Author name: Ruskbyte
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: I apologise for the long wait, but this year has not been progressing very well from me. I've been struck down by flu, not once, not twice, but three bloody times! Then there was a motor accident, with resulting fallout (thankfully no serious injuries). Combined with several minor screw ups at work, plus one co-worker up and disappearing overnight, things have been hectic.
That and I was attacked by no less than five separate plot bunnies, one of which turned into my Harry/Hellraiser story; Evil Be Thou My Good. I don't know when I'll be done with the other four stories, but I did make significant progress in two other crossovers that I'm hoping to have ready in a month or two.
Now then, enough of my babbling and onto the feature presentation!
Summary: A short while after being suspended, we follow Harry through a typical day at Hogwarts. And beyond.
Chapter Eighteen - A Day in the Life
Chapter Eighteen - A Day in the Life
Harry woke up, reluctantly, nearly an hour and a half before dawn. He had been doing this since early in the summer, part of a fitness regime he had begun to follow. After all; he was supposed to be a hero and heroes weren't allowed to be scrawny little boys that toppled over after only a few minutes exertion.
Also, he now knew, a sound body and mind not only aided his Occulmency, but his magic as well. A fit and healthy wizard could generate more magic than an unhealthy one, and they were better able to bear up under the strain of that extra power.
He found it odd that the wizarding world was not more aware of this - as evidenced by the fact that Hogwarts had no physical exercise for any of its students (aside from Quidditch, which really did not count). He could only conclude that it was nothing more than pure laziness on the wizards' part, letting themselves be content to do everything with magic instead of their own muscle.
Shortly after having departed number four Privet Drive, Harry had gone to a professional gym and made enquires about a fitness program. He asked for something to build both his stamina and strength, in that order. In each country he visited he would stop at a new gym and do the same. He combined all the best parts of these different programs into a single one, which he followed almost religiously every morning.
A prompt from Father reminded him that he had to get up and start.
"Right," he acknowledged softly.
Harry threw back the covers and rolled out of his bed, quickly stripping out of his pyjamas. Having grown up in a cupboard for a decade, Harry found himself less bothered by the cold than his roommates, and thus was wearing only a simple Muggle t-shirt and pair of boxers.
He crossed to his wardrobe and picked out some exercise clothes, as well as what he planned to wear for the day. As he quickly dressed himself, he glanced over at Ron's bed.
The curtains weren't fully closed for once and he could see that his friend was tossing and turning in a fitful sleep. This was another result of Ron's injuries at the Ministry; that he was plagued with nightmares. He had even gone so far, Harry knew, to cast a Silencing Charm around his bed, so not to disturb the other boys during the night.
As he dressed, Harry thought about what he knew of the future. He knew that Ron would revisit St. Mungo's over Christmas, where some new potions would be supplied to him. These would help, but only so much. The brain-tentacles caused a lot of damage to Ron's mind, namely those parts that controlled his emotions.
The potions would help keep his emotions more stable, but his thought processes would remain somewhat disorganized and chaotic. In fact, Ron would almost be refused entry into the Auror program because of that (despite the Ministry lowering standards to bolster their ranks).
The Aurors would eventually decided to train Ron in Occlumency, which involved organising the mind, your memories and to a lesser degree your thoughts. This would prove to help Ron more than any of St. Mungo's potions. Harry pondered making an offer to teach Ron some of what he knew of Occlumency.
Finished dressing, in a clean t-shirt, a jumper and a pair of tracksuit pants, Harry silently exited the sixth-year boys dormitory. He descended the stairs down to the common room, passing through the portrait hole and out into the Gryffindor Tower. He did not bother using his invisibility cloak or the Marauder's map.
Proceeding directly to the Room of Requirements, Harry paced back and forth three times, picturing a place where he would be able to complete his exercise routine properly. The resulting room was massive, bigger than even the Great Hall, and with a full-sized racing track circling around its edge.
Harry spent a few minute stretching, concentrating primarily on his legs, before setting off on his morning run. He did five laps around the track, stopping to do twenty push ups and sit ups after each lap. As far as a warm up went, Harry felt this was more than enough to get his heart and blood pumping to all the right places.
Finishing his run, Harry proceeded to the open area inside the athletic track, and began to work his way through the various weight machines provided there. The Room had based them off what he had seen and used in several gyms throughout the world over the summer. Doing a quick twenty reps on each machine before moving on to the next, Harry worked his way through three complete circuits, each one using progressively more weight than the last.
After spending a few minutes stretching his muscles out and cooling down, Harry settled down on the floor in what was commonly called the "Lotus" position. There he spent several minutes meditating, clearing his mind and organising his thoughts. He had not found anyone to teach him exactly what to do, or how to do it, so he had more or less made up a routine himself.
Father's null-magic field could protect him from Legilimency, which was a field of magic after all, but Harry did not want to rely on an outside force to protect himself. And the only means to do so, was to master the art of Occlumency.
He spent fifteen minutes doing that, focusing his mind, before he started to work his way through the various Occlumency exercises he knew. These Harry remembered from his future memories, as well as what he had gleaned from several books he had bought on the subject when he was travelling over the summer.
The most important action he undertook was that, as a wizard, he had to make sure that his Occlumency shields were tied into his magic. If this single step was neglected, then all his efforts would accomplish nothing more than simple Muggle meditation. This was far beyond anything Snape had ever bothered to teach him.
Harry had to forcibly push down the swell of resentment and anger which came with that thought. What was frightening was that he could not tell if it was feedback from his future memories, or his own feelings. He concentrated on clearing his mind of this distraction and then prepared to begin picturing the array of defences he had designed to shield his mind.
"Start timing," he told Father.
The first layer of his defence was a thick fog, hiding his thoughts from sight. The next layer was a myriad of useless thoughts, designed to confuse any intruder. The next few layer following this were imaginary walls of all kinds. Gigantic children's alphabet blocks (which Harry had seen Dudley throwing about when they were younger). Then there was a wall of brick, after that one of stone and finally a barricade of solid steel. These were the outer layers of Harry's mental defences, and were almost entirely harmless.
Finally Harry began to set the inner layers. The last two layers.
The penultimate layer was a fake layer, similar to the second of the outer layers. It was filled with memories, none of which were of any true consequence. Quidditch matches. Quidditch practices (lots of them and all very mundane). First and second year class (Mostly history of magic and those Defence lessons with Lockhart). If these didn't bore any intruders to death, Harry didn't know what would.
The very last layer, however, was the one Harry was most proud of. Something that was not found in any books on the subject, past or present. It was something Harry had devised by himself, inspired by the perpetual presence of Father in his mind.
It was also the one layer that actually frightened Harry, because it made him wonder what kind of person he had become to be able to create and expect to use such a thing.
All in all, once he was finished, there were eight layers in place. Most masters of Occlumency had at least twenty layers to prevent mental intrusions, some managed as many as thirty. Harry had only been practicing true Occlumency (not that claptrap Snape had fed him) for about four months. Taking that into consideration, eight layers of mental shielding was a remarkable accomplishment - most other people would take years to do as much.
Of course, nobody had tested themselves against his shields yet, but Harry was confident that they would do their job. Even if Voldemort did make it passed the outer shields, the eighth layer would stop him cold. Not to mention encourage him to never try again.
"Time?" asked Harry, opening his eyes. He listened intently to his Gatekeeper's reply. "Hmm, five seconds faster than last week. Good."
His Occlumency exercises completed, and his shields reinforced for the day, Harry quickly stripped down and changed into a swimming costume. There was a pool in the centre of the room, just to the right of the exercise machines. Harry wasn't a very good swimmer, but had improved thanks to lots of practice over the summer.
He did forty laps of the twenty-five metre pool, working out to an even kilometre of work. Every couple of hundred metres he changed strokes, (avoiding Butterfly, which often threatened to cause him to drown) before climbing out.
Crossing over to a small change room, near the door leading out of the Room of Requirements, Harry took a long, hot shower to relieve his aching muscles. The exercise might have been good for him, but it certainly left him feeling as limp as a string of spaghetti afterwards.
Exiting the shower, Harry brushed his teeth and then shaved. Unfortunately, he forgot that it was the present, not the future, and that he did not actually need to shave. The Shaving Charm thus gave him a bit of a rash around his cheeks, chin and throat.
Cursing his absentmindedness, he quickly got dressed. Because he had been suspended, Harry did not bother putting on a school robe, but rather some plain all-purpose robes that he had bought in America over the summer.
Turning to one side he groaned, "Ugh, I hate this part."
This was the last part of Harry's efforts to work himself into peak physical condition. He unstoppered and gulped down several nutrient and energy supplement potions, designed to stimulate body and muscle growth. He also took a variety of Muggle vitamin tablets and pills, finishing off with a banana flavoured protein shake and a Mars Bar.
Checking his wristwatch, Harry saw that he had about fifteen minutes to get back to Gryffindor Tower before Ron and Neville came down from the boys' dormitory. Hermione and Ginny, he knew, would already be waiting in the common room.
Stepping out of the Room of Requirements, the door to which faded from sight as he closed it behind him, Harry leisurely made his way to join his friends.
Harry and his friends were walking down to breakfast. Harry was in the lead, with Hermione and Ginny on either side. Ron and Neville were bringing up the rear, talking about their Transfiguration homework. Ron still hadn't done his and Neville wasn't too sure of his own attempt at it.
"Harry, where did you go this morning?" asked Hermione.
"It's been over two months since the start of term and you're only asking me now?" asked Harry with amusement.
"I was worried," she explained.
Harry was quick to realise that Hermione must still have been feeling very insecure, following her abduction by Malfoy. He had overheard Lavender and Parvati the previous morning, discussing a nightmare that Hermione had the first night back from Sirius' Barcelona flat. He immediately slipped an arm around her waist and hugged her to him.
"I'm sorry if I scared you," he apologised softly. "I was in the Room of Requirements."
"What were you doing in there?" asked Ginny.
"My morning exercises," Harry answered.
Having overheard this, Ron clapped a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Mate," he said, "You're already the best dueller in the DA, probably the school. What d'you need more practice for?"
"I'm not practicing duelling, or spellwork," explained Harry. "I'm exercising."
"You mean... like going to a gym?" asked Hermione, her brow puckered with a faint frown.
As they walked past the Trophy Room, the five Gryffindors had to sidestep a bunch of cooing tribbles which were crossing the corridor. Ginny made a few cooing noises as they went past and Neville bent down to pat one or two.
Ron in the meanwhile looked from Harry to Hermione and back before asking, "What are you two talking about?"
"I go running in the morning," Harry said simply.
"You don't go outside, do you?" asked Hermione, a tad anxiously.
Harry shook his head. "The Room turns into a track that I use," he explained reassuringly, knowing that she must have been worried that he was taking an unnecessary risk by leaving the castle. "After that I do some weight training and my Occlumency exercises," he continued. "I usually finish off with a short swim."
His friends stared at him with various degrees of disbelief. Ron began to mutter quietly, something about possession by Oliver Wood, Ginny nodding in agreement. Neville simply shook his head in wonder.
"You must wake up at the crack of dawn to do all that before we get down to the common room," commented the still slightly chubby (but starting to lose his baby fat) young wizard.
"Five o'clock," confirmed Harry.
"Bloody hell," exclaimed Ron. "Why?
"It's good for you."
By now they had reached the Entrance Hall, where several mixed groups of students were milling about. It did not go unnoticed that everyone grew quiet when Harry and his companions walked past.
"Come on," Harry sighed. "I'm hungry."
The group entered the Great Hall, where most of the students were having breakfast. There was also a fair helping of tribbles having breakfast. Again, most of those present fell silent when they noticed Harry's arrival.
"GOOD MORNING CHAPS!" yelled an eager voice.
All eyes turned to Luna, who was sitting in her usual spot at the Gryffindor table. She was smiling brilliantly at her friends and waving in vigorous greeting.
"I saved you some seats!" she called
Harry chuckled, shaking his head at the Ravenclaw witch's antics. He then glanced to the staff table. "I have to hand my wand in," he said. "Join you in a minute."
Hermione and the group headed over to join Luna, who was still waving enthusiastically. She greeted both Hermione and Ginny with equally enthusiastic hugs (Ginny's lasting perhaps a tad longer than was proper) before settling down.
Still chuckling at her antics, Harry made his way to the staff table. As he walked he was acutely aware that everyone was staring expectantly at him. He noticed that some of the students shied away, as if afraid of him, as he passed by them.
Conspicuously drawing his wand and twirling it in his fingers, Harry made his final approach to the table. Some of the students squawked in alarm, one or two squealing out loud as well. Harry came to a halt right in front of Dumbledore and could see a twinkle of amusement in the old wizard's eyes at his actions.
"Headmaster," Harry greeted coolly.
"Mister Potter," acknowledged Dumbledore with a slight nod of his head.
Harry flipped his wand end over end, so that he was holding it by the tip, and presented its handle to Dumbledore.
"Here you go."
"Thank you, Harry," said Dumbledore as he accepted the wand.
"I'll fetch it before I leave," Harry informed him.
"Of course," Dumbledore agreed.
Professor McGonagall, sitting to Dumbledore's right, looked at Harry with some concern.
