A/N: *eyedarts*

Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Commander Shepard

Kiss of the Basilisk

Chapter 4

To Walk the Path Between the Waves

See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil… I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life. - Moses

"It's not right, Headmaster," Hagrid bemoaned. "He's my dog."

Albus stroked his beard. "Well, that's easy enough to prove, Hagrid," the elder wizard told him. "The officials are here to ascertain the the strength of the bond. If your bond with— Fluffy— is as strong as you say, then they will see it."

Hagrid puffed out his chest. "Well, o' course he'll come to me, sir. He's my dog!"

Albus shook his head. "If you had followed my directions before and taken the test long ago, this would not even be an issue, Rubeus. I have warned you before about not registering your foundlings even though Fluffy did serve an official function here at Hogwarts.

"Dogs don't need to be registered, Headmaster," Hagrid scoffed. "I dun need no tag to tell me he's my dog. I fed him ever since he was a wee pup."

Dumbledore popped a lemon drop into his mouth. "Perhaps, Hagrid, but you know as well as I that magical creatures have a way of forming familiar bonds with whomever they choose, not the other way around. I've been with Fawkes for many decades, and while he knows me well, I cannot claim that he does more than stay by me by choice rather than share his thoughts with me."

Hagrid shook his head. "No! Fluffy is my dog. There's a difference, ya see? He's a dog, not some magical phoenix!"

Dumbledore sighed. "Just attend the testing, Rubeus," Albus said finally.

"Right," Hagrid answered, straightening his shoulders. "I'll show 'em whose dog he is."

Hermione stood nervously at the side of the Dark Forest, finding that she'd rather have been in it than standing at the border, but they had yet to reveal their increased bond to the centaur to the Headmaster.

Rainchaser nickered encouragement from the forest, sneaking into the shaded area and placing her hand in hers, and Hermione smiled as she felt the little filly's warmth. Of all the foals, she had been the most brave, but her dam was nearby too. She could hear her soft whickers reminding the little filly that while Hermione and Daemon were "safe" that running out onto the green near strangers was not.

Her mother was speaking with the officials for the test, and Severus was standing nearby, his arms crossed and his face twisted with a distinctive disdain. It was a face he wore often, and the gathering of officials seemed to bring out the "best" in his demeanour.

Daemon sat down with his bulk blocking off the little filly from being seen, and Rainchaser was happily lying down between them, petting Hermione's hands and providing moral support. Daemon too, wasn't about to let Hermione fret overly much, and he pinned the witchling down with one paw, dragged her over to his side, and gave her a good series of therapeutic slurps.

Hermione giggled, giving the overgrown canine ear scritches and pats. His vision blended with hers, and she saw the officials approaching. Rainchaser squeezed her hand before dashing back into the forest to her concerned dam, and Hermione couldn't help but feel a little more alone without her filly's comforting presence nearby. Still, Daemon was there, but a part of her fell into thinking that once Mr Hagrid reaffirmed that Daemon was, in fact, his dog, that she wouldn't be able to be with him anymore. The thought frightened her, for in a very short time Daemon had taken his place alongside her other cherished ones— places of safety in a world that threatened to see her as being too different to be "normal."

"Hello there, little lass," a kindly-looking older wizard greeted her. His aura was green and soothing, and Hermione immediately took a liking to the older man. "Are you ready?"

Rainchaser dove for the safety of the forest without being seen, nickering encouragement.

Hermione nodded, the small metal ornaments on her eye-cover tinkling softly as she moved.

"You can take ma' arm, lass," the wizard suggested. "I promise I won't bite."

Hermione smiled nervously, but she put her arm around his, allowing him to guide her to where she needed to be. She used her free hand to pat Daemon gently, feeling the tug to remain with him, but knowing the test was necessary to someone in order to let Daemon be with her and share quarters with them. From what the elder lady had explained before they had come out, familiars had different rights than pets. Familiars were allowed to go places others could not, much like service animals in the Muggle world. Registering them gave them many benefits, including glamour collars that allowed the more unusual (see three-headed) animals to appear more mundane in Muggle areas. She had seemed convinced that, if Hermione passed all the tests, they could even alter the collar to make Daemon a bit less gargantuan in general when he wasn't on guard duty, allowing her to take him in even more places without panicking the crowds.

Hermione picked up softly spoken language that she didn't know coming from the gathered people nearby, and she wondered what they were discussing so avidly.

"Okay, Mr Hagrid," a voice called from the gathered. "You said you purchased this cerberus from a Greek chappie at a place called— the Leaky Cauldron?"

"Aye, I did," Hagrid said, puffing up proudly.

"And you do have the original bill of sale, yes?" another voice asked.

"Well, er I— no, sir," Hagrid said. "We shook on it like civilised blokes."

"And how much did you pay for—"

"Fluffy, sir," Hagrid announced.

"How much did you pay for… ah, Fluffy?"

"100 galleons, sir," Hagrid replied.

There was the sound of scribbling in the silence.

"Okay, Mr Hagrid," the first official said. "We have set up an obstacle course and some fetching targets. You may begin as soon as Miss McGonagall is not facing the course."

"This ain't even necessary," Hagrid protested. "This is my dog, he is. Just ask anyone."

"Mr Hagrid," another official interrupted. "This is not about ownership but a test of the strength of and type of bond you share with the cerberus in question. If the familiar bond is confirmed, the animal is bound to her. We will confirm your previous ownership and arrange for some sort of monetary reimbursement of what you paid for him up to this point. If the bond between you and the cerberus is stronger, then he will be registered to you, and then we will begin the task of ascertaining why you did not registered him to begin with and arrange to take the proper safety tests in regards to his handling."

"I uh… er… oh," Hagrid stammered and stopped. "I guess we'll just get on with the test, ya?"

"Miss McGonagall?" the first official greeted.

"Yes, sir?" she replied.

"How did you happen to run into this cerberus?"

"He, uh, ran into me, actually," Hermione recalled. "I was taking a walk along the Black Lake, and he bowled me over in the grass."

"Had you ever seen this dog before then?"

"No, sir," Hermione answered.

"Did he have a collar or identifying tags that would have led you to believe he belonged to someone else?"

"No, sir," Hermione replied. "Well, he did have a rope around his neck with a frayed end."

The officials muttered to themselves.

"At what point did you begin to believe you were connected to this cerberus, Miss McGonagall?"

Hermione frowned. "I think— probably when he let me see through his eyes, sir."

"Thank you, Miss McGonagall," the official stated. "We will get to your test after Mr Hagrid. If you could please wait in the provided area?"

"Miss McGonagall, if you will follow me. We do not wish to give you an unfair advantage in knowing what the tests are," the elderly wizard said, patting her arm.

Hermione nodded and allowed him to guide her to the side.

Her mother and Severus were waiting for her at the sidelines, and Hermione snuggled between them immediately, worried that she might have said something that displeased the officials. She leaned into her mother for reassurance, but she stole a bit of Severus' robes to cover herself and cuddle into, feeling as though she needed the comfort of both of them to truly feel better. She knew that had there been other students there, her ability to take liberties with Severus' personal space would be dampened, but she took what she could get while she had the opportunity.

There was quite a bit of yelling going on outside of the waiting tent, and the official that had stayed with them was looking out the tent flap with some concern.

"Oh, dear," the elder wizard said. "That doesn't look very good at all."

"Daemon isn't hurt, is he?" Hermione asked worriedly.

"No, child," the wizard reassured. "Daemon is not the one being dragged across the green."

Hermione looked up, and even with her eyes behind the blind, she was obviously concerned by the mental picture she was having.

"Er— 'ere now, Fluffy. You put that there wizard down right now!" they heard through the tent flaps.

Severus let out a low snort of amusement, and Minerva rubbed Hermione's shoulders in comfort.

A while after, they heard something that might have been a flute being played, if said flutist were being dragged across train tracks repeatedly at the same time. There was a crashing sound shortly after, followed by noises indicating something being dragged roughly across the ground, which was followed by some rather ferocious snarling.

Hermione clutched her mother tightly, pressing her nose into Minerva's robes with some concern.

"Yes, well, thank you Mr Hagrid," someone huffed. "I'm not sure that was the most conventional way of fetching all the markers, but you did not miss any, technically. Please call out Miss McGonagall."

Hermione walked out to meet the test somewhat nervously. She preferred to have tests she could study for, and this did not feel like anything you could study for.

"There are twenty-five markers scattered all across the green, Miss McGonagall. Your task is to retrieve them with the canine. The rule is, it must be picked up by the canine, not you, however you can take them from him at any time after he has picked them up and collect them. Any questions?"

"May I examine one, please?" Hermione asked.


"The marker," Hermione specified. "May I examine one?"

"Oh, well that isn't against the rules, please hand one to Miss McGonagall," the official agreed.

Hermione felt the marker with her hands. It was pointy on one end and rough along the barrel. It seemed like an obelisk of sorts, but she wasn't really certain. There was no magic in the marker at all, making it utterly impossible for her to track it using that. It did, however, have a very distinct odour of licorice. She felt the air in front of her, stumbling forward slightly until she bumped into Daemon, and the three-headed canine whuffed, snuffling her affectionately.

She held out the marker with her hand, letting all three heads gather the information he needed to find more of them.

Easy, Daemon wuffed. These don't even move like prey.

"Why do you smell like cake?" Hermione asked.

I may have ploughed into one earlier, Daemon confessed.

"Oh," Hermione replied. She handed the marker back to a nearby official.

"Are you ready, miss? You will have thirty minutes to retrieve them."

Hermione nodded. "We are ready."

"Right then," another man said. "Ready? Set? Go!"

Daemon lowered his head for her to climb on, and she climbed on behind his head. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed herself into his soft fur, and he took off.

The first ten markers were easy; the markers were not even hidden. Daemon snapped them up easily and handed them back to Hermione as they ran along. A few required teamwork, and while Daemon was convinced he could jump the span of the "cliff" on his own, Hermione realised it was designed to test teamwork and commands.

"I'll hold the lever," Hermione said. "You can fetch the marker."

I could jump this, Daemon complained.

"Yes, but that's not teamwork is it?" Hermione admonished.

Daemon whined, pouting a bit, but dashed across the lever-triggered bridge, fetched the marker, and came back to her.

"They are testing our teamwork to see if we have a familiar bond," Hermione speculated as she stood on his head to draw the branch down so Daemon could snatch the marker down from the tree branch.

The other tests were easier, Daemon said, placing the marker in her hands.

"They didn't sound easier," Hermione said, rubbing his ears.

Markers were everywhere, Daemon elaborated. They just stuck to me as I ran by.

"That hardly seems fair," Hermione snorted. "Oh well, I suppose they testing us for communication and him for uh— commands?"

Hrmph. As if anyone would listen to him.

"That's not nice, Daemon," Hermione spluttered.

He didn't leave you guarding a tiny room with nothing but fleas to keep you company either, Daemon groused.

Hermione paled. She knew, even from the little time they had been bound, that Daemon wanted to be with his people. To be alone for such a long period of time would be maddening.

When I was with my mother, Daemon recalled, we slept in the temple together with the priestesses. We knew everyone who came in and out of the temple. Mum taught us who to ignore and who to growl at. We were never far from those we guarded. She said one day we would have loved ones of our own to guard and tend, and that would be a glorious day. Nothing was better for one of our kind— to find those who loved us that we could love in return.

Hermione felt a warmth spread from herself to Daemon. She felt the same. While her trust for most people was far less than it had been when she was a younger child, she still felt blessed by the ones she had come to care for very much. Her family of cherished ones was growing, and she was happy that she had those who truly believed in her. The ache of losing her parents was easing at last, and she believed that her parents would have approved of her newfound family, even if they would have balked a little at the method with which she was acquiring them.

"Do you miss them?" Hermione asked. "Your siblings? Your mum?"

Sometimes, Daemon said with a canine mental shrug. I'm okay now. I have you.

Hermione hugged Daemon's neck tight as they continue to bound towards the next marker. "Whoa, stop," Hermione said suddenly, and Daemon skidded to a halt, almost dislodging Hermione.

Hermione looked across the green. Magic wove in and out across the green: traps.

Daemon waited patiently.

"There is a small path to the left, where magic isn't flowing," Hermione said. "The rest is trapped."

Show me, the canine requested. The test seems different than the last time.

Hermione tried to clear her mind and touch Daemon's open channel. There was a surge of warmth, and Daemon began to move a little bit at a time until he was lined up to where he could walk safely. Step by step, they made their way through the "maze" of void zones and snatched the scattered markers that lay beyond. Hermione counted the markers with her fingers. "Twenty-four," she said. "We're missing one."

Are you sure? Daemon asked, backtracking.

"Positive," Hermione reaffirmed. "I counted thrice. Maybe this isn't about seeing the mark?"

Scenting, of course! The canine gave her a canine equivalent of a mental facepalm.

"Five minutes left," Hermione said, worried.

Daemon sniffed the air. Hold on. Tightly now.

Hermione did as she was told, and Daemon tore off across the green, avoiding all the magical "mines" that lay in wait for him. Hermione clung to him tightly, sharing her inner vision with the giant canine as he had once shared his with her. He scented what he wanted, and made a bee-line back towards the gathered gawkers and observers. Daemon was utterly sucked into the thrill of the chase, his sensitive nose intently focused on the scent he was trailing.

Daemon skidded to a halt next to a side tent, his lips curling back from his teeth as drool dripped from his mouth. He snatched the tent between his teeth and shook, and two people came tumbling out. One was the elderly wizard who had escorted Hermione earlier, and one was Rubeus Hagrid.

