"Down there, I believe?" Dumbledore asked.
Kreacher nodded, and looked like he was about to say something before ultimately deciding against it.
Harry leaned over the edge of the cliff, holding on carefully with all four paws. "So this is where Tom went?"
"More than once," Dumbledore confirmed. "Though I do not believe he did so very often. Certainly there is no indication he checked on his Horcruxes, at all, at least so far as Richard has told us."
"It's certainly somewhere that a non-wizard would find it very hard to get," Sirius mused, then rummaged in his pocket. "Hold on… there we go."
He flourished an umbrella. "Down we go, I think?"
"It is nearly low tide, so we should be quite fine to proceed," Dumbledore agreed, and whistled. Fawkes flashed into the air below the cliff, rising just high enough for Dumbledore to take his legs, then dropped down to the jagged rocks below.
Sirius went next, stepping out into open space with his umbrella open. It caught the air in exactly the same way normal umbrellas did when it was windy, only instead of flapping inside out or disappearing off down the street it instead let Sirius descend to sea level over the space of about twelve slow seconds.
Harry let them both go down, then looked to Kreacher.
"Do you want a lift?" he asked.
Kreacher shook his head, snapped his fingers, and reappeared at the bottom of the cliff next to Sirius and Dumbledore.
Harry shrugged, then flew down himself in the normal dragon way, and once they were all together Dumbledore pointed towards the entrance of the cave.
"Kreacher has been kind enough to tell me what is waiting for us within," he said. "And there were, before, a number of dangerous magical traps, while even now if they have all stopped working with Tom's death there is still nothing that we would like a Muggle to find; it would be terribly worrying for them. In particular, the main trap of the cave is that Tom stocked it with Inferi."
Harry winced, remembering reading about the awful magical constructs, then frowned.
"Professor?" he asked. "What are we going to do with the Inferi, then? They're dead bodies, originally, but that means that they were the bodies of people who went missing and who haven't been found."
"Very true," Dumbledore agreed. "Riddle doubtless thought that they would not be missed, though of course everyone will be missed by someone."
"It's more…" Harry began, trying to work out how to put it. "They've all been missing for almost twenty years, and I know that it's got to be terrible for people to not know what happened to their relatives or whatever… but at the same time, Muggle police are quite good at working out what happened to a body, and so many of them like this is going to confuse them."
Sirius looked uncomfortable. "I hadn't thought of that. I was sort of hoping we'd be able to find Regulus' body, but I didn't think through the rest of that."
"I believe we shall have to decide based on what makes the most sense," Dumbledore said, and strode forwards – Fawkes on his shoulder, looking around with alert eyes.
As it transpired, either Tom's Inferi enchantment had been unable to survive the repeated deaths and eventual final-death of its caster or he just hadn't done as good a job as he'd thought, because an experimental test with a Transfigured rat (courtesy of Sirius) produced no sudden swarm of undead monsters rising to the surface of the water to attack.
Then the next two hours were the somewhat solemn process of removing the bodies from the water, one by one, until finally they found Regulus Black.
His body was astonishingly well preserved; like the Inferi, it seemed as though the water had been enchanted to keep the bodies in good shape, and only a couple of months at most hadn't been enough to do much to them.
Or that was what Harry guessed, anyway.
"It's kind of strange," Sirius said, after a long moment of silence. "I really didn't like Regulus when we were children, and I spent years after that thinking he was a terrible person. I didn't really think any better of him until Kreacher said, and I knew he was dead… and at the same time, it's like it's really hit me now-"
His voice caught, and Harry went over to enfold his Dogfather in a wing for a hug.
"Grief is a peculiar thing," Dumbledore told them – and Kreacher, as well, who was just staring at Regulus' body. "It is a terribly sad thing to experience, and yet we can only have it when it is caused by happiness."
"I wish I'd known him better, then," Sirius admitted. "I might have noticed his good qualities."
"Kreacher has been looking for yours for many years, dog master," the House-Elf muttered.
His heart didn't seem to be in it, though.
"It feels weird not being in school," Harry said. "What with how it's September."
"You get used to it," Remus advised. "Besides, you'd be doing pretty much this even if you were at school."
It was a good point, Harry had to admit.
They were on Meade Hill outside Hogsmeade, this time, and the crowd of spectators included Richard (who had graciously taken a spot far enough back that he didn't take up most of the good spots by himself) and several people from the Ministry.
"All right," Hermione said. "Everything looks good on this end. Ron?"
The typewriter next to her went clackaclacka, and Ron said that EVERYTHING was FINE.
Hermione gave takeoff approval, and the Ratatoskr rose up to the cloud layer and beyond – going straight up, this time, rather than bothering with an orbital insertion.
Then, once it was above the atmosphere, Ron switched to the silver globe.
"You want to be about eighty thousand kilometres up," Hermione told him. "We'll adjust your position once you're closer."
Ron nodded on the mirror, then the runes flared up. On the zoomed-out silver globe next to the mirror assembly, the Earth vanished – dissolving back into silver – and more silver flowed up to replace it, forming a miniature duplicate of Mars.
"All right!" Dean whooped. "That was definitely faster than light, right?"
"Absolutely," Hermione agreed, fiddling with the controls of the silver globe. "Okay, Ron, start a low power engine burn – it looks like we're going to need a long burn to get you into the right frame of reference, and then you can Apparate closer and go down to land…"
She took a note. "I wonder if that's something to do with the way that the runes are assembled? Normally Apparition doesn't have that problem, but then again normally it doesn't go nearly that far."
Ron's graduation into the first human on Mars went quite well, all things considered, but in a peculiar sort of way the actual view was less impressive than it could have been.
They'd chosen to land squarely in the Valles Marineris, which was an enormous set of canyons much deeper than anything on Earth, but unfortunately it turned out that they'd picked the wrong spot – the sides of the canyon were actually below the horizon from where they'd landed, so instead of being inside a valley it just looked like the Ratatoskr had landed on a plain nowhere particularly interesting.
"Do you think we should fix that by having Ron take off again and fly to the side a bit?" Neville suggested, only half joking.
"I'm still on Mars," Ron replied. "It's really different to the moon… a lot of stuff here is more familiar, but that just makes it weirder, to be honest."
He sighed. "The funny thing is, I'm not sure if I want us to be able to install an atmosphere. The only way to make Mars somewhere people could live in the open would be to change it a lot, and that might be a good idea but it'd mean saying goodbye to what Mars is right now."
"These are the kinds of questions where it's a lot easier to read about someone else deciding on the answers," Harry opined.
"Too right," Ron agreed. "I know that I'd quite like a bigger ship than the Ratatoskr for a start, though… probably the next project, or something."
He bent down. "Anyone want a rock from Mars?"
"So, what do you think?" Dominic asked, bouncing slightly from one paw to another. "I've never had this many people over to visit before… sorry the light isn't very good, though, it's usually nicer than this in summer."