"Are you all right, Mister Potter?" she asked.
"I feel fine," Harry assured her, puzzled by the question.
"Your cheeks seem rather red," elaborated McGonagall.
"Yeah, uh," Harry ducked his head in embarrassment. He reached up with one hand to nervously scratch at the back of his neck as he admitted, "I, er, forgot that I don't need to shave, and used a Shaving Charm..."
"Ah, yes, a shaving rash," said Dumbledore, nodding in understanding. He indicated the length of his silvery beard and said, "One of the reasons why I decided to grow a beard."
Harry made an about face and strode to the Gryffindor table, amidst whispers from the students. From what he was able to overhear, it was a mixture of relief and simple gossip. He honestly had no idea what the fuss was about; as he had done the same thing the previous day.
"You okay, Harry?" asked Ron as he approached.
Harry dropped himself into the seat between his red-haired friend and Hermione. Ginny, Luna and Neville were seated on the opposite side from them. There was also a fair number of tribbles scattered about the table, nibbling on whatever food they could get hold of.
"Yeah," Harry confirmed tiredly. He rubbed at his temples, feeling the onset of another headache. They seemed to be as much a part of his life these days as eating and breathing. "I've gotten used to people acting like this whenever something happens."
"Don't mind them, Harry," Hermione told him, "it's just gossip. Things will go back to normal in a couple of days."
"I know," he admitted resignedly.
He started to fill his plate, snatching up a basket of toast that three tribbles were trying to get into. They warbled in disappointment before wiggling towards a nearby plate of muffins.
"What're you going to do today, if you're not coming to classes with us?" asked Neville as Harry selected two slices of brown toast.
"Oh, I'm sure I'll find something to do," he said.
Harry set down the toast basket, which was immediately assailed by tribbles. He then poured for himself a glass of orange juice. He looked up and down the length of the table and silently lamented the lack of coffee at Hogwarts. He had gotten used to it while on his summer "holiday".
"Anything in particular?" asked Ginny.
Harry hid a smile and decided to see what his friends would have to say about his plans for the day. He started to butter his toast as he spoke.
"Well, first I'm planning on stealing a couple of tonnes of raw material from a Muggle warehouse," he began at a brisk pace. "Then I'll sneak into the Chamber of Secrets, where I'll shape the metal into casings for the plasma rifles Fred and George are going to be building for me. After that I want to have a look at some books on Power Rituals in the Restricted Section."
Everyone was staring uncertainly at him, not sure if he was joking or not. Luna was the only one who did not seem the least bit concerned about it, concentrating on her breakfast instead.
"Busy day," she commented, tucking into her eggs.
"And that's just before lunch," agreed Harry, grinning as he took a bite of his toast.
"So what are you doing after lunch?" asked Ron - obviously convinced it's a joke.
Washing the toast down with a gulp of his orange juice, Harry resumed listing his planned itinerary.
"My first stop after lunch will be Diagon Alley. I need to drop off the rifle casings at the twins' shop, as well as some of the other materials they need to build the rifles. Then I'm going to stop by Ollivander's to collect some books he has waiting for me. After that I plan to drop in on Gringotts; just to make sure that all my finances are all in order. I might even make a few stock investments. Once all that's done, I'll come back to Hogwarts where I'll be making a few enquiries about maybe having some Slytherins join the DA."
Finished reviewing his plans for the day, Harry stopped and took another bite of his toast. While he chewed, he took note of his friends' expression.
"Ha!" barked Ron. "I could almost believe most of that," he said through his laughter, "but, Slytherins in the DA? Yeah, and the Muggles will put a man on the moon."
"Actually, the American Muggles did that about thirty years ago, Ron," supplied Hermione dryly.
"How did Muggles get all the way up to the moon?" asked Neville.
"Well, they certainly didn't ride a broom," commented Ginny.
A round of laughter ensued as everyone imagined the Muggles flying through space on broomsticks, highlighted against the moon in much the same way that they tended to stereotype witches.
Harry, however, was wondering at how ignorant the wizards could possibly be not to have heard of the Lunar landings in the sixties and seventies. They had been one of the great achievements in human history, yet most of the magical world were still unaware of it ever having happened. It was, he realized, yet another sign of how isolated they had become.
"So, those are your plans for the day, hmm?" asked Hermione as they resumed the earlier conversation.
"Pretty much," Harry admitted as he selected several rashers of bacon. "I do plan to spend an hour or two working on the challenge for Smythe-White's class."
"You mean the steel wand you're going to make?" asked Ron around a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
"I'm already set to make that," Harry informed him.
"You are?" asked Ginny.
"It's really rather simple."
"What are you going to do then?" asked Hermione curiously.
"Something a little more... complex."
Harry held his breath to avoid detection by a pair of steel workers as he hid behind several shipping crates in the warehouse adjoining a steel mill in Llanwern, Wales.
"Did she really say that to you?" he heard the one ask the other.
"Yes," confirmed the second worker. "Can you believe it?"
Listening with half an ear to their conversation as they walked by, Harry mentally took stock of how much steel he needed to make the casings for a hundred plasma rifles. Looking at the stacks of steel I-beams filling the warehouse, he tried to gauge how many he would need to take to get the required amount of material.
"So what did you do?" asked the first man.
"What d'you think I did?" countered the second.
"I know what I would have done."
"Then you have your answer."
Harry was also planning to use some of the steel to make armour plating for the various Surveillance Drones he had employed. This would essentially upgrade them to something closer to the dedicated combat drones, which already had hardened steel armour.
With the use of the Gatekeeper's Gravity-Manipulation fields to shape, temper and otherwise forge the metal into the desired form, it would be almost pathetically easy to produce hardened combat chassis for both the drones and the rifles.
There was a question, however, of whether he should have Father add anything to the steel to make the armour and casing even stronger by making it an more advanced alloy. In the end, however, Harry decided not to try anything too fancy, as Surveillance Drones were unlikely to need such heavy protections against attack.
"So," prompted the first worker, "how was she?"
"What do you mean?" asked the second.
"You know what I mean."
"No," said the second. "I don't."
Harry wondered what was taking those two particular idiots so long. They must have been walking extra slowly, probably so that they wouldn't have to get back to work as quickly as they otherwise would.
He decided that it would be a bit excessive to use Father's GM fields to fake an accident and knock the two unconscious so that he could get to work. Instead, he would just have to wait for them to leave.
"I thought you said you... you know."
"What? I didn't say that."
He briefly poked his head out to see what the two workers were doing and saw that they were slowly meandering between the many rows of stacked I-beams. Fortunately they had already passed by him and were on their way out of the warehouse. In the distance, Harry could see someone driving a forklift. Everyone, he noted, was wearing a hardhat. The pair walking slowly away from him were wearing bright blue ones.
"What did you say?"
"Why do you even have to ask?"
"I didn't think I had to ask, but I guess I was wrong."
"You should get your mind out of the gutter," muttered the second worker, his voice barely audible.
Poking his head out of his hiding place again, Harry confirmed that the coast was clear.
"Finally," he muttered, relieved that he wouldn't have to waste any more time.
Stepping out from behind the crates, he told Father to begin lifting the I-beam into the air and shift them into subspace storage. The process took a remarkably short amount of time compared to how long he had been waiting. At the rate it was going, Father would have all the steel they needed in less than a minute.
"How much longer?" he asked.
Father gave him an estimate, which was closely in line to Harry's.
"Take extra then. Double what we planned for," he told the Gatekeeper. "We have the time."
Acknowledging the command, Father continued lifting the massive beams of steel into the air and shifting them into subspace storage pockets. While he did this, Harry continued to keep watch, wand at the ready should he need to stun anyone that might spot them.
"That should be about it, right?" asked Harry after another minute had passed.
Father confirmed that it only had three I-beams left to lift and pocket in subspace before they had double of everything they had come for.
A noise caught Harry's ear and he looked to the right. There he could see a forklift barrelling towards where he was standing, moving a speed he was certain was unsafe for such a small vehicle.
"Time to go," Harry told the Gatekeeper.
With a quick pop he and Father appeared back at Hogwarts. More specifically, they appeared deep below Hogwarts, in a room Harry had not been inside of since the end of his second year.
The Chamber of Secrets.
Using his wand to light the room up a bit, Harry almost stumbled over the still decomposing remains of the basilisk he killed while saving Ginny from the diary. The stench was truly horrendous. Skirting around that section of the Chamber, and casting an Isolation Charm around it to keep the smell in, Harry found a spot with lots of room to work in.
"I'm getting too old for this shit," remarked Harry.
Father made a snide comment.
"Don't you start," Harry ordered. "We've got what we needed, so let's get started."
While Father did just that, being a machine intelligence and thus more precise than any human, Harry sat down on the cold stone floor to work on his wandless magic skills. He took out three gobstones from his robe pocket and would be trying to levitate them as part of his practice. Levitating multiple small objects simultaneously was one of the most basic exercises for developing one's wandless magic.
Thus far Harry could manage raising up one gobstone without too much difficulty, though he had to concentrate more than if he were using his wand. Adding the second gobstone made Harry's control a little shaky, but he could do it for extended periods without too much strain. The third gobstone, however, usually proved too much for him. He knew that he could do it, however, because his future self had eventually been able to.
A flash of anger towards Dumbledore surged through Harry. Because of the old wizard's decision to hand Harry over to the Dursleys, Harry had been mistreated to the point that he was far behind where he should rightfully be. He was a powerful wizard, on par with Dumbledore and Voldemort, but the many years of starvation, malnutrition and other hardships had a debilitating effect on not just his body, but his magic as well.
If he weren't as powerful as he was, and thus able to unconsciously compensate, Harry would only now be achieving the level of most second-year students. As it was his magic was so strong that, even stunted as it was, he had been able to keep up with the rest of his classmates. He was even a bit ahead of them in some ways.
If he had been properly cared for, Harry's magic would have been as strong as a fifth-year before he even came to Hogwarts. By now he should have been on the same level as the stronger professors and rapidly gaining ground on the headmaster.
Harry's future self had only reached his full potential sometime in his mid twenties, at which point it was too late for him to stand a chance of beating Voldemort. He was practically unstoppable against ordinary wizards and Death Eaters, but could never match the Dark Lord's power. He had tried, several times, and failed. Usually painfully and with high casualties amongst his companions.
"Let me know when you're done," he told Father. "I'll be practicing in the meanwhile."
He assumed a typical Lotus position and tried to ignore the sudden sweltering heat that burst into being behind him as Father began using its GM fields to melt down the stolen I-beams. Setting the gobstones down on the floor in front of him, Harry closed his eyes and focused on the magic inside of him.
To do wandless magic properly wizards had to be able to connect to their magic on a more primal level. Then they had to bring it to the forefront, channelling it through their bodies, rather than through implements such as wands or staves.
"Ninety-nine," Harry began to count down, "ninety-eight, ninety-seven, ninety-six..."
This was one of several focusing techniques; counting back from a hundred. Each time he counted, Harry pulled his magic closer to the surface. He could almost feel it pulsing beneath his skin. He could also feel the extreme heat from Father's smelting, but ignored it as he concentrated inside of himself
"Seventy-four, seventy-three, seventy-two, seventy-one..."
Finally Harry felt a strange prickling sensation, like being numb with cold and then jumping into a hot both. This was the sign that he had reached the correct stage to being the true exercises of wandless magic.
"Forty-seven," he concluded.
There was a brief moment of elation which Harry ruthlessly suppressed. Keeping his magic in place was difficult and he could not afford to let his concentration slip. The reason for his pleasure was that a count of forty-seven was a new record for this particular exercise. Previously it had taken Harry to the count of forty-two before he slipped into the proper mindset.
With his magic now right beneath the surface, Harry began to work through the next technique; pulsing his magic. This had an effect similar to that of flexing a muscle; only on a magical level instead of a physical one.
"One," Harry began to count; up this time instead of down. "Two... three... four..."
With each count Harry forced his magic to briefly expand past his skin and out beyond his body. If his eyes had been open, he would have seen a faint golden aura forming around him. This exercise was even more tiring than bringing his magic to the surface in the first place and soon left him sweating from exertion.
The warm-up exercises finally complete, Harry now turned his attention to the three gobstones. Opening his eyes, he looked at the gobstone in the middle of the trio and gently pushed at it with his magic. The trick there was to relax and not to force the magic to do what he wanted it to do.
Harry smiled thinly as the middle gobstone hesitantly lifted into the air. It was a bit unsteady at first, but was soon floating serenely in front of him. He could feel the magic holding it up, pulsing and throbbing in the air.
Directing his attention to the second gobstone, Harry sent out tendrils of his magic and tried to lift it into the air to join the first one. This was more difficult. Wandless magic required a far more delicate balance between control and power than when using a wand. The more power Harry put into doing something, the less control he had over what happened.
As luck would have it (bad luck most likely) Harry had just a bit too much power at his disposal. This was why he found it slightly more difficult than others to control the finer forms of magic.
He let out a soft sigh as the second gobstone rose shakily into the air, hovering alongside the first. Licking his lips and giving a silent prayer for it to work this time, Harry focused on the last of the three gobstones.
