Authors note: Am I drowning in Uni work? Yes. Am I ignoring it because I'd rather make you all happy right now? Also yes.

For those of you who are curious, I'm home now (and was immediately infected with my kids cold) and practicing the whole walking thing. But! No walker, no cane! I actually skipped over crutches completely too! Turns out that I'm awesome and my physios and rehab team were very impressed that I literally wrote a list of goals (eg. "Walk around the nurses station twice without stopping or leaning on anything", or "do the rehab stairs 3x up and down without stopping", or even "do your hair without dropping or bracing your weak arm") and proceeded to aggressively blow through them as if they'd mortally offended me. Though I did earn a few tutting noises from my main physio and the psychologist ("You need to stop holding your breath when you concentrate. Breathe!" "This is physio, you can't put your head down and bull through it like you do with everything else! If you don't come to a complete stop and take a breath between steps I'm putting you in a wheelchair until you learn to behave!"). Turns out I'm ridiculously stubborn, who knew?

In other news, I'm on a huge Seether binge (2013-14 for preference). Anyone else like them?

Harry was sitting in his office, surrounded by his Inner Circle, listening to the reports his people were giving about the various projects they had going. Marcel had just finished an update on the Nestlings, and was now availing himself of the platter Jinky always provided.

"So basically everything is going smoothly. Excellent. Anything on the Acolytes?"

"Nothing of note," Alex said, consulting his notebook. "We've tracked down another cell, and we have a team working on infiltration. We know they're passing information between the cells, we just need to find out who and how, then we can clean them out or manipulate them as needed."

Harry nodded, pleased.

"Has anyone heard anything about Adama's little posse? It's been a while since we had an update." He leaned back in his chair, fiddling with a pen. Quite frankly he was a bit bored. Everything was set up and running fine without his direct control, and there was only so much schoolwork he could do before losing patience. Maybe he should spend some time with his kids?

Everyone shook their heads.

"Nothing new. They're still chasing down the red herrings we're throwing out for them, which is enough to keep their superiors off their backs, but if they don't start producing results soon there's a good chance they'll be disbanded or handed over to someone else." Alex offered.

"Eh," Harry shrugged. "I don't really care. You know what to do in either situation, so I'll leave it to you. I hired you so I wouldn't need to micromanage. Though speaking of micromanaging, I've an idea I'd like to run past you."

The men and women surrounding Harry looked up from their snacks, giving him their full attention.

"As you know, I've been cultivating a few schoolmates with the goal of setting up people who can step in if something happens to any of you. I was thinking that it might be beneficial to have them apprentice under each of you according to your and their specialities. I know that you all have a frankly ridiculous workload already, but I'm hoping that with a little training and effort now, we can begin offloading some of the smaller tasks onto them which would free up more of your time. Thoughts?"

It was quiet as Vahan's people mulled over his proposal, but to his surprise it was Shot who spoke up first.

"Honestly, I'm up for it. I'm swamped, and I'd really appreciate a pair of extra hands. Did you have any minions in mind for me?" She took a deep drink from her tall glass, gulping down some of the thick pink sludge and licking it discretely off her top lip.

"I did," Harry nodded. "I'd thought the twins would be a good fit for you as far as developing new toys go. They will definitely be in your department. I'm sure they're good at research too, and I want you to hone those skills, but their strength is development, so that's where I want their focus."

"I can do that," Shot agreed amiably. "I'll set up a lab for them attached to mine. I don't really want them in my workspace, so if you're alright with a few alterations then giving them their own area will probably be better."

Harry nodded, and turned his attention to the rest of the group.

"Alex, I want to assign you Draco and Blaise. I intend Draco as your... I don't want to say replacement. Understudy? Apprentice? That's probably better. Anyway, Draco will fill your shoes once you empty them, and Blaise will fill a similar role for Connor. In the event that Connor takes over from me at some point, make sure there is a clear chain of command and division of duties for the two. I don't want to risk any infighting between them. They're both prissy little divas, and the last thing Connor needs is them trying to one up each other."

Alex laughed, but nodded in agreement.

"Sergei, you'll have Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. They've chosen to pretend to be stupid muscle, so you'll need to factor that into their training. They're intelligent enough though, so don't put up with it when it's not necessary."

Pausing to take a few finger sandwiches off the tray, Harry continued.

"I'm undecided what to do with Dean and Hermione. Dean is a good allrounder, but he's nothing spectacular in any particular field. Though having been raised in the muggle world, something on that side might be best? If you've got any ideas, let me know. Hermione is a difficult one though." He sighed and took a bite, chewing slowly. "She's a brilliant researcher, no doubt, but her blinkered devotion to her books has her incapable of thinking outside the box. She's bossy, but a force to be reckoned with when she wants something. Quite frankly she's too valuable to waste, but I'm not sure where she would best be used."

"What about Bradshaw?" Suggested Marcel.