"Aww, ack! See?" Hagrid crowed. "He knows his daddy."

Daemon growled, snapping Hagrid up by the ankles and dragging him across the green. Each head took a piece of his clothes, and the dog shook Hagrid back and forth like a ragdoll.

Twine, dog treats, garden seeds, healing salve, pieces of jerky, owl nuts, pieces of rope, and a jar of liniment all came tumbling out of his pockets.

"Ack! Stop, you big oaf!" Hagrid grunted, pushing Daemon's muzzle off his ankle and getting up, brushing the dust and dirt off himself. "What's gotten into you?"

"Please, sir," Hermione said, hopping down to nudge Daemon backwards. The large canine responded to her small hands on his muzzle, and he backed up, but his focused gaze remained on Hagrid. "Do you have one of the markers on you?"

"Markers?" Hagrid asked, shaking his head. "Why wud I have one o' those? They were all stuck to him, dey were."

As Hagrid patted the dirt out of his beard, something dislodged. One of the markers tumbled out after having become entangled in his beard. Daemon snapped at it with a loud CLACK, his teeth barely centimeters from Hagrid's red face. The dog then dropped the acquired marker into Hermione's hands just as the bell rang from the observation area.

"Time's up! Let's see what you have there, Miss."

Hermione felt a dagger-like gaze upon her, and she shrank back towards Daemon. The huge dog growled lowly, and the oppressive gaze seemed to disappear. She walked over to the official's table and set out the markers they had collected. She looked up with a hopeful smile as Minerva and Severus came up to offer their congratulations for completing the task.

Daemon's tail wagged happily as he snuffled them both.

The group of foreign wizards and witches gestured for Hermione to approach them but she shrank back, unsure of just what they would require of her. One of them, an older witch who seemed so very much like the elder centaur mare from the herd, spread her hands out in a peaceful gesture. "Please, join us a moment? We have some questions, if you would be so kind?"

Hermione looked to Severus and Minerva, and they nodded to her. Slowly she walked up to them, her hand never leaving Daemon's neck. The dog calmly walked beside her, towering over the foreign nationals.

"What is your name again, child?" the woman asked kindly.

"Hermione," Hermione answered.

"Tell us, child," the elder wizard beside the woman asked. His beard was elegantly curled just like she remembered from the old Grecian statuaries. "What is his name?"

"Daemon," Hermione replied.

"Did he tell you this name?"

Hermione shook her head. "He asked me to give him one. It means guardian. I thought it was appropriate."

The group whispered to each other in rapid-fire Greek. Another elder wizard nodded and asked, "Could you demonstrate the basic commands for us?"

Hermione swallowed hard. "I could try."

The elder group smiled at her. "Please do, Hermione."

"Sit, please," the one wizard requested.

Hermione turned and touched Daemon on the muzzle. "Sit for me, please."

The large canine sat, pegging Hermione thrice on the face with his multiple tongues, giving the young witch his undivided attention.

"And lay down, please," the other wizard said, "then roll over."

Hermione used her palm and put it down, signalling it flat.

Daemon immediately laid down.

She turned her hand.

He rolled over.

She signalled stop, her palm out.

He sat up again, panting, his eyes still fixed on Hermione, clearly awaiting her next instruction.

She gently placed her hand on his nose and repeated the action on all three heads. "Stay now, please."

She pulled out her cane and slowly worked her way onto the green. She stood out in the middle of the green and yelled, "Come!"

Daemon promptly tore off across the green and pounced the young witch, nuzzling and licking her mercilessly. She giggled, grasping his heads and petting his ears. She stood slowly, using the dog to help her stand, and she pulled out a small toy duck from her robes. Daemon perked immediately, watching her every move.

She enlarged it with a spell, waved it in front of him, and tossed it towards the officials. Hermione belatedly realised her error when Daemon went tearing off after it— straight towards the gathered officials.

Hermione yelled a quick "Leave it!" and then a quieter "Bring it."

Daemon skidded to a halt, just a few feet away from bowling over the officials like pins on a bowling lane, hopped over them, snatched the toy up, and leapt back over them to return the duck to Hermione. He dropped it gently into her waiting palm.

"Good boy," Hermione praised, pressing her head to his. "Thank you for that."

It's fun! Daemon commented happily, wagging his tail with enthusiasm. I like playing with you.

She walked back with Daemon, her hand on his neck as she walked. He stayed beside her, ensuring she did not stumble.

"Thank you, Miss Hermione," the foreign wizards and witch said as she returned. "If you would please release Daemon to Mr Hagrid so he, too, can have his turn."

Hermione patted Daemon gently. "Go play with Mr Hagrid for a while, okay?"

Don't want to, the dog muttered unhappily.

Hermione tried to be encouraging, but in the back of her mind, she was worried that Hagrid would be named the lawful owner of Daemon, after all.
"Please. We must be fair."

Daemon's ears drooped, but he did as he was told, returning to where Hagrid awaited for his turn.

Hermione winced, already feeling horrible about making Daemon do something he clearly had no desire to do.

The officials behind her muttered together in Greek again, seeming to take note of the dog's displeasure upon being confronted with the half-giant.

A large grey boarhound lay by the table nearby, panting heavily in the hot sun. Hermione shied away from him, immediately attaching herself to Severus' robes since Minerva was not the closest person for her to cling to. Severus, noticing what had startled her, gently pressed her close to his hip, and she put her arms around his waist for reassurance. If there was some irony in her being fearful of the boarhound when she was perfectly fine with a huge cerberus, no one was saying anything, but the Greek witch who had been so kind to her did not miss the interaction.

"Sit, Fluffy!" Hermione heard from the green. "Sit, now!"

There was the sound of liquid hitting Hagrid's shoes.

Some of the officials wrinkled their noses and scribbled hastily on the parchments.

Snape sat down with her as she tried to remain positive. Despite knowing her bond with the cerberus was true, she still doubted.

"I think we should talk about what will happen when school term resumes, Hermione," Severus said. "I do not wish you to be surprised when our dynamic has to change when fall term starts and other students are about."

"Stay, Fluffy!" Hagrid's voice broke into the conversation. Severus rolled his eyes.

"I won't be able to call you Severus anymore," Hermione said sadly. "In public, I mean." Her lips curved into a mischievous smile. "The no-touching-the-great-dungeon-bat rule."

Severus snorted with amusement, gently ruffling her hair. "That too. You do understand why?"

Hermione nodded. "Appearances."

Snape nodded. "Other students would use it to make your life more difficult. Call you names, perhaps, or accuse you of being something you are not. I do not wish that for you. Do you understand?"

Hermione nodded sadly.

"Minerva will have to be much the same," Snape explained. "She cannot be accused of showing favouritism for her daughter. This protects her as much as you."

Hermione clung a little tighter to Snape's side, but nodded.

"Rest assured," Snape sighed. "You will be free to assault my person as you will when we are not in public." His voice sounded weary, but Hermione perked immediately, radiating contentment.

"You will also have Daemon, I am sure," Severus noted as he watched Hagrid being dragged across the green on his back, his foot caught in the loop of the leash as the cerberus tore off madly after something. "That imbecile can barely take care of himself, let alone all of his so-called 'pets'."

Hermione giggled a little. She frowned after a bit. "Maybe he is like me. Maybe people just don't understand him."

Severus turned his head and looked down at her, his brows furrowing. "No, Hermione. There are are times when the truth, painful as it could be, is just that. If I were to take you to his… hut, you would wonder how he even breathes."

Hermione's eyes widened.

Snape sighed. "You must judge a person's worth singularly. There will be times when the majority will say one thing, and the reality will be the opposite. There will be times when you find the reality is quite the equal of rumour. But it is you that must judge this for yourself. Take what you hear as guide of caution, but do not condemn a person solely on the hearsay of others. That is what they did to you, Hermione."

Hermione nodded vigorously. "I will remember what you have said."

Snape's mouth curved upward slightly and he nodded.

"They speak ill of you too," Hermione noted, stroking his arm for comfort, "but I know they are wrong about you."

Severus frowned thoughtfully.

"We are somewhat similar, you and I, I think," Hermione mused. "We are both judged harshly for how we are different, but only a few really know the truth of who we are and what we are capable of."

Snape patted her arm gently. "You see so much more than most of your age, Hermione. While most close their eyes to avoid seeing what they do not wish to see, you close your eyes to see more. People will underestimate you often. That, too, can be used in your favour."

Hermione thunked her head into his arm. "Mum says you're trying to turn me into a Slytherin."

"Hn," Severus commented. "As it should be."

Suddenly, Daemon was right in front of her, and he dropped a very large rawhide bone into her lap. His tail was beating back and forth so fast it was hardly visible.

Automatically, Hermione flung it back across the green, and the cerberus promptly bowled over Hagrid to pursue it.

Hermione winced, burrowing her face into Severus' side sheepishly.

Snape patted her hair. "Miscreant."

Hermione leaned into his side, the soft tinkle of the metal decorations on her eye cover making a soft, relaxing chime.

"Mr Hagrid, Miss McGonagall," the head official said. "After extensive deliberations, we have decided that there is a most definite bond between you and the cerberus, Daemon. While being responsive to commands of one over another is not a true test of a bond, our honoured Grecian guests, who have been top of their field in studying cerberi behaviour, have been watching you both, testing your reactions to each other, and seeing the sort of energy that flows between you.

"While Mr Hagrid may have purchased the animal, originally, it is obvious that a true bond has formed between the cerberus and Miss McGonagall that is impossible to ignore— a symbiosis if you will— which the Grecian authorities call δεσμός or desmós: the bond. Such a bond cannot be faked, and it is the only such thing that allows the animal to be ported out of its native Greece legally without extensive paperwork and registration," the first official said.

The second official rose up. "Due to the rarity of the δεσμός, Miss McGonagall will be registered not only in our Ministry's exotic familiar records but also into the records of the official Grecian Cerberi Caretaker list. As she is a student here at Hogwarts, once a week she will be authorised to attend Greek culture, language, and care of the cerberi from the masters in Greece until she tests out as an A or better. This will be essential in both diplomacy and skill, as all of those who are entered on the list may be called upon to deal with incidents or rescues involving Cerberi. All pups are raised learning Greek commands, and this distinguishes between our legal pups and most of those who are bred in the illegal trade. All of those who live intimately with Miss McGonagall are authorised to attend and test as well, as living with a cerberus is often like raising a child. It takes a village."

The third official stood up. "In regards to monetary reimbursement for Mr Hagrid. We would normally agree that payments toward the original price paid for the pup, which in the case would be one hundred galleons. However, since Mr Hagrid purchased a pup that was stolen from Greece and then failed to register the animal in a timely manner, which resulted in said pup bonding to Miss McGonagall. We have decided to forego the fines for illegal cerberi trafficking and failure to register the animal in question, and will subtract that amount from the price we would request Miss McGonagall to pay as fair compensation to Mr Hagrid the sum to fifty galleons. This amount can be paid in installments, due to Miss McGonagall's being a minor, with the amount owled to your Ministry's Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. They will record the amount paid and transfer it to Mr Hagrid's personal Gringott's account, so there will be no question of when the full amount has been reached."

"This ain't right!" Hagrid wailed. "He's ma dog! I raised 'im! S— Snape! It was you! You gave him something to turn 'im again' me!"

Minerva stood in-between then before Severus could even lift an eyebrow. "Now you see here, Rubeus Hagrid," the Scottish witch growled. "There is a verified bond. You heard it yourself. It cannot be faked. I will not have you accusing my daughter of shady dealings when it was your own shady dealings that loosed him on the greens of Hogwarts for her to stumble over in the first place!"

Hagrid shrank back a little at the witch's rising Scottish ire. He hung his shaggy head and wisely remained silent. Then, as Minerva stormed away to speak with one of the other officials, he blurted out, "I'll be taking this to the Headmaster, I will!"

There was the sound of childish giggles as Hermione was simultaneously attacked by three separate tongues. She shoved Daemon's heads away one after another, but the cerberus seemed convinced that the only proper celebration was the kind that involved copious amounts of drool, tickles, and enthusiastic tail wagging.

Hagrid's eyes went wide as he realised that the Headmaster was standing next to the young witch, and she was introducing him, formally, to Daemon. Albus extended one of his lemon drops for Hermione, and it was immediately poached by head number three. Hermione giggled and shoved head number three away.

"Ah, Miss McGonagall," Albus said genially. "Congratulations, my girl, on your most remarkable achievement."

"Thank you, sir," Hermione said, stifling a giggle as Daemon slurped her ear.

"I will presume that you would like to house your familiar within Hogwarts," Albus said with a nod. "I have spent quite a few hours talking with the Grecian dignitaries. They were happy to explain the needs of your very large friend. I have spoken with the Board, and they have authorised an expansion of quarters to better accommodate your large friend. I hope this will be agreeable to you?"

"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!" Hermione exclaimed.

"Good, good," Dumbledore said, stroking his beard. "I will take care of the paperwork for your weekly floo to Greece. You can use the floo in my office as it is connected to the greater floo network, yes?"

Hermione nodded. "Yes, sir."

"I do hope they were not kidding when they said they could enchant a collar to shrink him down a little," Dumbledore mused. "I'm not sure he'd fit through most of the doors otherwise." Albus winked at Hermione, eyes sparkling, and Hermione grinned up at his, sensing his shiny demeanor even without seeing it.

"Headmaster!" Hagrid protested. "You knaw as good as anyone that he's ma dog!"