The gobstone began rocking in place, shaking as Harry's magic tried to get a proper hold on it. As more of his attention turned to the third stone, his control over the first two began to waver and they trembled in place, losing altitude.
Panicking slightly, Harry hurriedly reasserted his control over the two stones. This caused him to lose his focus on the third gobstone. Without the proper focus, he hit the gobstone in question with a river of magical power, rather than just the trickle levitation required. As a result, the gobstone rocketed into the air like a bullet fired from a rifle.
His control lost, the other two stones spun wildly out of control before falling to the floor, just as the third gobstone smashed into the ceiling of the Chamber of Secrets with a loud crack. Several seconds passed before the shattered remains fell to the floor, sprinkling over Harry in a fine cloud of dust.
"Bollocks," he swore, summing up his feelings on the matter.
Gathering the two surviving gobstones, Harry set them back in place in front of him. He reached into his robes and plucked a replacement from the inner pocket. It was a good thing he had the forethought to bring a lot of spare gobstones, otherwise he would run out of them very quickly. He set the third stone down next to the first two.
Gritting his teeth, Harry closed his eyes and tried again.
"Ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven..."
And again. And again.
It took Father nearly two hours to melt down the stolen I-beams and forge them into the casings for the plasma rifles. Using the GM fields to temper and shape the steel the results were as resilient as anything produced by the most advanced Muggle engineering. As they had taken considerably more steel than they needed, there was still plenty let over for when they decided to go about upgrading the drones.
Now, having Gated up from the Chamber of Secrets and taking a quick shower to get rid of the cloying stench of decayed basilisk, Harry was waiting near the library. He made a visual sweep of the various corridors and confirmed that there was nobody else in the area. He then ducked into an alcove, which used to hold the statue of Amber the Audacious, but was now empty as the statue had been badly damaged by some of Fred and George's fireworks the previous year.
"Ready to try this?" he asked.
Father gave an affirmative and a moment later a holo-projection crystal emerged from subspace, hovering patiently in front of Harry. He plucked it out of the air and deposited it in his shirt pocket.
Patting the pocket down so that it lay smoothly against his chest, Harry glanced at Father's dark grey sphere and asked, "Are you sure the clothes won't affect the projection?" Father gave an inaudible snort, affronted by the question. "And the voice modulation?"
A shiver passed through Harry, centred on his throat, as Father activated a localised GM field.
"That's it?" asked Harry. He paused in surprise at the sound of his voice, which was no longer his voice. He blinked and then grinned in appreciation. "Damn, this is a nice trick."
After hearing his new voice for a second time, Harry's grin grew broader as he decided to test it out more fully. Clearing his throat before starting, Harry smoothly intoned, "Potter! Stop breathing without permission! A thousand points from Gryffindor and detention for the rest of your life!"
Father commented that Harry had the attitude just right, but was lacking the correct sneer to go with it. The Gatekeeper then activated the projection crystal and enveloped Harry in the hologram it contained.
"Well?" asked Harry, unable to see the results and having to rely on Father for an opinion.
The Gatekeeper replied by releasing another projection crystal, which hung in the air before Harry for a moment before flickering to display an image feed from one of Father's drones.
Harry looked at the picture and arched both eyebrows as high as he could manage. Staring back at him was the somewhat curious and amused face of Professor Severus Snape.
"Excellent," he concluded. "Now we just have to wait for Zabini to leave the library."
The pair waiting in silence for several minutes, knowing that it was almost time for the next class on the timetable. Before too long one of Father's drones reported that their target was on the move.
"Right," said Harry. "Here we go."
Drawing himself up and twisting his lips into a passable 'Snape Sneer ™', Harry stormed out of the alcove he had been hiding in and stalked down the corridor leading to the library. He arrived at the library doors in a billow of holographic robes just as Blaise Zabini was exiting.
"Mister Zabini," said Harry imperiously.
"Professor Snape," replied Zabini politely.
"I have considered your request to submit an assignment for extra credit in Potions," Harry told the Slytherin student, speaking as if he expected Zabini to know what he was talking about.
Zabini simply gave Harry a quizzical look and asked, "Sir?"
Harry stepped close to Zabini and held up a folded slip of paper. "To aid you in your work," he said, "I have compiled a reading list that you should find... illuminating."
The note was not actually a reading list, but rather a message telling Zabini to meet him after dinner in an abandoned classroom in the less frequented part of the dungeons. He and Father had painstakingly constructed the note using snippets of Snape's handwriting from old Potions assignments as a template.
After a moment's consideration Zabini accepted the note, delicately plucking it from Harry's outstretched hand. He unfolded it and glanced briefly at the contents. Folding it back up, he then tucked it away inside his robes.
"Thank you, Professor," said Zabini, giving a barely perceptible nod. "This is very generous of you."
"Naturally," drawled Harry.
Giving a nod of dismissal, Harry stepped past Zabini and into the library, leaving the young Slytherin wizard to continue on to his next class.
As he entered, Harry made a point of glaring at two Ravenclaw third-years that were leaving. When the boys picked up their pace and scurried away in fear, Father commented that he seemed to be enjoying himself. Ignoring the Gatekeeper, Harry made his way directly to the checkout counter, where Madam Pince was busy working.
"Madam Pince," he greeted as he stepped up.
"Professor Snape? What brings you here?" asked Pince, looking up at him in surprise.
"I need access to some of the more obscure potions books, for a project the headmaster has me working on," Harry told the librarian, giving an excuse for his presence. "If anyone asks for me, I will be in the Restricted Section."
"Of course, Professor," Pince readily accepted. "Call me if you require any assistance."
"No need," replied Harry dismissively. "I know what I'm looking for."
Harry gave a curt nod and then left without further comment, which he felt was an action perfectly in character for the potions master. Entering the Restricted Section, he headed straight to the shelves where the books on Power Enhancing Rituals were kept.
This field of magic was considered dangerous, even by the standards of the Restricted Section, which was why most of the books were physically chained to their shelves. There was also at least a dozen charms on each book to prevent them from being removed should the chains be broken.
But, with Voldemort moving against him sooner than expected, Harry felt a need to gather every edge he could. Even with the improvements he had gained from his exercising and the nutrition potions, he was still only at a fraction of what his full power would eventually be. He needed to kick-start his potential... and this was the fastest way to do it.
Of course, it was definitely not the smartest either. Harry knew that if Hermione ever found out about this, she would definitely hit him over the head with a copy of Hogwarts: A History.
Those rituals which caused truly significant increases in one's magic, either by bolstering the casters magical core or by increasing their access to that core magic, did so in dangerous ways. Almost all of them were less than perfectly safe, more often that not causing physical or mental injury to those performing them.
It was a testament, however reluctantly Harry was to admit it, to Tom Riddle's strength and resilience that he had not been killed or seriously maimed by the many rituals and ceremonies he had performed on himself to complete his transformation into Lord Voldemort.
Harry, however, had no intention of risking his life, or worse - his sanity; the possibility of being warped into something that might give Voldemort a run for his Galleons unnerved The-Boy-Who-Lived beyond words. Thus he was limiting his perusal of Ritual Magic to the more mundane and less powerful methods.
After all, every little bit helped.
Most of the rituals he would be looking were the ones that focused more on purifying one's magic and streamlining it to a more efficient state. These did not increase one's power, but rather allowed access to more of what you already had available. Sometimes small increased in one's true power could be produced, but more often than not it was a negligible improvement.
It was similar to how Muggles would fine-tune a car's engine to get better performance.
"Just what I was looking for," Harry commented, still in Snape's voice, as he opened one book and began paging through its contents. He glanced over his shoulder to where he expected Father's sphere to be hiding in subspace and ordered, "Start recording."
Since he could not take these books out of the Restricted Section, unlike how he, Ron and Hermione had taken the Moste Potente Potions during second year, Harry was having Father make a visual record of each book he looked at.
Working quickly, and as quietly as possible, Harry made his way through a dozen of the tamer books on Ritual Magic. Then his attention turned to the very, very few Rituals which were potent enough to cause increases in the user's magic of considerable proportions without the usual risks that accompanied such rituals.
Unfortunately almost all of them were Sex Magic of one kind or another.
Harry knew that Luna would be more than willing to help him perform these rituals, as she had done so rather often in the future. However, the idea of trying to talk Ginny or, worse, Hermione into aiding in such things was something that left him feeling very uncomfortable.
Harry did not want to know whether his discomfort was caused by the thought of their reactions to his asking, or by the mental images that were going through his mind - involving himself, Hermione, Ginny, Luna and a very large bed. While he had no real interest in Ginny and Luna in a romantic sense, he had to admit that he did find both witches just as physically attractive as Hermione.
The idea of the three of them in bed with him...
Hurriedly processing the books on Sex Magic Rituals, Harry spent most of the time reminding himself that he was under a disguise field and was currently wearing the face of Professor Snape. Returning the last book to its place on the shelf, Harry moved onto Thaumaturgy - the art of blood magic and its rituals, most of which were borderline dark by their very nature.
Still, Harry's mind continued to wander back to the various images and descriptions that filled the pages of the books he had just finished recording.
"I'm going to need a long, cold shower after this."
The only sound to greet his comment was the rustle of turning paper and Father's silent laughter.
After having worked his way through seventeen books (which constituted slightly more than a third of the Restricted Section's collection on Ritual Magic, Harry left the library without a word and quickly ducked into the nearest bathroom. There he dropped the disguise field that allowed him to masquerade as the potions master.
Having returned to his usual appearance, Harry hurried to meet up with his friends for lunch. They had arranged to meet outside the Great Hall, which would allow them to enter as a single group.
"Harry!" called Hermione, spotting him immediately after he arrive in the Entrance Hall. She waved for him to join her and the rest of the Ministry Crew where they were standing near the doors leading into the hall.
"Hi," said Harry a tad breathlessly.
"Hi," replied Hermione.
Harry greeted her with a brief hug, as he usually did, when he reached the group. Separating from her, he turned to the other three members of their party; Luna, Ginny and Neville. Ron had entered the Great Hall by himself when Harry had arrived.
"Hello, Harry," said Luna dreamily. She cocked her head at an angle, eyes wide with curiosity, and enquired, "Did you have a pleasant morning building plasma rifle casings in the Chamber of Secrets?"
"Actually, Father did most of the hard work," Harry replied truthfully, seeing no reason not to tell the truth. He had a feeling that his friends still thought he had been joking. "I spent most of my time practicing wandless magic."
"Come on," urged Neville, waving for them all to enter. "We'd better get in there before Ron eats everything."
"Now that wasn't very polite," said Hermione, commenting on how Ron had left them in favour of getting lunch.
"That's Ron," explained Ginny.
"A walking stomach if there ever was," Harry agreed.
The group (barring Ron, who was already at the table) entered the Great Hall together. They made a brief stop by the staff table, for Harry to give his wand into Dumbledore's safekeeping, before proceeding to join their missing companion at the Gryffindor table.
"So Ron, how were classes?" Harry asked as he sat down next to his friend.
"Can't talk," Ron managed around a mouthful of turkey and mashed potatoes. "Food. Eating."
"God, Ron," Ginny made a disgusted face. "Chew, then swallow!"
"Forget that," said Neville, taking a seat. "Somebody teach him not to speak until after swallowing!"
"Won't work," Ginny informed him unhappily. "We've been trying for years."
"You just need the correct motivation," said Luna.
"What d'you call Fred and George?" Ginny asked ruefully.
With a demented grin, Luna answered by drawing her wand from its usual place (tucked behind her ear) and then turning to Ron. The red-haired wizard saw her movements and almost had a panic attack when he realized that Luna was once again waving her wand in his direction.
"Uh uh! No! No!" he protested loud, holding up both hands in defence. "I'm not saying anything, so you can't use a Silencing Charm on me! Uh uh!"
"I wasn't going to cast a Silencing Charm," Luna told him.
"Right," said Ron, not believing a word.
Luna nodded earnestly, so much so that it almost seemed as if her head would fly off, and said, "I'm going to charm your mouth so that you won't be able to open it while there's food in it."
For a moment it looked as if Ron was actually considering the offer, but finally he shook his head.
"Uh uh, nope. No deal," he affirmed staunchly.
"Oh, poo!" pouted Luna, folding her arms.
While this little byplay had been going on, everyone else had been filling their plates as they watched with amusement. Getting the food onto their plates, however, required that they had to avoid the small army of tribbles that were cooing and wiggling about the table top.
"Say, is it just me," asked Neville as he moved a tribble that was trying to get onto his plate, "but are there more of these things than there were at breakfast?"
"It certainly seems like it, but it can't be," replied Hermione.
"Oh, why not?" asked Harry, repressing a smile.
"Nothing breeds that quickly, Harry," Hermione told him.
"Except tribbles," corrected Harry, his smile beginning to break through despite his efforts.
Hermione suddenly got a suspicious look about her and directed it at Harry.
"Harry... what d'you know?"
"Just that they're practically born pregnant," Harry explained, indicating the cooing tribbles.
"Quite a time saver that," commented Luna amiably.
"I know," agreed Ginny in amazement, "but really."
