Author's Note:

Thanks for reading! I should warn you, however, that this fic is unusual and perhaps not what you are looking for. For example:

1. Loose Cannon is, above all, a coming-of-age fic. There are heaps of subplots, mostly comic, but the main story is about Harry, Hermione, and Ron growing beyond their war-stunted adolescence.

2. It's going to be very long. As of February 4, 2020, I've written 750K words, and it shows no sign of stopping. Most of these words are dialogue, which I'm told I do well, but that might not be your cup of tea.

3. If you are looking for a typical Super!Harry, you will not like this fic. My Harry is quite powerful in his own way, but he's not the next Merlin.

4. If Harry/Hermione is your One True Pairing, you may have to wait a while. My original plan was to ultimately make this a Harmione fic, once they both grow up some, but I'm not going to pair them if it doesn't feel right. One of the big mistakes in canon, IMO, is that JKR decided early on that Hermione and Ron would eventually marry, even though they never developed plausible chemistry. I won't do that to my Harry and Hermione, so we'll just have to see how things turn out.

5. This story has loads of original characters. If you don't want to read about Harry and Hermione dating OCs, don't read this fic.

6. Harry and Hermione are young and occasionally do stupid and/or immature things (Harry in particular). This is a part of growing up, which I'm trying to depict honestly. Furthermore, they might start behaving in ways that seem out of character in relation to canon, but that's also part of growing up.

7. I followed the British practice of using single-quotes for dialogue, but if this annoys you, you can read it on AO3, where I use double-quotes.

8. Some of my subplots are absurd. But hey, absurdity is fun!

I've probably said enough for one Author's Note, but please read my bio if you want to know more about my writing process and how it affects the story.

Sunday morning, bright and early, Hermione entered the kitchen of her parents' house. Technically it was her house as well, but ever since she'd started attending Hogwarts she'd felt more like a visitor than a resident in her childhood home.

Her parents were already awake, drinking coffee and reading the Sunday papers. Her mother, Emily, spotted her first and said, 'There you are. When did you get home?'

'A bit past eleven. Ron and I went to the cinema, and then we got a bite afterward.'

Hermione's father, Daniel, looked up and asked, 'Did you end up seeing "The Matrix?" What did you think?'

'It was brilliant, the best I've seen in ages. Ron loved it—he's already planning to drag all our friends to see it as well. I admit some of the battle scenes gave me a start, but I kept my eyes closed and got through it.'

Emily and Daniel exchanged glances. They still found it hard to accept that their teenaged daughter was a combat veteran.

'Would you like some toast?' asked Emily. 'Or I could make you some eggs.'

'No thanks. I'm heading to Harry's shortly and Kreacher will insist on feeding me breakfast.'

'So soon? It's not yet eight o'clock. Surely that's a bit early to turn up on a Sunday,' said Emily.

'Harry won't mind—he's on an early schedule for work. But more importantly, he's got a new– er, old spellbook he knows I'm dying to get my hands on. It belongs to his godfather's family, and they're one of England's oldest wizarding lines.'

'Well, we all know there's no keeping you from an old book,' said Emily fondly. 'But do stay for coffee at least.'

'Gladly. Wizarding cuisine is a solid half century behind ours, and morning coffee hasn't really caught on yet.' Hermione noticed her mother's small smile at the implication that she still identified with Muggles, at least as far as food was concerned.

'I don't know if your paper has arrived yet,' said Emily. 'It wasn't here when I came down.'

'Then it must be a late edition. The Daily Prophet isn't quite as strict about deadlines as the Telegraph or the Guardian. They'll hold the presses if something juicy comes in at the last minute.'

Hermione poured coffee into a large mug and placed it on the table before walking over to the fireplace in the lounge. The Daily Prophet had recently begun offering Floo delivery to select subscribers, and Hermione had shamelessly exploited her fame to jump the queue, granting them an exclusive, in-depth interview. She'd insisted on the right to approve all photographs and quotes, and fortunately Rita Skeeter was not involved, so there were no gross inaccuracies or lurid insinuations.

