Clichéd Training Montages – and Surprises

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You have to see this: : cKu_22WpH4k (Check YouTube for this video).

Also, Harry's not going to beat anyone by himself. If you're looking for that, sorry, this is not the Harry you are looking for.

"Heimdall," called out the Allfather, as he brought Sleipnir to a halt.

"Allfather," the watcher at the gates acknowledged respectfully.

"You said there was something that needed my immediate attention?"

In lieu of an answer, Heimdall pointed towards the swirling blackness that stretched beyond the Bifrost.

"The Void, Allfather, I detect from within it a presence that I cannot perceive truly." It was an admission that was wrenched from Heimdall with utmost reluctance. There was little across the known Universe that escaped his sight – unless, he was specially considered and efforts were taken to deceive him.

Heimdall watched the face of the King of Asgard turn grim. And not grim in the way one is when one is readying for any eventuality when one does not know, but grimness that showed something akin to having an educated guess which one doesn't like. He understood, but did not react. The King of Asgard had yet another secret. It was not his place to question or judge.

"This is truly unsettling, All-seer. There are few things in the annals of Asgard's history – indeed, of my own too – that unsettled me thus. We must prepare. These are grim tidings. The Convergence will soon be upon us. With such unknowns… Heimdall, keep watch. Asgard and the Nine Realms shall need your ever-vigilant eyes, your wisdom and your counsel."

"I am, as always, at the Allfather's service," Heimdall assured, though he paused.

"You wish to know what I know," Odin correctly guessed.

"It would aid me in my watch greatly, Sire."

"Caution and a reluctance to guess stay my words, All-seer, till we know more to determine. At this point I would ask you to be on the lookout for any powers beyond any you know of on Asgard crossing into the Yggdrasil. I fear, before long, we may have to protect the Nine Realms again."

"From what, Sire?"

"From what indeed. The answer, Heimdall, we may not know till the time comes, and yet we must be prepared to protect the Realms – and us – from the Nine Realms themselves too."

"Allfather!" Heimdall exclaimed.

"Indeed, yes, Heimdall. We must be ready. My time is ending, Heimdall. And my reckoning may arrive thus."

Both were silent as Sleipnir snorted and whinnied, watching the Void.

Corvus, Harry soon realised, was the ultimate pushy parent. So pushy, in fact, that she was going to redefine every Asian (Chinese, Indian, Korean or whatever other national persuasion) stereotype for parents of overachieving kids. And what did it say that he, a grown man, felt tremendous empathy for those kids, irrespective of whether or not the stereotype was true?

It started off sedately. It was sedate enough to make Harry let his guard down a bit.

Dumbledore's portrait was a very willing teacher, every teacher at Hogwarts was overjoyed to see him back and being more serious about his studies than ever. It was so bad, in fact, that even Snape's portrait remarked upon Harry's adeptness at the magics they were all teaching him. That creeped him out just as much as Corvus' horrific flirting, both filed away in a far, far away corner of his mind which he had named "Never touch, never discuss, never think." It was right next to Luna and Sirius' horror-show in Brazil. Since the meetings with Corvus happened depressingly often, the title of the corner was an abject failure.

The teaching bore fruit, though. For one, Snape himself knew how to fly, having wormed his way into the inner circle that Voldemort had cultivated to lead battles in his stead. Once Harry had related to the two deceased former Headmasters of Hogwarts the way the world was changing, the two had agreed to teach him all they knew. Seeing Snape sneer from the portrait was somewhat reassuring, if only because the damn bastard had forced Harry to relive all those Occlumency sessions from over a decade prior.

The mechanics were simple. It was, very disappointingly and anti-climactically, only a combined application of the levitation and motion spells most magicals used without thought, for all the protestations to the contrary. What made the task difficult was applying the spells on oneself. Any physical body is given to inertia, and unaided flight is not a skill for which humans with or without magic ever evolved physically. As such, Harry had to simultaneously apply the spells on every part of his body, consciously at first. Again, the first week was filled with unmemorable failures, for Harry's body simply refused to cooperate with what it considered to be his asinine attempts. The next week was one of failures too, but memorable ones because he had finally achieved a partial breakthrough.

One such failure during a daily demonstration to Corvus involved Bruce turning into the Hulk upon suddenly finding himself in possession of Harry's unattached hand which was too impatient to wait for the rest of his body to catch up. It wasn't dissimilar to splinching. It was the poor man's first transformation in Britain, and a thankfully short-lived one. The Unspeakables still had one of the tranquilizers they had developed with Giants in mind on hand, and it had lulled the Hulk into a worryingly deep sleep for over four hours before he woke up as Bruce. They took to scheduling such demonstrations whenever the two weren't in the same premises simultaneously, thereafter.

The only difference in learning Occlumency and unaided flight from Snape was that Harry no longer felt the necessity ingrained in most people to at least perfunctorily respect the teacher. It helped that Snape was dead.

"Why the bloody hell must you remind me of those lessons, Snape? I get it, I didn't learn too well from you. But you were just as bad!" Harry demanded after yet another failure.

"What your frustratingly simple mind still refuses to understand is that I had the unfortunate duty of readying you for mental assaults by the Dark Lord. While the creature could be charismatic when it suited him, he had less patience than your own apparent aptitude at the time. He was always brutal. My attacks were meant to help build your resistance."

Harry just grunted grumpily. "What's Occlumency got to do with this flying thing anyway?"

"Tell me, you overgrown dunderhead, what exactly does Occlumency really need?"

Having eventually learnt from several sources including Dumbledore, Corvus, and Moody, he gave Snape the explanation that Mad-Eye, uncharacteristically less acerbically, had given him. "Occlumency requires that the practitioner be intimately acquainted with his or her own mind, conscience, thoughts and beliefs in their entirety, objectively and without shame or pride."

"Moody's words," Snape noted. "A vaguely accurate, if somewhat incomplete definition." The man, and his portrait, it seemed at the time, were incapable of making even a simple agreement backhanded. "It also requires one to trust oneself as one is. Thoroughly."

Harry frowned as the logical extension tickled at his mind. But over a decade of being free of Snape's tutelage did nothing beyond reducing him to an angry teen around even the portrait of his former teacher. "And?"

"Extend it boy! Use that pitifully unused brain of yours!" scolded Snape. "Unaided flight requires the person to be just as or better acquainted with the physical body. It isn't only the visible organs you have to levitate and move, but also the internal organs. One other Death Eater made the mistake of dissociating the dense nature of the body and ended up flaying himself. And also overcoming the fear of the flight itself. That fear exists because you instinctively believe that you aren't in control, when it is the biggest lie. You are in control!"

The portrait delivered the explanation and then promptly drew the painted curtains closed.

This endeavour now meant begging Madam Pomphrey and Bruce to tutor him regarding human anatomy. Banner did so with utmost reluctance. He wasn't happy about the transformation. Even with the enforced aid of the newly developed and redesigned time-turners, Harry took a little shy of two months to accomplish unaided flight – a test flight around the quidditch pitch where he was often outstripped by butterflies. He also made quite a production of it, flailing his arms like windmills, and quite literally, often tripping over air.

Sirius had a picnic while Harry was at it, as Corvus supervised. Then his mind was blown by Snape's portrait, watching from its easel, commended, "As much as it pains me to admit it, you managed it marginally faster than I did." Before Harry's mind was blown though, Snape added, "That said, however, your continued lack of grace of form does not surprise me in the slightest. The crutch of a broom makes you feel stronger than you are, doesn't it, Potter?"

He did manage it eventually, though nowhere close to his prowess with brooms. And imitating broom flight was more of an awkward squat, which he refused to even think of. But he had nearly overcome his fear and inhibitions by Teddy's birthday, who demanded to fly with his godfather. Harry eventually capitulated, even if it was at a fairly low height. Teddy normally never demanded much, but everyone, their grandmother, and the grandmother's dead kneazle knew that Harry tended to spoil the kid rotten and Teddy wasn't above taking advantage of that.

But that was where the fun and games ended.

Now fairly sure that he could fly, there were time trials, obstacle paths and the usual clichéd things they could think of, or could copy and adapt from any training montage. There just was no inspirational music, there was no freeloading friend, and after he was done, if Harry had any facial injuries and decided to shout, "Yo Hermione! I did it!", he was likely to get a faceful of the standard healing charm applied by an irate Hermione without any subtlety or care for the healing pains.

Also, Corvus wasn't a cranky old man called Mickey.

Harry hated Corvus. Very, very much. The fantastic end results were really not worth the hassle in his opinion. He was a perfectly serviceable agent normally. In theory, all the things he was being put through were necessary. In practice, he couldn't imagine any scenarios where he might use them without drawing too much attention.

With flight out of the way, Corvus hired physical instructors for combat training. Wizards, being heavily reliant on wands, didn't actually do much beyond throwing punches or a few kicks in desperation. But now Harry knew the human anatomy, so combat training included incorporating that, with flight to incapacitate an opponent as quickly as possible.

"I am a bloody experienced field agent! You made me fight with SHIELD!" Harry protested eventually after a particularly gruelling, bruising day. "I am trained!"

"You were trained out of poor habits, Potter," Corvus replied, not even looking up at him. "You weren't trained for the kind of job I want you to do. Stop whining."

"I have magic!" Harry continued, wishing that this woman had never been around.

"Nice, now you are giving me the very arguments you fought to disprove."

"You are a sadist!" Harry accused.

She leered at him. It was too simple an opening.

"You know, you are likely to face a case one day with that kind of behaviour. What do you say, shall I file one myself? Harassment, you know. It's not just women who face it, and it would unmask you to the world as the behind-the-scenes manipulator thing you have got going."

"Don't you like it?" she asked with a horrifying pout.

"I don't as a matter of fact. It is beyond creepy and horrifying. You may think of it as some kind of inside joke or whatever, but it isn't."

"Then I may just have to get a real seductress."


"I can understand that such approaches from me are dirty. But you have seen a Black Widow's memories. What do you think is the chief weapon in her arsenal? Seduction!"

"What gave you the asinine idea that you could play the part?"

"The fact that I once played a similar role about four decades ago, if not to the extent the Widows go," she replied curtly, before sulphurously muttering, "Then again, that was during the time when someone had the bright idea to have field agents without ever being one or having a real trained one on board. Spirits save me from the bloated egos of bureaucrat researchers."

"Just how did your generation procreate? Did whatever you were trying actually work?" Harry blurted out with morbid and horrified fascination, before hurriedly correcting himself, "No wait, don't answer that!" Then a worse thought struck him. "You don't have a secret kid or something stashed away somewhere, do you?"

"Merlin and the Spirits, Potter, get a grip! I am married to my work. A kid would have made things difficult, so none of those blighters for me. I am just saying that you have only seen fights and action till now. You may one day have to weave your way through a seduction attempt or seduce someone. I can only prepare you for women my age." Harry tried to not look relieved. The relief was short-lived. "And also teach you to seduce someone just in her teens to someone older than Griselda Marchbanks."

Harry's resistance crumbled and he retched involuntarily. Corvus sneered at him, a taunt embedded within the sneer. One day, Harry decided, he was fucking going to murder Corvus and take great pleasure doing so. She was asking him to learn paedophilia.

"You know, I respected you," he said at long last. "But, well, fuck off." He turned to leave before he could do something stupid, and if he was in the midst of a too-wily, and too-powerful enabler of child abuse, one exhorting him to abuse, in fact, he was going to retreat and bring her down.

"Where do you think you are going?"

"Anywhere which is far enough away from you for my peace of mind," Harry curtly bit out. The door wouldn't budge though. So that was how she wanted to play it out. "Let me go."

"You must know not to waste your breath, Potter, on making demands of me," Corvus taunted, as she activated several means to hold him in place, leaving him barely able to breathe. "Is it cowardice that I see?"

