Might and Magic:Tales of Ranma Saotome, Boy Wizard
A Ranma ½ and Harry Potter Crossover
Book 1: The Map, The Stone, and The Boy Who Lived
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters (see J.K. Rowling and Rumiko Takahashi), I'm just making up a new story with them. Please don't sue me (especially for any OOC).
Author's Notes: Please note that this chapter contains and is inspired by portions of Chapter 17 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Philosopher's Stone for you Brits).
A Bit of Warning: This chapter is long. I mean it, it's really, really long. Don't say I didn't warn you...
Chapter 15: Win, Lose, And Draw
"So this is what being a cloud feels like." Ranma said aloud to no one in particular. He turned over on his stomach, lazily enjoying the warm sunshine on his back as he floated aimlessly above Hogwarts. He didn't know why or how he was floating, but Ranma didn't spend too much time worrying about it. He felt entirely too relaxed and contented to care very much. He could not have asked for a brighter, more cheerful day, and everything about the world just seemed to be right. Below, students milled about the grounds, enjoying the sunshine and occasionally waving up at him.
Ranma wondered idly where his friends were before spotting Hagrid's large form near his hut. The gamekeeper appeared to be playfully wrestling with Fluffy, and Ranma grinned when he realized Hagrid was cheating by whistling at the three-headed dog. The two paused briefly to wave and bark a greeting up to him. He waved back as he floated away and towards the greenhouses. There, Neville was handling a thick, wriggling vine like a boa constrictor, draping it over his shoulders while stroking it gently. Neville and, oddly, the plant and also waved up at him.
Further up the hill towards the castle, Ron and Hermione were embroiled in a fierce game of wizard chess on a giant chessboard. For some odd reason, Ron was playing worse than normal, and, by the ugly purple bruise down the side of his face, he seemed to have made a wrong move earlier in the game. Spotting Ranma, they also looked up and waved happily in greeting. He'd barely responded before someone on a broom flashed past him; from the crazy dives and feints the rider was doing, Ranma could tell that it was Harry. A flock of silver birds swooped after him, matching his every move with uncanny precision. Ranma floated after them as they rocketed toward the lake, but he felt far too relaxed to actually keep up the chase.
Looking down, he saw a rather comical sight in the shimmering waters of the lake. The giant squid seemed to be swimming with a large, green-skinned troll, which was naked save for a pair of magenta bikini briefs. Ranma doubled over with laughter as it turned over to do a backstroke, leaving large, wave-like ripples in its wake. And then, he noticed something strange floating in the water, like a large black dot. Curious, he floated lower to get a better look. As he descended, Ranma felt his stomach tighten uncomfortably, chasing away his cheerful, relaxed mood. He suddenly didn't want to see what was floating there. He wanted to go anywhere but down, but his body refused to float higher. Panic gripped him and he couldn't close his eyes to the gruesome sight.
The body of a bald man floated face down, its black cloak billowing out on the water. The man's limbs drifted listlessly, and Ranma noticed, with a start, that the right arm was heavily bandaged. His heart jumped into his throat as his eyes traveled from the obviously broken neck to the back of the man's head. A terrible, snake-like face leered up at him, a look of pure malice chiseled on its features. It's eyelids suddenly flew open, revealing burning red eyes filled with hatred. The face looked at him for a moment and then, with a snarl, the body exploded out of the water at him.
"NO!" Ranma yelled, lashing out with his arms and legs. He heard something rip loudly and then a great crash. He sat up with a jerk, his eyes flying open as he looked wildly around, breathing raggedly. The snake-faced corpse was nowhere to be seen. He saw only the end of the bed and a slightly opened privacy curtain. It looked awfully like the hospital wing.
"Ranma!" he heard a familiar voice exclaim before strong arms grasped him in a hug.
"M-mum?" Ranma said blearily, returning the hug as a wave of relief washed away the panic he'd felt a moment ago.
"I'm so glad you're awake." she said pulling away and looking him over with relief.
"Mum, what're you doing here?" Ranma asked.
"Professor Dumbledore called early this morning and told me you'd been injured. So, of course, I rushed over, even though he assured me you would be all right and that it wasn't as bad as at Halloween. I'd almost say he didn't want me to come, though that's-"
"Wait, you knew about Halloween before I told you?"
"Of course I did. The Hogwarts staff is obliged to inform parents of anything important concerning their children, and getting hurt by a troll counts, I'd say. So here I've been since 4 am, wondering what on earth you've been up to to get yourself hurt so badly again."
Ranma bit his lip and looked away quickly. Why hadn't anyone told her? He didn't want to tell her what had happened, what he had done. Nodoka didn't seem to notice her son's hesitation, however.
"I'll fetch Madame Pomfrey. I dare say she'll want to give you a thorough check now you're awake. And after that," she cast an imperious glance over him, "you can tell me what happened."
Nodoka brushed aside the curtains and headed up the ward, leaving her son with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Ranma knew he couldn't tell her the truth. It was hard enough already, holding it all in, and he could barely look her in the eye. He might have brooded on his situation more if he hadn't heard tell-tale signs that others, three people, to be precise, were nearby. In fact, from the shuffling of their clothes and their breathing, they were so close that he should've been able to see them. So that meant... Ranma focused his magical sight directly at the empty space beyond the curtain.
"You lot can come out." Ranma called out, flashing a small grin despite himself. "I know you're under the invisibility cloak."
There was a small gasp and a lot of shuffling before a freckly face appeared out of nowhere. "Bloody hell, how did you know we were here?" Ron asked incredulously, pulling off Harry's invisibility cloak and revealing Hermione and, to his surprise, Neville as well.
"I heard you." Ranma replied with a small smirk. "But where's Harry?"
The smiles quickly slid away from their faces. "He's in the bed next to you, mate. We were just looking in on him when you woke up. Scared the hell out of Hermione, you did." Ron said.
Ranma's heart skipped a beat. "What's wrong with him? Is he going to be all right?"
"Madame Pomfrey said he needed rest, but he should be okay." Hermione said, trying to sound upbeat. "To be honest, it was you we were worried about, what with all your injuries. Madame Pomfrey nearly had a fit when Dumbledore brought you in."
"Dumbledore? But I thought he was in London."
"We did too, but he showed up as soon as we'd closed the door on that three-headed dog." said Neville. "He barely stopped long enough for us to tell him where you two were."
"Honestly, he seemed to already know what was going on anyway." Ron added, scratching his chin thoughtfully. "Anyway, what happened in there? Hermione said something about You-Know-Who -"
"Ron, someone's coming!" Hermione hissed suddenly. They could hear the sound of a door opening at the end of the ward.
"Quick, under the cloak or Pomfrey'll send you off." Ranma said. They were already ahead of him, promptly disappearing beneath the cloak and, he hoped, moving out of the way. The acted none too soon, for within moments Madame Pomfrey and Nodoka were at the foot of his bed.
"Ah, finally awake, are we?" said the matron, pulling out her wand. "And how are you feeling, Mr. Saotome?"
Ranma concentrated a moment, letting his ki and magic flow throughout his body. Everything seemed in order; in fact, he probably had slightly more ki and magic, likely due to his exertions the night before. "Uh, fine." he said just as his stomach let out a loud growl. "Maybe a bit hungry."
Madame Pomfrey raised her eyebrow at him. "Yes, I imagine so, with all of the damage that needed fixing. It was quite enough to be getting on with." she said as she began waving her wand at him.
Ranma frowned at this statement. "But I wasn't hurt that badly. It was just my arms, and a cut on my stomach, and maybe a slight concussion."
"It was quite a bit more than that, young man." the nurse replied rather stiffly. "In addition to your broken arm, the cuts on your arms and stomach, and a full concussion, you had extensive muscle and joint damage the likes of which I haven't seen in some time. How you managed that is quite beyond me." She frowned as she cast another spell whose results didn't seem to be satisfactory to her. "To be perfectly honest, I'm surprised you're even awake; even with the potions I gave you, you should still be recovering..."
"I heal fast." Ranma said with a shrug. "Does that mean I'm okay? Am I free to go?"
"I should keep you for observation, but nothing seems wrong with you, so I suppose you can." Madame Pomfrey said, sounding like his total recovery was quite an affliction. "But not before the headmaster has spoken with you."
"Dumbledore? He's coming here?"
"Professor Dumbledore." corrected Nodoka. "And, yes, he's on his way. He instructed us to contact him if either of you awoke. I suspect he'd like to hear what you were just about to tell me about last night."
And, just like that, they were back on the dreaded subject. Ranma squirmed slightly under her gaze, trying to think of any way to forestall the conversation.
"You are quite right, Nodoka." said a kindly voice. Everyone in the room jumped, including the three Gryffindors still hidden across the aisle. Dumbledore stood there, smiling cheerfully at them, his eyes twinkling slightly from behind his half-moon spectacles. Ranma stared at him, only half surprised that the wizard had managed to approach without him hearing or detecting anything. "I trust Mr. Saotome has made a full recovery, Poppy?" The witch reluctantly nodded in response. "Ah, splendid. Now, please don't think me rude, but I'd like to talk to Mr. Saotome alone."
Nodoka looked taken aback. "But Albus, what is there to discuss with Ranma that I can't hear?"
