Disclaimer: Surprisingly enough, I don't own Harry Potter.
"Er, Professor," began Hagrid. He was holding his hat in his hands, wringing the ratty and torn garment with some concern and nervousness. Albus knew to pay attention to Hagrid, because, quite simply, Hagrid didn't come to Albus for minor things. The last time Hagrid approached Albus, their was an unfortunate bit of business involving centaurs, Aragog, and a rambunctious nest of Acromantulas.
"Yes, Hagrid?" asked Albus, genuinely concerned.
"There's… there's something new in the forest."
Albus waited, knowing Hagrid took time to put together his words before speaking.
"Firenze says it ain't something to worry about, talked about how it was a shadow over Mars. Aragog says it's taken to hunting near the Black Lake."
"Any word on what it is?" asked Albus.
"No, nothing yet. Me and Fang have looked for it, but ain't seen anything yet. I've asked Aragog to keep a few eyes out for it, see if he can give me a description."
"Then that is all we can do," said Albus. "We'll want to know if it's dangerous to the students at all."
"Of course, Professor. That's why I came to see you."
"And I'll have a chat with the Mer-people, to see if they've seen anything."
"Thank you, Professor."
It was two years later, and Harry Potter's letter sat on Albus Dumbledore's desk, unaddressed and unsent. At first, he'd thought it was merely the wards on Harry's home, blocking even the spells of Hogwarts.
The wards were gone.
When he'd queried Petunia on the matter, she said the boy disappeared some three years before, after the McKinnon murders, down the way. She'd reported his disappearance, and she was done with him.
When Albus asked why she hadn't informed him, her response was simple, but not very eloquent.
"And how was I supposed to do that, you blasted old fool? Do I own an owl? Do you have a box the postman can deliver to? How about a telephone number? Hm? Get out."
Albus had no response. He'd contacted Alastor about trying to get the records from the Surrey Police Department. Alastor would get back to him about it as soon as possible.
Harry's letter was written, and Harry's name was still in the book of records, but no address was written. Madame Hopkirk was subtly queried as to accidental magic, and found nothing. No owl would take a letter to the boy.
That lead to the obvious question, where was Harry Potter?
It was Halloween afternoon when Quirrell went into the Forbidden Forest to lead the blasted troll into the school. The thing was terrified at being left alone, but Quirrell couldn't find anything else on short notice.
At first, he thought the stupid beast had wandered off, and began looking for it, calling after it, before finally finding it.
Part of it, at least.
The troll had been ripped in half, it's guts thrown into the trees like festive garlands. Already, a number of that oaf Hagrid's thestrals were feasting on it, although how they could stomach such a meal was beyond even Quirrell's knowledge.
Voldemort growled something incomprehensible from underneath the turban. Quirrell merely turned, and went right back to the castle, plan foiled by the troll being too stupid to keep itself from being killed. There would be other chances.
Albus paid only a little mind to Hagrid's report about the sick thestrals, at least until he mentioned troll meat.
"Our newest resident, perhaps?" asked Albus.
"No. Asked Firenze about it, he said there hasn't been any trolls in the forest since the centaurs took up lived there. Drove 'em out or killed 'em all back in the day. He says it keeps to itself, an' they think it keeps with the thestrals."
Albus nodded. A troll found two days after Halloween, combined with Quirrell's planned defense for the stone? Hardly a coincidence, Albus felt.
"Thank you, Hagrid. That answers a question or two for me, but raises more. Has there been any other news on the forest's latest resident?"
"Nope. Nothing's really changed. Unicorns, thestrals, acromantulas, nothing's really changed with whatever's out there. It keeps to itself, 'cept for the thestrals."
Albus nodded. Very curious.
Quirrell and Voldemort were, once more, in the forest. Quirrell's body was failing, burning up from the inside out thanks to the wraith contained within him, and the potions they were brewing were no longer able to sustain them.
Thus, a more powerful regent needed to be acquired.
Unicorns were fast and flighty creatures by necessity. They were intelligent, but they were not cunning. They did not know how to avoid hunters, human hunters, at least.
Quirrell knew the animal was running for the Black Lake. Perhaps the mer-people would interfere, but given the trail of blood, it likely wouldn't make it.
"He smells familiar," came a rambling voice from above them.
"Who was that?" hissed Voldemort.
"Who was what, my lord?" asked Quirrell, still following the trail of blood as quickly as he could.
"That voice!" demanded Voldemort.
"I heard no voice, my lord," replied Quirrell, hoping his lord did not punish him.
"This little snake hears me?" came the voice again.
Voldemort realized what it was. Parseltongue. Some snake he'd met in school, perhaps? His pet would not be awake.
"Begone," hissed Voldemort. "It was nothing," he said to Quirrell. "Faster!"
"I think not, little snake."
"Stop," ordered Voldemort. "Who is there?"
"Death, little snake. You trespass, you butcher. Your stench was hidden on the green thing. I recognize you, little snake. You will die."
With a roar, it dropped from overhead. Quirrell tried to move as quickly as he could, but the decay of his body slowed his movements. It was quickly upon them. It's body was shadow and mist, and nothingness enveloped them. Quirrell and Voldemort screamed in pain and torment as their body burned at the creature's merest touch, before a fist smashed their skull open like a over-ripe squash.
Bane looked up at the massive shadow that stood before him. In it's arms, it held an injured unicorn. The thing's tail was wrapped around the animal, pressing a heavy black clothe into the animal's flank.
It growled at him.
Bane wasn't an idiot. He hated humans, but for something to harm a unicorn? Unspeakable. The animal was docile in its arms. Clearly, this monster was not the one who harmed such an animal.
"Follow," ordered Bane. Firenze saw both of them soon enough, and ran to fetch Dumbledore.
The monster placed the animal where Bane commanded, and quickly turned away, back into the forest.
"The one who did this, creature," bellowed Bane.
The creature turned, glared back at him with its empty face.
"It is dead?"
The creature nodded, once, and went back into the depths of the forest.
Quirrell's body was found, and the DMLE quickly wrote it off as unicorn poaching gone wrong. Or right. It depended on who you asked. Albus, once more, found himself scrambling to find a replacement teacher.
That summer, Alastor got back to him, saying he hadn't found a single thing about the boy's whereabouts.
He did mention something about a family murdered about the same time, but Albus waved it off as unimportant.
"If any other information comes to light, inform me as soon as possible."
Alastor just nodded, and stomped away. Sometimes, Albus was an idiot.
Lockhart was an idiot. An egotistical, sociopathic incompetent who clearly had either faked or stolen his credentials.
Severus, Minerva, and Albus were all in the Headmaster's office trying to figure out a way out of this, but neither Severus or Albus could find some loophole in Lockhart's contract to remove him from the building.
Granted, he hadn't discounted Snape's "accidental removal" plan. Yet. He really should, but… well… it was Lockhart.
Minerva, Severus, and himself would keep a very close eye on him.
"Oh, hello. How are you?" asked the little girl. It was an early October morning, a little before dawn, and she was amongst the thestrals, petting the animals and giving them strips of fresh meat from the kitchens in the castle.
It stood on all fours, considering her without eyes, trying to comprehend why she was down here, rather than up at the castle.
She was dressed in a plain black cloak, but she was shivering. It moved up against to her, wings of shadow and smoke spreading out and enveloping the girl, pulling her up against the creature's body.
"You're very warm. Thank you."
The creature hissed in response. The girl soon stopped shivering, and fell asleep against the creature.
The creature was entirely unsure of what to do about this.
"You seem anxious," said the girl. Her name was Luna. She never talked about her friends, roommates, or classmates, but she did talk about her father. The creature was wondering just how it could visit her over the summer.
Her friend hissed, but lifted its snout and took two long drags of air, it's body filling out, armored carapace forming from the mists and shadows of it's body.
"Is it the Chamber of Secrets business?"
Upon seeing her friend's questioning look, Luna explained how the Chamber had been opened, and Mrs. Norris had been petrified. She watched as the carapace disappeared back into the mist of its body, her friend becoming his usual size of a large horse. Or a small moose. She wasn't very picky, because he was warm. And she was fairly certain he was a he. After all, one didn't study rare and usual creatures without learning how to tell the difference between male and female. Her friend was, she had identified, very male.
Finally, at the end of the story, her friend shook his head.
"Could it be related?"
Her friend shrugged.
"There was some nastiness about one of the Professors last year hunting Unicorns. Is it related to that?"
Luna hmm'd, then snuggled further into the warm body of her friend.
Two children had been petrified. Colin Creevy, and Justin Finch-Fletchley, according to Luna. Her friend merely growled its annoyance.
He could smell something on her, a trace of what he was looking for, as well, as she talked about her friend Ginny, and how withdrawn she was. She asked if it was alright to bring her down, and he agreed, not really caring one way or the other.
The creature missed Luna over Christmas break, but kept to itself. It was a little certain that the hairy man (Luna said he was large, but it considered very few people large these days) had seen it, but Luna had said only good things about him.
Besides, given how much time they both spent amongst the thestrals, it was surprising it'd taken this long.
Hagrid just looked at the creature, and got a happy glint in his eye. After all, the creature was both large and dangerous. Obviously, that meant it was one of the most beautiful and perfect creatures Hagrid had ever found.
Hagrid, naturally, named him Mort.
Hagrid stood in the thestral's clearing before dawn, hat in hand. His hands were worrying it in much the same way he once approached Albus. He was keeping watch on the thestrals, had already fed them, but he had other business.
"Mort?" called Hagrid. Luna didn't actually call him Mort, but she was amused by it.
Mort slinked into view, wary of Hagrid still, but curious.
"I've got bad news, Mort… You- you've heard about the attacks up at the school? Luna's talked about them?"
"Well… Luna… Luna's been attacked. She's in the infirmary, she's alive, but- but-" Hagrid fell silent. He stared at the creature, waiting for a reaction. It was still, silent, and then it started pacing for a long moment, back and forth, back and forth. It's body shifted size, sometimes the size of an oliphant, other times taking on the size of one of the thestrals that ate the strips of meat Hagrid was throwing out to them.
Finally, it stopped, and pushed itself onto two legs. It was a little under Hagrid's height, and began stomping (as much as it's quiet footsteps could stomp) off towards the castle.
"Err… you're not thinking of- of visiting Luna, are ye?"
Mort's empty glare called him an idiot, and Hagrid quickly ran to keep up.
"Well, err… just keep to the shadows, alright? Otherwise they might think it's you."
A snort of derision was the creature's only response as it stalked towards the castle. Mort avoided the castle, but followed Hagrid into the massive stone building, as he lead the way up to the infirmary.
While their were many scents on Luna, on his friend, only three were of interest. Namely, because they were on the others that were attacked.
He had discounted the matron. She was on everyone in the ward. Her presence filled the ward, and while it reeked of plants and ointments, she was the healer. It was expected.
He turned, Hagrid shouting after him, following Luna's scent. It was mixed, there were so many others, but he knew Luna's by heart. He could find it even in this mix and muddle.
And there it was.
The little snake, faint but there, and something else. Something as cold and inhuman as the little snake, but… larger. Grander and ancient.
He'd kill them both. He followed the little snake, Hagrid trying to follow, but quickly losing sight of him as he took off up the moving stairwells, leaping from stairwell to stairwell.
He slinked through the corridors until he reached a garish portrait of a large woman. The scent lead right up to it, he was so close!
He thought back to the unicorn, and realized what he needed to do. He went up the walls, and waited, gripping the large blocks as easily as the branches of a tree.
The first time the portrait swung up, he moved to follow the group of giggling girls headed from whence he came. He snarled, but kept it to himself, moving in that direction, hoping his prey went the same way.
It took an hour or two, and many more children, but a lone red-haired girl stepped through the entryway. She didn't have time to scream as he dropped down behind her, a massive hand over her mouth, a tail wrapping around her body.
"Your fault," he hissed.
She whimpered at the hissing, as he moved along the ceilings, eventually finding his way into a disused corridor, scrabbling along the walls, clutching them with his wing claws.
"Where is it, where is it," he hissed to himself, then took a long sniff, before pulling a leather journal from her book bag.
"This is it. This is the little snake. This will die, just like before. Maybe it'll even stay dead, hmm?"
He glared at the girl.
"What about you, though? Why'd you do it? Why'd you hurt Luna? Was it because of him, like he was part of the other man?"
Ginny nodded, which confused him.
"You understand me?"
Another nod. He took his hand away.
"I found the book," she started, explaining how she found it amongst her things after shopping, and how she wrote it in, and how she woke up once covered in blood and feathers. How she tried to get rid of it, but couldn't think of how, and if only the Boy-Who-Lived were here, she'd be able to save her from this. He was supposed to be here last year, but Albus Dumbledore kept him hidden away, saying he was still safe, and being trained.
He listened, and considered the book for a moment longer. He then attempted to tear it in half. Ginny watched as the creature tried to rip and tear the book, attempted to just rip out the pages, then actually bite the book.
After a few epithets, it stopped, and looked back at her.
"Do you know what the monster is?"
"No, except that… that… that I think it's in Myrtle's Bathroom. Or, at least, I wake up there every once in a while."
The ghost squeaked once at the sight of the creature, and ran, while Ginny stood. She'd walked there, slowly, and the creature had followed. It hesitated, a little, about entering the girl's bathroom, but it soon followed her inside.
"So… you're friends with Luna?" asked Ginny, finally.
"How is she? I haven't… because of that book, I haven't had a chance to see her to often, especially since she's in a different house and all. And… and now she's… she's…"
"She doesn't talk about friends at all. I don't think she has any. Be quiet for a moment."
She watched as it wandered around the bathroom, taking long drags of the air. When it wasn't, it was muttering rather unpleasant things about how it could smell whatever the monster was, and what it would do to it. Ginny wondered if her mother would try to wash out it's mouth with soap if it kept going like that.
Finally, it stopped in front of a sink, growling at it.
"Here. It's right here."
"Maybe there's a secret passage?"
"Maybe. But how am I supposed to open it?" Naturally, the entire basin opened at this question.
Ginny nodded, and watched as the creature, as Luna's friend went into the shaft, searching for vengeance. It'd left the journal on the ground near the wall.
She sat down, away from the journal, and waited. She jumped when she heard the roar, the massive noise she felt in her chest, and shook the walls around her. She heard the echoes of crashes and rumbles, as Luna's friend and whatever Slytherin's monster was battled. She hoped Luna's friend was okay, but then she heard the shouting.
She tried to back away from the open pipe, as she heard Luna's friend's anatomically impossible threats against whatever it was fighting, but she didn't want to leave lest she incur it's wrath.
There was a final, echoing boom, followed by another thunderous roar. After a few minutes, she could hear the grunting, growling, and scrambling of Luna's friend coming up the pipe. It soon exited it, and then it's tail dragged the snake head out of the pipe.
A giant snake head. It's eyes were slashed out, it's lower jaw was torn off, and it's entire head torn off the rest of it's body, leaking blood that was attempting to eat into the stonework underneath it. The pool of blood reached the journal, and it let off a horrific, high-pitched screech of pain. Luna's friend moved forward, and tore one of the giant snake's fangs.
A basilisk, some absent part of Ginny's mind supplied, as Luna's friend stabbed the fang into the book, silencing it. Ink bubbled and hissed as it mixed with the basilisk's blood.
"Said I'd kill you, little snake. Kill you as often as I have to. And your stupid pet, too."
Ginny breathed a sigh of relief.
"What was it like?" she asked.
"Damn thing was a nutter. Kept going on and on about killing and murdering and crunching bones."
Ginny nodded, and then the horror dawned on her. Luna never said her friend could talk. Just that it could understand her.
"You should go," said Ginny, her mind already putting together whatever lies were necessary to convince the teachers she wasn't a parselmouth. It was all the book's fault, right? It was all Tom's fault. It was obvious how it found her, it was obvious how it entered the tunnel. Yes, this could work. "I'll find you in the forest, alright? Once Luna's better. I think they said it'd be in May. Just... I'm only going to tell Luna I can understand you, alright?"
Luna's friend nodded.
"It's January now, right?"
"I'll be waiting."
Ginny smiled at the creature as it opened the door and disappeared into the school. Not a knight in shining armor, and certainly not the Boy-Who-Lived, but whatever it was, it was nice. Even if it was a parselmouth.
Soon enough, she stood up, and went to find a Professor.
Albus suspected there was more to Ginny's story. Some things didn't fit together quite the way she wanted them to, and he suspected Severus knew, as well. Minerva, along with Molly Weasley, were more than happy to not notice the inconsistencies of her story, and just be thankful she was alive, and Slytherin's monster was dead.
Albeit by another one.
Albus took the description of the animal, and went to do some research.
Luna lead Professor Dumbledore, Professor Snape, Hagrid, and Ginny down the path to the clearing with the thestrals.
"Mort?" asked Hagrid.
"It's alright, they won't try to hurt you," said Luna. "I imagine they'd prefer to thank you for getting rid of that mean basilisk."
There was a snort of derision, as he stepped out into the pre-dawn light. He was in full carapace, and was wary of the old man and his greasy-haired minion. There were shadows of memories of this old man, and he could smell the faintest of whiffs of the little snake.
Albus and Severus stood their ground as it walked amongst the thestrals. They parted for it, as it walked up to the men. Hagrid was holding back the girls, in case things came to blows.
It stood before them, inspecting them, before growling at the pair of them.
"You recognize this?" asked Albus, pulling out the ruined diary.
Mort carelessly swatted it aside, ignoring it. It was destroyed, dead. There was something living, something that was fresh but not. Ah. The other man. He went right up to his face, and took a long drag. Down. Left. The arm.
"Severus, your arm?" asked Albus.
Severus pulled up his sleeve, and revealed the faint outline of a tattoo, forever staining his arm and his soul.
"He served the one who created that diary," said Albus, "but turned on him, trying to save his friends."
Albus felt as though the monster was judging him. He wondered how lacking he would be found, how many people he had failed to save, how many deaths he had failed to prevent.
The creature gave a deep, rumbling growl, before turning his back on the pair of them, walking up to Luna and Ginny. Hagrid stood, tall and proud.
"Hello," said Luna. "I understand you had an adventure?"
"Good. I'm sorry I wasn't able to visit you for the past few months, but I'm glad you were able to find and kill the monster. It's a pity it had to die. I suppose being trapped in a basement for a thousand years would make anyone a little grumpy."
Mort snorted with amusement, before butting his head against her. She grabbed him in a hard hug, as the spines and plates melted away, and he shrank down to the size of the largest thestral, and lifted her in the air with his neck.
Hagrid smiled at the sight, while Albus and Severus were surprised. It did certainly explain how the animal moved through the halls without being noticed, and managed to fit down the pipe to the Chamber of Secrets. The armored and angry version also explained how it managed to butcher a thousand year old basilisk, although not how it survived the dread creature's gaze. Given the animal didn't seem to have eyes, however, suggested it couldn't see. How, then, did it know of his presence? How could he test it? He began to subtly draw his wand.
"Was that book what you smelled?"
The creature nodded.
"And that was the same as the unicorn poacher?"
Another nod. Albus, Severus, and Hagrid all blanched at that, and Albus ceased to draw his wand.
"You smelled the same scent as the diary, in both the Unicorn Poacher, and on Professor Snape's arm?" he asked, instead.
"Then... was Miss Weasley like the poacher? Possessed by your enemy?"
"The poacher was possessed by Voldemort?" asked Luna.
"How did you come to that conclusion, Miss Lovegood?" asked Severus Snape, while Albus was utterly awestruck.
"Ginny said the diary was owned by Tom Riddle. I looked up Tom Riddle, and found he was a Slytherin in 1945, the same time as Moaning Myrtle was murdered in the first opening of the chamber of secrets. Given the monster was a snake, the only Parselmouth in recent history was Lord Voldemort, and I assumed there was a connection, which was easy to find. Tom Marvolo Riddle can be rearranged into 'I am Lord Voldemort.' Therefore, Ginny and Professor Quirrell were possessed by Lord Voldemort. Which means he isn't as dead as everyone would have hoped."
"Fifty points to Ravenclaw for a brilliant deduction, Miss Lovegood," said Albus. "To which I must say, you are correct. Tom Riddle did indeed become Lord Voldemort, and he is not as dead as everyone would hope, much to my dismay."
"I think my father would like to write an expose on that," said Luna. "Would you like to help?"
"Perhaps I shall, Miss Lovegood. While I have been collecting evidence for quite some time, it is not enough to provide true proof. The world is as ready to realize his return as they are to understand the existence of the crumple-horned snorkack."
Luna nodded sadly, before brightening.
"Would you like to be an anonymous source, then?"
"I would love that, Miss Lovegood."
She clapped her hands with glee.
"I'll write father immediately!" she started to run back to the castle, then stopped, turned back, and gave her friend another hug. "Thank you for hunting down the monster."
Luna's friend gave a snort, as this time she really did run up to the castle.
In a truly massive (if macabre) manor with albino peacocks wandering it's highly temperature controlled grounds, Lucius Malfoy muttered things unrepeatable after Severus Snape handed him a copy of the Quibbler.
Everywhere else, people wondered. Xenophilius Lovegood normally wasn't that serious, but... well... he was the editor-in-chief, and his own daughter was one of those attacked.