Just as she entered the room, the fireplace flared green and the newspaper appeared, rolled and neatly tied with a ribbon. She carried it back to the table and sat down, taking a moment just to hold her coffee mug and enjoy the warmth between her hands.

'Do you have plans for today, or just a lie-in with the crossword puzzle?' she asked her parents.

Emily replied, 'We're heading to the garden centre when it opens. I'd like to get a few more annuals in, and I need something to perk up the roses. There's been too much rain for them lately.'

'Can I help? I'm certain I read about a charm that would drain the soil better,' offered Hermione.

'Thanks dear, but propping up soggy roses is a time-honoured English tradition. I'm sure we'll manage.'

Hermione looked down at her coffee and finally took a sip. 'All right, Mum. Just let me know if you change your mind.'

She untied the newspaper and rolled it open. 'Bugger!' she blurted angrily.

'Hermione, language!' smirked Daniel. 'What's the matter?'

'Harry's on the cover again. Bloody hell, what's this nonsense? "Boy Who Lived Quits Ministry to Play Quidditch"—where do they even get this rubbish? And how old will he have to be before they stop calling him the Boy Who Lived? I can just see it, "Boy Who Lived Welcomes Tenth Great-Grandchild." Or "Boy Who Lived Dies at Age 157."'

Raising her coffee again, she began reading the article:

In a startling turn of events, Harry Potter, 18, has quit the Ministry Auror training programme to play professional Quidditch for the Chudley Cannons. Potter, world-famous for twice defeating You-Know-Who, revealed his plans to the Daily Prophet last night in an exclusive interview.

'What rubbish!' snapped Hermione. 'I was with him last night and he didn't grant any interviews.'

'I thought you went to the cinema with Ron,' said Daniel pointedly.

'I did, but we had drinks first with Harry and George, after finishing up at Gringotts.'

'Oh right, yesterday was the big day! How did it go?' asked Emily.

'Fine, brilliantly, without a hitch,' grumbled Hermione, concentrating again on the article.

Potter told the Prophet that, despite his widely-stated ambition to serve as an Auror, in tribute to his parents and fallen comrades, he is abandoning those plans in favour of a Quidditch career. Fans of the sport have long speculated whether Potter, who was the youngest Hogwarts house player in a century, would choose to play professionally. But until last night this was considered wishful thinking at best, as the young hero had never expressed any interest in league play.

Chudley Cannons manager Darius Sprott affected surprise when approached late last night for comments. 'I assure you, this is the first I've heard of it. What position does he play anyway? Did you say Seeker? Now that would be something! If you talk to Potter, have him owl me straight away.'

The Cannons, currently in last place, have not won the League Cup since 1892, which many followers stubbornly attribute to a curse (see 'Chudley Fans Dispute Gringotts Rejection of Curse Claims' on page 16). Nonetheless, their matches attract consistently large crowds, and Cannons fans are considered the most loyal in UK Quidditch league play.

Their prospects, however, could improve significantly with the addition of Potter, who played Seeker at Hogwarts for five years, helping his house win the Quidditch cup thrice. The lone missed Snitch of his Hogwarts career was due to a freak accident in his third year involving Dementors, who were posted at the school gates during the 1993-94 hunt for escaped convict Sirius Black. Potter was frequently described as a 'natural' on a broomstick, and he routinely wowed audiences with spectacular catches in spite of grievous injuries.

Potter's reputation as a flying prodigy was further enhanced by his outstanding performance in the first task of the 1994 Triwizard Tournament. Only fourteen at the time, Potter dazzled judges and spectators alike by summoning his top-of-the-line Firebolt broomstick and using it to evade a Hungarian Horntail dragon. Famed Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum was in attendance and reportedly praised young Potter's performance, expressing confidence that he had a future in professional Quidditch should he choose it.

Mid-level Ministry officials refused to comment on Potter's resignation from the Auror training programme, citing privacy concerns and also because nobody seemed to have heard about it yet. The Prophet was unable to reach Head Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt for comment but will make every effort to update this story as it develops.

