Our Story So Far: Jorian Peleranel, called Ryan Pelerand, transferred to Hogwarts under false pretences. As a Slytherin, he befriended Draco Malfoy to help Albus Dumbledore gather information about the Death Eaters and Voldemort. Last time, Ryan's identity was discovered and he was held captive by Lucius Malfoy. He was tortured and bled, but aided in his escape by Professor Snape, and by the timely arrival of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. Now back at Hogwarts, he prepares to leave….

Madam Pomfrey insisted that Ryan sleep at least another few hours before getting up, and she determined he would not leave the hospital wing until evening. His ribs had been in terrible shape when Black and Lupin brought him in, so bad in fact that she had had to re-break them in order to heal them correctly. This treatment, added to his fever, his fatigue, his bruises, and his other traumas, made her very cross with him in her motherly way. So, when he awoke around two, she forced fluids on him and a thick, hearty stew from the kitchens in order to restore his strength after so much blood loss. Albus returned to the hospital wing to hear his story. They spoke quietly, as Lupin still slept soundly in the next bed.

"…I was certain I was dead," Ryan explained. "So many times, I was sure that this was it. It was like when we were surrounded that time, trapped in that mine out in Croatia in '48, remember? But I suppose it all worked out."

"And Severus?" Albus asked anxiously.

Ryan glanced up at the entrance to the hospital wing. "Ask him yourself," he said, nodding at the cloaked figure who stalked towards them.

Dumbledore turned and stood to greet the potions master, greeting him warmly, but his concern was palpable. It contrasted starkly with Snape's malevolent scowl. "Is there a problem?" Albus asked urgently after expressing his joy and thanks, both of which were stingily acknowledged.

"Several," Snape said with a twisted smile, "but none too pressing." He paused, and Ryan expected they were in for a tongue-lashing. To his surprise, Snape soldiered on, cutting straight to the meat of his report. "He's told you, I expect, that the Dementors have turned as we thought?" He waved an impatient hand toward Ryan's bed, but didn't wait for an answer. "Seporah and Justin Lestrange are back, though she's still stronger than he is." Snape looked away and snorted. "That's nothing new." He refocused on Dumbledore. "And he's told you about the dwarves and the trolls?"

"Yes. And last night? After Ryan got away?"

Snape sighed through pursed lips. "I suppose it's useless to note that if you'd trusted me with the truth at any point, none of Pelerand's ordeal these last few days would have been necessary?"

'Ah,' thought Ryan, 'there it is.' Yet he said nothing, watching Albus's reaction instead.

The corners of Dumbledore's mouth twitched, but he answered back paternally. "I had rather you be a little angry with me now than have been in a position of greater endangerment, all the year through, Severus." He forbore to mention that it was Ryan's trust Snape had had to earn, not his. In his oblique and disarming fashion, he simply took the blame upon himself rather than pass it elsewhere.

Snape held Albus's gaze for another second or two reproachfully, but then slid his eyes away with a curt nod, getting back to business.

"Voldemort ordered that the Death Eater who allowed Pelerand to escape—Terence—be used instead." Snape's voice grew a little thick as he said this, and Ryan imagined he had some idea how Snape had had to react. What he had had to do. Snape cleared his throat before going on brusquely, as if in a hurry to move on to more important matters. "The Eastern Giants have joined him, and he has entered negotiation with the vampires. And other Dementors, of course." His voice remained hard, but his eyes glittered dangerously.

"Of course," Dumbledore agreed. "And supernatural influence?"

"I don't believe he's strong enough to attempt it yet, but before the end of summer, I'd expect it."

"I see."

Snape looked straight at Ryan for the first time since joining them. He held out a small bundle of cloth and leather to Ryan, who accepted it with a polite nod. It made a muffled, dull clinking sound as it passed hands. "Here. I believe this is what you asked for?"

"Yes, thank you. I hope it wasn't too much trouble?"

"If it had been, I shouldn't have brought them."

"Of course." Ryan acknowledged, concealing a certain relief that Snape was still irascible and prickly, a sure sign that nothing was truly amiss.