"The whole reason we're here is because of that duff light, mate," Ron assured him. "Don't worry about it."
Harry smiled, then looked around again at Dominic's home.
He and the rest of the Alexanders lived on a whole – if small – island, part of the Scillies, and instead of a single house they had something that was a bit more like an estate. Harry could count four buildings, one of them the big dovecote-like building where Mrs. Alexander handled the postal transfer that was her job and the other three spread out over most of a square mile of island, set up as sheep pasture.
That meant most of the island, of course.
"It's not just the fact it's dark I'm worried about," Dominic explained. "I'm worried about that it's cloudy. The whole reason you're here is for the eclipse, and it's not a very good eclipse if you just spend the time under cloud, is it?"
"It's a pity we don't have the Astronomy Tower here," Hermione agreed. "Speaking of which, have they fixed that yet?"
"Mostly, I think," he said. "I've had some Astronomy lessons up there since it was repaired, and it's usually fine but sometimes it rains there and only there. Weirdly it's still a clear sky when that happens."
"Sounds like it might need Bill to take a look at it," Harry guessed.
He'd been training with Bill for about a year, now, and he was still impressed with how good the older cursebreaker was. He'd felt like he was learning a lot, but the thing was that he'd felt like he was learning a lot all the time and that meant there was probably still a lot to learn.
That or Bill was really good at timing his lessons.
Harry glanced down at his watch, then, and saw that it was about fifteen minutes until totality.
"We should get the darkened glasses out," he suggested. "We don't want to miss it if the cloud clears."
In the end, of course, the timing was just about perfect.
The clouds parted a few minutes before the start of totality, and the dozens of gathered witches and wizards went 'oooh' appreciatively as they saw the thin arc of sun almost entirely blocked out by the moon. It was already dark, but it got darker quickly, and then there was the glitter of Bailey's Beads and suddenly the sun was gone.
What was left, the display of prominences around the edge of the moon's disc, was… beautiful. Especially with the naked eye.
Startled birds chirped from inside the dovecote, and from all around the island, and Harry did his best to take everything in – to capture this rare, precious moment, one which they'd been lucky to see at all today and which would last less than two minutes.
"Ten seconds," Hermione warned, and Harry put his dark glasses back on. Everyone else did as well, and then the sun began to emerge again and totality was over.
"Wow," Tanisis breathed. "I can see why they thought that was magic, back in the old days before they could be predicted."
"I've got a suggestion," Dominic said, raising his voice. "The eclipse is coming to an end, but we've got a pretty good beach as well?"
"So the idea I had was like this," Ron outlined, drawing a sort of wobbly diagram. "We still want it to be quite small, on the outside, and that means it's going to be shaped that way… but on the inside, we can squash and stretch the space involved so that it's a bit more like a ship."
"That's a terrible drawing, Ron," Dean said. "You do runes, which need to be precise, how come you can't draw that straight?"
"If I was using a ruler this diagram would look good," Ron replied. "It'd also take two hours."
Harry stifled a giggle.
"I heard that," Ron added. "Anyway, so I thought about having three floors, with the top floor having the command room with views out into space and that just being a single large room. Then below that you'd have the other working rooms, and the airlocks, and on the bottom floor is the bedrooms and stuff – I thought of having silencing charms in there."
"I think everybody would be grateful for silencing charms if they were trying to sleep," Neville chuckled.
"It would mean that someone would need to wake whoever was in their rooms in an emergency," Hermione pointed out. "That's not something that means we should say no, but it is something to keep an eye on."
Harry frowned. "Or have the silencing charms controlled from the control room as well? Like how you can have light switches that both control the same light. I think you could do that with Cambio if you were using Sumerian runic, that's got connotations of exchanging and swapping…"
As he began thinking about that, there was a scratching sound against the outside of the door.
Ron opened it with a flick of his wand, and they saw Hedwig was hovering there – along with another owl, a barn owl with a large package.
"Who's that for?" Neville asked. "Harry, is it for you?"
"It's book shaped, so probably," Dean sniggered, as the barn owl flew into the room.
It stopped in front of Hermione, though, and deposited the package in front of her.
"...oh, right, yeah," Dean added. "Don't know why I expected anything else."
"It could be because I live here?" Harry guessed. "Well, here at Dogwarts, or at Grimmauld Place. When I'm not on an expedition. I sometimes live here."
"Yeah, that," Dean agreed, as Hermione untied the twine and opened the package.
Then she whooped.
Ron leaned over. "What is it?"
"It's my book!" Hermione announced, sounding elated and as if she couldn't quite believe what was going on. "Look!"
She held it up, showing it off to all of them – The Incomplete Guide To A Complete Hogwarts Education, by Hermione Granger.
Harry remembered helping with the proof reading as Hermione hammered out what was essentially a quick summary of all seven years of Hogwarts, across all the subjects – it hadn't surprised anyone that Hermione had been able to do a pretty good summary even of the subjects she hadn't done at NEWT level – and neatly organized it by subject and year, so that someone could look up what they'd be learning and what would be coming up in later years.
It wasn't a book you could use to learn any subject by itself, because it only really had reminders about everything, but it was still the sort of thing that was very useful – it would have been a lot easier to learn Defence in some of the duff years if they'd had that book – and Harry sort of wished it had been around back when he'd been at school.
"It's weird to actually see it, isn't it?" Ron asked. "Sort of like when I was on the moon, you can't quite believe it's actually happening after so long working towards it."
"I know!" Hermione agreed. "Even the proof copy didn't feel like this!"
"So, what's next?" Neville asked.
Hermione frowned slightly, considering that. "I was thinking I should do a complete book on Defence Against the Dark Arts. Maybe History as well."
"Do you need to do History?" Ron said. "Everything we've heard so far says that Professor Doge has been a lot better than Professor Binns was."
"I dunno, I'd appreciate it," Neville volunteered. "But I think I have a question."
He waved at the diagram. "Does it make sense to include a kitchen?"
"You've got to have a kitchen," Harry said. "It doesn't have to be a big one, but if you're going into space for long enough to need beds then you're going to want to eat up there, and you can't just bring a week's worth of sandwiches."
Ron started sniggering.
"Imagine what Muggle astronauts would say!" he said. "Even something as simple as Crumb-Cleaning Charms makes space flight much easier… and if I can get away with a kitchen I'm not giving that up!"
"You've got a good grip, right, Harry?" Bill asked.
"Yep," Harry replied, shifting his footing slightly and digging his claws in a bit more. "Whoever put this one together was dedicated."
Bill chuckled. "We knew that already, it's built into a volcano and it's still here. That's pretty good work."
"I did look it up," Harry said, bracing his wings against the other side of the crevassed ceiling and shuffling along a bit further. "This volcano hasn't erupted in that time. But I take your point."
The older curse breaker paused, and when he spoke next he was all business. "Have you got a good look at the floor ward? None of us have worked out what we were missing, but maybe you'll spot something."