"Nothing at all, Nodoka, but I would like to get as complete a recounting of the events as possible, and it has been my experience that the presence of parents is a bit of an obstacle in these cases." he replied reassuringly. "Please rest assured that all will come to light shortly. I must ask that you trust me in this."
Nodoka turned to Madame Pomfrey for support, but the matron as already making her way back to the office. "Oh, very well." she sighed. "But do hurry, I'd like to talk to my son as well."
"Of course; this won't take long." Dumbledore said, inclining his head to her as she swept back up the ward towards Pomfrey's office. Conjuring a squashy armchair with a flick of his wand, the headmaster took a seat next to the bed. He smiled kindly at Ranma as he spoke. "Good afternoon, Mr. Saotome. I don't suppose you've seen your friends this afternoon?" At Ranma's inquisitive look, he continued. "Mr. Weasley, Mr. Longbottom, and Ms. Granger?"
"Uh, I guess they're around." Ranma said casually, glancing at the place where his magical sight told them they were standing.
"Ah, yes, hopefully on their way to class. I imagine Professor McGonagall would be most disappointed if they were to lose points by being late, even if they had been visiting their friends in the hospital wing." Ranma wasn't sure, but he thought he saw Dumbledore wink. He definitely saw the blob of magical energy jump slightly and start to slowly move up the ward towards the entrance to the hospital wing. Dumbledore seemed rather oblivious to the shuffling steps as they receded, though his mischievous smile said otherwise.
"You could see them." Ranma remarked, again only half-surprised at the revelation.
"Them? I'm sure I don't know to whom you're referring." Dumbledore replied, but the mischievous smile persisted. Ranma was certain that Dumbledore knew they had been in the room, but he didn't press the issue. "Well, Mr. Saotome-"
"Uh, if you don't mind, Professor, I'd prefer 'Ranma'."
"Very well, Ranma." Dumbledore said with a nod. "It seems you and your friends certainly had quite the adventure last night. I have, of course, spoken with them, with the exception of Harry who, as I'm sure you know, is still unconscious after last night's events. I think I have a fairly complete idea of what transpired, but I would very much like to hear your version of the story, especially as you are the only other person, besides
Harry, to have seen Quirrell and Voldemort alive."
The words shocked Ranma to the core. He felt as if he'd fallen into ice water and his chest constricted with panic. He knew. Dumbledore knew what had happened, that he'd killed Quirrell, that he was a murderer. Ranma clenched the bed covers tightly, shivering uncontrollably and looking very much like a cornered cat. Dumbledore's smile faded a bit, seeing Ranma under duress, and spoke gently to him. "Ranma, please, calm down. It's not your fault, what happened. No one is blaming or accusing you, nor are you in any trouble whatsoever. I would simply like to know what happened."
"It's not that simple." Ranma replied and, for the first time in a long time, tears began spilling down his face. "I killed him, Professor. I killed Quirrell..."
A shadow seemed to pass over Dumbledore's face and, for a moment, he didn't seem to know what to say. "Ranma -"
"I didn't mean to, Professor! I didn't have a choice!" Ranma sobbed. "He was killing Harry, and I couldn't let him kill my friend, so I kicked him. I just wanted him to get away from Harry, but I kicked him too hard and he...he-"
"He broke his neck against the wall." Dumbledore finished quietly. Ranma nodded, burying his face in his hands and sobbing quietly. He didn't know how long he cried before Dumbledore spoke again. "You did a great thing, Ranma." Ranma looked sharply up at him, incredulity plain on his face. "No, not in killing Professor Quirrell, but in putting your life on the line in order to save your friend. You did the right thing. No one will blame you for your actions."
Ranma couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had killed someone, but Dumbledore seemed to just brush it off. He shook his head angrily. "I blame me! I killed someone!"
Dumbledore sighed tiredly, suddenly looking far older. "Yes, you did. It is unfortunate that you were forced to do so, especially at your age. But I do not believe that you intended to kill Quirrell, nor do I believe that you did it willingly. And it is quite evident that you are remorseful and, given another chance, you would not have killed him."
"What difference does it make? I still killed him. I'm still a murderer!"
"No, you are not, for all the reasons I've given." Dumbledore said. "That, Ranma, is the difference between you from Lord Voldemort, the real murderer of Quirrell."
"Wha- how is Voldemort the one who killed Quirrell? He didn't kicked himself across the room!"
"It is true that you were ultimately the instrument of Quirrell's demise," Dumbledore admitted sadly, "but it was Voldemort who set him on the path that led to you. His hand in Quirrell's death was far more important than anything you did. In fact, I would go so far as to say that yours was an act of mercy; you put Quirrell out of his misery."
This statement thoroughly confused Ranma and he said as much. Dumbledore stroked his beard and cast a significant look at him. "To put it simply, the late professor was dying a slow and painful death at the hands of his master. As you and Ms. Granger so admirably deduced, he was, indeed, possessed by Voldemort, though not involuntarily. Quirrell was no innocent; he willingly allowed Voldemort into his body. Only Muggles, you see, can be involuntarily possessed by spirits or poltergeists, as they lack the magic to defend themselves from possession. For a wizard or witch to be possessed, they must consciously allow the spirit in. This union has its advantages, but a very grave disadvantage. Hosting two magical entities damages the body on a fundamental level. As I understand it, after several continuous months of possession, the effects are rather similar to particularly aggressive cancer throughout the body. I'm sure you noticed that Quirrell looked particularly off-color the last few months."
Ranma's eyes lit up. "So that's why they were killing the unicorns! Harry and I saw them in the forest, drinking from a dead unicorn."
Dumbledore smiled and nodded. "Ms. Granger made the same connection when we spoke earlier, after she mentioned the incident from your detention. I am curious as to why you did not share this information with a teacher."
"I-I thought Hagrid told you. He was there."
"Well, yes, Hagrid did inform me of the situation, but he did not mention a hooded figure drinking the blood from unicorns." said Dumbledore. "Perhaps, in all the excitement, you and Harry simply forgot to include that bit of information."
Ranma nodded; he didn't remember telling Hagrid or hearing Harry tell him either. He'd simply assumed that Hagrid had heard about it, but this revelation put things into a different perspective. "So...you didn't know about Quirrell at all?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "I had my suspicions, of course, but nothing more. Had I known, I'd have confronted Quirrell immediately. He was far too dangerous to remain in the school."
"I'm sorry, Professor. We should've told you. If we had, none of this would've happened."
"No, it is I who should be apologizing." said Dumbledore, clasping his hands in front of his face. "I should not have brought the Philosopher's Stone here. Though Hogwarts was the safest place for it, doing so put you and your fellow students in danger, and as I am charged with your safety, my decision was inexcusable." He cleared his throat before continuing. "Try to understand, as you come to terms with what has happened, that, ultimately, the choices we make show us what we are. Voldemort chose to go after the Stone through his servant Quirrell. Quirrell chose to ally himself with Voldemort and to try to kill Harry. And you," he smiled with something like pride, "you chose to protect the Stone and, more importantly, your friend. Do you not see a difference?"
"I...I guess so..." Ranma said without much enthusiasm.
"The taking of a life is a grave matter indeed. You understand and accept this fact, which is why I ask you not to overly burden yourself with guilt as you try to come to grips with what has happened. In due time, when you've truly thought it over, you will understand." Dumbledore said kindly. Ranma wiped his still wet face and nodded.
They sat in silence for a while before Ranma, growing antsy, spoke up. "Sir, what's wrong with Harry? Hermione – I mean – I heard that he was still unconscious."
Dumbledore sighed deeply. "We really do not know, at this time. It may simply be, as Madame Pomfrey has suggested, a case of magical exhaustion, but, with Lord Voldemort involved, there may be more to it. Whatever happened, it took quite a bit out of Harry, and he was nearly killed. I was actually hoping that you could shed some light on the situation." He steepled his hands before his face. "Was Harry awake when you entered the chamber?"
Ranma nodded slowly. "He was on the ground, wrestling with Quirrell. It looked like he was barely keeping him off, but Quirrell was the one screaming, like he was being burned or something. But I thought he was killing Harry, so I-"
"Of course..." replied Dumbledore. By his tone, it seemed like Ranma had given him some kind of confirmation, and from the look on the headmaster's face, it was good news. He did not, however, share it with Ranma. "Well, that does seem to answer a question or two of mine. I wonder if you would answer a few more?"
Ranma nodded, prepared to detail his fight with Boss Troll or even how he'd killed Quirrell. Dumbledore's first question, however, surprised him. "Why did you insist that Mr. Longbottom accompany the four of you?"
Ranma looked rather stunned for a moment. "I, err, well, I knew he would be good in a fight. We've been training together for a few months now." he said hesitantly. "And he's my friend, and I couldn't leave him petrified on the common room floor. I'd hate it if someone I called a friend did that to me. I thought he had a right to know what was going on. It just seemed like the right thing to do."
"Indeed. Loyalty to one's friend is quite admirable." Dumbledore said approvingly. "Moving along, your friends have told me all of what happened through the first four protections on the Philosopher's Stone. There are some gaps in the course of events as the next three obstacles were encountered which, I believe, you can fill in. For instance, Miss Granger mentioned being attacked by a rather large, green troll before you began attacking it and insisted that she and Harry move on." Ranma nodded. "And what of the other troll, the one found dead with a large wound to its neck?"