'What a load of absolute nonsense,' declared Hermione as she looked up from the newspaper. 'Harry's never said a word about wanting to leave off Auror training for a Quidditch career.'

Daniel smiled indulgently. 'My dear Hermione, you're a brilliant young woman but you routinely forget that the Daily Prophet has journalistic standards that make the Daily Mail look good by comparison. Why are you surprised every time they publish this kind of rubbish?'

Hermione sighed. 'You're right, this is typical. I just hate for Harry to attract more attention.'

'Well, that barn door's long since opened,' said Emily. 'The poor lad was born for the headlines, seemingly.'

'I suppose so,' said Hermione. 'I'll go check on him in a few minutes.'

'Will you be home for dinner?' asked Emily.

'No, it's Sunday dinner with the Weasleys. You're certain you won't come?'

Emily met her husband's glance. 'No, but please extend our thanks for the invitation.'

Hermione tried to hide her disappointment. 'I do hope you'll come again soon. They always ask after you.'

'I know,' said Daniel. 'Forgive me, Hermione, but it's just a bit … fatiguing to be gaped at like an exhibition at the World's Fair. I know Arthur means well, but his constant questions can be rather tiresome. I'm just not in the mood to be treated like some kind of clever pet by a man who can't seem to remember how pencil sharpeners work.'

'I'm sure he doesn't think of you that way,' lied Hermione. Arthur really was rather patronising, which was highly ironic. She'd always found it absurd that a so-called 'Muggle expert' could scarcely navigate the London Underground without the Confundus charm and a team of Obliviators to clean up after him.

'Maybe not,' said Daniel, letting the subject drop and returning to his newspaper.

Hermione drank the last of her coffee. 'That's it, I'm off. I'd really better see how Harry is doing ... and I have that new spellbook to dive into,' she said excitedly.

Emily smiled at her daughter's enthusiasm. 'Have a good time, dear, and give Harry our best.'

'Will do, mum,' said Hermione, kissing Emily on the cheek, then walking over to kiss her father's bald spot. 'Have fun in the garden, you two!'

Daniel looked affectionately at his daughter. 'You have fun too, bookmuffin.' Hermione giggled at the old nickname before travelling to Grimmauld Place by Floo.

She emerged from Harry's kitchen fireplace and dusted herself off as she walked towards the table, where Harry was calmly reading the paper. She was relieved, if a little puzzled, that he didn't seem upset.

Kreacher lit up the moment he saw her. 'Miss Hermione! What can Kreacher make for Miss Hermione's breakfast?'

'Good morning, Kreacher. Those berries look wonderful, and you know how I love scones. Could you also scramble some eggs for me please, and a bit of sausage?'

'Kreacher is always delighted to cook for Miss Hermione!' he said, scurrying to prepare her meal.

Hermione turned to Harry with an expression of concern. 'Harry, how are you? I saw the Prophet this morning. Are you all right?'

'Me? I'm fine. I had a great time with George last night.'

Hermione sat down. 'Aren't you upset about the Prophet?'

'Not really. I already got an owl from Kingsley—you can read it.' He handed her a scrap of parchment, which Hermione quickly read.


I assume today's article in the Prophet is up to their usual standard and that I needn't worry. But let's talk tomorrow at 9:00—I trust you'll be done with your early training by then. See you in my office.


'So it's not true, then?' she asked.

'Funny, that,' said Harry, smiling. 'It might be.'

Hermione's eyes widened with alarm.

'No,' he continued. 'It's not true. But it's not as outrageous as you might think. Someone must have overheard me when our Notice-Me-Not was down for a moment. George asked me about Auror training, and I told him what I've told you, that it's not quite what I expected and so forth.

'I mentioned I like the early workouts, though, and the teamwork, and he made a crack about how I clearly miss Oliver Wood and our old Gryffindor team. I must have said something about how that sounded tempting right about now and asked jokingly whether the Chudley Cannons would have me. And then I think George raised the Notice-Me-Not again.'