"Just a second," Harry asked, flexing his wings hard and taking both forepaws off their brace points. That left him supported only by hind legs and wings, but it was good enough, and he spun the dial on his watch before twizzling a knob.
The small telescope folded out, and Harry peered through it. He'd caught a glimpse of something…
"There it is," Harry said, moving the paw without the telescope back to a good brace point. "That was clever, but it must have taken ages to do. You know the repeated pattern of Wathe for danger has that weird Wunjo-Ansuz which should be reversing the meaning?"
"Yeah, that was what was puzzling us," Bill agreed. "It should have made the floor safe, but, well, you're bracing yourself against an entrance in the ceiling and I only agreed to this because your flight doesn't involve levitation charms… this setup doesn't like levitation charms."
Harry winced, remembering what they'd heard had happened to the Icelandic team who'd tried to deal with the rune structure. Nothing permanent, but after they'd worked out the obvious fact that the floor was trapped one of them had tried going in with a broomstick – which had promptly exploded when he'd tried going deeper into the complex.
He'd been very fortunate that his teammate was quick on the Accio charm, and the Hospital For Stavebeskadigelse said that he'd be right as rain in a day or two.
"You worked out the trick?" Bill added. "What is it?"
"Well, I'm not sure if this is the only trick," Harry clarified. "But I've found the obfuscation. There's about fifty runes carved together inside the channel of the Wunjo and the Ansuz, and it looks like the same ones for every rune pair."
Bill whistled. "Nice work, Harry. I don't suppose you can parse them?"
"Not here," Harry replied. "Hold on a moment…"
He drew his wand one-handed, then pointed it into the bag tied to his shoulders. "Accio camera."
The camera duly flew up out of the bag into his hand, and Harry fiddled with the settings for a minute or so – jamming his paws and wings again to stay in place – then got a good photo of the rune pair.
"I'm coming back out," he reported.
"All right, Harry," Bill agreed. "Good work already today, but I think we're spending however long it takes to decipher those runes."
Early that afternoon, after hours of turning over the complicated runes (and lunch), Harry went out to the edge of their camp.
They had a good view of the nearby inlet, which probably had a name but Harry couldn't remember it, and of the harsh nearby terrain that was much more immediately and clearly recently formed by volcanoes and ice than almost anywhere else in the world.
Probably because it was.
There was a very glacier-shaped lake just a couple of miles below, for example, which was called the Haukadalsvatn if Harry remembered correctly, though he wasn't sure what that meant.
"I know the feeling," Bill told him, coming out to join Harry. "After bashing my head against those runes for ages I want a walk to decompress."
"The thing that really impresses me about that is how small some of those runes are," Harry said, then frowned. "But obviously that means the sequence took ages to carve, so there must be some trick to it – something it ignores, maybe?"
"Could be," Bill agreed. "No real way to test that until we work out what it might be, though."
Harry nodded, then spotted a point of white coming towards them from the east.
He curled his tail around, offering a perch, and Hedwig landed on it.
"I'm impressed, girl," he said. "Did you come all the way by wing, or did you find a convenient fireplace?"
Hedwig fluffed her wings, offering her leg, and Harry removed the letter before opening it and unfolding the parchment.
"Oh, that's nice," he said, showing Bill.
The letter was written in Hagrid's careful hand – the writing of someone who was trying hard not to use up all the paper for too few letters. It said that he'd got his OWL results back, and that he'd got an O in Care of Magical Creatures, an E in Herbology, and an A each in Defence Against the Dark Arts and Charms.
Didn't expect to do that well, to be honest, Hagrid went on. Old Silvanus says that he might be passing the Care of Magical Creatures job over to me in a couple of years if I can pass a NEWT in it, so I'll be starting that next year.
Hope you're well over there in Iceland. Nora and the others want to hear how you're doing. Empress said that she was sure you were doing very well, thank you.
Your friend, Hagrid.
"Well done him," Bill said, nodding. "It's hard to go back to school after more than fifty years not doing it."
Harry had to agree, though of course neither of them was more than fifty years out of school so he did sort of know it was just guesswork for both of them.
"How did you manage to sort this out?" Remus asked, up by the seats near the back.
Sirius winked at his friend. "In case you haven't noticed, Moony, I'm a bit wealthy and a bit crazy."
"I don't think either of those is true," Dora said. "I don't think you're a bit crazy, I think you're a lot crazy... and if you were a bit wealthy it'd mean you'd lost most of your money."
Harry stifled a giggle.
"But seriously, I'm curious as well," Dora added. "And that's not just solidarity with Remus, I genuinely don't know how you managed to convince at least one Muggle organization that you own a cinema."
"What do you think this thing we're in here is?" Sirius asked, waving his hand at the room.
Harry had to admit, he had a point. The Dogwarts second basement had been turned into something that was a lot like a cinema, complete with thick curtains to make it as dark as possible and a projector at the back pointing at a screen at the front, even if a Muggle cinema inspector (if cinema inspectors existed) would probably have asked why there were so many open areas of various sizes festooned with pillows instead of normal seats.
If they'd been inspecting it on this particular day, they'd have had their answer, what with how many non-humans were taking places in the room. There were a number of humans as well – Harry noticed that Ron took a seat quite far over to the right side of the room, well away from the second-year Ravenclaw Acromantula folding his legs under himself on the left side of the room – but it seemed like about two thirds of the Unusually Shaped Society had shown up.
Along with some relatives, as well.
"It turns out that being a rich eccentric means you can sort things out," Sirius summarized. "Sometimes, anyway. And it didn't take much time, which is good because I've got lesson plans to work out."
He looked around. "Okay, is everyone in their seats?"
"You're not," Neville pointed out. "So come on, I want to see how well this turned out."
"I'd give you a detention for that if you were still at school," Sirius warned, winning a few chuckles. "All right, here we go."
He started the projector, then slipped into a seat of his own, and a flick of his wand sent the curtains down to close off the light coming in around the door.
For several long seconds, there was silence. Then a whispered voice.
"I amar prestar aen," it said. "The world is changed…"
"That was really impressive," Neville summarized, about two hours later. "I'm not sure I agreed with everything they did, the bit with the barrow wights was kind of important later on, but I never thought I'd see it come to life like that."
"And I noticed a distinct lack of wargs," June added. "Though I have to admit, maybe it's just as well… couldn't do with any new students being scared of my little cousins just because they happen to be talking wolves."
Hermione didn't seem quite so pleased. "What I want to know," she said, "is why they gave the Balrog wings."
"Oh, not this again…" Ron said, sounding halfway between laughing and groaning. "It was bloody amazing and you're going to focus on that?"
"I think it's important," Hermione muttered.
For his part, Harry had to admit that the big flaming eye was a bit odd. He'd thought it was a metaphor.
The film as a whole had been incredible to watch, though.