"They're bisexual, reproducing at will," continued Harry. He glanced about at the mounds of tribbles dotted all about the Great Hall. "And, brother, have they got a lot of will."
"But at this rate, by tomorrow we're going to be hip deep in them," Hermione protested.
"Yeah, pretty much," Harry confirmed.
All eyes turned to Ron, whose plate of food appeared to be under siege by a small army of tribbles. Ron was trying to fend them off, but whenever his attention was occupied in one direction, the tribbles would begin to approach from the other.
"They're eating my food!"
"So, Neville," said Harry, turning away and ignoring Ron's plight. "Whatever happened to that plant you had last year?"
"What? My Mimbulus Mimbletonia?" asked Neville.
"The one that spews out all that smelly goop?" asked Ginny.
"Yeah, that's it," Harry confirmed. He turned to Hermione and asked, "Nee, can you pass that bowl of fruit?"
Said bowl was in the process of being overrun by a group of tribbles, including a particularly large one with a rich, chocolate brown pelt. Hermione brushed the creatures aside and passed the bowl to Harry, who selected a couple of oranges from it before setting it down. The tribbles were crowding around it again not long after that.
As Harry began to peel the first of the oranges, further down the table Seamus Finnegan jumped out of his seat with a frustrated cry.
"My chicken sandwich!" cried the Irish wizard. He held up his plate, which held nothing but tribbles. "They're going after my chicken sandwich!"
"They're going after everything!" grumbled Dean, who was sitting next to him.
Sitting opposite the two boys were Lavender and Parvati, who were both holding armfuls of tribbles that they were doting over in an almost idiotic fashion. Looking closer Harry saw that several of the tribbles actually had small bows (of all different colours) tied into their fur. Both witches immediately leapt to the tribbles' defence.
"But they're so soft!" protested Lavender.
"And they make such a cute sound! Listen!" said Parvati, holding up a cooing fluffball.
After watching the exchange for a brief moment the Ministry Crew returned their attention to Neville. That and ignoring Ron, who was fighting his own battle with the tribbles. For some reason the voracious creatures seemed determined to get whatever food was on his plate.
"Bloody things, sod off!"
"I asked Madam Sprout if I could keep it in Greenhouse Two," said Neville, referring to his pet plant. "It was getting a bit large to carry around like I used to."
"He still talks to it," added Hermione.
"Whenever I have a spare moment during Herbology," Neville confirmed.
A bit of an argument was developing down the table, where Dean and Seamus were rallying indignantly against Lavender and Parvati's defence of the tribbles. Seamus' Irish accent was noticeably thicker than it normally was, a sign that his temper was starting to get the better of him.
"I don't care how soft they are--"
"Or how nice they sound!" interjected Dean.
"--just keep them the bloody hell away from my chicken sandwich!" Seamus roared angrily.
Only half listening to that confrontation, as well as Ron's attempts to gain allies in his own struggle to keep his food from the tribbles, Harry and the Ministry Crew continued to discuss the Mimbulus Mimbletonia.
"None of the other plants have tried eating it, have they?" asked Ginny.
"Considering the stench, I doubt it," grumbled Harry, remembering his first encounter with the plant on the Hogwarts Express the previous year.
"Harry," Hermione softly chided.
"But it's true!"
"But not very polite!"
Conversation at the table continued along much the same vein; people talking amongst themselves, interspersed with the occasional protest over the tribbles annexing a plate of food from under someone's nose. Ron seemed to be a favourite target amongst the cooing balls of fur.
"Come on," Harry eventually said. "We'd better get going."
Finished eating, Harry and the others got up to leave. As his friends gathered up their school bags, Harry quickly checked with Father, confirming Wormtail's current location within the castle. A Surveillance Drone had been following the unwitting rat animagus ever since Harry discovered him on the grounds.
Receiving almost exactly the answer he wanted, Harry absent-mindedly reached out in the general direction of his wand, which still rested on the staff table by Dumbledore's plate. Everyone was greatly surprised, Harry included, when it unexpectedly leaped from its place and spun across the hall into Harry's open hand.
There was a moment of eerie silence that was finally broken by Harry's whispered, "Son of a bitch."
"Harry?" asked Hermione, looking worriedly at him.
Harry struggled not to break out into a broad smile. His practice seemed to be paying off. Certainly something was on the go, if his wandless magic was beginning to operate on a more conscious level than before. It was not much, true, but it was a start. A very important start.
"Was that... wandless magic?" asked Ron, looking impressed.
"Wicked," breathed Neville.
"Yeah," agreed Ginny.
Pocketing his wand and not bothering to explain, especially with so many people watching, Harry linked his arms with Ginny and Luna. "Come on ladies," he told them, "You have Charms next, if I'm not mistaken, and luckily for you - I'm heading that way."
Grinning as she accepted his offer, Luna curtseyed and said, "Most gracious of you to escort us, kind sir."
With Ginny and Luna giggling on his arms, while Hermione looked on with a small amount of jealousy, Harry and his friends left the Hall without interruption. As they exited, Harry could here the students erupting into hushed whispers. Yet one more reason for them to gossip about him. Still, he was too elated by this success to let it bother him.
Harry, Ginny and Luna parted ways from Hermione, Ron and Neville in the Entrance Hall. The sixth-years were heading to Hagrid's hut for Care of Magical Creatures, with Hagrid where they would been trying to work out exactly how the tribbles moved.
As he walked Ginny and Luna to class, Harry arranged to allow Wormtail the opportunity to listen in on their conversation. Despite himself, Harry was actually impressed to note that he wouldn't even have noticed that Wormtail was there, following behind them in the hallway, if it hadn't been for the hidden Surveillance Drone keeping track of the little rat.
While they walked he and the girls discussed how an anonymous Death Eater wanted to defect and had supposedly contacted Harry shortly after Halloween. The man had passed on the information about Hermione's abduction and where they had taken her as a show of good faith.
The entire thing was staged, of course, planned out inside a null-magic field Father had provided for them the previous evening. It was part of his plan to pass disinformation on to Voldemort, but Harry knew that Wormtail would dutifully report this, and thus sow dissension and fear amongst the ranks of the Death Eaters.
"So, d'you think he's for real?" asked Ginny, keeping to the script they had discussed.
"Of course he's real," insisted Luna. "If he wasn't then Harry would be hallucinating."
Luna paused, skipping a step or two, as if an idea had just occurred to her. She turned to Harry, her bright blue eyes alight with mischief as she asked, "You haven't been drinking any illegal Pleasure Potions lately, have you?"
"I'm not sure I fully trust him yet," said Harry, ignoring Luna's teasing, "but the information he owled me about what Malfoy was going to do was good."
Over the course of the next few months Harry planned to slowly feed enough false information to Wormtail that one or more of Voldemort's surviving inner circle would be implicated as a sympathiser to the light. With luck this would divert some or most of the Dark Lord's attention away from Harry and his plans, as he would be too busy trying to root out a traitor that did not exist.
The hardest spy to find, Harry knew, was one that wasn't really there.
"Well, ladies," Harry announced as they arrived outside the Charms classroom, "this is your stop."
"Bye Harry," said Ginny, giving him a quick hug goodbye before stepping away. "See you at dinner."
"Have a good time at Diagon Alley," chimed Luna, leaning up on her tiptoes to peck Harry's cheek.
Harry grinned as the two witches entered the classroom. He waved through the door at Professor Flitwick and then turned back down the way he had just come, strolling down the corridor at a deceptively unhurried pace. He was fully aware that Wormtail was continuing to trail behind him, no doubt after some information about what Harry did during the day now that he had been suspended.
After passing by the silver pawed rat, who managed to hide himself surprisingly well in the shadows at the feet of one of the suits of armour lining the corridor, Harry rounded the first corner came to. Hidden from sight for a few precious seconds, he made a quick dash to a nearby alcove.
Harry confirmed with Father that Pettigrew would not be able to see him for several more seconds and then Gated out of the school and to his destination in London.
Harry popped into being in the back room of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. He also managed to scare the bejeezus out of Lee Jordan in the process.
"Bloody hell!" gasped Lee, clutching a hand to his chest. "Harry! Where did you come from?"
"Lee? What are you doing here?" asked Harry, glancing around and not seeing the twins.
"I asked first!" insisted Lee.
"I came from Hogwarts," Harry explained. He looked at the dreadlock-haired wizard, whom he really had not been expecting to see, and asked, "So, what are you doing here?"
"Helping Fred and George with their stock..." replied Lee, still not fully recovered from his fright. "But I thought it was impossible to Apparate from Hogwarts."
Looking at the door leading out to the front of the store, Harry could hear the muffled noise of several people speaking. From the sound of it there were several young children, accompanied by some adults. He clearly heard Fred announcing a special on fake wands.
"I'm guessing the twins are out front?" he confirmed with Lee.
"Yeah," Lee nodded, his dreadlocks bouncing at the motion.
"Can you call them for me please?" requested Harry. "I'd rather not let everyone know I'm here."
"Incognito, eh?" asked Lee with understanding. "Sure, let me give them a yell."
Lee went over to the door and opened it to stick his head through. "Oi, Fred! George!" he called. "Your investor's here for that meeting you had planned!"
In short order the twins had exited the front section, leaving it in Lee's capable hands (his years of announcing at the school Quidditch matches made him an excellent salesman). They joined Harry in the back store room, where they did most of their work.
"You have the stuff?" asked Fred.
"That was fast," commented George.
"Don't forget, Gred," noted the other twin, "this is Harry we're talking about."
"Right," agreed George. "The Boy-Who-Lived."
"If anyone can get what we need in only a couple of days--"
"--it's our beloved almost brother, Harry."
"Right," was all Harry could say.
Fred and George took Harry by the elbows and led him to a small storeroom to one side, between the boxes of Liquorice Laughs and the crates of Skiving Snackboxes. This was where they were storing the supplies to make the phased plasma rifles. It was mostly empty at this point, aside from a few wooden crates and a folding table with a half-built rifle laying in the open.
"Ron and Ginny were telling us that Snape apologised to you," said George.
"And Hermione," added Fred as he elbowed his twin for forgetting Harry's girlfriend.
"Yeah," Harry confirmed, busy looking for the best place to set down the rifle casings.
"Did you have Father record it?" asked Fred eagerly.
"We'd love to see the expression on his face," agreed George.
Fred leaned close and, in a hushed whisper, offered, "We'll pay you a Sickle for it."
Harry could almost imagine the twins selling that recording, particularly to the vast majority of Snape's past and present students - who would probably pay good money for such a sight.
He was discouraged, however, by the thought of Snape's reaction if he ever found out. Fred and George, as well as Harry, would be living in fear of their lives if that ever happened.
"Some other time," he demurred. "Ready?"
"Are we ready, George?" asked Fred.
"We're ready, Fred," said George.
Fred turned to Harry and gave a thumbs up. "Ready, Harry."
Harry rolled his eyes at their clowning around and silently ordered Father to bring the rifle components out of storage. The casings Father had smelted before lunch (while Harry practiced his wandless magic) shimmered into view one-by-one as they dropped out of subspace. Holding them aloft with GM fields, Father moved them swiftly and surely to one corner, where it stacked them neatly in place.
"Damn, Harry..." breathed George.
"You work fast," concluded Fred.
"It's only been a couple of days!"
"You've even worked the stuff into the proper shape!"
"That'll cut construction time in half," mused George, fingering his lower lip.
"Less even," agreed Fred as he watched Father work.
"That's the idea," said Harry. He frowned darkly and muttered, "I have a feeling that we don't have a lot of time."
The twins exchanged a worried look before turning back to Harry.
"How long?" they chorused.
"I don't know," Harry admitted, "but soon."
Harry looked at the growing stacks of gleaming steel casings. He gave a soft sigh and ruefully observed, "He's going to want to prove that what I did at Parkinson Lodge and the Grangers was a fluke,"
"But it wasn't," protested Fred.
"Was it?" asked George uncertainly.
"Of course not," said Harry, somewhat indignantly, "but his ego won't let him believe that."
The twins exchanged another look, holding an entire silent conversation in that way which was completely unique to twins like themselves.
"We'll cut back work on the store and focus on the rifles," George announced firmly.
"That way we should be able to turn out five or six a day," stated Fred.
Harry considered their offer for a moment. He knew how much the joke shop meant to them both, something they had been planning since their sixth-year at Hogwarts, at least. He decided to give them a way out if they wanted it and asked, "Can you afford to do that?"
"Yeah," George answered easily. "Shouldn't be that much of a loss."
"With so many kids at Hogwarts and the other magic schools, we're not doing that much business," explained Fred.
"We have enough stock to tide us over for a couple of months."
"At a rate of five a day we should be finished in time for the Christmas rush anyway."
"Unless you have any other crazy tasks you want us to work on?" asked George.
"Maybe," Harry confessed.
He considered it for a bit longer. He absently gave a nod of confirmation to Father, who had finished setting out all the rifle casings. Its charcoal grey sphere bobbed once before drifting into place above and behind his right shoulder.
"All right," he finally said. "If you think you can, then do it."
"Aye aye, Cap'n," saluted Fred.
"Full steam ahead, me hearty!" agreed George, also snapping a salute.