"I would be a coward if I allowed you to bully me into crime, Corvus, into becoming something indescribably terrible," Harry replied conversationally.

"You know what I want, Potter. I want a weapon, and you volunteered."

"You blackmailed me!"

"You are an asset, Potter. Behave like one! The enemy is the enemy, and you shall see no age, gender or anything else before treating it with the utmost contempt you can muster!" With a smirk, she regarded the look of fierce concentration as he willed himself to use and extend the very techniques Corvus had taught against her, or overpower them at the very least.

"You think you can oppose me?"

With a small tinkling sound that mimicked the breaking of fine glass, in the same fluid motion, Harry was free of his restraints, while Corvus, divested of her wands, was entombed in a rapidly shrinking conjured metal box that only barely left her head out to allow for conversation.

"Yes, I do believe I can."

"Excellent," Corvus agreed. "I would still like you doing that without your wand, the fact that you can override my scheme, and also have the right kind of scruples is a good thing." She struggled vainly with the bounds for a bit before snapping, "Remove me from these shackles." As an afterthought, she added, "And get rid of that gormless look from your face, unless you want me to wonder if some unholy spawn of the Crabbes and Goyles contributed to your birth."

Harry did not succeed in the latter order, and barely succeeded in the former as he dealt with the constant whiplash dealing with Corvus left him affected with.

"The shackles were good. Strong ones," Corvus commented as she gingerly rubbed her shoulders, before beckoning him to follow her to the next room, and Harry did, though he kept his wand trained on her, without even a smidgen of subtlety. "I wanted to test you, obviously. Too many people lose their way, and end up justifying that which shouldn't be, all in the name of the law, or expediency or what have you. I want you to remember that seduction is your last option, all things said and done, because you are dropping your guard down, just as the mark is. If it ever comes to a child, though, I am going to spoon-feed you the simplest solution – animate to inanimate transfiguration."

Privately, Harry was veering towards the Mind Arts, but he could see how Corvus' obvious solution would be useful. But he felt too paranoid to say either way. Her "testing" excuse was too glib for his comfort, and she had already risen in Harry's "I hate" rankings and broken into the top-10 sharing the fourth spot with Snape. Incidentally, she was also the only person in the top-5 who was still alive. Harry contemplated upon the idea of correcting that aberration as soon as possible. If not in real life, at least he could dream about killing her. Verifying her true loyalties, was urgently necessary too. She was a big issue if she wasn't what she portrayed herself as, and otherwise the best source of help he could hope for.

For the time being, he satisfied himself with transfiguring Corvus, who seemed to have expected the action going by her resigned sigh, into a compass. It pointed North, mostly.

But where Corvus made learning a torture on most accounts, he had a far enjoyable and interesting time with Dumbledore's portrait. Dumbledore's portrait would come up with any problem, often from the man's own experiences, and Harry had to solve it in as many ways as he could think of. And it wasn't always just spells. Often the challenge included no use of magic. That turned it into a practical primer for basic applied physics and chemistry, and common sense, through the use of levers, pulleys, any common kind of salt or chemical easily found in any day-to-day use. Sometimes, he had to layer magic with these things. And he had to do those things fast.

What Harry was starkly reminded of was the fact that Dumbledore, a man who had fought Grindelwald and his forces, both magical and non-magical, had learnt to think on his feet, and to find the optimal solution since flashiness was seldom truly useful. For all the kookiness, the seemingly magical lack of logic he often portrayed, and the garb of eccentricity that he had worn in life, it was, like many other things with the old man, merely a façade. But then again, Harry had known that for quite some time.

One test, indeed was getting the Hogwarts Express' Engine from London to Hogsmeade in time for the Summer Holidays – without using any coal.

Harry was sure that the portrait had reached the very edge of what Dumbledore had done in life, and was now portraying the onset of senility. How was he supposed to get a train – alright, just the engine, but still – to power along for over what had to be over twelve hundred kilometres, going only by an estimate, considering the fact that Hogsmeade Station being unplottable also made it impossible to locate on a map?

"I never said you have to drive it in with a magical spell. Do parse my words better and keep up, my boy. I would suggest that you actually get to it, and as with everything else, understand the scope of the problem that I have set. Learn from the muggles. I daresay you might find a lasting solution."

And there was one, indeed. He was required to enchant each wheel to be self-summoned by the track and repelled upon contact, the enchantments being intertwined. This brought in some elements of self-stirring cauldrons and existing research on self-spelling wands, because enchanting the tracks was out of the realm of sanity, never mind feasibility and practicality. That was not the entirely correct way, as he soon found out.

The first attempt was an egregious failure, since the old tracks had far shorter lengths and each length of track (irrespective of when it was laid) had far lesser mass than the engine itself, meaning that laws of gravity held true and the engine summoned the tracks instead of the other way around. That patch had to be re-laid.

It was a very costly mistake, and Kingsley was seething at him as he cleared the "Ministry mandated experiment" and waived off a part of the costs. Damn the Unspeakables, the Minister had been sure that it was an attack or an act of sabotage till he was told, never mind the fact that they had stolen his second-in-command!

So back Harry went to the drawing board and split the wheel into six sectors and had the ground between the tracks perform what he called "phase-wise summoning", along with additional plates which acted the same way and were placed beneath the tracks and affixed on the underside of the engine. The angle between the runes on the wheels and the ground changed as the wheel turned, so that meant learning geometry and loci, and having to learn the concept of fluxes and how the coupling of runes changed, a crash course in wandlore, which was intimately tied to the closest analogy to the concept of flux and was the reason why some wands worked well for certain kinds of magic and why certain woods allied with certain magicals and not with others.

With no reference, it was a trial and error regarding the placement, but it did get the engine working, at first. Braking was an issue till he borrowed the concept of dead-times, duty cycles and freewheeling diodes, but at the end of it, the magical world had something that corresponded to the muggle MAGLEV, even if it was in the most rudimentary form.

Then Corvus meddled again and gave him a further challenge. When he finally solved the starting power requirement at full load, which meant getting the engine with the train attached to chug a whole kilometre, Corvus actively considered awarding him his Mastery. While she didn't actually do it, he did receive a nice reward for a cumulative twenty percent reduction in coal requirements considering the start and speeding up after turns.

Much apart from the reward though, it was the pride in the portrait's eyes, and even in Sirius, Remus and Hermione's eyes and words regarding the achievement that made Harry feel happy. Even Banner, more accustomed to engineering marvels, was suitably impressed.

It was a reminder that he was, and still could be, much more than a man constantly at war, or preparing for one. And also, that the people around him valued him for more than how much and how effectively he could fight. It was enough to make him start craving more.

"More" was not a choice that Corvus would allow him without him begging, though, since she was upon him, pressing him for the new persona not even a couple of months since they started. She was right, but she was also a horrible woman who seemed bent upon making Harry a one-man army. Harry was fulfilling an ambition – just it was her ambition to be a one-person army, or to have one, in any case.

The Weapon Specifications List, as they called it derisively, was whittled down to a checklist:

· even the slightest tells,

· dressing style,

· accent,

· fighting style,

· magical spells in variety (they couldn't afford the "Expelliarmus" situation) and unpredictability,

· manners, personal relationships (an unfriendly person would have fewer people asking questions once they were repeatedly rebuffed),

· favourite weapon (an enchanted handgun),

· an infuriating nervous habit (the choices being spinning a pen on his fingers, incessant foot-tapping or knee-bouncing, pacing, twanging a one-handed, poor man's rubber band cat's cradle, cricking and popping neck joints, and a few more),

· an illusion for a chain-smoker (Harry had tried it once and had nearly coughed the life out of his lungs) including the pungent odour, the yellowed nails and teeth and the flick to light a cigarette,

· practising not to respond to his name

and so many, many other details for the role. Any inconsistency was potentially fatal if caught.

It was only once Corvus approved the new personality that Harry pushed forward with re-joining society, even as he was required to report for training whenever Corvus demanded.

These methods infuriated Bruce and Hermione to no end, the latter because she saw Corvus' actions as a concerted effort to turn Harry into a weapon, even after his supposed firing, which he wasn't opposing too much, and the former because he saw Corvus' actions and drew parallels with Ross, if more benign. While Hermione didn't actually know about the physical training and the part regarding the new person he was to be, she hated the idea of anyone else owning Harry's time but him. She kept waiting for Corvus to change her mind, for the other shoe to drop. She therefore made it a point to get him to meet as many people as she could in the little time the three were working on the shields for the electricals and electronics.

Working with them was a revelation though. Harry had expected a forgetful mad scientist from Banner. He was everything but that. True, he had wild ideas every once in a while, but every little thing was carefully documented, every little change carefully recorded, every success and every failure assiduously analysed. He was, within the ambit of his job, very ambitious. A few exchanges of Hermione's decidedly amateur schematics with some of his contacts (since Bruce was not proficient with actual Engineering, given that he was a biochemist) which were returned with heavy initial corrections before being finalised, and they were ready with something rudimentary that would probably work.

Within a span of eight months since Bruce Banner stepped foot in England as a free man, they had a prototype isolation-shield based on Harry's magical output which worked without a fault for nine days and eighteen hours of testing. Since nobody else that even Hermione had access to was able to easily undo Harry's spells, herself, Corvus and Sirius included, they had at least a significantly high baseline upon which they could build further and overdesign.

It took a further two weeks before they could connect the internet, with the help of Justin Finch-Fletchley's brother. It gave the two who were in-charge of the lab a feeling of utmost accomplishment, and it gave Harry a bunch of jargon that he worked through tenaciously.

That – along with a very carefully constructed course that made Harry feel even more angry on Hermione's behalf for the third-year time-turner shenanigans as he emulated the same – had the poor man running ragged as he learnt a mish-mash multidisciplinary Engineering course that spanned mechanical, electrical and the computer science streams.

And then there was the horrid potion he was required to complete a course of. It was similar to the one Sirius had been given, except this one didn't magically give him super-strength. It instead gave him higher endurance, improved his senses and was a brain stimulant to help him with what his brain was being force-fed, quite literally. The underground market during his OWL year for brain stimulants would have been in a right frenzy if it ever got wind of this.

Hermione was right, even though she didn't know. Corvus had turned him into an experiment.

Eventually, he drew a line.

"Morgana's sagging tits, woman, get me a damn coder then! When exactly do you expect me to code when I am bloody killing HYDRA? What the bloody hell are you basing your expectations off of? TV shows?"

Patience and politeness had both worn thin for him.

As always, however, the slave driver that went by the title of the Director of the Unspeakables, got her way. Harry was forced to learn a couple of languages. Damn the films. If anybody in those pack of lies could write a segment of code, let alone successfully test it against possible traps, in the situations they showed, Harry would eat the Monster Book of Monsters without tickling its spine. One semi-colon missed, just one misplaced indentation, and it would still be another few minutes wasted on debugging and that was just in normal beginner codes.

It nearly drove Harry insane, crunching four years and possibly two more years of prerequisites into a span of one year.

He somehow emerged from it with his sanity intact. Just about. He didn't have any examinations to appear for, but he was put into situations over the month after that to test those skills in practice, on the lines of Dumbledore's tutelage, but with all the methods of Snape running for weeks without sleep and having to cordially meet Sirius Black and James Potter, daily. Not that Snape wasn't an egregious man without such incentives, but it was the exaggeration that served best.

So, Corvus became a name on Harry's "to kill" list. Then he realised he probably added her name to it every day.

In all this, though, he made time, as he always had since 1999, to meet the Weasley Matriarch on both the 1st of March and the 1st of April, the birthdays of Ron, and Fred and George respectively. It was a yearly ritual he had missed out on in 2007 only as Corvus wouldn't allow it. He had fought her and gone instead in early October on Mrs. Weasley's birthday. Of course, Corvus wouldn't permit without supervision, and in this case, that meant a tracker and Hermione. Harry took what he could get.