"Personally, I thought that it was a quite wonderful film," Dumbledore said, stooping slightly to pass underneath the lintel of the door. "I particularly liked that Gandalf fellow, who seems to have a good head on his shoulders. I do hope he appears again in another one."
"How could that possibly happen?" Cerag asked, his pincers clicking slightly as he negotiated the door. (Ron carefully, and as politely as possible, made himself scarce.) "He fell down a very big hole with a very nasty looking monster."
Hermione coughed. So did everyone else who had read The Two Towers.
That evening, June and a few of the others sang the Laments for Boromir, on the grounds that if the films were going to do that bit then they'd already have done it.
It was sort of a pity that the films didn't include as much music as the books did, but what in the books would take about a page to include out of five hundred pages would take up a lot more than a minute in a film – and there were a lot less than five hundred minutes in a film.
It did, however, mean that there was quite a long wait until the next film.
"Well, that's it," Sirius said, shaking his head. "Moony's finally kicked out of the Marauders."
Harry gave his Dogfather an odd look. "Why?"
Sirius grinned. "Dora made an honest man out of him, and we can't be having with honesty in the Marauders."
"Does that mean that Prongs got kicked out, then?" Harry asked.
Sirius waved his hand. "Pish tosh. That doesn't count."
Harry was about to ask how it didn't count, but the wedding couple sat down at the table with them.
"I think this table has the highest concentration of Hogwarts Defence Professors in a long time," observed the newly-minted (Nympha)Dora Lupin. "Three out of four, and I've heard Harry is looking to get the job as well once he's got more experience."
"You heard that from me," Harry said, then frowned. "But that would still only make three out of four, because I'm quite sure you were never a Defence professor. There was a woman called Sue, though."
Dora shrugged, her hair flicking through three different colours before opting for a mixture of red and gold. "Yeah, whatever."
"So what are your plans for the honeymoon?" Sirius asked. "I kept giving this big lump ideas, but he never made a choice."
"I never made a choice because Severus told me not to make any plans yet," Remus told him. "I'm not sure why, admittedly."
"Where is the old bat, anyway?" Sirius asked, looking around.
"Point of order," Harry requested. "Severus is the same age as you and Remus. In fact, I think you're slightly older?"
"Semantics," Sirius dismissed. "But we move in the same social circles, so he must have been invited."
"This is Wizarding Britain," Dora laughed. "The social circles aren't really big enough for people to move in different ones, are they?"
Harry hummed. "Well, I haven't seen Vincent Crabbe in years, so they must be."
"But yes, I did invite him," Remus said. "I'm actually not sure where he is…?"
A black cloaked figure came striding into the room, robe billowing behind him, and most of the conversations faded away as people turned to watch.
Harry was paying attention as well. He may have been a dragon – quite a large dragon by human standards, even if he was still small compared to even Gary and thus quite small by dragon standards – and eminently noticeable, but Severus Snape was a past master at making an entrance and at some point you just had to appreciate the craft.
"Ah, there you are!" Sirius announced. "Fashionably late, I see?"
"Black," Severus said, with a nod that approached cordial. "Potter. Lupin. Lupin?"
"That's right," Dora agreed, holding up her hand – the one clasped with Remus's, and the one with her wedding ring.
"My apologies for arriving late," Severus went on. "I could only finish work on your gift when I was rid of the tiresome necessity of handling students. Somehow the quality of the Third Years I get never seems to improve."
After this long, Harry still wasn't sure if Severus was telling an extremely dry joke.
"I also apologize for the delay," Severus told Remus, before placing a flask on the table. It was made of an extremely clear glass and had an odd pattern of silver bands on it, spiralling up and down the flask on both sides, and the liquid glittered on the inside like starlight.
Remus frowned. "I'm sure it's a very nice gift, if only because I don't think you'd do what Sirius would and have all this be the setup to a prank…."
"Perish the thought," Severus said, with feeling. "The key breakthrough was facilitated by the lunar dust, which reacted most strongly when combined with mandrake leaf, fresh dew and death's-head hawkmoth chrysalis."
Sirius went bolt upright.
"I hope this will serve for a gift," Severus went on. "It is the last dose of Wolfsbane you will ever need to drink."
"You what?" Dora asked, glancing at Remus – who seemed to be having trouble finding any words. "You've… cured lycanthropy?"
"I have not cured lycanthropy," Severus corrected her. "I have converted lycanthropy into something slightly different. Your husband will still transform on the full moon… but he will also be able to transform at any other time, will retain his mind at all times, and will in almost all respects be a wolf Animagus."
"Bloody hell," Sirius breathed. "I could kiss you for that."
"My thoughts on that matter will remain unspoken," Severus informed him.
"All right, I think that's everything on the list," Harry said, giving it another look over just to be sure and then sliding it to the side. "Does that match your list, Nidhogg?"
"That's right, ground control," Hermione replied – now that they had a space rocket that could fit more than one person, she'd insisted on being on the first flight.
So had several other people. They'd actually had to work out how to organize it, and Ron had ended up as captain-in-the-same-sense-as-an-aircraft-captain with most of the rest of the people on board divided into Astronomy, Science, Maintenance and Comfort.
If it didn't work, they'd change it.
Harry looked over at his silver globe, then, which showed a dozen airliners and a couple of Muggle satellites on it. None of them were anywhere near the projected launch path, and he nodded. "All right, you are go for launch."
"Go for launch," Hermione confirmed, and the Nidhogg's engine rumbled as they pushed the thrust up to full power.
While the Ratatoskr had been as small as possible when it was built, since Ron had been designing and working on it for years when he was still a student, the Nidhogg was considerably larger. It was also far too small to look like a serious space rocket to a Muggle astronautics engineer, because it had been built to be much, much bigger on the inside, but even the bits which gravity was allowed to notice still weighted about four times as much as the original rocket. It also had three times the maximum acceleration, which meant that – while muffled as much as possible – the engine flame was still extremely bright.
"Throttling up to twice normal gravity," Ron said, over one of the kaleidoscope of mirrors. "Looks like the enchantments are working great."
"Ron, that's my job," Hermione said, as Harry wrote the observation down. "That's what we should expect, we tested them enough."
"You're coming up to max Q on current profile," Harry told them, reading it off the numbers on the silver globe display. "Three, two, one, mark."
"Let's throttle up so we stay at the same pressure," Ron suggested, now not using his mirror but his voice coming through Hermione's one anyway. "That way we can get to the good bit faster."
"Ground control," Hermione began to relay, and Harry tried not to chuckle.
There were very good reasons for that whole rule about who got to speak to ground control, but they hadn't quite factored in how good Harry's hearing was.
A few minutes later, the Nidhogg was floating in space with the engines off, and Harry watched on one of the other mirrors as the crew got up out of their seats and walked around.
"We can turn the gravity off at some point, right?" Dennis asked. "I want to find out what it feels like when you're in space – under normal rules, I mean, not these new ones."