Raising an eyebrow and chewing another bite of his sandwich, Harry gestured for him to continue.

"He can use her research skills and show her the reality of the world, then once he's broken her just enough, throw her into the Auror Corps. You could have her aim to be the head of the DMLE, and maybe even eventually Minister. But only if you can break her of course."

Humming thoughtfully, Harry considered it.

"I'm not entirely convinced, but it might work. Does anyone else have any ideas for her?"

There was a wave of shrugs and head shakes, though Harry noticed that Alice wasn't one of them.

"Alice? Something on your mind?"

The beautiful redhead bit her lip, but leaned back and crossed her long legs gracefully.

"What I'm taking away from this is that the girl is brilliant but has no real life experience, is that correct?" She sipped delicately at her tea, before placing it back on the little table next to her chair.

"I suppose," Harry conceded cautiously. "Aside from the incident where I saved her from the troll, I've been led to understand she's been heavily sheltered. Why?"

"Then I think Marcel's suggestion may not be the best way to go about this. Bradshaw would be wonderful for making use of her research skills and ability to work within the legal framework, but his clientele would likely drive her away from you and you'd lose her. No, I think it would be better to show her the morally grey side of the world first. She likely sees the world as black and white, good and evil. But how do you think she'd respond to the Nestlings and Ghosts? The cognitive dissonance she'd go through in her attempts to understand how someone doing 'bad' things could also be using those skills and resources to help people might give you the leverage you need. Shot can help strip the blinkers from her as far as research goes, and I could help with the emotional blindness. If you're willing, put her under both Shot and myself. Once we have an idea of how her personality and skills are developing, you can position her where she'll be most useful."

"And you'd be willing to Apprentice her?" Harry asked doubtfully.

Alice raised a finger teasingly.

"Mentor, not Apprentice," she corrected. "Avoid using the term Apprentice with her until you've determined where you want her to be. She seems like the sort who would pay attention to the nuance."

Harry rolled his eyes.

"Call it whatever you want. But you'd really take her on?"

"Sure. Sounds like fun!" Alice smiled.

"You could give Dean to Greg," Marcel piped up. "He may be your main security guy, but he's also the closest you have to an allrounder. At the very least he'd be able to provide some idea of the kid's talents, and while Greg's a muggle, he's in the know."

"Not a bad idea," Harry agreed. "Alright, that sounds like a plan. I won't ask you to do this yet, probably not until the summer holidays begin. In the meantime, start thinking about what you want to teach them when, and which of your duties you can start offloading once they're ready for the responsibility. In the meantime, I have a project for Shot and Marcel. I acquired the object for the Flamel job a while ago, but I wanted you to take a look at it before we hand it over."

Tapping his cuff, Harry pulled out a large red stone, and placed it on his desk.

"No way!" Shot shouted, jumping to her feet. "Is that what I think it is?"

Marcel stared, his mouth open and displaying a half chewed sandwich.

"The Philosophers Stone? Yes, yes it is."

Leaning back in his chair, he smirked smugly.

"You want us to use it to stockpile Elixer and gold?" Marcel asked, finally recovering enough to swallow his mouthful.

Harry waved dismissively.

"I'm not concerned about that. I want you to examine it carefully, and see if you can reverse engineer it. But only if you can do it without damaging it at all. Flamel is a client after all, and a pretty stone of our own isn't worth the hit to my reputation."

Shot and Marcel scooped up the stone and all but bolted from the room, chattering at top speed about the sort of tests they could run on it without causing damage.

"Sergei, is there any progress with you getting more of these rings?" Harry asked, drawing attention to the Unspeakables sleep ring with a twitch of his hand. "Ideally I want enough for all my key people."

Sergei frowned slightly.

"I could maybe obtain one more and give it to Shot, but I don't know that I can get my hands on any others. Honestly, I don't think they're produced through normal means. It might be easier to get the notes on their creation rather than another one of them, though even that isn't exactly an easy task."

Harry's eyebrows rose slightly in appreciation.

"That's a better idea. Do that if you can."

The massive Russian nodded, and headed out of the room to make a couple of Floo calls.

"Alice, you can head home. I'll come see you and the kids soon; we'll organise a day out for them all. Maybe a trip to the movies, or if there's something on that they'd be interested in we can do that? Have a look around, and put together a list. I'll let you know when I'm coming once I've pinned down a date."

Alice smiled and nodded, but didn't move.

"Before I go, I thought we could have a chat? We haven't had time to catch up outside of work for a while, and I'm worried for you."

Harry smiled tiredly.

"Honestly? If Sergei hadn't gotten his hands on this ring I think I would have broken. I was exhausted and running out of time for everything. But now that I can get a full nights sleep, things don't seem so overwhelming."

"It seems almost like you're making extra work for yourself by coming here for meetings," she offered. "With your Smith golem, you really only need to connect to it to absorb all of this information. Why the face to face?"

Harry winced slightly, shoulders drooping.

"Is it that obvious?"

