned head.

Riddle held up his hand, staying the great beast, but she refused to let her guard down.

"I ran!" Harry shouted again. "That's not funny."

Riddle looked up at Harry and his face became very somber. Harry hated those black pupil-less eyes that stared back at him. They unnerved him. When Riddle stood, Harry began to understand what he was saying earlier about surprise and shock, but he was too angry to let himself worry about the dragon behind him. What shocked Harry, however, was when Riddle walked over to him and knelt on one knee before him, so they were face to face.

"You lived, young sir." Riddle's voice was soft. There wasn't mockery in his tone, but rather sympathy. "It wasn't the running away that will have enraged Voldemort. It was the fact that you survived the battle he brought to you. When he attacked your family, there were no witnesses to cheer his victory over your mother and father, and so there were no witnesses to his defeat. This time, he was humiliated by you. The Death Eaters themselves were witness to their master's failure."

Riddle rested his big hand on Harry's shoulder. "I meant no disrepect, but surely you must realize that by even being ABLE to run away -- you, nothing more than a boy -- you have done him more harm than ever before. For the second time in your life, Harry, you have shown that Voldemort is fallible." Riddle's black eyes stared intently into Harry's and for the first time since meeting Riddle, Harry felt as if there were kind of connection between them.

"You called him Harry," Hermione said into the silence. It was true. Riddle never used anyones first name. He never appeared too familiar with any of them, not even the other teachers. He always addressed everyone with a title of respect; everyone, that is, except Snape.

Riddle looked suddenly uncomfortable and stood abruptly, moving away from them a few paces. "I'm sorry. That was out of line."

Now Harry was uncomfortable. "No. No, that's okay. You can call me Harry." Riddle said nothing, but Harry's encouragement did not seem to help.

Gleed's head began to bob around again, probably sensing Riddle's anxiety, and he made a series of sounds at her even as he shook himself out of his apprehension.

"Professor?" Harry asked, glancing between the dragon and the man.

Whatever feeling Harry had picked up from Riddle a moment ago was quickly replaced by an air of business now. "Headmaster Dumbledore and I agree that you should learn protection spells above and beyond those I am currently teaching in the Defense Against the Dark Arts class. If the three of you agree, you will add this study time to your class schedules."

Ron, Harry and Hermione looked around at each other then back to Riddle, as he continued to explain.

"Taking this additional class will undoubtedly make your lives harder, but this I can guarantee. With what you will learn here -- one on one with me -- you should all pass with full marks all of your other classes combined. You will learn potions, charms, spells, history, transfiguration and defense techinques that will surpass your other classmates. Class will begin after dinner every day and will not end until you have mastered the technique presented on that day. It may be only an hour, but it may be as many as four depending on how difficult you find the exercise and how long it takes you to master it. At the beginning of each class, we will review the lesson from the previous day."

"Every day?" Ron asked. "That doesn't mean what I think it means, does it?"

"Every day after dinner," Riddle repeated.

"Weekends, too?" Ron pressed, still not wanting to believe it.

"Every day," Riddle enunciated slowly.

Harry felt his stomach drop. "Does that mean I have to give up Quiditch?"

"Professor McGonagall has moved your Quiditch practices to the mornings. If you feel you have the stamina to do it, you are not required to give it up. It will be up to you to determine where your focus should be."

Harry's face fell. Giving up Quiditch would be the right thing to do. Fighting Voldemort was more important than playing games. Wasn't it?

Riddle seemed to read his mind. "Before you make up your mind, let me say this. During the days to come, it will be just as important to keep up your morale as it will be to learn what I will teach you. In an accelerated learning course, it is just as important to feed the spirit as it is to feed the mind. Therefore, if you decide that you will take on this additional class, you will each go out of your way at least once every week to do something you truly enjoy. Those pleasantries may disappear soon enough. Enjoy them while you can. The memory of them may be all you have to sustain you later. Understood?"

They all three nodded in unison. Riddle looked at each one of them in turn. "Do not talk about this class with anyone." Harry's head snapped up as Riddle continued to speak. "Anyone who needs to know about these sessions will be told by the headmaster, students and teachers alike."