Hermione exhaled sharply. 'You're telling me you were overheard making an offhand comment, and the Prophet immediately stopped the presses and wrote all about your impending Quidditch career?'

'That's about the size of it, yes'

She shook her head in outrage, causing her bushy ponytail to shake correspondingly. 'Just when I think the Daily Prophet has improved some small amount … Have they not heard of fact-checkers? Of course not, fact-checking is for Muggles!' she grumbled.

Kreacher set a plate of berries, scones, and cream in front of her before returning to the cooker.

'Thank you, Kreacher.' She turned again to Harry, 'But what did you mean just now when you said it might be true? Surely you're not considering quitting the Ministry!'

Harry, who had finished eating, said, 'Actually, I've given it some thought this morning, and it's not the worst idea I've heard.'

'Quitting the Ministry? What about your N.E.W.T.s? They waived them for the Auror programme, but if you quit now you won't have any qualifications. This could impact your entire career!'

Harry laughed out loud. 'Hermione, I can always depend on you to worry first about my academic credentials.'

She glared at him and took a violent bite from her scone.

'Oh Hermione,' he said affectionately. 'I suppose you never got over my dropping out of Hogwarts. But surely you can spare a few N.E.W.T.s for your poor, uncredentialed friends!'

'Friends?! You've not got Ron in on this mad scheme?'

'No, no, Ron's not involved. As far as I'm aware he rather enjoys Auror training. Lots of strategic thinking, you know.'

Hermione relaxed slightly, then looked at Harry appraisingly. 'But you're really considering this?'

'Yes, I really am. You've heard me whinging about the training programme. And you know it's not just me being idle.'

'Of course you're not idle! As long as it's not Hogwarts assignments, you're one of the hardest workers I know.'

'Cheers. So when I saw the article, and after the shock wore off, I thought, "Why not?"'

'But Harry, it's been your dream to become an Auror ever since Umbridge tried to talk you out of it.'

'True, but that's hardly a good reason to stay with it, simply for the pleasure of sticking it to Umbridge. After all, she's in Azkaban, so I think it's safe to say I got the last laugh.'

'I know it's not about triumphing over Umbridge,' replied Hermione. 'But your father might have become an Auror if he'd lived. And besides, you've said you want to capture the remaining Death Eaters.'

Harry sighed. 'I know there are Death Eaters still out there, and yes, I want to see them in Azkaban. But as far as I know, there's no prophecy insisting I'm the only one who can do it.'

He levelled his shoulders and looked at her. 'This is my chance, Hermione. For the first time in years, I actually feel like I might have a full life ahead of me. Wizards live a long time, and it seems silly to miss this opportunity just because of a decision I made on impulse when I was fifteen.'

She was quiet a moment. 'If that's what you really want. Naturally I'll support your decision either way.'

'Thanks, Hermione. That means a lot to me.'

She met his eyes and smiled before focussing her attention on the plate of hot food Kreacher had served. Between bites she asked, 'So how are you going to proceed?'

'Well, it seems only right to talk to Kingsley first. And I'm sure I'll hear from Ron any second now, so I'd best give him a heads-up. And then I suppose I'll contact the Cannons' team manager. He sounded pretty keen in the Prophet, don't you think?'

'He sounded downright desperate! I gather their current Seeker isn't any good?'

'I'm afraid not. He's already broken two broomsticks this season.'

'Oh dear, even I'm not that bad a flyer,' said Hermione.

As predicted, Ron stumbled out of the fireplace a moment later and rushed to the table without even dusting the ashes from his clothing.

'Harry, are you serious? Are you really joining the Cannons? I can't believe it—why didn't you say anything? I mean, I'll miss working with you and all, but the Cannons? That's brilliant! You know their current Seeker is complete rubbish—he actually crashed into a butterbeer stand last weekend … luckily there were Cushioning Charms so nobody was hurt.'

'Good morning, Ronald,' said Hermione, glaring.

'Oh, you're here too,' he said, giving her a quick peck before turning back to Harry. 'So when do you start? I can't believe you didn't tell me!'

'Ron, slow down! The Prophet was just reporting a rumour. I haven't talked to anyone yet,' said Harry.