"A little," she smiled sympathetically. "Missing Connor?"

Shrugging, Harry nodded.

"I feel like I'm missing too much, with him and the other kids. I don't like it. If it wasn't necessary for me to be at Hogwarts, I'd just hire tutors and home-school myself."

"But you're making valuable connections at Hogwarts, too many to leave just yet. Could you perhaps sit your exams early, once you have your network there set up?"

"It's certainly worth thinking about," Harry agreed. "What about you? How have you been?"

Alice smiled, and daintily chewed on a cucumber sandwich.

"I'm doing well, actually," she said after swallowing. "I've been spending a lot of time with Greg. Since his mother and brother have effectively severed contact with our organisation, he's been quite lonely."

"Oh ho?" Harry teased. "Is that a blush I see?"

Alice smiled bashfully.

"He took me out for our first date last weekend. He knows I'm still not comfortable with crowds, so he had the elves put together a picnic for us, and he found a park that had a music performance scheduled. We sat up on a hill and watched it, it was wonderful!"

Harry smiled softly. It was good to see her lit up and smiling so warmly.

"Do I need to give him the shovel talk?"

"Thank you, but no," Alice laughed. "You may only be eleven, but a shovel talk from you is infinitely more terrifying than most men have to deal with! No need to scare him away," she looked down, lightly twisting her fingers together. "I really like him? He knows my past, and he doesn't care. He's really good to me. I like how he treats me."

Harry nodded.

"Alright, I won't say anything. But if he stops treating you like the queen you are, I want to be informed immediately. Clear?"

"Yes sir," she grinned impishly. "Now, you should get back to Hogwarts, before they notice you gone. It's nearly morning."

"Yes Ma'am," Harry grinned back.

Harry sipped his tea, enjoying the quiet atmosphere of the private sitting room he'd discovered attached to his Hogwarts office. It was tiny, but comfortable, the fire crackling away merrily in front on the plush couch he'd had Jinky bring in to replace the more austere set of planks covered in furs that approximated chairs from the Baron's era. Everything was currently going to plan, but he couldn't help but feel restless.

Warthog slipped from the shadows, nudging him until he stretched out along the couch before jumping up and laying down on top of him with a heavy sigh, her head resting on his collarbone.

"Are you ok?" He asked quietly, scratching his fingers through the soft fur behind her ears.

"I'm fine," she said, purring softly and kneading him gently with one paw. "Just tired. I've been running around with Mrs Norris, scaring a few kids who thought it was ok to bully the Slytherin firsties, playing with the idiot dog, and exploring the castle and forest."

"Idiot dog?" Harry asked, amused. "Did you mean Hagrid's bag of drool, or the one with three heads that everyone is pretending they don't know is in the third floor corridor?"

"They're both stupid. It seems unfair to separate them, even mentally. It might disrupt their use of the single brain cell they share."

Harry snorted. "Fair enough. You're being careful?"

A sharper prick of her kneading claws was his answer, before she went back to her softer ministrations.

"I'll be out of the castle most of tomorrow," he said, changing the topic. "I want to spend a little time with the kids, especially Connor."

"That's a good idea. I know you spend what time you can with him, but waking him up in the middle of the night for a play session as often as you do can't be good for him."

"Yeah, I thought as much. Do you think I should take Draco and Blaise with me? Introduce them to the kids?"

Warthog didn't respond immediately, taking the time to think it over.

Harry waited patiently, listing to her quiet purring and the crackling of the fire, and basking in the peace and quiet.

"Probably not this time? Maybe just focus on them? There's plenty of time to introduce new people later, and right now I think they really need your full attention."

"Yeah, you're probably right. What about you? Have I been giving you enough attention?"

A pulse of warmth and appreciation flooded their bond for a brief moment, and Harry smiled as Warthog sat up to bump her nose against his.

"We're ok," she said firmly. "While we don't get to spend every minute together like we used to, we have times like this, and now that you're getting more sleep with your ring we have time to just relax a little together during the night. I don't feel neglected at all. Do you?" She chirped slightly in concern, wiggling up his body slightly so she could reach to groom his hair.

"I do miss you," he confessed softly. "I know what you're doing is important and helpful, but I miss when we were together all the time. I sometimes drop my hand down while I'm working in class or doing homework, and you're not there? It's strange. I know I should be used to it by now, but I still get a little unsettled jolt every time it happens."

"Would you like me to sit with you more in the evenings while you work?"

"I... Think I would like that?"

"Then that's what I'll do," she said firmly.

Harry shivered slightly, twitching at her breath in his ear as she continued licking his hair into a damp mess. Wrapping his arms around her ribcage, he closed his eyes and let himself sink into the pampering.

Another Authors Note: Yes, I know nothing much happens in this chapter, but I'm here, I'm writing, and the hiatus is over. Thanks to everyone who has sent their support, it's made a huge difference knowing you were all cheering me on. Thank you, every single one of you!