"I don't know, sir, it was dead when we arrived. I saw blood on the other troll's sword, so my only guess is that it killed the other one."
Dumbledore stroked his beard a few times and nodded. "It does seem likely, though I did not see the sword in question before Boss Troll left. I cannot understand why Quirrell would summon both a mountain troll and a forest troll, knowing their tendency to kill one another on sight."
"I think I know why, Professor." said Ranma. "I think he was planning for me."
"Really? And why do you think that?"
"I'm the one who broke his arm, when we faced each other out in the forest. He probably remembered how we killed his other troll from Halloween, too. So he-"
"Summoned the largest troll he could find." Dumbledore looked rather impressed. "I never new young Quirrell could perform a summon; he was, after all, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and summons of this nature are generally considered Dark Arts. Still, even if I had known, I'd never have believed he would be powerful enough to summon the troll he did. With Voldemort's power, however, it was probably quite simple."
Ranma, again, looked at Dumbledore with amazement. "You said his name, Voldemort. It's just...well, Harry's the only other person I've heard who'll say 'Voldemort', besides you."
"Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself." Dumbledore said sagely. "Despite having faced him twice, you seem to have no trouble saying it either."
"It's not his name that I've got to worry about; it hasn't got any power, he does." Ranma shrugged. "But I'm not afraid of him either, even with all the power he has. I've been around powerful people all my life. You have to respect their power, not fear it, or you'll never beat them."
"That is very wise of you. But, if all goes well, it may be your destiny to never face him again."
"Maybe, but he hasn't given me a choice. Voldemort tried to kill me twice, and he promised he'd keep trying until I'm dead. That's why I'm going to train harder than ever. When he comes back, I'm going to be ready."
"Well, if people continue to oppose him, as you and your friends did, that won't be entirely necessary."
"And what if they don't?" Ranma asked darkly, "My father always told me to hope for the best and train for the worst."
"A very wise...if paranoid, outlook." Dumbledore remarked with a small nod. "Very well then, on to my next query. From the accounts of your teachers and your friends, as well as the fact that you entered the final chamber without drinking the correct potion, it would appear that you've learned to use your magic. I'm quite curious as to how you've managed to remove the block on your magic."
Ranma hesitated for a moment, wondering how much he should tell Dumbledore. His wandless abilities were potentially quite an advantage, especially the fewer people knew about them. On the other hand, he got the impression that he could not lie to Dumbledore, nor could he hide his skills from the man's sharp mind. Dumbledore was also considered the greatest wizard of the age, so telling him would probably actually help him learn to use his abilities better. And the fact remained that, so far, the headmaster had been nothing but trustworthy and helpful. There was simply no reason, at this time, to hold out.
"Well, I haven't actually removed it, Professor." he admitted. "It's more like I've found a way around it." Dumbledore's eyebrows raised and he looked slightly intrigued. "See, I learned that I can do magic like everyone else, only without a wand."
Whatever Dumbledore had been expecting to hear, this apparently wasn't among the top choices. Ranma could see he was trying not to look overtly incredulous. "Without a wand? Wandless magic is very difficult and requires far more concentration and force of will than someone your age has." he said carefully. "Perhaps you are thinking more along the lines of accidental magic? The two are often confused."
Ranma shook his head. "No, Professor, this isn't accidental. Watch." He focused his magic into his right index finger and poked the bedspread. Within seconds, the spread changed from a dull beige to navy blue. Ranma grinned as he watched Dumbledore's expression go from doubtful to shock, then to amazement, and finally settling on a mix of impressed and curious.
"Well done, Ranma." he said appreciatively. "When I asked you to work on your magic, I must confess that this is not quite what I had in mind. If I may ask, when and how did you discover this talent? I don't recall hearing about any of this, or anything else, for that matter, from Professor McGonagall."
"Oh, right...we, err, haven't been on good terms since that whole thing with Hagrid's dragon.." Ranma admitted. "Actually, once I figured out that magic and ki are both life energies, the rest just made sense."
He told Dumbledore about using his knowledge of ki to train his magic and how he accidentally discovered that he could channel magic into an object. He did make sure, however, not to mention Freya's involvement, mostly to keep his training room a secret. He doubted the headmaster would approve of him appropriating an abandoned classroom for himself. When he had finished, Dumbledore looked rather impressed.
"Remarkable. I'd nearly forgotten about your ability to manipulate ki, which, if I understand correctly, requires the same concentration and focus as wandless magic. You certainly did the thing properly." he said, his eyes twinkling. "Your problem with distance will diminish with practice, as will your ability to do more magic without exhausting yourself. Of course, your magic will be far more effective when using a wand, but since your block seems to remain intact while using a wand, this will have to do." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'm still rather surprised I am only just hearing about this. Wandless magic would be rather a big deal from any student, and especially from one who has shown difficulty performing magic with a wand."
"I thought so too. Someone told me that only really powerful wizards could do it. If that's true, Professor, I'd rather keep it quiet.
"It is true that this particular form of wandless magic is generally practiced by more powerful wizards, but there are forms that use hand seals or special gauntlets, much as we use wands. However, I'm curious as to why you'd want to keep it a secret."
"Most people think I'm rubbish at magic already. If I keep this secret, it'll give me an advantage."
"An advantage?" asked Dumbledore.
"In a fight."
"I see. And do you expect to have many fights?"
"Yes." Ranma said truthfully. "Even though this year has been much better than usual, trouble always seems to find me."
This seemed to amuse Dumbledore momentarily. "Yes, it does, doesn't it?" he said, smiling faintly. "Well, I see no reason I should be unable to keep your confidence, unless of course I am led to believe that your new ability is being abused. And, while we are on the subject of fighting, I'm afraid that our policy against you fighting with other students must continue for the time being. I was inclined to suspend it, since you've governed your skills very responsibly this year, but in light of last night's events, many would think it irresponsible if I did so. I do hope you'll understand."
Ranma sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "It's no big deal. After everything that's happened this year, no one at Hogwarts is stupid enough to start anything with me, and even if they did, I have my magic. I don't think you'll have to worry about it next year."
Dumbledore smiled and nodded. "Well, that's taken care of then. I believe those were all the questions I had."
Ranma looked confused for a moment. "Sir, don't you want to know how I figured out it was Quirrell behind everything?"
Dumbledore smiled kindly but shook his head. "Ah, well I've deduced that particular point, thanks to Miss Granger. She told me what you told her. I can see how you put two and two together. That you did so in the state you were in is quite commendable."
"Oh," Ranma said, slightly deflated. "Professor, could I, err, ask a couple questions?"
"You certainly may." Dumbledore said, inclining his head in Ranma's direction.
"The Stone...it wasn't real, was it?" Dumbledore raised his eyebrows inquiringly. "It's just, I was thinking that the obstacles were really easy to beat. I mean, we beat them, and we're just first-years."
Dumbledore didn't answer. Instead, he reached into his robes and pulled out a blood red stone about the size of a small fist. It was strangely dull and brilliant at the same time, the sunlight both reflecting and penetrating. He smiled approvingly again. "Another fine deduction, Ranma. This is the real Stone. The other was merely bait. The obstacles were not meant to stop, but to slow down."
"But why? I thought Hogwarts was the safest place to bring something for safe-keeping."
"This castle is more secure than Gringott's." Dumbledore said confidently. "However, I wanted to catch the person, whom I'd suspected was a member of staff for some time. Having no proof, I could do nothing. Knowing that the obstacles would be no secret among the staff, I asked Hagrid to set his dog at the beginning and secretly replaced the Stone with my fake."
"But sir, wouldn't Quirrell have noticed it was a fake?"
"Eventually, yes, but, thanks to the last obstacle, my obstacle, he would never have gotten his hands on it."
Ranma thought back over the obstacles they'd faced, but none seemed to match up to the headmaster. "I didn't see anything in the room." he said.
"I imagine you were a bit distracted." Dumbledore replied, sounding slightly amused. "I placed the fake in a mirror which shows you your hearts desire."
Unbidden, a snippet of conversation from months ago flashed in Ranma's head. "Erised!"
"Ah, I see Harry told you of it. Well, the spell I put on it would never give you the fake unless you wanted to find, but not use, the Stone. If you pardon my lack of modesty, it was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that's saying something." said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. "You had another question?"
Ranma nodded. "I was wondering what happened to that troll."
Dumbledore's eyes lit up with amusement. "Boss Troll is currently nursing his injuries (and his pride) in his home forest."
"He escaped?" Ranma asked with alarm.
"Oh no, I allowed him to return home after he repeatedly refused to allow Madame Pomfrey to address his injuries."
"W-what? Why?" Ranma stammered incredulously. "He tried to kill us!"
"Of course he did. The person who summoned him ordered him to do so and he was obliged to carry out those orders." said Dumbledore. "It was not at all personal, I assure you."
"I bet." grumbled Ranma, absently rubbing his stomach.
"You may be interested to know that Boss Troll inquired about you before he returned to his forest domain. As I'm sure you've learned during your extensive martial arts training, powerful people are most impressed by those who can defeat them. It would seem that you've earned the esteem of a very powerful troll." Dumbledore again sounded impressed. "He asked me to pass on his apology for the injuries he caused. Further, he has extended to you an open invitation to visit his forest. I should note that this is a rare honor. And, incidentally, Boss Troll praised your skills. I believe the term he used was 'warrior mage'."