'Haven't talked to anyone "yet?" So it is true! Bloody brilliant!' He clapped Harry on the back. 'Ooh, scones!' he said, reaching for one.

Harry chuckled. Hermione smiled indulgently and rolled her eyes.

'So what happened?' asked Ron, after swallowing his first bite of scone.

Harry explained, and Ron shook his head in amazement. 'You must have the strangest life of anyone I've heard of. Did anything else completely mental happen to you this weekend?'

'Well, actually,' Harry started, sensing an opportunity. 'Something weird happened at Gringotts yesterday …' Hermione looked questioningly at Harry, who shrugged his shoulders minutely in reply.

'What, I thought everything went fine with the goblins,' said Ron, puzzled.

'It did, but there was an added bit. The banker gave me the Black family ring to try on, and apparently it accepted me.'

'Accepted you? What does that mean? You're not Lord Black or something? Where is it?'

Harry revealed the ring and Ron, who was on his second scone, burst into a coughing fit. Kreacher hurried over with a glass of water, which Ron drained.

'Blimey, that thing's a nightmare! I thought the Prewett candelabra was bad—it's got tentacles or something—but that ring is in a class of its own!'

"I know! Thank Merlin for concealing charms … But to answer your question.' Harry paused before continuing, 'According to the goblin I'm the new Lord Black.'

'Bloody hell! You're sure it's not a prank?'

'Not a prank, but I'm sure Sirius and my dad are somewhere laughing their arses off right now. Remus and Tonks too.'

'I reckon you're right. Hermione, you knew about this already?'

'Yes, I was there when it happened. I felt it was Harry's news to share.'

Ron nodded. 'I get why you wouldn't want people seeing that thing, or knowing about the Lord Black stuff.'

'Thanks, Ron,' said Harry, looking relieved. Hermione was impressed with Ron for taking it so well. He'd really come a long way.

'So do you have access to the vault now? Anything good in there?'

'There was gold, but I've already decided I want Andromeda to have it. It's hers more than mine, really. Other than that, some artefacts and a bunch of books.'

Ron laughed. 'Books! No wonder Hermione's here so early.'

'You know me too well,' said Hermione fondly. 'So Harry, when do I get to see it?'

'See what?' asked Ron.

'There was a Grimoire. Harry's going to let me look at it today,' she said, her eyes bright.

Turning serious, Ron said, "Be careful, Hermione. The Blacks were seriously Dark wizards. There's bound to be some scary stuff in there—like "too dangerous for the Restricted section" scary.'

'I know, Ron,' said Hermione, touched. 'I'll be careful, you know that.'

'As long as you don't turn partway into a cat,' smirked Harry. Hermione swatted him.

'Right, I've got to go. I told Dad I'd help him clean the shed. Apparently he can't fit any more Muggle rubbish, even with Expanding Charms, and he needs someone to help him choose his favourites. Mum offered, of course, but she would have just Vanished the lot of it, so I'm helping instead.'

'See you at dinner, then?' said Hermione.

'Yes,' said Ron, rising from the table and giving Hermione's shoulders a quick squeeze. 'See you then.' He threw Floo powder into the grate and disappeared.

She turned back towards Harry. 'So, where's my Grimoire? The library? Is now all right?' She rocked back and forth excitedly.

'Yes, now is fine. By the way, George had a theory about how you might access it. He thought a small blood ritual would be enough to convince the book we're married.'

Hermione frowned. 'Marriage rituals are serious business, Harry. I mean, I like you and all, but I'm not going to marry you just to get access to that book. Although," she added impishly, 'it is an ancient family Grimoire …'

'No, it's not that kind of marriage ritual. It's just a minor blood rite that identifies you to the book as part of the Black family. I had a look, and there's some kind of golden plate on the inside cover. I'm thinking we put drops of blood on it or something?'