"Was your dog, Rubeus," the Headmaster replied. "I warned you many times to register the animal with the proper offices, but you always refused. I even filled out the paperwork myself and sent it to your hut to be signed, but apparently you did not see fit to do so. I am not sure what else I could have done, Hagrid. Even so, if this δεσμός or desmós is as important as I understand, Miss McGonagall would still be in custody of our rather large three-headed friend and you would be paying some considerable fines. The choice was his," Albus said, nodding to Daemon. "That is the way of familiar bonds. And that has always been so."

Hagrid slumped, having lost the last bit of hope he had that someone would intervene on his behalf to get him his dog back. The boarhound that had been dozing nearby came up to snuffle him, and Hagrid shoved him away from himself, clearly annoyed.

The boarhound pushed past him and wandered up to Hermione, but this time Hermione was less nervous. With Daemon nearby, she watched the big hound approach. The wrinkled dog wagged his tail, nose clearly sniffing for interesting scents. Then, as if magnetized, he thunked his head into her thigh.

Hermione startled, but slowly stroked his wrinkled head, all the while keeping her other hand on Daemon. The larger canine lowered his heads and sniffed the smaller dog over. His great breaths caused the fur on the smaller boarhound to rise and ruffle.

"Come on, Fang," Hagrid yelled, turning to leave.

Fang, clearly enjoying the head scritches, wagged his tail and stayed exactly where he was.

Hagrid shook his head, stormed over, tied a rope to the dog's collar, and hauled him off, muttering about how a bad little girl kept stealing his dogs.

"Don't you worry about him, Miss McGonagall," the headmaster said with a deep sigh. "He'll be trying to adopt something newer and more "misunderstood" within the week, and I will probably be trying to find a home for an illegally-obtained dragonet."

Hermione's eyes grew wide.

"He means well, that one," Dumbledore cautioned, "but he forgets he's a half-giant and that the rest of us are but fragile human beings." The headmaster gave a long sigh. "I do not wish to rain on your parade, young McGonagall. Do enjoy your evening."

Hermione nodded silently as the headmaster shambled off, muttering to himself.

He smells like lemons, Daemon noted, tongue lolling in the middle of a canine grin.

Hermione laughed. "So do you, now."

I like lemons, Daemon confessed, and olives.

"Black, purple, or green?" Hermione asked curiously.

Yes, Daemon answered.

Hermione snorted and patted him lovingly. "You're not allowed to have the garlic-stuffed ones."

Daemon's tail wagged. Okay. What about the green ones with the red things inside?

"I suppose those won't hurt," Hermione conceded. "How about the cheese stuffed kind?"

Daemon perked. I like cheese. I like olives. I must like cheese with olives.

"Superior logic," Hermione said with a grin.

I like stinky cheese, Daemon confessed, licking his chops.

"Figures," Hermione laughed.

Can we have some tonight? Daemon asked hopefully. His tail wagged harder.

"Only if you want to sleep in a room far away from me," Hermione said with a sniff worthy of Severus.

Aw, Daemon pouted. Tomorrow then? For breakfast?

Hermione laughed. "I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks for letting us stay with you, Sirius," Fred and George chimed. "Ever since the entire family came down with the bleeding dragon pox, neither of us want to be anywhere near them, ya?"

Sirius shook his head. "I've never heard of an entire family— or most of one— getting dragon pox. How is that even possible? How were you even exposed?"

"No idea," George replied. "I'm blaming Percy. He had that summer job working as an office slave at the Ministry."

"Who all has it?" Sirius asked.

"Ron, Mum, Dad, Percy, Ginny," Fred answered. "Even Charlie and Bill have it. They had to emergency Portkey him in from Egypt. Charlie collapsed in the middle of a dragon's pen. They just got him out in time before one of the dragons killed him."

Sirius gave them a glassy-eyed stare. "That doesn't sound like dragon pox at all. If it was, why aren't there hundreds of people coming down with it?"

George stretched and shook his head. "Ron got it first. Mum and Dad were next. Healers are all trying to figure out why Fred and me haven't come down with it, while our entire family seems to have— even the ones overseas. Mum accused us of pranking the entire family, but—"

"We just wouldn't do that," Fred insisted. "Not like this. Prank the family? Sure. Prank the family with dragon pox? No."

"Sounds like a curse, brother," Regulus said as he came into the kitchen. "The old-school kind our family and the Lestranges were always so happy to inflict upon their enemies."

Sirius jolted, then his eyes narrowed in thought. "You're right, brother." He drummed his fingers on the counter. "You have any contact with your distant relatives?"

Fred and George shook their heads.

"Odd that you two aren't affected as well," Regulus mused. "When you curse an entire family, it takes a lot to leave out specific people. My guess would be that whoever cursed the Weasleys felt that you didn't deserve to be affected along with the rest of your immediate family. Somehow, something you said or did made them choose to leave you out of the curse entirely."

"That's odd, brother," Fred said.

"Yeah, normally we're the ones everyone blames for everything," George agreed.

Fred frowned. "We really haven't been doing much at all," he confessed. "Ever since little git-bro went into Mungo's for what he did to Mini-Gonagall, our family has been sort of preoccupied with him."

"How was Ron? Before the dragon pox, that is?" Sirius asked.

The twins shook their heads in disgust. "Absolutely horrid," George said with a grimace. "Hateful to the core. I never— little git-bro has always been trying to be better than everyone, but the stuff that came out of his mouth was beyond foul. Mum fled the room crying hysterically. Dad, he would just sit up at night back at the Burrow and just stare out into the marsh, yeah? Both of them wonder where they went wrong with Ron."

"Not their fault," Sirius said grimly.

"No, that hellish place could find the evil or hate inside you faster than anything," Regulus added. "If you had enough of it, it would seduce you by giving you pleasure just as intense as the pain you caused. It was more insidiously addictive than any illegal drug or potion out there. And all it took was one taste to make you crave it over and over again."

"Worst thing was, at least for us," Sirius said, nodding to Regulus. "Once you were introduced to the pit, you were just food. It never rewarded you. It never rewarded your hate. Oh, and I had a lot of hate for my mother to spare, I can assure you of that. But it didn't want it. You were either the victim or the addict. I think— that is why I survived almost ten years in Azkaban. I was already accustomed to total despair."

Fred and George looked grim. "We've tried to think about what could have caused this pox upon our family, but we just don't know. We've been pranking people since we came out of the womb, so if it was us— well, it would have happened long before now." Fred scratched his head and sighed.

Regulus drank down his entire cup of tea. "We should bring this to Severus," he said after a moment. "He's the one who helped lift the curse on our father."

"What?" Sirius gasped, blinking.

Regulus leveled his gaze with Sirius'. "Our father didn't just sit there in his chair and let us be tortured, brother. I suspected there was something going on shortly after you fled to the Potters. He just let mother burn you off the family tree. He had turned frail, weak even. Since when was our father ever either when we were children?"

Sirius frowned. Gears turned in his head. "I had always assumed—"

"We both did," Regulus said. "We both assumed he gave his beloved wife his blessing to torture us, but he was being tortured too, only in a different way. I didn't realise it until you were gone, and the only one I had to help me was Severus."

Sirius flinched, hanging his head. "I was so busy being angry and sorry for myself, I never even thought that father— why didn't I see it?"

Regulus pointed to the one portrait of Walburga that remained in the kitchen where knives had been embedded into the canvas like darts. "Our dear mother was a real piece of work. She hid our abuse to him, and his abuse to us. Meanwhile, she sat in that chair and gained such pleasure from our suffering. Severus realised he was under a curse tied to the blood. We started putting things in his tea to relieve the symptoms until we finally found out what was affecting him specifically."

"And what was that?" Fred and George asked together.

"Mother," Sirius said grimly. "Once that chair and you are one— horrible things happen around you to those you hate, and no one apparently hated our father quite as much as mother."

"What if," Regulus started to say, "now that the chair is gone, all those that Ronald loved started to suffer since he didn't have that dark connection anymore?"

"Gruesome thoughts, brother," Sirius said with a shudder.

"But possible."

"Well, I guess we know now how Ron really feels about us, eh, brother?" Fred said to George.

"Strange that his hate for us actually protected us," George said, shaking his head.

"Dark artefacts possess great power, but if you attempt to foil them, or allow them be foiled after you have formed a solid bond to them, they tend to backfire on you in the most horrible way possible," Regulus said. "Your eldest brother William is a cursebreaker, yes? Perhaps, if he knows this is a curse, he can unravel it from his family members if—"

Fred and George leaned in. "If?"

Sirius and Regulus exchanged glances.

"Father only got better when Mum had someone else to focus on," Regulus said. "And even then, he died shortly after Sirius left and I— was banished."

"Who was that?" asked George.

"Me," Sirius said.

Fred and George seemed conflicted. "What happened after your father died and you were banished?"

"I was in Azkaban, feeding Dementors, and then good ol' Mum died," Sirius said. "Many believed it was from grief. I knew better. When she died, the Dementors fed well off me for a very long time." Sirius sighed. "They loved the taste of my joy that she was finally dead."

"We're what?"

Molly let out a chain of horrible coughs as her skin turned a disturbing green and purple. Sparks came out of her nose as her body trembled.

"Cursed," Bill said weakly as he coughed so hard, his breaths became more and more short and laboured.

"It cannot be because of my Ronald!" Molly fretted. "Hasn't enough befallen our family? Why blame him for something like dragon pox when he's been under a healer's care for months!"

"It's because he's being healed!" Bill said, coughing. "It's punishment from that evil place that lingers in his soul, mum. Ancient Egyptians used to use such things to guard their tombs, and it takes a team of us— healthy— just to disarm it so we can walk inside a place."

"No! This isn't because of that horrible place they dismantled! This isn't because of Ronald too! It can't be!" Molly protested, coughing and sparking out her nose.

"He willingly embraced the Dark Magic, mum," Bill said. "The rest of us didn't, and now it's lashing out at any and all of us to punish us for having been in his higher regard."

"Nonsense! Fred and George haven't been affected at all!"

"Ron doesn't exactly love the twins, mum," Bill pointed out.

"Of course he does!" Molly wailed. "They're family!"

"Love and hate are very closely related," Severus' voice said grimly as he stood there with the healer. They were leaning over a cauldron together as Severus was pointing out specific details on a parchment.

"Just as light and dark are," Cadmus said as he stood up straighter. "It is not so hard to fall into the Dark when you think you are the opposite. People seem to think all Darkness is evil, which it is not always the case, any more than the Light is unfailingly good. Both exist in the world quite naturally, it is only when a choice changes the conditions that it causes real trouble."

Cadmus nodded to Severus as Hermione tugged gently on the healer's sleeve.

The healer smiled, pulling her up into his arms and pointing out something on the parchment. "I have a plan to place young Ronald in magical isolation. If it is indeed because of him that you are suffering so, then this will demonstrably improve your condition by leaps and bounds. If it does not, then you lose nothing, and we must consider that you have a family or an individual that hates you all enough to curse the Weasley line."

"And, if this is the case," Cadmus continued, "then I can work on purging the remains of the Dark that has taken such a hold within your son. You see, Madam Weasley, Darkness is only a taint in beings that were not born to it. It can act like a cancer, growing out of control in the body and in the soul— the same could be said about the light. Humans are rather strange creatures. They are born treading the edge between both sides of the same coin. Neither one nor the other having an advantage, not until the individual makes a choice that gives one side the upper hand. Darkness, however, is very dangerous to the human soul, for it takes root there and seeks out more Darkness with which to sustain itself. Light can be found in the very air, in good deeds, gathered from the love around you, but Darkness you are either born to, or you must perform dark deeds to foster it. This is why it is so dangerous."

"We must work quickly before the Darkness finds something else to latch onto," Cadmus said. "I would recommend you focus all of your thoughts on what you love rather than that which you hate. Otherwise, our attempts to rid you of this affliction may end in failure."

Hermione tugged on his sleeve again, pointing at something.

"Yes, that is precisely it, little sister," Cadmus said kindly.

Hermione beamed, smiling.

Molly, who saw only a blind little girl pointing at seemingly nothing, was understandably rather frustrated. "Why is she here, Severus! Why are YOU here?!"

Hermione quickly shrank back at her tone, fear causing her to put a near stranglehold on Cadmus. The healer adept frowned, whispering something in her ear in what sounded like soft hisses, and Hermione stopped choking him for a less desperate hug instead.

Severus, stiffened, even as he touched Hermione subtly, brushing his free hand against her skin in a way that made it look like he was brushing a bit of lint off her robes.

"Madam, if I could withhold the potion for your treatment of Minerva's daughter, even if only verbally, I would, but it was she who wished to help you and your family at the request of your twin sons in some misguided belief that you couldn't help yourselves. But I know better."

Severus' lips curved into a sneer. "You could curb your temper, but you choose not to. You could ask questions like a civil human being, but you do not. You could wait until a child is not present to talk about her like you don't think she belongs here, but again, you didn't. And I know, Mrs Weasley, that you know exactly what this young girl has been through, yet somehow, all that knowledge gets cast into the four corners of oblivion the moment one of your children is in trouble, even if that child is entirely to blame for his own misfortune and, in this case, that of his family, so you will have to pardon me as I brew this potion for the sake of the family members whose only crime was to be related to the wrong person."

"Seeing as we can only collect the reagent when Hermione is calm and happy, I will take her to the healer's lounge to rest as we prepare the rest," Cadmus said, pitched quietly so that Molly could not hear. "Does that sound acceptable to you, little sister?"