"Good morning, Mrs. Weasley, and happy birthday," Harry said softly as she let him in, just in time for lunch, with a hug that matched any that he had learnt to savour since he was twelve, before Hermione was similarly treated.

Mrs. Weasley had changed a lot. The woman had lost most of her family, a manifestation of her greatest fear that was now her horrible reality. Gone was the forceful, stubborn woman who was determined to protect them all with all the belligerence of a mother bear. The loss of Arthur, the twins, Percy and Bill in the bombing of Diagon Alley, where they weren't even really the targets, had devastated her. She had thinned alarmingly, and for a long time, it had seemed that she would follow them, and Ron's death had only worsened things. But she had pulled through, if only for Charlie and Ginny. Her state had worried Harry a lot.

The Weasleys weren't his family and she wasn't his mother. But they had taken in a kid starved of affection and even simple humane treatment, and Ron and the twins had been his brothers in all ways that mattered. Molly Weasley had been as maternal as she could get away with being, and in the same manner that she was with her own children, in the short durations that he had lived with them.

And while Sirius was his godfather, he was a twenty-one-year-old stuck with his grief in Azkaban which had guards that amplified the grief. He had had a hard time getting accustomed to the teen Harry was, with his agonising resemblance to James, when all he remembered was the bubbly baby that Harry had been. As such, Arthur had taken a slightly paternal role.

Harry supposed he could consider them like an aunt and an uncle but Petunia and Vernon had made those words taboo for him. So, the Weasleys had only given him as much as he could bear to take and taken only that which he could give. If nothing else though, Harry had always been sure that if he ever had kids, he was going to introduce the Weasleys as a set of grandparents. It was unspoken, yet acknowledged, and everyone was comfortable with that.

"And where have you been fighting now, young man?" Molly asked directly and disapprovingly. She had never been particularly happy with Harry's career choices, which continually put him in danger, and often commiserated with Hermione over tea.

"He is on indefinite leave now, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione answered brightly. Harry's had been one of the bodies that the boggart a Grimmauld Place had shown Mrs. Weasley, after all, and it was a common fear for the two women.

"Yeah. I am set aside to work on Masteries and do desk jobs," he explained with a twisted face.

Molly Weasley grinned in relief. "I have wanted that kind of safety for you ever since I have known you."

"Do you two meet up and discuss or something?" Harry asked her and Hermione incredulously. "I don't understand, they are throwing me away and you are happy about it!"

"And do you expect us to be happy about you putting yourself in danger over and over again?" she demanded archly.

"You know that they wanted to send all able-bodied wizards out to fight. I couldn't let them, not when we had just started to stand again."

"And again, why exactly should you be dispensable in place of anyone else?"

While once her disapprobation would be accompanied by a loud volume, since the days when he and Ron had started to hunt Death Eaters down, it had been with few words and the resigned air of someone who cares but knows won't be listened to much.

Harry just grumbled incoherently as she pointed him to the kitchen table, where he placed his basket containing a couple of gifts which he had enchanted for her. It was once a place where several conversations, countless pranks, many sumptuous meals, Ron and him ganging up on Fred and George and bantering, Arthur talking about his latest machine obsession… He hated the silence that now cast a pall over the Burrow, like the coldness around a Dementor. This was home, once. Now, it just wasn't.

"So, tell me what you have been getting up to since Christmas?"

"Well, I got attacked at work, we had a whole bunch of traitors with the Americans, Kingsley got me pulled off, we had a small diplomatic incident, and then I went with Luna and Sirius on a trip to hunt for Snorkacks."

"He did. We had to force him, but we needed to get him off the field and out of that office," Hermione added, a touch frostily. "He was under such severe stress that he was on the verge of a breakdown."

"And he didn't tell anyone," the older woman correctly guessed, with an exasperated sigh. "Did you try to soldier on, young man?"

"I had reasons," Harry grit out.

Molly just gave him a patronising smile. "You find new ways to get into trouble each time I see you," she commented wearily. "At least Luna had the good sense to take you along, the dear girl. Where did you go?"

"The Amazons. We had fun really."

"And did Luna's search finally end?"

"No. But I don't think she is much bothered by that."

"No, I don't think she is either. She likes the travel more than some quest."

Just then the door opened to let in Charlie and Ginny. The only living Weasley brother had given up on his dragons to be more in England for his mother and sister. While still working with magical animals, he had chosen to severely temper the hazardous aspects. Dumbledore's good offices with Newt Scamander and his wife Porpentina meant that he had resources for his research as he transitioned to magi-zoology. Ginny, so far as Harry knew, worked freelance, but contributed to the revamped Prophet and reported regarding crime. He had read a couple of her pieces as an investigative reporter.

Now as he observed them, Charlie was taking over the role of his father. Not the same kind of affability that Arthur exuded, but it was noticeable. Ginny, evidently, was trying to shore up with more responsibilities too. She was harder, sharper in her demeanour since the last battle, and over time, it was only becoming more and more pronounced. It seemed slightly muted, strangely, this time. Once upon a happier time, Ginny would have been pestered and irritated by any number of people at the table for being the littlest and easiest target to playfully take the mickey. But most of those people were gone now, and they had all grown up to be very different people.

"Hey Harry," Charlie called out with a beaming smile which stretched a scar on his face. "You look better, mate. And you, Hermione. You look fine, too?" he added, trailing the last off as a question.

"He's well, Charlie," Mrs. Weasley informed her son. "He's off work now. Doesn't stop his adventures, but at least there's some relief."

"That explains it," Charlie remarked with a smile towards Hermione.

"Stop picking on that," Harry whined before attempting to change the subject. "So, how's your Research Fellowship coming along?"

"Quite wonderfully, actually," Charlie replied cheerfully. "I have been touring the isles daily to catalogue all magical creatures. Turns out there hasn't been a census, ever, and seventeen species are critically endangered. I never really realised how intensive this can be. I am thinking of pursuing a BSc course in Zoology."

"That explains why I haven't seen you at Hogwarts."

"Yeah, I heard from Hagrid that you were visiting. Something about the train and some Animagus?"

"That was for his Mastery, actually. There was some enchantment work which allowed a reduction of coal requirement. I had told Mrs. Weasley about it," Hermione intervened, warding off any unwanted questions regarding the Animagus, which definitely was Bruce. Looking at Harry she knew that he was on the same page, a shared subtle glance marking out the one they were wary of.

"Another Mastery, Harry?" Ginny queried. "Don't you have one in Defence?"

"I do, but I need this one, Enchantment. Encountered one too many objects of that kind that I had to start learning to break enchantments or create them. It is somewhat like the closest analogy to Machines with Embedded Control."


"Muggles write code on to special chips to control interfaced hardware," Harry explained. At the obviously blank faces of two of the Weasleys, which again made Harry feel more than a bit paranoid about the third, he explained with an underwhelming analogy that wouldn't pass muster beyond an absolute layman, "They have things like runestones, except they write instructions which are translated to electronic signals, instead of etching Runes."

"Somewhat like Curse-Breaking then?" Ginny asked, her demeanour changing to vague interest from the look of understanding and recognition she'd had when Harry had mentioned Embedded Systems.

"No. Curse-Breaking and Enchantment don't really have the same scope. Not all enchantments are vicious or obvious." Pointing to the pan that was being washed by Mrs. Weasley's spell, he explained, "Mrs. Weasley has bespelled that pan to wash itself. But she will have to do so each time. I could enchant it to do so once it is put into the kitchen sink. Dicta-Quills, Self-Stirring Cauldrons…that's the smallest denominator of fully enchanted objects. And like with the train, they can be turned to various uses, if we enchant the right objects properly. Curse-Breaking deals mostly with protective schema, traps and such. Enchantment deals with physical objects, mostly. The wireless is enchanted. If it needs repairs, you won't be calling in a Curse-Breaker, but an Enchanter."

"That's nice."

And while Harry was not given to boasting, he kept up with a few stories as he asked Charlie more about his fellowship, and Ginny about the cases she was reporting on, to keep the topic firmly away from the topic of the Animagus. Hagrid, as usual, was a sieve. The last thing he needed was for Ginny to investigate. He trusted Ginny Weasley, his friend. He couldn't trust Ginny Weasley the investigative reporter, as well as the person she seemed to be beyond it.

Soon, it was time.

"Shall we?"

"Of course."

And then Harry turned the Stone in his hand thrice, and the Weasley table was full again.

Just spectres, but then, the souls were as real and as close to the people themselves that Harry could call on. And it was his secret. Many people had died in the war, but it was only with the Weasleys and his parents and Dora that he ever did this. He was too selfish and too cautious to ever share that with anyone else.

It was as pleasant an afternoon as always and if Harry hadn't been attentive enough, he would have missed Ron using their signs from during the War. It took tremendous effort to not show any outward response apart from the counter-sign. The acknowledgement scared him further. The dead never, ever chose to pass something on, and Harry would know, because he'd been doing this for close to ten years. Not his parents, not Dora, not even Ron before then, had sought his attention before.

It was therefore imperative to communicate with Ron in private. This was new. So, when he put up every protective spell, even a few in Parseltongue, and called him back again using the stone, he was a bit unprepared for Ron's rather obvious agitation.

"What in Merlin's bloody name were you doing keeping that thing away git?" Ron demanded without preamble.

"What happened?"

"What happened?" repeated Ron in a strangled voice. "Bloke with less sense than a dead flobberworm gets a bunch of toys and doesn't even realise the price. You ask what happened?"

"Come to the bloody point, why don't you?"

"Come to the bloody point, he says," Ron scoffed. "Right, I'll do that then. Why don't you keep the damn Stone with you?"

"Stop parroting me, you idiot. The three things keep calling out to me, and together they keep showing me the deaths of everyone around me," Harry replied honestly. This was a dead guy so he wasn't telling anyone, and this was also Ron, who, if he was alive, would most likely be going undercover with him and whom he trusted as much as he trusted Sirius.

"Well of course they do. How else will you get to be the Master of Death if you bloody don't learn what the things are trying to tell you?"

"What do you mean?"

"What have you been doing with those things?"

"I have been trying to avoid using them altogether. After they showed me a vision of Teddy dying while using the cloak, I stopped using them altogether."

Ron looked agitated on a scale between screaming out his frustration and tearing his hair out, at that.

"Harry, you obviously have done something right, even though you don't know how. I have been trying to reach out to you, and I definitely did manage it once, I think I told you about Willy."


"Wilhelm Steinitz? I told you I play with him."

"Right. Willy."

"You really haven't thought of it, have you? What, did you outsource your thinking to Hermione again?" Ron demanded a bit scathingly, which was a bit too rich coming from him, never mind him using words like "outsource". Shaking his head condescendingly, the dead man explained in a tone that one would use to pacify a toddler, "Harry, only someone who has the stone can call a soul. I was able to contact you, without you calling me."

Harry's face took an absolutely astounded expression. He really hadn't thought of those things at all. Fear makes people stupid. And he had been afraid of those damn things.

"Now he realises it," Ron mocked. "It's good thing that physical spaces mean nothing to me now. I woke up in sock drawer."

"Why were you trying to contact me anyway?" Harry asked, trying to cut off Ron's mocking. He could go on and on.

"Because you are trying to be the Master of Death, that's why. You ought to know if there's something terribly wrong. And you might be an idiot, but I am not."

"What do you mean "trying" to be the Master of Death? I thought I already was. The story doesn't say…"

"Right, you didn't know. There are no records, because they purposefully didn't make any. I met the Peverells."

Now they were getting somewhere. "And?"

"You know that you weren't supposed to combine those things, right?"

"Yeah. Only, I found that out long after I did that."

"That's rough buddy," Ron sympathised. He looked sheepish. "I-gave-him-a-bollocking." He blurted out in a rush.