Ranma wasn't quite sure how to respond to this bit of news. Boss Troll had tried to kill him, after all. On the other hand, he had been under the directions of the wizard who summoned him, so Ranma couldn't seriously blame the troll for what happened. The prospect of visiting a forest full of smelly trolls wasn't exactly appealing, but it certainly couldn't hurt to have big, super strong fighters that he could train with...
A cough from Dumbledore brought him back from his musings. "Sorry, Professor, I was lost in thought."
"Not to worry. I often find myself in a similar position." Dumbledore replied with a small smile. "Was there anything else?"
Ranma nodded. "Professor, I don't know what to tell my mum. I'm afraid of what she'll think if I tell her the truth."
Dumbledore looked thoughtfully at him. "The truth." he said with a sigh. "It is a great and terrible thing, and therefore must be treated with great caution."
"So I should lie, then?"
"I would certainly not advocate that, especially to your mother." Dumbledore replied. "However, I don't see why keeping certain details to one's self would constitute lying, don't you agree? It is, after all, quite a bit to take in."
Ranma looked at him, chewing his lip pensively. "So...what exactly shouldn't I tell her."
"You should tell Nodoka whatever you feel comfortable telling her. After all, you would know better than I what she can handle." he replied. "However, might I suggest gradually discussing the topic of Lord Voldemort. It is my experience that most witches and wizards are quite uncomfortable talking about a defeated Lord Voldemort, not to mention a potentially restored Lord Voldemort. And with what happened to her parents, I'm afraid it may be a bit much for your mother."
"What? What happened to my grandparents?"
Dumbledore frowned, then looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Ranma, I thought you already knew..."
"Knew what?" Ranma said, now beginning to worry.
Dumbledore looked at him a moment, as if considering whether to continue. "I'm afraid that I'm not the one to tell you." Dumbledore replied with a heavy sigh. "I'm not surprised your mother has kept it to herself, but she owes you an explanation. If you really wish to know, ask her, but do so tactfully. It is not a pleasant memory, I'm sorry to say."
Ranma nodded, his mind racing with speculation. What could possibly have happened to his grandparents? A thousand terrible possibilities came unbidden to his mind. No, he wouldn't be telling his mother that he'd faced the most powerful dark wizard in a century, at least not anytime soon. He'd have to ease into mentioning it, and well away from the school in case Nodoka overreacted.
"Well, Ranma, I'm afraid I must take my leave before I push your mother's patience too far, an action which, I've been told, has been known to shorten one's life expectancy considerably." Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling as he rose from his squashy armchair, which promptly vanished. It wasn't a moment too soon either, for Nodoka had nearly reached them and she had a somewhat dangerous look on her face. Dumbledore smiled serenely at her, oblivious to the danger. "Ah, Nodoka, I was just coming to fetch you. I trust we haven't kept you waiting long?"
"Oh no, of course not. It's not like a mother should expect to be the first to speak to her child after he's been through so much." she replied with no small amount of sarcasm.
"Ah, I knew I could count on you to be understanding." said Dumbledore appreciatively, totally missing that Nodoka was not being understanding in the least. "I'm sure you have much to speak with young Ranma about, so I will not intrude any further. Nodoka, please stop by my office before you head back to London, if you don't mind." And with a slight bow, he swept up the ward and out of the hospital wing.
Nodoka stared after him, looking slightly stunned. "He does that every time. And I'm most certainly not going back to London with you in this state." she said peevishly, shaking her head. Pulling up a nearby chair, she sat down and looked intently at him, giving Ranma the feeling of being trapped.
"But mum," Ranma said carefully, "Madame Pomfrey said I was fine. She said I could leave, remember? So that means you can go back home, right?"
"Hmph...I suppose." She conceded. "But I'm not going anywhere until you explain what you were up to last night."
She pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat down, staring imperiously at him. Ranma took a deep breath and began telling her everything from the beginning, with some strategic omissions. When he'd finally finished, she no longer seemed slightly angry. Instead, she looked at Ranma with distinct pride and threw her arms around him again.
"Mum! Can't breathe!" Ranma choked. She released him but continued to smile affectionately at him.
"I'm sorry, Ranma-kun, you just remind me of your father, rushing off to fight like that." she said fondly. "I know I was sorted into Gryffindor, but you get your courage from him."
Ranma couldn't help it; he laughed out loud. "Are you sure we're talking about the right Genma Saotome? The one who was kowtowing to you all summer?"
"Don't be silly, he's always done that." Nodoka said airily. "Don't underestimate your father. He can be courageous when he needs to be. And he raised you, and you're as brave, if not braver, than he."
"If you say so." Ranma acquiesced, though, from his experiences with his father, he wasn't quite ready to agree with her. His stomach yowled loudly again, breaking him away from these thoughts. Nodoka looked at him, her eyebrows raised.
"I suppose it's past time we fed the beast." she commented with a wry smile.
They spent the rest of the afternoon fairly pleasantly, mostly with Ranma listening while his mother told him about how things were going back in London. As he was occupied with eating (and Nodoka frowned on speed eating), and he'd already told her most of what he'd been up to since Christmas break, Ranma didn't mind not contributing much to the conversation. Eventually, they heard the last bell of the day signaling the end of the school day and, not five minutes later, they heard Madame Pomfrey huffily admit three people. Ranma introduced Neville and Ron to his mother.
"Oh no, don't tell me. Hermione, I know, of course (lovely to see you again, dear); and Neville, we've met before (lovely to see you, too); and you must be Ronald Weasley (it's a pleasure). Ranma's told me so much about you." The two boys seemed shocked that Nodoka recognized them, but Hermione didn't miss a beat.
"It's good to see you too, Mrs. Saotome." she said pleasantly, shaking Nodoka's hand.
"I was telling Ranma that you all should be proud of yourselves." Nodoka said kindly. "I'm sure others, your parents especially, might scold you for getting into a dangerous situation, but obviously you all handled yourselves well."
She looked at her watch and shook her head. "Goodness, time flies. I was going to stay longer, Ranma-kun, but you seem to be doing better and, to be honest, I'm sure you'd rather not have me doting all over you while your friend are here." Ranma turned rather red as she gave him one last hug. "Well, I'm off. Owl me if you need anything, otherwise your father and I will see you at King's Cross in a couple of weeks." With one last wave to them all, she swept up the ward and out of the hospital wing.
After Nodoka left, it took a bit of convincing to get Madame Pomfrey to release him, but since there was nothing wrong with him, she grudgingly let Ranma go. Together, the four first-years strolled back to Gryffindor Tower, not particularly eager to get there any sooner than necessary. Hermione informed him that stories about what happened had been spreading through the school like wildfire, and that they'd spent the day being badgered by people who wanted to hear their version of events. Ranma didn't look forward to dealing with that, especially from Gryffindors, but he, unlike his friends, had no qualms about telling people to shove off.
"Well, you're looking none the worse for wear. I was under the impression you were badly injured." remarked the Fat Lady as they approached her portrait.
"I heal fast." Ranma said with a slight shrug. He was getting tired of repeating that to everyone. "Cavorting Kneazles."
"Indeed." she said, swinging forward. One by one, the four friends entered the common room, Ranma bringing up the rear. Since it was Friday and exams had finished, almost everyone was free that afternoon, but most students opted to spend their time out in the school grounds instead of the common rooms. Gryffindor Tower was no exception with only a dozen or so students, some of whom looked ready to venture out. As he entered the room, their chatter quickly died down to whispers. In truth, this was something of an improvement over their behavior from just a day prior, but Ranma didn't really care. He only wanted to change clothes and get a bath, after which the four of them would return to see if Harry had awakened.
"Ranma, could we, err, have a word?"
Ranma felt a flash of anger as he turned to face Fred, the owner of the voice, who stood with George and Lee. The three boys looked embarrassed and shifted uncomfortably. He scowled at them impatiently. "How about two? Shove off."
"Come on, Ranma, don't be like that." Lee said in what should have been a jaunty tone but came out slightly shaky.
"Like what? Angry?" he snapped. "Why shouldn't I be, you drew wands on me, remember?"
"What?" exclaimed Hermione, Ron, and Neville incredulously.
"What were we supposed to do? We thought you were stealing the map." Fred said the last word as low as possible.
"I told you I was borrowing it and that I needed it for something important." Ranma said dismissively. "Guess what important thing I was talking about."
"Mate, if you'd just asked us. You should've trusted us..." George trailed off, withering under Ranma's blazing glare.
"Trusted you? I couldn't trust you to believe me and stick with me months ago! Why should I have yesterday?" said Ranma. "Not that you'd have believed me anyway."
"Wait, wait, back up." Neville said loudly. He looked stonily at the twins and Lee. "What's this about you three pulling wands on Ranma?"
"It's not your business, Neville. This is between us and Ranma." Lee replied dismissively.
"Oh yeah?" Neville's tone suddenly went very hard, "Well I think it is my business, if you three had something that could've helped us last night. It might've kept Harry out of the hospital wing if you didn't let your stupid fight with Ranma get in the way."