"Sandesman?" Harry asked. When Riddle looked up, Harry knew. He had thought that Riddle's terse instructions had sounded familiar in some way, and now he knew for certain.

"You sent me the... the..." Harry stammered, his mouth unable to finish his sentence. "The..." No matter how hard he tried, he could not say the words. That strange influence that demanded he follow the instructions from the messaage on the cloth compelled him to keep the secret.

Riddle waved his hand in front of Harry's eyes with a wry amused smile, and Harry was able to blurt out, "The protection potion!"

"What protection potion?" Ron asked.

"What did you do to me?" Harry demanded, ignoring Ron.

"It was an Obligation Charm. It was essential that you follow my directions to the letter while you were with the Weasley's."

"What?" Ron snapped. "Why?"

"I don't like being controlled," Harry snapped, feeling his anger at this man returning.

"May I explain?" Riddle asked. Both Ron and Harry glared in silence. He looked between the two boys, then at Hermione who had been oddly quiet. "Dragon Heart. A drop of dragons blood under your tongue magnifies the strength of protection spells and gives you the courage of a dragon, enough to face even an unhooded dementor. Extremely rare and extremely dangerous to come by. That was what Headmaster Dumbledore asked me to send you last summer, and that is the beginning of what I will teach you in the accelerated class. Do you agree?"

"I was drinking dragons blood?" Harry asked in shock.

"Do you agree?" Riddle repeated sternly.

"Yes," Hermione said boldly, and she nudged Ron to shake him out of his stupor.

"What? Oh. Yeah, sure," he muttered, still stunned.

"Mr. Potter?" Riddle asked, tilting his head at Harry.

"All right," Harry replied, still watching Riddle intently.

Riddle squared his shoulders and nodded curtly. "Then we begin tomorrow."

As Ron and Hermione got up to leave the boat chamber, Harry remained. "Why you?" he asked bluntly. He seemed to be asking that question a lot where Riddle was concerned.

"All in good time, Mr. Potter," Riddle answered softly. "All in good time."

"I don't get it," Ron mused. "Why does he want to help us?"

"Because he's our teacher, and Dumbledore wants him to," Hermione answered.

"It's not just that," Harry answered. "There's something else... something about him."

"What?" Hermione asked.

"I don't know," Harry answered slowly, considering. "It's just a feeling I have. In the note he sent me with the protection potion, he mentioned my aunt by her first name. How would he know that?"

"Dumbledore maybe?" Ron offered.

"I don't know." Harry didn't sound convinced. "Maybe."

They were climbing the steps up to the Griffyndor dormitory when Ron stopped suddenly on the steps, blicked twice and ran back to the window they had just walked past.

"Ron?" Hermione asked, then she and Harry joined Ron at the window.

It was a dark and moonless night. The wind in the dried autumn leaves made a hissing sound they could hear from the Forbidden Forest. The lake in front of the castle looked like a large dark hole with only a few lights shining through the castle windows illuminating it here and there.

"I saw something move," Ron whispered.

As they watched, a large black mass disengaged itself from the shadows where it was hidden. If the moon had been out, it could have been a cloud passing in front of it. It was enormous and undefined.

"What is it?" Ron hissed under his breath as if afraid it could hear him from the castle.

It stayed in the darker shadows of the trees and moved away from the castle towards Hagrid's cabin. It was heading into the Forbidden Forest but in order for it to head directly into the woods, it would have to leave the protective shadows and cut across the lawn a short distance first. They lost sight of it a few times before seeing a vague movement further along the tree line.

The head of the creature slipped into view as it began to cross the lawn. It was a dragon!

"It's just Gleed," Hermione said with a huff and putting her hand over her racing heart.

"No! Look!" Harry said, pointing.

As more of the dragon crawled out onto the lawn, they could make out distinct differences about its shape. It wasn't as large as Gleed and its back was shaped differently.

"It doesn't have any wings!" Ron said surprised. "What do you suppose happened to it?"