"That Antioch guy, absolutely genius, and shockingly stupid. He did…he did…" Ron started, then trailed off with a look of utter confusion. "Oh right, I am unable to speak about it," he murmured.

"Even to me?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Master of Death?"

Ron shook his head. "Is your Animagus form a goldfish or something? You aren't the Master of Death. Not yet anyway. But you are the furthest anyone has gotten to being that. In fact, that is why I can't tell you anything about the things themselves yet. Nobody who isn't the Master of Death can be told all that is to be told about the afterlife, or about the secrets of the dead, apparently. And the Master of Death doesn't need to be told." He then grinned. Knowing Ron, Harry was very sure that the git had a plan to work around that. Dead idiot. Had to bloody get killed.

"What can you tell me then?"

"Well, after Antioch did what he had to, he then declared it to the world. The Stone, the Wand and the Cloak."

Harry could hear the capitals, and he understood what Ron was getting at. "He started the quest."

"It wasn't meant to be. This, this isn't some stupid quest to build the largest empire or whatever, which was what it ended up being, before the witch hunts started. Everyone wanted the strongest wizard in their army. And all of it because Antioch was an effing lightweight."

Harry groaned. This, this was exactly why he hated alcohol. Vernon got too much into his cups, Harry bore the brunt. Hagrid got into his cups; Voldemort nearly got the Philosopher's Stone. Antioch drank too much, perhaps two millennia ago, and Harry was still the one getting shafted. Whenever anyone drank, Harry got…well, it's probably been elaborated enough.

"'S why I gave him a bollocking. Bugger died the same night, if you'd believe that. Someone was trying to kill Cadmus, the poor bastard, for the Stone, and ended up killing his wife – not wife-to-be – in the process. He tried to call her back and poured himself into the stone."

"What do you mean poured himself into the stone?"

"I know and you know where you heard it. Just like Gin and the diary."

"Is this thing still a Horcrux?"

"No! Bloody hell, you idiot! Am I a horcrux?"

"You mentioned what Riddle said and he had it!" Harry defended.

"Yeah, get over him now! He is small fish, mate. This is on a Universal scale. He couldn't even conquer the whole Diagon Alley." Harry said nothing. Compared to what Ron was talking about, Riddle was rather lacking and incompetent as an adversary. Ron's shade eyed Harry strangely. "You really don't get it, do you? Cadmus lost his happiness, his sense, his will to live, everything, to this stone, before he committed suicide, and lost his soul too! That woman's shade took it all away."

Harry was hearing Ron's tirade, but hadn't really been listening till that moment.


Ron didn't – or was it couldn't? – speak, but his expression was confirmation enough.

Both were quiet for a moment, the silence cold and clammy as the sick nature of just what he had learnt, of the understanding, pervaded them. "Ron, what happens to the souls that are called by the stone and not sent back? Why does it hurt them?" Harry was pretty sure exactly what he had stumbled upon, but he wanted confirmation from a trusted source. And there was no source more trustworthy. Ron had very purposely said things the way he did to get around to telling Harry as much as he could.

"Don't make me even try to say it, Harry," Ron pled, terrified. "Just, just understand that you now know even more about the way to become the Master of Death."

This wasn't like Ron. True he had lost much of his humour, but Ron was not given to hiding things, which was why he had told Harry when he couldn't say something. But terror? Not even Aragog had elicited this reaction from Ron, and for the life of him Harry couldn't understand what it was that terrified a dead man. He asked as much.

"I can't!" Ron retorted. "Just know this – Dumbledore was right. There are things worse than dying."

With a negligent wave of his wand, Harry conjured a small stool to sit on. He was, to put it bluntly, in trouble. Terrible trouble. And it all hinged on a choice – it always would. Ron's roundabout description had only told him what the choice truly entailed. Both were silent for a while as Ron got the shudders out of his…system, while Harry pondered over what his best mate said.

"And Ignotus? What happened to him?"

Ron relaxed a bit as he answered, "Ignotus was worse and better at the same time, he started hiding, and hiding, and eventually everyone believed that he had died or vanished, and in the end, he died ignored, unseen, craving for what he called a sweet release from some disease and pain. And he saw things where there were none. You'd get the scope of the tragedy: Mad-Eye called Ignotus paranoid. He wouldn't let go of the cloak. It was the most surprising. He didn't pass on the cloak as we were told. His son found it and had to take it off his body before the funeral."

"So about him greeting Death like an old friend…"

"Was the relief that the people who mangled the story think Ignotus felt upon finally dying, and finding someone who remembered him," Ron completed.

"Brothers Grimm," Harry murmured, recalling that most muggle fairy tales had very horrible alternate versions.

"No, Peverells," Ron corrected, a bit bewildered.

"Never mind that. So, what, each of them had a piece of death's power, and that power was their undoing?"

"Yes. You know what's odd? They were doing something really big. Yet none of them thought to leave behind an Order like another bloke who was kind of helping them. He had a kind of power…" Ron choked and trailed off, unable to speak more.

Harry perked up at that, even though how choking worked with a dead guy was something he definitely wanted to know nothing about.

"An Order?"

"Not like the Order of Phoenix. No. Something like a monastery to protect the world or something like that."

"And it is still active?"

"I don't know, Harry. That guy isn't dead. At least not dead enough to be where I am, and even Riddle is there. Well, in parts, but all of him is here."

"Maybe he had Horcruxes but was still sane?" Harry wondered aloud, then realised it was a scary description of a possibly truly competent villain compared to Voldemort.

"He wasn't magical. At least not magical the way we know it. And the Peverells called him the Wise Watcher. Whatever he was, or is, I didn't get a Dark Lordy feeling from the description. I could be wrong, but we could be going after the wrong guy here. I said he was helping them, didn't I?"

"Yeah, you did. Magical, but not how we are. Dead, but not like you. What was he?"

Ron shrugged helplessly.

That was another avenue that was down. At least there were plenty of other questions. "So, what did you mean when you say I am trying to be the Master of Death? Because, you know, I wasn't actively trying to use those things. I was trying to avoid those things altogether, if I could."

"And when exactly do things go as you plan for them to?" Harry had to concede that. "As for trying, did you meddle in anyone's death?"

"Ron, both of us have brought death to so many, I think we are well past saying we meddled."

Ron waved his hand dismissively. "Not that way. Actively stopped someone from dying, or delaying someone's death, or…"

"Does stopping a bloke's soul from passing over until he answered my questions count?" Harry asked with resignation and trepidation.

"Bloody hell! Why would you do that?"

"Terrorist. He was to be interrogated, got killed in the crossfire."

"Huh. I would have expected you to have saved someone's life, actually."

"Riddle cured me of extreme nobility, and I don't whip these things out in polite company."

"Well thank him then. Anyway, you are past level two. And with the dying and coming back thing you did, that was probably another level for all I know. Seems like the computer game that that cousin of Hermione's, what's-his-face, that, yeah, Benjy kid showed us, when I put it like that." Ron smiled a mocking, sardonic smile, "How in the name of Merlin and the Spirits do you get into these stupid scraps?"

Harry just scowled at him, though he was thankful that Ron was no longer terrified. He was also willing to bet that he knew at least two of the other "levels". Changing the subject very obviously, he demanded, "Now what?"

"Bugger me if I know." Both let the customary retort pass. That wasn't the time. Just to add something, though, Ron added. "I would think you have got some responsibility to stop those avoiding death, or practising Necromancy, or whatever."

"Very specific, that. You are firing spells blind, aren't you?"

"Not many ways the title Master of Death can be used without sounding villainous, are there? If you became villainous and immortal or something, it would be like calling some villain who has got cold powers Mr. Freeze. Maybe you've got to make Death some kind of awkward pet? You always get the big stuff," Ron declared with grumpy moodiness. "Me? I would have been the Master of insane owls, what with Errol and Pigwidgeon. You even got Hedwig. Still a pompous bird, that one. Never seen pigs afraid of a bird before like they were of her."

"That's my girl," Harry replied in fond reminiscence of his bird, who had lived a full thirteen years with him, to add to the thirteen she had been in the shop. Not especially long, but well and pompously. "So, you told me that I am not Master of Death yet, told me about the Peverells, a possible not-alive-but-not-dead, magical-but-not-magical not-Dark Lord, and scolded me for not keeping the Things with me. You never told me why you were trying to reach me and how this isn't painful for you yet, or you know..." he ended lamely.

"We did get side-tracked, didn't we?" agreed Ron in a musing tone. "It's not hurting me, because I am here because we both agree that we need to speak. If you pulled an unwilling soul, it would be in pain. Once here in the, you know, afterlife, nobody really wants to return, because we have no living body and we are acutely aware of that. I don't either, but this is important. Souls need bodies. And you aren't trying to bring me back from the dead. At least that's what I understood of the rules. Too many to read, didn't really bother."

"There's a rulebook?"

"Can't tell," Ron replied unrepentantly.

"You wouldn't read it even if there was one," Harry scoffed.

"The real thing," Ron hurriedly started, before Harry could continue, "I wanted to tell you about might work in with your Master of Death stuff. Something's wrong, Harry. Something is really wrong. A bit ago, and I can't tell you how long here because I have no understanding of time now, an entire planet was murdered."

"Come again?"

"An entire planet was destroyed. It was thought out of existence."

"Ron, that's not making any sense."

"It doesn't to me, and I have talked to a few of those orange alien things, mate."

"How does anyone think a planet out of existence?" Harry wondered, ignoring the fact that the aliens had to be especially orange for Ron to distinguish their skin colour from the ambience.

"I don't know. The orange lady I spoke to said that it was a normal day for them, then there was a sudden attack on their planet, and then went off to search for her baby."

"So, to summarise, you can tell me about weird deaths. You can tell me in very general terms what I should do and shouldn't. But you can't tell me anything about the Hallows, you can't tell me how a thought destroys a whole planet. And there seems no real connection here."

"Yeah. That's about it. As for the connection, even if there was, I don't know it automatically."

"There's nobody to ask about this, is there?"

"Even if there was anyone on my side, there are so many kinds of people, creatures and everything else, I wouldn't know whom or how or what to ask," Ron explained with a shrug, very unhappily. He didn't like being caught in that quandary any more than Harry.

"One thing; I decide one thing and then everything goes tits-up so that I have to scrap plans."

"Yeah, you have hairy luck."

Harry gave him a two-fingered salute.

"We had planned to stage my death in a muggle car accident so that the Hallows passed on to nobody."


"So, I can't do that now, can I?"

"Why? That seems better now when you've got to go underground, isn't it?"

"I planned to leave the Things under the Fidelius."

"That's stupid. How would you be the Master of Death if you don't learn?"

"Learn what?"

"Whatever it is that will make you the Master of Death, of course!"

"But why would I want to do that? Those things aren't to be united, remember? Do we know what would happen if I actually tried?"

"Yes, but you have already started and gone further than anyone else. Do you know what would happen if you stop? You sure they won't become sentient and have a true Master, whatever that may mean? Perhaps create problems and enemies you don't have?"

"Enough with the pessimism already! Merlin's balls you sound like Moony and Hermione put together!"

"Yeah well, they aren't dead. I am. Someone has to keep an eye on things this side to make sure that you don't mess up."

And while it seemed awkward to speak, that bunch of Americans had used a term for mitigation – "no homo!" – which was awkwardly appropriate here. Harry loved the Weasley brothers as his own brothers, Ron being his favourite, obviously. And for Merlin's sake, he did miss them all dearly.

"Which is why I keep an eye on the family this side," he retorted instead.

"Sure," agreed Ron condescendingly.

Harry didn't spend much time on the realisation that Ron was simultaneously stating that the Hallows weren't to be united, and was also egging him on to be the Master of Death.