"The second gym room on the fourth floor has a switch at the door," Hermione told him. "That turns the gravity off for the room. Be careful you're not sick, though."
Harry glanced over at the clock. "Nidhogg, this is ground control. Do you still plan to jump at two PM, London time?"
"That's correct," Hermione agreed. "You might have to wait, Dennis."
"Fine," Dennis sighed, then shook his head, muttering something about how amazing all this was.
"Sonorus," Hermione added. "Attention, everyone. We'll be jumping in five minutes. Everyone please return to your seats and put your seatbelts on."
Harry flicked the controls of the silver globe, setting it to follow the Nidhogg, and up in space Ron began to do a countdown.
At ten seconds, he took hold of his own silver globe.
"Three, two, one-"
The silver globe Harry was watching twitched wildly, the zoomed-out silver model of the solar system vanishing instantly and replaced with something entirely different.
"Jump successful," Hermione announced. "Welcome to the Gliese 876 system."
All the spectators behind and around Harry started to cheer.
"Well done, Weasley," said one of them, a wizard from MACUSA who Harry knew was part of the American Project. "Your team's done fine work… I think we're going to have to license your rune sequence. We've been getting nowhere."
Harry didn't think that was quite correct. They'd been getting somewhere, it was just that where they were getting was the moon and it was taking them several hours.
"We've got a large relative motion component," Hermione reported. "Rotating to do an equalization burn. Astronomy, do we have anything?"
"Um… I think so?" James Tuckett said. "We're above the ecliptic like we were aiming, but it looks like there's at least four planets here, not two…"
Harry had been using the controls on his own silver globe while they were talking. "Nidhogg, I think you should be at zero relative motion in about ten minutes. Then you can rotate to point the telescope."
"Do you ever think it's a bit strange that we keep meeting up at Hogwarts?" Tanisis asked, looking around her. "I mean on a more sort of… social level. I've heard of school reunions, but I don't think they're supposed to be this often."
Tyler sniggered. "There's no way you're going to be able to convince any of us that something is more strange than the general background," he said. "It's absolutely hilarious, though, I'll give you that."
"I'm having one of those sinking feelings again…" Lavender said.
"Too late," Tyler told her, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "You had your chance to back out… several of them, actually."
"You say that," Lavender mused, leaning into her husband's embrace. "But sometimes I think that sharing a dorm room with a velociraptor for several years wouldn't have been enough preparation."
"I think it's because it's somewhere we're all familiar with," Harry said, tossing his head towards Hagrid's hut. "And it's not much of a walk for any of us, but it's not going around someone's house which would just mean a really complicated rotation."
"And it'd mean getting Empress through the Floo," Tanisis mused. "I think that's a good point, yeah."
She raised a paw, considering. "Speaking of which, does anyone know if that idea about raising a couple more basilisks here got any traction?"
"Last I heard, Charlie said it was having trouble in committee," Harry told her.
"Shame," the sphinx sighed. "Luna's still looking forward to doing a study of a growing basilisk. There might be photos, if she can manage it… though it's not like the Quibbler is going to be lacking basilisks otherwise."
Harry nodded, remembering their most recent article on the subject… a lifestyle interview with Empress, where Luna had earnestly discussed what the ancient serpent thought she enjoyed the most about modern music.
It appeared that she liked anything with particularly strong bass tones, though was also quite interested in choral music.
The shout caught everyone's attention, and Harry looked over to see Nora spreading her wings – she'd been over by Hagrid's hut, and was taking off in a kind of mad scramble to get into the air as fast as dragonly possible.
"Dragonish," Tanisis supplied, just so Harry knew which language she'd used – the young dragoness had been learning to speak English to the same extent she could already read it, but it had been going a bit slowly.
Lavender eased back a bit, partly from nerves, as Nora hovered for a moment before landing right next to them.
"Look!" she said, holding up an envelope – one that had been opened by a very careful and very sharp claw. "I got one!"
"Is that a Hogwarts letter?" Lavender asked.
"Congratulations!" Harry told Nora. "That means you're going to have to get a wand, doesn't it?"
Nora nodded eagerly.
Tyler, by contrast, started laughing himself sick.
"This is great!" he said, clapping. "I love when this kind of thing happens and we didn't even need to lift a tail!"
"Shouldn't that be claw?" Lavender said, giving him a tolerant look.
"Tail," Tyler insisted. "I've got more than everyone else talking put together, I get to insist on tail."
"One of the funny things about this is how much time it's been taking to do each star system," Xenia said. "When learning about the stars, we learn a lot – both at home and at school – but there's not enough that it'd take a dozen people more than a week just to write everything down about it."
Harry nodded, watching as the Nidhogg climbed into the sky over Hogwarts – ready for their next expedition.
He wasn't entirely sure what the funding structure was for Ron's missions, but it seemed to work out quite well all things considered.
"I think it's because they're looking from much closer," he said. "Ron can get a good look at all the planets in a star system, and get a good close look at the star as well, so it's a lot more like exploration – we could see what type of star it is from Earth with a nice big telescope, but getting that close gives much more information."
He waved his paw. "Like about flare stars, for example."
Xenia smiled, slightly. "My father's been in quite a tizzy sometimes about what we can determine for astrology when there are other planets, around other stars, and whether they can tell the future by stars around those planets as well. Of course, it's all strictly hypothetical."
She shrugged. "Come to that, it's been keeping those who might otherwise get argumentative quite busy. I wonder who could have come up with that?"
The Nidhogg was out of sight, now, and Harry watched the dispersing cloud of water vapour before turning to the younger centaur. "Actually, do they teach any of what Ron's found out in Astronomy class?"
"We got shown pictures of the surface of Titan during Fourth Year," Xenia told him. "That was amazing. It looks so much like just a normal riverbed or something, and then you realize the water is methane and the rocks are ice. And Professor Sinistra showed me a picture of that one from late last year, the small rocky planet with all the ice and water?"
"I remember that one," Harry agreed.
Hermione had said that she thought it was a bit like how Mars might have looked billions of years ago, with a big ocean of water almost choked off by ice but not quite gone yet.
It was sort of like looking through time, except it was through space instead of time, but then again because of the speed of light then you could normally only see things in space by looking back in time… except now that wasn't the case any more and oh dear he'd gone cross-eyed.
Trying to choke down a bit of a giggle, Harry looked towards the control centre – then his head tilted as Hermione stood up and flicked her wand.
An otter appeared in front of Harry.
"Come quick!" Hermione asked. "You're going to want to see this, Harry!"
Harry exchanged a glance with Xenia, then took off with a sweep of his wings as the Head Girl broke into a gallop.
It wasn't far, and neither of them took long to arrive, but by the time they had Hermione was already back on the mirror.
"Nidhogg, please rotate so we can see the planet on mirror two," she requested, and Harry's gaze flicked to the big mirror.