Meanwhile, a man on a rock in the North Sea saw a copy of the Daily Prophet. He saw a picture, and realized, quite simply, that he was at Hogwarts. Within the week, he had left. This confused everyone, because the only he they could think of most certainly wasn't at Hogwarts. Then again, all the other people on the rock were insane, so it didn't matter.
Remus Lupin had a job. There was a question he wanted to ask Albus, but he valued the job to much to dare approach the question.
He sighed, knowing, also, that a man he once thought a friend was out, and headed for Hogwarts. He supposed he'd have to find a few things that were still on the grounds.
"I will not allow dementors at Hogwarts," said Albus. He was plain-spoken and without malice, but his voice was made of steel.
"But… but… Sirius Black! He's after Potter!" cried Cornelius Fudge, halfway into a panic.
"And Potter is not here."
"And just where is Mister Potter?" drawled Lucius Malfoy.
"Protected," replied Albus Dumbledore, staring him directly in the eye. "It has already been established there have been several attacks on the school, and I felt it would be best for Mister Potter to be taught in a safe environment."
Cornelius and Lucius were both struck dumb by this. Albus Dumbledore, willing to admit Hogwarts wasn't safe?
"I have had a possessed professor attempting to poach unicorns, and I have had an eighty foot basilisk in this school. I would prefer a nice, quiet, safe year before adding Mister Potter to that mix. I do not believe dementors would be conducive to that." At this, Albus paused. "In fact, I think they would detract from that."
"But… but… Sirius Black!" repeated Cornelius.
"Is looking for Mister Potter, is he not? And the Daily Prophet's pages are filled with statements that Mister Potter is not, and never has set foot in Hogwarts, correct?"
"Then I fail to see a reason the dementors should be positioned here. Around school children. Perhaps having Aurors in Hogsmeade and in Diagon Alley? Perhaps increasing the DMLE budget? Perhaps, for the first time in eight years, hire more than two new Aurors, as has been the recommendation of both myself and Madame Bones?"
On this, Fudge fell silent. Lucius was already silent, having realized that Albus was actually willing to state Hogwarts wasn't safe. Which, if he were honest, it wouldn't have been for the boy.
Still, Fudge didn't seem to comprehend the idea of not doing something, so dementors were stationed around the school, but not actually in the school.
That still left the question of just where the boy was.
The cloaked things stank. They stank of pain, misery, and despair. They stank of an old boot cupboard under the stairs. They stank of a screaming woman and a shouting man and green light. They stank of a friend's bruised, bloody, and dirty face, cold and still in the harsh moonlight.
"Nasty things, dementors," said Hagrid of them. "Suck all the happiness and warmth from a room. If they kiss you, they suck our your soul. Don't know if that'll work on you, but I'd avoid them."
Mort avoided them, until they went into the forest. Ice formed on the trees with their passage, and rather than attack him, they surrounded him. He roared at them, hatred emanating from him in waves, as he felt over-and-over-and-over, the screamed pleas of a woman and the green light and the yelling man. They tried to drag him to that moonlit night. They tried to press in on him, like the old boot cupboard, but he wouldn't go back. He would roar and tear and break until the cupboard was no more.
He tried to hurt them, but they wouldn't break. They just kept surrounding him, forcing him down. The cold was sickening, clawing at his insides and tearing at his chest and body, but there wasn't anything else he could do. He fought his way through them, surely Hagrid would know what to do? He broke from the forest, scattering them, and made his way towards Hagrid's hut. The dementors followed, a trail of ice following them out onto the grounds of Hogwarts itself.
A tall, stern witch was out on the grounds with Hagrid, and from her wand ran a silvery-white cat, chasing away the few dementors that were still following. He crawled up to Hagrid, and dropped to his feet, letting the heavy carapace melt away and exposing skin to the comparatively warm night air.
"You alright, Mort?" asked Hagrid.
He tried to stand, he really did, but it just wasn't in him at that point. He still nodded his head. He just needed a minute.
"Don't know how to stay down, do you?" asked Hagrid. "Well, just stay here for a little bit, alright?"
"I don't think it understands you, Hagrid."
"He understands me just fine, just ask Dumbledore. Here, have some chocolate. It'll make you feel better. You can eat chocolate, right?"
McGonagall watched as this… this creature, Mort, seemed to take a long look at the foiled wrapped package that Hagrid was holding out to it. It had shrunk, perhaps to a little shorter than Hagrid, rather than the oliphant-sized beast it was before. It reached out and gently took the package. Rather than bite into it like some animal, or even rip it open like one of her own students, it carefully opened the package with a single claw, bending the bright foil open to reveal the Honeydukes chocolate contained within.
"Carry a few bars with me whenever I'm out of the castle. Figure it's a good idea with those things out and about."
The creature broke off the first row of the bars, and began to carefully eat each individual square, savoring each bite of the chocolate. It eventually sat up, crossing its legs, still savoring it's chocolate bar.
"Like it a lot, don't ya?"
A slow, gentle nod, as the creature stared out at the forest. It's tail absently twitched, and McGonagall swore it was almost purring with pleasure at eating the chocolate.
"You are what defeated the basilisk on behalf of Miss Lovegood and Miss Weasley?" she asked, finally.
"I have a student who could… who could use a friend. She is also an avid researcher, and perhaps she can find a way for you to communicate with others."
Hermione Granger was following Luna out towards the rear of the school in the pre-dawn light. She'd been asked, quiet pleasantly, to go with the diminutive Ravenclaw out with her to speak with a rather unusual but intelligent being on the grounds.
She noted the word "being" and "unusual." Both went together, apparently, where Luna was involved, but she followed nervously. She was confused when Luna took a rather unusual route through an empty clearing in the forest, at least until she walked into something invisible and leathery.
"Luna? What did I just walk into?"
"A thestral. They pull the carriages. They're a type of winged horse."
Hermione wanted to ask other questions, such as "If they're a horse, why are they leathery?" or "How do you know they pull the carriages?" or, better yet, "How did you navigate around them, if they're invisible?"
She then followed Luna's route to the center of the clearing. Luna stood, waiting, looking into the canopy of trees above the clearing.
"So… is it a thestral?"
"No. Thestrals aren't intelligent. Well, they're intelligent for a horse, but you can't hold a very good conversation with a horse."
Hermione nodded in confused understanding, then noticed the black mass of something crawling down from a tree, and winding its way through the invisible herd. It approached on four legs, and she suspected there may have been wings. It had a long neck, and no eyes.
"Is that why we're here?"
"He is. Hello, Mort! How was your summer?"
It almost seemed to purr.
"Hagrid said you had some problems with the dementors. They didn't hurt you, did they?"
It shook its head.
"This is Miss Hermione Granger, she's here to help figure out how to talk with you."
It pushed itself up onto two feet, and presented a hand to her. Hermione stared at it for a moment, then reached forward. She was surprised when her hand was taken, a light kiss (did it even have lips? She didn't even see any teeth) was placed on the knuckle of her middle finger.
"You've been waiting all summer to do that, weren't you?"
"Well, you still did it wrong. She needed to present her hand, first. Unless you were thinking of marrying her?"
Hermione goggled at Luna.
"Pureblood traditions. There are books."
Both Mort and Hermione nodded.
"So what do you know?" asked Hermione.
"Well… we think he can talk in parseltongue, but given that nobody else knows parseltongue, that makes it rather difficult."
He growled a moment.
"Yes, but Ginny's rather close-minded about it, being from a light family and all."
"Do you understand it?"
"Him. Sometimes. It takes practice. It's more accurate guesswork."
"Right," said Hermione, then looked back at the creature. "Um… can you write?"
Mort smacked his own forehead, and his tail snaked out and scratched "yes".
"Well then, we can start with parchment and quill. Have you ever used a quill before?"
"No," was scratched into the dirt.
"It's okay, I missed the obvious as well," said Luna. "You'll find wizards regularly miss the obvious."
"Parchment and quill, or the dirt works well," said Hermione, "but I think we need something faster. Have either of you ever heard of sign language?"
Remus Lupin was in the small shack between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, again.
Mort was curious as to why. Mainly, because he smelled rather wolf-like when it happened.
There was also a rather disheveled and starved dog nearby. Big, for a dog at least, and covered in a deep black fur. It stank of loneliness and despair. He let it be.
Ronald Weasley was wondering just what buck-toothed know-it-all was up to, every morning, ever since her cat nearly ate Scabbers. He carried Scabbers with him everywhere, now. Even if he didn't like the little rodent, he still didn't want him eaten.
So after dragging himself out of bed in the early morning and following her down to the Entrance Hall, and followed her and Loony out onto the snow-covered grounds. When he saw them enter the forest, he just knew he could get them into trouble, but he needed to know what they were up to.
Which is when he found himself, flat on the ground with a very large and heavily clawed foot on his chest, the left sleeve of his robes pulled up, and a large head with very sharp points on it sniffing at him.
Scabbers scrambled out of his robes, and began to run away, when a tail came from above and grabbed him. Ron thought it rather odd that the tail ended in three claws, rather than a single point, but thought it better not to question. Instead, he decided to shout at whatever was holding him down.
"Hey, that's my pet rat!"
"I don't think it'd agree with your stomach," said Looney.
The monster made a few odd motions with his hands.
"We should probably go to Dumbledore, then," replied Looney. She made odd signs back to the monster as she spoke.
"I think Dumbledore smells of lemon drops and old books, not lies and secrets, but he'll be at breakfast by now."
Ron was picked up off the ground, and dropped onto his feet. He stood, shakily, and was then bowled over by a very large and angry black dog, attempting to attack the monster.
McGonagall felt the headache come on, as she watched the parade enter the Great Hall. Students goggled at the massive, armored form of Mort, his tail aloft and dangling a rat. A large grim was trotting on his heels, while Luna, Hermione, and Ronald Weasley were trailing behind. Hermione and Ronald were arguing about something, while Luna serenely followed the others.
"Is there something I can help you with, Mort?" asked Dumbledore.
One of the other Professors, Lupin looked ashen at the sight of the grim following this "Mort" creature, and watched as it barked at the… the rat. The rat held in it's tail. He stood, and immediately went around to the other side of the table.
"The rat is a Death Eater," supplied Luna, as Remus walked up to the rat, his wand out, pointed at the dog. The dog whimpered.
"And the dog?" asked Lupin.
"He's a dog. A little matted and mangy and sad and lonely, but a dog."
Lupin pointed his wand at the rat, and cast a quick charm. The entire hall gasped as the rat turned into a short, pudgy and dirty man missing a finger. He was slammed into the ground, and a massive clawed foot was on his chest. Large hands patted him down, and removed a pair of wands form his person. One clattered to the floor, but the other was held onto. His left sleeve was pulled up, revealing the faint outline of the dark mark.
"I didn't do it!" shouted the man. "It was all Black! I had to hide!"
Dumbledore and McGonagall stood, rigid, as Lupin spoke. One was wondering how this would change everything, and how much trouble it would bring him. The other was wondering how she could have doubted a young man she had known for years.
"You betrayed them, Peter! You betrayed James and Lily! You sold them out to Voldemort! You betrayed Sirius, sending him to rot in prison, and now you expect me to believe you? You could have revealed yourself at any time, even if you murdered twelve muggles! No, instead, you hid like the little coward you are!"
The hall was silent, at this proclamation.
"Sirius, help me bring this little maggot in for justice."
The hall jumped back, as the black grim became a gaunt but smiling Sirius Black.
"Thank you, Mort. We'll be taking him to Madame Bones from here. Albus, I don't believe I will be teaching my classes today."
"Yes, yes, of course," said Dumbledore. "Come up to my office, we'll floo from there. Minerva, I do believe we should dismiss the students. If you would speak with the young children who brought this to our attention?"
McGonagall nodded. She knew this was going to be a headache, but a heartache as well, as she watched Sirius Black stand tall, innocent and proud of it, dragging Peter Pettigrew away.
Today, she felt, was going to be a long day.
"So what happened?" signed Mort to Luna, while Hermione was talking. He knew they had a solid ten or twenty minutes, and as long as they kept quiet, McGonagall wouldn't mind.
"Do you know about the Boy-Who-Lived?" signed back Luna.
"Well, Riddle was a Dark Lord, a wizard as evil as they come. He sought power, and to many powerful wizards, knowledge is power. So he sought evil knowledge, which corrupts you to your very soul. He became a monster. He claimed that only the purest of bloodlines should live, and the muggleborn should die."
"Alright. So what about the Boy-Who-Lived?"
"Riddle attacked the Potters. He killed James Potter, and Lily Potter gave her life protecting their son, Harry. Hagrid says Harry had a lightening bolt scar on his forehead afterwards."
"The curse Riddle killed Lily with, was it green?"
"The killing curse is green. It takes quite a bit of hate to cast, but Dark Lords are very hate-filled people."
Mort nodded, before asking his final question.
"So what happened to Harry?"
"Dumbledore says he's safe and protected," replied Luna. "Supposedly with his muggle relatives. He isn't at the school for his own protection. Again, supposedly."
Luna gave Mort a long look as Mort turned away, looking at some of the objects in the office. She noticed his skin had become sharper, more solid towards the end of the conversation, but set that aside.
"Is everything alright?"
But no matter what Luna asked, Mort wouldn't say anything else.
Sirius Orion Black was a free man.
Dumbledore had taken the three of them directly to Madam Bones. Veritaserum had been administered, while Fudge had been called in. Twenty minutes of testimony, a dictation quill, and both Albus Dumbledore and Madame Bones towering over a quivering Fudge, and Sirius was cleared. There'd be a full-blown trial for Peter later on that week, with the press and everyone else. Sirius, though, would be free, exonerated, and everything would be blamed on the already disgraced Bartimus Crouch Sr.
Sirius suspected there was somebody else's name on the order that threw him into prison without a trial. He wasn't going to ask now, though.
Instead, when him and Remus arrived back at Albus' office, he'd asked the first and foremost question on his mind.
"Where's my godson?"
Oh, Albus did his usual song and dance, tried to convince him he wasn't in any condition to care for the boy, he was safe and protected, he needed to spend time getting himself back into shape.
"I'm going to see him, Albus. If I like where he's living, I'll let him stay, and just be that favorite crazy uncle. But first and foremost, I am going to see him, so where is he?"
Albus sat in his chair, while Sirius was glaring down at him, leaning on the man's desk. The portraits slowly vacated the entire office, while Remus retrieved his wand in the event this came to blows. Albus seemed to sink into his chair, his face falling, his beard coiling on the ground.
"I don't know," said Albus, finally.
"What?" asked Sirius.
"I don't know."
Albus began speaking of his method for protecting Harry, and the very instant he said "Lily's sister," Sirius cut him off.
"You gave Harry to Petunia?" he growled. "Petunia?"
"He needed to be protected," replied Albus, a response as old and tired as he felt. "The protections that could be placed on that house would prevent anyone from harming him."
"And if he ran away?"
Albus pointed to a device on his shelves.
"A blood-based tracking device," said Albus. "I recall the boy ran away several times when he was younger, but he was always returned to his home."
"And you didn't think for an instant he might not want to return?"
"Does it still work?" asked Sirius, taking the item from the shelf.
"It should, but it hasn't in the last five years. It has not entirely failed, thus the device still works, but it refuses to give his location."
Sirius was utterly silent at this proclamation. Remus glanced at Albus, and could smell his defeat.
"If you ever find Harry, you will tell me. You will not touch him, you will not talk to him, you will do nothing, except to retrieve me. If you do not, I will find out who else signed that order to leave me in Azkaban without a trial. Is that understood?"
"Good. Who do you have looking for him?"
"Good. At least you can figure out who can be discreet to fix your colossal fuck-up. I'll be speaking with him. Now piss off and die, Albus. I hope you rot in hell for the shit you've dumped on Harry."
Albus was silent on this proclamation. He knew better than to try and get the last word.
"So are you going to tell me what's wrong? Or am I going to keep bothering you?" asked Luna.
Mort slipped something from his arm, kept between armored plates that hadn't disappeared, and revealed a long, thin, lightly colored stick, a little over a foot in length. He gave it a wave, and red sparks and black motes drifted from it's tip.
"That's a wand!" said Luna. "Where did you get a wand?"
"But you tossed a wand away…" Luna paused for a minute. "Could it be Riddle's wand? I think James and Lily's wands were put on display. That's not what's wrong. Tell me."
Luna crossed her arms and thought. She wondered what could have caused this problem with her friend. Her friend had become grumpy ever since McGonagall's office. The story of the Boy-Who-Lived. Why? He was clearly too nice to be Voldemort. He didn't seem to know anything about Hogwarts, so he couldn't have been a friend of James and Lily, and not known how they died. Hagrid said he arrived only three years before she arrived. Did he feel bad for Harry Potter, the ever-missing Boy-Who-Lived, that Albus Dumbledore was reluctant to produce? But why? Wait, why was Harry Potter so hard to produce? Why hadn't he even been seen in public? There were sightings, certainly, but those had dropped off five or six years ago.
She tugged on his wing, and he turned back to her. She tugged on his wing again, and he opened them, shielding them from view.
She signed a name. He sat down, arms and wings wrapped around the both of them. He seemed smaller, somehow. Shorter, smaller than she'd ever seen him.
So, rather than ask again, she instead decided to tell a story. A story about a nine-year-old girl whose mother was a great and kind and wonderful, who researched spells and found out how they worked and why they worked. And one day, the girl walked in on her mother, and watched as a spell didn't work, didn't work in the most horrible way, and her mother died.
They sat in the clearing, the sunlight filtered through the winter trees, the thestrals having moved back into the forest.
When Luna looked at him, he made the first signs in over an hour.
"Her name was Jennifer. She was my only friend, besides you."
Mort's major issue with casting spells, was he couldn't speak Latin or Greek. He could, however, translate the spells from their original language to something he could use. Some spells were direct translations, while others were a little more creative, such as Windgardeum Leviosa becoming levitate you bastard feather. They did find that Parseltongue was a much faster language than Latin or English, but it made even the most basic transfiguration nearly impossible. Still, Luna required him to keep practicing it.
She also approached Professor Lupin about learning the Patronus Charm, telling him how Mort was attacked by the Dementors before term began. While they had been removed, she still wanted to learn to protect her friend. After getting the incantation and wand movements down, she explained it to Mort. Mort began practicing it on a regular basis, but with both the difficulty of the spell and the Latin-Greek-Parseltongue problem, they weren't even sure it would ever work. Mort claimed, however, that the words he was using, "I await a protector," felt right.
"I don't suppose you could follow me home, could you? I know my father would love to meet you."
"Because you're very nice, and I'm very persuasive, so you're coming with me."
"How?" asked Mort, knowing better than to actually argue with her.
"How small can you get?" asked Luna. "Also, we need to find out if you can floo."
Mort signed back the odd motion that Luna made. It looked a combination of the signs for walking and fire, almost as though you were to walk through fire.
"It's travel by fire. It's fun. You'll see. Now, how small can you get?"
Mort shrank down to his usual two-footed height of nine feet.
"Are you certain?" asked Luna. She felt that Mort would have rolled his eyes, if he still could, and lost another foot in the process.
Luna nodded, smiling.
"Excellent. Come along, we're going on the train for winter break."
"Yes, now. When else would we go? You're going to spend Christmas with us."
Mort sort of stared at her for a long moment, before nodding, slowly, and following her down to the carriages. There was another short argument about where he would ride in the carriages, before finally agreed to entering them. Then, there was an argument with McGonagall about whether or not Mort could go with her.
"Miss Lovegood, why is Mort with you?"
"I've decided to take him as a familiar," replied Luna. "Or as a pet. Perhaps both? Or neither?"
"And you're going along with this?"
A Gallic shrug was Mort's only response.
"He knows better than to argue with me," replied Luna, smiling. "Besides, it's Christmas. I'm very certain he'd like to have a Christmas."
McGonagall just nodded, not entirely certain about this, but finding it best not to argue with Lovegood. She'd tried before, and it just never seemed to work. In the back of her mind, she wondered whether or not Albus would be able to deal with the girl as she waved them on.
It seemed like something she'd like to see.
"By the way, since he's my familiar, he'll be staying with me in my room."
And that's where the argument would be. McGonagall smiled.
"We'll have to take it up with Albus," she said.
Luna smiled some unknowable smile as she walked onto the train, Mort following her. She sat on a bench, and he sat across from her.
"Sorry for calling you my pet," signed Luna.
"It's alright. It's nice to be wanted, really."
"I know. I wouldn't want to be someone's pet, however."
Mort waved her off. The door opened, and Hermione stepped in, and stopped as she saw Mort sitting on the bench.
"Um… Hello Luna. Mort."
"Hello Hermione," said Luna, while Mort waved.
"I'm going to her home for Christmas."
Hermione nodded, thankful for the blank being filled. She sat down next to Luna, while Mort shifted, lying down on the bench.
"Uncomfortable?" asked Luna.
"It's the tail."
"So what are you doing for Christmas?" asked Luna.
"Just staying with my parents," said Hermione.
There was some small talk, but they were largely uninterrupted as the train went south. No one stopped in to visit them, although a few were surprised to look in and see the black monster that had caught Peter Pettigrew.