What did stay with him was an overwhelming need to have someone who had resources and knew stuff to help him. Unfortunately, the one person who fulfilled those criteria was one Harry couldn't readily trust. By the time the field work came along, Harry wouldn't have garnered enough experience as a spy. But then, if most minds were open books, experience could be handled, couldn't it?

21st July, 2007

"Hi Nev," a voice softly called out to the man tending a plant in a greenhouse. It was one that Professor Neville Longbottom, the Herbology teacher at Hogwarts, and former war hero, remembered very well.


"It's been a long while," Harry replied, as he moved to shake his friend's hand and was grappled into a one-armed hug instead.

"It has really been," Neville agreed. "Six years, Harry. Six years since we last met!"

Harry nodded as he straightened his new rectangular glasses. "That they have been."

"So, how did you manage to get lost in these parts?"

"Sarcasm, Nev, that's new," Harry retorted.

"Doesn't change the fact that you decided to cut yourself off from us all," Neville pointed out.

"I didn't cut…"

"You couldn't even make time when you turned up recently for those flying experiments."

Harry backed down, unable to disagree. He offered an excuse instead. "You have lessons with Snape again when you think you are shot of him, then tell me if you don't get pissed off."

It was a sufficient distraction for the man who once had the former Potions Master as his Boggart. "You were learning from Snape?" he asked with a mixture of incredulity and revulsion. "Willingly?"

"The other option was Riddle. No portraits of his, so far as I know."

Neville made a brave attempt to not shudder at the thought and changed the subject not-too-adroitly, back to the one he had started, as they started up the stone path back to the castle. "Yeah, but that's now. What about before?"

"I could offer a very good reason, not an excuse, but not even Hermione's happy about it, and…"

"She puts up with most things you get into, no questions asked."

"I wouldn't say "no" questions."

"Few questions," Neville amended.


"Tell you what, we should get the old gang together. We have not had reason to really meet, you know, the old DA, apart from the marriages everyone got out of their way. I think that it's time we do."

"Seems nice," agreed Harry. "Perhaps you should call them all. I doubt they'd recognise me."

"They'd, but they aren't happy with you."

"I understand."

Having heard Harry speak passionately, angrily, having heard and seen him joke, swear, condole, sympathise and everything else during the war, Neville found this reticence slightly odd. He couldn't help but delve.

"Why? What was the good reason?"


"That's flimsy and you know it. We were not in the war actively. I know that. Even after the airport incident."

"We were to be," Harry answered.

It took a moment, but then Neville made the connection. "You offered them a deal." Harry said nothing. "They wanted every able-bodied wizard, didn't they? You went there instead?"

"Not all the time. I wasn't involved in the war directly, or even indirectly even. A consensus that magic shouldn't be used in the war was reached."

One effect of having Daphne Greengrass for his wife was the recognition of what the passive voice of the sentence actually meant. Neville didn't press further.

"So, what is it with you re-joining Hogwarts?"

Harry gave him a grateful smile, as he answered, "I am out of work for the foreseeable future, Nev. Can't sit idle. I have been working with all the Professors." Neville heard the unsaid, "for when I get called back in" but didn't comment. "Actually, I am working with Professor McGonagall on the Animagus transformation."

"That's why she wanted the Mandrake Leaves!"

"Yeah. And no offence Nev, but it tastes worse than anything Pomphrey ever gave me."

"I know. You're joining the party very late, Harry. Been there, done that."

"You did it?"

"Yeah. Three years ago."

"What are you, if you don't mind me asking that is?"

"I don't. I am a Scandinavian Red bull."

Harry took in the steadfast, ruminating and introspective, but dangerous when angered Neville who was as hard-working as any Hufflepuff. "Suits you."

"That's what Daph said," Neville remarked.

"Ah, Daphne. Is she still all snarky?"

"Not as much, but expect her to have saved it all up for you."

"She wouldn't be Daphne otherwise." Presently, they came up to where Bruce was staring at the castle open-mouthed and Luna was trying her level-best to not laugh. "Neville, this is Dr. Bruce…"

"The Hulk?" Neville gasped.

Bruce shrunk in on himself a bit.

"You know?"

"We were in Harlem that day."

"I am sorry…"

"No. We were there when the Abomination murdered those soldiers with the taxi. A very inopportune time to visit New York, but there we are." It was good enough for Bruce to know that while Neville might probably fear the Hulk, he didn't blame Bruce.

"He is the one we need McGonagall's help for," Harry explained.

"You are magical?"

"I don't know, but Harry thinks the Hulk might be a poorly controlled Animagus form."

"We are here so that Bruce can become Mr. Green without him being angry," Luna explained.

Neville nodded sagely. Trust Luna to give the Hulk a polite name. "Are you going to the Headmistress' office?"

"No. Hermione's fetching her and Hagrid. Care to join us?"


"Are the lot of you insane?" Bruce asked in exasperation. "I can destroy everything! Don't you fear for your lives?"

"Calm down, Dr. Banner, really. We've seen stuff bad enough. One angry troll? Not so much," Neville replied. Harry didn't comment about the fact that the Hulk was definitely cleverer than one angry troll, making him more dangerous than a herd of them with Voldemort there to persuade them to do his bidding.

Yet, once he saw Hagrid and Grawp in the flesh Bruce understood why that was.

Ten minutes later the group which had swelled considerably waited patiently as Bruce brought the Hulk out. It was not as easy now. His anger and fear had abated in the absence of cause for quite some time. Hagrid and Grawp stood by, the giant lumbering disinterestedly after his initial joy at seeing "Hermy".

The moment Bruce transformed though, Grawp let out a roar of surprise. Bruce answered with a grunt, and for a moment, it seemed that a repeat of the Hulk vs Abomination duel was on the cards when Grawp reached out to experimentally poke the Hulk in the shoulder. All the wand-wielders stood ready to control the Hulk by any means possible, even as Hagrid tensed up. Hulk let out a warning growl, but Grawp poked him nevertheless. Hulk roared; his hair-trigger temper ignited. What he hadn't counted on was the fact that Grawp was only thirty-odd human years. In other words, Grawp the giant was a child. A child that had just grown to recognise that it was causing destruction by treating huge pine trees as toys.

And like any curious child that simply doesn't know when it is better to be afraid, Grawp poked him again and did the one thing nobody had probably bothered to do when faced with the Hulk.

"Me Grawp," the giant said, poking himself, in introduction. "Who?"

This befuddled the Hulk. The only other creature his size or larger was the Abomination and they hadn't had the best introduction. So, he didn't answer immediately. Obviously Grawp got impatient, and decided that he needed to do that again. He poked himself again, and declared, "Me Grawp." Then he patted Hagrid, and it had to have some force, since the gentle half-giant's knees buckled. "Hagger." Then he poked the Hulk again. "Who?"

If anyone had seen the scene, nobody would ever associate the Hulk, wearing that gormless expression that Crabbe and Goyle would have been proud of, and the genius that was Bruce Banner. Finally, with what seemed to be stupendous effort, the Hulk replied, "Hulk." Then as an afterthought, he added, "Hulk, strongest there is."

Now that he had received an answer, Grawp proceeded to introduce everyone else. The Hulk sat down like a child himself, as Grawp pointed out Hermy, Mago (McGonagall), Harry (a simple name that even Grawp couldn't mangle), and Nev. Then he realised there was one more person, whom he didn't quite recognise. When he pointed at Luna with his club, most innocently, and everyone ducked as the gigantic former tree-trunk swished over their heads, he struggled to remember her name. Luna met him often, when she sought Hagrid's expertise regarding various creatures, but she confused humans enough, never mind a child-giant.

"She Luna," the Hulk interrupted and introduced her instead. It was surprising to everyone else that the Hulk recognised her. She and Banner had become great friends, and her open, guileless acceptance of both him and the Hulk meant that he valued her a lot. It had transferred to the Hulk too. You just needed to meet her once to know.

"Loona," Grawp agreed.

"Hi Grawp, hi Mr. Green," Luna brightly chirped.

It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Then Hagrid introduced himself and talked to the Hulk in mostly monosyllabic words, as he got to play a parental role to a creature so many years after Norberta, and the Hulk responded as well. Then he declared that McGonagall was a cat and he sat entranced when she transformed into one, petting her very carefully, declared that Hermy and Luna were his friends and said hello to Neville and Harry ("little wizards") as well.

As planned, thereafter, Grawp and Hulk sat smashing huge conjured rocks to smithereens, ran and played in the open lands near the mountains, and simply behaved like two kids playing, albeit with some significant land tremors. It was the first time in the Hulk's entire existence that he was not in danger that he recognised (Harry's splinching notwithstanding) and he had fun. And eventually he did get tired.

"Come on now Grawp, there's a good boy," Hagrid eventually cajoled as the sun started to set.

"Grawp stay," the Hulk demanded, though.

It was there that Hagrid's test truly came. After a truly stellar day, they didn't want him going berserk now.

"You can play again, Hulk," he explained in his most caring voice. "Grawp lives here."

"This Grawp home?"


"Grawp Hulk's friend. Hagger Hulk's friend. Luna Hulk's friend. Hulk stay."

"Alright. But you have to let Banner out too."

"Banner no. Only Hulk."

"Hulk is Banner."

"No." That sounded petulant, a tantrum. "Banner weak."

"But Banner has to work," Minerva stepped in, having had a scary and then a most amusing morning. "You can always take turns. You must play, but Banner must work also."


"But I am Banner's friend too," Luna complained. "Hulk is Banner. Banner is Hulk. Same."

With the truly forlorn expression on Hulk's face at that, nobody, not even Thaddeus Ross would have believed that he was a being capable of untold destruction.

"You no Hulk friend?"

"I Hulk friend and Banner friend," she answered, completely eschewing proper sentence construction in favour of getting her point across.

"Everyone want Banner. Banner clever. Hulk not stupid. Hulk strongest."

"We want you too Hulk," Hagrid assured. "Nobody thinks you are stupid. But we like to meet Hulk, we like to meet Banner also."

Hulk just huffed. "I come play?"


The Hulk then sat down with an angry grunt and slowly, progressively, turned into Banner. For the first time that Bruce remembered, he didn't feel out of breath or afraid. For the first time that he could remember, Bruce was very much at peace.

It was Grawp's turn to be puzzled as he once again swung his club. "Who you?"

"Hello Grawp, I am Bruce Banner."

"Broos," Grawp agreed with a nod.

Eventually, Hagrid led his little brother to his home in the forest as the sun set in the Scottish Highlands.

With a look of utmost wonder, Bruce asked, "Did that really happen?"

"You better believe it, Dr. Banner, or I do believe that both Grawp and the Hulk would be most wroth," Minerva said with a superior sniff, one that Hermione often copied.

"This is magical!" Bruce exclaimed. He joined the others' laughter a moment later as he realised what he had said.

Over the next month, they arranged play-dates for Grawp and the Hulk often enough that both learnt to listen to Hagrid or Luna. Hulk became more reasonable and no longer craved mindless destruction, and Grawp was always happy to have a friend. Bruce himself no longer felt as if he would boil over with rage at any given moment, and it translated into his demeanour.

Of the most obvious changes, his visibly growing trust in Harry, and friendship with him, as well as the bantering duo, Sirius and Remus, were foremost. Being almost exactly midway between the ages of the three (a decade younger than Sirius and a decade older than Harry), he managed to connect with both. Visits to Hagrid, or the Hog's Head or the Leaky Cauldron were commonplace, as were visits to muggle London, with even his language being affected as he started to adopt the accent and colloquialisms unconsciously. Both the Hulk and Banner seemed to be in much better mood, especially in Luna's presence, which calmed the latent former, consequently calming the human.

It was in that way that he even met Daphne, and was the one to suggest popcorn when she laid into Harry for his unilateral decisions taken to protect them.

The change in Bruce's outlook was such, that Harry's own successful transformation passed very much under the radar.