Harry stepped out of the storeroom and into the main workroom. Once there he turned back to the twins, who had followed behind him.
"I'll stop by again in a couple of days," he told them. "By then I should have the crystal arrays you need to focus the plasma stream."
"Any idea how long to get the acceleration coils?" asked Fred.
"Those'll probably be the most difficult," added George.
"Certainly wasn't easy for us to put one together."
"Gold plated copper, in a titanium framework."
Harry could imagine that building such a part would have been very difficult for the twins, even with the use of magic. Using Father, however, it became almost as easy as shaping the steel into the rifle casings, only more time consuming.
"The copper and gold are taken care of," Harry assured his business partners. "I'll be picking up the raw titanium on Friday, so I'll probably have the assemblies ready for you by Sunday."
"Damn Harry..." breathed Fred.
"You work fast," finished George, repeating what they had said earlier but reversing the roles.
Harry glanced at the door leading out to the store front. He pondered if it really was worth the expenditure of energy to Gate from the twins' shop to his next destination. After all, he could get there just as easily and almost as quickly by foot. It was just a question of doing so incognito, as Lee had said.
"Don't freak out, okay?" he told the twins.
"Father," Harry glanced at the hovering sphere. "Activate the holographic projector. Use the 'John Doe' configuration we put together earlier."
There was a shimmer and a whisper of air as one of Father's hologram projection crystals emerged from subspace. It drifted through the air and slipped into one of Harry's shirt pockets. With a flicker of coherent light, for the second time that day, Harry assumed a new identity.
The twins exchanged a delighted look before grinning (somewhat dementedly) at Harry.
Under the cover of one of Father's holographic disguise fields, similar to how he had impersonated Snape earlier in the day, Harry made his way down Diagon Alley. With his now sandy hair, blue-grey eyes, large horn-rimmed glasses and slightly rounder face, he looked sort of like a cross between Neville and Seamus.
The Alley was quieter than he remembered, though it had been several years since he had a chance to roam through Britain's largest wizarding shopping district. Harry knew that people were trying to avoid spending too much time outside and in public places, through fear of been caught in a Death Eater attack now that Voldemort had returned.
Reaching his destination Harry stepped into the shop, the bell ringing gently as he opened the door. He looked around and could not see any noticeable difference between now and the last time he had been here. Waiting by the counter, he peered down the various shelves of boxed wands, wondering where the owner was.
"Ah, Mister Potter," announced a voice from behind.
Harry just about jumped out of his skin in surprise. Ollivander, his pale by intense eyes glinting with amusement, had somehow managed to sneak up behind him. Considering it the fact that Father had several invisible drones arrayed about Harry's location, this was nothing short of amazing.
The wandmaker had also addressed him by name, though Harry was not too surprised to learn that the strange man was somehow able to see through Father's projected disguise field.
"I've been expecting you."
"How do you do that?" Harry asked.
"Trade secret," replied Ollivander with a mysterious smile.
"I hope you're willing to at least part with some of your 'trade secrets'," said Harry.
One of the letters Harry had sent out, after returning to Hogwarts from rescuing Hermione, had been to Ollivander. He had made a plea for any books, materials and advice the wandmaker could spare on the topic of building a wand. He had received an positive answer the very next day.
"Some," Ollivander conceded as he crossed to behind the counter.
Harry went up to the counter, standing opposite him, absently asking Father to drop the holographic disguise for the time being. As Ollivander knew who he was and could be trusted to be discrete about this meeting, he had no need of it.
"Most of what I can give you is the more general knowledge regarding the manufacture of wands and like instruments of magical focus," said Ollivander, reaching beneath the counter. He brought out a stack of four very thick and very dusty books, which he set down with a slight bang. "The more advanced techniques, however," he continued, "have been in my family for generations and are only ever passed down from father to son."
"I don't think I'll be needing anything more than the basics," Harry told him. "I just want to make sure I don't do anything... inadvisable."
"If you follow the books, you should avoid any unfortunate accidents," replied Ollivander.
The wandmaker then briefly disappeared from view as he ducked down to pull out several small boxes, which he stacked next to the books.
"These are the few samples of various woods and magical cores that I can spare you. There should be enough for you to practice making two or three wands with."
"Excellent, thank you," said Harry sincerely.
"You are most welcome, Mister Potter," said Ollivander.
Harry reached out to take the books and the boxes, planning to have Father shift them into subspace pockets as soon as he left the wand shop. He was stopped, however, when Ollivander gently grabbed him the wrist.
"I am curious, Mister Potter, as to why you have taken such an interest my craft," Ollivander professed. His eyes then narrowed suspiciously and he asked, "You have not had any problems with your wand, have you?"
"No, it's working just fine," Harry told him. He nodded at the books and boxes. "This is for... a research project I'm working on for Defence Against the Dark Arts."
"Ah yes, Rhys Pisqual Smythe-White," said Ollivander, releasing his hold on Harry's wrist. As expected, he recited, "Oak with a core of dragon heartstring. Ten and three quarter inches. More suited for healing than combat."
Harry did not use this opportunity to collect the supplies he had come for. Instead he thought of what he planned to with the help of those materials and study material. Noticing that Ollivander was peering intently at him, he decided to give the man an invitation.
"I should be done in a couple of weeks, definitely before the end of the month," said Harry. He then offered, "Perhaps you'd like to come to the demonstration when I'm ready?"
"I think I would like that, Mister Potter," Ollivander graciously accepted. "I anticipate that you will be accomplishing something quite remarkable."
"If my idea works," Harry told him, "you'll have an entirely new avenue of wand making to explore."
"May I enquire as to the fundamental idea behind your work?"
Harry stacked the boxes of materials on top of the books before picking up the entire lot. He made his way to the door and opened it before answering. He looked back to Ollivander, who was waiting expectantly for an explanation.
"Conducting magic through steel and other metals," Harry revealed calmly. To his disappointment the only reaction to this statement was that Ollivander's eyebrows rose to his hairline. "I'll send you a letter when the time's right. Good day, Mister Ollivander."
With that small titbit, Harry stepped outside. Just before the door managed to swing fully shut, he heard Ollivander's quiet murmur, "Quite remarkable indeed."
Leaving Ollivanders with his acquisitions safely tucked away in subspace, Harry made his way directly to Gringotts Bank, the John Doe disguise field back in place. Ostensibly he wanted to check on his finances. Of course, thanks to Father's knowledge of the future, he already had most of the details concerning them.
He paused outside the back, taking the time to read the warning by the large outer doors once again. He noticed, as he stood there, that there appeared to be more guards on duty than the last time he visited.
Entering the building, Harry walked up to the nearest available teller. There was a fair amount of people doing business, despite how quiet the alley outside might have been. Still, there were not enough to occupy all the goblins in the foyer.
"Hello," greeted Harry as he stepped in front of the teller he had chosen.
"Yes?" asked the goblin, not bothering with pleasantries.
"I would like to speak to someone about my account," said Harry, "as well as possibly making some investments."
The goblin, whose left ear had apparently had a chunk bitten out of it at some point, looked extremely bored as he recited, "Gringotts' financial advisors are available for consultations at a modest fee."
"Then I'll have to insist on the most immodest advisor you have."
Now the goblin decided to pay a bit more attention to Harry, but only so that he could look the young wizard over with a disdainful eye.
"If you're sure you can afford it," the goblin finally said.
Harry smirked and asked Father to drop the disguise field. The holographic projection shut down the next moment, revealing his true appearance to the teller.
"I don't think will be a problem," said Harry smugly.
The goblin stared across at Harry in amazement. Blinking back his surprise he began to say, "Mister Po--"
Harry held up a hand and cut the teller off. With a silent command to Father the disguise field reactivated, enveloping Harry in a brief flicker. He looked at the goblin with an unblinking gaze and said, "Gringotts has an unequalled reputation for being suitably discreet in such matters as client confidentiality."
"But of course," agreed the teller.
"Then, could you please direct me to your ablest financial advisor."
"Certainly," the teller nodded. He turned to one side and called, "Snagtrim!" Another goblin appeared several seconds later and waited patiently next to the till. The teller waved a long fingered hand at Harry and said, "Escort this gentleman to Gramtoil's office,"
Snagtrim nodded and moved off, obviously expecting Harry to follow. They quickly left the foyer and entered the bank proper, where the big business deals were conducted. Harry kept pace with Snagtrim, allowing himself to be led through a small maze of corridors before finally reaching their destination.
"Here you go," announced Snagtrim, the first words he had spoken to Harry in nearly fifteen minutes of walking.
"Thanks," replied Harry as the goblin opened the door and allowed him to enter.
Stepping inside, Harry looked around the office. It was very large, easily as large as Dumbledore's office, only far more opulently decorated. Goblins prided themselves on displaying their wealth. Gold busts of various historic goblins were arrayed alongside one wall, in front of a display of goblin halberds. Several of the ancient weapons had not been cleaned since they were last used, dried blood still on their blades.
The owner of the office was sitting in a throne-like seat behind a desk that was almost as large as Harry's four-poster Hogwarts bed. There was a plague situated near the front of the desk, in both English and Gobbledygook, proclaiming the goblin as being Gramtoil, as well as his official title; Senior Financial Advisor.
Gramtoil himself was a wizen-looking goblin that must have easily been over two hundred years old. His nose was extraordinarily long and he was dressed in a finely tailored green and gold velvet, three-piece suit.
"A wizard to see you, Gramtoil," said Harry's escort.
"Thank you, Snagtrim," acknowledged Gramtoil. "You may go."
Harry moved to stand in front of Gramtoil's desk, but did not take a seat in any of the four chairs laid out for visitors. This was an important part of goblin protocol, which Harry had read up on the day before. Guests did not seat themselves under any circumstances until invited to do so.
As he waited for Gramtoil to speak, Harry noted that it was a slight insult that the goblin did not stand to greet him. Most wizard probably would never had noticed, or realized the significance of that.
"What can I do for you, Mister...?"
With a nod, Harry had Father drop the disguise field. Gramtoil's eyes widened slightly in surprise, but otherwise the old goblin displayed no outward reaction to Harry's identity.
"Mister Potter," the goblin greeted.
"Senior Financial Advisor Gramtoil," said Harry.
"Well, this is unexpected," Gramtoil admitted. He looked quizzically at Harry and asked, "Aren't you supposed to be in class?"
"I've been suspended, and thus don't need to attend classes," Harry replied. He glanced pointedly at a copy of the newspaper on Gramtoil's desk. "As I'm sure you've read in the Prophet."
"Indeed," said Gramtoil. The goblin leaned back in his plush chair and steepled his fingers. "It would seem that you are no longer hailed as The-Boy-Who-Lived."
"Miss Skeeter is now declaiming you as The-Boy-Who-Killed."
This was something Harry had not been aware of, as he had not bothered to read the Daily Prophet for weeks. He simply did not consider it worth his time, as most of what it reported was little more than gossip and slander.
Still, learning that little titbit was enough to set Harry's blood on the way to boiling. Remembering that he was in a meeting, a very important meeting at that, he forcibly clamped down on his anger. It was a bit of an effort, but he managed to project and outward calm, rather than tear the office apart with accidental magic.
"So, I'm not the 'lone voice of truth' anymore, eh?" he asked rhetorically. "How predictable."
"Indeed," agreed Gramtoil. "Now, Mister Potter, again, what can I do for you?"
"For starters, Senior Financial Advisor Gramtoil," Harry began, making it a point to use the full title, "you can rise to greet me... as the Tenets demand." He watched with satisfaction as Gramtoil jerked upright in surprise. "Then you can invite me to sit down... as the Tenets demand."
Gramtoil almost jumped to his feet, nearly upsetting his chair in the process. He bowed low from the waist, the tip of his nose actually touching his desk.
"My humblest apologies, Tradesman Potter," Gramtoil said, both surprise and chagrin in his voice. He was also using a more respectful honorific, one which the goblins only gave to people they respected doing business with. "I did not imagine you, or any wizard, would be aware of the Tenets of Dealing."
"Professor Binns seldom teaches anything but a long list of so-called Goblin Rebellions," Harry wryly explained. "I thought it would be a good idea to do my own research regarding other magical races."
"You show greater wisdom than most wizards, Tradesman Potter," replied Gramtoil. He gestured to the seats in front of his desk. "Please, make yourself comfortable. Can I avail you of anything to eat or drink?"
"Thank you, Senior Financial Advisor," said Harry, sitting down in the chair he had been standing next to. Considering the offer, he replied, "I would like to try some Spiced Gold Tea, if it's not an inconvenience."
Gramtoil now looked positively stunned, though it was difficult to tell from his craggy features. Spiced Gold Tea was an exclusively goblin drink and not something Harry imagined many wizards would ever ask for.
"Not at all," Gramtoil finally managed. He hit a small gold bell on his desk before resuming his seat. A moment later the door to the office opened and a young-looking goblin stuck his head in. Gramtoil barely bothered to look at him before he ordered, "Grimtide, fetch a pot of Spiced Gold for my guest and I. Quickly!"
Grimtide's eyes almost bulged out of his sockets upon hearing this. He stared at Harry for a moment, his gaze briefly flicking up to the lightning bolt scar, and then he disappeared in a hurry. Harry had no doubt that within a minutes all the goblins in Gringotts would know of The-Boy-Who-Lived's choice of beverage.