The dragon slipped into the shelter of the Forbidden Forest and disappeared from sight.

"Or more to the point," Harry began, his stomach turning over, "what could be big enough to do that to a dragon?"

Once again, the trio made their way down the long stone stairway into the lake chamber. It was still hot and dry there, and Ron tugged at the collar of his robes.

"Gah, it's bloody hot," he complained. "Why can't we have this class in Hagrid's or in an ice box?"

"You may remove your robes if you're uncomfortable, Mister Weasley," came Riddle's voice from below.

Ron shot an embarassed and startled look at Harry. "I hate it when he does that," he whispered so low that Harry could barely hear.

As they stepped off the last step and onto the sandy floor, Riddle turned to look at them from a makeshift classroom he had set up against one wall away from the dragon. It was quite elaborate, complete with desks, a couldron, a shelf filled with herbs and liquids, and a variety of cages ranging in sizes. The cages were empty. The largest one could have held a large dog.

"You're late," Riddle scolded.

"Sorry," Harry said, feeling responsible.

"As I said, these special sessions will be more demanding than your other classes, and it's imperative that you learn to master the skills quickly. They will not be hour-long sessions. They will last as long as necessary. So you should remember that the later we start, the later it will be before you can leave," Riddle explained. "Take a seat, please."

They exchanged suffering glances with each other and moved to take their seats. Ron shed his robes and pulled at his already askew tie.

"Have you ever had a chocolate frog?"

Ron cheered immediately. "Of course!"

Riddle smiled at him. "Collect the cards?"

"Almost all of them," he said, thinking that this would finally be a class he could appreciate.

"Do you have Dumbledore?" he challenged.

"Six," Ron replied proudly.

Riddle looked impressed. "What does the back of the card say about him?"

"Most noted for discovering the twelve uses of dragon's blood and..."

"Exactly!" Riddle said, cutting him off. "The twelve uses of dragon's blood. What do you know of this most auspicious discovery?"

Harry and Ron both turned to Hermione who turned to look back at them. "What?"

"What?" Ron repeated.

"Why are you looking at me?" she asked.

"You always know the answer," Harry replied.

"I do not!" she shot back indignantly.

"Yes, you do," Ron contradicted.

"Well..." she hesitated, "maybe I do, but I don't know this time."

Riddle chuckled softly. "That's quite all right, Miss Granger. You'd be making my job here rather pointless if I didn't have anything to teach you." He turned to the chalkboard and wrote three words.

"The uses of dragon's blood can be broken down into three primary groups: protect, attack and deflect. Some uses can do all three." He paused and turned. "That bit is important." He paused again, watching them as they listened to him with all their attention.

"It's important," he repeated. "Write it down."

All three of them started as if coming awake and grabbed their quills. Riddle shook his head, amused and turned back to the blackboard.

"Dragon Heart. Dragon Breath. Dragon Skin. Red Eyes. Dragon Mist. Dragon Dust. Fireblast. Dragon's Temper. Patient Death. Golden Black and Steel Will." He ticked off the list as he wrote each on the board. "As you learn each of these, you'll see where they fall in the three categories."

"Professor?" Harry interrupted.

"Mister Potter?"

"That's only eleven."

"Yeah," Ron added. "I only have eleven."

Riddle paused awkwardly and turned back to the list he'd made on the board. "Ah. Yes, of course. Eleven. The twelfth does not fall under any of these categories, and we need to focus on protection for now, and deflection. As we continue, you'll learn the attacks."

He wrote a single word on the bottom of the board away from the others. Ordal.

"Today we're going to discuss Dragon Skin." He wrote the word under the protection category. "It's a rather complex potion made from dragon blood and flubberworm mucus," he explained. "If you spread it on your skin like a salve, it makes the skin hard enough to withstand not only fire, but knives, swords and reflects most hexes."

"Wicked!" Ron whispered in awe.

"Tonight I'm going to teach you to make the potion, and to test it, you'll be hexing each other. I'd suggest you pay close attention or you'll be going to bed tonight with boils."