Xenophilius Lovegood gushed over Mort. He was smiling and giddy just looking at him, and Mort successfully floo'd to the Lovegood residence. He stumbled a little, but landed on all fours.
"There's three things my father cares about. Magical creatures, the Deathly Hallows, and me. If anyone can find out what you've become, he will."
"Thank you. Are we going to tell him who I am?"
Luna thought about it for a moment, before deciding.
"Do you want to tell him?"
"No… not yet. I suppose I should tell him at some point…"
"Then why not now?"
"Because we aren't even sure I'll ever change back. If I'm not him anymore, then why bother claiming to be him?"
"But you are him, even if don't look it anymore."
On this, Mort was still.
"So what language are you talking in?" asked Xenophilius.
"American Sign Language. Hermione Granger suggested it over British, since British requires much wider hand motions. She also found a few language learning spells, and with a fair bit of practice, we learned both."
"Because we're British," replied Luna, "and I refuse to stoop to learning just a Yankee language."
Xenophilius nodded in understanding.
It was Mort's first Christmas amongst friends.
The house itself was so unlike anything Mort had ever seen. It was bewildering, but it was so… so magical. This was a wizarding home, he felt. Certainly, it needed a little cleaning (well, a lot of cleaning) but he could deal with that.
He slept at the foot of Luna's bed, at least until she dragged him up into the bed itself.
"You've spent enough time on floors and in dirt," was all Luna said.
It was… it was nice.
He woke up with the sun, as he expected, and snuck out of the bed. Luna was curled up against him, her back to his chest. He'd covered her with a wing, rather than retrieve the blankets. Cold had never bothered him, not anymore. Still, he pulled the blankets over her, and set off to make some sort of breakfast for them. Four years of work had ingrained a proper English breakfast into him, and five years of living in a forest had not driven it out.
He still had a false start or two, but managed to make something of the few ingredients in their chillbox. Xenophilius and Luna both came down to a decent breakfast, while Mort was cleaning and organizing the multitude of mis-matched dishes.
Xenophilius was rather surprised by this, and eyed both Mort and Luna carefully, but made no comment given the house hadn't been cleaner since Selene had died. It was just… surprising. Especially when Luna spoke.
"You didn't need to do that."
Mort shrugged, and made a few signs back.
"You still didn't need to. Are you going to eat?"
More signs. Xenophilius knew the spell to learn, and cast it on himself. Luna saw it, and started signing her own words.
"I'm not asking if you need to eat. I'm asking if you want to."
At this, Mort was motionless, before he finally went back to the stove and made more food.
"We'll need to go shopping, I think," said Luna. "I don't suppose you can make the three of us a Christmas dinner, do you?"
Christmas dinner proved to be a less extravagant affair, where Mort was involved. Once he figured out how to use the oven (and also cleaned the massive layers of ancient grease and dust from inside it), he started baking and roasting with gusto.
A large Christmas Ham was produced for Christmas Eve (Xeno said he wanted something different from the Weasley's Christmas Goose), along with more fixings than the three of them could possibly eat. Christmas itself was something that his relatives would have never agreed to. It was kind and loving, and more about family than about the gifts and presents being given.
Molly and Ginny arrived that afternoon, both wondering where the Lovegoods were and carrying heaps of leftovers. Rather than the usual forgetful emptiness of the Rookery, they arrived to find a festive atmosphere, an overflowing chillbox, and a smiling Luna Lovegood.
"Hello, Mrs Weasley, Ginny."
"Luna, dear, how are you? We didn't see you and your father at Christmas dinner."
"Sorry, we had Mort, so we didn't want to intrude."
"Mort, oh, no, he wouldn't be... a... bother..." trailed off Mrs Weasley, as she saw Mort duck into the room, carrying a tray of sliced ham for sandwiches. He'd prepared enough for his old family, not for his new one. Still, he didn't mind, since Luna had loved it.
Mort nodded to her and Ginny. Ginny stood, staring at both Mort and Luna, eyebrows raised.
"You brought him here?" asked Ginny.
"Yes. We've been teaching each other sign language." She glanced at Mort. He signed something to her. "Father wanted to help identify him."
"Oh, you poor dear, not knowing what you are. I do wish you the best of luck. And that does smell very good! You've had practice cooking?"
And with that, Luna was trapped in the middle of a recipe exchange.
"Oh, Hello Elena, Jamie. This is Mort. He's mine. He'll be staying up here every once in a while."
The other two girls in the Ravenclaw dorm nodded exceedingly slowly, staring at Mort with wide-eyed looks.
"We had a wonderful time at Christmas," continued Luna, not waiting for a response. "I'm so glad McGonagall finally gave permission for me to allow him into the castle."
Mort wondered about that, idly, but he liked both sleeping on a bed, and sleeping on a bed with Luna. Part of him felt it was somehow wrong, that if he was human it'd be wrong to sleep in a bed with a girl, but that part of him was silenced by how comfortable both he and Luna were.
Mort spent a day in the dorm-room, reading a book on enchanting, when one of the fourth years entered and began to open Luna's trunk. They stopped when they heard the deep throaty-growl from the above them, Mort staring down at them from atop the canopy of her bed.
"Um... I'm borrowing something?" started the student. "Luna's a friend of mine?"
Mort's tail snaked out over the bed, and pushed the trunk closed.
The student, a Chinese girl, swallowed very carefully, before backing out of the room, and heading on down the stairwell.
He decided he needed to learn enchanting and locking charms, and would ask Luna about it later.
Luna said her things would usually go missing. When Mort said people were claiming to borrow them, she nodded, and hunted down a very theory oriented book on enchanting from the library. After reading a text on spell-creation, he promptly stated he'd be joining her when she took Arithmancy and Ancient Runes next year, whether anyone cared or not.
Luna merely nodded, and life went on.
"Thank you for finally meeting me," muttered Sirius Black, having given the six required passphrases to Alastor Moody. He had already spent four months sending back and forth owls, patroni, and even regular muggle mail (albeit heavily charmed) to the man, before he sent a portkey that left Sirius Black in an empty, warded room for two and a half hours.
"Had to be sure," growled back Moody. He made no motion to give out food or drink. He trusted no one, and felt no one trusted him.
"Dumbledore had you looking for Harry."
"He did. Didn't do much good, when he didn't ask for all of my results. What do you know?"
"Albus placed him with Petunia Dursley nee Evans. He disappeared about five years ago."
"Petunia knows nothing. Boy went to school, cousin said he didn't come home. She reported him missing the next day, and was done."
"Albus probably didn't mention he dropped the boy on Petunia's doorstep on November 1st."
"No. No he didn't. He made no mention whatsoever of leaving a boy who could walk out on a cold, November night. Should I be surprised?"
"Not really. Albus is dumb at times. Then again, he seemed to think everything would work out fine, and look where that's gotten him so far."
"Like his assumption about me."
"Right. Now, what Albus refused to pay any mind to was pretty interesting. McKinnon family. Their youngest son, Gordon, spent a fair amount of time with Petunia's lardball of a son, Dudley. Their only daughter, Jennifer, was Harry's only friend."
"Only friend?" asked Sirius.
"Mm. Dudley and Gordon played a game called 'Harry Hunting,' along with a few others. Made sure nobody went near him. He was pretty rough with her, according to some, too. Got it from his father is the gossip."
"Did you speak with them?"
"Can't. The lot of them were murdered. The girl was found in the basement. Father had tried to hide her, after accidentally beating her to death. Autopsy said she'd been beaten a fair amount before. Fractured her skull when her head bounced off a table. Harry was seen asking after her, two or three times.
"Harry broke in through the basement window. They ID'd him through fingerprints from a school assignment. He found the girl. This is where things get… fuzzy."
Alastor summoned a folder from a nearby table, and laid it out in front of Sirius. Sirius opened it and barely flinched at the sight.
"The rest of the McKinnon family was butchered. Physically torn limb from limb. And I mean physically, you can see the handprints. Not sure if it's spellwork or not, doesn't look like it, though. I've read the autopsy reports, looked over the pictures, everything."
"I asked about the ceilings. Ten foot. Still leaves us with half-giants, werewolves, and vampires. No bites, and far to much spilled blood, leaving half-giants. Doesn't strike me as something Hagrid would do, and there aren't any other half-giants in England."
"Prints are on the basement door."
"How did he leave?"
"Back door, maybe. Torn off its hinges. Damage indicates from the inside."
"So how did this thing get in?"
"Gut says portkey. Seems like a nice plot to kill him or kidnap him, and it kills some muggles in the process."
"Why not portkey him away?"
"Burst of magic that big in a muggle neighborhood? You were an Auror, Black. Use your brain. They'd follow it easy."
Sirius hmm'd, then went back to the pictures.
The hand was huge, whatever it was. Had it kidnapped Harry? But what was it? Alastor was right. No bites, lots of blood. It just tore the entire family apart. It had to be something big and mean, that could sneak around when it needed to.
Inspiration struck Sirius, and he soon excused himself.
"Sirius! I… I'm sorry, Sirius. Maybe… Maybe if I had given you little Harry, you never would have gone."
"I know, Hagrid. We both trusted Dumbledore on that one. I figured I'd get a trial, you had to get Harry out of there, and Dumbledore figured he was doing the right thing."
"It means… it means a lot to me, you saying that, Sirius. I'm sorry, I should- we all should've known better, than thinking you'd betrayed James."
"It's in the past, Hagrid," said Sirius, knowing the half-giant would blubber endlessly if he allowed it.
"I know, I know, but it's good to hear it from you. Now I know you didn't just come to chat with me, so what can I help you with?"
"The creature that found the rat."
"You mean Mort?" asked Hagrid.
"Yeah, can I see him?"
"No, he's not at the school anymore. He went home with Luna. Luna Lovegood, that is. I'm glad he found a good home, that forest isn't a proper home. No disrespect to you and Professor Lupin, of course. Sorry to see him go. Lot of the kids liked him."
"He's helping me with something important," said Sirius. "I think Mort might be able to help, too."
"Of course, of course. Oh! One more thing..." said Hagrid, turning and heading into his hut. He stepped back out, and a white snowy owl, with brown spotting covering its lower body. "She's a few years late from when I meant to give it to him, but his birthday is coming up."
"Oh?" asked Sirius.
"I bought this for when Harry turned eleven. I'd planned on giving her when he showed up for school and all, but, well with Albus being worried and everything, I hadn't had a chance to. Can you give her to Harry for me?"
"Yeah... of course," said Sirius, something within him hardening.
Hagrid smiled, wholly unaware of the conflicting emotions crossing Sirius's face.
"Thanks a bunch, Sirius. An' again, I'm sorry. I really shouldn't have."
"It's alright," replied Sirius. "And I'll make sure Harry gets this for his birthday."
Sirius and Remus walked up the winding path to the black tower at the top of the hill.
"Definitely Lovegood's place," said Sirius.
"Be kind," replied Remus. "This might be our only lead."
"What, not courteous?"
"That always struck me as being beyond you," remarked Remus, as Sirius rolled his eyes and knocked on the front door.
Xenophilius Lovegood, with his wild hair and equally wild eyes, stared back at them.
"Hello," he said. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mister Boardman. I understand you're getting the Hobgoblins back together again?"
Whatever Sirius had been expected, that was not it. Remus, instead, spoke.
"Yes, Mister Boardman is interested in a comeback tour," he began. "Unfortunately, we're still looking for a few of the original band members."
"Ah, of course, of course," said Xenophilius, nodding quickly. "And you would be?"
"Remus. Remus Lupin, Mister Boardman's manager. May we come in?"
"Yes, yes, of course. Come in, come in."
Sirius sighed, realizing the man was quite completely and utterly insane, but followed Remus into the building. They needed to speak with Luna and Mort.
Sirius watched as Remus began spinning a story of deceit, drama, and bullshit that Xenophilius was just eating up. Sirius looked out the window, to see a slim blonde girl reading, her back up against something that just drank in the midmorning sunlight.
Sirius motioned to Remus he was heading out the back door. Remus looked at him and nodded, even as he was still talking with Xenophilius. Sirius spelled the back door silent, and exited the house. Mort was already looking at him, as he closed the door. He tapped Luna's shoulder and pointed up at Sirius.
"Oh, hello, Mister Black."
"Hello Miss Lovegood. I was hoping you and Mort could help me with something."
"Of course," replied Luna.
"Harry Potter is missing," said Sirius, expecting an explosion of surprise, an exclamation, anything, except for the girl's quiet acceptance of this.
"He… he disappeared five years ago, and I'm trying to put together what happened to him."
"Well, what do you know?" asked Luna.
"The muggle law enforcement, the police, have him at the scene of a murder."
"How do they know?"
"Fingerprints. They're unique, and Harry's were there. Harry's Aunt provided some of this things for the police to identify them from."
"A little girl… a little girl was murdered, and Harry was looking into it. The girl's father was the one who murdered her, and… and the girl's parents, along with both older brothers were… were butchered. Literally torn limb from limb. There's very few things that could do that, and fit into a muggle house. And… well… I wanted to ask if… if Mort was at that house."
Mort tapped Luna on the shoulder, and made a few signs. Luna nodded.
"He was," said Luna.
"Harry... Harry was there?"
Luna shook her head.
"No... Mort was there."
"Did you… did you see Harry at all? While you were there?"
Mort shook his head.
"Back to square one," murmured Sirius. He sat down on the grass, his eyes falling to the ground, trying to think of something, anything that would be helpful.
It broke him.
Ten years in Azkaban, knowing Harry was alive, and well, and protected and safe, and it was all a lie. That he'd been abused and beaten, that his only friend was an abused, beaten little girl who was murdered… and now… and now his last chance at finding him had evaporated like water in the desert. His last chance at saving him. His last chance at rescuing him, at showing him what his friends and his parents, and fulfilling his promise to James.
He broke down into sobs, his face in hidden by his arms, cradled on his knees, inarticulate and undecipherable sentences uttered between his choked off cries of despair. Luna stepped forward, and hugged him, even as he wailed his pain and misery.
Remus Lupin stepped out of the house, and saw Sirius, Luna hugging the lost and now finally broken man. She seemed to be glaring at Mort, while Mort was standing, arms crossed. Power and anger seemed to be radiating from the creature, the shadows around it lengthening.
Just what was it, he wondered as he walked down from the back door to Sirius. He picked the man up, he was still to thin and light from Azkaban, and the stress of trying to find Harry was just adding to it.
Luna started having a very one-sided conversation of hand signals with Mort. The shadows around him and within him seemed to deepen as Luna signed at him.
"Professor Lupin?" asked Luna. "Can we help you find Harry?"
"I'm no longer a Professor, Miss Lovegood. I've quit Hogwarts to help Sirius find Harry. After what Albus did…"
"What Albus did?" asked Luna. "This is off the record, just so you know."
"He ignored James and Lily's will. Harry was supposed to be with Sirius' cousin, Andromeda, or with Edgar and Daria Bones. Granted, Amelia took over for them after Voldemort killed them, but she's done a good job raising Susan. It's just… he did so many things so very wrong back then. He doesn't even bother with apologizing, he doesn't admit he made a mistake, he just… it drives me mad. I don't understand how Minerva can stand him."
"I imagine he hates his parents, then," said Luna.
"What?" asked Sirius. "Why? James and Lily were wonderful people!"
"Because he thinks he was left to his aunt and uncle by them. If he ran away, and doesn't want to be found, then I rather suspect they must have been horrible to him."
Sirius nodded slowly.
"He wouldn't trust anyone. Especially not friends of his parents. They're all lumped together, as liars and abusers. People to be distrusted, to avoid at all costs. And with magic as powerful as Harry was suspected to have, he would never be found."
"He… he wouldn't, would he? Hate James and Lily?"
"He never knew them, Sirius. It's… it's a possibility. I never… I never thought of it that way, Miss Lovegood. But… it does explain some things."
"Petunia," muttered Sirius. "Fucking bint. This is all her fault."
"No, this is all Albus' fault," said Remus.
"Have you tried just sending him an owl?" asked Luna.
"No," said Sirius.
"Try that. Just send a letter. Without tracking charms, without spells, just a simple letter on parchment. Maybe the owl will take it, maybe the owl won't. But if the owl does… maybe you'll get a response."
"It's a plan," said Remus.
"It's all I've got left," muttered Sirius. "Might as well. Hell, maybe the owl Hagrid wanted to give Harry will find him."
"It's worth a try," said Luna.
Once they left, Luna turned back to Mort, to continue their argument.
Dear Mister Harry Potter,
If this letter finds you, please don't destroy it until you've reached the end.
My name is Sirius Black. I am your godfather. I was a friend of your parents before they were murdered. I'm aware that you were put with your aunt and uncle, and while I don't know how big a mistake it was, I know that it was a mistake to place you with them. I was wrongfully imprisoned for your parents deaths, and have only recently been cleared.
I'm writing to you because this is my last chance at finding you. I know you're still alive, but I want, at least, to know that you are safe, healthy, and protected. Please send back a note saying that much. If you wish no further contact, I understand.
We've asked the owl to contact you when you are alone, in case your present guardians are as despicable as your previous ones are. I apologize, but it is a precaution on our part.
Sirius Orion Black
Sirius was depressed. That much was evident.
The snowy owl had left three days before, and they were still waiting for her return.
His theories about what had happened to the owl had reached well into "outlandish" by the middle of the second day, and Remus could only force him to clean Grimmauld Place so much.
Sirius was vibrating in his seat, staring at the open window at breakfast time on the third day.
Both men, for entirely different reasons, breathed a sigh of relief when the snowy owl landed in front of Sirius, a muggle envelope attached to its leg.
Sirius snatched it away, tore open the envelope and began reading, handing the owl an entire plate of bacon to eat.
"Well?" asked Remus, slowly picking at his own breakfast. After a minute or two, Remus moved his chair so that he could read over Sirius shoulder. It was written in a somewhat neat hand, with a muggle pen.
Dear Mister Black,
Thank you for your concern. I wish it had been sooner, too. Why was I placed with my aunt and uncle, if it was a mistake? Why didn't any of my parents friends check on me? You have an excuse, and a good one. What about others?
I can receive owls at any time.
Sirius and Remus stared at the parchment for a long moment.
"Well, why didn't you visit?" asked Sirius.
"Albus suggested that if I did, I could be arrested for making an attempt on Harry's life," replied Remus.
Sirius sat there, staring at the wall for a long moment.
He summoned parchment and quill, and began to write out two more letters.
Luna watched the snowy white owl land on the breakfast table, and handed a letter to Mort.
Thank you for responding. It is wonderful to hear that you are well, safe, and, well, alive.
To answer your first question, you were left on the doorstep of the Dursleys by Albus Dumbledore. And I mean "left on the doorstep." You were in a basket with (hopefully) a warming charm and a note. Your parent's will was ignored. You were supposed to be left to myself, Remus Lupin, Alice and Frank Longbottom, Andromeda and Ted Tonks, or Edgar and Daria Bones.
Remus Lupin was a friend of your father's, and was "suggested not to visit" by, again, Albus Dumbledore for a condition he has, under threat of arrest and imprisonment. How he was then made a teacher at a school you should have attended, however, was never discussed, as getting Dumbledore to admit something requires blackmail.
Alice and Frank Longbottom were tortured into insanity two days after your parent's deaths.
Andromeda and Ted, as near as I can tell, were ignored. I don't know Albus' reasoning for this. It may be because Andi is my cousin, and he's assuming she's just as bad as he assumed I'd gone.
Daria and Edgar Bones were attacked two months before your parent's deaths. Edgar was killed then and there, while Daria succumbed to her injuries within a year.
I'm more than certain Albus used some explanation or another to wave off other's concerns. I know he did this with Minerva McGonagall. He is that sort of individual. As to why he did it… he claims there were protections based on family blood. I think he knew exactly how you would be raised, and hoped for an abused little boy looking for acceptance from the kindly grandfather. Or maybe he's just senile. The man's nearly a hundred and twenty years old at this point.
Honestly, I'd prefer him to be senile, rather than evil.
Mort stopped, hearing the knock at the door. Xenophilius answered with a rather normal greeting, and allowed the two men into the house. Mort blinked, as he realized it was Sirius and Remus. Sirius stopped and stared at them, then at snowy owl, then back at Mort.
"Harry?" he asked.
On this, Mort was entirely still. Luna signed at him.
Mort placed the letter on the table, and then nodded.
"You mean..." began Remus.
"A MacFusty Transformation," said Sirius, nodding.
"A MacFusty Transformation?" asked Luna.
"Something a Ravenclaw doesn't know?" asked Sirius.
"Yes, but only temporarily, as you will be providing enlightenment."
"Right. It's an accidental animagus transformation. Almost always into a magical creature, and it's barely reversible," said Sirius, staring. "Harry, is it really you?"
"Well, this is rather bollocksed up, now isn't it?" muttered Sirius.
"That shouldn't be possible," said Remus, watching as Harry worked on his spellcasting. Both Remus and Sirius visited the Lovegood residence on a nearly daily basis over the summer, working with Harry on getting him to transform back to human.