Nodding in approval that his orders were being followed, Gramtoil asked, "Do you wish to begin now or after the tea?"
Harry almost suggested that they wait, but managed to remember that the Tenet's demanded that; business always takes place before pleasure. In fact, where goblins were concerned; business was pleasure. Harry then realized that Gramtoil's offer was a subtle test to see how well he had studied goblin culture and customs.
"Now would be best," he answered.
"Very good, Tradesman Potter," said Gramtoil. He settled back in his chair again and asked, "How may I help you?"
"I have practically no knowledge whatsoever of my financial holdings. In fact, until this summer, I wasn't even aware that I had any beyond the Hogwarts trust vault my parents left me," replied Harry. "I want to fix that."
"I see," said Gramtoil.
"I also need to know the total liquid assets value of the Black Estate," Harry added as nonchalantly as he could.
Gramtoil looked at him, his beady eyes narrowing a fraction. After some consideration he said, "Sirius Black's last will and testament is currently under contention by Narcissa Malfoy and her son, Draco."
Being Sirius' cousin, Narcissa had a fairly solid claim on the Black family fortune. This was especially true as Sirius was still considered a convict and wanted man. As such she was trying to have his will declared invalid. From what Harry had learned of the future, in the original timeline this had gone on for most of the year, until Peter Pettigrew had been captured and Sirius declared innocent.
"You have a way around that," said Harry.
"What do you mean?" asked Gramtoil.
"The Reasonable Expenditure clause," Harry replied.
This was a clause inserted into most of Gringotts' high profile banking contracts, which allowed the bank itself to make investments and payments using an estate's holdings. All that was required was for Gringotts to be able to provide proper justification for such expenditure of those assets.
"True," admitted Gramtoil thoughtfully, "but only with approval from the Black Estate's custodian."
"Which, according to Sirius' will, is me."
"A fine distinction."
"But perfectly legal."
There was a soft knock on the door, which then opened to reveal Grimtide and the tea he had been sent for.
"Your tea," said Grimtide.
"Thank you, Grimtide," said Gramtoil. He pointed to a side table next to his desk. "Set it down over there."
Grimtide placed the tea set where designated and then quietly exited the room, casting sideways glances at Harry whenever he could. Once the other goblin had left, Gramtoil got up and moved to the tea set, quickly pouring two cups. He did not add milk or sugar, as these were not included in traditional goblin tea.
"Honey, Tradesman Potter?" Gramtoil asked.
"Just a dash, please," replied Harry.
Goblins only ever added honey to their tea (they apparently liked the golden colour) and even then; only in small amounts, so as not to overwhelm the flavour of the tea itself.
"Very good," said Gramtoil.
Harry watched closely, but surreptitiously, and was ecstatic to see that Gramtoil added the honey to the first cup he had pour. This was a subtle sign of respect towards Harry - preparing and then serving his drink first.
Gramtoil handed Harry the cup of tea, handled facing to Harry's left (another sign of respect). The cup was made from fine china with gobbledygook runes inlaid in gold. Gramtoil took his own cup in hand before returning to his seat.
"I trust you will find the Spiced Gold to your liking, Tradesman Potter. Very few wizards ever acquire a taste for it," said Gramtoil. By way of explanation he added, "They tend to find it somewhat stronger than they would prefer."
Harry looked down at his full cup (yet another sign of respect, as normally it would be only half filled). The tea was the same colour as molten gold and had a rich smell, not unlike a mixture of cinnamon and thyme.
"I like strong," he said.
"Very good," said Gramtoil. He held up his teacup in salute. "Let this be a profitable meeting."
This was a traditional goblin phrased, used to bless the commencement of a successful business transaction. Harry raised his own cup and replied with one of the six proper responses. He was careful to choose the one used with the transaction stood to benefit both parties.
"May our wealth never tarnish."
Together they lifted up their teacups and took a sip. Harry quickly discovered that Gramtoil had not be exaggerating and that the tea was very strong. In fact, it was almost overwhelming. Harry could not detect even a hint of the honey that had been added.
Still, despite its strength, the taste was not unpleasant. Not sweet and not bitter, but rather an odd mixture of the two. He couldn't quite describe the flavour either, except that it was vaguely similar to some molasses he had once tasted.
"Interesting taste," Harry finally said, after noticing that Gramtoil was watching him closely. Doubtless the goblin was waiting for him to give an expression of distaste at the flavour. "Unlike anything I've had before."
"I will admit that I am greatly impressed, Tradesman Potter," confessed Gramtoil, giving Harry a thin but pleased smile. "You are the first wizard I have ever seen, in over two hundred years, that did not choke on his first taste. Even Albus Dumbledore almost coughed up his own tongue."
Harry grinned in return, careful not to show any teeth as that was a sign of aggression amongst goblins. He did not give a verbal answer, preferring to just lift up his cup and take another sip. It went done easier this time, as he now knew what to expect.
"So, Tradesman Potter," Gramtoil began, returning to business. "Might I enquire as to what you require Gringotts to do with the Black Estate?"
"I want to make an investment," replied Harry.
"Oh, in what? Gold? Platinum? Diamonds?" asked Gramtoil. "Those are generally the most popular options."
"In a business, actually," said Harry.
"Ah, yes," Gramtoil nodded. "I am aware of your previous investment in... what was it? Weasley's Wizard Widgets?"
"Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, yes," Harry confirmed.
"Are you planning to finance the start of another business, Tradesman Potter?"
"No, I have an existing company in mind."
"The Daily Prophet," Harry answered before calmly taking another sip of tea.
Gramtoil almost dropped his teacup in surprise. He stared at Harry in obvious shock, this time actually visible on his weathered features. He quickly recovered however and repeated, "The Daily Prophet?"
"Yes," confirmed Harry. This time he gave the Senior Financial Advisor a smile that exposed a sliver of teeth, a vicious smile by goblin standard. "I want to buy a controlling interest."
"You want to buy the Daily Prophet," deduced Gramtoil, taking a big gulp of his tea.
"I don't want to buy it," corrected Harry. "I just want to be able to control what it prints."
Gramtoil nodded his head as he considered what Harry was saying. Goblins were a naturally sly people, very Slytherin by nature, and it was not difficult for him to see what Harry had planned.
"The Daily Prophet is the most prominent wizarding news agency in Great Britain," Gramtoil said, eyes narrow in sly consideration. "Whoever controls it, controls public opinion."
The old goblin leaned back in his chair and sipped at his tea. His gaze was staring off into space as he mulled over what Harry was suggesting.
"Even without checking the books," he finally said, "I can tell you that what you're asking will all but empty the Black family vaults."
"That much?" asked Harry, slightly surprised.
"The Daily Prophet is almost as old as the Ministry of Magic," Gramtoil informed him. "Such a vintage brings with it great value... and a hefty amount of power as well."
"Power over the masses perhaps," Harry agreed. "The Prophet is little more than the Ministry's propaganda machine."
"You are very direct, Tradesman Potter," said Gramtoil, his lips twitching into an honest smile.
"I've found it saves time," said Harry, sipping at his tea.
"A fact we goblins are in complete agreement with."
Harry considered what Gramtoil had told him and suggested, "What if I used some of the Potter Estate as well?"
"I'm sad to say, Tradesman Potter," Gramtoil replied, "that, until you come of age, the steward of your parents estate is Albus Dumbledore."
Harry mentally swore up a store and only just managed to bite back some very vocal cursing.
"For us to use the Potter Estate to supplement the Black Estate in this endeavour," continued Gramtoil, "we would require his authorization."
"Which means you'd have to tell him what we're planning," finished Harry.
"I have met with Headmaster Dumbledore on a few occasions," revealed Gramtoil. "If I judge his character correctly, he would never approve of your plan."
"That's what I was afraid of," admitted Harry.
"While the inability to use the Potter Estate is inconvenient, you should still be able to make do with the Black Estate. The difficulty will be in explaining such a purchase as being a Reasonable Expense."
Harry sank back in his chair and sipped his Spiced Gold. Inside his collected exterior (which was taking some effort to maintain) his thoughts were raging furiously as he tried to come up with a solution.
The money itself meant nothing to him. Even without Sirius' inheritance Harry was already a wealthy man. The big problem was the Narcissa had enough pull to stop Gringotts if they couldn't come up with proper justification for purchasing the Daily Prophet.
Even if he was the custodian of Sirius' inheritance and the Black Estate, Harry simply could not reasonably explain an action that would all but empty the Black coffers.
His thoughts drifted to Luna, particularly her father - who owned the Quibbler. If he could not find a way to buy out the Prophet, then using the Quibbler for retaliation would probably be Harry's only option. Then an idea occurred to him.
"What if I could arrange a group investment?" he asked Gramtoil.
The old goblin arched his bushy eyebrows. "What do you mean?"
Harry leaned forward, showing his eagerness as the solution to his problem presented itself. "What if I could get another family, or two, both reasonably wealthy, to join me?"
"A partnership?" asked Gramtoil.
"Yes," confirmed Harry.
"That is a possibility," Gramtoil mused thoughtfully. "What do you have in mind?"
After spending several hours working with Gramtoil, fleshing out the details of Harry's planned takeover of the Daily Prophet, Harry had spent the remainder of his afternoon browsing through the shops at Diagon Alley - his identity hidden beneath Father's holographic projection.
He had enjoyed a large caramel and mint toffee sundae at Florean Fortesque's Ice-Cream Shop, which he had not had a chance to visit since the summer before his third year.
He had been heartened, while sitting inside, to hear the old ice-cream maker himself comment to one customer when the Daily Prophet would make up its mind and realize that Harry Potter was as nice a young wizard as you could find. His spirit feeling much higher, Harry had departed, leaving a full Galleon as a tip.
He had made a brief stop in Madam Malkin's, where he had made some enquires about the various robes she had available, what materials she used, what custom styles she was able to tailor and (perhaps the most important of them all) where to find the best quality dragon-hide.
This last was because Harry was thinking about utilizing dragon-hide in combination with the Muggle body armour he had stolen from the Los Angeles police. While he had worn the armour during his assault on Parkinson Lodge, none of the Death Eaters had survived long enough to actually curse him - thus leaving the armour untested.
By combining the Muggle materials with what was widely considered to be the toughest magical material available, Harry hoped to create something formidable enough to grant the wearer a hitherto unreached degree of security.
He had no doubts that it would prove completely useless against the Killing Curse, and probably the Imperious, but still held hopes that it would absorb and hold off the Cruciatus. Even if it was only for a few seconds, that would be enough time to either duck out of the curse's way or retaliate.
Returning to Hogwarts again, only fifteen minutes before the start of dinner, Harry found himself almost unable to walk for all the tribbles filling the corridor. The little furballs were everywhere - even climbing up the walls (though how they accomplished this without any means of locomotion was a mystery).
"Harry, there you are."
Harry paused in his attempts to squeeze past a particularly large pile of purring tribbles that was blocking the corridor leading to the Trophy Room. He turned around to find Dumbledore, in purple robes with a cyan cloak, walking towards him. The eccentric old wizard had a tribble perched either shoulder, both cooing happily.
"You're a rather difficult young man to find when you don't want to be found," said Dumbledore.
"I've been wanting to talk to you since after lunch," Dumbledore explained as he drew to a halt. "Instead I've found myself led on quite the merry chase through Hogwarts while looking for you."
"Ah, I'm sorry," Harry apologised. "I was... not inside the school for most of the afternoon."
"Indeed?" asked Dumbledore. "How odd, I made a point of checking the Quidditch Pitch and around the lake several times."
"To be honest," Harry started to pick his way past the tribbles again, Dumbledore trailing him, "I was a bit further a field than that."
"Oh?" Dumbledore looked puzzled for a moment before an alarmed expression briefly flitted over his face. "You didn't leave school grounds, did you, Harry?"
"Would I be in trouble if I had, old man?" asked Harry.
There was a slight edge in Harry's voice, not to mention the fact that his future self's cold attitude towards Dumbledore was beginning to surface. Harry did not like the idea of Dumbledore, or anyone else, being able to restrict his movements. He had grown used to that freedom over the summer and was loathe to give it up.
"Thanks to your suspension, no," Dumbledore admitted, "but I don't believe it would be safe for you to stray too far outside of Hogwarts' wards."
"I don't think any Death Eaters would risk attacking me in the middle of Diagon Alley," commented Harry dryly.
"You were in London?" repeated Dumbledore. His bright blue eyes slid to Father, who's charcoal sphere was drifting indolently by Harry's shoulder. "Such a wonderful device you have there."
"Father can prove useful when it wishes to," Harry confessed.
By now they had managed to squeeze past the tribbles and were continuing to the Great Hall at a more normal, unrestricted pace of walking.
"So," asked Harry, "what did you want to talk about, sir?
"Why were you in London?"
"Don't push, old man."
The headmaster seemed to understand that forcing Harry to tell him something would not do their strained relationship any good. With obvious reluctance he let the matter drop and returned to the original reason he had sought Harry out.