Under Sirius' guidance regarding what worked fast and what didn't, Harry had managed it very quickly. And his form was by far among the most useful ones he could imagine in his line of business. Thankfully, it was only a heavily clichéd form, a raven. He flew, adapted, was clever enough and otherwise entirely as unremarkable as any of the largest corvids that populated the Earth. Oh, and his caw was very irritating.

It encapsulated one more of Harry's traits – survival. Though if that was enough, he would have been a cockroach, and he would have been the butt of jokes of every imaginable kind and then a few more, before Sirius would undoubtedly train him with insecticides to build resistance. Just because he wasn't Corvus didn't mean that Sirius didn't share the familial insanity.

Both Bruce, and his own Animagus transformation, were great successes for Harry, and Corvus seemed to agree, for she allowed him far greater leeway, and let up on her coercive training regime. Of course, being utterly insane as she was, and also greedy, she wanted him to explore the probability of being another animal. It was at that point that Harry decided that he was going to just act as if he was listening to that, and then ignore it altogether. Whatever she had in mind to make him; he was not that. He had a bloody proper spine.

On the other hand, she also agreed to let Harry handle Banner his way. It was clearly working, and it not only was one less headache for her, but it also was the sure way to bring to fruition a part of the motivation that both Harry (when he chose to ask) and Corvus (when she gave the permission to bring Banner to British shores) had – making him an asset.

And Harry had plans for Bruce, really. He let him relax and treated him with nothing more than friendship. The more that they could get Banner to relax, the more receptive he would be to Harry's eventual plan for him – not to the man's detriment, but one that he would have a hard time convincing Bruce to agree with.

In the interim, though, life was rosier for Bruce than it had ever been.

He had stopped running from it, and started living it.

20th March, 2008

Bruce Banner stood nervously by the door of the protective room where he was going to see his friend transform for the first time, over a year after he had stepped foot on British soil. Back when he had first encountered this bunch, not even parts of the sentence had any chance of being close to reality. He had only seen Remus before and after the transformation for over eight months now. The weakness, the bouts of flu-like symptoms, and such had been documented. But the difference was in the way both Sirius and Harry would be there for him, as nobody had been when Bruce himself had transformed.

The story of the Marauders made Bruce feel very envious of Remus, and the envy then gave way to sympathy, for he had then lost that accepting company. And Harry's transformation into a raven didn't exactly lend itself to accompanying a werewolf – for all that there were cones and rods in birds' eyes, ravens aren't exactly adapted to an adventurous nightlife. And werewolves, by definition transformed at night. Under the bright moon, yes, but at night all the same. The best alternative suggested was Remus' own idea – space expansion charms and a transfigured forest in his cellar, along with several high intensity lights. There was an additional reinforced transparent barrier for Bruce to observe safely as well.

A sudden yell broke the man out of his reverie. It was time. He downed the vial of a stronger version of the Calming Draught that was a precautionary measure should the Hulk react poorly. Entering the room, he secured the barrier as he had been made to practice over and over and over again till he had nearly snapped. It was the first time he had seen the three acting in concert and also angry at him. Remus had very irritably reminded that the similarities of their transformation were only superficial – he couldn't bite anyone and make them Hulks, and in any case, was anyone really capable of handling a werewolf-Hulk? Having had no answer to that horrifying idea, Bruce hadn't protested further.

Sirius joined him soon – no longer able to transform, he was unable to help his best friend. Up on a tree sat Harry, watching out carefully for Remus.

"I thought you were going to position him close to this side so I could document?"

"He is coming," Sirius tersely answered. "It's a bit of a bad day for him today, relatively. He snapped at Teddy."

"Is Teddy…?"

"Teddy's fine. As soon as he started to understand, we told him about the Lycanthropy." At Bruce's sceptical expression (Remus, Sirius and Harry were extremely protective of the child, but differed in that the older two men tried to shield Teddy from everything while Harry was more willing to give Teddy reasons), Sirius amended, "Well Harry told him. Remus was convinced Teddy would think he was a monster, but Harry managed it carefully enough that the kid decided that he had to care for his ailing father, understood that not all werewolves were good just as not all are bad, and that he should not look at them all with the same sympathy, anger and pain he would obviously feel for Remus, and also wanted to be a Healer so he could find a cure. Oh, and Susan Bones and Neville Longbottom are Teddy's heroes for killing the real monster that bit Remus."

"That's fair."

Sirius nodded and glanced at his watch. "Remus should be here. It's nearly moon – oh, there he is."

It took all he was for Bruce to not feel utter revulsion – first at the sight of what had happened to Remus and not Remus himself, and then at himself for feeling revolted. He had to remind himself that he was looking at a person who was his friend. Even while human, Remus ached, itched and burned with agony so much before a transformation, that he used to scratch himself or even, giving in to his primal instincts, bite himself. A stronger dose of the Wolfsbane would alleviate those symptoms somewhat, but the Aconite itself being poisonous made it a bad option.

As it was, Bruce would need comparative data without the dose, with the dose and with the stronger dose, so Remus had gone without in March when Harry was capable enough with his transformation, the other two cases being already handled, with several subjects. Severe slashes where his own nails, half-grown, had scratched his skin, the hirsute appearance even as human, and the blood around his mouth – indications of him biting himself bloody – made Remus look truly terrible. It was a testament to the man's ability and will that he had controlled his reactions that night in Harry's third year as long as he had.

"This is useless," Sirius muttered unhappily. Full moon nights came and full moon nights went, and every single time Sirius regretted being unable to help Remus. At least tonight he had Harry. Speaking of which, "That is not normal behaviour for corvids, is it?"

"Ravens play, Sirius. Ravens are among the cleverest, most mischievous, playful and inventive creatures. They are right up there with humans, cetaceans, elephantids and primates. A raven is just as likely to hang by its feet as it is to fly for fun."

"Right," muttered Sirius, as Harry released himself from the tree in what seemed like a freefall, then righting himself, before flying upside down and then twisting around to then finally alight next to the transforming Remus and give a very loud, irritating caw.

"And they play all sorts of games, the recorded ones often being games of tag with wolves, dogs and otters," Bruce exasperatedly added as he adjusted the recorder. Harry was prodding Remus to roll over or stand so that they could get a shot from every angle, particularly the spine and the limbs.

Sirius blinked, and then blinked again. "Really? That's a bit too on the nose with Moony, me and Her – BLOODY HELL!" he cried out. Remus had swatted at the raven irritating him so much, but it had flown and was now cawing in what seemed suspiciously a mocking manner.

It took five very painful minutes for the complete transformation, at the end of which Moony lay on his side, panting. Moony stayed down for quite a bit, though, and so Harry landed next to him and cawed again in a worried tone, hopping around Moony's head and pecking with the topside of the beak, before Moony grunted. Harry flew to a low branch as he sat watching Moony get up.

Snarling and growling, the werewolf sniffed about. There was a familiar scent there. Another caw drew its attention away. Irritating bird. He stalked it as it flew to the ground, but then before he could reach it, it flew again and this time landed right in front of him, before strutting towards him. It was challenging him! Angered, Moony pounced, but the bird flew just a little out of the way and the huge werewolf overshot it. Taking the chance, the raven pulled its tufted tail. With a terrifying howl, Moony tore after it, only for the bird to fly again out of sight.

"Are all you magicals adrenaline junkies or is it just this one?"

"I had to submit to Moony, but Harry, being James' son, won't. He was a twelve-point stag, and larger than Moony at the point when we first started to join him. He just warded Moony off with his antlers. Harry will try to tire Moony out."

That was as accurate a description as possible, because Harry was flying just out of range and just long enough for Moony's irritation and interest to wane before gleefully flying back in to tease the werewolf. After over two hours of this game, Moony seemed to decide that the bird didn't warrant any attention. So, Harry simply flew in close to the wolf's head as it lay down for a bit, and pretended to catch its snout. Moony bared his teeth, but did nothing more. It didn't deter Harry at all as he teased Moony again, before without warning he perched on Moony's snout.

"Are you bloody out of your mind?" hollered Sirius through the barrier as the surprised werewolf tried to ward off the bird with swipes at its own head. "You idiot, stop behaving like an actual raven for a bit!"

But Harry the raven, pranced up the wolf's head and bent to look at Moony in the eye. Gnashing his humongous teeth, Moony snorted, and then stopped in surprise. The bird smelt familiar! Sitting on his haunches, Moony tried to puzzle out this strange phenomenon. For so long the bird was irritating him and challenging him, but it was familiar. So, he sniffed again cautiously.

Cub! Bird?

Bird smelt like cub?

The black bird seemed to tumble over suddenly, then really did grab Moony's nose, before flying off with cawing laughter. And the game resumed. Only this time Moony sniffed the bird and realised that it was cub. But cub was bird.

And that dissonance was what made the wolf lose control, ever so slightly, and that was enough for Remus to gain a foothold.

"Cub! Bird!" thought Moony. "Cub! Harry!" Remus supplied in response. The human within the wolf brought up memories of Harry as an infant, which the wolf associated with 'cub', of Harry through various phases of life, of Sirius and Padfoot, and James and Prongs. That saddened Moony, because Padfoot and Prongs were gone. Before the lupine mind could go down that rabbit trail, though, Harry grabbed his nose again.

"Cub play!"

"Cub play!" agreed Remus.

Joyfully, Moony bounded after the bird, trying to catch it, with Harry, now that he had been recognised, reciprocating and having even more fun. On a certain level, Harry could understand why the Marauders got carried away with that. Once they were out in the open, it was really wonderful to let out the animal side a bit. And he had had enough escapades in school to know that breaking the rules every once in a while, was fun too.

After some time, perhaps an hour-and-a-half or so, Moony settled down. Sirius threw a very large, raw slab of meat for Moony to chew on, bone and all. The raven pecked at it experimentally, then crowed a disgusted caw and flew to the top branch of a nearby tree, swiping at the branch with his beak as if to wipe off the taste of raw meat.

"Yeah, that's how anyone will know that that's not a real bird. Ravens eat absolutely anything," Bruce murmured, not registering the slightly alert look on his companion's face.

Before a word more could be spoken though things took a sudden turn.

Harry transformed.

"What the fungus?" swore Bruce, even as Sirius shouted at Harry to "fucking turn back into the ruddy damn bird!"

Moony, on the other hand, reverted to his feral nature and rushed up to the tree that Harry was on, making spirited attempts to climb it, which he was unable to do and which led to him getting further frustrated. Harry, it seemed, was being somewhat suicidal. He alighted from his perch and floated down to the ground.

"GET THE BLOODY FUCKING HELL OUT OF THERE HARRY!" Sirius yelled at his godson, scared witless at this sudden madness that had taken him over. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR DAMN MIND?"

Bruce himself was too shocked to react as he watched the werewolf run in to attack Harry. As it was, with full understanding of all the extenuating circumstances, and the calming draught, he wasn't even able to turn and bring Harry out by force.

Just as the werewolf closed in on Harry, though, he flew. And not just haphazardly, but properly, and then proceeded to perform the same tricks he had while he was the raven. Only this time, he was leaving things just that little bit late. Remus had challenged Harry to control Harry, through a barrier yes, but without the potion and with only his Legillimency. But if there was one thing that Harry knew about himself, it was that he performed much better when the stakes were raised, and he had therefore raised the stakes himself. There was also hubris there, but he chose not to think about that.

Now that he was playing this very dangerous game, Harry was grateful for the way Corvus had made him train with the flying thing. Moving, fast and just that bit late, and keeping eye-contact with the werewolf, he got down to it.

"Come on Moony, Moony, Moony!" he started to taunt only to realise the foolishness of the endeavour. "Bloody fu..!" He needn't have bothered with the excess taunts really. He was human, so Moony was never going to be able to control himself. Not without even a dose of the potion, in any case. So, when Moony's nails tore off one of his trousers' legs, he thanked whatever higher power it was that reminded him to wear dragon-skin.