"Well, have we ever run into an animagus that could talk and hold a wand?" asked Sirius.
"No..." said Remus, trailing off.
"Then we've got more work to do, now don't we?"
Harry could shrink himself down to the size of a child, now, and Sirius was working with him to get back "a little color" as Sirius put it. Sirius found he was getting nowhere with that part of all of this.
"To be human, you need to see yourself as human," said and signed Luna. Sirius and Remus were learning sign language, and were picking it up using the same spells Luna and Xenophilius used.
Harry snorted, but kept trying.
"You really do need to see yourself as human," she added.
Harry looked up at Sirius and Remus, and then walked away.
"Harry!" shouted Sirius.
"Don't," said Luna. "I'll talk to him."
She started walking after him.
The forest near the Weasleys and the Lovegoods was mostly normal, although there were a few creatures that weren't precisely muggle. She ignored the gnomes underfoot and especially the set of jarveys that cursed at her. Instead, she found Harry hiding up a tree. She walked around the tree, before picking a low branch and pulling herself up into the tree. There, she found him curled up into a fork in the branches.
"Please let me in," asked Luna.
Harry became larger, his tail wrapping around a nearby branch to steady himself as he uncurled. Luna sat down on Harry's lap. She wrapped her arms around him, and held him.
"All I want is my friend," said Luna. "I want my friend to hold me and hug me and love me, just as I want to hold you and hug you and love you. I don't care what your name is. I don't care if you ever become human again. You're my friend, and I'm your friend, and that's all that matters."
Luna could feel Harry shiver, and she could hear the whispered hissing. She couldn't make out any of it, but she felt his arms hold her tight, and she knew he wouldn't leave. Not now, not ever.
"I wish I didn't have to say this, but we need more information," said Remus.
The summer had produced nothing. Harry was no more human that he was before. And the information on MacFusty transformations was slim as it was. No mention of it could be found in the Black Library, which focused more on dark magic than obscure transfiguration.
"What libraries do we have access to?" asked Sirius.
"I might be able to get access to the restricted section," began Remus.
"But we'd need to convince Dumbledore," grumbled Sirius.
"We could get into the library, asking to look in the restricted section for locater charms," began Remus.
"He'll try to help," growled Sirius.
Remus sighed, tapping his fingers against the arm of his conjured lawn chair. He looked down at Luna and Harry, watching as Harry cast spells by hissing the incantations.
"McGonagall's an expert on the animagus," began Remus.
"She'd go to Dumbledore," shot down Sirius.
Remus paused in thought.
"Sneak in?" he suggested.
"The school's one thing, but the library?" countered Sirius.
They sat in cold silence, the only warmth coming from the children down the hill.
Sirius cast a muffilato on himself, and Remus paid him no mind as he started shouting. Remus took a deep sigh, waiting for Sirius to get the anger out of his system. Sirius stood up, stomping back and forth, his arms spread wide, his hands in constant motion.
Remus could not begin to guess what stream of profanities and blasphemies was pouring from Sirius' mouth, but knew the children didn't need to hear it. He could also guess who it was all directed at.
Remus conjured a short granite wall, and then conjured a group of vases. Sirius, still cursing up a storm, picked them up, one by one, and threw them at the wall, ignoring his wand and magic entirely.
Remus sighed, and conjured more as Sirius needed them.
The buzzing of the muffilato fell, and Sirius fell into his lawn chair, panting.
"Are you alright?" shouted Luna.
"Not at all," replied Sirius. "Not. At. All."
"We need more information," said Remus. "And the only place we know will have more information is Hogwarts Library's restricted section."
"And in order to get there, you would need to talk to Dumbledore," replied Luna. "And he'll want to know why, and what you're looking for."
Shadows lengthened, colors muted, and the sun was a little less bright.
"And were you planning on doing this?" asked Luna.
"No," replied Sirius. "We're trying to figure out a way around it."
"Why do we need it?" signed Harry.
He felt Luna's arm wrap across his back, as both Sirius and Remus sighed, knowing the argument was going to come back around.
"They think you're limiting yourself," said Luna. "They want you to be the best you can be, and being physically human can be part of that."
Harry snorted, and the sun returned to its usual brightness. He turned, and walked back down the hill.
Sirius gave Luna a sad smile, and Luna returned it, before following Harry. She followed him down the hill, and into the forest behind the house. The shadows were longer, and after an examination of several trees, she selected a suitably thick-trucked tree to climb. As she set herself to climb it, a tail wrapped around her, and lifted her up into its branches. She settled down on Harry's shoulder, and her arm wrapped around Harry's neck for comfort.
"Why?" she asked.
Silence filled the forest as animals left, escaping the shadows, or hiding within them.
Harry hissed a sigh, then lifted her with his tail onto a nearby branch. She sat, kicking her heels, waiting.
"Fear," signed Harry.
"Fear of what?" Luna signed back.
Harry was silent. Luna felt the tail squeeze her, a small hug, and she ran her hand along it. She smiled, and Harry shrank a little.
"When my mother died," began Luna, her hands moving in slow, monotonous movements, devoid of emotion. "I believed it was my fault. I believed I caused the accident. I believed I killed her."
She felt Harry's tail hug her again. She smiled at him, and then let the smile fade.
"And I believed my father would hate me for it."
She was lifted from the branch, and brought to Harry's lap. Arms encircled her, and wings of shadow and warmth surrounded them.
For a time, the only sound was her breath. She was shifted, moved from Harry's chest to far enough away to sign.
"I killed them," he signed. "I tore them apart. I murdered them."
"I know," she replied. "Your friend was murdered. You were angry. You hated them." Luna was silent. "I don't know what I'd do if you were murdered. I hope I never do."
She reached, and touched his hands with hers.
"These hands. They destroy. A basilisk. A troll. A Dark Lord." Luna drew them closer, her fingers touching the long, thick fingers made of inky darkness, bringing them up against herself. "These hands. They protect. Your godfather. A unicorn. Me."
She twisted in Harry's lap, reaching up and touching Harry's face. Bone and spikes and spines melted away at her touch.
"You've felt the worst sort of hate, yet you're the nicest person I know. You're no more a monster than I am."
She drew his head down to her, laying her cheek against his.
"You are my very best friend. Don't hate yourself for your mistakes. Learn from them, make yourself better because of them."
Harry huffed and hissed.
"Remus and Sirius… they want you to have more options. A human appearance is another option."
"Dumbledore… great men make great mistakes. And they have great secrets."
"It's your choice. It's your secret to tell. They aren't asking you to decide. They're asking you to think about it."
"Albus, tell me why."
"The details are unnecessary, Sirius."
"I don't want you sanctimonious bullshit, Albus. Tell. Me. Why."
"What's done is done."
"And I'll tell Rita Skeeter what was done, if you don't tell me WHY?!"
"Sirius, there's no need-"
"You don't even know what you've done! You don't fucking comprehend. Merlin's left testicle, if you want to find out when Amelia Bones herself comes with half the Auror corps and Rita Skeeter's poison quill, I can make it happen!"
Albus looked like one of his lemon drops was made of his own urine. He regained control of his face.
"Lucius Malfoy," sighed Albus.
"What in Merlin's fucking prostate does Lucius Malfoy have anything to do with this?"
"My reputation may have Fudge's right ear, but Lucius Malfoy's gold has his left. He has already placed Dolores Umbridge as Fudge's Undersecretary. She was the author of the werewolf legislation that drove them to Voldemort's cause. Amelia Bones has a difficult enough time running the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to deal with the Wizengamot, and Voldemort's actions ensured I still do not have a replacement amongst what few members of the old light houses remain.
"What, Sirius, was I supposed to do?"
"And the Dursleys?"
"Who else could I give him to, that would protect him better?"
"Andi could have."
"Lucius would have murdered the Tonks', or just legislated Harry into Narcissa's care. Augusta does not trust me since Frank and Alice's injuries. Remus' condition legally prevents him from caring for children. You were in prison-"
"And why was I in prison?" demanded Sirius.
"It was… it was a moment of weakness. I was unaware of any of your abilities as an animagus, and who would believe Pettigrew capable… capable of anything he did?" asked Albus.
Sirius snarled, but said nothing.
"I had no other option, Sirius. I tried my best, with what I knew at the time, and failed. Horribly, judging by your anger. And like any fool, I tried to cover it up. I am truly sorry, Sirius.
"Everything I have, every piece of my magic, every dreg of my knowledge, is at your disposal."
Sirius took a number of long deep breaths. This wasn't the way he was expecting this conversation to go. He'd expected more shouting and screaming and recriminations, and Albus being his usual sanctimonious asshole self. Instead... he found an old man in a horrible situation, taking the path of least evil, and regretting every step along the way.
Was it Dumbledore' magic that made him more pitiable, that made Sirius want to forgive him? Or was it real honesty on Dumbledore's part, a true want on his part for forgiveness, a true need to be the best person he could be.
Sirius knew he couldn't make this decision now. He couldn't make this decision for his godson.
"We'll see," replied Sirius, as he stood.
"I am glad that you found Harry. Whatever my mistakes have caused… you are far better equipped to fix than I."
"Yeah. Fix," muttered Sirius before slamming the door behind him.
Dumbledore closed his eyes, placing his glasses on his desk, and slumped into his chair.
"I wish my best was ever good enough," Dumbledore mumbled to himself. With a sigh, he picked up his glasses and returned to his paperwork. Guilt and remorse were well-familiar enough to work alongside them.
Malfoy was well-composed, being nearly alone in a room with Bartimus Crouch Sr., Alastor Moody, and Albus Dumbledore. Certainly, Fudge was there as well, but he hardly counted as much of anything. A particularly ugly sock-puppet, perhaps? Not as ugly as the shredded beef that was Alastor Moody.
"This has been in the works for the last three years, Dumbledore!" shouted Crouch.
"I'm quite certain you have worked on it for the last three years, Barty," replied Dumbledore. "And I'm sure you hope its success an attempt to regain some prestige to failing your career, but that does not change you are bringing this to my attention now."
"After the World Cup-"
"Mm, another fine feather in your cap," growled Moody. "And where were you that night, Lucius?"
"At an after party with several friends."
"After-party, eh? Black robe affair, perhaps? Maybe a masquerade?"
Malfoy shook his head, disgust evident.
"Alastor," warned Dumbledore.
"Fine, fine," he replied, leaning back in his chair, his eye returning to its roving.
"Barty? If you would continue?"
"After the World Cup was hosted by England, the Triwizard Tournament will bring further goodwill to England-"
"Good will? Hah!" cackled Moody. "Pull the other one!"
"Must he be here?" begged Fudge.
"Given the events of the last three years?" commented Dumbledore, glaring over his half-moon glasses.
"Right. The Triwizard Tournament will bring further goodwill to England, and has the possibility of returning as an established tradition."
"And the death count of previous tournaments?" asked Dumbledore.
"Modern magical methods are far safer-"
"The tasks, Barty."
"Right, well, for the first one, we have arranged with Romania three dragons-"
"Dragons," intoned Dumbledore, somehow taller than everyone in the room without standing, "are not safe."
Crouch, Fudge, and Malfoy swallowed, while Moody cracked a smile.
Hermione, Luna, and Mort lounged in a compartment as they approached the school.
There was some discussion about the World Cup last month. A group of quidditch hooligans caused a small riot, but the Aurors calmed it down soon enough, although no one was caught. Then things moved on to a discussion of possibilities of what Mort was.
Hermione's theory of "Not a Balrog" was a good one, although she had to explain to Luna and Mort what a Balrog was.
"Hmm… the smoke, yes, but not the fire," commented Luna. "And I don't think I could see you wielding a whip."
Mort's tail twitched, lengthening into something more sinuous.
"Well, there's that, but that's not a whip, now is it?"
Mort snapped his tail a few times, and all three of them jumped when he managed to make a cracking sound.
"I think that qualifies as a whip," said Hermione.
"I suppose," said Luna. "But I don't think he qualifies as a Balrog."
Luna immediately enlisted Mort's help in carrying a camera during interviews about the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
He followed her between classes as she interviewed various older students on their reasons for or against entering the tournament.
Answered ranged from "I need to do well on my NEWTS" and "I found out how many people died the last few times" to "Tri-Wizard Tournament winner will look very nice on a cover letter" and "my family could use a thousand galleons."
Still, coverage of the student views and a promise to cover the international student views when the time came gave for a welcome bump in readership that forced Xenophilius to run a second edition of the Quibbler.
Alastor Moody regarded "Mort" with suspicion when it entered the classroom, following one of the third years. Her fellow Ravenclaws avoided her, but from what he'd heard from Filius, there'd been an ongoing bullying issue that wasn't be resolved due to a lack of evidence, followed by a lack of Lovegood reporting it.
Terrible place to be, and Alastor'd seen it all too many damn times. Reporting made it worse and with little evidence. Afterall, who'd believe Looney Lovegood? Those were always the hardest cases, and Alastor was always pleased when he managed to nail that sort of bastard to the wall, but some of them were too damn slippery, too damn sneaky.
Alastor'd reviewed Albus' memories of Mort, the size-changing, moving on four legs or two legs as it suited, the strength of the thing, and the head of a thousand-year-old basilisk of all creatures.
Alastor remembered a thick folder filled with 8x10 glossy photos, each one an unmoving record of blood splatter and limb placement. He also remembered a trio of photos, of a glassy-eyed, dirt-covered girl in a basement. He recalled the memory of the centaurs and Hagrid treating a unicorn, of the decapitated basilisk head, of Peter Pettigrew being brought to justice. And he looked at Mort now, a protective presence around Luna Lovegood.
He'd withhold judgment. For now.
It was Friday, October 7th, that Luna found her first treatise on the MacFusty transformation. She made notes on the topic.
That night, she cried herself to sleep in the warm shadows of Mort's arms. Her only comment was "Some stories are sad. Some stories have no happy ending."
The next day Luna gripped Mort tight as they walked to Hogsmeade. The Hogshead was an oft maligned bar, but Aberforth was a kind man, and allowed Remus and Sirius to use his back room. Together, under the curious eyes of a portrait of a young girl, the four of them reviewed Luna's notes.
Remus rubbed his eyes, ignoring the open bottle of butterbeer. He should have gone with tea. Or firewhiskey.
Sirius lay on the table, staring at the ceiling.
Mort sat, back against the wall, Luna curled up into his lap. His fingers ran through her hair.
"I should get a brush," she murmured. Her eyes were still puffy, but they were dry for the first time.
"I hate we're contemplating this. I really do," said Sirius.
"We've exhausted everything else," said Remus.
"Wait for the holidays," mumbled Luna. "Give everyone time away from everyone else."
"Right. In the meantime, we'll sweep the Black library again."
Fleur Delacour stared. Her eyes drifted back and forth between them, the brightly smiling girl, only a few years older than her own sister, and the massive shadowy creature behind her, holding a camera, but not yet taking any pictures.
"Hello, Luna Lovegood of the Quibbler. Thank you for letting me interview you!"
"Oui. Er, yes," replied Fleur, unsure of just how this happened. She knew Luna had interviewed Cedric Diggory, and she'd caught glimpses of the massive creature in the hallways a few times, but this was… she wasn't sure.
"This is my camerabeing, Mort."
"Hello," whimpered Fleur, waving back.
"It's okay, Mort only kills bad things."
Fleur's brain halted, and only started again after the route questions about her family and why she was competing. She was pretty sure she didn't go too far into French pride, but she just wasn't entirely sure what she was saying at the time.
"Is it true that you're a part-Veela?"
"Yes," Fleur stated with caution.
"As a part-Veela, are you able to transform enough that you can fly?" asked Luna.
"I cannot perform a running takeoff, but I can glide from a height," replied Fleur, surprised at the question.
"I presume it is a wingspan issue?"
"Correct, I would need around three times my current wingspan to generate enough lift."
"Have you looked into lightening charms?"
"I have," replied Fleur. "It is one of my charms projects this year to create an enchanted item."
Mort reached forward and tapped Luna on the shoulder, making a series of hand motions.
Once more, Luna found herself translating a conversation between Mort and someone else. She didn't mind, as last time she was trapped translating for Mort, she got excellent scones out of it.
"Would you prefer to fly with your broom, or with wings?"
Viktor leaned back, thoughtful. The interview had gone through the rote questions, but now it was getting into the good ones. Viktor was glad he said yes.
"I thought long and hard about this. One day, I will have wings. I am studying for Animagus transformation, but I cannot make any magical progress until I retire from Quidditch. League considers it unfair advantage."
"Really? I hadn't heard of that rule."
"While the Bulgarian league considers it unsportsmanlike, the international league banned it, calling it unfair advantage."
"Fascinating. Are you planning to use the Gamp-Farhorn Transfiguration Sequence, or the Longbottom-Tolbert Potion and Meditation Sequence?"
"I would prefer Longbottom-Tolbert," replied Viktor. "The potion provides a clear end-goal, gives you an easy target to reach for. But I will go Gamp-Farhorn. Gamp-Farhorn lets you decide, and I wish to be peregrine falcon."
"A peregrine falcon? Why that animal specifically?"
"Because it is fastest in world," stated Viktor. "320 kilometers per hour in a dive, and that is not even top speed."
"A seeker is a seeker," replied a smiling Luna as she asked about his plans for arm-to-wing transfiguration.
"So Percy's still tugging at the bucket of juniper berries on his head, while the twins are sopping wet from the water charms. I'm standing well clear, laughing, when both of them, same time, point at each other and shout 'your eyebrows are gone!' And that's when Molly runs up, having heard the still explode," continued Cedric.
Luna was giggling, but she knew she couldn't use this particular story.
"Well! If it isn't Little Miss Lovegood!" said Rita Skeeter. She dutifully ignored the creature behind Lovegood, holding a camera, while her own cameraman stared at it, slack-jawed, camera pointed at the ground.
"Oh! Miss Skeeter!" replied Luna. "How is the Daily Profit these days?"
"Its just lovely. Why, I even receive a steady paycheck! With bonuses, even!"
"Yes, I'm sure gold warms what is left of your shriveled soul. Or does it drown it? I'm not rightly sure."
"Well," began Rita, smirking, "when one doesn't have any, one can't talk about the effects of it. At least, for real things."
"Rita Skeeter? Talking about what is and isn't true?" replied Luna. "I wasn't aware you knew what truth was."
"Only enough to reel in a reader. After that, does anyone really care?"
"And honesty! Oh, what is the world coming to!" replied Luna, the back of her hand across her forehead. "I feel faint! Will your editor tell us which bribes he's taking for tomorrow's edition next?"
"Sweetie, those are donations. Bribe is such a dirty word."
"It's only dirt if it's on someone else," commented Luna.
"Exactly!" replied Rita with a smile. "Now, Luna, how are you?"
Rita smiled a genuine smile.
"That's my favorite niece."
"Auntie, I'm your favorite niece because I'm your only niece."
"Well that just makes it more true! Now, I loved the article about the Champions. You did a very good job with them. Weaving together their skills with their hopes and dreams? Oh, that was wonderful. Especially Diggory, combining the true Hufflepuff work ethic and his top 5 status for grades? That was good. The writing was a little amateurish, but that comes with time and practice. Having an editor helps, too. So, who is this photographer?"
"This is Mort," replied Luna. "He's a very good friend. He's been making sure Daddy's been eating better when we're home, too."
"My brother-in-law? Eating better?" asked Rita, eyebrow raised. "I wasn't aware that was possible."
"It helps that Mort cooks," replied Luna. "And is this your new cameraman?"
"Mm-hm. Bozo, meet Luna Lovegood, my favorite niece. Take a bad photo of her, and you're fired, then blacklisted from every paper in Europe, and then you will have... mypersonal attention," Rita hissed.
"Yes, ma'am," whimpered Bozo.
"Good." Rita turned back to Luna, smiling. "Let's go take some inspiring photos of our aspiring Tri-wizard Champions."
"Rita Skeeter is your aunt?" asked Harry.
"One does not choose blood," replied Luna.
Massive hands picked up Luna, holding her close.
"There were a few times I wished it was her, instead of Mum," whispered Luna.
She felt more than heard Harry sympathetic hiss. Wings enveloped her, and she relaxed into Harry's chest. She heard the light rumple of the curtains being closed.
She relaxed, feeling the long, slow inhale and exhale of Harry's chest, then pushed back. Harry's wings vanished, and she looked at him.
"She slipped me a note," she signed. "She wants to meet with us next Hogsmeade Weekend. Just a chat."
Harry ran the back of his fingers of Luna's cheek, and she smiled a little, before he asked his own question.
"Do you think she wants to help you?"
"She wants to… in her own way," signed Luna. "She isn't very nice, but she's never been cruel to me. I think it's her way of showing love. She's never showed such care for my father."
"One more reason to dislike her, then."
"Still," added Mort. "If she cares… if she's trying. We should let her."
Luna gave a small smile.
"Was there any falsehood in that Voldemort article two years back?" asked Rita.
"No," replied Luna.
"I'm assuming the anonymous source was Dumbledore?"
"I can neither confirm nor deny," stated Luna. "I can confirm that Mort smelled the same magic on the diary, the Dark Mark, and the Unicorn Poacher from the year before I started. It was also how he found Peter Pettigrew."