Hermione nodded, tightening her arms around his neck.

Cadmus smiled at Severus. "I'll make sure the room is completely secured," Cadmus said to him meaningfully, and Severus nodded, taking the time to gently touch Hermione's hand as he tutted.

Cadmus carried Hermione away, not seeming to mind that she was just a bit unwieldy to port around, leaving Severus to his work and Molly to cough sparks and set her own hospital gown on fire.

"Well, baby brother," Bill said as he sat down by Ron's bedside. "How does it feel to be the harbinger that almost killed his entire family?"

"Whut?" Ron groaned, groggily sitting up in the bed and then slumping back down as a harsh coughing fit sent sparks flying out his nose.

Bill slid a phial of glowing aquamarine liquid onto the table next to Ron's bed. "You managed to almost kill our mum. She may not be perfect, but she's our mum, and she loves us all, even when we don't deserve it. Dad, of course, well, he's only barely recovered, and he's trying to contact all of our relatives that you may or may not have cared for to make sure they aren't dying in a hospital somewhere from dragon pox.

Bill sighed. "Look, Ron, I know you've think you've been dealt a bad card in being the baby male of the family. You've always had the hand-me-down everything from clothes to a wand. You even had Percy's un-familiar. I get it. You finally have someone to blame and you couldn't not do it, but you really need to pull your head out of your arse, Ron. You hate Snape? He made this potion. You hate the twins? They managed to convince McGonagall's daughter to give our family the benefit of the doubt. You hate that little witch that has taken the brunt of your nastiness? It was because of her kindness that convinced Snape to even entertain helping our family after what you did and after what mum let slip from her mouth. So drink up, little brother. That is your cure. And your new life debt."

Bill stood, pushing his long ginger hair back from his face. "Or don't drink it and find out if you're lucky enough to survive the dragon pox on your own." He gave his brother a dispassionate look. "Grow up, little brother. I know there's got to be some redeemable part of you that you've managed to bury underneath all that hate. Nurture that instead of this dark festering thing inside you that is slowly trying to kill you and everyone you care for— and kindly do it before our parents are forced to disown you just to keep the rest of us alive the next time you bring down some other horrible curse upon us all."

Bill sighed and stood. "Take some time to think it through," he said. "Not too long, though, because you can't drink a potion when you're dead."

Bill swept the room, leaving Ron in silence.

Ron stared at the phial of glowing potion, wanting to have someone or something other than himself to blame, but for once there was nothing he could think of but the cure dangling in front of him.

"Hermione, if you keep using the telescope so often, you're going to see stars everywhere," Sinistra admonished fondly as Hermione bounced on her toes in response.

"I like stars," Hermione said.

Daemon yawned in triplicate, dosing lazily nearby, but his tail thumped the ground in approval.

"Have you been enjoying your Greek lessons?" Sinistra asked.

Hermione nodded. "Yes, Professor." Her hands sought out Sinistra's face, seeking the lines to see if she was smiling.

Aurora smiled, allowing the girl to see her expression through her fingers.

Hermione beamed back, happy that her professor was happy.

"We all know you've been studying very hard this summer, but you haven't neglected your fun too, hrm?"

Hermione shook her head. "No, professor," she relied.

"Mr Hagrid hasn't been giving you grief over Daemon, has he?"

Hermione frowned. "He doesn't like me very much. He also came out of the forest all upset because someone murdered his friends."

Sinistra raised a brow, and Hermione tilted her head as her professor's expression changed under her hands.

"Mr Hagrid has always believed his foundling are his, and each have been his best friend," she tutted. "I would pay him no mind for his comments most times, but that is not to say he wouldn't have something to say you may need to pay attention to. I think he's upset that his Acromantulas were dealt with— mind you not as permanently as all of us would like. Our headmaster at the time, Armando Dippet, tried to parlay and broker peace with the centaur of the forest and it failed because someone let loose a monster in Hogwarts around the same time someone set loose an Acromantula into the woods. It was not a trusting time, and I fear the tension between us here at Hogwarts and the centaur have never been that good."

Hermione reached around and felt her way to the balcony, feeling the wind on her face. Keeping to herself what she knew about her centaur friends, she frowned at how misunderstandings plagued both sides. Knowing the Acromantulas, however, that was a true danger— especially knowing the story of how they had betrayed even Death and the basilisks and other spiders that had guarded his domain.

Yet, even as she thought of this, she remembered had it not been for the wizards— the three brothers— the Acromantulas would never have risen and been corrupted by the Dark taint caused by the torture of the basilisk's hatchlings trapped within the egg. It was by the hand of humans that had the power to be caretakers or destroyers that great and horrible things were done.

Hermione tried to imagine what it would have felt like to have an egg, who unborn was so precious, and have it tortured and fed to vengeful spiders. She hugged herself at the thought.

"Cold?" Aurora asked, putting a shawl around the girl's shoulders.

Hermione looked up and smiled. "Thank you."

"I will be flooing back home until the term starts again, Hermione, but have any questions or wish to use the telescopes while I am away, have your mum send me an owl, okay?"

"Okay," Hermione agreed.

Aurora gently caressed her hair. "Such a good child. I will see you again when the term starts."

Sithiss yawned as Hermione tried to wrap her body around the giant basilisk had bring her head down to the ground, but Sithiss was all muscle and amusement, and Hermione was smaller and frustrated.

Fawkes warbled encouragement, watching.

It was a game they were teaching her, but it was training nonetheless. Physical training came with toning of the mind, and they were thorough, patient teachers. Hermione was an apt pupil, but she was young and inexperienced in far more than she was experienced, despite how she compared to her peers. Her moments of Death-inspired omniscience were fewer and far between now that her life wasn't in immediate danger, and she was allowed to be a child again— something her tutors seem to realise she'd never really been able to be, even when her life was wholly Muggle.

Slowly, she began to come out of her shell and explore the world with more playfulness as well as curiosity— at least when no other children were around. The very thought of the students returning to Hogwarts caused her to withdraw into a quivering ball of young basilisk, diving under the coils of the nearest adult she could find, or if no adult basilisk could be found, clinging to someone in silent panic.

Cadmus, however, came often to check on her as well as offer her distraction. Unintentionally, he had inspired Hermione to nudge him and Poppy together, surreptitiously shifting into her basilisk form and "cuddling" them together. Cadmus started to even soften to the idea when he noticed how well Poppy was responding to Hermione's "otherlyness".

And one sunny morning, when Cadmus and Hermione had taken to sunning together on the shores of Black Lake, Hermione feigned obliviousness as Poppy trudged up to give her apply some of her salve for her scales. The larger quetzalcoatl tried to hide behind Hermione, trembling with fear that Poppy would make the connection between them and run screaming back to the infirmary.

Strangely, Poppy went to work salving up Hermione's scales and making sure she was covered from head to tailtip and then moved right on to Cadmus. The quetzalcoatl froze in shock and pleasure, unaccustomed to the feel of hands on his scales.

"You're an idiot," Poppy muttered as she rubbed the moisturizer into Cadmus' scales. "Did you think I'd run screaming in the night the moment I saw how beautiful you were?"

Cadmus swallowed hard and nodded his serpentine head, his crest feathers drooping a little.

Poppy caressed his nose. "You're so insecure, Cadmus," Poppy said. She pressed a kiss to the top of his snout. "I've known what you were since the night that that wizard thought he could take liberties with me and he showed up in the infirmary the next day with almost every bone in his body broken." She soothed his head-scales between his eyes. "Thank you for that, by the way."

Cadmus looked at the witch with nothing short of adoration in his slitted eyes. He wrapped himself around the mediwitch lovingly as Hermione sneakily slithered into the undergrowth and away, a serpentine grin on her snout.


The young basilisk froze in place, part of a boar sticking out of her maw.

Minerva walked up to her, giving her the eye. "You wouldn't happen to know what happened to our mediwitch, by chance?"

Hermione turned her sulfurous orbs to look at her, her jaws ending the boar's struggle with a crack. Looking ever so much like the basilisk caught with her snout in the porcine-shaped biscuit barrel, she couldn't help but look guilty.

"Oh, don't be such a prude, Minerva," Severus muttered as he stirred his cauldron. "We all knew Cadmus has been pining over Poppy ever since he first set eyes upon her, and that didn't include the all the time he's probably been doing the same before we accidentally set them together again."

The young basilisk finished swallowing her lunch, and the lump moved down her throat into her stomach as her muscles and ribs pushed the hog down into the proper position to be digested.

"You're hardly one to talk about being a prude, Severus," Minerva fussed. "You're the one who is violently allergic to children snogging in the broom closets."

Severus curled his lip. "Hormone-saturated children enthusiastically groping each other in closets are disgusting," he informed her. "So are the adults in most cases."

Minerva waved him off. "Where did you get the boar?"

"Petal brings them for 'her mistress' lunch," Severus said. "Sirius' gift to her for having dealt with his mother's portrait."

"The boar or a house-elf?" Minerva attempted to clarify.

"Yes," Severus answered.

Minerva gave him a look, puckering her lips. "And the white chocolate dipped rodents?"

Severus turned his head. "Regulus."

"They're really good," Sithiss said, yawning and showing all of her fangs.

"Nasty," Fawkes muttered.

"Psh, didn't see you complaining when that gigantic renewing fondue fruit bowl arrived," Sithiss hissed merrily.

Fawkes muttered as he gobbled down a bunch of grapes. "Idon'tknowhatyou'retalkingabout, dinosaur."

Sithiss shook her head. "It's said that you're mind voice mumbles like your mouth full of fruit."

Fawkes snorted, covering Sithiss with bits of pineapple.

Sithiss glowered. "Don't make me bleed my dinner over you, feathered pterodactyl."

Hermione giggled, a strange sound that mixed hisses with odd breathing coming from her basilisk form.

Severus pinched his nose and shook his head. "Hermione, come tell me what potion this is."

Hermione slithered over, shifting more smoothly into her human form after many, many failed and bungled attempts to hone her skill. Practice made perfect. She sniffed the cauldron delicately, and her tongue flicked out to carefully taste the air. "Anti-petrification potion!"

"And what do they call that in your books, hrm?"

Hermione made a face. "Erm, Wiggenweld."

Snape chuckled and pulled out another cauldron. "Now, try again without tasting the air."

"Aw," Hermione pouted, crestfallen. She wafted her hand over the cauldron and sniffed tentatively. "Hellebore… and something…. Bloodstone? No! Moonstone! Something like animal hair, valerian, and—" Hermione's eyes flicked as she tried really hard to decipher the last scent. "There's something else." She concentrated fiercely. "Draught of Peace! The last one has to be unicorn horn!"

Snape looked at her, face unreadable. "And why would you think it's unicorn horn?"

Hermione flushed and looked to the side. "Because that's the only potion that would have those things and only have one thing missing."

"You're sure?"

Hermione nodded.


Hermione fidgeted. "I was until you started staring at me like that."

Snape's lips curved up slightly in a smile. "You are correct. Good job."

Hermione broke into a radiant smile and hugged his waist.

Snape placed a hand on her hair and ruffled it. "Why don't you go help Argus rescue Mrs Norris from Peeves?"

"Okay!" Hermione said, bouncing on her heels.

"Take the flaming rooster with you too."

Fawkes glared at Sithiss as she disappeared into Hermione's skin. He landed on Hermione's shoulder, and she oofed with his weight but shuffled out the door. Daemon appeared at her side and set his side next to her so she could feel her way safely. They disappeared together.

Minerva sighed and gave Snape a nudge. "Trying to get her to branch out and make new friends?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "She loves all manner of beasts, and Mrs Norris, for some inexplicable reason, loves her back. It's only a matter of time that Argus thaws out and adores her."

"It has nothing to do with the fact no one really pays Argus any attention?"

"Madam, I am too old to plot new friendships for your daughter. I simply point her in a direction and she attracts them— as long as they aren't students and human, so it seems."

Minerva closed her eyes and hiss-sighed. "This wouldn't happen to be because Peeves managed to royally piss off the Bloody Baron, would it?"

"Madam, what do you take me for?"

"A Slytherin," the elder witch said promptly. "You're a serpent."

Snape's smug smile upturned his lips. "So, too, are you, Minerva."


Snape gave her a very serpentine smile.

Dumbledore eyed the petrified Peeves with consternation. "I'm not even sure how this is possible," he muttered, stroking his beard. "He's a poltergeist. They aren't even proper ghosts. They are energy made form!"

Peeves hung in the air, his body completely turned to stone, his face frozen in a mask of mischievous, malicious intent. His hand was wrapped tightly around Mrs Norris' tail. The poor feline was yowling loudly in clear distress.

"Baron, did you see what happened?"

"No, Headmaster, I did not," the ghost said as he floated nearby.

"And you lot?" He asked the other ghosts.

"No, we saw nothing," the ghosts said, floating back and forth.

Dumbledore frowned. "How is it that you all had your eyes closed at exactly the same time?"

Baron floated next to Hermione. "We were playing hide and seek with the witch," he said. "We heard her yelling at Peeves to let the feline go, and then this."

Dumbledore rubbed his temples as he pulled out his wand and tried a number of spells on Peeves.

Hermione's head suddenly jerked up, her eyes searching.

"What is it?" Sithiss hissed in her mind.

"That is my Lord Father's wand," Hermione said. "I can see it."

Fawkes, who was making nice and sitting on the Headmaster's shoulder, seemed startled. "All this time? Right in front of me."