"I was dispatched to Hogwarts as soon as our business was concluded," Snape explained to both Dumbledore and Ryan. "Lucius was most upset that you escaped, and we reasoned that you would most likely come here for aid. I was to apprehend you, if possible, before you reached the Headmaster's protection." He focused on a point far beyond the solid wall. "How unfortunate, that you chose to abandon your safe haven so soon, if indeed, you ever arrived here in the first place," he concluded in a slightly mysterious voice.

"Yes," Ryan agreed readily, in the same speculative tone. "Otherwise, who knows?" He looked down again at the bundle, fingering it absently. "Well, as soon as our good matron will allow it, you can deliver your report with a modicum of truth."

Snape reacted with the merest raised eyebrow. "There are still a few Slytherin students staying for the holiday, so I suggest you do not attempt to recover your belongings from the dormitory. I'll arrange for the house-elves to bring your trunk up to the hospital wing."

"Thank you," Ryan said politely. "And speaking of thanks," he offered his hand.

Snape looked at Ryan's hand for a moment as if it were a viper, but then extended his own. "Well," he said after they shook, "if there's one good thing that's come of this, it's that my credibility with the Death Eaters seems to have improved. You provided a distraction and a smoke-screen for that, at least."

Ryan shrugged. "Happy to be of service," he said. "Though you had me worried once or twice," he commented with a half smile.

Snape seemed to take that as a compliment.

Ryan's trunk appeared in the hospital wing well before tea time. Dumbledore was still there, and the two were alternately going over the immediate situation and reminiscing.

"I will miss the occasional brandy with you, my friend," Ryan said to the Headmaster as he opened his trunk.

"Yes," Dumbledore agreed. "But we must get you safely away while very few of the students have seen you. If anyone can confirm that you were here, it will damage Severus in ways I don't want to contemplate."

"Agreed." Ryan stooped over his trunk, pulling out fresh clothes, and one of his long, delicate arrows. He unwrapped the bundle Snape recovered for him to reveal a falcon's leather hood and jesses. Dropping the hood on the bedspread, he held up the jesses and jingled them in a pattern of long and short shakes.

"Open the window, will you, Albus?" He asked while he dressed.

By the time he had pulled on trousers and a soft tunic, Reina the peregrine falcon flew through the open window to perch on his bedstead.

"Hallo, pretty girl," Ryan said to her. "I've something for you." He put one foot on the bed and snapped the arrow over his knee. Using the jesses, he tied the fletched end to the bird's leg. "Would you take that to your mistress for me?" He asked her politely.

Reina cocked her head at him as if to complain that the job was too easy, and swooped out of the window and away.

"Advance warning?" Dumbledore teased him lightly.

"Indeed," Ryan confirmed. He straightened, picking up the hood and the pointed end of the arrow. "And these are for you, my friend. I'm going to try everything I know to get them to help on their own. I still fear they will not move quickly enough, but perhaps with the attack on my person, I can convince them it is in our best interest to become involved. What I told Fudge was true: I do plan to construe this as an unprovoked assault on Elfkind. Still, there are those who will argue that had I not been in the way…." He sighed, setting aside Anvasse politics. "But in the meantime, should you need to send me a message, cut the hood in half, and Reina will come to you. If you need me urgently, send Fawkes with the pointed end of the arrow, and I will get you any help I can muster."

"I understand," Albus told him with genuine gratitude.

Ryan finished dressing and Albus transfigured the trunk into a travelling backpack. He was garbed in much the same clothing as he had worn when he first arrived to meet with Dumbledore: a tunic of green silk, sturdy brown trousers that bloused out of his stout travelling boots, and the moss-coloured cloak with oak leaf clasps.

"I still have your sword," Dumbledore said suddenly. "If you'll come with me to get it, we can have that last brandy."

The sun was hanging a few inches above the horizon when Ryan crossed the entrance hall to leave. As he opened the great doors, he saw a small group heading up the hill toward him. Three people, accompanied by a black dog: Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the animagus Sirius Black. Taking a deep breath to remind himself the dog was not really a dog, Ryan waited for them to say goodbye.

"You're all dressed up," Ron blurted out as they came in out of the glare. Ryan's clothes looked like some of the Gothic paintings up on the seventh floor of the castle, but somehow, he managed still to look powerful and masculine in them. An elaborate hiking pack hung on his shoulders, his cloak sticking through the straps. The jewelled hilt of a sword stuck up from between the pack and Ryan's spine. The three students had all seen pictures of Bill in his curse-breaking gear, and Ron, who had visited Bill in Egypt along with the other Weasleys one summer, had seen the real thing. Ryan easily looked as cool and collected in his medieval garb as Bill in his dragonhide boots and earring.