Her eyes lit up. 'Oh, yes, I've read about those! It's an ancient Etruscan method for identifying oneself to magical artefacts. We're lucky the Grimoire is so old … a newer one would employ a more reliable method that requires an actual marriage bond. If I remember correctly, you'll have to open the book, add a drop of your blood as a sort of master password, and then add some of my blood to authorise me. It's quite simple, really.'

'Perfect, let's get started,' said Harry, and they walked upstairs together. 'Fair warning, I looked through it last night, and it's pretty foul. And don't let Kreacher anywhere near the recipes—we've only just got him trained to make curries, and this would set us back centuries.'

'I promise,' she said as they entered the library. She hurried to her spot where the book was waiting and sat down to the left of it, careful not to touch anything.

Harry opened the Grimoire to reveal the golden plate. 'Oh, that's lovely,' said Hermione, examining the delicate engraving. 'It's a shame they didn't let that artisan craft the family ring.'

'Very funny. Do you want access to the book or not?'

'I'm sorry. Please continue.'

Harry only needed a minor cutting curse to draw blood from his index finger. Two drops fell on the plate, which glowed momentarily.

'Your turn, my dear Lady Black,' said Harry gallantly. Hermione blushed slightly and drew blood from her fingertip the same way Harry had. Two drops fell on the plate, and it glowed just as before.

'That looks promising,' she said. 'Shall I try turning the page?'

'Yes,' he said, standing and offering her the seat in front of the book—her usual chair. 'I'll wait right here and Apparate you to St Mungo's when you sprout tusks.'

She glared at him, then gingerly turned the first page.

'Success!' cried Harry. 'The mysteries of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black are now at your fingertips.'

'Toujours mud,' said Hermione with a smirk.


The two friends spent several silent hours together in the Library. Hermione was fully absorbed by the Grimoire, taking copious notes on a spare parchment about the spells and potions she wanted to try. Harry knew not to interrupt her when she was engrossed like that, and so he ignored her murmurings and focussed on his own tasks.

Meanwhile, he spent the morning carefully reviewing the financial statements. As he'd suspected, the Black fortune—which he still intended to give to Andromeda—was roughly twice the size of his own. It was difficult, however, to gauge the buying power of his own inheritance. He was no expert, of course, but wizarding economics had never made much sense to him. Seven Galleons for an expertly-crafted wand seemed absurdly cheap—less expensive even than a set of mass-produced Omnioculars—and yet the thousand Galleons he'd won in the Triwizard Tournament had been sufficient for the twins to open their shop at a prime location. It was particularly baffling if you considered the exchange rate with Muggle currency—roughly five pounds to a Galleon.

By Harry's best reckoning, he was not quite set for life, but his parents had left him a very comfortable cushion. Moreover, he owned Grimmauld Place free and clear, and it appeared that when the Blacks had reappropriated the house from its Muggle owners centuries earlier, they also erased it from the City of London tax rolls. Ministry taxes, however, were higher than he'd anticipated, but he supposed they employed quite a lot of wizards—himself included, at least until Monday—so it was understandable.

Part of him felt he ought to give the house to Teddy Lupin when the infant came of age, since Teddy was more of a Black than he was. But Harry had grown unexpectedly fond of Grimmauld Place, and deep down he knew he wanted to keep it. The house was full of bittersweet memories for him: memories of Sirius; of Remus and Tonks; of Fred and George with their Extendable Ears; of Mrs Weasley sobbing at what the Boggart had shown her. Memories of those terrible days during the war, which already seemed like a lifetime ago.

Furthermore, Sirius had been like a father to him during the brief time they'd shared. And Harry had lived in Grimmauld Place longer than he'd lived in Godric's Hollow with his mum and dad. His parents, and the Potters in general, felt oddly remote to him. It saddened him that nothing remained of the Potter house—even a portrait or two would have made it all seem more real.

He turned towards one of the bookcases, catching his reflection in a glass cabinet. That's my real Potter legacy, he thought; he was the living image of his father. Harry wondered what his dad would think of his career change. He'd wanted to become an Auror to honour his parents' memory, and now he wouldn't. But James Potter had been mad for Quidditch, after all.