Ranma was the only person not shocked by Neville's outburst. Hermione and Ron stared at him as if they weren't sure someone hadn't switched places with him. The twins and Lee simply gaped at him, as did many of the people within earshot. Shrinking under his glare, the three Marauders looked down at their hands, properly chastised. Ranma couldn't help but do so as well; Neville had been talking to them, but he realized that he was at fault as well. Fred was the first to speak again.
"We're sorry, mate, we really are." he said sincerely. "You were right. We should've listened to you. We should've helped you."
George gave a apologetic half-grin. "It's not often we admit it, but we were idiots yesterday, especially about threatening you with the...err, the thing."
For a moment, Ranma was worried that George would let slip about his fear of cats. When he didn't, it cooled his anger slightly, but not quite enough to keep back his next jab. "Yeah, all right, I can agree on that."
"Ranma!" Hermione said, half-warning and half-shocked. "You could be a bit less hostile. They are trying to apologize."
"So what, that makes everything better? We'll just tell that to Harry, whenever he comes out of his coma."
"That's a bit harsh, don't you think?" Ron asked quietly.
"No, he's right, little bro'." Fred sighed, dropping heavily into a nearby seat. "And when everyone else gets wind of it, our names will be mud."
"Come again?" Ron said, blinking. "Why's that?"
"Quidditch. Our last match is tomorrow, remember?" replied Lee, nodding sullenly at the dawning comprehension on their faces. "When the rest of the house finds out we could've helped you guys..."
Hermione frowned. "But there's no way you could've known." she said.
"Won't matter. If Harry's out, there's a better than likely chance we could lose." added Fred.
Ranma didn't feel much sympathy for them. "Yea, well you'd better hope for bad weather or a miracle." he said. "Otherwise, I doubt you lot could last a day without everyone liking you."
To their credit, the three boys only slightly reacted to the jab. "Actually," Lee replied evenly, "we were hoping that you would take Harry's place if he's not able to play tomorrow."
The effect of his words were immediate. Neville, Ron, and Hermione all looked quite stunned. Ranma, on the other hand, crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. For a moment, he seriously wondered whether they were playing a trick on him, but something about their expectant expressions said that they were serious. They genuinely seemed hopeful that he wouldn't dismiss the idea. Ranma decided to play along and see what they had to say. "And how am I going to do that? I'm not on the team, remember?"
"You weren't on the team. We talked to Wood, and he says he'll let you back on if Harry can't play on Saturday."
"Oh yeah? Well that's awful generous of Wood, allowing me back to help the team, but only if Harry's out." Ranma said, punctuated with a derisive snort. "Well you can tell Wood I said no thanks, especially since he can't seem to talk to me face to face."
"Ranma, are you mad?" Ron nearly shouted. "You'd be the only other first year to play Quidditch-"
"In a hundred years, yeah, I know. Who cares?" Ranma said with distinct indifference. Ron goggled at him, unable to see how anyone could turn down such an opportunity. "Anyway, you've got to reserve players, go bother them about the stupid game."
"That's what we're trying to tell you. Garibaldi and Sotheby have got detention with Snape for the next week, including Saturday"
"Including Saturday?" asked Ranma, his curiosity piqued. There wasn't much one could do that warranted Saturday detention.
"They were caught by Snape in a rather compromising-" said George.
"-to put it mildly-" added Fred, who couldn't help but snicker.
"-position, if you know what I mean."
Ranma looked at them with confusion before the meaning sunk in. "Oh. Ohhh. Okay, now that's disgusting." he said, shaking his head. "That's interesting and all, but I don't see why I should care."
"Come on, Ranma. We need you. Gryffindor needs you." pleaded George.
"Oh, well since you put it that way," Ranma said, feigning concern, "then I definitely won't. Gryffindor can rot, for all I care."
Hermione gasped and the others looked thunderstruck. "You don't mean that." Neville said quietly. "What about loyalty to the house?"
"House loyalty? That's a laugh." Ranma sneered. "Only a few people in this house have been loyal to us since we lost those points, Neville. We don't owe them anything, especially not loyalty." He turned to the twins. "Tell Wood that. Tell everyone for all I care. I'm not as worried about my popularity as you are."
"Look, Ranma, just think about it, all right?" George said, but he didn't sound very hopeful. "Come on, Fred, Lee, let's go break the news to Wood. We might have to put a body bind on to keep him from trying to kill himself." They shuffled out of the common room, looking quite dejected.
"Well that's settled." Ranma said as they left. "Let me just run upstairs, and I'll – what?" His three friends were looking, almost glaring, at him, and they didn't seem too happy. "What? What'd I do?"
"They said they were sorry. They need you help." Ron answered. "What's so bad about helping them? It's not like you don't want to play Quidditch or anything. And Gryffindor really needs you."
"Again with that! Why am I supposed to care?" Ranma thundered.
"Because we care." said Hermione. "And I think you do too, deep down."
"Ranma, if you keep holding this grudge against everyone, isn't that the same thing they've been doing to us?" Neville said firmly. "It's not right, but they're sort of justified. Nobody but us knows why we were out that night."
Ranma shook his head stubbornly. "That doesn't mean they should've treated us like rubbish since then. Why would I want to play for people like that?"
"You don't have to play for them, mate. Play for yourself. You know you miss Quidditch, I could see it when we got on those brooms last night." said Ron.
"Play for us." Hermione smiled and squeezed his shoulder. "And Harry. I'm sure he'd like to know you went out there when he couldn't. We'd all like to see you help Gryffindor win."
Ranma looked at Hermione, Neville, and Ron, all of whom wore hopeful expressions. Inside, his desire to get revenge by letting the other Gryffindors suffer was being overpowered by his desire not to let his friends down. He let out a defeated sigh and grimaced slightly. "Oh, all right. If it means that much to you three, I guess I'll play."
"Good man." Neville said, giving him a solid slap on the back.
"You're gonna be brilliant, just wait." added Ron excitedly. "Hang on, I'll go grab the twins before they get too far."
Ranma threw himself onto a nearby chair, looking very put out. Ron was right; he really did want to play Quidditch again, just not with the Gryffindor Quidditch team. He said as much to Hermione, who gave him a commiserating smile. "Oh, cheer up. At least you'll get half of what you wanted. Anyway, it's only one game. I'm sure you can put up with them that long."
"Yeah, but I don't have to like it." he replied, folding his arms over his chest and looking very sour. It didn't help his mood that both Neville and Hermione were trying and failing to stifle laughter.
Finally, a few minutes later, Ron returned with the twins and Lee in tow. If Ranma's friends had looked happy at his decision, these three looked positively ecstatic. Fred and Lee whooped with satisfaction. For some reason, this irritated him quite a bit.
"We knew you'd come through for Gryffindor!" Lee said happily.
"I'm only doing this because my real friends asked me to." This silenced the three. "But I'm not playing unless Wood apologizes to me in front of everyone in the common room, for kicking me off the team for no reason. And I want him to ask me back on the team."
The twins looked doubtful, but they nodded. "It'll be hard, but we'll make him do it." said Fred. He and George turned to walk away.
"Oh yeah, one more thing. Harry told us how you lot were treating him at practice. Well I'm not him, and I'm not putting up with that rubbish. If I even think anyone is being disrespectful towards me or Neville or Harry, you can go find another player."
After checking on Harry again, Neville, Ron, Ranma, and Hermione headed down to the Great Hall for dinner. As they'd spent most of the day avoiding most people (going so far as to spend the entire afternoon in a secluded corner of the common room), they weren't quite prepared for the reception they received. The moment they stepped into the Great Hall, excited whispers began flying about. Without hesitation, Ranma led the way over to their customary places at the Gryffindor table, completely ignoring everyone but his friends, who looked slightly nervous from the attention. Sitting down and beginning to eat, they largely ignored the gossiping (except to laugh among themselves at the ridiculous rumors that they were hearing).
Not long after they arrived, the Gryffindor Quidditch team stomped into the hall, looking very sour indeed and, as expected, one member short. Ranma took guilty pleasure in the looks of disappointment on some of his house mates faces that their arrival caused. The girls on the team were glaring at Wood, whose face was red with barely contained anger, while the twins were quietly but quite firmly talking to him. It didn't take a genius to guess what was being said.
"This," Ron said between mouthfuls of chicken, "is gonna be really interesting to watch."
"You think Wood will cave?" asked Neville.
"Of course he will, otherwise Gryffindor will blame him if we lose." said Hermione.
"Forget that, I think he's in more danger from Katie, Angelina, and Alicia." Ranma said with a chuckle, noting that the girls were still staring at Wood with veritable death rays shooting from their eyes.
They weren't the only ones interested in the conversation between the twins and Wood. Though they were trying to talk quietly, the specifics were starting to trickle down the Gryffindor table. From what he could tell, Ranma figured the house was split down the middle on his playing the next day (not that he cared, of course). Soon, the buzz had spread to the other tables, ultimately culminating in Professor McGonagall having a terse word or two with Wood that no one but he and the twins could seem to hear. From the defeated look on the Quidditch captain's face, though, it could not have been more obvious what she'd said.
A short while later, the four of them had finished eating, so they left the Great Hall somewhat earlier than usual. Neville asked about training that evening, but Ranma declined. "Wood's going to call a late practice. Besides, he still needs to apologize in front of everyone. You probably want to hang around for that."