Rita examined Mort for the third or fourth time, noting the shifts and changes in his body even as he sat across from her in the backroom of the Hogshead. She looked past them both, at the painting of Ariana Dumbledore. Aberforth was a wonderful source of information on Albus' past, and Bathilda was a good source for the rest. She was almost done with her book, although she'd give her wand arm for a chance to interview Gellert in Nuremgard.
Still, a cultivated source against Albus Dumbledore?
She closed her eyes, and shoved all of that aside. This was her niece. Her niece, that was very close to something extremely dangerous.
"Fudge will shove his head in a pile of Malfoy's gold, rather than admit You-Know-Who is still alive," said Rita. "And Dumbledore must know doing that was going to cause all the Death Eaters to start actually searching for him."
Rita was pensive a moment.
"Right, I've got some less savory contacts, I'll see what they dig up. Maybe your father can publish some more stories, eh? Might help keep circulation up, especially since it's not the sort of thing the Prophet's interested at the moment, if you catch my drift.
Luna gave a single nod.
"And you!" she said, pointing at Mort. "Keep my favorite niece safe. Or else!"
Mort's nod was slow and steady.
"Good. Both of you, keep safe. And see if you can get some better wards around that tower."
Rita gave a short smile, then left.
Luna stood up, then fell backwards on the table, arms spread. She heard the butterbeer bottle hit the floor, but didn't particularly care.
"Thirteen is far to young to worry about safety," she said, staring at the ceiling. "I should be carefree and invincible, concerned only with testing the boundaries of my life and my magic."
Mort hissed in acknowledgement.
"I need normal. Let's see what Hermione's up to."
When they left the Hogsheade, Mort's tail swung out and picked up Luna, lifting her onto his back. He took off at a gallop, headed a rather circuitous route towards the castle, Luna laughing all the way.
Karkaroff's blood froze when he heard the sibilant hiss of parseltongue. He looked up into the shadows above him, swallowing.
Something moved overhead, and was gone.
Karkaroff returned to the ship, and refused to leave until the first task.
"Diggory! Over here!"
Cedric kept his wand in hand whenever he was around Alastor Moody. His father didn't have many kind words to say about the retired Auror, but was certain Cedric could trust "the old bastard."
"Just a moment," replied the Auror, fumbling around in a desk drawer as the classroom cleared out. "There we are."
Professor Moody retrieved the book as the last students left the room.
"Bit of extra credit work," said Moody. "When's the first task?"
"November 23rd, sir."
"Right. Chapter 11, read it, understand it. You'll get a nice quiz on it on the 23rd."
"Sir?" asked Cedric, glancing at the spine and stopping short. The Life and Habits of Dragons.
"Straight from Dumbledore's collection," continued Moody.
"Sir, this is… well…"
"Tradition," replied Moody. For the first time Cedric had ever seen, both of Moody's eyes were focused on him. "And about keeping a level playing field for grades. A couple other students in similar positions are getting similar assignments right about now."
Cedric swallowed, his eyes wide at the implications.
"Thank you, sir."
"Thank me that evening, boy. Now get going, you've got work to do."
Cedric nodded, and walked out of the room. He opened the book to the table of contents, and glanced at the heading for Chapter 11.
On the Nesting Mother.
Cedric's throat went dry and his heart thundered in his chest as he walked much faster.
Luna was sick to her stomach by the end of the first task.
Nesting mother dragons, with eggs beneath them.
Krum was horrific. The eggs crushed, the dragon screaming in pain when Krum stole his egg.
Fleur was far better, enchanted her dragon, putting the dragon to sleep and took the egg by stealth.
Cedric distracted, enraged the dragon with wolves, forced her to attack them as a transfiguration snuck the egg out.
She wished Harry was next to her, instead of off in the forest or in the upper-reaches of the castle, watching the proceedings.
I have received a number of recent letters addressed to myself, Xenophilius Lovegood, in my capacity as editor of The Quibbler. These letters have requested why the Quibbler has not run any articles on my daughter's dear friend Mort (see photo below).
While the Quibbler has recently run several articles on the political landscape of our society, our primary focus is still magi-zoology. As we all know, magi-zoology is the study of magical creatures. Mort, while an interesting form, is a magical being, fully capable of holding a conversation via written word and sign language. While he is quite recalcitrant on the subject of his history, he is also friends with several students, professors, and ex-professors of Hogwarts, including such august individuals as Minerva McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid. To wit, he even exchanged recipes with one of my neighbors!
While he is a philosophically fascinating specimen, he is not the subject of the Quibbler's academic focus, and as such will not be covered in detail within its pages. This may disappoint some of you, but rest assured, we will continue our usual coverage of Ministerial Madness as well as the latest discoveries in magi-zoology, and the occasional crossover with non-magi-zoology. After all, it took three decades of hard research and experimentation to prove that the Platypus was not a magical creature!
"Diggory! Stay a moment!"
"You're a Prefect, right?"
"You've been using the Prefect's Baths, right?"
"Err, yes," trailed off Diggory, confused until a thought struck him. "Oh! Yes, yes I have. The Prefect's Bath is a very good perk, and I've used it several times. Especially in the last few days."
"Good, good," replied Moody, who pursed his lips. "You did good with that transfiguration back during the first task. Noted a lack of charms, however."
"Ah, yes, I've been looking into that. I've found some… ah… interesting ones."
"Good, good. Keep up the good work, Diggory. You're a fine example of the Hogwarts spirit."
"Thank you, Professor!"
Rita buzzed about the second floor hallways, following a pair of sixth year gossips discussing some juicy details of their parents. She drifted away from them as they went towards the Ravenclaw common room, not wanting to be stuck in the Ravenclaw tower for a few hours.
Then a shadow came over her. It didn't have a smell, just a massive presence, cutting out all light around her. Her wings worked to escape, to fly around the ceiling, but it kept around her, trapping her.
She spent several anxious minutes in movement, her legs touching what she guessed were hands. She had no idea what was going until the hands opened to a wooden desk, and the presence revealed itself to be Mort, her niece's friend.
It stared at her, then made a movement of its hands.
She changed back into a human.
"So you found me."
Mort nodded, then crossed its arms.
"I was searching for scoops!" she defended.
Fingers the length of her forearm tapped a piece of parchment on the table.
"Apologies. I needed to be certain who you were," she read.
"Well, I suppose that's understandable."
Mort picked up the quill, and wrote a few more lines.
Rita smiled at the information on the page.
"Well, these are some interesting facts. And why are you giving them to me?"
"Their children stole Luna's things."
Rita's smile turned vindictive, and her eyes gleamed with vengeance.
"I think this might be the start of a beautiful friendship, Mort."
Luna and Harry took the train home. Neither was interested in the pageantry of the Yule Ball, especially when there would be a home-cooked meal filled with wonder and love and joy. There would be more people this year, as well, with Sirius and Remus both coming over, laden with presents.
Luna smiled at more books and charms and colorful beads. Harry hissed with joy at what few texts could be found on parselmouths, as well as magical theory and spell-crafting.
The dinner itself was better than the year before. All three adults appreciated it more than they could say, none of them accustomed to home-cooked meals.
It was the day after Boxing Day, that Sirius went off to Hogwarts.
"MacFusty transformations. Any information you have on them."
Albus was silent for a moment, his intellect working over what Sirius just asked him.
"Ah." Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, taking his glasses off, and placing them on the desk. He somehow looked yet older. "Shite."
Sirius blinked. He wasn't sure he heard Dumbledore correctly. He imagined Dumbledore didn't even know how to curse, let alone say them out loud. It felt like catching the ghost of Merlin perving on the Holyhead Harpies' shower room. Granted, Sirius wouldn't mind doing that, but Merlin doing that? Just wrong.
"The McKinnon family Alastor mentioned? The young girl, a friend of Harry?"
"Yes," whispered Sirius.
"Shite," whispered Dumbledore, his hand going to the bridge of his nose, and confirming that Albus Dumbledore could, indeed, utter curse words. "Mort?"
"Yep," said Sirius, popping the "p" sound with bitterness.
Dumbledore gave a long, sorrowful sigh, as though his very soul was attempting to leak out.
"I can begin to imagine the pain Harry has suffered through." He pushed himself to his feet, his bones creaking as he walked to one of the many bookshelves in his office. He retrieved a pair of tomes and a leather, hand-bound journal. He sat back down at his desk, and retrieved a sheet of parchment, and scribbled out a note.
"Minerva knows more than I," continued Dumbledore. "These two are treatises on advanced human-animal transfiguration. I do not know how helpful that will be. This is Julian Delacour's journal of his time with Joan of Arc after her transformation into a pheonix."
"Joan of Arc?" asked Sirius, surprise warring with confusion.
"Oh, yes. Rather embarrassing on the French's part. One of the strongest witches in generations, and she was a peasant muggleborn. They refused to even consider her going to Beauxbatons. So, instead, she used her magic to fight for France. The English and the French both did their best to stamp out the story, but a few wizarding families still remember."
Sirius took all three of the books, examining the titles. Two were in Olde English, atrocious spelling included, and the third was blank. He could feel the preserving charms drying his skin of oil and moisture.
"That should be a start. Give this note to Minerva. She will likely figure it out, as well. I will not be informing Severus. In the event Voldemort returns, he will likely question Severus very closely."
"Voldemort is still alive?"
"Yes," replied Dumbledore. "He has been within the school twice, in one shape or another. He is stalking about the edges of the Wizarding World, and will make another attempt to return soon."
"Does Harry know?"
"Given Harry fought and repelled Voldemort both times? Yes, I rather imagine he does."
"Any other horrible news I should be aware of? Besides the prophecy, at least?"
"Well, that depends on who you ask. I rather imagine you would not consider it horrible news."
"What," asked Sirius, wondering what Dumbledore could possible imagine as "not horrible news" given what he's already heard.
"Harry has been staying in Miss Lovegood's room in the Ravenclaw dorms."
Even as Sirius chuckled, and shook his head, a gleam formed in his eyes. He knew exactly what to do about that.
"We'll talk again, Dumbledore," said Sirius, feeling as though he needed some venom in his voice.
"Of that, I have no doubt." Dumbledore paused. "I am glad that Miss Lovegood found him, that you found him. You are far better equipped than I am, to undo my mistakes. And tell Harry I wish to apologize to him. I know it will not be enough, but it is a start."
After Sirius left, Dumbledore set himself to paperwork, waiting for Minerva to arrive.
The door crashed open, slamming against the door stop. In the doorway, Minerva stood, seething.
Dumbledore waited a moment, to see if she would (rightly) start in on him. When she did not, he began.
"You told me that the Dursleys were not to be trusted with Harry," said Dumbledore. "And I did not listen. The blame rests at my feet. No one else's."
Some stories are sad. Some stories have no happy ending.
Laise MacFusty was nine years old when a swarm of doxies caught him. The surviving doxies were found with a significant amount of his blood in them, while Laise was identified as a hellhound or, more commonly, an ashwolf.
An ashwolf is a rare magical creature created from a forest fire in a magical forest. Rare enough to be legend, dangerous enough no one sane wanted to study them. Much like an ashwinder, ashwolves required a constant source of flame to live.
Laise survived for three years, before leaving the ever-burning woodpile he slept in, and putting himself out in the pond behind his parent's house.
He left a note, burned into the heather by his parent's house.
I'm sorry. I can't.
Scholars, proving once more that common sense was in short supply in the Wizarding World, argued over what Laise meant when he wrote "I can't." Common scholarly thinking appended "go to Hogwarts" or "be a wizard." After all, what right-thinking wizard didn't want to be, well, a wizard? The boy was slightly better than a squib, now.
Laise's mother and father held their own opinion, oft maligned by "right thinking" scholars.
Flame-freezing charms allow a wizard to stick their hand into a fire without being burned. Liase felt things he could not burn as painful. Walking across stones was walking barefoot across shattered glass. Gillechriosd and Coaimhe MacFusty could not touch their son without pain. Without being burned by him, or hurting him in turn. And in that, there was pain. Pain for Laise himself, pain for his parents. A constant ache, with no end in sight.
It was an easy choice for Laise to make.
Albert Runcorn looked up from his desk, to see another Ministry employee, a little on the nervous side.
"Yes?" he asked, looking up from his work. She was a little on the mousy side, a skittish little thing, but with some nice brown eyes.
"Yes, hello. I'm Bertha Jorkins, from Sports and Games, yes."
"Yeeees?" he asked again, drawing it out.
"You're Albert Runcorn, right?"
He openly rolled his eyes.
"Right, sorry, says so on the door. It's just, well, I've been working close with Crouch for the tournament, and well, have you seen this?"
She placed a copy of the Quibbler on Runcorn's desk. A massive creature of smoke and shadow moved about the photo, a small blonde girl dressed in a Hogwarts uniform next to it.
"No, no I have not," commented Runcorn as he scanned the article above it. He rubbed the thin beard on his chin. "This is very interesting. Where did this come from?"
"Ludo, that is, Ludo Bagman from Sports and Games, my boss, made some comments about it. I thought it might be a good idea for someone to look into. It's around children, and well, the Ministry…" Bertha trailed off.
"Should take an interest. I'll take a few people and go have a look, I think."
Bertha smiled a happy little smile, and hurried out.
Runcorn considered the article a few minutes longer, then checked his calender. With a nod, he left his office.
"Oi! Walden! Grab your kit, we've got to make a house call!'
Walden McNair smiled.
"What are you two doing here?" asked Hagrid, looking down at Walden McNair and Albert Runcorn as they walked up the path to Hogwarts.
They looked up, and Walden swallowed when he saw the large crossbow slung over Hagrid's back. He remembered the time a bolt of that crossbow carried a man twelve feet before his feet touched the ground again.
"Yes, well, we've received reports of an unknown being on the grounds, and per our mandate, we are to investigate," stated Runcorn.
"Oh? Which being is that?" asked Hagrid.
"This one," said Runcorn, holding up the Quibbler.
Hagrid examining the paper for several minutes, the smile on his face covered by his beard as Walden McNair's brow was covered in sweat.
"I'll take you to Professor Dumbledore," said Hagrid after a time.
"I think we can take it from here, Mister Hagrid," commented Runcorn, holding back a sigh.
"Mm. I'm headed that way now, anyways," replied Hagrid.
"Right. After you," said McNair, thankful when Hagrid turned and headed for the Headmaster's office. Runcorn glanced at McNair, eyebrow raised. McNair shook his head. Runcorn rolled his eyes, but would let McNair explain later.
Runcorn frowned when they took the long way to Dumbledore's office, including past the trophy room with the rather impressive stuffed basilisk. Runcorn was curious what spells were used to tear out its eyes, but knew he'd never get a straight answer out of Dumbledore.
The gargoyle was still the same, as was the moving staircase.
"Ah, Hagrid!" called Dumbledore. "And a pair of most august personalities of the Department for Regulations and Control of Magical Creatures! Welcome, gentlemen. What can I help you with today?"
"We're here to investigate a suspected being on the Hogwarts grounds," replied Albert Runcorn, holding up a copy of the Quibbler.
"Ah, fascinating individual," commented Albus, examining the paper. "He is usually with Miss Lovegood. I shall fetch the pair of them now."
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, hands clasped, while Runcorn and McNair stood, waiting, Hagrid at their backs. Dumbledore took clear enjoyment from McNair's discomfort. Runcorn was just annoyed, although confused as to McNair's discomfort.
"Alastor! Thank you for fetching Miss Lovegood and her dear friend Mort!" said Dumbledore, as Moody stomped in, followed by a small blonde waif of a girl and a massive creature of smoke and shadow. "Miss Lovegood, Mort. Allow me to introduce Albert Runcorn and Walden McNair of the Department for Regulations and Control of Magical Creatures."
There was a hiss that sent a shiver down McNair and Runcorn's spines as the creature made a series of hand signs.
"Yes, Mister McNair is indeed a Death Eater. Pardoned by the Wizengamot protecting their dear friends who were trapped under the Imperious curse.."
McNair's face tightened as Mort made further signs.
"Mister Runcorn? While suspected, never enough evidence to make charges, and his forearm was never inspected."
"And beings cannot make charges against wizards," added Runcorn. "Especially by Dark Creatures that have killed wizards before. He will need to be executed."
Albert Runcorn froze as a hand gripped his shoulder. The fingers on it were long, reaching down his chest to his torso, where the claws dug into his chest. He felt the sibilant hiss of parseltongue pass into his ear, and his Dark Mark ached.
"He smells Voldemort."
"A pale shadow, unreal but real, a whisper of lies and secrets."
"Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. Albert?"
Albert turned to face Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. Out of the corner of his eye, McNair was frozen, tears at his eyes, sweat drenching his body. Alastor Moody smiled, his uneven, mismatched teeth bared.
"Who informed you of this report?"
Albert thoughts turned to Bertha Jorkins of Sport and Games.
"I see. Thank you, Mister Runcorn. Unfortunately, you and Mister McNair found nothing of interest here. Obliviate."
Albert Runcorn and Walden McNair returned to the Ministry of Magic. There was nothing special about the being known as Mort. There was no reason to file paperwork, and there was no reason to ever think about the creature ever again.
Several days later, Albert Runcorn's forearm itched in the presence of one Junior Auror Nymphadora Tonks. It was a persistent itch, and one he scratched without a thought for several seconds. Tonks was trained by Alastor Moody, who surprised her with enough tricks and sleight-of-hand that the movement attracted her attention, and she made note of Runcorn's faded Dark Mark.
Tonks brought it up with Head Auror Gawain Robards. Gwain checked the Wizengamot records department, double-checked with Alastor Moody, and then triple-checked with Amelia Bones.
Three days after he scratched his forearm, Albert Runcorn was arrested by Kingsley Shacklebolt. He had never received a pardon from Minister Bagnold, and as such, was quickly executed by the Wizengamot to prevent any "unseemliness" and "mudslinging" if he were questioned.
Walden McNair forgot to practice the counter-curse before learning a specific type of organ-rotting curse he'd just heard about. He then made a common mistake in casting the curse, causing the effects to hit him instead of his practice dummy. He died in screaming agony twenty minutes later, after failing to cast the counter-curse several times, always stuttering at random points during the incantation. His body was discovered four days later when the Auror's performed a courtesy call after he failed to show up for work, and did not answer his floo.
Between six other ministry department heads dumping additional paperwork on her desk and a particularly tricky bit of spellwork, Bertha Jorkins did not hear any of the gossip surrounding McNair or Runcorn until much later.
"Well, I'm going to leave before I see too much," stated Hagrid, the two men having left in a stupor.
"That isn't necessary, Hagrid," replied Dumbledore.
"I didna keep my word on Fluffy, and that was to Tom Fuckin Riddle." Hagrid glanced down at Luna. "Pardon my words, Miss Lovegood. I'll be going for a walk. Centaurs might need some calming after those Dragons."
"If you feel it necessary."
Hagrid nodded and left.
"Miss Lovegood, if you could stay to translate for Mort? And keep this off the record, as well?"
"Of course, Professor."
Dumbledore smiled, then wrote a quick note that he sent with Fawkes. A few minutes later, Fawkes returned in a flash of fire carrying Sirius and Remus.
"Who died?" asked Sirius.
"Mort almost did," replied Moody. "A pair of Ministry flunkies and death eaters were here, trying to kill him. Albus dealt with 'em. Bit of surprise there, Albus. Didn't think you'd do that for just anyone."
"Mort smelled Voldemort on one of them," added Luna.
"Did he now?" asked Moody. "That's a neat trick. Suppose that's also how he found out about Runcorn, eh? And Pettigrew?"
"Correct," replied Dumbledore. "He also revealed that the Dark Lord inhabited Quirinus four years ago."
"Right then. Who sent Runcorn?"
"I suspect Miss Bertha Jorkins is either under the imperious or directly possessed by Voldemort. She did not reveal her intentions, but instead merely placed the information in Runcorn's hands."
"Bertha was that a mousy little girl, but giant gossip, right?" asked Sirius.
"A year before us," added Remus. "Hufflepuff, I think?"
"That's got to be galling for Voldemort. Possessing a Hufflepuff."
"On topic, Sirius," commented Dumbledore. "We need to investigate. Alastor cannot leave Hogwarts for long. Sirius, Remus, I do not believe I need to stress how dangerous any surveillance will be. Even as a wraith, Voldemort will be a difficult creature."
"And how'd he not die, Albus?" asked Moody.
Dumbledore looked to Luna.
"I will only speak of it theoretically, but there is a magical method of sundering the soul, and creating an object that acts as an anchor. Voldemort may die, but he does not pass on. His spirit becomes a wraith, and is able to return. The diary was one such device. Knowing this information, he likely made more than one."
"Three or seven," said Luna. "Magical numbers. Unless he was quite determined, and aimed for thirteen or forty-nine or even three hundred and forty-three."
"Your Arithmancy is quite accurate, Miss Lovegood, although he may have only created two or six, for a three or seven part soul. Alastor, we need to find Horace Slughorn. He likely has information. If you would be so kind?"
"I'll chase up some leads. There a way we can contain him? Trap him?"
"There are ways. They are complicated, difficult to acquire, and often take time."
Mort tapped Luna's shoulder, and asked a question.