Sirius would certainly encourage the move—he'd always wanted Harry to have more fun. Furthermore, in the letter he'd said, 'I urge you to choose happiness, wherever it might find you.' This seemed like one of those opportunities, and Harry knew he had to take it.

He looked across the table at Hermione, still immersed in the Grimoire. Her quill moved swiftly as she took notes, and he noticed her lips moving slightly. He smiled—he still couldn't believe his good fortune that all three of them had survived the war. They'd dodged death more times than he liked to remember. They owed their lives to so many: Dobby, Snape, even Narcissa Malfoy. Narcissa Black.

He'd testified on her behalf the previous summer, and for Draco as well. Lucius, however, got what he deserved, and was sentenced to life in Azkaban. The Ministry had seized half their assets, which Harry knew had gone in part towards paying his own restitution for destroying half of Gringotts. He wondered fleetingly whether he should offer Narcissa a portion of the Black vault but dismissed the thought. She had surely received a dowry when she married Lucius, whereas Andromeda had been stricken from the family tapestry for marrying Ted Tonks.

A shuffle of parchment signalled that Hermione was surfacing from her immersion and would soon be ready to interact. She's probably hungry, he thought.

'Are you hungry? Shall I ask Kreacher to prepare something, or do you want to go out?'

Hermione blinked, her eyes adjusting to the sight of another human rather than a book. 'Food, yes. Sounds wonderful. Let's go out—I could use some daylight.'

'What do you think of the Grimoire?' he asked.

'Oh, I hardly know. As you noticed, it's half horrible. But there's also some amazing magic that I can't wait to try out. May I use your Potions lab? I can't very well take over the hall toilet in my parents' house.'

'I seem to recall you brewing some impressive potions in a toilet,' observed Harry. 'But yes, help yourself. Does it need restocking? I can't say I do much brewing.'

'Most likely, but that's easy to fix. There's a potion I want to start on right away—I'll visit the apothecary this afternoon.'

'I hope it doesn't require Dementor bones,' Harry smirked.

'Ugh, that was ghastly! Can you imagine? What would they even taste like?' mused Hermione.

'Are you trying to put me off my lunch?'

'Sorry, no,' she said quickly. 'Let's go.'

They trotted down the stairs, stopping in the entrance hall in front of Walburga's portrait. She was sleeping, but they knew anything could set her off. Harry noticed a tray of burnt scones on the console underneath.

Harry whispered to Hermione, 'Do you suppose I can banish her using the ring?'

'It's worth a try. I'll have a scone at the ready,' she whispered back.

'Walburga Black!' boomed Harry, his ring visible, emeralds glinting in the flickering light. 'I command you to release your hold on the wall and, er–' Harry hesitated, and Hermione nodded encouragingly. 'And come down quietly.'

Walburga's eyes opened, and for a moment she said nothing. Harry felt a stab of hope that the ring was working.

'The loathsome half-blood dares to claim the ring of my noble fathers! Polluted as you are with the filthy taint of your vile Mudblood mother—'

A scone bounced sharply off her surface, and Harry quickly pulled the curtain closed. 'Apparently,' he said, 'the ring had no effect.'

'Why isn't the curtain closed all the time?' asked Hermione.

'I'm pretty sure she's able to open it somehow. Probably something she picked up from the Grimoire.'

There was silence as they walked out the front door, and then Hermione hesitatingly asked, 'Was that the first time she's mentioned your mother's … taint?'

'It was,' said Harry glumly. 'And I'm surprised you even know that word.'

'I'm a compulsive reader,' she said. 'Even in public loos.'

'I see.'

'You're really going to have to do something about that portrait. Otherwise you're stuck with her, and she's … she's beyond foul.'

'I've tried! Sirius tried. Bill tried. Kreacher tried. I'm pretty sure Dumbledore tried. She's here to stay.'

'Have you talked to a magical portrait painter?'

'Er, no. Do you think that could work?'

'It's worth asking. Otherwise I think your next step is to learn to control Fiendfyre.'

'I doubt that would work. She's probably one of the fiends,' said Harry dejectedly.