At first there was just a starfield, but then the planet came into view, and Harry's jaw dropped.
It was alien, and unexpected, and beautiful.
There were wide blue seas, and sprawling chains of islands – one of them crowned by the smoke of a volcanic eruption, visible even at this distance – and the bulk of two different continents, but there was also something like a long and irregular line running along the middle of the sea between the two continents. It was a little hard to see because of long curling bands of white clouds, but Harry was fairly sure he was putting together what he could see correctly.
Even more surprising was that the continents weren't simply bare rock. There was a yellowish splotch like a desert in one of the continents, and there were obvious mountains, but there was also a brilliant, vibrant scattering of purple along the banks of a mighty river and in other spots all over the continents and the islands.
"Oh, my word," Xenia breathed, as she trotted to a halt next to him. "What is that?"
"We're having a look with the main telescope," Ron informed them, as the planet slid off the mirror again. "I think we're going to have to get closer, but… I think that purple might be plants."
"Did anyone else have a weird time at the polling station?" Ron asked. "Tanisis asked me if I was willing to say who I'd voted for."
"That's called exit polling, Ron," his wife told him. "She was doing it for the Quibbler. And I expect everyone had the same time, there's only one polling station and she was outside it."
Harry chuckled, stretching slightly and looking over at the table Molly Weasley had set up in the Burrow's gardens – a table that was groaning under the weight of party food. "I can think of at least one person who didn't have that experience."
"What, you?" Ron asked, then frowned. "Would you need an expansion charm to fit in the polling station? Wait, hold on… Richard? He's bigger than you, still. I think he's the biggest dragon in the world."
"Richard isn't old enough to vote," Hermione corrected him. "Well, technically. Harry's the only dragon who can vote."
"Fluffy, then?" Ron guessed.
"It's going to be Tanisis, isn't it?" Dean guessed. "She certainly couldn't have interviewed herself."
"I don't know, she was doing it for the Quibbler," Ron countered. "Remember her summary of the hustings?"
It had been quite surreal, which was sort of a Quibbler trademark. Clear discussions of all the positions, followed by a rating based entirely on what sort of chair they'd conjured for the debate.
The empty chair had won.
"Well, it's gone ten PM," Hermione went on. "They should be opening the polling boxes now."
"How long does it usually take to get results?" Harry asked. "I was in the middle of Angkor Wat on training last time they did one, I slept through."
"Oh, not long at all," Hermione answered. "Last time, it was-"
A cheer went up from the table.
"Minister Percy!" Charlie announced, loudly enough to hear over the celebration. "Bloody hell that sounds weird."
"That's because it's meant to be Minister Weasley," Percy replied, crossing his arms. "Though that could mean Fred or George, which would be a terrifying prospect."
"...about that," Hermione finished. "The papers all sort themselves out neatly into piles, and then the counters just need to make sure each pile is consistent."
"So that means the whole of the time I've known about magic until now is the Fudge Years," Dean said, half to himself. "It makes it sound like things were either going very sweetly or were a bit mixed up, don't you think?"
"Honestly, as far as Ministers for Magic go, that's a pretty good career for Mr. Fudge," Harry judged, thinking about some of the other ones they'd learned about in History of Magic. "He might turn out very well in the history books."
"And in the history lessons," Ron said. "Especially if Sirius ends up taking the job like he said he might… are you allowed to be biased about recent history like that?"
"I think it's called politics if you are," Dean suggested.
"So where are you now?" Professor Sinistra asked. "Is it anywhere we've heard of?"
"It must be," one of the Astronomy students said, a Gryffindor. "That's a red giant."
"Please wait until I call on you, Miss Furnival," Professor Sinistra chided.
"She is right, though," Ron agreed. "Or, well, it's a good reason, and it's right this time. Though it's actually a red supergiant."
Harry's ears flicked slightly as he listened to the conversation going on over the mirror, and smiled.
He could only imagine how cool it would have been as an Astronomy student to be able to talk to someone in another star system, and sort of wondered how long it would take before someone worked out which star system they were in… though, admittedly, there wasn't all that much that was interesting in this one.
Maybe there'd been a nice habitable planet here before – or one that was the right temperature, anyway, like more than a dozen barren rocks that Ron had found so far and two that had had some kind of alien wildlife on them – but Antares had grown to an enormous size a long time ago and any such planets would have been eaten by the star. And wouldn't have been around long enough to evolve anything useful, anyway.
"You all right, mate?" Neville asked, leaning over.
"Just thinking," Harry replied. "I don't think it's really sunk in how far away from Earth we are right now."
"Right," Neville realized. "The rest of us have been on these before, but this is your first time…"
One of the astronomy students at the back of the class was jumping up and down in her eagerness to ask a question, and probably would have squeezed to the front except that as a Norwegian Ridgeback she'd have pushed everyone else out of the way.
It was a very good thing that Nora was so polite, really, when you thought about the alternatives.
Probably a reason she'd ended up in Hufflepuff.
"Miss Rubeus?" Professor Sinistra invited.
"Where are you going next?" Nora asked, eagerly, then frowned and tried again. "I mean, wehre are you going nexssst?"
"That's a very good question," Ron told her, which made Nora look very self-satisfied. "Sometimes we have somewhere we're especially planning to go, but today we're just going to pick at random."
"We're not going to just pick at random, Ron," Hermione chided him. "We're going to be doing an experiment."
"Which involves picking at random," Ron countered, his wife's comment deflecting off as if he'd cast a fairly good Shield Charm. "So what we've done is, we've got a very small vial of a potion called Felix Felicis."
Dean coughed. "Or liquid luck, if you don't mind getting rid of all the mystery."
"That, yes," Ron agreed. "Anyway, once we're ready to go, I'm going to have some of that, and then I'll pick our destination at random and Harry will jump us there."
There were several more questions about astronomy after that, like one asking whether they'd done any parallax astronomy using a base line of several light years, and it was nearly midnight back at Hogwarts by the time that Hermione insisted they start the experiment.
"All right, here we go," Ron said, uncorking the tiny bottle and having the smallest amount he could. "Wow, that feels amazing. I never knew feeling lucky was like that!"
Hermione made a note. "Let's check if it's working," she said, handing Ron a fistful of dice.
Ron rolled them all, making a clattering sound across the floor, and Harry looked at the four that had ended up close to him.
Two sixes, an eight, and a twenty.
"They're all as high as possible here," he reported.
"Same here," Neville called.
"And so are all the ones I can see," Hermione concluded. "I think we can call that working, I'll make a note."
While she did, Ron flicked his wand to spin up the nearest silver globe.
"Let's see…" he said, and a few more flicks sent it spinning wildly across space. Silver stars appeared and then vanished, each one with a little fleck of colour showing what kind of star it was, until finally one settled into view near the middle of the globe.
"That one," he decided. "I've got a good feeling about it."