When Luna translated it, the rest of the room paused in thought.
"That… is an idea," commented Dumbledore. "I shall investigate it. In the meantime, we will proceed with other courses. Gentlemen, I have a few questions for Miss Lovegood and Mister Mort."
Mort nodded. Moody, Sirius, and Remus left, leaving behind Luna and Mort.
"Harry," began Albus. "First and foremost, I apologize. I am sorry. I could give you a thousand excuses, a thousand rationalizations as to why I placed you with Petunia and Vernon. Sirius knows the foremost of them, but there are other, deeper reasons. Perhaps we can discuss them at a later date, or perhaps they do not matter. What does matter, is that I am sorry. I am sorry for placing you with the Dursleys. I am sorry I did not follow Minerva's recommendation against them. I am sorry that I did not follow up, that I did not check on you, that I did not see if you were in a home of love and joy.
"For all these things, and more, I am sorry, Mister Potter. I have failed you."
He heard McGonagall sigh as he followed Luna into the room. He smelled her sadness, her guilt, a tinge of fury (directed away, directed towards secrets and misdirections and lemon drop candies and a longer, deeper guilt), and the cat that was her being.
Luna smelled of something he dared not utter, but cherished to the very center of his being.
"Miss Lovegood… and Mister Potter," said Professor McGonagall.
He still wasn't sure what to make of Dumbledore. He could smell the guilt, the fear, the sorrow, the honesty and mis-direction and dishonesty of the old man. He knew that Dumbledore spoke the truth, that he spoke honestly and wholy when he apologized.
Was it enough?
He flexed the bones of his skull, reshaping them as he returned to the conversation at hand.
"There are few real commentaries on MacFusty transformations. Dumbledore provided his copy of Julian Delacour's remarks on Jean d' Arc, and I have several of the scholarly treatises on Laise MacFusty himself, but none of those writers were animagi themselves, and their work shows. They attempted some of the basic spells for returning humans to their proper shapes, but none of them more advanced ones.
"There are a number of exercises we can work through to undo the change."
"Yes, Miss Lovegood?"
"Harry, would you show her?" Luna asked, while signing "show her some transfiguration."
"Fine," he hissed, and Luna smiled, recognizing a word of parseltongue he used often enough. He shifted around a few bones, retrieving the wand of Yew and Phoenix Feather he liberated from Peter Pettigrew.
With a few quick swishes and a hiss, he changed one of the quills on her desk into a small white mouse.
"Oh my," whispered McGonagall. "This makes things much more interesting, Miss Lovegood. And if you're teaching Mister Potter, I can understand why your grades have been so impressive this year, as well."
"Thank you, Professor."
"Now, there are several different options, but with this new information, I believe the best option would be to use the Gamp-Farhorn Sequence to, essentially, give yourself human animagus form."
He froze. It hadn't occurred to him.
He paid no attention to the rest of the conversation. An actual option? An actual method? Was this even a cure?
"Now, I think the easiest method to test, would be be the first step of self-transfiguration," continued McGonagall.
He retrieved his Latin and Greek dictionaries, and worked out the definitions. Intoning it in Parseltongue took four tries before it worked, but only so far as to shrink his hand. He mulled over it, smelling its humanity, even as it was still his, still him. He ran his other hand across it, feeling fingernails and small hairs and the light wrinkles of skin. With a slight flex, it returned to its original size, claws and all.
"That was incredible progress, Mister Potter, especially for one of your first castings," said McGonagall. "Let's try a few more times, shall we?"
"Results?" asked Alastor.
"If she's the Dark Lord, she's doing a good job hiding it," said Sirius. "No obvious signs of possession. Still, we grabbed some paperwork she handled and gave it to Mort. He said it was the Dark Lord, Bagman, us, and nobody else."
"Then its a complete possession," replied Dumbledore. "There are several spells and rituals that will completely evacuate a soul from a body, and Voldemort's wraith could then enter the body."
"So Jorkins' dead?" asked Remus.
"Then I guess we'll go ahead with… The Plan," intoned Sirius, a small charm causing a bolt of lightning to appear behind him and thunder to crash.
"Mister Black?" asked Dumbledore, glancing over his spectacles.
"Fine," said Sirius, dispelling the charm, while Remus snickered.
Luna felt the second task was just as awful as the first. Kidnapping friends and family of contestants? Hiding them at the bottom of the lake? She wasn't sure she liked this task, either.
There was no argument in her mind, though, that the magic on the surface of the lake to show each contestant was a marvel.
Watching Diggory cast a bubble-head charm, then transfigure and lasso a trio of seals was an impressive bit of magic, but nowhere near as impressive as Krum's partial shark transfiguration. Fleur's own method was an enchanted collar of warming and water-breathing along with a waterjet charm to propel her under the water.
While Fleur was off the quickest, Diggory quickly overtook her, reaching the Merfolk village and returning with his hostage, Cho Chang, in under forty minutes. Fleur ran into trouble with a pack of grindylows, but managed to return with her younger sister in just over an hour. Krum took a little longer, returning with his own Yule Ball date, Teresa Edgecomb, just shy of an hour and ten minutes.
Overall, Fleur Delacour and Cedric Diggory were almost tied for the lead, with Viktor Krum trailing ten points behind. Luna hoped the final task would be less violent, but did not have high hopes for that.
McGonagall examined the black and smoky human arm, sending a few test spells at it.
"And it smells human?" she asked again.
"Your natural transformative abilities are interfering with the transfiguration. It is much the same as with metamorphmagi. Their natural magic prevents the animagus transformation almost entirely." McGonagall leaned back in her chair. "There are still possibilities. I will send a letter to Sirius, he may have some information on metamorphmagi that may be useful. For now, keep practicing with this spell, and work on maintaining the change it creates. At a minimum, more versatility in your existing abilities is never something to scoff at."
"Of course Professor," he signed back.
"Now off with you both."
"Have a good day, Professor," said Luna as they turned to leave. She pulled herself up a few protrusions of plate, climbing onto Harry's shoulders, and resting between a pair of rearward spines off the back of Harry's head.
Minerva went for a drink after the pair left. She suspected she was going to spend her summer at the Rookery. She was also surprised that Albus hadn't asked about progress. Then again, for all his knowledge of transfiguration, he was not an animagus.
Still, she hoped opening the Black library wasn't conjuring a bridge to Death. There were drawbacks in those spells, and if they did use any, much care would need to be taken.
Horace Slughorn dropped his tumbler to the ground at the sight of Alastor Moody sitting in one of his wingback chairs.
He slid forward, sitting across from the retired Auror.
"You shouldn't be here!" hissed Horace.
"You see that article a few years back? From the Quibbler?"
Blood drained from Horace's face.
"Dumbledore wants to know what you know. He knows what Riddle made. He's destroyed one, but Riddle's still alive. Do you know how many?"
"How. Many," cut Moody's voice.
Horace shivered, sinking back into his chair, trying to disappear into it.
Moody's good eye narrowed, a snarl on his damaged face.
"Six," whispered Horace. "Six. For a seven part soul."
"Good." Moody stood, then thumped from the room.
Horace breathed a sigh of relief. He doubted Albus would like that answer.
Of the thousand books in the Black Library, Sirius delivered just seven to Minerva. While she hoped it was auspicious number, four books were methods of torture. They included curses on how to inflict unwanted changes that could not be reversed, or how to lock various parts of the form, or just the best ways to physically hurt them
Minerva tossed those books aside, and examined the remainder.
One was a rather… disturbing journal of self-experimentation by a previous Black that considered the human form a… guideline. The pictures were sickening, and filled with notes on attempts to reshape their own bones into other forms.
The next was another journal of self-experimentation. Minerva wasn't sure if it was more or less masochistic than the first, as this one covered healing various self-inflicted injuries. Then comparing them to muggle healing techniques of the day. By using muggles and inflicting the same wounds. She glanced at the end of it, and was heartened to see commentary on attempting to heal a self-inflicted brain injury.
The final one was a quarter-filled journal of notes, much of it random sheets of parchment inserted into the pages. Almost all of it was research on how to reverse and heal dark curse injuries on a metamorphmagus. Judging from the additional litany of scribbles, the notetaker was trying to heal their sibling and that the note-taker did not have much luck.
She returned to the books on inflicting unwanted changes and locking the form, and went to Albus. Between the two, they could deconstruct the spells contained within and perhaps find something of use.
A sign-up sheet was circulated amongst several different NEWTS level courses before makings its way to Professor Flitwick's desk. He examined the sheet, noting a collection of charms to make the sign-up sheet innocuous and to discourage asking where it came from. It reminded him of several of the Marauder pranks, specifically the ones cooked up by Remus Lupin.
He brought the document to Albus Dumbledore, who did a passable job of being surprised by it. When Madam Maxime arrived, Dumbledore continued his act of being surprised, accepted both, and mentioned he would bring up the requests with the Ministry.
"Albus, why this subterfuge?" asked Filius after Olympe left.
"Just taking care of a loose end," replied Albus with a beatific smile.
Filius recognized that smile. He chose not to look into the matter further.
"You take Care of Magical Creatures, right?"
"Er, yes professor."
"You read about Minotaurs at all?"
"Not really, professor."
"Might want to brush up on that, along with some of the material for Hagrid's fourth years."
"Yes, Professor. Anything else I might need to focus on?"
"You're dating a Ravenclaw, right?"
"Er, yes sir."
"Ever gotten into their Common Room?"
"Yes sir, I have. Anything else?"
"Can't cover everything, Diggory, but that's a good start."
"Thank you, Professor."
"Er, yes Dumbledore?"
"A few Ravenclaws have expressed interest in studying the rune make-up of the Goblet of Fire. You know how they are, delving the secrets. When a few of Madam Maxine's seventh years heard about it, well, you know how ambitious students can get."
"Well… it's a precious artifact, and very expensive, of course."
"Oh, yes, of course. It is quite a fascinating item of history. Myself, Filius, and Maxime have offered to supervise, make sure nothing gets out of hand." "Well, if you're certain…" trailed off Ludo.
"You're worried about the paperwork involved, aren't you?" asked Albus.
"Ludo, you are worker, not a paperpusher. Delegate. Don't you have someone working under you?" asked Albus, eyes twinkling.
"Well, there is someone," Ludo trailed off.
"Excellent! I'm sure they could use some time away from the Ministry. Visiting the castle always brings a bit of joy to people, even if they do have to sign a bit of paperwork."
"Oh, that is very true," added Ludo.
"Excellent! Send them by!"
"I will, Albus. You're right, a bit of time away from the Ministry could do her some good. Once this is all done, I'll send her over."
Both men walked away with a spring in their step.
Minerva McGonagall always walked the grounds on the first proper spring day. The cool breeze, the shining sun burning away the last of the fog, the first green bursting to life, the very smell of nature and life in the air itself as the land awoke from winter's slumber.
The whomping willow's green and yellow twigs and foliage were already a healthy color. The forbidden forest was budding, the first hints of leaves and green an expanding carpet of green.
The lake was a shining mirror, and the source of the most verdant green. She walked along the shoreline until she found Harry Potter leaning against a tree, slumped over, and Luna sitting in his lap, reading. She held a finger to her lips.
Minerva pursed her lips as she stepped closer.
"He's asleep. Sirius and Remus are training him," whispered Luna.
"How long have you known?" Minerva asked, her voice just as low.
"A little after Peter was caught. I always knew he was special, however."
"Then you aware of proper behavior when it comes to interaction between boys and girls?" she asked.
"Are you asking me to treat Harry differently?" asked Luna.
"I am asking you to conform to standards of behavior, Miss Lovegood."
"Professor, you are asking me to push my best friend to an arm's length. To say that I cannot hug him, hold him, or even touch him. You are asking me to stop treating him as my best friend."
"Miss Lovegood, that is not what I am saying."
"No," replied Luna, her eyes narrowing. "But it is what you mean."
"Miss Lovegood, do not put words in my mouth."
"Then you must think about what your words mean, Professor, and what they mean to all involved."
McGonagall held a sharp retort at the comment of "all involved." What would her actions do to Harry? What would they do to a boy so abused, so broken his magic changed him into something so different?
Luna examined the Professor, her wide, surprised expression sharpening to focus on the Professor.
"Harry does not see himself as human," Luna whispered the dread secret.
All the indignation and righteousness drained from Minerva's body. She conjured a stool and sat. She looked out over the placid lake, and saw the wall that was Harry Potter climb just that much higher.
"Well, Dumbledore?" asked Sirius.
"Miss Lovegood you are correct. Six devices and himself, for a seven part soul. Mister Potter, your plan will be our best option."
"Right," said Sirius.
"Sorry Harry, more training for plans B and C," added Remus.
Harry shrugged. Plan C was the worst, but he didn't have a problem with it.
"One final thing," continued Dumbledore. "If plan C does come to pass, we must discuss the repercussions."
"I'd think there wouldn't be many," stated Sirius.
"A non-wizard being killing a wizard?" asked Dumbledore.
Remus cursed under his breath, while Sirius closed his eyes, and leaned back in his chair, taking deep breaths.
"What do you want to reveal?" asked Luna, cutting off both of them.
"At a minimum? That you are a MacFusty Transformation, rather than a highly intelligent being. While I admit personal bias, I do not wish to reveal that he is Harry Potter."
"And to prevent people from connecting him to Harry?"
"There are several options. All of them will cause people to, well, pity you, Mister Potter."
"I haven't cared what people think in seven years. I doubt I'll start now," he signed in response.
"I will put together a few histories, and we shall select the one we wish to go forward with."
"Hello, Miss Jorkins, come in, come in. How are you today?" Dumbledore stood, a welcoming smile on his face, as Bertha Jorkins entered into the Headmaster's office.
"Well, Professor Dumbledore," said a smiling Bertha Jorkins. "It's been quite a while."
"Indeed it has, indeed it has! This is Headmistress Maxime of Beauxbatons. Her students will be inspecting the goblet as well, and we'll all be signing quite a bit of paperwork."
"Are you certain you don't need Mister Bagman for this? Or Mister Crouch?"
"I checked," said Maxime. "In previous tournaments, the Goblet has been examined by schools after the competition," she rolled her eyes, "Usually for tampering. In those cases, it would be Mister Crouch. For study, little authorization is needed."
"Of course, of course," replied Bertha. She gave a quick smile, then sat down at Dumbledore's desk, opening a rather impressive file of parchment work. Dumbledore produced his own, while Maxime retrieved her own.
Bertha's shoulders sagged.
"Magical artifact study, especially dangerous ones, require waivers," said Maxime. "For each student." She sighed, retrieving her own quill.
"The sooner we start, the sooner we finish!" cheered Dumbledore. "Round robin?" he asked, handing his stack to Maxime.
"Of course," replied Maxime, handing hers to Bertha.
"So, Miss Jorkins, how has Ludo been treating you? Besides the obvious, at least?" asked Dumbledore, always up for a bit of small talk as he started signing paperwork. Besides, it was an effective strategy for distracting them from the drudgery of signing so many documents.
Luna and Hermione sat, eyes closed, with the translation charm active, as Mort read in parseltongue.
"We want no proofs; we ask none to believe us! This boy will some day know what a brave and gallant woman his mother is. Already he knows her sweetness and loving care; later on he will understand how some men so loved her, that they did much for her sake.
Mort closed the book.
At first, they'd followed Mort's finger as he read the lines, Luna in his lap, Hermione in a chair. The last few chapters they'd just listened.
Luna opened her eyes and pursed her lips.
"That's a very different thought on Vampires."
"On the powers and abilities?"
"No, on how they act. Then again, I suppose there's always an evil person out there."
"Wait, the book was accurate on their powers?"
"Could it be a real story, then? One the obliviators missed?"
"Maybe! Or they missed a few people! Oh, that would be fascinating!"
Mort shook his head.
"Who do we mail to find out?"
Luna thought a moment.
"I think we should start with Amos Diggory. He's one of my neighbors, and he works in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. I'm pretty sure Vampire Relations Office falls into that Department. We may also have to look into the Daily Prophet archives and the Ministry Archives." Luna spends another moment in thought. "There's somewhere else we can check…"
"Do the Oliviators keep records?"
"Yes, but I think they all go to the Ministry Archives."
Hermione tilts her head back, eyes closed.
Mort sits off to the side, picking up another of the books Hermione brought.
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
He opens it, flipping past the pages of introductions and forwards and prefaces, and finds "Letter 1." He lets the words of his two friends wash over him, as he begins to read the letter of a man in St. Petersburgh.
The third task enveloped the Quidditch Pitch, covering the surface of the massive field with a gigantic hedgemaze. From the stands, they could see the pitch was clearly expanded further, and that the maze itself moved and shifted as time went on. How much of this maze would be luck, and how much would be skill?
Luna shrunk in on herself as she listened to the screech and howl of creatures within the maze. More creatures, more animals given over to this circus maximus of the wizarding world. She supposed she was glad there wasn't free bread.
Massive projections filled the sky overhead, showing the progress of each champion. All three were invisible to the other contestants.
Parts of it were boring, a person running around a hedge maze. But Luna was glad that not all of the challenges were magical creatures. Some challenges all contestants were put through, others they faced individually and at random.
Cedric faced the rainbow fog, the spider-wolves, and a swirling blue-green flame that needed to be navigated, the last to Cedric's dismay. Viktor was troubled by both the baffling brook and the Peruvian darkness powder, but found no trouble with the ashwinder pit. Fleur all but flew through the inverted gravity field, but both the hippogryff and the thistleman slowed her, the latter only in that she didn't know she could kill it without consequence.
Still, there were three challenges that each of them encountered in turn, the magic of the ever-shifting hedgemaze making sure each of them faced it before getting a chance at the cup.
Krum found no issues with the blast-ended skrewt or the boggart, slipping past the first and dealing with the second, but spent quite a bit of time thinking about the Sphinx's riddle, his less-than-spectacular English giving him a very long pause.
Fleur found the Sphinx to be easy, and rather than fight the Skrewt, charmed a white poodle to bark at it for distraction. Given the vindictive grin on Fleur's face, Luna suspected there was a history surrounding such a poodle as the skrewt tore it limb from limb. It was the boggart that stopped her, a scream of horror at the pale and bloated effigy of her sister, drowned in the lake. She managed to overcome it, stuttering through the incantation to repel it, turning her sister into a mime of all things.
Cedric won the final task, defending himself from the boggart, answering the sphinx, and using a fireworks charm to distract the skrewt while running past, not looking back. He outran the acromantula in the center of the maze, as well, grabbing the Triwizard Trophy, and winning the Triwizard Tournament.
All three contestants were retrieved, Krum grumbling in Bulgarian, Fleur pale and shivering, and Cedric beaming with joy. The families arrived then, Amos Diggory shouting "My boy! That's my boy!", pulling Cedric into a tight bear hug. Fleur wrapped her arms around her sister, crying. Viktor's own parents were smiling and happy, pulling Viktor into a hug.
Both Mort and Bozo were taking pictures. Luna joined them, ready to ask questions, and Rita gave her a flash of a smile that turned into her usual shark-like continuance as she approached the three Champions.
Speeches by the headmasters were made. Karkaroff grumbled only a minor amount, Maxime was aloof, and Dumbledore was his ever humble self, congratulating everyone for an excellent contest, as well as thanking the Ministry of Magic for both arranging the contest and allowing study of the Goblet of Fire itself. Nothing that was unexpected, and they even managed to keep Fudge to under fifteen minutes before he awarded the thousand galleons to Cedric Diggory.
All in all, successful. No lives lost, although a little traumatizing. Really, the best-case scenario, as far as most were concerned.
Harry could smell the despair of the wolf, but also smell the scent of pack, the scent of togetherness, that emanated from the wolf.
Padfoot padded around the pair of them, as the wolf huffed at Harry's smell, before laying down next to the fireplace.
The wolf knew. It knew Harry. It knew Harry was Pack, and Pack was all important.
A quiet night, and one that left Remus feeling better than he had in a long time.
"Is everything prepared?" asked Dumbledore, looking at each individual in his office. It was early morning, before breakfast. They were about to bring the Goblet of Fire to the Great Hall for another day of study and examination.
Olympe was silent, eyes closed, going through an old deep breathing exercise. She'd met Hagrid, and while he could allow the world's anger to roll off his back, she did not. It was a regular practice, to meditate, to let go of the anger, but it was one she did for another feeling today: nervousness, anxiety. She let it go. Their plan accounted for many things, and it was good. It would succeed.
"Got all my stuff," said Sirius with a smirk. His own nervousness expressed in the six pranks that Albus defused with nary a twitch of his wand.
"The kids have everything they need," said Remus. He was jittery, knowing a fight was coming, but not one that would be fought. He found it an unpleasant feeling.
"Then let us begin," said Dumbledore. He dropped three pieces of parchment into the Goblet of Fire, and carried it to the Great Hall.
Rita Skeeter could smell a setup when she walked into one. It didn't help that her darling niece, her ever efficient bodyguard, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin were all sitting in one corner, eating popcorn.
While she didn't want to listen to a Ravenclaw yammer about the enchantments on the Goblet until her brains ran out her ears, her darling niece recommended she be here to cover the story.