"There was a brief meeting amongst the staff, during lunch," he explained, "and the general consensus is that you cannot afford to fall behind in your studies. Especially when considering the importance of your role in the upcoming war against Voldemort."
"Upcoming?" asked Harry incredulously. "Old man, the war isn't 'upcoming'. It's already here."
"Voldemort has not made any significant attacks since his return," Dumbledore countered.
"Azkaban? The Ministry of Magic? Hermione and her parents?" listed Harry.
"Freeing his people from Azkaban was hardly an attack, seeing as the Dementors were aiding the escape," replied Dumbledore dispassionately. "The battle at the Ministry was not an attack, but actually a miscalculation on Voldemort's part. He was not actually attacking the Ministry, nor do I believe did he plan to have his servants fight you and your friends. It was purely an attempt to gain the prophecy through the most readily available means of subterfuge he had at his disposable."
Harry unhappily rubbed the palm of one hand against his scar. It hadn't so much as twinged since Father arrived, thanks to the small null-magic field the Gatekeeper kept in place around Harry's head, which effectively prevented any attempts at Legilimency against him.
"And Grangers?" asked Harry through grit teeth. "There was no subterfuge involved there - it was an attack, plain and simple."
"True," Dumbledore agreed, "but the nature of that attack was different to what constitutes a full-scale war."
"Maybe," Harry conceded. Now it was his turn to return the conversation to its original topic. "So what did you and the other professors decide at the staff meeting?"
Dumbledore acquiesced to the fact that he and Harry had more important things to discuss than whether or not the war with Voldemort had yet to fully start or not.
"As I said; the consensus was that you could not afford to miss too many classes."
"Well, unless they found a way to have my suspension lifted, I don't see what they can do about it."
"If you wish, Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick and Professor Smythe-White have offered to tutor you for several hours each evening," Dumbledore informed him.
"They'd do that?" asked Harry in surprise.
"While I may have the occasional lapse," Dumbledore wryly admitted, "all of Hogwarts' professors want only to help their students."
A cold fury rose up inside Harry, brought about by the fact that Dumbledore was once again playing the ignorant. Harry was in danger of becoming truly angry at how Dumbledore could include Snape, not to mention most of their past Defence Professors, as a professor that wanted only to help his students.
"And what of you beloved Death Eater spy?" Harry asked in a brittle tone as he stopped in place. His breath came out in a small cloud of vapour as his magic made his cold fury something literal. "Our illustrious potions master?"
Dumbledore quickly realized the mistake he had made and hurried to correct it.
"Doubtless there will be some rough patches ahead," he said, "but I have high hopes that Professor Snape will make every effort to correct his behaviour."
"He'd better," Harry told him, resuming his walk to the Great Hall.
"What do you mean by that, Harry?" asked Dumbledore, obviously worried.
Harry remained quiet for several moments, knowingly feeding the headmaster's fears that Harry was hinting that he would remove Snape from his position by the simple means of killing him - as he had threatened with the previous Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge.
"What I mean," Harry finally said, once he felt that Dumbledore had agonised long enough, "is that the students now know that the governors..." unable to resist a slight dig he added, "and you as well, I suppose," and then continued, "can actually be bothered with their feelings on matters like Snape and how he treats them. If he steps a toe out of line again, I guarantee that you and they will be getting letters of complaint in the owl post the next morning."
Dumbledore looked sadly at Harry and sighed deeply.
"I cannot say it often enough, not do I believe I ever will," said the headmaster quietly, "but I am truly sorry for all the hardships you have had to face, dear boy. I would have willingly taken the burden upon myself, and spared you that pain, if I could have."
"Don't be sorry for what's done and gone, sir," replied Harry, responding to Dumbledore's sincerity in kind. "Instead, be hopeful for the future. Because this will all be over sooner or later, and when it is we can both sit down in your office and have a glass of firewhiskey to celebrate."
Dumbledore looked at Harry, both pleased by this slight extension of an olive branch, as well as slightly surprised by the melancholic maturity the young wizard was displaying.
"You've grown up, Harry," he observed.
"It was unavoidable, sir, all things considered."
"Perhaps my greatest failing, not to have realized it," mused Dumbledore.
"These things happen," said Harry.
With a shake of his head, Dumbledore extended a hand to beckon for Harry to lead the way as they continued their trek towards the Great Hall. They walked side-by-side, frequently having to step over or around the many tribbles that dotted the corridor floors.
"When did you grow so wise beyond your years, Harry?"
Harry was not exactly sure of the answer to that, but had the feeling that is was a combination of Sirius' death at the Department of Mysteries and the rather unexpected arrival of Father, with all the accompanying memories of what was yet to come.
"When I accepted the fact that life wasn't going to give me what I wanted," he finally replied. "That if I wanted something, I'd have to fight for it; tooth and nail."
Dumbledore nodded in understanding, as if the answer made perfect sense. "I expect your upbringing with the Dursleys taught you that lesson very early in life."
"It was something I knew, yes," Harry admitted, "but not something I wanted to accept."
"Yet, you have," Dumbledore noted.
Harry shrugged and said, "We all have to grow up sometime"
"I've been trying to avoid that," countered Dumbledore.
The pair continued to walk down to dinner, their conversation turning to matters of a lighter nature and of less importance than the fate of the world.
"Is it just me," asked Neville between bites of his banger and mash, "or are there even more tribbles now than there were during lunch?"
Harry and his companions paused from eating their dinners to look up and down Gryffindor table. Or rather, the carpet of wriggling and cooing furballs that covered said table. Getting to the food before the tribbles did was not an easy thing to accomplish. A glance around confirmed much the same happening at the other three house tables, as well as the staff table.
"It's not you," chirped Colin, who was sitting two places down from Harry. There was an uncharacteristic grumble to the normally cheerful boy's voice. "There are more of the little blighters."
"Yeah," agreed his brother Dennis, who was sitting opposite him. "Colin and I almost broke our necks tripping over them on one of the staircases."
Everyone in the nearby seats agreed with this assessment and began to mention their own encounters with the tribbles, with the exception of Luna - who was too busy glaring menacingly at Colin.
Her unblinking stare was beginning to unnerve the poor lad, who was twitching in his seat as he tried to ignore it and carry on with dinner. He obviously remembered having been on the receiving end of Luna's Flaming Skull of Death on more than one occasion since the start of term.
"I honestly wouldn't have believed anything could multiply as quickly as these tribbles," commented Hermione. She lifted her plate off the table and held it over her lap so that the tribbles could not get to it.
"These things are terrible," said Ron, also holding his plate away from the tribbles. "They're eating all the food before I can get it onto my plate."
"You think this is bad?" asked Harry with a grin. He was one of the few people who's plate was still on the table and the only one thereof who's plate was not losing food to the tribbles. An unexpected benefit of having a Gatekeeper that could use GM fields to repel any approaching furballs. "Wait till you see what breakfast is like tomorrow."
"That's if we can even get to breakfast," grumbled Ginny. "The tribbles will be completely blocking the corridors."
Luna picked up a tribble and stroked it briefly, eliciting a soft purr. She then put it back down, on the floor rather than on the table itself.
"At least mealtimes are very soothing," she said.
"Yeah," Neville complained unhappily, "but I wish they didn't purr like that the rest of the time. I almost fell asleep in both Transfiguration and Charms classes today."
"McGonagall wouldn't have liked that," Harry observed sagely.
"Nor would Professor Flitwick," agreed Luna.
"I can imagine how Snape will react," said Hermione. "I have double Potions tomorrow morning."
"Nobody could fall asleep in Potions," insisted Neville.
"I could," supplied Ron.
"You could fall asleep anywhere," countered Ginny.
"Not anywhere, Gin," Harry corrected. He grinned mischievously and said, "After all; nothing on this earth can get between Ron and a meal."
"True," Ginny readily agreed with a wicked grin.
"Hey! Harry!" protested Ron. "You're my best mate, you're supposed to be on my side!"
"Actually, I'd be interested in seeing how Snape reacts to the tribbles themselves," commented Luna. She indicated the staff table with her fork. "He hasn't attended any meals since our return from Barcelona."
"He's hiding in the dungeons," said Harry.
"Hiding?" asked Hermione. "From what?"
Some high pitched and keening screeches from the direction of the main doors interrupted before Harry could reply. As all eyes turned to the source of the disturbance, Harry chuckled.
"Let's just say that the tribbles have an opposite reaction to Snape than they do to Filch," he said.
Indeed, there was the school's caretaker, Argus Filch. He was standing just inside the entrance to the Great Hall, where all the nearby tribbles were reacting violently to his presence. He looked very much like a man suffering from insomnia, mixed together with several other disorders of varying severity.
"Ouch," winced Neville at the sight. "He looks like he's had a rough time of it,"
"Good," concluded Ron.
"Ron," Hermione chided.
"Oh," said Ginny, breaking into another grin. "I get the feeling this is going to be good."
"Headmaster!" called Filch. He began to approach the staff table, looking very haggard as the tribbles surrounding the house tables began shrieking as he passed. "Professor Dumbledore! Sir!"
"Mister Filch, what seems to be the problem?" asked Dumbledore politely.
"The problem? The problem?" Filch repeated incredulously, his voice rising to a shout by the end. He swept a hand to indicate the masses of tribbles crawling about the hall. "My God, man, do you even need to ask?"
Dumbledore looked blankly around the hall, as if unsure at to what the squib caretaker was referring. Finally he turned his, somewhat too innocent gaze, back to Filch and asked, "Hagrid's tribbles?"
"There's... too many of them..." Filch muttered, shaking his head. "They're all over the castle... in every nook and cranny..." He was warily looking about, as if expecting the tribbles to suddenly jump at him. "And they shriek whenever I go near them..."
Filch paused his tirade long enough to glare insanely at the tribbles dotting the staff table in front of the headmaster and muttered, "Horrible fuzzy things..."
By now the caretaker had reached the staff table. He stood before Dumbledore and McGonagall, reciting everything that had been plaguing him for the past few days. As he talked Filch's voice rose in pitch and volume as he became more and more agitated.
"They got into food stores in the kitchens... Some even managed to get into the hidden passages... And they're breeding... more each hour... They even found a way into my office..."
His breath began to get away from him as Filch started to hyperventilate.
"And they shriek..."
"And Mrs Norris..."
"And they crawl..."
"And inside the suits of armour..."
"And they wriggle..."
Filch finally broke off his outburst, his face flushed a deep shade of purple as he panted and gasped for breath, no longer able to articulate what he wanted to say.
"And what, Argus?" asked Dumbledore kindly.
"AND I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE!" screamed Filch at the top of his lungs. He then burst into tears and collapsed onto the staff table in a limp heap, bawling loudly. "BWAAAAAAAAA!"
Everyone in the Great Hall watched in silence as Filch had a nervous breakdown before their eyes.
"He's not handling this very well, is he?" commented Neville blandly.
"Sad thing to see," said Ron with a shake of his head. "A grown man crying his eyes out like this."
"Can't you two be a little more respectful?" Hermione scolded. "He's having a nervous breakdown!"
Ron and Neville exchanged a look, then they both exchanged similar looks with Harry and Ginny. The four of them almost tried to exchange the same look with Luna, but then thought better of it.
Finally, as a group, they turned to Hermione and chorused, "So?"
"Oh, I give up," Hermione sighed dejectedly and threw her arms up into the air. "You lot have no sympathy for your fellow human beings."
"Personally," said Ron, "I've doubted that Filch was human ever since our first year."
"You're impossible," Hermione told him.
"I try," Ron replied.
As Hermione huffed in frustration, tinged with some good humour, the other members of the Ministry Crew laughed out loud at the friendly banter. This was quintessential Ron and Hermione interaction and not something they would ever change for anything. Except maybe all the Butterbeer in Ireland.
Harry slid closer to Hermione and slipped an arm around her waist, pulling her to him in a loose hug. In a rare display of public affection, he leaned in to peck her on the cheek.
"Don't worry about it," he reassured her. "Dumbledore will have it all sorted out in a couple of days."
"Pity that," said Ron jokingly. "If the tribbles do completely block off the corridors, then we wouldn't be able to get to classes for the day."
"I could do with a couple of days off," agreed Neville.
"That reminds me," said Harry, snapping the fingers of his free hand. He pulled slightly away from Hermione to address his friends. Quickly looking around to make sure that not too much attention was on them, he said, "The next DA meeting will be next Friday, usual time. Spread the word. Quietly."
"Why the long wait?" asked Hermione.
"I need to arrange a few things first," he said.
Luna nodded in agreement and added, "It will also give the other students time to come to terms with what happened when Hermione was kidnapped."
"Yeah, that too," agreed Harry.
"I wonder if anyone will show up," said Ron thoughtfully.
"Ron, you git!" snapped Ginny, elbowing him in the ribs.
"Geouch! What'd I say?"
Harry, however, was not bothered by the idea that most of the students were now making a point of staying clear of him. Truthfully, he expected to lose at least half of the DA roster, perhaps as many as three-quarters. They would be, he guessed, mostly from the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw houses. He felt that almost all of the Gryffindors would stick by him this time.