"Oh right." Neville said with a grin. "I've a feeling this will be priceless."
Fifteen minutes later, the common room was unusually full; everyone, it seems, had gotten word of what was going to happen. When Wood was finally dragged inside by the twins, the common room was suddenly atwitter with anticipation. After a few minutes of yelling at the crowd, Fred finally managed to get everyone quiet before leading (or rather, pulling) Wood over to where Ranma sat with his friends. He pretended not to notice them for several moments, just long enough for Wood to become even more angry.
"Oh, it's you lot. Didn't see you there." Ranma lied, sounding less than enthused to see them. "What is it then?"
"Ranma, Oliver has something to say to you." George said, gripping the boy's arm tightly. "Right, Oliver?"
Wood clenched his fists and gritted his teeth, then cast an angry glare at Ranma and mumbled something incoherent. Ranma cocked an eyebrow at him mockingly.
"Sorry, didn't catch that." said Ranma. "Could you speak up?"
Wood took a calming breath. "I said I'm sorry for kicking you off the team without a good reason." he bit out, just loud enough for Ranma to hear.
"No, still nothing." Ranma said, thoroughly enjoying the moment. He turned to Ron, Neville, and Hermione. "Any of you hear what he said? No?" They shook their heads, trying hard not to laugh. Ranma raised his voice so that everyone could hear. "Come on, Oliver, you've got a big, strong voice. I should know, I heard it all over the pitch when I was on the team. So let's hear it, nice and loud."
The murmurs that had been circulating about the room suddenly went quiet. Wood visibly struggled to contain himself, clenching his fists so hard that his knuckles had gone white. He closed his eyes and gave a long, defeated sigh. "I'm sorry I kicked you off the team for no reason." Wood's voice carried over the common room. "You're the only reserve we have left and we – I mean, I need you to come back to the team. We're sunk if we've got to field a new person that's never trained with us."
Though he'd already agreed to play, no one else but his friends knew this, so Ranma put on a big show of thinking about it. "Well, I don't know. You were a bit of a git to me..." Wood's face went red. "But, why punish everyone else for your faults. Oh, that's right, they've been gits to me too. Makes you wonder why I'd bother at all..."
Wood's eyes widened comically. He turned and growled angrily at the twins. "You said he'd play!"
Ranma laughed. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, Wood. I said I'd do it and I keep my word." The common room droned with murmurs and whispers. Ranma got up and pushed through the crowd to the portrait hole. "Well, are we going to the pitch or not? I haven't practiced in two months, remember?"
The team's late practice was a tense but overall productive session. They first dealt with shuffling the lineup, since they had one too many beaters and one too few seekers. To that end, Katie, being the smaller and faster of the chasers, was moved to seeker. In her place, Wood placed Fred, who was better on a broom than his brother and was not prone to dropping the quaffle. This left everyone else in their original positions and Ranma became the second beater. While this was the ideal squad for the people they had, it became apparent that there were flaws that they couldn't hope to fix in just one practice. Thus, after half an hour of flying, the team reconvened to discuss strategy.
"If we play like this, we'll lose." Wood said frustratedly. "They've got the advantage at almost every position. Fred, you're not staying in formation. Ranma, you need to fly better. Katie...well, you're doing as well as can be expected, but they've got a superb seeker."
"Okay, so they've got advantages. What do we do?" asked Angelina. No one spoke for a minute before Ranma cleared his throat to speak.
"The way I see it, we should work on what we can control. George and I can control the bludgers, Wood's got the goals pretty well covered. That's all the defense we need. The rest of you focus on scoring."
"One problem." said Wood. "Won't the other beaters have something to say about that?"
"Sure they will, Oliver." George said, smirking. "But we've got some tricks up our sleeves. Trust me, they won't be a problem at all."
Practice lasted another two hours before Professor McGonagall marched out to the pitch and ordered them inside. Ranma imagined they might've gotten detention if she hadn't known how desperate their situation was. Everyone hurried off to the dormitories except for Wood, whom Ranma noticed had hung back to talk briefly with McGonagall. She shook her head sadly and Wood looked decidedly downcast, his shoulders slumping in defeat. Ranma had his suspicions of what Wood had talked to her about, but he decided to remain quiet for the moment.
As much as he hated to admit it, Ranma was very nervous about playing in his first game. He knew well enough that this was to be expected, but, unlike Harry, he also knew it could affect his performance later if he didn't do something to burn it off. Thus, Ranma was up early, as usual, for his morning training. He dragged along Neville, who'd thought they would skip their session because of the game and hadn't slept nearly enough. They worked until breakfast, though Ranma made sure to only warm up and stretch his upper body muscles. It wouldn't do for them to be tired early in the match.
The Great Hall was as lively and full of excitement as the day of any match, perhaps even more so. Strangely, though, Wood wasn't sitting at the Gryffindor table with the rest of the team, neither had anyone seen him all morning. This had a disquieting effect on the entire house and, even worse, on the team morale. The Slytherins openly mocked the situation, but everyone else was worrying aloud whether the Gryffindor team would possibly forfeit the match. With the start of the match approaching, Ranma and his teammates had no choice but to head down to the changing rooms without their leader.
"He'll show up." Fred said reassuringly. "Wood would never miss a match, especially not one this important."
He did arrive, eventually, after everyone had changed into their Quidditch robes and were five minutes from walking out onto the pitch. He looked quite dejected but said nothing to them as he pulled on his robes.
"Where the hell were you?" George asked angrily. "We were about to go tell Madame Hooch that we were going to have to forfeit because our captain couldn't be bothered to show up!"
Wood didn't answer for a moment as he tightened one of his gloves. "I was in the hospital wing, waiting to see if Harry was going to wake up."
"All this time?" Alicia said disbelievingly.
"Yeah." Wood admitted. "I thought, you know, he might wake up at the last minute..."
"You've got to be joking." said Fred. "Pomfrey wouldn't've let him out if he'd just woken up, Oliver."
"She might have! You know how much we need him." Wood insisted, sounding frustrated. "If only he had minded his own business, we wouldn't be in this situation!"
"Are you stupid?" Ranma glared angrily at Wood. "Harry may have saved us all by facing Quirrell, and he's up in the hospital wing because of it, but all you care about is whether he can catch that bloody snitch, otherwise you wouldn't give rat's arse what happens to him!" Ranma jabbed him hard in the chest with his index finger, pushing Wood back several feet. "We're the team you have to play with, so get over it, and let's get out on the pitch. And I swear, if you say one more word about Harry, I'll knock you off your broom myself!"
Ranma burst out of the changing room, feeling angry enough to kick something. He was so incensed that he failed to see someone else walking towards the changing rooms and ran headlong into them. "Ah, bugger, sorry 'bout that." he said hastily, offering a hand up. It took him a few seconds to register the red haired woman he'd knocked over. "Mum?"
"Hello to you, too, dear." she responded, taking his hand. He pulled her to her feet. "I realize you're in a hurry, but please watch where you're going."
Ranma flashed a weak grin. "Yeah, sorry, I'm just a little angry with my captain because he's a git. Anyway, what're you doing here? Shouldn't you be in London?"
"Always straight to business, just like your father." Nodoka said with a little smile. "I received your owl to send your broom, so I thought I'd bring it myself and stay for the match. It'll be ever so exciting to see you play for Gryffindor!"
For a moment, Nodoka reminded him of a giddy school girl. "Ah...okay. So, where's the broom?"
"Oh, right. I have it here somewhere..." She rummaged about in her handbag before pulling the broom out. Ranma's eyes widened. "What? Oh, my handbag – it's magically expanded. Now, here you go."
"Not at all." she replied, giving him a brief hug. "Just got out there and play your best, even if your captain's a...well, an unpleasant person."
A loud ringing, rather like a church bell, sounded. "That sounds like the warning bell. You and your team had better get on the pitch before you're forced to forfeit."
Ranma nodded, grabbed the broom, and dashed off to the pitch, followed closely by his teammates, who stampeded out of the changing rooms. A great roar went up in the stands, overpowering boos and hisses from what could only be the Slytherin side. Ranma reached the middle of the pitch first, where Madame Hooch and the Ravenclaw team were waiting. The others slid to a halt behind him, wheezing a bit from the run. "You're late." said Madame Hooch testily. "I very nearly called the match."
"Sorry...Madame Hooch." Wood said, trying to catch his breath. "My fault...checking on Har-...on a teammate."
"Yes, well I suggest you all mount your brooms so we can get this match started."
Everyone obeyed her command and, in moments, the fourteen players were in the air. The din of the crowd rose in anticipation. Ranma looped around several times, trying to expel any last minute jitters, and felt adrenaline start to slowly flow through his body. He could just barely hear Lee giving his usual color commentary but he completely tuned it out. Taking deep, calming breaths, he cleared his mind of negative thoughts and focused only on the task at hand. The wind buffeted him about slightly, but he ignored it, feeling instead his reassuring grips on the beater's bat in his right hand and the broom in his left. This was it, Ranma's first and most important game.
George called to him from thirty feet to his left. "Oy, you ready, Ranma?"