Dumbledore was humming a happy tune, while Maxime was glaring at her. Rita rolled her eyes back, deciding that a half-giant should have thick skin.
Now that she'd escaped a Ravenclaw cursed with diarrhea of the brain, she made her way over to Sirius Black, escaped ex-convict extraordinaire. She'd never managed to get an interview out of him, and she hoped with a friendly audience she could tease out some information about the Boy-Who-Lived. That would be a scoop!
As she approached, Luna shushed her, then pointed back to the Goblet of Fire.
Rita glanced back, and saw the flames of the Goblet leap to everyone's surprise. Except Dumbledore and Maxime. She glanced at the spectators, and realized they weren't surprised either.
Oh yes, this was definitely a setup.
She signaled Bozo, who readied his camera, while her quill flew across the page.
Dumbledore caught the first slip of paper.
"Albus Dumbledore!" he called out, joy sparkling in his eyes even as his voice was serious as the grave. She glanced at her quill. Good, it got that one.
"Olympe Maxime!" he called out as he picked the second slip out of the air.
Rita's eyes widened. What was going on? Was Karkaroff next?"
"Tom Marvolo Riddle," was the third name. Wait, who?
She glanced back at Black and Lupin, recalling them as consummate pranksters. Both of them affected an innocence so false, that she wanted to gag. Her darling niece smiled and gave her a thumb's up, while Dumbledore's phoenix disappeared in a flash of fire.
"Dumbledore, do you know what is going on?" Rita asked.
"It seems that in studying the enchantments of the Goblet, it has been activated. Once a few employees of the Ministry arrive, we can get this all sorted out."
In a flash of fire, Ludo Bagman and one of her Ministry contacts, Bertha Jorkins, arrived.
"Miss Jorkins! Ludo! Welcome, welcome, we're in a bit of a bind, it seems," Dumbledore stated, pointing to the Goblet.
"It's relit?" asked Ludo as Rita moved up behind the pair of ministry officials.
"It's also spat out a trio of names," stated Dumbledore.
"I knew I shouldn't have focused on the prophecy so much," murmured Bertha. Prophecy? What's this?
"Yes, it seems that the people who signed off on the Goblet being here had their names come out."
"Signed off on it?"
"Yes. Myself, Madam Maxime, and Miss Riddle, here."
"Fuck," whispered Jorkins. Riddle? Oh, what was this? Miss Jorkins wasn't who she said she was? "Might I see the parchment, Dumbledore?" Jorkins asked aloud.
"Certainly," replied Dumbledore, handing over the parchment.
Jorkins tapped it with her wand, not even uttering a single incantation, a level and degree of magical skill that Rita had never seen from the mousy witch. Then again, if this wasn't Bertha Jorkins, but instead Tom Marvolo Riddle? Well, who was Tom Marvolo Riddle? Where did she recognize that name from?
"You lemon-drop-addled goatfucker!" shouted Jorkins. "You managed to sneak a damn compulsion charm onto the paperwork!"
Dumbledore hummed a jaunty tune, his hands at his belt.
Bertha tilted her head back, staring at the ceiling a moment, before casting an impressively complicated charm that revealed blue links from the Goblet to each of the new "contestants."
"Oh my! I thought that spell was lost! You'll have to tell me how you re-discovered it."
Rita performed a double-take when she realized that below Bertha's twitching eyebrows were glowing red eyes.
"I loathe you, Albus Dumbledore," she hissed.
Rita shivered. She'd never heard this voice before. She'd never seen those glowing red eyes. But they all pointed to an article that Rita Skeeter recalled re-reading just a few months ago.
"Of course you do, Miss Riddle. It's a pity you remembered that contestants do lose their magic if they attack each other outside the confines of a task. Ludo, if you would be so kind as to declare what the first task will be and when? I rather imagine we want to get this over with."
"Now see here, Albus! What is going on?" demanded Ludo Bagman. "And why shouldn't I just fetch Director Bones!"
"The loss of your magic for interfering with a Triwizard Tournament, Ludo. While the goblet is rather loose with its definition of cheating, it is not loose with its definition of interference. Miss Riddle, you recall the companion spell to the one you cast?"
You-Know-Who recited another incantation, and a red beam of light launched from the Goblet to Ludo.
Albus Dumbledore had laid a trap for You-Know-Who, and captured him/her! If Rita Skeeter survived, her and Luna would have the scoop of the century! This was the reason she was eating popcorn and watching the show!
You-Know-Who glanced over at the spectators.
"Is there anything about cursing spectators? Or press?" she asked. He? Definitely he, Rita decided. This was a Dark Lord, after all, even if they were in the wrong body.
"You can certainly find out!" cheered Dumbledore.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"I repeat myself: I loathe you."
Dumbledore started whistling.
"You know something I don't," he added.
"Yes. Indeed I do. Mister Black, do you happened to have a gobstones set?"
"Why, I do indeed!" replied Sirius Black, jumping to his feet and handing Ludo a set from within his robes. Ludo stared at the gobstones set as though it were going to bit his hands off.
"Just declare a task, declare a time, and declare a location."
Rita noted You-Know-Who froze, his eyes widening.
"Fine. Gobstones, five minutes from now, in the Great Hall."
The Dark Lord screamed his fury (well, it sounded more like a ear-piercing shriek) and then pulled an hourglass from within their robes. He promptly disappeared.
"Hm. I was rather hoping he hadn't stolen one of those, but oh well," murmured Dumbledore.
"Dumbledore, what is going on?" asked Ludo.
Dumbledore's wand twitched, spelling out "I Am Lord Voldemort." The letters re-arranged themselves, spelling out "Tom Marvolo Riddle."
"He's… he's not dead?"
"No, Ludo. He is not. I was rather hoping he wouldn't figure out the location requirements, either." Dumbledore conjured a roll of parchment and handed it to Fawkes. "If you could bring this to Amelia?"
The phoenix disappeared in a flash of fire, and reappeared a few minutes later with Amelia Bones and three other aurors in tow.
"What is it Dumbledore?"
"THE DARK LORD! RETURNED!" screamed Bagman. "AND FORCED TO COMPETE IN THE TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT!"
"The tournament is… over…" Amelia stared at the Goblet of Fire. "Dumbledore, what did you do!?"
The doors banged open, and a rather singed Dark Lord stomped into the room, half-covered in blood and entrails.
"I hate you almost as much as I hate traitors and house elves," hissed You-Know-Who.
Dumbledore produced a pocket watch and checked it.
"Two minutes to spare, Miss Riddle. A pity." Dumbledore pursed his lips in thought. "Dragon blood? Ah! Gringotts! I presume Bellatrix's vault?"
You-Know-Who's left eye twitched, drawing attention to the fact his left eyebrow was missing. He twirled his wand overhead, all of the dragon giblets vanishing, his robes and hair and eyebrows restored to pristine condition.
"Five points to Slytherin," commented Dumbledore. "Quite impressive. Now, Ludo, if you would officiate?"
"DARK LORD!" Ludo shouted.
Olympe took the gobstones set from Ludo's hands while Albus conjured a triangular table and chairs. You-Know-Who vanished his chair, and conjured a replacement one, slightly more opulent than the others.
"On Ludo's shout, I believe we can begin?" stated Dumbledore.
"LORD THINGIE!" Ludo screamed, pointing at You-Know-Who.
Rita Skeeter did not pay one single whit of attention to the gobstones match. She cast a charm over one of her other parchments and quills, and let that record the match. Instead, she followed Amelia over to Luna and Sirius Black, and listened to the conversation.
"What's going on Black?"
"Lord Thingie isn't dead," said Sirius Black.
"I HEARD THAT, BLACK!"
"Albus and I decided to fix that."
"And you have proof?" asked Bones, the clear need for some sanity to enter the room.
Luna held up her copy of the Quibbler, pointing to the story from two years ago.
"The body of Bertha Jorkin's over there's been possessed by Tom Marvolo Riddle," continued Black. "We've already forced her to destroy the method she used to skip around dying. Now we just need to finish the job."
"THINGIE! THINGIE!" screamed Ludo, still pointing at You-Know-Who.
Rita could tell that every ounce of Amelia Bones' energy was directed towards not sighing in disgust. Or searching for a bottle. It was hard to tell with Bones.
"So what does Gobstones have to do with this?"
"Part of a fiendish plan to deal with the Dark Lord. Can you call Ludo over here? We need to declare what the next task is going to be."
Sirius Black's eyes glittered with a madness Rita hadn't seen since she'd covered Bellatrix LeStrange's trial.
Rita checked over the parchment for the first task, and nodded in satisfaction. The usual byplay, barbs, and wit, mixed with some excellent hands and the usual cheating of legilimancy. Riddle won, taking the most hands. Maxime was in second place, with Dumbledore trailing behind. Rita wasn't sure if that was supposed to be terrifying or not.
Black and Bones worked over Ludo, forcing him into declaring what the next task was.
"A test of transfiguration prowess," read Bagman from the parchment. "The three contestants will have twenty minutes to create a cabinet of curios, and each cabinet and its curios will be judged by the esteemed Professor Minerva McGonagall for the transfiguration, and the young Miss Luna Lovegood for the quality of the curiosities. As a reminder, the cabinets may not curse the judges, and will result in loss of points. In the interest of fairness, we will not know who created which cabinet."
McGonagall stood off to the side, taking long, slow breathes to remain calm, while Luna Lovegood exuded a pool of serenity.
Sirius Black raised a group of curtains, and added silencing charms to each of them. He then held out a small pouch.
"Within the bag are tokens, each token has a number. Mister Black has conjured the curtains such that each one has a number. Do not reveal which number you have. The house elves have a stock of material for transfiguration that you may ask for. You will enter one at a time."
You-Know-Who sent a trio of vocal spells at the bag, checking it for magic, only to find nothing.
"No tricks, Miss Riddle," said Black, a malicious smile on his face.
You-Know-Who rolled his eyes, picked a token out of the bag, then went through the curtains. Maxime and Dumbledore followed.
"Begin!" shouted Bagman.
Thankfully, it was not a quiet and patient twenty minutes. Black and Lupin filled it by chatting with the students, asking questions, answering questions. Mort lay, tail twitching, Luna leaning against him, both sipping cups of cocoa.
"How can you be so calm, Miss Lovegood?" asked McGonagall.
"There is a plan," replied Luna. "I trust those who made it with my life. So I trust the plan with my life."
McGonagall took a final deep breath, and steeled herself.
"Much can go wrong with such a complicated plan, Miss Lovegood."
"It's a simple plan," said Luna.
A bell tolled.
"Thirty seconds!" called out Bagman.
"The individual steps don't matter as much as the final step." Luna stood and tapped her wand against her robes, incanting out a cleaning charm. "Shall we?"
McGonagall steeled herself, and nodded.
"One of these cabinets was made by Tom Marvolo Riddle," said McGonagall. "I would not be surprised by terrible things contained within. Allow me first access to everything."
"Of course, Professor."
"Time!" called out Bagman. He called each contestant out of the conjured curtains, then Sirius vanished all of them.
"Well! The contestants have certainly gave us some splendid cabinets," said Bagman picking up some of the spirit of the contest, as well as having a few cheering charms cast on him. "Professor McGonagall, Miss Lovegood, if you would choose a cabinet and begin the judging?"
The similarities between the three cabinets ended with being rectangular and around seven feet tall. The left-most one was the structurally plainest, but covered in the most beautiful moving and shifting paintings. The middle was crystal, splaying light and rainbows around the room, the secrets within hidden behind mirrors with hints contained in the refractions. The final cabinet was, color-wise, the plainest, but contained intricate animated carvings, dragons and phoenixes and centaurs all moving and acting and frolicking.
"Let us start from the left, Miss Lovegood."
"Oh! Van Gogh!" exclaimed Luna, examining the outside of the cabinet. "This is from Picasso! Oh, and it's from all over their histories, as well. Picasso's Child With Dove, a few of his Bull Fights. And it's going through some of Van Gogh's landscapes! The realist and surrealist moving through impressionism is quite beautiful! Although… hmm… this painter… surrealist, mostly watercolor… oh, I don't remember her name!" Luna huffed.
"Well, the transfiguration is quite good as well. Good structure, good detail. May I?" asked McGonagall, placing her hand against the knobs.
"Of course, Professor."
McGonagall opened the doors, turned green from nausea, and slammed them shut. She closed her eyes, taking deep breaths.
McGonagall put her hand against the cabinet to steady herself as she rubbed her eyes. Luna opened the cabinet, examining the contents. She frowned, cocking her head in thought. She closed the doors.
"That is a fascinating effect. Once the judging is complete, I would be interested in knowing how it was accomplished," she stated.
"What effect was it, Miss Lovegood?" asked Bagman.
"Imagine a door that leads to a door that leads to a door, in an infinite series, but none of them are any further away than any of the others. Visually, it can be quite disconcerting. I think Professor McGonagall needs a moment to settle her stomach."
McGonagall nodded, unwilling to even speak.
"It's an excellent curiosity. High marks indeed," added Luna. The judging paused a moment for McGonagall's stomach to settle before they moved on to the crystal and glass rainbow cabinet.
Luna tapped various parts of the cabinet with her wand, listening to the different sounds. Then she transfigured a stick into wood mallet for a xylophone. With another spell, she set it about playing a tune along the outside of the cabinet, a gleeful smile on her face.
"Quite done?" asked Professor McGonagall.
Luna dispelled the mallet, and then nodded.
"This is a multi-compartment cabinet, so we shall start from the outside, and work our way inwards."
McGonagall opened the outermost door, and promptly sighed in disgust. There was a small, jagged stone around half-an-inch across. On a plaque read "A Philosopher's Stone."
Luna giggled a moment, then winced when she realized it was a kidney stone.
McGonagall opened the next cabinet, and a voice began to sing while a piano played.
"Tonight... I'm going to have myself a real good time."
The door swung wider to show the Sorting Hat playing a piano.
"I feel alive, and the world I'll turn it inside out, yeah."
McGonagall slammed it shut and sighed, muttering to herself.
The next cabinet revealed a rock. It was labeled as a rock, and was nothing but a rock. But it was a very nice rock.
After that was a "racing" broom. It was a plain wooden broom meant for sweeping, but had a bright red rocket attached to the bottom with silver tape. The word "ACME" was stenciled onto the side.
Next was a golden snitch. Luna tried to catch it, but it flew through the palm of her hand.
"A very accurate illusion, Miss Lovegood," replied McGonagall, pointing at the plaque. "An Uncatchable Snitch." As she closed the door, the snitch slipped back inside.
The final door opened to reveal three items. A tree branch, with green leaves and a flower bud labeled "The Life Stick," a white stone labeled "The Deressurection Stone," and a cloak labeled "The Visible Cloak" that glowed in a neon rainbow. Luna picked up the cloak and donned it, causing the cloak to disappear but every eye was drawn to her. She laughed, then hung it back up within the cabinet.
"I'll have to ask for that when this is over," said Luna.
The final cabinet was the most solid, the most real of the three cabinets. It was a massive presence, rather than an artistic wonder or a fanciful creation. The physical animations along the molding, across the doors itself represented a more real presence than anything they'd seen.
"Top marks for the grain of the wood itself. I detect no repeating patterns, as well as excellent demonstration on how to suggest the wood contains knots, without presenting any of them. Excellent technique for the animation, a multitude of creatures all acting independently."
"Beautiful and accurate renditions of the different species of dragons, as well," added Luna. "Oh! And they didn't fall for the trap of more artistic renditions of merfolk, either. I spot scales, gills, and a distinct lack of mammary glands. Excellent work!"
"The curios themselves?"
"Again," began McGonagall. "A multi-compartment cabinet. We shall work from the outside in."
McGonagall opened the first door, then opened it wider to reveal a ring with a tag.
"A ring of bureaucratic wizardry?" McGonagall sent several spells. "A conjured focus? Most impressive." McGonagall picked up the ring and put it on. "Aguamenti." Twelve sheets of parchment appeared before her. She examined them, signed them as appropriate, and upon the last signature, water sprayed out of a small white stone on the ring, drenching McGonagall and Luna.
A displeased frown crossed McGonagall's face while Luna snickered.
"You at least have to admit it's excellent satire," said Luna.
"I will grant it that much," hissed McGonagall as she returned the ring, then cast a drying spell.
She opened a cabinet, and was immediately insulted.
"Thou are a dull and muddy-mettled rascal!"
"What?" demanded McGonagall.
"Thou heard my words, thou roguish guts-griping vassal!" The cabinet opened wider to reveal Cornelius Fudge's bright green bowler hat.
"That's a very good imitation of Cornelius Fudge's voice, as well," added Luna, inspecting the hat.
"Of course I imitate that august personage of Minister Cornelius Fudge, thou traitorous fen-sucked clack-dish!"
"Is there a way to shut you up?" demanded McGonagall.
"If money go before, all ways lie open," replied the haughty hat.
Luna poked the door shut.
"Methinks the creator dealt with the Ministry too much," she commented.
"More than likely."
The next door caused cold white fog to pour out the bottom, and frost to grow on the outside of the door. A hiss from the crowd showed Mort raising to all four feet, long spikes growing from his now armor-plated skin. McGonagall slammed the door shut, while Luna shivered.
"That was… a very accurate demonstration of the aura of a dementor," said Luna. She looked towards Mort. "Mort states it smells like one. Young, but he could feel the old memories just as last time."
Minerva's frown redoubled. She conjured a piece of string, wrapping it around the handle of the door.
"From further back, Miss Lovegood."
They opened the door again, this time revealing the hanging cloak of a dementor, the inside rimmed with frost. A bronze black with rivulets of water pouring around it repeated that it was the cloak of a dementor. McGonagall sent a detection spell, her eyes widening in surprise. She then banished the door shut.
"It was not just the cloak of a dementor. The dementor was rendered invisible. Definite caution is advised with the rest of this cabinet, Miss Lovegood."
"Of course," replied Luna, handing McGonagall a cup of hot chocolate. The other spectators had their own cups.
The final door was opened with far more caution, revealing a simple mirror covered in a plain veil. The inscription across the top was "eramthgin stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi."
"Professor, I know mine. May I?"
"Miss Lovegood, this is not something I should stand aside for."
"I've seen mine, already," said Luna, taking hold of Minerva's hand. "Please. Let me."
Minerva clenched her eyes shut, tears at the edges, as Luna Lovegood lifted the veil, examined it for a moment, then dropped it.
"It is as accurate as advertised," stated Luna. She closed the door, tears running down her face. She walked over to Mort, and curled up into him, tears flowing as she took long, deep breaths, keeping herself calm.
Sirius and Remus both looked sick to their stomach, Dumbledore and Olympe was rigid, while Rita and Bagman were confused. Minerva cast a silencing charm over herself and Luna, as they conferred over how to score the task.
"What was the mirror?" asked Rita.
"There was mirror-writing across the top," said Remus. "I show not your face, but your heart's nightmare."
Rita hissed, glaring at You-Know-Who. He was non-plussed, still sipping his hot chocolate.
Silence reigned over the room as Minerva and Luna discussed scores, making notes on parchment. Finally, the duo stood, dropping the silencing charm.
"The scores are as follows. The left-most cabinet, while excellent transfiguration and a beautiful rendition of surrealist and impressionist paintings, contained only a single outstanding curio. It receives 31 points. The middle cabinet, for its outstanding outside, as well as its outstanding contents, scores a total of 35 points. The final cabinet, while it had an magnificent external transfiguration and animation, as well as the only example of a conjured magical focus I have ever heard of, let alone seen and physically handled, some of the final items contained within were, while outstanding curios, decidedly unfriendly to the judges."
"Philistines," muttered You-Know-Who.
"Still, we give the final cabinet a score of 33 points. Mister Bagman?"
"Yes. Well. Contestants, please stand next to your cabinets."
Olympe Maxime stood next to the first cabinet, Albus Dumbledore stood next to the middle cabinet, and Tom Marvolo Riddle took his place next to the last.
"The scores leading into the final task are as follows. Albus Dumbledore with 55 points. Olympe Maxime with 61 points. T-err, Lord uh… You-Know-Who with 73 points." Bagman finished shivering.
"Headmistress Maxime, who was the third painter on your cabinet?" asked Luna.
"Jacquiline Lamba," answered Olympe.
"Lamba!" replied Luna, stomping her foot. "I knew I recognized it, I just couldn't recall the name."
"And the enchantment within the cabinet itself?" asked McGonagall.
"A vanishing cabinet that contains a vanishing cabinet, which contains the far end of the first cabinet, which contains the far end of the second cabinet, and so on and so forth."
"I suspected," replied McGonagall, "I admit it's never something I've tried myself."
"The cabinets are a difficult set of enchantments to begin with," replied Maxime. "To endlessly cascade them within themselves? A work few can manage. I was not about to add a multi-compartment charm on top of it."
Luna nodded, then turned to Dumbledore.
"Can I have the cloak?" she begged.
"Once this is done with, I am certain I can make another for you, Miss Lovegood," replied Dumbledore.
Luna clapped her hands, grinning.
"How does the Deresurrection Stone work?" asked McGonagall. "The enchantments were something I could not make heads or tails of."