"You're not leaving already?" Harry asked as they came inside, taking in the clothes and the pack as he always did, without much fuss.

"I have to go," Ryan replied. He led them into the little alcove off the hall, shutting the door behind them so Sirius could change, explaining as they went.

"Was Remus awake yet?" Sirius asked as soon as he was able to speak again.

Ryan shook his head. "Not when I left the hospital wing, but I've been in Albus's office for about an hour."

"I see," Sirius said, moving on quickly. "Listen, I've been wanting to ask you: that story Grandad used to tell about that hunt in the forest—was that real?"

Ryan chuckled. "The Forbidden Forest has always been off limits to students when unaccompanied, Mr. Black. Surely you know that?" He asked, as if the rules were obvious.

Sirius smiled. "Thought so. And the passage on the fourth floor?"

"You tell me." Ryan grinned wickedly back. "I'm sure Cygnus would be proud of all you've done, Sirius," he continued, growing earnest. He held out his hand and the two shook heartily. "Thanks again—you and Mr. Lupin. Farewell."

Ryan turned to Harry. "Our paths really didn't cross, young Potter. But I'm glad to see that you don't take after the Herodotus Potter I knew. Albus has a great deal of faith in you, young man. Trust yourself as much as he trusts you, and you'll be fine. And never underestimate the value of your friends." He offered Harry his hand. They shook like equals, and Ryan could see the pride and dignity in Harry's eyes.

"Mr. Weasley," Ryan said, moving on to Ron's open and admiring face. "I knew your grandfather as well. He was a good man. Will you do me a service?"

"Yeah, I mean, sure," Ron said, turning bright pink and shifting his feet awkwardly. He didn't seem to know what to do with his hands, all of a sudden.

Ryan smiled his thanks, and it seemed to put Ron more at ease. "I have no doubt that you've told or will tell your brothers about all this. I'm sorry I didn't get to know them better. Would you tell them, from me, that there are no hard feelings at all—in fact, our little altercation helped me with the Slytherins, so in a way, I'm grateful to them. Wish them luck with their joke shop, will you?"

"Er… yeah, I will." He looked a bit confused, his nose wrinkling a bit. "What did they do, anyway?"

"Oh, they defended your honour." Ryan smiled secretively and they shook hands as well. "And Hermione."

Hermione bit her lip. It was easy to approach him when she thought he was a student, or a threat. And then when he came in with Sirius and Professor Lupin, he looked only a few steps from death. Now, robust and very much a grown-up man, with only faint bruises healing on his cheek, and those delicately pointed ears, he seemed an odd mix of intimidating and inviting. "What are you going to do now, Mr. Pelerand?" She asked nervously, feeling herself flush.

Ryan raised an eyebrow at the formal address. "I shall go home, Miss Granger, as I promised Minister Fudge," he teased her with the honorific. "I must tell the council of my experiences here—what I've seen, what I know, and what I fear is coming. I must see my family again, and Maloriel. I've been away too long, especially from her." His eyes grew a little misty, and he seemed to be seeing something the others could not. "Yes, she and I have much to talk about. It's time we put our own plans for a family in motion."

"You mean…" Harry cut in to Ryan's distant look, "you're going to have a baby?"

"If she consents, it's possible," Ryan said with an odd smile.

"But…now? I mean, with everything the way it is?" Harry asked incredulously. "What if…what if you die?" The simple question held a world of fear and pain and abandonment. Sirius hovered closer to Harry, but did not break in.

Ryan regarded the young man paternally. "Harry, you of all people should realise that no one of us should let the circumstances of our lives interfere with living. Your parents knew that no matter what else happened, they wanted to have a child. You. And isn't it lucky for us all that they did?" He caught a movement in the corner of his eye, and glanced over to see Sirius nodding in agreement. There was a look on his face that mixed admiration, love, loss, and fierce determination. It looked just like the expression Harry now wore. Ryan met Sirius's eye, and nodded back firmly. Then he lifted his shoulders in his elegant shrug and continued. "In my case…I don't presume to think a child of mine could change the world, but there is a practical consideration. It's high time the house of Sorolor had a new heir; and this trip home may be my last chance to produce one. What better time to accept my responsibilities to my family?"