With nothing else to try, except what he already was, Harry invaded Moony's mind. There always had been rumours of the wolf protecting the mind and therefore legillimency not working. It was a terrible idea to put into work in situ, as it were, but Harry had to take his chances. Or accept defeat and change back to raven, but then that would have been the saner thing to do.

Within Moony's mind was an experience that was unlike any Harry had ever had, and he could tell why the rumours existed. It was like quicksand. He probably should have started off with another animal really, or an Animagus, because unlike conventional legillimency which played something like a film of the thumbnails of memories, not unlike the list of recently accessed videos on YouTube which the mind-invader would then choose to view, or not, with the werewolf there was no telling one memory apart from another.

For any animal, humans included, the reference of how memories are processed is deeply entangled with the senses and associated emotions. But while the senses are heightened for an animal, they are relatively muted for a human, with thoughts, beliefs and associated emotional responses carrying significance. Animal emotions being far more primal in nature, it was difficult to bring up the response that the raven elicited from Moony. Protectiveness, play, cub… all random ideas, which Remus was able to associate with equivalent animal thought after a lifetime of living with the wolf, were often meaningless noises to Moony when the wolf was dominant and Remus was held hostage.

It was therefore necessary to call up the one emotion that every form of life has, and which ensures the survival of the species – no; not lust. Fear. Which, considering that Harry was the one regretting his life choices since transforming back to human, and was even more scared than when facing Voldemort, was going to be that teensy little bit too difficult.

"Now I know what that adage means. Fools rush where the wise fear to tread… Congrats Harry. You know now how foolish you are," he muttered as he leaped out of Moony's range again.

Again, and again he tried, and again and again he failed to eke out a thought out of Moony's mind. He could have easily transformed and waited on a branch, but then stubborn pride and fear are very strange bedfellows. It was only fifteen or so minutes, but it might as well have been hours together before an idea struck him. Voldemort, unintentionally, rescued Harry. The very basis of why Harry had started learning Occlumency was the invasion of his mind by Riddle. And among the invasions was the projection of his own strong emotions upon Harry.

And Harry was certainly afraid enough to consider that the dominant emotion.

With nothing else left, he gambled on it. Invading the lupine mind and concentrating on getting into sync with it, for want of a better description, he soon found himself able to predict the wolf's next actions. That was the easy part. For any other opponent, it wouldn't have been, but feral mindlessness is easy to anticipate, if not replicate. But where the next step of having a common reference for thoughts would have made pushing an idea into a person's mind easier, it was the difficult step with the werewolf. That was why, thankfully, nobody had actually managed to control a werewolf with the Imperius Curse. Sure, Crouch had demonstrated with small spiders, but the skill would have been in controlling an Acromantula.

Concentrating on his fear and sharing it with Moony with enough intensity to make it mind-numbing, Harry pushed through, floating just above and outside the werewolf's reach, tantalisingly close. He concentrated on flooding Moony's mind with unadulterated fear, with thoughts and memories of his own to supplement it.

"What is he doing?" Bruce asked hoarsely. Sirius didn't respond as he stood transfixed, so Bruce shook him and demanded, "What is he doing?"

"Haven't got the foggiest," Sirius replied weakly, as he felt years being stripped off his life. All he could see was Moony making spirited attempts to grab at Harry, who was glaring at the wolf with stupendous effort. And then it all changed.

Five minutes passed and neither Harry nor Moony truly moved. Sweat dripped from Harry's face as he put all he was and all he could do with just his mind into controlling the wolf. And then, miraculously, it worked. Just as Harry rose slightly, about to give up and transform, Moony's attempts became weaker and weaker. Bolstered, Harry kept on with his efforts for just that bit longer, and a bit more till Moony stopped his feral actions and stood stiff as a board. And Harry still kept on, now spurred on, but without true control. Slowly, steadily, Moony buckled. Where there was the primal expression of hunt, there now was only all-pervading fear. And then he let out a long fearful whine.

It broke the trance Harry had slipped into. Harry came to his senses. He had controlled Moony with fear. Calming the feral was one thing, but controlling with fear? Sharing his own fear? He saw the pitiful look on the werewolf's face, as Moony howled and whimpered. It felt horrible. This was a werewolf, yes, but this was Moony and Remus. Slowly he descended closer to the wolf which flinched the closer Harry got. Even though Harry had already let up to a large extent, only keeping enough projection of the fear to maintain a modicum of control, Moony was already looking at him like he, Harry, was a predator.

And this was just a little after Moony had played with him as cub. Moony would recognise his scent as the raven, but now would he fear it?

So, slowly Harry started to change the focus of the emotion. Now it was all about finding Remus in the muck that was sure to be the mind of the werewolf. Continuing with projecting his thoughts upon the wolf's mind he prodded about in the intangible, indescribable mess that would have left people lost. It was a defence in itself. He poked about, projecting for the feel of Remus' mind which he had invaded with his permission.

"Did he just…?"

"Bring Moony down? Scare him? Yes. That bastard," Sirius rasped incredulously, "used legillimency to control a werewolf."

Bruce had seen magic. He had seen the wonders. He had seen the terrible things too, in the Magical Museum where there was a memory repository of war terrors. He had never seen anything wonderfully terrifying as what he had just seen though. He, defying all sense, logic or reality, also had a physical record of the same, which did no justice to what it actually was.

Harry, meanwhile, was still searching for Remus in Moony's mind. It was taxing, and already it was as long as he had ever continuously used legillimency. He was feeling exhausted, and it was obvious that he wasn't going to last much longer. It wasn't really working out. He couldn't project any memories of Remus, Sirius, Teddy or himself, for then Moony would associate him, his scent and the raven with a threat.

Could he lock away Moony by making him believe that they were all terrified of him?

No. Neither of those options was viable. There was no idea as to what repercussions they would have on Remus, either due to Lycanthropy, or due to subconsciously having the idea of everyone being terrified of him reinforced.

There had to be one memory, just one thing that connected Remus, Moony and him that was non-threatening. He had many memories of Remus, very few of Moony, and with the idea of filtering out negative connotations for them all…

There was one.

Once he thought of it, Harry couldn't for the life of him understand how it escaped him.

Prongs came about to help Moony. Prongs was Harry's Patronus. Remus taught Harry to cast his Patronus.

It was as simple as that.

And so, Harry manufactured a memory, an amalgamation of three, another technique learnt from Voldemort luring him to the Ministry, and used to interrogate uncooperative low-lives. In it, Remus and Moony watched happily as Harry conjured his Patronus which fought off dementors, boosting the feeling of peace and happiness and tranquillity and associating the fear with the dementors. Legillimency was complex. Dumbledore had given him a primer in how the mind worked and how the magic worked. Slowly letting go of the fear, he willed himself to keep the memory to the front as he slowly retreated to the highest branch of a nearby tree, as Moony, exhausted by the whiplash from fear to peace, just hunkered down and fell into a doze.

Two agonisingly slow hours later, Moony started to transform back to Remus, and it was a relatively tame return to humanity. He was still weak and was only starting to stir, when Sirius dropped the barrier.

Slowly Harry descended again. Before he could utter a word, though, Sirius raised a finger.

"Don't say a word. Not one word. Right now, I am way beyond angry. We are all going to eat, sleep, and then call Hermione, who will watch the video and then tear strips off of you. Then you can say what you want to."

"It was Remus' challenge," Harry projected into Sirius' mind unconsciously, bringing up the memory.

The two men stared at each other, even as Bruce checked Remus' blood pressure, heart rate and other vitals. He was not sure what, if anything, he could say to Harry. True, they were his friends, all three of them, but he didn't think they were there yet where he could scold Harry.

"Fine," Sirius relented "It's done, so it's not as if it can be undone."

Harry heaved a sigh of relief.

"But you will still face Hermione's firing. And that's because you did worse than me, Harry. Did you even think what would have happened to Moony if he had bit you? I know I am the last person to scold you, but…"

Harry walked up to Sirius and spoke in a low voice, "I understand, but we really need to move on. The…things are acting up, and I need to ensure Corvus' side and ours matches."

Sirius' only reaction was a curt nod. He was not happy with Harry, but if what he was saying was true, this needed to be tested, and so did Corvus. Things were heating up, and Sirius didn't like any of it much. Using the next strongest available and far more unpredictable mind to test his skills was what Harry had done. If it was anyone but Remus, Sirius wouldn't have really cared. And since what was done was done, he had to look towards mitigation.

He would have to step up his game now too.

"So, funny, was it? Did it feel especially nice?" Hermione asked in a voice that could easily be mistaken for a sharp knife swishing through the air. They were holding an equivalent of a kangaroo court two days after the full moon.

So, this was what a court martial would be like if it was unprofessional and sarcastic.

"I was just trying out…"

"Such audacity," she spat. "Still defending yourself, still defending the indefensible."

"Why did you do it, Harry?" Remus asked with a sorrowful, disappointed mien.

"You leave off, Moony. Dumbledore couldn't make me feel guilty. You are not nearly as good with that disappointed act," Harry retorted. "And it bloody well was what you told me to attempt. I just made it a bit difficult. And it bloody worked!" he added mentally.

While he was really angry, it was enough to get Remus to relent slightly, though he did flinch at the mental connection.

"What did you hope to achieve, exactly?"

Harry wasn't sure Remus would appreciate a yarn being spun, but if he was going to be thrown to Hermione after completing the challenge, then Remus could go bugger himself. He had no idea why Hermione was "brilliant, but scary."

"Aconite's poisonous, Hermione. It's the chief ingredient. I wanted to see if I could help Remus remain in control without the potion."

"That was what the Animagus training was for!" Hermione shouted.

"Yeah," Harry replied flippantly. "But I …uh…can fly as me…and," he tried to reason, but he could see it wasn't going to cut much slack. "Look, if Moony really had been out of control, I would have simply transformed back and waited for him to calm down or played. I don't see what the problem is!"

"The problem, Harry, is that I suspect that you are lying. You can lie well, I will give you that, but you also push the limits, and you don't do things without reason."

That was bad. How long was he her friend again to make the rookie mistake of underestimating her?

"What are you working towards, Harry?"

He stared at her expressionlessly for a minute.

"Fine. You are right. I am working towards something." With a truly Snape-worthy sneer, he stood and paced. "Tell me, Hermione, what do you see when we walk today in even Diagon Alley, or Hogsmeade?"

"What do you expect to see? All I see are people going about their daily lives peacefully."

With a scoff, Harry agreed, "I would have said listlessly, dully, but that's semantics, I suppose." With a dramatic headshake, he corrected, "I see sheep. Sheep that aspire nothing more than more grass and to not be eaten, and maybe to have a few lambs. It is constricting, all this. I understand why Dumbledore abhorred power, but I understand Voldemort too. There really is only power. A whole populace, who could achieve so much…" He pointed at Bruce. "I see a bunch of Banners, afraid of their power. I itch to show them a sight I can see… and for them to agree that the vision I see is above and beyond anything they might have dreamt…I confess, bringing Bruce here was not as altruistic as I have made it seem. With his brute strength and genius, the wonders we could achieve, perhaps if we could achieve a true amalgamation of his two natures…"

Bruce was looking at him with absolute horror and betrayal, and even Sirius, Remus and Hermione were looking at him with open apprehension.

"It surprises you?" Harry asked with just a little sibilance. "Such greatness we could achieve, together. Perhaps even lead a new age…"

They were all silently staring at each other and at Harry's back. Nobody reacted – except Sirius, that is. He gripped his seat hard enough for the armrest to be dented. Another couple of minutes went by in silence, till finally Bruce shakily stood up and started to leave.

"Where do you think you are going, Banner?" Harry asked, with his back still turned towards them all. Bruce's chair summoned itself and knocked into his knees before both returned to their original position.