He knew, from the tingle of excitement that permeated his limbs, that he was more than ready. "Yeah, George. Let's do this." he called back with a smirk, twirling the bat. George grinned and nodded before flying off.
And then, Madame Hooch gave two sharp reports from her whistle just as she kicked open the box holding the two bludgers. Ranma leaned forward, his Cleansweep picking up speed as he hurtled on a collision course with one of the enchanted iron balls. In his periphery, Ranma could see his opposite number trying to beat him to the bludger, and he smirked, knowing he would make it there first and that the Ravenclaw beater was playing right into his hands. Rocketing at the bludger, he wound up, glanced at his target, and swung hard.
A dull clang resounded as Ranma's bat struck the bludger. It ricocheted forward and flew directly at the opposing beater, who wound up to hit it. The surprise on his face was enough to make Ranma smile, as the boy completely misjudged the ball's speed and spin. He was only just able to get his bat on it, which the bludger promptly tore from his hand, and the spin on the iron ball curved it into a glancing blow off his shoulder. As the bludger went sailing away, looking for other victims, Ranma's smile morphed into a predatory leer. He was about to have a very good game.
Freya was waiting impatiently in the Fat Lady's portrait as the four left to go to dinner on Sunday evening. Both she and the Fat Lady cleared their throats loudly, catching Ranma's attention. "I believe this...young lady has something to say to you." said the Fat Lady. It was evident, from her tone, that she didn't welcome this visitor to her portrait. Freya's eyes narrowed and her wand hand twitched, but she restrained herself.
"Harry Potter is awake. He's meeting with the headmaster as we speak." she said tersely. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get out of this cramped frame."
"Thanks, Freya." Ranma called to her, as she left the frame, pointedly ignoring that the Fat Lady was nearly apoplectic with anger. "Err, we'll be off then."
They hurried away, trying not to laugh. "Who was that in the portrait, Ranma?" asked Hermione in a slightly strange tone.
"Oh, that's Freya Fencer. She used to be a teacher here."
"Blimey, a cute bird like that, teaching here?" Ron said absently. "I thought you had to be ancient to work here. She looks like a student, not a teacher."
"Yeah, well she was the youngest teacher in Hogwarts history." Ranma said. "I asked her to keep an eye on the hospital wing, since we can't hang around there all day waiting for Harry to wake up. I didn't think she'd actually do it though."
"Should we even ask how you know her?" asked Neville.
"She likes to watch me train." Ranma said matter-of-factly, not noticing the raised (or, in one case, furrowed) eyebrows this comment elicited.
When they reached the hospital wing, Madame Pomfrey appeared at the door, further convincing them that she was hiding latent psychic powers. They groaned inwardly and prepared themselves for a battle. When she saw them, she tutted loudly and shook her head. "I should have known you lot would show up. Well, I'm sorry, but Mr. Potter is resting and is not to be disturbed."
"But Madame Pomfrey-" said Ranma.
"-we haven't seen Harry in days-" protested Ron.
"-we'll only be a minute-" added Neville.
"Please, Madame Pomfrey, we just want to make sure he's all right." said Hermione.
"My dear girl, I assure you he is fine, but he will be much better if he rests."
"Can you at least tell him we wanted to see him?" asked Ron.
"Oh, very well." she replied exasperatedly before closing the door to the hospital wing. They were still debating whether to send Ranma back to Gryffindor Tower for Harry's invisibility cloak when the door opened suddenly and she beckoned them inside. "You may see Mr. Potter for five minutes only." she said before moving to the side and letting them in.
Harry was sitting up in his bed, looking very eager at their arrival. Ranma could certainly see what Madame Pomfrey meant about Harry needing more rest. He was slightly pale and his eyes were slightly baggy. He even let a jaw cracking yawn escape as they stopped at his bed.
"Harry!" Hermione looked ready to grab Harry in one of her rib-cracking hugs, but Ranma stayed her with a firm hand on her shoulder. "Oh, Harry, we were sure you were going to – Dumbledore was so worried-"
"Yeah, you facing You-Know-Who like that again." Ron added.
"Well, good thing Ranma was there, yeah?" Harry said, grinning.
"It was nothing." Ranma said modestly. "You'd have done the same for me."
"Yeah, I would have. Dunno what good it would do, though, kicking Voldemort in the face. I was always rubbish at football." he said with a chuckle, pointedly ignoring the flinches from Ron, Hermione, and Neville.
"Everyone's talking about it, you know." Neville remarked. "Mostly just rumors. We know most of what happened, but Dumbledore asked us not to mention You-Know-Who if anyone asked. We've been trying to get the truth out there, but it's not quite as interesting, I guess."
Harry seemed to deflate slightly at this. "I was sorta looking forward to telling the story." he admitted when they asked him what was the matter.
"Oh, well in that case, I'd like to hear what happened before I broke into the room." Ranma said. The others murmured in agreement.
"Oh. Not that much, really." Harry said unenthusiastically. "Quirrell told me everything. He's the one who tried to kill me at the Quidditch match." He looked hopefully at them, but, as Ranma and Hermione had figured that out already, no one looked surprised at this revelation. "Oh, I guess that's not news to anyone. I suppose you know that Snape was trying to save me that day too?"
Everyone nodded. "Hermione and I sorta figured that out." Ranma said apologetically.
"You know about the troll too? Quirrell said he had a gift with trolls. Actually," Harry frowned, "He told me he summoned that big green one just for you, Ranma."
The others looked surprised to hear this, but Ranma only nodded. "Yeah, I guessed that too." he said with a sigh. "I think he was scared, after what happened in the forest."
"I think so, at least until I told him you were out there fighting it." said Harry. "Anyway, Quirrell tied me up while he tried to get the Stone out of the Mirror of Erised. When that didn't work, he tried to make me help him. But the weird part was...you won't believe this, but he had Voldemort sticking out the back of his head."
Again, they all looked apologetic but not surprised. "Oh...you knew that too. Oh right, Ranma saw him."
"Oh, well, it sounded really scary, mate." Ron said encouragingly. "I'd have fainted if I'd seen a face out the back of a bloke's head."
"Well, yeah, I was scared, but I was more scared Voldemort would get the Stone. Funny thing is that I somehow ended up with the Stone. Dumbledore says it's because I wanted to find the Stone but not use it." Harry said, sounding more than a little proud. "After that, Quirrell and I wrestled for the Stone, and I found out that he couldn't touch me without being hurt. I've got some kind of protection from my mum, and Dumbledore said Voldemort couldn't touch me."
They all looked amazed at this revelation. "That's pretty lucky." Neville said.
"Yeah, but it hurt like hell. I almost couldn't keep touching him though. That's probably why I was out these last few days." Harry said. "So what happened to you four?"
Ranma grinned wryly. "I ended up next to you in here for a half a day. That troll was as tough as it looks. It's armor and sword were magical, even."
"After I went back, I found Ranma and woke him up, and he went after you, obviously." Hermione said quickly. "Then I got Ron – it took forever to wake him up – and we flew out of the trap door with Neville. We were just running out of the third floor corridor when we met Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall."
"Dumbledore already knew." said Neville with something akin to awe in his voice. "He just said 'Harry's gone after him, hasn't he?', then he dashed into the corridor. Honestly, I didn't think he could move so fast."
"Do you think he meant you to do it? Sending you your father's cloak and everything?" asked Ron.
"Ron!" Hermione exploded. "If he did – I mean to say, that's terrible! You could've been killed."
Harry silently considered this, chewing his bottom lip. "I don't know. He's a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know? I reckon he had a pretty good idea that we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he taught us just enough to help. I don't think it's an accident he let me know how the mirror worked. It's almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could."
Ranma thought back to his own conversation with the headmaster. "I don't think Dumbledore knew about Voldemort, Harry. He suspected Quirrell, but I doubt he predicted the way things would turn out. And I know he wouldn't put us in danger if he could help it." he said, shaking his head.
"Well, I reckon it's like Dumbledore and You-Know-Who were playing chess, and we came by and upset the board." said Ron. "They knew we were snooping around, but they didn't think we'd actually make a difference. Guess we showed 'em, eh?"
They all grinned at each other. Ranma saw, on the faces of his friends, the same expression he'd seen on the faces of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and the same expression he'd worn so many times. They looked proud and victorious and confident, and rightly so. Together, the five of them had faced and triumphed against odds more difficult than even an adult could handle. If that wasn't something to be proud of, Ranma didn't know what was.
Harry cleared his throat loudly. "So is anyone gonna tell me what happened while I was out? Anything important?"
"A bit." Ron said slyly. "You missed the last Quidditch match."
"Oh, right." Harry said disappointedly. "What happened?"
"We lost." replied Ranma, grinning crookedly. Harry looked half alarmed and half uncertain.
"You...you four don't seem that upset about it." he said slowly, looking at their amused expressions.
"Why should we be upset? We won the Cup, after all." Neville said with a smirk.
"But I thought you said we lost!"
"Harry, don't be daft. We only lost one game." said Ron exasperatedly. "Same as Slytherin."
Harry narrowed his eyes, thinking. "It came down to points?"
"Got it in one." Ranma replied.
"But that doesn't make any sense. We were down loads of points because I caught the snitch so fast against Hufflepuff."