"The charms are three-fold. The first is an unusual compulsion charm that effects ghosts, encouraging them to pass on. The second is an Egyptian charm to encourage the undead to touch the stone. The final charm is one based on one of the Castle's own enchantments, and causes undead flesh to burst into flame until cremated."
"Dumbledore, might you be able to share that ward?" asked Maxime. "While there has never been an incident, I feel Beauxbatons should have such a defense."
"Of course, Maxime. Speak with me later, and I will arrange it."
The judges turned to You-Know-Who.
"The cabinet was beautiful, a true work of art, Lord Thingie," said Luna.
You-Know-Who rolled his eyes.
"A touch focus that conjures paperwork in order to work? Quite impressive, Tom."
"Thank you, Minnie," replied You-Know-Who, setting down his mug of hot chocolate.
"How long have you been at the Ministry?"
"Eight. Months. I've been filling it out by the stone for. Eight. Months. I fill out Bertha's. I fill out Ludo's. I fill out paperwork for four other managers in that department. I even fill out some of it for Crouch, the useless twit. It's a wonder Jorkins hadn't already snapped and killed everyone."
"Not everyone's response is to snap and kill people," reminded Luna.
"Sometimes, it should," groused the Dark Lord.
"Ludo, if you would?"
"The final task is a game of timed chess," began a quivering Ludo Bagman. "Coming into this task with more points grants more time. The board will be hidden from the contestants view so that they cannot study their opponent's play style beforehand, as well as using unenchanted pieces so that it is only through the skill of the player. The contestants will only know what time they must beat in order to win. We will proceed from lowest score to highest score."
"Who are we playing against?" asked You-Know-Who.
Mort snorted, then stepped up to a table Black was conjuring. Mort retrieved a wood chess board and a set of tournament pieces, along with a simple play clock. He balanced the buttons on top, and set the times with input from Bagman.
"How plebeian," commented You-Know-Who before a curtain was raised between the contestant seating area and the board itself.
Rita set her parchment and quill to record the movelist, as well as to make commentary, while she spoke with a few members of the crowd.
"I thought they were joking about You-Know-Who," whispered one student.
"Summoning a Dementor without anyone noticing? A mirror that shows your nightmares?" whispered another. "Who else could she be?"
"Wait, Mort put down a wand next to the board?" whispered the first.
Rita glanced, and saw a wand made from milky-white wood next to the chessboard. On the other side was another wand, one she recognized as Dumbledore's.
"Why does he have a wand? Can he use it?"
"We should ask Lovegood."
Luna was paying no one any mind, instead focused on Dumbledore's wand.
"Professor Dumbledore defeats Mister Mort with 22 seconds on the clock!" called Bagman. "Professor Maxime, if you would step up next?"
"Of course," she replied, exiting the curtain as Mort waved his wand, resetting the board back to their original places. She raised an eyebrow at that, but made no comment as the clock was set per Bagman's instructions.
"I guess that answers that," said a student.
"I didn't hear an incantation," whispered another.
"I thought I heard hissing."
They all glanced at You-Know-Who. He was sitting, eyes closed, dead to the world. They looked back at the chess board as the second game began. Harry's play wasn't that strong this game, either, but no one called out any moves as the two physical giants tapped the game clock until Mort's king toppled.
"Professor Maxime defeats Mister Mort with 29 seconds left on the clock!" called Bagman. "Lord You-Know-Who, if you would step up next?"
Rita checked the parchment, then stepped back when she felt magic pour off the Dark Lord, a rictus of rage marring his features. He hissed something at Mort. The eyeless head of the massive creature ignored the Dark Lord, instead resetting the clock to the stuttered instructions of Bagman from the other side of the room.
The Dark Lord seethed, glaring at the milky-white wand, and it dawned on Rita. That wasn't just any wand. It was the Dark Lord's stolen wand. It was obvious Mort could use it, but how did he acquire it?
Mort made his first move, then tapped the clock.
The game played was easily one of the most aggressive games any of the Ravenclaws ever witnessed, the Dark Lord pounding the pieces into the board, taking the offensive and maintaining it throughout the game. It was not a question of when the Dark Lord would win, but if he would do it faster than Olympe Maxime.
The Dark Lord did not once glance at the clock, completely focused on the board, making moves one after another after another, and when he toppled Mort's King, having utterly ransacked the white pieces, he clenched his left fist, stopping himself from taking the wand from Mort's side of the board. Mort retrieved the wand, and waved it with a hiss, returning the pieces and board to a wooden case near the spectator's stands.
"Lord You-Know-Who wins the match, with 25 seconds left on the clock, taking second place behind Beauxbaton's Olympe Maxime!"
"Award whatever prize you wish, Bagman," growled the Dark Lord, paying him little mind as he held Bertha Jorkin's wand.
Ludo audibly swallowed, his body tense, prepared to flee.
"Yes, well… Sirius Black has graciously provided the a trophy for err, bragging rights. It says 'I defeated Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle, and all I got was this tacky trophy.'"
"Black, you are third."
"Mm-hmm," said Black, handing a small gold trophy to Ludo to present it, then stepping well clear of Ludo.
Olympe held out her left hand, her right on her wand.
Ludo dropped it, and when it hit Olympe's hand, there was a loud crack and wet crunch as Mort's tail punched through Bertha Jorkin's head, turning it into a cloud of burning ash from fifteen feet away.
Ludo was already out the doors of the Great Hall, far faster than anyone expected of a man of his stature, as Mort's tail retracted. It raised above his head, spreading into three long claws, prepared to hit the corpse of the Dark Lord again. Luna stepped up to Mort, wrapping her arms around Mort.
Albus Dumbledore stepped forward, his wand casting a flurry of charms.
"Well. Lord Voldemort is well and truly dead this time," he commented.
"Dumbledore, you are going to explain," said Director Amelia Bones, three of her aurors standing behind her.
"Of course. Rita, if you would?"
Rita smiled. This was going to be good.
You-Know-Who Defeated For Good!
By Rita Skeeter
That headline, faithful readers, is not a misprint. You-Know-Who was indeed still alive, something that Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, and Director of Magical Law Enforcement Amelia Bones were well aware of. Readers may recall the much maligned story in The Quibbler about You-Know-Who's continued survival two years ago, stating he was behind both the Unicorn Poaching Scandal at Hogwarts as well as the petrifications at Hogwarts? I assure you, dear readers, that story was all too real. If need be, you can re-read it on page 3, with permission from Xenophilius Lovegood, editor-in-chief.
In a plan that only notorious pranksters Remus Lupin and Sirius Black could envision, and only Albus Dumbledore himself could enact, they sought to not only draw out You-Know-Who from hiding, but utterly destroy him!
And I, my faithful readers, was there to witness it!
It started as a simple story of international cooperation, between Beauxbaton and Hogwarts students studying the Goblet of Fire, divining the secrets of our past glories, when three names were shot out of the cup!
The names? Headmistress of Beauxbatons, Olympe Maxime. Headmaster, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and Supreme Mugwump of the ICW Albus Dumbledore. And You-Know-Who's true birth name, Tom Marvolo Riddle.
Dumbledore discovered You-Know-Who's presence in the Ministry of Magic, as he was possessing one Bertha Jorkins of the Department of Sport and Games. She made a short vacation to Albania, and was attacked and consumed by You-Know-Who's wraith, much like Quirinus Quirrell three years before. You-Know-Who was attempting to infiltrate the Department of Mysteries to retrieve an unknown magic for his dark and nefarious purposes, and had already succeeded in stealing a Time Turner, one he used to retrieve what Albus Dumbledore called "Abominations of the blackest magic, used to prevent passing over to the other side. I will not speak their names, let alone the most base of theories on their creation."
Upon her return, Ludo Bagman, surprised by the events, started with a simple game of Gobstones. For details on the game, check page 6. I assure you, readers, that while the gameplay was not masterful, the battle of words and wits was cutting! The first task resulted in a victory for You-Know-Who, but fear not readers, for the outstanding and amazing and terrifying was held for the second task!
The second task was a battle of imagination and wand work! Each contestant was to create a cabinet of curios and stock it with whatever they could transfigure, conjure, and enchant! The magics of the task and the quality of the curios was to be judged by Transfiguration Professor Minerva McGonagall of Hogwarts and Miss Luna Lovegood, reporter for The Quibbler and Ravenclaw student of Hogwarts.
I won't give a full transcription of the magics contained within here, but instead just examine pictures of the three cabinets below the fold! For the full list of wonders, amazement, and further photos, go to page 4!
Here, our own Albus Dumbledore came in first place, followed by Riddle, and then by Olympe Maxime.
The final task? A timed game of chess. The contestant's opponent? Vanquisher of Slytherin's Basilisk, Finder of Syltherin's Chamber of Secrets, the being called Mort.
While young, Mort put in quite a bit of practice over the last few months, and managed to not be crushed under the weight of such august personalities. For those interested, the games themselves are printed on page 7, with Mort playing white every game.
In a surprise upset, Headmistress of Olympe Maxime won the Triwizard Tournament, beating both Dumbledore and Riddle for time remaining.
And, in a surprise act, it was Mort himself who dealt the killing blow to the Dark Lord. With a single crack of his tail, he crushed the Dark Lord's head, the movement so fast it reduced the Dark Lord's head to ash rather than gore. Even as Bertha Jorkin's corpse fell to the ground, he was ready to strike against the Dark Lord again (see a full page photo on Page 2!)
Albus Dumbledore himself cast a flurry of spells to confirm that the Dark Lord was finally, well and truly, and most important of all, permanently, dead.
The Specter of the Dark Lord nearly returned, witches and wizards. And it was the watchful eye of Albus Dumbledore, and the quick thinking of true heroes that the Dark Lord's spector was destroyed! Let us all breathe a sigh of relief to have such heroes protecting us.
Full Page Photo of the Fall of You-Know-Who, page 2
Is the Dark Lord Truly Dead, re-printed from the Quibbler with permission, page 3
Photos and transcript of the first task, page 6
Photos and transcript of the second task, pages 4 and 5
Photos and transcript of the final task, page 7
Who is Mort?
By Rita Skeeter
Happy days continue, readers, but there's a shade of confusion over all the preceedings.
We all know the photo of Mort, standing over the corpse of the Dark Lord, just after vanquishing him in an action so surprising, even the Dark Lord didn't expect it!
But who is he? What is he?
Yesterday's story was one of jubilation. Today's is an story of darkness and rumination.
To the Wizarding World, the story of Mort begins six years ago, when Mort took up residence in the Forbidden Forest near Hogwarts. His first public action was to deal with what was then a near successful Unicorn Poaching, killing the Poacher and rescuing the injured unicorn so that Hogwarts Groundskeeper Rubius Hagrid and the Centaur Herd of the Forbidden Forest could nurse the unicorn back to health. Little did anyone know, but the Unicorn Poacher was possessed by You-Know-Who himself, attempting some nefarious method of returning to life, drinking the blood of unicorns in an attempt to tide himself over and to better hide himself from Dumbledore's watchful gaze.
His story continues the next year, when he hunted down and vanquished the Basilisk of the Chamber of Secrets after it harmed his dear friend, one Luna Lovegood. In so doing, not only did he end a terrible and legendary monster, he added to Hogwarts' most impressive history as well as its staggering array of historical artifacts and trophies when Dumbledore cleaned and mounted the monster's skull.
It continues further yet the next year, when he discovered the falsely dead Peter Pettigrew, and revealed him to be a Death Eater, and the betrayer of James and Lily Potter. Doubly-so, he revealed that Sirius Black was innocent, and that he was falsely imprisoned by now-disgraced, then Director of Magical Law Enforcement Bartimous Crouch Sr, and now-disgraced, then Minister of Magic, Millicent Bagnold.
Mort's story, however, stretches further back than that.
Those who read the Quibbler's interviews of the Triwizard Champions should have read Viktor Krum's comments on the two processes of the Animagus transformation.
Dear readers, there is a third process, known as the MacFusty Transformation. This process is not an intentional undertaking, either, but is instead a form of accidental magic. It is named for the first recorded instance of the transformation, Laise MacFusty, son of Gillechriosd and Coaimhe MacFusty, back in 1437. Laise was attacked by a swarm of doxies while playing in the forest behind his home. Before they could kill him, he transformed into a legendary ashwolf, a creature much like an ashwinder, that only takes form during magical forest fires.
Attempts were made to change him back, but none were successful, and Laise took his own life three years after the transformation, at the tender age of twelve.
Mort answers few questions about his life prior to his transformation. Dumbledore shed what little is known about Mort's life prior to his transformation.
"My original thought was that he was not raised in a magical household. Such a thing would be known, just as Laise was known. In addition, he has never stated his birth name, something many magical families are quite proud of."
"So he could be muggleborn?"
"This is where I doubt myself in this theory. Parselmouth is not a common ability. An inherited one, in fact. There's a chance what he has changed into a being that has that ability, but I think we can all agree that Mort is not a type of serpent."
"So you're saying Mort had the ability prior to his transformation."
"I think it a reasonable assumption. And with this datapoint, there are few families he could have belonged to. Most families would have celebrated a child, rather than keeping him hidden, so we must turn to the lesser known ones, specifically one known for being Parselmouths. The Gaunts. The last living Gaunts were Morfin and Marvolo Gaunt.
"Marvolo? Any relation to Tom Marvolo Riddle?"
"Yes. Merope Gaunt was Tom's mother. She used a love potion on a rich muggle named Tom Riddle, and then assumed he actually loved her when she was with child. She died just after childbirth, giving young Tom his name."
"I spent quite a bit of time gathering information on Tom over the years. Perhaps a later article?"
"Yes, indeed, Professor. I think my readers would be fascinated."
"Given the salacious details? Yes, I think they would. Now, the Gaunts largely kept to themselves. I have not found any records as to who Merope's mother is, but it is possible Merope used the same methods as Morfin."
"Again, possibly. We are well into the realm of conjecture. An escaping mother? With a child she has no wish to report the existence of? A squib, or near squib?"
"Staying in hiding. Growing up, hating magic that is denied them?"
"Again, conjecture," and here, Dumbledore removed his spectacles, looking all of his century of age. "But we have heard this story before. We have heard it many times. Sometimes it is a mysterious cousin. Sometimes it is a muggleborn that is not truly a muggleborn. But in this case, we will likely never know. And perhaps that is best, for who would want to know how close to a Dark Lord they are related?"
And there we have it readers. The story of Mort: a sad tale of accidental magic, love potions, and family most wicked! Next week, I'll bring you the Family History of Tom Marvolo Riddle from Albus Dumbledore himself!
"A few neat lies, and nobody will ask questions?" signed Harry. Sirius and Remus didn't care for Parseltongue, saying it reminded them to much of the Dark Lord. "Is it sad this actually worked?"
"You'd be surprised how well that works," commented Sirius.
"It's a good story, with all the salacious details needed to be seen as truth," commented Remus. "Sirius was always good at baffling with bullshit, but there was a reason we never got anything past Albus."
"Yeah, he's a master of it," grumbled Sirius.
"It feels wrong," said Harry. "Denying James and Lily."
"As much as I hate to say it," started Sirius. "You call them James and Lily, not Mom and Dad."
"Family is what we have, what we make," added Luna from Harry's lap.
"Yeah," replied Sirius, looking down at the table. Remus reached over, clapping his hand on Sirius' shoulder.
"What's this about Lucius?" asked Mort after tapping the paper.
"Dumbledore's galvanized," said Luna. "He sees you as a source of guilt. A failing of his, unable to juggle everything, unable to provide his best for everyone. He needs to learn he is not Atlas."
"Good luck with that," commented Remus. "Britain's been treating him like it for half a century."
"Perhaps someone should step up and take some of the weight," replied Luna, looking at the two men.
"Yeah, but who?" asked Sirius.
"I think she means us," replied Remus.
"Defeaters of Voldemort? The men who created the plan? Who executed it with such thoroughness?"
Horror dawned on Sirius' face.
"Good luck, Padfoot."
"Oh, no! No no no! That's not how this is going to happen! You're coming with me on this, and you're sharing in this!"
"Me, a werewolf?"
"Oh, yes! You, a werewolf!"
"A good calling card for werewolf rights, I think," added Luna.
Harry relaxed into the gentle argument around him, over who would have to step into responsibility. He knew, at least, it wasn't him.
"But soon," he cried with sad and solemn enthusiasm, "I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept into the sea by the wind. My spirit will sleep in peace, or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell."
He sprang from the cabin window as he said this, upon the ice raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.
Harry closed and set aside the book. He leaned back in thought. He read this one away from Luna. Hermione gave him odd looks while he read it, especially when she noticed that he was reading it for a second time.
Something in it called to him, felt familiar to him. He shortened, and his arm rippled, becoming a rough approximation of a 14 year old's arm. Clawless fingers were held in front of his face. He touched it with his other hand, claws and smooth skin running across the fingernails, feeling the wrinkles and differing underneath of a human hand, of one he recognized from holding Luna.
Frankenstein's creation. A creature made in a fit of pique, run away from in horror, turning into an intelligent man, and then a monstrous horror once he learned he was feared and hated.
What would have happened, if he was loved? How would the story have changed, if this creation had known the touch of kindness, rather than hatred? If Frankenstein hadn't run? If the family hadn't fled? If the monster had not raised his hands in violence, but instead approached as a man?
Harry had read "the Warlock's Hairy Heart," and Luna commented that perhaps Riddle should have read it. Harry thought about Dumbledore's story, of the orphanage, of Madam Cole, of being thought a muggleborn in Slytherin. Did Riddle ever feel a kind hand?
What would Harry be like, without Luna? Would he have fallen to that path? Twisted himself into something that resembled Riddle? That resembled Frankenstein's Adam?
Harry had no eyes to close.
They all made choices. Him. Riddle. Adam. They all chose.
He did not always chose well, but he tried to chose right. The other hand took up the shape of a human hand. He closed them into fists, feeling fingernails pinch his palms. The he opened them.
Ten Years Later
Luna leaned into her husband as he made breakfast. Little Lily Selene was kicking her legs while sitting on her father's shoulders, her messy blonde hair tied into a braid for once. Beautiful green eyes sparkled as her bare feet thumped on her father's chest.
Harry was always a little tall, but that just meant they needed tall ceilings. And tall enough ceilings meant Lily could sit on Harry's shoulders without bumping her head, so they got the tallest ceilings indeed. Luna closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of her husband, listening as he and Lily hissed at each other. She'd have to get Lily to speak more English, even as she understood the conversation.
Oh, she could say a few things, here and there, but her tongue wasn't sinuous enough to speak it proper. Lily got it from her father, and she expected their next child, already growing, to have it as well.
One of Harry's arms wrapped around her for a moment, pulling her closer for a moment, before returning to making breakfast.
Sirius and Remus and Minerva only occasionally tried to transfigure him a little further. For a while, he had smoky green fires for eyes, but he didn't personally care for them. Otherwise, he was always a little tall, always made of smoke and shadow. Sometimes, he had a tail. He'd taken to wearing a kilt, although he never bothered with footwear unless it was necessary.
He got enough hysteria as Mort. He wasn't particularly interested in finding out what Harry Potter got. The vigils for him were bad enough. It came out, a few months after Voldemort's demise, that the Boy-Who-Lived's magic was damaged. Dumbledore was attempting to cure it, and he'd even hoped that Voldemort's demise might break whatever curse he was afflicted with.
No such luck. The Boy-Who-Lost was mourned by the Wizarding World, and Sirius and Remus occasionally made mention of him becoming an accountant of all things. Harry and Luna both thought it amusing.
Hermione knew. She guessed, off and on, but it was confirmed to her once she saw Lily Selene's eyes. It took several long talks for her to really understand, and longer still to repair the friendship.
Most of it was Harry didn't want the responsibilities of the Wizarding World. He was who he was, and let the Wizarding World think what it wanted. Sirius was happy to be in the limelight, and while Remus didn't enjoy it, he certainly advanced a cause few wanted.
And in this, they kept Dumbledore's legacy alive. He passed away, in his sleep, five years prior. Rita published her tell-all book, and Luna counter-published her own tell-all book the very next day, and it gave everyone plenty of things to argue over. But Sirius and Remus, one the scion of the darkest family in Europe, the other a werewolf, stood by his legacy, and raised it as a standard, as a banner, and worked to make things better.
Things were not perfect, but they were better, and that was all that could be asked.
Well... this one took a while. I would like to blame NaNoWriMo for this completion. I would also like to blame LordsFire for helping me figure out how Elsewhere/Elsewhen is ending, so naturally I started writing this instead. Angel of Snapdragons for helping with Triwizard Curios. I am still aiming to finish Elsewhere/Elsewhen and Jamie Evans. Also, for all those who are demanding I release those four chapters of Jamie Evans? I'm not doing it until the story's done out of spite. You're welcome.
What this fic has helped with: Helping me spell McGonagall correctly (Quothe the LordsFire: "Here at McGongall, we stock all makes and models of Scottish Gongs."). Writing Dumbledore as a Boss. Banging my head against the keyboard in hopes of spelling things correctly. Writing a Triwizard where the only shenanigans was I didn't decide ahead of time who was going to win (rolling dice FTW).