"You…" Bruce started, the Hulk starting to stir.

"Did you really believe it was all just to help you? You are an asset, Bruce, an investment, and a risky one at that. Why do you think I told you about Moony? Why do you think I showed you that I can control Moony without even exerting a spell?" Harry even smiled in a sinister manner at that. "Investments should have good returns, shouldn't they, Dr. Banner?"

Fortunately for Hermione and Bruce, and unfortunately for Harry and Remus and Sirius, Luna breezed into the room at that exact moment like a knight in rotten plot armour. "How long did you practise that for?"

"Luna!" Harry whined.

"It's useless Harry. They don't have an ounce of humour," Sirius lamented with a shake of his head. "Not one ounce, I tell you. And you," he added forcefully, glaring at Luna, "why did you have to destroy the moment?"

"Do you really think releasing Mr. Green inside the only house you two have is sensible or funny?"

When Luna lectured anyone regarding sense, it was a reason for everyone to reconsider.

"What happened?" Bruce demanded at last, even as Hermione contemplated the many, many, many spells she could use in retribution. Harry had already dodged the first Stinging Hex.

"Have you got Nargles stealing your memories, Bruce?"

"I haven't got anything! Just tell me what happened here!"

"We did warn you about Sirius' sense of humour, Bruce."

"Hey! Don't blame me! That was all Harry! I was only supporting him!"

"You planned this?" screeched Hermione.

"No! He came up with it just now! I had a hard time keeping a straight face! The chair's dented and everything, look!"

"What kind of a godfather are you? You didn't even think for a moment before selling me out!"

"I am not the one being stupid and making poor decisions! And if it's her then it's every man for himself! I'd rather sell you out than face her!"

"Are you trying to tell me that this was all a joke?" Bruce asked in a very forced, deathly calm voice, which nonetheless carried over Harry and Sirius' bickering.

"That little "speech"? Yes, yes it was," Hermione answered though gritted teeth.

"Mostly was," Harry corrected, half-musingly. "I rather like the idea of your brains in the Hulk's body or his strength in yours. A true amalgamation. That way, even if there is a security lapse, and they end up triggering you off somehow, you will be able to use the Hulk's abilities to escape and your head to plan and prevent a rampage. Even before that, you will be able to keep mostly calm, fight off anyone troubling you with the unexpected enhanced strength and escape before being triggered."

And, as much as Bruce hated the idea that this would send things further down the super-soldier way, it made sense given the life he had been living before being patriated to England.

"But everything else?" he demanded with gritted teeth, trying to reign the Hulk in.

"I was going for the Tom Riddle effect," Harry answered blithely.

"Now that I remember it, it was singularly Voldemort-esque," Hermione commented, trying to nail Harry with another negligent hex.

"You need to practice the sibilance better though," Remus added thoughtfully. "Riddle's hissing was more impressive. You sounded more like a forlornly steaming pot."

"Everyone's a critic," Harry grumbled.

"You really are idiots, aren't you?" Bruce asked tiredly, truly exhausted. "You have no sense of timing, shame or anything of that sort."

"Of course not!" Sirius proudly proclaimed. "There is a reason why the Marauders were infamous. And Harry's a chip of the old block."

"What I don't get is who pushed the chair into me. As far as I know you guys need wands…"

"That would be me," Remus admitted sheepishly.

Bruce didn't know what to do or say anymore. He sat down shaking his head like a wet dog. He was surrounded by morons. Idiots. Insane idiotic morons. Bruce sunk his face into his hands. On one hand, they really had tricked him into believing Harry and helped him with his prank. On the other, they were supposed to be scolding Harry for his shenanigans. If he hadn't known about the War, and the individual pasts of these idiots, he would have wondered whether they had ever bothered growing up. At the same time, he wondered how they managed to be so senseless, careless and stupid in spite of the same pasts.

"God, save me from these idiots," he prayed, largely without a smidgen of hope. It wasn't like he really wanted to be saved. They really were his friends, after all. But was a little sense too much to ask for?

The three in question couldn't help. They started sniggering, with Luna spiritedly attempting to calm both Hermione and Bruce.

And in all of that, the whole "demand an answer from Harry" fell by the wayside.

Just as Harry wanted.

That didn't mean he wouldn't hex Sirius. The git had no business making a mountain out of a molehill. A relative molehill, in any case.

One of the last items on Corvus' vaguely specific list of pre-requisites for Harry was the hardest skill to gain. Or it would have been, if he hadn't learnt to fly before that.

It wasn't instinctive even though it should have been, but once he got the clue, Harry felt stupider than he had ever felt before in his life.

Wandless magic.

By the time it came to ticking that item off the list, Harry was sure that if he was a character in a story, he was way beyond overpowered, and was likely to steamroll opponents, get away with being a lone gun, angsty "I am the boss" guy with a weird mix of megalomaniacal and self-sacrificial hero tendencies – well, the last part was true. Add in just a little dash of being the perpetual victim and everyone would be falling over themselves looking to heal all his hurts, banish his sadness and loneliness and kiss away his boo-boos.

Very thankfully, none of those things were likely to happen, simply because for one, he knew that he was a weapon.

For another, he was not the character that routinely broke the fourth wall and bragged about it, so he didn't actually think of any of these things. That would be criticised as being out-of-character. This is also getting too close to another Universe which is not included in this crossed-over one due to legal wrangles, so we'll leave the topic here, even if the writer has interfered in first person, and then in third, breaking the fourth wall inside the description for the thoughts of a character breaking the fourth wall. He isn't too bright. Too much exposition too.

And for yet another, even though he hadn't reported Ron's words to Corvus – partly out of an unwillingness to trust (which had to be remedied or resolved as soon as possible), and partly out of an unwillingness to be called insane, even by Corvus – he knew that somewhere out there, there were beings who could think a planet out of existence.

He nearly giggled insanely in nervousness. There was no right reaction for this anyway. Knowing that there had to be other planets with life as a matter of passing curiosity was one thing. Being confronted with the fact that Ron had met any of such beings was another. And he had no doubt that Ron, for all the nonchalance he displayed when talking about aliens – even though he was perpetually surprised beyond belief by everything muggle – had actually encountered them. But then to top it all, there was an alien that thought a planet out of existence.

"Potter?" a nameless grey-cloak called out as Harry actually let lose a little cackle, à la Bellatrix (and that wasn't as terrifying a prospect as it once was). "Everything alright there?"

Harry only nodded as bunch of theories like Dark Forest, and rumours of a laser-sail that would take a spacecraft to speeds of significant fractions of the speed of light, and a whole bunch of things on the internet flitted across his mind. Earth, and the weapons any country on the planet had, would be practically no obstacle to the kind of creature Ron spoke of. The only things to do were twiddling thumbs and hoping that Earth was too insignificant for such cosmic powers to care. Such optimism rarely bore out, though.

And here he was, only acquiring specific skills to deal with humans. Monsters, but still, only human. Some with possibly a few superpowers – what were the odds other countries didn't rope in patriotic magicals with the carrot of glory and the stick of duty?

So; back to wandless magic.

It was, thankfully, not Corvus who was supervising. Unfortunately, it was a yellowish-blonde-haired lady who was trying to convince him that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were lovers (they might have been for all he knew, but so far as Harry was concerned, Dumbledore was born as an ancient relic, and him having anyone as a lover…well, he didn't want to think of it), and that before there were toilets, witches and wizards would just vanish their waste products after doing their…business, and was apologising about Dobby, Sirius and Hedwig's deaths. It was not reassuring in the least. He had got a bollocking the first time he apparated through the Ministry wards to check on Sirius.

She assured him that wandless magic was possible, but not for most magicals, before giving the analogy of riding a bike without hands in an earthquake. Then she expressed confidence that Harry could do it. That was not reassuring either.

He tried, he honestly tried to cast spells by following just the motions that he would with a wand, but with a finger instead. Only, he was so accustomed to casting with a wand, that every time he pointed his index finger and imagined it was a wand, he could feel the absence of the wand. It was counterintuitive in every way that he could imagine.

He was just about to give up, though, when Sirius, of all people, gave him a very pitying look. It was particularly low from a man who nearly died by tumbling through a curtain. Harry had grown past being a scared, angsty teen and, now that Sirius' replacement body served him quite well, sought every opportunity to crack jokes at that. Sirius attempted dignified silences. He failed.

"Harry, Harry, Harry, this is just not the way," Sirius said in a very uncanny impersonation of Gilderoy Lockhart, whom Sirius could match in terms of how annoying one person could be. It was an achievement, a dubious one, but still.

"Yeah? Why don't you do it then?"

"I haven't done spells, but I used to do some wandless magic. You do too."

"If you are done being a kid who knows a secret I don't, maybe you could enlighten me, kind godfather."

"I can't anymore, but you can. Turn into Blackraven_Dark_Shadow_Mage."

"Sirius, just because you decided to make a Reddit account in my name, with my raven form photograph and with that hideous prank name for the Moony thing which you like for the acronym, doesn't mean it is my Marauder Name, which I do not need by the way. And Merlin's balls man, you use the underscore while speaking!"

"Don't you want your form named?"

"Try naming Minerva the cat before naming me then."

"Not all animaguses need names, Harry."


"Just bloody transform. Merlin, what kind of godson are you? You never obey me."

Harry grinned at Sirius before transforming.

"Change back now."

Harry did.

"Now do your flying thing."

"Is there a point to all of this?"

"Just do it."

Harry flew around the room once, propelling himself off the walls in leaps to change directions. "Now what?"

"How many spells did you cast? Did you use your wand?"

Harry frowned at that. Sirius had a point.

"What do you do when you transform or fly, Harry?" Sirius asked.

Harry explained the theory of the methods.

"And where do you focus the magic from?"

"The body…" answered Harry with rising comprehension.

"Exactly. The body of a witch or wizard is just as good a core material as the unicorn horn, dragon heartstring, phoenix feather or what have you. Blood and flesh sacrifices go into dark rituals for a reason."

This was the point where, as mentioned before, Harry felt stupider than ever before. Sirius was right. That wasn't the anomaly of course. For all that they behaved in a manner more suited to James and Sirius than Harry and Sirius, Sirius was a knowledgeable wizard who hid his nature behind the jokes, philandering and pranks, and deeply cared for "his kid". And while they never got to be parent and son as James had envisioned his plan B for Harry to be (and as Lily often used to remark, a poor one in any case), Sirius was always going to be there for his godson and help in whichever way he could.

The issue was that solving such a problem should have been a piece of cake given his experiences.

"Stop that," Sirius sharply rebuked.


"You are thinking of Wormtail's hand, your blood, and wondering how it didn't strike you at this stage of your career in Dark Lord containment."

Harry grimaced.

"Most don't. For one, unlike us Blacks, who are taught dark rituals before Hogwarts, nobody would expect you to know. Secondly you experienced it as a witness and as one used, not a user," he said with a mirthless snort. "It's horrifying, Harry. You will know, henceforth. But I am glad you didn't want to know. It is unfortunate that now you have to actively look out for such instances."

Harry didn't know what to say to that. It fell to Sirius to lighten the mood, therefore.

"Bugger that, Harry. We better get you somewhat able to cast without a wand, before your next date with She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

Harry nodded fervently as he agreed.

Over the next three hours he managed to, finally, levitate a cup without his wand, which he then promptly dropped and smashed in surprise. Sirius, who was practising the hard, angry, head of department with an axe to grind, tore strips off him for fun.

It was the start of a drab recap of every spell he had ever learnt, and honing his skill at wandless magic with them. Harry did not realise it, but in the process, he slowly lost any need to gesture, with the spells leaving his fingers in much the same way a bullet does a gun, leaving a searing, visible trail of heat as they did. And when he used any kind of cutting spell, it was an apt moniker the spell earned – "hot knives".