Even wounded as she was, the giant horntail pirouetted in midair, sheltering Riddle from the blast. The sky lit up with a brilliant green. With a howl of pain, Gleed recoiled and bucked. She spun onto her side and fell from the air. Riddle fell from her back with a startled cry.

"Jack!" Dumbledore shouted. He raised his wand to stop Riddle's fall, but was forced back by a barrage of blasts from the hills.

Riddle disappeared into the tree tops at the same time Gleed hit the ground with a shattering thud. The shock of the impact caused boulders to shake loose. Ron and Hermione had to scramble from their shelter of rocks. Likewise, it scattered the Death Eaters who were attacking Sirius and Lupin.

Riddle stumbled out of the trees, bloody and dazed. Harry could see him from the rubble he hid behind. He was confused by the expression of horror and pain that consumed Riddle as the man saw Gleed's body in the field. Harry crawled out of his hiding place and followed. Riddle stumbled forward a few paces, and then broke into a run to her side. Harry ran to keep up.

She was dying. The same irridescent red liquid that Riddle had given Harry last summer, was spilling from her wounds. Riddle stopped two paces away and fell to his knees.

"No," he moaned. "No. You can't," he pleaded in the dragon dialect. "You can't die."

"Can't you help her?" Harry whispered.

Gleed lifted her great horned head and rested it in Riddle's lap. Harry could only understand a few words, but he understood her when she said,."I'm sorry, my nestling." Her breathing became labored.

"No, please," Riddle whispered back to her. "Mother, please."

Harry looked in shock at Riddle. Mother?

"Help... your people," she said with effort. "Help..." Harry couldn't understand the words inbetween and then, "...cousin." With a shudder, her eyes closed and her last breath rattled in her long neck.

Riddle's eyes closed and he cradled the giant beasts head in his arms.

"What did she say?" Harry demanded in disbelief. He must have heard wrong. Help cousin? No. Harry shook his head, his brow furrowed. Not again. Not like Moody. He hadn't been taken in again, had he??

"What did she say??" Harry shouted.

Riddle did not respond. Harry pulled out his wand, backing away from Riddle and away from the dead body of the dragon. "You're with him, Voldemort. Aren't you," Harry hissed. "Aren't you?" He raised his wand.

"Harry, no!" Dumbledore shouted from behind the shed.

"Harry, get down!" Ron yelled.

"Harry!" Sirius yelled as well, all of them seeing the danger before Harry could. He broke off in a run to save his godson.

Several Death Eaters were advancing on Harry, but he could not turn his back on Riddle. Lupin raced forward, but was hit by a powerful Stunning spell that sent him reeling into a tree as if he'd been thrown.

Several things happened at once. Ron and Hermione broke from cover and raced to Harry. Dumbledore managed to hit the Death Eater who had pinned him down with a Stupefy spell. Sirius ran pell mell into a Dementor, knocking the half dead creature over a rock. Harry raised his wand to curse Riddle.

"Harry, don't!" Dumbledore called again.

Before he could get the spell off, Harry, himself, was hit by a Stunning spell and flew forward against Riddle on the ground. He put out his hands to stop his fall, and cut his hand on one of Gleed's thick strong horns. He cried out in pain, but immediately shook off the stunned effect. It wasn't soon enough, however. He and Riddle were quickly circled by five Death Eaters.

"Throw down your wands," one of them called out. "Do it now, or your beloved Harry Potter dies!"

Sirius stopped dead in his tracks beside Dumbledore. He was about to raise his wand when Dumbledore reached out and stopped him. "No," he said softly and only Sirius could hear the real fear in his voice. "Do as they say," he called out to the others with more command.

Everyone dropped their wands, although Ron and Hermione were last to put theirs down. The Death Eaters that held the high ground in the hills came out, laughing with victory.

"Imagine that," the Death Eater who ordered them to disarm shouted to his fellows. "A dragon, Potter and Dumbledore... all in one swipe," he crowed. The others cheered maliciously.

One of the Death Eaters moved behind Albus Dumbledore and shoved him forward until he stood in the circle with Harry, surrounded. It seemed as though the war would be over before it had even begun. What could they do without Dumbledore?