"Zooming out," Dean said, taking control of the globe with his own wand. "It looks like… it's about four hundred light years away. That's a long single jump, but it should be doable."
Harry looked as well, making sure he had a good understanding of where they were going.
His wings twitched slightly, and he put his paws on the silver globe in front of his sofa.
Hermione's wand twitched. "Stand by to jump," she told everyone, her voice echoing through the ship, and Dennis sat down before doing up a seatbelt.
"Three, two, one," Harry said, then Apparated them.
The first few minutes after Apparating were always sort of the same, because they had to spend some time making sure they were where they were expecting to be – and make sure that they weren't going to crash into anything, and seeing what there was that could be easily seen from a few million miles away but which would have been tremendously difficult to see from hundreds of light years away.
(Harry thought that the only thing that wasn't tremendously difficult to see from that far away was a star, and even then it depended on the star.)
"We should be at zero relative speed in twenty minutes or so," Dean said, all business now.
"And it's got some planets," Hermione added. "That one's kind of close to the star, but it doesn't look too close…"
"I kind of want to see what that planet looks like," Ron voiced. "How much would it slow us down if we got a look with the main telescope first?"
Harry coughed. "I could just Apparate us closer afterwards, so it wouldn't waste much time."
Taking that as a good enough reason, Ron began turning them so the big telescope was pointing in the right direction.
Another mirror floated into place – Janus Gallowglass was doing very well out of the Nidhogg, as there always seemed to be more places to put two-way mirrors – and a blurry image appeared in front of them, before getting sharper as Dennis twisted the focusing knobs.
"...that's a city, right?" Neville asked, eventually. "And that's a city wall. And those are boats."
"They look way too familiar," Dennis said, frowning. "How come?"
"There's only so many shapes you can make a boat and have it work," Harry guessed. "It's not like the water's going to be that different."
"What do we even do in this situation?" Neville asked. "I don't think any of us is a diplomat."
"No, but I'm fairly sure I've got a brother in law who can get us some," Hermione suggested. "We should… maybe try and find out some more information?"
Minister Weasley steepled his fingers and examined the three people in his office.
Harry was quite impressed. He thought Percy had a very good examine, which was impressive from someone who wasn't really that much older than Harry himself.
"All right," the Minister said. "So I've heard the rumours, of course, but I think it would be helpful to get a complete summary."
"Of course," Hermione agreed.
She waved her wand, conjuring a thousand shimmering stars to float in the air, and tapped two of them. One lit up green, the other blue.
"This is where the aliens live," she explained. "We don't really have a name for them, yet, because we don't think they have one name for themselves."
"There's a lot we don't know," Harry said. "It's one of those times when you really understand why all the aliens in the stories would wait around listening in on Earth radio for years before going down to say hello in the first place."
He tilted his head, speculatively. "If we did want to speak to them we probably could, but right now it would mean making it so that one of them speaks English by giving them a Translation Toffee. Fred said that MMM could make one for an alien language eventually, but they wouldn't know where to start right now."
"And you said an alien language," Percy noticed. "Not the alien language."
"Well, English is only a human language," Hermione pointed out. "It's not the only language in Britain, even if just about everyone can speak it in this country… just in Europe alone there must be well over a dozen. And-"
"Thank you, Hermione, I get the point," Percy informed her. "So, what do we know?"
"Well," Harry said, eager to explain that because he'd done a lot of the working out. "We used the big telescope, to start with, and we've got some quite good pictures of them. They look like this."
He took a few dozen photos out of a folder, and laid them out on the desk. Percy picked them up, and began going through them.
They were quite striking, really. They were low-slung, had six limbs – the front two being used as hands in several of the photos – and a downy fuzz over their body, plus a large sail that some had raised up and others had lowered down.
There was no really consistent colour, with some of them having almost green fur and the rest having various shades of greys and browns, but it wasn't always easy to tell – they were all wearing clothing, with some of the photos showing the aliens quite thickly clad.
Harry tended to think that wearing clothing was a good clue that someone was probably a Being. It wasn't foolproof, though, because some dragons didn't like scarves and some people dressed their dogs up.
That said, though, one thing he'd noticed was that the sail was always exposed. And they had beaks, which was another kind of strangeness.
"Well, they don't look like anything I've ever seen," Percy admitted, watching a photo as one raised their sail and turned it so it caught the orange-red sunlight. "Sort of like someone tried to make a centaur out of a really big lizard."
"Luna will explain what we worked out about their biology," Harry went on. "But we also found out a lot about their technology, and… they're sort of like we were about three thousand years ago, in some ways."
"Only some ways," Hermione added quickly.
"Right," Harry agreed. "We did a lot of fiddling around with spells that alchemists use to detect different elements and compounds, that took almost a week, and we don't think they've worked out how to make bronze or iron. We saw a lot of ships sailing around, though, and farms, and big walls around small cities, and we think there was a siege going on of one of them."
"And we're almost certain that they have magic," Hermione told Percy. "Harry's right that we didn't pick up bronze or iron tools, but we did detect some aluminium, and the only way that can really make any sense is if they're making it through alchemy."
"I'll take your word for it," the Minister decided. "What about what Mrs. Scamander can tell us?"
Luna tapped one of the photos with her wand, blowing it up to a much larger size.
"We think this is for heating up and cooling down," she said, pointing to the sail. "They often raise it either into the sun or into the wind, and it's got almost no fur on it. They seem to eat both meat and plants, and they do have eyes."
Percy blinked, then frowned.
"I suppose that's not necessarily something you could count on," he conceded.
Luna went on for the next half an hour or so, outlining the things she'd observed about social structure.
Not all of it was material Harry himself had seen, in fact, and a lot of it was very interesting. The fact that one of the cities she'd looked at had had a daily public market while the other seemed to rely on everyone getting the same supplies every day was kind of neat, and the way that several places used garnets as what was clearly currency was interesting as well – and made Percy ask how Luna could possibly have found that out.
Harry had known that one already, at least, because he'd lent out his enormously effective Invisibility Cloak for the job. But it was a good thing to check on.
Eventually, Luna's presentation finished, and Harry had given the last little addendum to fill in a missing bit of information, and Percy sat back in his chair.
"Thank you," he said. "All right, now here's the important question. What do we actually do with this information?"
"I think that's for you to decide, Minister," Harry said. "But I think… there's two things involved here. One of them is that if we decided to actually go and meet these aliens, it would be a First Contact situation, and First Contact situations are very difficult and awkward. Even if someone is doing their best to be helpful… it's a big project. It's too big for it to be something Magical Britain does by itself, I think."
Percy considered that.
"I think this means I'm going to have to ask Dumbledore about it," he decided. "If we're going to bring it up at the ICW it's best to let him know. And the second thing?"
"We have a way of making spaceships travel to other planets," Harry said, simply. "That by itself is a really big deal. I don't know how Muggles would react to it, but… it's important."