Hermione nodded then frowed. "Does he know it's cursed?"

Sithiss hissed. "Doubtful. Those are only stories, and history has a way of making light of old curses, especially when the misfortune can so easily be blamed on other things."

"But, it could hurt him," Hermione said worriedly. "Maybe it already is?"

Fawkes sighed. "Maybe, but we should let it go for now. We know he has it, and that's most of the battle. No one is going to steal it from Albus Dumbledore anytime soon or easily."

Hermione nodded. "Okay."

"Miss McGonagall?" Albus' voice interrupted the silent mental conversation.

"Yes, Headmaster?" Hermione said, turning her head up. She had her eyes blindfolded to shield her eyes from the glaring sunlight from outside that interfered with her sense of energy and heat.

"Are you alright, my dear? Did Peeves hurt you in any way?"

"No, sir, he was just hurting poor Mrs Norris," she replied.

Filius, after finding that magic wasn't working to shrink Mrs Norris temporarily, used his magic to "shear" the Peeve's statue to release the poor feline from her tail prison, and she shot off down the hallway, yowling indignantly.

Dumbledore sighed. "Well, I can't say anyone is really going to object to Peeves being a little stiff until we can figure out how to release him."

"Not to be the voice of the obvious here, Headmaster," Severus said, "but why should we even care? He's been nothing but trouble since he arrived."

"Well he is a figure of Hogwarts," Albus said.

"So is Moaning Myrtle, and you don't see anyone lamenting when she flushes herself into the Black Lake." Flitwick's voice sounded strangely terse, causing the Headmaster to eye him strangely.

Albus frowned and rubbed his hair. "I suppose. I'll have to make a report to the Board of Governors, regardless."

"They'll probably want to have a party to celebrate, Headmaster," the Baron said as he floated away. "I know I will."

"Surely Dumbledore knows," Regulus said as Lucius slithered back in from tucking in Draco into the basilisk pileup in the next room.

"Perhaps, perhaps not," Severus said. "We can presume he does, but there seems to be a sort of protective aura about our young lady that keeps her unassuming, even to one such as Albus."

"It makes sense, considering who she belongs to," Lucius said. "Whom we all do, now."

"At least it was a willing, nurturing relationship."

"Some would say willing, nurturing relationships with Death are little contradictory," Lucius said, giving Severus the eye.

Severus just shrugged. "Some say once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater."

Lucius sighed. "Well, at least we proved them wrong there."

"Regulus, I think, wonders if Hermione will favour him as she has for us, but I told him while she has fondness for him, he has be something more than just a friend, and that will have to take time. His being a Black, despite her saving his life, brings out a bit of trepidation."

"It's not impossible," Lucius said. "She did, after all, forgive me. I, who sacrificed her to begin with—"

Severus put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "While under duress and possession," he pointed out. "Even she knew this."

Lucius sighed and nodded. "I suppose it is useless crying over what was when forgiveness from her is a balm I hadn't even realised I needed."

"She is blind to the petty things most see first," Severus said. "I've come to understand that this is an advantage and not a failing."

"True Slytherin quality, hrm?" Lucius chuckled as he managed to make brushing his hair back from his ears look suave.

Severus snorted. "Don't be teaching her how to be a little peacock as well, Lucius. I don't want to see her powdering her face like Narcissa before even thinking about going out."

Lucius laughed. "I think Fawkes and Sithiss would destroy me if I tried."

"I'd help," Severus muttered. He tilted his head. "Do you find it odd that we so easily gather around each other now with this strangely comfortable trust?"

Lucius tilted his head, thinking. "Feels good though, yes?"

Severus nodded. "Growing up here at Hogwarts did not give us such luxuries. If anything, distrust was fostered here far better."

"And yet, Hogwarts gifted us with our gentle young Queen of the Shimmering Scales."

Severus smiled. "Regulus' news of the Horcruxes, however— I wonder how they were affected by the petrification of the Dark Lord's avatar body."

"Alastor has been busy draining all the information he can out of Regulus for some time now," Lucius said. "Do you think he'll share the investigation or believe the Aurors are the only ones who can deal with it?"

Severus rubbed his chin with his fingers. "Good thing Regulus has no issues sharing with us, even if Alastor cannot. However—" He looked toward the other room. "Perhaps even Moody is not immune to to our young queen, hrm?"

Lucius sipped his tea. "Perhaps."

The pair continued to talk until a sleepy, young basilisk slithered in from the other room (Draco still dead asleep with his arms wrapped snugly around her girth), yawned toothily, and then lay her head in Severus' lap as she curled her tail around Lucius' waist. She was instantly asleep in seconds, pinning both with her huge serpentine mass.

Lucius exchanged glances with Severus. "Bed time."

Severus sighed. "So it would seem."

Hours later, when Narcissa flooed in to check on what had become of her husband and son, she found an impressive serpentine pileup with Draco obliviously drooling both atop and in the middle of the mass of scales and coils. Lucius used his head to pull her closer, tucking her against his warmth and the combined heat of the gathered serpents.

At first, Narcissa looked at little discomfited, but as her hands stroked the fine scales on her husband's snout, she smiled and snuggled down against him.

A knock on Minerva's portal door caused basilisks to fly in all directions, retreating into the next room as Lucius tail-dragged Draco and Narcissa with him and Minerva stood up in human form to answer the door. She groggily staggered closer to the door.

"Yes?" she grumbled, yawning, touching her hands to her eyes to make sure the protective lenses were in place.

"Minnnerrrrrvaaaa," a voice whinged from beyond the door. "Have you seen Ssssheverruss? I need him!"

Minerva curled her lip. "I rather doubt that."

"But I doooo," Trelawney moaned. "I have a rash."

That's not all you have, Minerva thought to herself.

"Poppy said she didn't have any balm left," Trelawney whimpered from the other side of the door.

"Then why are you at my door, Sybill?" Minerva asked, frowning.

"Well, Ssssheverus wasn't in his chambers," Trelawney whinged.

"Sybill," Minerva said as she opened the door, "I highly recommen—"

Trelawney, her head plastered against the door, suddenly fell back into Minerva's foyer and landed on her face, her enormous glasses spinning off across the floor. She frantically patted around for them and then ran into one of the clawed armchairs.

"Ssssheverus, is that you?" she cooed, stroking the clawed foot of the chair.

Minerva turned a little green and struggled to maintain her composure.

"Sssheverus, you'll make me some more of that balm, won't you?" Sybill yammered on, then her hands finally found her obnoxiously thick glasses and she rose up from slobbering all over Minerva's armchair, looking decidedly confused.

As she looked up, her bleary eyes focused on a very large serpent with her head stuck in a water glass, her tongue flicking in and out of it as she took a drink. The serpent seemed utterly oblivious to Trelawney's stare in favour of getting every single drop out of the glass.

Trelawney shrieked bloody murder, stumbling backwards over herself as multiple sherry bottles spilled out from the pockets of her robes. She tripped over the armchair she had been groveling to earlier and staggered unsteadily out of the room, running into one wall after another, and then knocked herself out clear out on the portal door.

Minerva pursed her lips as the sleepy young basilisk lay her head over on top of hers like a totem pole. She reached up and affectionately patted Hermione's head. "I really should admonish you for that, my dear, but I believe we'll go bake shortbread biscuits instead."

Hermione flicked her tongue in and out, radiating pure happiness.

"Sybill, Sybill," Albus chastised. "I've warned you repeatedly about your drinking."

"There was a b-b-b-b-b-big sn-sn-sn-snake drinking from a cup in Minerva's quarters!"

"Mmhmmm," Albus said as Fawkes warbled They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Ha from his perch.

"It was h-h-h-huuuuge, Albus! Why don't you believe me?!"

"Oh, I'm sure you saw what claim you did, Sybill," Albus said with a long sigh.

"Minerva is harbouring a giant reptile in her quarters, Albussss!"

"Minerva," Albus said, turning to look rather wearily at his Deputy Headmistress. "Are you harbouring giant reptiles in your chambers?"

"Why of course I am, Albus," Minerva replied, utterly deadpan. "Multiple ones, in fact. And all of them basilisks. In fact, I'm one too."

Albus raised a brow. "Sybill, you can see just how ludicrous this sounds, yes?"

"Nunununuuooooo, Albus," Sybill protested. "It was real! I saw it! Minerva! Tell him you saw the giant ssssssnake drinking off your table!"

Minerva rolled her eyes, then looked at Albus. "There was a giant snake drinking off my table."

"See! She saw it!"

Albus shook his head at Minerva, making a cut it out motion with his hand. "And you, Severus? Were you here for this sighting?"

"No, Headmaster, I believe I was cramming myself into the form of a giant reptile and hiding in a cupboard in the desperate hope that this horrible woman would not find me." Snape curled his lip just so.

"B-b-b-ut Severusssss!" Sybill slurred.

Albus counted to ten slowly in what may or may not have been Arabic.

"Look, Sybill. If Minerva wants to harbour giant reptiles in her quarters, then that is her business. If Severus wants to turn into one and hide in a cupboard, that is his right, but this out-of-control drinking of yours has got to stop. How can you teach when you're more often intoxicated than sober? At this rate, I don't care if half my staff are secretly bloody basilisks, Sybill. They aren't showing up drunk and constantly crying out of death and doom across my school, staff, and students!"

"B-basilisks?! That's what it was! It was a basilisk!" Trelawney exclaimed. "Albus, you have got to get rid of it! I know! I'll get a bunch of roosters! That will get rid of the problem right quick!" The witch leapt up and tore out of the Headmaster's office at a dead run.

Albus rubbed the space between his eyes with his fingers. "If she had ever bothered to read Hogwarts: A History, she'd recall that Salazar Slytherin jinxed the school to silence all chicken fowl noises at Hogwarts due to them crowing at all hours and disturbing his sleep— as well as everyone else's."

"Minerva, did you have to rile her up even more than she already was?"

Minerva puckered her lips. "You know well what I think of that detestable woman."

Dumbledore stroked his beard. "She has to remain at Hogwarts, Minerva. Her life would be in danger the moment she left."

"Her life is in danger every minute she lives here too," Severus said with a sneer. "By her own hand and her cups. It's amazing she hasn't tripped over herself and fallen down the spiral staircase already."

Albus sighed. "Maybe we can take lessons from Muggles and send her away to be detoxed."

Severus' mouth curved wickedly. "Now there is a potion I would truly enjoy brewing."

Hermione stared at the rooster sitting on the end of her snout as it vainly tried to crow. It seemed baffled that his chicken manliness was not being broadcast to his expectation and gave a silent crow again. The hens, seemingly unimpressed by his lack of crowing, milled about more silently.

Hermione tongueflicked, pondering having chicken for lunch.

Thanks to Professor Trelawney, many, many chickens had infested Hogwarts, so much so that Rubeus Hagrid's hut was covered in poultry droppings and Albus was considering calling in Kettleburn to do a chicken roundup before the students returned. Hagrid, however, was attempting to hoard the chickens in his hut rather than see them taken away.

Trelawney, however, was stepping on every last nerve the Headmaster had by proclaiming "down with the basilisk!" and "doom upon Hogwarts until all the basilisks are dead!" All of which didn't go over well when the Board of Governors came through for a tour of the facilities and found her crowing from the front of the Great Hall with a chicken strapped to her head.

They then spent a great many hours speaking with the deeply annoyed Headmaster about the rules regarding teachers who were not performing extra work for the school having to go home as well as some concerns as to Sybill's questionable suitability for a teaching position in any capacity. As for the result of the debate, Minerva remained hopeful that they would finally be rid of the pitiful excuse for a witch, though she didn't say it aloud to Hermione let she get the wrong idea about how to treat the other teachers at Hogwarts.

First Annual Hogwarts Summer Holiday Open House Chicken Barbeque

Albus Dumbledore is opening up the gates of Hogwarts for students and their families a little bit early this year to have the first -ever summer chicken barbeque.

Attendees, which will include Hogwarts staff, students and their families, and local residents of Hogsmeade, will be treated to a number of international poultry delights as well as all manner of traditional British picnic necessities.

Invitations will be sent out for the event via owl, which will act as a Portkey to the Hogwarts gates during the specified times.

Returning students will be welcome to bring their trunks and supplies early so their things are waiting for them when they take the Hogwarts Express in September. Headmaster Dumbledore asks that students not leave their familiars and wait to bring them during the regular move-in times.

A special elf-made wine tasting will also be offered to all adult guests.. Small-batch special varieties of pumpkin juice, lemonade, butterbeer and cider will be available for the younger attendees.

Keep your eyes peeled for those invitations by owl!

Rubeus Hagrid Protests Chicken Barbeque at Hogwarts

Gameskeeper Rubeus Hagrid protested the first Hogwarts chicken barbeque by dressing as a giant Orpington rooster, causing people to wonder if he was for or against the event due to his appearance. He was later joined by Divination Professor Sybill Trelawney, the supposed descendant of Cassandra Trelawney, the renowned Seer, who thrust roosters into unsuspecting attendees' arms, loudly proclaiming they would protect them from the ultimate evil the lurks within the halls of Hogwarts.

Ms Trelawney was arrested by Aurors after Lady Malfoy sent her Patronus to fetch them after being assaulted with multiple drunken roosters that had apparently been washed in cream sherry.

Headmaster Dumbledore offered his sincere apologies to Lady Malfoy as Ms Trelawney started crowing like a rooster "to banish the insidious evil."