This speech seemed to rouse the Elven prince and remind him that the students who hadn't left on holiday would gather for supper presently. He adjusted the hiking pack and the sword slung through loops between the pack and his shoulder blades, and took Hermione's hand. "Your devotion to your friends is admirable, Hermione," he said formally. "If anyone had to see through me, I am glad it was you."

"But…I'm the reason Malfoy found out," she began again.

"Now," Ryan said gently. "We've been over that before. It is not your fault. None of you should have been involved at all, but you've all behaved as well as I could expect. You'll be ready, when the time comes, don't worry about that. And as for you, my dear girl," he continued, kissing Hermione's hand gravely, "I'm glad to see that you are wearing that badge. Don't be ashamed of success, or your intelligence." He leaned a little closer and said softly in her ear, "And permit an old man to say that though it's none of my business, he still doesn't deserve you." He kissed her cheek lightly before pulling away. Hermione's eyes were wet, but she didn't burst into tears.

"Wait!" Harry said one last time before Ryan opened the door of the alcove.

"Harry, I've got to go. I mustn't be seen, and I must return to Anvar as soon as possible."

"Where is it, anyway?" Harry asked. "Could we come visit you, or something?"

Ryan shook his head. "The entrance to our forests are deep in the oldest woods of the continent, Harry. You'd never find them on your own."

"How do you get there, then?" Ron asked impulsively.

Ryan looked down at his boots. "There's still a good sole on these boots, and leather enough to take me down the road," he said with the air of a riddle. "Good luck to you all. I have a feeling we may meet again. But until then, fare you well, wherever you fare." He bowed to them all, and then he turned the knob, and slipped through the door.

As if drawn by an invisible force, they all followed. Sirius became a dog again and, wordlessly, Harry opened the door. The four of them trailed behind Ryan as he strode across the entrance hall and opened the huge doors. They crowded the doorway, watching the lone figure stretching his long legs down the slope of hill and through the gate. Then he disappeared around a curve in the road, away from Hogsmeade and into the open valley. He did not look back.

A/N: Well, that's it! It's been a lot of fun, and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. So now that it's complete, tell me what you thought of it as a whole: favourite moment? Least favourite scene? Why? Was there anything incredibly surprising? Anything you just don't get? When were you the most worried? What do you think will happen now?

Allow me once again to thank A'jes' Blue and Heidi, the best betas (even if they sometimes give conflicting advice), and everyone who has read and reviewed along the way. Your comments, good and bad, have helped to make this story so much fun to do when I've got so many other commitments imposed upon me. I honestly can't say which is more gratifying: getting reviews from someone who's just discovering Ryan and HMSS, or getting a review from those folks who've become as familiar with the story as I am. Either way, it's thrilling to know that this will be out there for friends old and new to read and enjoy as often as they like.

I'll be completely honest with you all: I have no intention of returning to this exact timeline for a sequel. However, there are some projects I'm working on you should know about. First, I'm working on a Lucius backstory, telling my version of how Lucius became the loveable (!) guy he is in HMSS. While the characterization of Lucius is consistent with this timeline, it will occur years before HMSS and thus will have no direct relationship to it, but you may discover a few threads that come from here. Like why Narcissa decorates her Christmas tree without magic. This is also the same Lucius and Narcissa who appear in " The Waking Dragon," a little birthday fic I wrote for Tom Felton, which can be read at Astronomy Tower.

And second but certainly not least, there's a new novel-length story about Sirius and Remus, called " Between the Lines," which I am team-writing with A'jes' Blue. We're publishing that under the joint name Beasties Boys, and the first two chapters are up already. This tale picks up for Sirius and Remus at the beginning of Harry's fifth year, includes background about their time at school, after school, and over the summer between GoF and OoP. Note: it takes place in the same timeline as "In This World of Strangers" and "Take the Chance," both by A'jes' Blue. While you don't need to read them to understand "Between the Lines," it will enhance your reading experience to be familiar with these stories. So read them, if you haven't, while you're waiting for the next chapter of "Between the Lines" to come out.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the Harry Potter fanfiction world, go see the movie, and keep reading and writing!

Gwendolyn Grace

30 November, 2001