Riddle, forlorn, glanced around them for the first time. He stroked Gleed's mighty head and moved her from his lap, hissing softly. "Banish them," he hissed, but only Harry could understand.

"The honor will be ours," the voice of Lucius Malfoy said from behind one of the hoods, and all the Death Eaters raised their wands.

"Now!" Riddle hissed at Harry, slicing open his own hand on Gleed's horn and grasping Harry's wounded hand tighly in his own.

Their blood mixed instantly through the wounds, and a blast emmanated from them, like a hurricane wind, knocking everything and everyone over. Harry felt himself charged with the same static that he felt while taking the dragons blood, only stronger. He felt he could shoot lightning from his fingers if he hadn't been grasping his wand.

"ABIEGO!" Harry shouted.

An explosive boom echoed from the valley, like a crack of lightning directly overhead and then everything grew silent again. When they looked up, the Death Eaters were gone.

Sirius was the first up, and dashing toward Harry. Lupin arrived first, helping Dumbledore to his feet. Hagrid pulled Ron and Hermione up to their feet with strong hands and ran toward them as well.

Harry had sunk to his knees, staring intently at Riddle as if seeing him for the first time. He knew now what the odd sense of connection had been all year long. He could see the man he knew as Jack Riddle, holding him after his birth. Riddle's face, tear stained with the death of Gleed, did not avert his eyes from Harry's unwavering gaze. He did nothing to deny what Harry was now feeling through their blood bond.

"Get off him," Sirius snarled, running up to them. He was stopped by Dumbledore's outstretched arm.

"You," was all Harry could manage to say.

"Yes, Harry," Riddle confirmed.

"But why didn't you...?" Harry tried to say.

Riddle could not answer.

"Jack," Dumbledore said softly, putting his hands over both of their wrists. "Let go, Jack."

Riddle turned and looked at Dumbledore. "The last time I let go, I lost everything."

"Let the boy go," Dumbledore repeated.

Riddle looked at Harry and let go of his hand, but did not move from Harry's grasp. Harry, however, did not let go.

"You're my cousin?" Harry asked, bewildered.

"Your grandfather was my uncle," Riddle explained.

"But how...?" Harry's mind was spinning. It wasn't possible, was it?

"My father was Voldemort's cousin. My mother was yours." Riddle still did not move from Harry's grasp. "Gleed was telling me to help my cousin, Harry. She told me to help... you."

"But this..." Harry said, shaking Riddle's hand, "this is Steel Will."

Riddle looked at Dumbledore for help, almost as if he were ashamed. Dumbledore implored Harry to let go.

"This is Steel Will!" Harry repeated to Dumbledore. "How can this be Steel Will?"

"Harry," Dumbledore said again. He mouthed the words "Let go" without speaking them.

Harry looked back at Riddle again, but the man would not meet his eyes now. He let go of Riddle's hand and the power that connected them vanished. The tingling all over his body faded instantly.

"How can it be?" Harry asked again, staring at Riddle.

"I... am caught between worlds, Harry," Riddle said quietly. "Not a Riddle, not a Potter. Not a man, not a dragon."

"Animagus?" Ron whispered fearfully peering out from behind Remus Lupin.

Riddle shook his head, but could not explain.

"Animagi are wizards who can transfigure into other shapes, Ron," Dumbledore explained. "Jack Riddle is a dragon who can turn into a man."

"The Ordal!" Hermione exclaimed.

"Very good, Miss Granger," Dumbledore acknowledged. "And your final lesson in the accelerated class, I believe. You've been reading ahead."

"What is the Ordal?" Ron asked.

"He was changed into a dragon," Harry answered, and Riddle finally met his eyes again. "He said so in class that first day. Imperious, Curciatus and the killing curse all at once. You cannot smell human to be adopted by a dragon. He had to be changed on a fundamental level."

"I was re-made," Riddle said with a sigh. "No longer a man. Gleed became my mother." He looked sadly at her great hulk beside them and closed his eyes again.