Trelawney has since been taken to St Mungos where she will be evaluated and treated for suspected alcohol abuse and paranoid delusions. As to who will take up her position until she returns, should the Board of Governors even choose to approve said return, remains to be seen.

As for Rubeus Hagrid, who had been sitting in the hippogriff enclosure, wailing that everyone was eating his friends, he was subsequently taken away to St Mungos after being trampled by said hippogriffs, who were understandably agitated by the groundskeeper's rather hysterical caterwauling.

Happily, after the two instigators were taken away, the event went very smoothly with no further issues. Many guests, including Lady Malfoy, stated they would look forward to another such event in the future.

Three Broomsticks Adds New Egg Entrees to More than Breakfast

Broomsticks proprietor Rosalind Rosmerta has added farm fresh eggs to many menu items at Three Broomsticks after the recent Hogwarts chicken boom resulted in a great many extra laying hens.

New menu fare includes hearty dinner omelets, dragon steak and eggs, potato and egg casserole, scotch eggs, egg salad croissants, various seasonal quiches, and many more egg offerings, including an absolutely divine lemon soufflé , in honour of Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

The roosters all seem to be afflicted by a powerful jinx that prevents them from crowing, making them the most sought-after birds for urban chicken farmers in Wizarding Britain. Those wishing to purchase a silent rooster are welcomed to apply with Professor Silvanus Kettleburn by owl.

Hermione's second year started with many more whispers about her blindness, and while Hermione's protective lenses prevented her from unintentionally petrifying anyone, she preferred to keep her eyes closed and hidden behind her blindfold and in the blessed, soothing dark where only energy and magic penetrated.

Someone had started a rumour that she had allegedly "asked for it" when it came to her various misfortunes, and others claimed that magic itself was punishing her for being "unfit" to use it.

Hermione, hearing them contemplate stealing the beautiful silver and emerald velvet circlet that protected her eyes, made sure to stay behind in class so she was never alone, choosing not to make her way to each class unless one of her teachers or Daemon was there to assist her. Fawkes was often off making nice with Dumbledore, and Sithiss remained in her mind to keep her company.

Even her "tattoo" of Sithiss, when the other children caught a glimpse of it, served to egg them on and gave them something else to pick on her for being different.

Unlike many other children, Hermione's hearing was quite keen, and she heard every single nasty little insult they could think of. No one, it seemed, least of all her student peers, wanted to be near her lest they bring whatever curse was afflicting her down upon themselves. And those that didn't like her for those reasons often disliked her for being bound to the wealthy and influential Malfoy family—either out of envy or disgust. Harry and Draco still tried to be there for her, but they were outgunned and outnumbered in many ways.

Harry had passed his tests to go on to the second year with flying colours, having dedicated himself to his studies with far more devotion than he had the entire first year. Seamus and Ron, however, had both found solidarity in each other in dismal failure, and the both of them were held behind, joining Ron's little sister, Ginevra, in her first year classes at Hogwarts.

The teasing, at least, started to simmer down once word that Ron and Seamus hadn't gotten a mere slap on the wrist and allowed back into their year, but the whispers remained. Hermione, however, had become used to the loneliness in regards to her "peers" and instead took solace in her trusted circle of adults and the centaurs.

It wasn't a perfect childhood, but she was content, and there were many times and many nights when sleeping in the coils of her fellow basilisks was most treasured thing in the world to her.

"You're not Harry," Myrtle hissed. "Get out!"

The ghost caused the toilets to explode, water reaching the ceiling.

Hermione, who had felt her way in, paused. "This is the girls lavatory. Why on earth would Harry be—"

Myrtle zoomed around Hermione, getting up into her face. "Don't think I don't know what kind of person you are, Hermione. Leading on Draco. Leading on Harry. I know all about you. You think you're so sweet and unassuming. You get all the teachers to do everything for you, but you're nothing but a fake.

Daemon growled, trying to squeeze his bulk into the lavatory, but he was a bit too large for the dimensions of the restroom.

Myrtle giggled shrilly and moved the towels around to make them snap, smacking Hermione with them until Hermione was drenched and dripping with water. The ghost grinned maliciously and yanked the circlet off Hermione's head.

Hermione screeched in fright, clamping her hands over her eyes and squeezing them shut.

"You're just like her!" Myrtle cried. "That stupid Olive Hornsby! She made fun of my glasses, and she thought she was better than me. Well, I'm better than her, and I'm better than you!"

She grinned. "I'll be here to console Harry and Draco after your sad, tragic death." She puckered her lips. "Maybe, I'll depress them so much that they'll die here too. Then I'll have company!"

The ghost clapped her hands in glee. She used the towels to wrap around Hermione's arms and pull them back from her eyes, and Hermione squeezed her eyes shut tightly.

"Please, I haven't done anything to you!"

"It's more that you exist," Myrtle said scornfully. She used her power to bind Hermione up and slam her hard against the stalls, tying her to random places as she used the towels to pry open Hermione's eyes. "You might as well look at me so I can see why those people tiptoe around you. Are your eyes crossed? Do you have scars over your eyes? Maybe you don't HAVE any eyes. What are these things over your eyes?"

The ghost glowered over Hermione. "I think you're just like every other little popular girl in this school. All of them have some stupid little gimmick to catch the attention of the handsome ones. Like Harry. Like Draco. If I were still alive, I would know what they wanted!"

"No, please," Hermione whimpered, struggling to close her eyes and protect her eyes and the precious lenses that protected them.

Myrtle pushed the towels across her eyes and forced the lenses Poppy had magically set over the surface of her eyes. At first the lenses didn't budge, as Poppy's magic had protected them from anyone but Hermione being able to move them, but Myrtle was determined. She used her ghostly energy to try and pry them off.

Hermione screamed in pain as Daemon barked furiously, desperately trying to claw his way into the small door. The walls started to crack and crumble as he slammed himself into the wall over and over again.

Myrtle cackled in malicious glee, spinning like a top, and then she looked right into Hermione's terrified face.

"I'm going to make sure that boys like them never pay attention to you again," Myrtle said viciously. "I hope you rot just like Olive Hornby!"

As she reached for Hermione's eyes, fully intending to use her ghostly energy and magic to tear off Hermione's protective lenses, the false "normal" eyes dissolved away, exposing Hermione's true, sulfurous eyes of a basilisk— her fear having triggered the failsafe on the lenses to allow the young basilisk to be able to protect herself.

Hermione cried out as Myrtle flew straight towards her, a spiteful look on her face.

Myrtle froze in place, her ethereal form solidifying with a crackling sound.

The moment Myrtle became stone, the towels released Hermione, and she fell to the ground with a thud. She squeezed her eyes shut almost immediately, feeling around for her lost circlet.

"Ah—" she stammered. "Accio my circlet," she cried, and the circlet flew into her hand. She fumbled with it, placing it back around her head and feeling the cool, soothing fabric cover her eyes again with blissful, protective darkness.

She felt her way towards the door, running into Daemon's muzzles, and he whined at her with concern, licking her hands as he backed up from the door and into the hallway. She wrapped her arms around one of the dog's muzzles and talked to him in gibberish Greek, using random words she had learned but couldn't recall the meanings in her stressed state.

The cerberus wedged his head under her and shoveled her up onto the back of his middle neck where she was safe. As he carried her away from the lavatory, the petrified Myrtle wobbled violently and crashed to the ground, shattering into countless pieces.

"Is she alright, Poppy?" Minerva asked, wringing her hands worriedly.

Hermione, who was snuggled in as close as she could get to Cadmus, having wrapped her arms around the quetzalcoatl's feathered neck, was sound asleep.

"She's fine, Minerva," Poppy said. "More scared than hurt. The wet towels left some bruises, but it wasn't anything I couldn't fix up in a jiff. I put another set of protective lenses over her eyes. In a few days, she'll feel right as rain again."

Poppy sat down in the chair by Minerva's table and accepted a cup of tea. "I'm really glad you called me here, though. I don't think I could have kept Cadmus hidden from Albus when he's in his protective state. Cadmus the human, yes. This? No."

Minerva snorted. "I'm still waiting for Albus to come sailing through the door saying he knows everything and wants the whole story."

Poppy shrugged. "That would be a pretty complicated story, love."

Minerva looked skyward. "To be sure."

"Myrtle?" Poppy asked.

"In pieces," Minerva said grimly. "Severus took care of it, grumbling that if he got caught in the girl's lavatory, he was going to take a large bite out of someone's arse."

"I'm surprised you aren't in there curling up around her too," Minerva said with a small smile.

Poppy snorted. "I'm sure it is the precisely same challenge you are having," she teased.

Minerva chuckled. "It helps that it happens daily to keep that instinct well under control."

Poppy raised a brow.

Minerva gave her a look. "I'm surprised you're not slithered up against a certain handsome quetzalcoatl."

Poppy averted her eyes. "It may have happened enough lately that I can keep that instinct well under control." She coughed slightly, flushing.

Minerva smiled, patting her old friend and colleagues' hand. "We may be different species, lass, but we're all united under scales, even if you have a few feathers added in.

Poppy chuckled. "I do wonder if Albus suspects."

"I don't think anyone suspects basilisks and quetzalcoatls, old friend," Minerva said with a mischievous grin. "Not in the slightest. And suspecting such a sweet young girl of being what he would consider to be a murderous beast is probably the least of his concerns. She's been through such a terrible loss, been " blinded" and picked on mercilessly— I don't think any sane person would blame her for being as flighty as she's been, much less so afraid of the other students."

"She's so very bright," Poppy said. She tilted her head. "Maybe—"


Poppy had a sly smile on her face. "What if Cadmus takes her on as his apprentice? She could be out, away from the students who seek to traumatise her, at least some of the time, yes? She'd be with both her kin and someone who understands her condition as well. She'd return to Hogwarts when her day was finished. It would keep her some distance away from Albus as well— and his ever-prying eyes. She's learn healing from the like no other human could possibly fathom— and work intimately with healers who could and would truly appreciate her unique talents."

Minerva rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "You've been thinking on this for quite some time, haven't you, Poppy?"

Poppy nodded. "It would protect her a little more."

Minerva nodded. "I cannot disagree with that, Poppy. If Cadmus is willing— and Hermione as well— then I believe it would be just the thing for her."

Lucius and Narcissa promptly took Hermione out to be fitted for the appropriate apprentice healer robes, and Narcissa enjoyed grooming the young apprentice's hair and setting it with an exquisite goblin silver serpent that wove into her hair and pulled it back into an intricate French braid that coiled neatly against the back of her head..

Hermione opened up little more to Narcissa's gentle grooming, and allowed her to fuss despite the fact Hermione wasn't exactly gazing into a mirror all day just to check herself out. They spent hours feeling delicate silks and other fabrics that would be the most comfortable for Hermione while she worked with Cadmus. Expensive custom enchantments went into the robes so they would not be destroyed if she had to shift forms on the fly and would instead merge with her scales.

The seamstress and enchanter regaled Hermione with hilarious tales of Animagi transformations gone very wrong when they didn't pay extra for the appropriate enchantments and ended up being caught in very embarrassing positions and even more mortifying situations when they had to change back. Hermione's favourite story was that of someone named Master Durward Franks, who ended up waking up starkers after a drunken canine revel sans clothing. The poor wizard was forced to cover his inadequate manhood with a very frilly Muggle dress he had found drying on a clothesline and a strand of birthday balloons. His rather wet humiliation came when he dove into the Leaky and hid himself in a room until someone could bring him money to pay for the room that he had 'confiscated', some new clothes, and compensation for the poor woman that he'd nicked the dress from.

Cadmus scheduled her hours so she started a little later in the morning to get ample sleep, knowing that she would often have to stay a little late according to his schedule. She would return after he was sure she was fed, and he would hand off the sleepy basilisk off to her mother, who put her directly to bed before doing her rounds. On weekends, she was as free as any other Hogwarts student, and enjoyed spending time in the forest with the centaur herd when she wasn't doing homework or helping out around the school with tasks for Minerva or the other teachers.

Autumn came and went, and Hermione enjoyed her time away from the general student population as Cadmus' apprentice. Much to her relief, she sat with the staff up at the High Table, nestled between the comforting warmth of her mother and the dark and glowering presence of Professor Snape, whose umbral gaze seemed to petrify even without actually being in basilisk form.

Fawkes would chirp merrily from the back of Dumbledore's chair, sending comforting thoughts to Hermione as he made fun of the elder wizard's questionable fashion sense. Daemon, having usually spent the entire day at her side and serving as her eyes and protection, gratefully accepted any and all tasty foods Hermione chose share with him, even when he would be given his own dinner later when the house-elves would drag in something large, meaty and substantial for his meal.

Hermione started to smile more, taking comfort in things both small and large, but mainly that her family of the scale was growing more comfortable with both her and each other. While they had never been truly at odds with each other, there was a growing and comfortable warmth between them all, at no time more obvious when they entangled in each other's coils to sleep.

The parcels and mail always arrived enmasse via owl during the holidays, and Minerva was letting many of them stack up, having many far more pressing school matters to attend to. Finally, when Severus just couldn't take the sight of multiple towering stacks of mail about to topple off her desk any longer, he forced them all to sort through it before the post began to become sentient and able to beat them all at Wizard Chess.

Hermione, glad to be able to remove her blindfold and enjoy the dimness of the room, sorted through many stacks of wayward post, separating the official mail addressed to "the Deputy Headmistress" and the personal mail addressed to "Minerva McGonagall." Severus leafed through a hundred and one scrolls, and Minerva sorted through the myriad parcels, some of them in typical brown paper wrapping while others sported Christmas ribbons and brightly decorated paper.