He paused, counting under his breath. "Three things, actually. The third thing is… do we invite any of them to Hogwarts?"
"Good news, Harry!" Sirius said, sitting down at the kitchen table.
"There is?" Harry replied. "What kind of good news?"
His ears went up. "Did that new Pern book come out?"
Sirius shook his head, then paused, then frowned, then shook his head again.
"No," he said, that done. "Well, maybe. Well, I don't know, but that's not the good news."
Harry thought it would be very good news if a new Pern book came out, but that probably wasn't what Sirius wanted to hear right now.
"Anyway, the good news is," Sirius said, after a pause long enough for Harry to make a funny comment if he'd really wanted. "I spoke to Dumbledore, and he thinks it's a good time for me to quit."
Harry considered that, and decided that that probably was good news. Sirius had been a pretty good Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, by all accounts, and had been the one who'd had the job the longest since at least the nineteen-sixties, but he'd often complained about the amount of paperwork so it'd give him a nice bit of time off.
"So who's going to be the new Defence teacher?" he said. "I was…"
Harry stopped, then, and noticed that Sirius had a big grin.
He'd been about to say that he was hoping to get the job when he had more experience, but it abruptly occurred to Harry that he now actually had more experience.
"And in case you're wondering about it," Sirius went on, "Remus already said he'd be willing to help you out, and I'll do as much as I can without actually doing much real work."
He frowned, clearly thinking. "Can you turn into a dog? They like it when I turn into a dog, it helps keeping the class under control."
"I think I might have to stick with turning into a dragon," Harry replied. "I did get a good head start on it, if that helps?"
"It probably will," Sirius agreed. "Though I think you'd have a class with three dragons in it, so watch out for that."
He snapped his fingers. "Oh, and you should probably actually interview for the job, as well."
Things moved quite quickly after that, and that same afternoon Harry was in Dumbledore's office.
"I would be delighted to hire you for the Defence Against the Dark Arts post, Harry," the Headmaster told him. "Quite apart from anything else, I believe you have all the qualifications I could possibly look for."
He picked up a piece of parchment and examined it closely. "High marks in your Defence OWL and the highest marks I've ever seen on your Defence NEWT… from a school with a very high reputation, as well, I see."
Harry sniggered, and Dumbledore winked one bright blue eye.
"You are also an Alchemist," the Headmaster continued. "Which I have always considered a useful skill. And – ah! Very few applicants for this job have ever defeated a Dark Lord, especially more than once."
He stood up, and offered his hand. "Welcome to Hogwarts, Professor Potter."
"What do you think?" Harry asked. "I tried to make sure that I'd be ready for whatever I had to teach."
Dean looked around, nodding to himself.
"It's a lot bigger than our old classrooms were," he said. "But, then again, in our old classrooms, it had to deal with at most about thirty blokes and one bloke sized dragon. You've got three dragon sized dragons in one of your classes."
"There's that," Harry agreed. "And I also wanted to make sure that I didn't need to push the desks out of the way."
He was quite proud of how it was all set up, really. There was a big bank of desks at the side of the room near the door, all facing an adjacent wall, and he'd set up two blackboards and one of the special big parchments Remus had made for his own lectures.
It had taken a while to make sure it included all the things which he might need for the first month of lessons, in all seven years, but it would probably save a lot of time compared to having to draw them on the chalkboard manually. Or magically.
Then most of the rest of the room was a large open space, some of it with a flat floor and then the rest of it supplied with stairs and hilly ground, and there were some wooden practice dummies stacked against the walls ready for use.
Harry had also put paintings on the walls, but they were mostly landscapes.
"Couple of questions, though," Dean said, and pointed up. "First, what's that?"
Harry followed his gaze. "Oh, the gantry?"
It was about twenty feet off the ground, which still didn't quite make the room look tall because of how big it was (Harry had got advice from Professor Flitwick, who was now his coworker, which was still weird) and it was big enough for quite a lot of students at the same time. And a dragon.
"I sort of wanted to test who actually bothered to look up," Harry explained. "You know how it is."
"Good point," Dean admitted.
It would also let people get a good view of spellcasting practice without having to be down on the same level and possibly in the way of the magic. It wouldn't really do for Harry to ask his students what they thought someone had done wrong, when what they'd done wrong was "miss" and someone was too busy dealing with only being able to speak in rhyme.
But that was a more technical sort of thing.
"Got your curriculum worked out?" Dean added. "Thinking about what some of those students are going to face is weird, they're going to have the same teacher for all seven years."
"I know," Harry agreed. "Maybe I should wear different hats."
Harry had been here before, several times now. Amazing as it still seemed to him to think about, he'd actually been in more Sorting Feasts as a professor than he'd ever been as a student.
But there was still something about them which, for an hour or two, brought him back to when he'd been new to Hogwarts and everything had been amazing and magical.
That was one of the things he thought he liked about the Sorting feast, more than just about any other time at Hogwarts. It was when everyone was looking at the school in some ways for the first time… and with how much things had changed, it was sometimes good to get that reminder.
There were several dragons at Hogwarts now. There was Mary, the enormous Ironbelly who was in Sixth-Year Ravenclaw, and a lithe Third-Year Hufflepuff Green called Harleth who was already the latest Chaser sensation for his House team.
And there was a dragon Professor, of course.
There was a centaur teaching Divination, and a griffin teaching History, and a panther sitting in the Herbology teacher's seat because Neville had sort of picked up the habit somewhere, and an enormous basilisk sprawled against the back wall, wearing a one-way runic blindfold and a pair of googly eye spectacles and rejoicing in the title of Extremely Senior Professor of Magic Linguistics.
The Gryffindor Fifth-Year Prefect was a much smaller basilisk himself, who'd opted for his own false eyes to be winking. And there were, of course, hundreds of other students and more than a dozen other teachers, all watching as the door opened to admit the First-Years for the sorting.
Somewhere in the middle there were two slightly overwhelmed-looking panitheria, the first extra-terrestrial secondary school students in Britain, and a centaur, two wargs, two goblins, probably a veela, thirty-seven or thirty-eight normal humans and two Weasleys.
Harry still wasn't sure how Fred and George had managed to not have children at the same time, but Fred's eldest son and Ron's eldest daughter had ended up at the right age to go to Hogwarts together.
He had the distinct feeling that the First-Year classes this year were going to be a bit hard to manage.
Still, as Professor McGonagall got out the Sorting Hat, and as it began to sing about how Hogwarts would be a home no matter how far you had to travel to get there, Harry felt a sense of deep, abiding contentment.
All was – more or less, if you ignored the little things which never quite lined up so neatly – well.
And that's the epilogue.
Since it covers a span of nineteen years, part of the feel I tried to give it was that it was a long period of time. People get married in sections of time we don't see, things happen that don't get focus, and there's a whole wide world where we only see the smallest hints.
I'm not sure what my next project will be.