It would be inconvenient to lose so many allies, but not cripplingly so. After all, Harry had already set in motion the plans to recruit extra help. He made a note to leave a little early so that he would not miss his appointment.
Harry stood waiting in the far corner of the abandoned classroom, third door on the right from the end of the southernmost corridor of the dungeons. He was hidden underneath his invisibility cloak, which he no longer kept stored in his trunk, but rather in one of father's subspace pockets - something far more convenient and secure.
He also had the holographic Snape disguise field projected over him, as well as the voice modulator. This was all done in the hope that it would prevent his guest from bolting at the first sight of him.
"How long?" he whispered to Father.
Father replied that the target Surveillance Drone Thirteen was tracking would be arriving at the classroom door in approximately seven seconds.
"Good, he's on time," said Harry, still whispering.
There was a loud creak as the door to the classroom swung inwards. Harry was mildly surprised by this, having expected the entering Slytherin wizard to cast a Silencing Charm before opening the door.
"Blaise," Harry responded.
Zabini looked around frantically for the source of Snape's disembodied voice, but could not see anything. He did know the general direction Harry had spoken from, so faced that area of the empty classroom.
"Sir?" he asked cautiously.
Harry pulled off the invisibility cloak, revealing his location to the other wizard. The Slytherin boy looked at him for a moment, then at the cloak, which Harry shrugged over one shoulder.
"You're prompt," Harry observed. "I like that."
"My Father's always said that the hallmark of a good businessman is punctuality," Zabini replied.
"I imagine it is," agreed Harry.
The two stood opposite each other in what might have been an awkward silence, except that Zabini was a Slytherin and they did not have awkward silences. Harry simply waited, knowing that his companion must have had a slew of questions he wanted to ask.
"Why did you call me here?" Zabini finally asked. "Why not your office, or even your classroom?"
"Because this is a... say we say... an unofficial meeting," explained Harry.
"About?" asked Zabini, now even more cautious than before.
"What d'you think," asked Harry, leading him on.
Zabini looked strangely at Harry for a moment, probably because of his loose use of language, which was not typical of how Snape usually spoke.
"You want to discuss the events of Monday," he said slowly. "Not only did Potter torture Draco for information about where they'd taken Granger, but he also killed nine of the Dark Lord's servants when he got there."
"Five there and five at Hermione's home," Harry corrected.
Now it was obvious that Zabini was confused. The person he thought was Professor Snape was not acting as he had come to expect from the potions master. Referring to a non-Slytherin student by name, rather than surname? Decidedly odd.
Zabini then did the math and asked, "Ten? Why do the Ministry reports say only nine?"
"Because there wasn't a body left when I was finished with the tenth one," Harry told him.
He then ordered Father to drop the holographic projection of Snape and deactivate the GM fields producing the professor's voice. There was a shimmer and soft hum as the various fields shut down, exposing Harry's true identity to Zabini.
Zabini stared at Harry in dumbstruck amazement and barely refrained from drawing his wand and starting to throw curses at him. In less time than Harry had expected, the other boy regained his composure, even though it was obvious that he was somewhat nervous to be alone in the presence of the recently dubbed, Boy-Who-Killed.
This also threw Zabini for a bit of a loop. The Golden Boy of Gryffindor call him to a secret meeting was strange enough, but calling him by name as well? Stranger things had most likely happened, but Zabini doubtless could not think of any.
"I never knew you had an Invisibility Cloak," said Zabini, saying the first thing that sprung to mind.
"It was my dad's," said Harry.
"So this is how it starts, huh?" Zabini asked after several more moments of silence. His voice had a slightly resigned sound to it. "Stopping the Dark Lord from gaining any more followers by killing off his recruitment pool."
"I really hate the Daily Prophet," Harry muttered angrily. He looked at Zabini with no small amount of frustration and asked, "Why d'you think I'm going to kill you?"
"It's what I would do if I was in your shoes," Zabini replied candidly.
"Fortunately, you're not in my shoes. I am," countered Harry.
With a tired sigh at being considered a killer by his schoolmates, Harry drew his wand with the intention of conjuring up some chairs for them to sit on. Zabini, however, reacted rather badly to this. His own wand was quickly in hand, drawn with surprising fluidity, and he was then taking aim at Harry, a curse on his lips.
"Oh, put that away," Harry told him as he conjured the chair.
He completely ignored the threat Zabini presented with his wand pointed at him. This was mostly because Zabini really wasn't a threat, as Father would be able to absorb almost any spell the boy could throw at Harry. The other aspect of Harry's reaction was that he wanted to come across as unprovocative as possible.
"If I wanted to kill you," he continued, "I'd hardly need to incriminate myself by using a wand that could be trace. For that matter, I wouldn't have bothered taking off my invisibility cloak. Now, sit down."
"If you don't want to kill me, or torture me for information," countered Zabini, keeping his wand on Harry even as Harry tucked away his own wand and sat down, "then why arrange all this? Why go to the trouble of impersonating Professor Snape just to get me alone?"
"Why else would I arrange a meeting? Because I want to talk to you," Harry answered. He indicated the empty chair opposite him and invited, "Sit down."
"Talk? You want to talk?" repeated Zabini incredulously. He slowly lowered his wand a fraction, but kept it aimed in Harry's direction as he remained standing. "What the hell could you want to talk to me about?"
"You and I haven't tried to kill each other recently, have we?" asked Harry.
"No," Zabini responded, unsure what that had to do with anything.
"Have we ever tried to kill each other?"
"Not that I can recall," Zabini lowered his wand some more.
"Have you insulted me recently?" asked Harry curiously.
"Whenever another Slytherin speaks your name," replied Zabini, having given up trying to understand the reason behind Harry's line of questioning.
"I meant face-to-face," Harry corrected dryly.
"Ah, in that case; no," Zabini admitted, "and not any time in the past either. This is the first time we've actually had a conversation of any sort."
"So basically, you've stayed out of Malfoy's little clique of junior Death Eaters; the school's Potter and Gryffindor haters," concluded Harry with a pleased nod.
"My family have always valued our neutrality," Zabini informed him stiffly.
"As they say at Gringotts; it's good for business."
"Your father has a lot of dealings with the goblins, doesn't he?"
"Yes," Zabini ground out, a hint of frustration and impatience entering his voice. "Now get to the point, Potter."
Harry pointed at the empty chair and retorted, "Then will you kindly sit your arse down?"
With visible reluctance Zabini took the seat opposite Harry. Despite accepting the offer, he was still wary and kept his wand in hand, even though it was no longer aimed at his companion.
"So what's all this about?" he asked impatiently.
"Simply put, there's only three Slytherins in our year I feel safe talking to," explained Harry.
"And I'm one of them?" Zabini guessed.
"Along with Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis," confirmed Harry.
"You aren't including Theodore Nott in that number?" asked Zabini, curious. "You've had about as much contact with him as you have with me or the girls."
Harry explained his reasons for excluding Nott from his upcoming proposal. "Because Nott spends far too much time with Malfoy for my liking," he paused for a second before finishing, "and I killed his father two days ago."
Zabini blanched slightly and leaned back in his chair, as if trying to put some distance between them.
"So that's why he went home so suddenly," he muttered to himself.
"Yes," confirmed Harry. He allowed himself a tight, slightly cold smile. "Somehow I don't think he'd be in a very receptive mood, even if I did feel I could talk to him."
"All right, now I understand why you're talking to me," Zabini accepted. He finally pocketed hi wand, despite still looking a tad nervous in Harry's presence. "Now why don't you tell me why you're talking to me at all."
"Because I have a proposal I think you'll find interesting," Harry replied. "Two of them, actually."
"Proposal?" repeated Zabini thoughtfully. "What kind?"
"One personal, between us," answered Harry, "and one business, between our families."
Zabini sat in absolute silence for well over a minute, clearly debating what to do. Harry watched him expectantly. He had no doubts that Zabini would be willing to listen to what he had to say. It was getting him to agree to it, once Harry had finished outlining his plans, that would be the tricky part.
"All right," Blaise finally said. "Start talking."
Author's Notes: Yes, the goblin's Tenets of Dealing are based on the Ferengi's Rules of Acquisition.
Many thanks to those of you who were kind enough to leave reviews for the last chapter:
Jackie, almost-alive, HorusRei, YinMiltato, silentrip9045, Padfoot's Godchild, fallenangel, RmGuccione, poepi, Unspeakable May, Talix, Debbie, mashimaromadness, Starlight Chibi-chan, animefan451, Winstin, lorien829, Sailor C, ChaliceOfInk, Onyx Dawn, Forgottem memories, badger-dude, Khamsin, Ale, StarDust002, Daemon Nemises, Somnambulus Deo, imaloser, spitfirecracker, Peter, Osha, anon e mouse, ankormor, Ashley W, Athena McGonagall, VerTru, AJaKe, Kraken's Ghost, EnderWig, Paige Halliwell, Metropolis-Rising, Miss Stephanie D, panuru4u, Catnip070, hbt3, Rachel Sedai, Blackjewel6666, XL, deeba, island721, stephanie, myplanetvenus, Baranwyn, Veritas Aequitas, sasqch, Qem, Jared Drake, EriEka127, LaineOfTheDragoon, Liquidfyre, j0, RoxieSnape, HPfan, Viskii, Teal Thanatos, timydamonkey, jb238, James Milamber, Nericefara, LadyLuck13, Chiara Crawford, BeatlesLover, Thelvyn, mysterywalker, Tanths, Zaz, Silverscale, Erik MacRorie, duncan9632000, steffles24, wsantelm, The One above All, Cail Jol, ray1, Dobbey, eliew, SilverFoot, Alexian-goddess, MortyM, Snuffles629, harryhermione731, captuniv, Ravenwood240, Quizer, rlmess, Voakands, Law Talking Hint, obsidian-fox, keebler-elmo, Fanaticficreader, Makieus, Stratagemini, kayemsi, Lady FoxFire, jbfritz, coolpadfoot, CDRUNNER1999, Smiley Face3, Exarikun
Replies to those questions and comments that caught my eye:
You won't be stopping after the 6th book comes out will you?
Nope, I plan to keep going until I finish what I started.
Were you planning on killing Draco?
I haven't really decided yet and actually have two different endings planned out for the Ferret.
Is there a possibility that Harry would turn dark?
Not in the slightest, though he might lose track of himself for a while.
Will Father soon become unusable?
Nope, Father's probably the most stable character in the story.
And...who is Ron going to be with?
Top Secret that, I'm afraid. If I told you, I'd have to obliviate you. If everyone asks really, really, really nicely (with cherries on top - not to mention lots of chocolate syrup) I could possibly be persuaded to have Harry make an off the cuff remark about it in one of the upcoming chapters.
How far into the future will this story go?
I'm pretty sure everything will be finished by the end of Harry's sixth-year.
Can Father be seperated from Harry for over a certain distance or are they bonded in some way that means they can only stay a few metres apart?
Father is basically a machine made out of space and energy that's tied to Harry. So technically, wherever Harry goes, it automatically goes with him. (Everyone take note, that's a clue)
Why did Ron assume that McGonagall was a facade?
Slight paranoia after Hermione's earlier abductioned, coupled with the fact that McGonagall wanted to separate her from the rest of the crew without an explanation.
What do you think the shippers will be in the end?
Personally I have a feeling JKR is heading towards H/Hr.
Are Luna and Ginny going to get together?
Yes, and relatively soon as well.
Couldn't you consider writing a bit shorter chapters?
I don't know how long a chapter will be until I've finished writing.
And, you know, maybe update faster instead?
That depends on how long the chapters want to be. They decide that themselves, y'know.
Something tells me you like Mars Bars?
I'll admit I am rather partial to them, but I actually based Harry's love of them off the line in the first book, where Harry plans to buy Mars Bars from the trolley lady on the Express.
Is Fleur available?
She might be, I don't really know.
Will they ever become concerned with Ron's behaviour?
Things will reach a head (literally) during the Christmas holidays when... ah, sorry, that's a surprise.
I guess Luna is going to have to try harder, huh?
She'll be stepping up her advances soon.
Is Harry going to go on a killing spree?
Well, he is going to be killing a lot of Death Eaters, but nothing indiscriminate.
Will he be able to overcome his future self's thoughts?
Is Luna really raunchy, or just disinhibited of all morals?
Probably a mixture of both.
Is Ginny not aware of the attention she's getting from Luna?
This is a case where Ginny is as oblivious as Harry often is.
When will Gin finally realize what's going on with Luna?
I imagine she'll have a hard time not realizing something's up when she finds Luna waiting for her in her bed.
I don't suppose you'd care to update "Flying without a Broom"?
I have some vague ideas for the next couple of chapters to that particular fic, but nothing solid enough.
Have you ever considered writing an orginal piece?
Once or twice.
Is Harry going to eventually get his hands on Voldemort?
Definitely. Literally. Painfully.
Are we going to witness a split personality if the future Harry is becoming more and more frequent?
Not necessarily a split personality, but more akin to a bi-polar disorder.
When do we get to see where the Luna/Ginny relationship will evolve?
The next couple of chapters will see some significant progress in that area.
When are we going to see the weapons platform?
Not anytime soon I fear. Probably only at the very end, unless I get attacked by another plot bunny.