There were many little gift boxes, but Hermione found one that was gaily wrapped and ribboned with her name written ornately on a card. She smiled. "Do you think it's from Uncle Lucius and Aunt Narcissa?" Hermione asked with a grin. "Could it be my healer's apprentice circlet?"

Severus just grunted, shaking his head as he mindlessly tossed more scrolls around into alphabetised piles. Minerva tutted, admonishing him for abusing the correspondence.

Hermione, taking no response as a positive, tugged on the silver ribbon.


The package made an odd sound.

Snape's head shot up immediately as he stood up. Minerva, too, reached for her wand and started to run towards her.

"Hermione! Get away from that package!"

Hermione, eyes wide, struggled to get away.

"Get down!" Minerva yelled, and Hermione dropped instantly, her eyes wide with horror, even as her mum sent a beam towards the package even as Severus yelled out a spell at the same time to hopefully contain whatever was within.

Yet something very strange had apparently been woven into the package's holiday wrappings, and the silver ribbon slapped the spells away easily as the parcel burst open—

Severus dove over Hermione, managing to partially shield her with his own body even as Minerva landed next to him, covering Hermione's other side. They pushed her down, falling on top of her in their frantic haste to protect her.

Burble, burble, burble…


The parcel's contents exploded, showering the two adults with a watery, green-tinted spray.

"What?" Albus gasped.

"I'm afraid it was Old Magick, Albus," Poppy said as Cadmus walked out of the private rooms that had been set aside for faculty and staff of Hogwarts.

The Headmaster narrowed his eyes at Cadmus' presence until he saw the formal healing robes and the circlet. "You must be Healer Cadmus, young Hermione's master. I do apologise, that I was not present to meet you back when you first began treating her. I hope you are pleased with your accommodation with us?"

"I am, Headmaster," Cadmus said with a slight bow of his head. "The Board of Governors was also very gracious is granting me permission to remain here for my apprentice's health as well as to offer support as needed to my fellow healers. I am pleased you agreed to the arrangements." He gave Poppy a slight smile.

Dumbledore nodded, stroking his beard. "I will certainly not turn down a healer with such excellent credentials. Your reputation at Mungo's precedes you. I must ask, though, while I trust your judgement in this, do you think Miss McGonagall might experience difficulties as a healer due to her vision?"

Cadmus smiled. "I find, Headmaster, that lack of one sense often heightens the others. If anything, she sees healing pathways far better than one with normal vision because she is not distracted by what she sees. The rest is more easily navigated due to her familiar."

Dumbledore nodded again. "I am glad to hear it. I am also glad that Hagrid's indiscretion has been to her benefit, even inadvertently."

"From the memories of the event," Cadmus said, "I can only determine for sure that the package she opened was expertly crafted to trigger while she was near. It was hateful and quite specific, and by the effects on Deputy Headmistress McGonagall and Professor Snape— it was meant to deage her to infancy and get rid of her in a rather roundabout way."

"Is there magic in it that can be traced to the one who created it?" Dumbledore asked.

Cadmus nodded. "I'm sure there is. I have preserved the parcel so such traces can be performed by Aurors in combination with matching them to the Trace on your students. I have a feeling, Headmaster, that since it was Olde Magick, that it was most likely an old family recipe, most likely the sort of thing that dips into what we now call Dark magic. The effects tend to be random but very powerful, matching the depth of hatred that went into its creation."

Albus sighed. "I am familiar. Pray, what is afflicting two of my best professors?"

"De-aging and memory loss— temporary and improving for Minerva, but especially vexing for Severus, with him being so much younger than her."

"Will they be able to teach?" Dumbledore asked.

Cadmus scrunched up his face in thought. "Minerva, yes, most likely in a week or two after the worst of the effects have worn off. Severus, however—"

"What, exactly?" Albus asked, frowning.

"It would be best if you found someone to teach in his stead at least until his age catches up. Forcing him into an adult mindset and mode right now could further injure an already volatile adolescent psyche."

Albus stared at the younger wizard in shock. "What?"

Albus turned to go into the private room, but Poppy quickly moved to stop him.

"Headmaster, I really don't think—"

As Dumbledore pushed into the room, he saw the huge body of Daemon lurking over the bed. A young, teenage, Severus Snape was stroking the great beast's leftmost head with wonder and a smile as Hermione smiled back at him

"Does it hurt you?" the boy asked, reaching to touch her headdress, his fingers sliding against the silken blindfold.

Hermione shook her head. "No, but the sunlight does if I have it off. It's very painful."

"That sounds awful."

Hermione shrugged. "I'm used to it. If you are feeling better, please eat your soup. I put some medicine in it to make you feel better, but I promise you won't taste it."

"Oh, I guess that would be alright," he said. "That circlet means you're a healer. That means you can be trusted."

Hermione shook her head. "I'm an apprentice. The gems in the eyes on the snakes are empty." She felt around for the heads of the snakes on her circlet.

"Oh, I didn't even notice."

"Master Cadmus told me, so don't feel bad. I didn't know either."

Severus grinned, genuinely amused. "I'm glad."

"You should eat as much as you can," Hermione said kindly. "My master says it's the best way to get your energy back without taking a potion, and potions have a habit of making things happen too quickly sometimes."

"Have I been really sick?"

Hermione tilted her head. "No, but you were in a really big explosion." She hung her head. "It was all my fault. You saved me from it."

Younger Snape frowned. "You seem worth saving. So I wouldn't worry about it. Did you botch a potion?"

Hermione startled. "Oh, um, thank you. And no, I opened a box with something horrible inside it."

Snape frowned. "Sounds like something Potter or Black would do."

"Harry wouldn't ever do that!" Hermione said in a startled whisper.

"Harry who?" Severus asked, frowning. "James sodding Potter and Sirius pain-in-my-arse Black."

Hermione lifted her head and furrowed her brows. "Ummm."

"Whose robes are those?" Severus asked, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "They look like funerary curtains."

Hermione's eyes went over to the black woollen robes hanging on the nearby coat rack. "Uhhh—"

Both the children's heads jolted up and over to stare as the Headmaster came in. Severus' eyes went wide as Hermione's blindfold jingled slightly as it knocked against her healer's circlet.

"Ah, Severus, how are you feeling, my boy?" Albus asked with a friendly smile.

Severus swallowed hard. "Okay, I guess, Headmaster," he replied, quietly, withdrawing and scooching back in the bed and hugging a giant plush black serpent with bright orange eyes that had been his bed companion.

Albus' eyes went to Severus' arm, which was pale and unMarked. The Headmaster's face paled slightly.

"Is there something wrong, Headmaster?" Severus asked worriedly.

"No, my boy, everything is fine," Albus said. "I hope you are well on your way to recovery very soon."

Severus nodded. "Sir, does Professor Slughorn know?"

Albus tilted his head. "Know what, my boy?"

"That I'm in the infirmary and may have to miss classes," he said.

Albus frowned, and Severus looked down, thinking he'd said something wrong. "You just worry about getting well again, Se— Mr Snape, yes?"

Severus nodded. "Yessir."

The Headmaster, pale as milk, walked slowly out of the room.

"I don't think he likes me," Severus said quietly after he left.

Hermione, who had been staring into the space where the Headmaster had been, turned to Snape. "I don't think that was it," she said. She hopped down off the chair and stood up. "I should probably go."

Severus, his expression shifting through a few different expressions at once, blurted, "Could you stay for a bit longer? Until I get go to sleep again?"

Hermione, conflicted, slowly sat down on the chair again. "Okay, but just until you get to sleep."

As Hermione peered cautiously around Cadmus' leg, she found herself boggling over the somewhat plump man dressed in a brown suit. He had an oddly distinctive walrus moustache. He had eyes that seemed like the colour gooseberries, and his hair was almost strawberry white where it still tried to cling to his head in a desperate bid not to be completely bald. Whatever colour his hair might have been before then, Hermione had no idea. She tucked her eyes back under her blindfold as she hid herself behind her master, taking comfort in his reassuring presence and the blissful darkness.

Sithiss and Fawkes gave her mental hugs, and she felt Sithiss' coils wrapping around her body from the inside, a trait that had brought her comfort ever since they had become bound. She could tell that this man was trying to peer around Cadmus to see her again, but thankfully her master was a good dancer, protecting her with his robes and body as cleverly and effectively as a matador.

"Well, I don't see why not," the man said to Cadmus, scratching his head. "Severus was always very bright and very talented in potions. I suppose I could— apprentice him, erm, again— but are you sure this is really necessary?"

Cadmus blinked slowly, stretching his shoulders with an odd popping sound. "I believe that having some things he is familiar with or rather was familiar with will help him. He may recover quite a bit, or he may not. It depends on how vile the magic was that went into that potion. The best thing that can be done for him right now is offer him stable familiarity, and being your apprentice will also keep him out of the regular classes where the other children will whisper."

Slughorn nodded, satisfied for now. "Very well, very well. I will arrange it. If anything, this will get me into proper quarters that don't make my old bones ache.

Cadmus smiled as Slughorn shuffled off, still taking a moment to look back and try to catch a glimpse at Cadmus' young apprentice. When the wizard disappeared down the hall, he looked down at Hermione and smiled. She grasped his robes and looked up at him with a warm smile that filled her eyes.

"He will recover, my young snakeling," he said fondly. "It will just take time and support. When he is ready, he will also have us to remind him of the warmth of the scale and feather."

Hermione nodded.

"It is study time for you, snakeling," Cadmus said. "Go find a new healing book in the a restricted section and we will go over it together."

Hermione broke into a vibrant smile as the healer handed her a pass. She looked like a child who had been given an all-you-can-grab pass to Honeydukes.

"Off you go, my dear" he shooed. "I will meet you in the study room."

Hermione practically skipped away, hugging the pass in her hands tightly.

"Hello, Lucius!" Hermione greeted, jumping up to give him a hug. The tall blond wizard hissed softly, pressing his head to hers as she wrapped her arms around his neck. She tongue-flicked once or twice. "You've been at Flourish and Blotts!"

"I cannot hide anything from you," he said, pulling out a decorated bag.

Hermione beamed, taking the bag with a small bow. "Thank you, Godfather!"

Minerva eyed the young basilisk as she enlarged the package with her wand and all sorts of goodies fell out: fruit for Fawkes, a dragon bone for Daemon to chew on, chocolate-dipped weasels for Sithiss, and the ever coveted leather-bound tomes for Hermione. She squealed with delight, hugging them as she flopped on the settee and began to read immediately.

"You have heard about Severus?" she asked Lucius.

Lucius nodded, his face dark with anger. "I want whoever did this to writhe, Minerva. Not just for Severus' sake but for Our Lady of the Shimmering Scales. Severus is my brother, and Hermione is— well, you know exactly how special she is to us all."

Minerva nodded. "Preaching to the choir, Lucius."

"How is Severus?"

"He is settling in with Horace," she said. "For some reason Albus has been tiptoeing around them, well and me, like something may explode, but I haven't the foggiest what that's about— anyway, Severus' old quarters is locked and warded for when he remembers it's his. For now— he's been outfitted with the standard apprentice fare, and the students assume he's a relative of Severus' somewhere down the line.

"You are looking very well, Minerva, for a woman who just lost a few decades from her face and likely added them to her lifespan," Lucius said with a chuckle.

"Oh, laddie, you have no idea. I don't even recognise myself anymore. I haven't had this colour hair in years, and I'm fairly certain Albus keeps shooting me looks behind my back despite certain, ah, affiliations that we all know of."

Lucius snorted and shook his head, raising his hand in reply. "You remember everything, yes?"

"Took me a week or two, but yes," Minerva said. "Ach, poor Severus, though. He's still back in the seventies. Was it you that sent him that parcel with all the grooming items and male accoutrements?"

Lucius nodded. "I remember what he had back then, and I added a few things in the hopes he doesn't remember what he didn't have."

"I'm sorry he didn't recognise you at first," Minerva apologised.

"At least he recognised me after Hermione calmed him down," Lucius said. "Getting him to recognise Regulus was one thing, but Sirius— well, that's one way to find out you're also a basilisk. I'm glad Hermione is so fearless, throwing herself in between them so fast. I'm not sure who was more amazed— Severus or Sirius."

Minerva snorted into her hand. "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm truly glad he's Slytherin. You lot can certainly keep your secrets, I'll give you that."



"I really need to find the one who did this."

"Laddie, I think when anyone knows for sure, it will hit the Prophet's special edition first thing. This is grounds for expulsion at the very least and a lengthy stay in Azkaban if proven to be the result of Dark magic. The entire family could be found guilty of using Dark magic."

Lucius sighed, his expression darkening. "They will pray for the pleasures of Azkaban before I am done with them."

Minerva looked over to the other side of the room. Hermione had exchanged the settee for Sithiss' warm coils and was making herself comfortable for the night. Fawkes snuggled under her arm as Daemon turned around three times and settled.

"You'd have to get to them first, laddie," Minerva said. "It may not even be me who desires their pound of flesh first."

Fawkes watched the Headmaster pace back and forth and wear a trench into the castle floor. The portraits started to mutter that they were getting dizzy, and many had left their frames from places elsewhere.

"It can't be," he told Fawkes. "It can't be."

Albus stroked his beard as he sat down at the desk and flipped through an old tome that looked like it had been squirreled away in the land of dust and forgetfulness. He turned the pages until he saw an old ink drawing of five dots on each side of the head: the Mark of Death's Chosen.

"It's impossible. He was Oathed to me!" Albus muttered. "He was Marked! You can't lose a Mark. You can't lose an Oath! How could he— Death doesn't just saunder up and—"

Albus slammed the book closed. He pulled out the parchment from his desk that he'd gotten from the Auror's office.

Headmaster Dumbledore,

After extensive traces and following the Traces registered to the children when they start Hogwarts, we have tied the magic found in the exploding package to be linked to the following students:

Cormac McLaggen

Marietta Edgecombe

Lavender Brown

Ginevra Weasley

Cho Chang

Each will be set to trial before the Wizengamot within the month if not earlier after being thoroughly questioned with their parents present. Upon the decision of the Wizengamot, it may be ordered to have each child expelled and their wands broken due to the use of Dark Olde Magick, specifically family knowledge, on a minor as well as two professors of Hogwarts, one of which has been reverted to the point where teaching is impossible, thus forcing him to relive his school-age years.

While you are welcome to present any known history or other evidence at the proceedings, either in support or against them before the Wizengamot, only verified untampered memories extracted under witness will be presented as verified evidence of character.

Aurors will be sent to escort said children from the Hogwarts grounds after curfew to lessen gossip and speculation before the Wizengamot can make their final decision as to the proper treatment of minors who would conspire to use Dark magic.

Albus sighed, rolling up the parchment. He closed his eyes and slumped. "What am I going to do, Gell?" he whispered. "We were supposed to become the masters of Death, and now He is coming ever closer…"

Dumbledore rubbed his temples. "Do you think he knows, Gell? He has stolen my Oathbound agent into the heart of Tom's plans. I cannot be so lucky again. If he remembers— there will be no second chance to bind him again."

Albus paced the floor again, with Fawkes looking back and forth as if he was watching a tennis match. His mutterings came and went but descended into gibberish. Finally, he stormed out of his office into his private bedroom and closed the door.

Fawkes sat on his swing and warbled Rosin the Bow.

Horace Slughorn heard giggling coming from his apprentice's chambers and tilted his head, curious. He knocked on the door and passed in to find Severus laying on his stomach on the floor as he flipped through a large tome.

"Severus?" he asked.

"Yes, Master?"

"Is everything okay?"

"Yes, Master," he said

"Studies done?"

"Yes, Master."

Horace looked around, scratching his head. "Well, don't stay up too late, Severus. Nothing that can't wait for tomorrow."

"Of course, Master," Severus answered, his onyx black eyes staring into Slughorn with the familiar intensity of his older self but not the same, harshness.

Horace smiled and walked out, closing the door behind him.

Hermione stuck her head out from under the pile of Severus' outer apprentice robes that had been discarded on the floor. She tongue flicked and lay her head on his lap as Daemon floated down from the ceiling where he had been temporarily Leviosa-ed to hide his presence.

Severus giggled, pointing to a picture of some sort of horrible depiction of a monstrous serpent crushing the world.

Hermione shook her head, hissing. She turned the page with her snout and it showed a horribly drawn attempt at a basilisk with huge round eyes with slits and far too many fangs to fit inside one mouth. A knight thrust a scrawny rooster in front of him— a wiry bird that seemed to have lost half its feathers and exchanged its neck for a giraffe's. She beat her head against the pages as Severus giggled again.

Another bit of knocking had Slughorn stumbling in just after Hermione dove for cover and the poor cerberus plastered spreadeagle to the ceiling again.

Slughorn, looking everywhere but up, scratched his head in bafflement. "Don't forget to see Healer Cadmus tomorrow, my boy," he said, peering around again.

"Of course, Master," Severus said.

Slughorn shuffled out again.

Daemon whined softly from above.

Severus put his fingers to his lips in a shushing motion, pointing to the door.

Slowly, Slughorn's footsteps retreated once more, and Daemon floated back down again. Hermione poked her head out from under the pile of robes again, tongue flicking. Severus' hand gently drew across her smooth scales as they began again.

Handful of Hogwarts' Students Found Guilty of Shocking Dark Magic Attack on Fellow Student and Teachers

The Wizengamot rocked the Wizarding World when they came to the unanimous decision that five students, whose names are currently being withheld due to being minors, were guilty of conspiracy to cause harm to another, brewing of an illegal Dark potion and assembling a proximity-triggered parcel that was meant to explode on a fellow student but instead caused injury to two Hogwarts professors who threw themselves over the targeted student when magical containment efforts failed to prevent the explosion.

Memories and testimonies were presented long into the night for over a week, and the deliberations lasted for weeks after. The Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, gave testimony to extensive attempts that were made to end bullying at Hogwarts, including both in-school and during prevention workshops that were held during the summer months to instruct staff in more stringent regulations that were put in place to discourage bullying in general.

The involved students, had they been adults, would have been sentenced to Azkaban for no less than twenty years; however, the Wizengamot recognises that these offenders were not adults. Their crimes, however, were dire and quite intentional. Their reasoning, however, was still immature.

Each child has been transferred to Hogwarts' sister school, the Durmstrang Institute, where a very rigid curriculum and smaller class size to a higher teacher-to-student ratio promises to more effectively curb bullying.

The Durmstrang Institute, which has been controversial in using both magical reprimands and physical work (such as removing barnacles from ships and shoveling snow by hand) as punishments for misbehaving students, remains a school with higher than average marks and students that move on to highly respected jobs in the Wizarding world.

The students have been warned that this is their last chance at remaining in school and avoiding imprisonment. Should they commit any further infractions, they will be sent directly to Azkaban to serve out their full sentence, regardless of their age.

As for the family whose magic went into the crafting of the disastrous spell in question, the name is being withheld to prevent retribution while the Aurors investigate how often this Dark branch of magic has been in use, which members have used it, and for how long.

Hermione shrunk away from the Weasley matron as she fell to the ground and grovelled in front of her mother, Dumbledore, Slughorn, and Severus. Severus, driven by some instinct or perhaps pulling on the the strength of the friendship they had cultured in a short time, stood in front of her, using his robes to block her from Molly Weasley's sight. Cadmus, standing like a looming pillar over Molly, nudged the two children behind him, his healer robes swishing over them both to protect and comfort them both.

"Please, Albus," Molly pleaded. "Ginny is only eleven. She's barely in school. Please don't let them send her to Durmstrang!"

"I'm not sure what you expect of me, Molly," Albus said, his brows creasing. "The Wizengamot ruled what needed to happen. She added her blood into the potion with the others. We all saw the memory of her cursing Apprentice McGonagall for bringing shame to her family. We were lucky that Durmstrang was willing to take them at all. None of the other schools wanted to deal with them for their dishonour shaded their strength of character."

"But Durmstrang is full of Dark wizards!" Molly protested, horrified.

"So is Britain, apparently," Dumbledore said grimly. "She's not being forced into Azkaban, Molly. She has a good chance to do well there under the kind of supervision we cannot provide here at Hogwarts. I tried, Molly. I had a very active anti-bullying program going on, but this still happened. It is obvious that we, at Hogwarts, do not have the structure she and the other children need to avoid the more selfish temptations of Dark magic."

"But Durmstrang embraces Dark magic!" Molly wailed.

"No, Durmstrang seeks discipline and education to better defend against what they know. It is entirely different from you might think," Albus said.

"Albus! A dark cloud has descended upon my family! You know we are good people! Please. Please! Help us!" She looked toward Hermione, but Snape stood in front of her.

"Snape? You know us! You know my Ginny wouldn't hurt anyone!"

As she reached toward him, Snape took a big step back. "I do not know you, ma'am," he said, his black eyes going very wide.

Molly, looking desperate, shook her head. "No, you remember me, I know you do, Severus!"

Cadmus stepped in front again, annoyed that Molly had woven her way around him on purpose. "You will leave both my apprentice and Professor Slughorn's out of this conversation. They are here only at the Headmaster's behest, and only because we are with them."

Hermione gently tugged on her Master's sleeve, and he leaned down so she could whisper something in his ear. Cadmus narrowed his eyes and then nodded once.

"My apprentice wishes you to know that she holds no grudge against your daughter, Mrs Weasley. She was not familiar with her, nor did she know her well enough to make a statement at the Wizengamot, as you well know," Cadmus said. "She is willing to make a statement to this effect in the hopes she may rate a lighter sentence as she was not one of the repeat offenders, provided—"

"Yes, yes, ANYTHING!" Molly said, wringing her hands. "We'll do anything!"

Severus whispered to Hermione who whispered back into Cadmus' ear.

Cadmus whispered to Dumbledore and the elder wizard nodded.

"Provided she learns from a Ministry-assigned tutor either at the Ministry or at home to be assessed each year for whether she is able to return to Hogwarts."

"She would, of course, have to have an advanced trace placed on her wand for the duration of her sentence," Albus said. "She would have to be Flooed to take her exams at the Ministry so Ginevra can be appropriately supervised."

Molly nodded fiercely. "Of course, Albus. Of course. Anything to keep my Ginny in Britain!"

Albus seemed to realise what Molly was really saying. Anything to keep her baby close where she could be with her instead of at Durmstrang where family visitation was very strictly controlled. Yet, even so, Ginevra was not yet attending Hogwarts during the first incidents, and her participation in the plot was apparently influenced by her older peers, goading her on by bringing up her brother—

"Very well, Molly," Albus said sternly. "If and only if all of the aforementioned victims of that dreadful potion agree, I will bring it up with the Minister for Magic and then the Wizengamot, but I will say this only once, Madam. If any more trouble comes to us from the Weasley clan, there will be no second chances. This will be the very last time. I already regret having allowing you to have a non-approved familiar when you brought Mr Pettigrew to Hogwarts in disguise without having registered him with the familiar office first to avoid what did happen."

Molly, thoroughly flustered, could only nod in relief.

Dear Mr and Mrs Weasley,

My name is Hestia Jones, and I have been assigned as your daughter's tutor and monitor until if or when she is permitted to return to Hogwarts for the remainder of her schooling. As soon as I arrive, I will ascertain her safety as well as certify that she has met the requirements set by the Wizengamot such as the standard wand trace and the body trace.

As an employee of the Ministry, I will tutoring Ginevra in the standard curriculum for each year. That being said, other tutors for more specialised arts may be required, which will be covered by what was left over from your refunded Hogwarts fees after her withdrawal. Unless previous arrangements have been made for your daughter's escort to Ministry testing sites, I will arrive each morning at nine and leave at five in the evening.

Due to her circumstances, I will be scanning for and teaching her avoid Dark magic, but I must insist if you have any family history, tomes, grimoires, or heirlooms that even drift towards Dark areas, please have them removed and stored off-site before I arrive. Any that I find while I am there will be confiscated and destroyed, heirloom or no.

If all goes well, at the end of the term, she will will tested in both magical aptitude and Dark influence or any residual magic left from her part in the Dark spell. If she comes up clean, she will be eligible to return to Hogwarts with both traces intact. Those will remain until the end of her sentence given by the Wizengamot.

Please be advised that any and all social activity outside of your home must be supervised even after I leave. Any attempt to defy this rule will be detected by the trace, and she will be immediately tracked down and brought in to the Ministry to determine the reason and nature of the infringement.

While all of this may seem rather grim and daunting, with hard work and dedication, Ginevra will be able to return to Hogwarts and finish her schooling without someone shadowing her. The reason for such strict guidelines is in part for your daughter's own protection due to the fact that Ginevra will remain susceptible to Dark influences in the future as a result of the Dark spell she willingly participated in at such a young imprintable age— even if she was not fully aware of all potential consequences when her blood was used as a catalyst.

I look forward to meeting with you this coming Monday.

Cordially Yours,

Hestia Jones

As Minerva walked into her daughter's room to check on her before bed, she stifled a smile as she saw the unlikely pileup. Sithiss had sprawled his impressive bulk around the entire room with Daemon curled up in the middle. Fawkes was fast asleep perched atop Daemon's middle head, right between the cerberus' ears, his headcrest rising and falling as he slept. Hermione and Severus were curled up close together, the young basilisks having woven themselves into a tight ball that rather resembled a serpentine yin and yang. Hidden amongst the coils was Lucius, his pale scales glistening in the dimness of the room. The two younger basilisks used his head as a pillow.

Minerva chuckled and resigned herself to fate and shifted into her own serpent form, wiggling her way into the pile. She yawned, showing all of her fangs, and snuggled into the feeling of blessed contentedness. As they all fell into the land of dreams, the Mark of Death's favour glowed softly from each of their heads like chains of distant stars.

A/N: Whoa hey, did you forget about this story? SURPRISE!

Fluffy arachnid: Hey, what about us?

Second arachnid: Yeah! Don't forget about us!

Third arachnid with bucket over head: (squeaking) (thumps into wall) (heavy sighing)

Fourth arachnid arrives and nudges Bucket onto a placemat and drags him off to places unknown.

Fluffy arachnid: Hrm, so, pie?

Second: Mmm, pie. I'm game. Let's do it!

Spiders hustle off to make shoofly pie together.


Dumbledore wanders by munching a slice of pie. "Mmmph. I didn't know there were raisins in shoofly pie."

The spiders eye him and scratch their heads with their forelegs. "Those aren't raisins."

Albus pales, stops chewing, gulps, and dashes out of the room in a flurry of purple robes.

Severus lowers his book, takes a forkful of pie and resumes reading. "Mmm, you added currants. Excellent."

The spiders exchange glances. "We can't fool him."


"We keep trying."

"And failing."

"But not at the pie," Severus says with satisfaction, savoring another rich forkful.

"He likes it!"