"Yes, well, quite a few points can be scored in four hours." Hermione said. "Especially when your side's got almost exclusive control of the bludgers. Isn't that right, Ranma?"
Blushing slightly, Ranma nodded and looked slightly embarrassed. "Ron, you're the better storyteller. Go on and tell Harry what happened." he said.
Ron readily pounced on the opportunity. "It was brilliant, Harry, you should've seen it. I haven't seen a season finisher like this since the Harpies beat the Cannons to take the league on points all the way from third place!"
Harry seemed to catch onto his excitement. "So we did beat Slytherin on points! Excellent!"
"Well, no." Ron said ruefully. "Actually, it was a tie on points too. If Katie'd caught the snitch, we'd have had the cup to ourselves, but she's really not a seeker, you know? She was right in there for chase, but if you'd been there it would've been in the bag. Anyway, that's not the good bit. I'll have you know that you're not the only first year to play for Gryffindor this year."
Harry's eyes widened as he quickly looked at Ranma. "You didn't - but Wood kicked you off the team!"
Ranma shrugged. "He suddenly needed me, what with Sotheby and Garibaldi having detention with Snape."
"Yeah. Wood asked him back on the team, in front of the entire house, and he even apologized for being a prat. Then he shuffled the line up a bit. Ranma and George were beating while Fred moved to Katie's spot, and she took your spot." said Ron. "Ranma, though, he was our secret weapon. He's was a monster with the bat, probably could give Bagman a run for his money."
It was Harry's turn to smirk knowingly. "Well, yeah, I could've told you that, seeing as I flew against his bludgers in practice for months."
"Never seen anything like it before." Neville said appreciatively. "I mean, I knew Ranma was strong, but the way he was hitting the bludgers..."
"Madame Hooch says there were dents in them." Ron said with a chuckle. "It was unbelievable, Harry. First thing George and Ranma did was take out the other beaters. Must've been bloody embarrassing, getting hit by a bludger when you're a beater."
"After that, they started pelting the Ravenclaw chasers. George probably played better than I've ever seen, but Ranma was really giving them what for. I mean it, he unseated all three of them at least three or four times each. That's unheard of, mate." Ron said excitedly. "I think the chasers spent more time worrying about bludgers than they did about the quaffle. Made it really easy for our chasers. Ranma even managed to unseat the keeper a couple times, don't ask me how. It's really hard to legally hit the keeper, much less from the other side of the pitch."
Ranma grinned, basking in the glow of his friend's praise. "By the end of the match, they were pretty out of it. Their seeker was really good though. I think Ranma only hit him once, and it was a glancing hit anyway. Everyone else, though, it was like they couldn't make any moves that kept the bludgers away."
"Yeah, Ravenclaw even called a time out to argue that our team had enchanted the bludgers." Neville said with a snort. "They couldn't believe a first year could play so well."
"Some of the Muggleborns even made up a nickname for you, Ranma." Hermione remarked. "'Sidewinder Saotome'."
"Yeah, bloody strange, that." said Ron. "What's a snake got to do with Quidditch?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "It's a type of Muggle rocket that they shoot out of airplanes. It follows anything giving off a lot of heat until it's hit."
"Ohhhhh." Ron and Neville said simultaneously. "That actually makes sense. I mean, if you'd never seen what Ranma can do, it'd kinda seem like that."
"So, wait, Ranma, if you were doing so well, why'd it take four hours to end the game?"
"The Ravenclaws figured out that I was the worst flyer on the field." he replied with a pained expression. "Didn't take them that long to figure out how to use it against me."
"The other beaters started putting the bludgers out of position." explained Ron. "So Ranma and George had to fly all over the place. Eventually, George did all the chasing and he'd pass them to Ranma. It actually worked pretty well, but it gave the chasers a pretty open field towards the last half of the match."
"So what was the final score?"
"Two hundred fifty to two hundred forty." Neville replied with a slight grimace. "We almost won, but Ravenclaw scored just before their seeker got the snitch."
"Wow...you're right Ron, I wish I had seen that match. It must've been amazing." Harry said wistfully.
"What happened next was even better." Hermione sounded positively gleeful. "The Slytherin team was already on the pitch, waiting to accept the cup, when Dumbledore announced that there was a tie."
"No way!" Harry exclaimed.
"Yes! The teams were tied on games and points! It was the first time in centuries since that's happened."
"You should've seen the looks on the Slytherins' faces. I wish I'd had a camera." added Ron. "So then Dumbledore suggested a playoff match to determine the winner-"
"We've got another game?" Harry asked, sounding both alarmed and excited.
"Nah. Both teams have to agree to a playoff, so-"
"So we obviously wanted to play, but I bet the Slytherins didn't." Harry guessed.
"Exactly. Flint talked it over with Snape for a bit before he decided to just share the championship. We reckon they were scared you'd wake up." said Ranma, grinning. "So we're co-champions with the Slytherins and we split the winner's points. The points helped, but Gryffindor's still in fourth place in the House championship."
"Not that you care or anything..." Hermione added playfully; Ranma scowled at her. Harry looked inquiringly at the interaction and had opened his mouth to say something when they were interrupted by Madame Pomfrey.
"You've had been fifteen minutes, now OUT." she said firmly. Deciding that it would not be wise to irritate the matron any further, Ranma, Neville, Ron, and Hermione all promised to come by the next day to see Harry before they hurried from the hospital wing.
They weren't able to keep their promise until after class the next day, as Madame Pomfrey refused to admit them. She did, however, reluctantly admit that Harry would be released that evening to go to the leaving feast. Thus, at Ron's insistence, they were waiting for Harry outside the hospital wing at a quarter to six. When he finally emerged, it was five minutes past the start of the leaving feast, but they decided not to rush down to the Great Hall. Looking at his friends, Ranma felt that and everything was all right, now that the "Fearless Five" (which some people had started to refer to them as) were all together again.
When they finally reached the entrance hall, they paused just before the doorway to the Great Hall. "Just a bit of warning, mate." Ron said to Harry. "People are gonna talk. A lot."
"What?" Harry gasped, looking discomfited.
"Well, you didn't think they sent you all those sweets because they had extra, did you?" Neville replied with a chuckle. "We've been getting a bit of it since that day, but since it's you...well, you'll get used to it."
"I certainly hope not." said Hermione with a slight grin. "A big head really doesn't suit you, Harry." All four boys did a double take and stared at her, looking quite astonished. "What? Can't I tell a joke every now and then?"
The boys couldn't help it; they all burst out laughing. "Of course you can, 'Mione, I'm just glad you found your sense of humor under all the books you keep in your head." Ranma teased, easily dodging when she tried to punch him in the arm. "Come on, let's get in there before all the good seats are gone."
The Great Hall was decorated in green and silver and a huge banner covered the wall behind the High Table that was emblazoned with the Slytherin serpent. The hall was already full of students and loud with hundreds of conversations. As they'd predicted, the hall went very quiet when they entered but very quickly erupted in whispers and murmurs. By the time they'd finally found seats at the Gryffindor table, people had gone from whispering to openly pointing. Harry seemed to ignore it, but he looked as if he wanted to hide.
"You all weren't kidding." He said almost too quietly to hear.
"Yeah, well, you did fight You-Know-Who, what'd you expect?" Ron said, grinning.
"Yeah, no telling how." said Ranma. "I guess Hogwarts really does have a million ears and twice as many mouths."
"Shhh, it's Dumbledore." Hermione cut in. The headmaster entered, nodding at the Hogwarts staff that was assembled at the High Table, and the din quickly died down.
"Another year gone!" he said cheerfully, beaming at the students. "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into this delicious feast."
Ranma's stomach, which seemed to have understood Dumbledore's words, growled noticeably, and suddenly his mind was less on what the headmaster was saying and more on how long it had been since he'd eaten. He barely caught more than a few words and even Dumbledore's mention of the house points didn't rouse him from his contemplation of just what he planned to eat first. A storm of cheering, though, shook Ranma from his thoughts, and he was disgusted to see it was the Slytherins, who were likely celebrating their win in the house cup.
"Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin," Dumbledore said. "However, recent events must be taken into account."
And, with these words, Ranma, like everyone else in the Hall, went very still. Anticipation hung thick in the air. Ranma had a suspicion, a hope, of what Dumbledore might say next.
"Ahem. I have a few last-minute points to dish out. Let me see. Yes...
"First, to Mr. Ronald Weasley..." Ron blushed violently at once, but he also seemed to be holding his breath, and his eyes looked ready to pop out of his head. "...for the best played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years, I award Gryffindor house fifty points."
Ranma had heard it before, but it never was so spine-tingling as that moment, when the Gryffindor table exploded with cacophonous cheering. Ranma, Neville, and Harry took turns clapping Ron on the back, which served the dual purpose of congratulating him and forcing some air back into his lungs. All three older Weasleys were loudly telling anyone who could still hear that Ron was their brother. It took nearly a minute for them to settle down.
"Second – to Miss Hermione Granger...for the use of cool logic in the face of fire, I award Gryffindor house fifty points."
Hermione simply buried her face in her arms, and Ranma thought he heard a small sniffle, despite the noise. He awkwardly patted her on the arm, not really knowing what to do for a crying girl.
"We're up a hundred!" Neville yelled in his ear.
Dumbledore held up his hands for silence. "Third – to Mr. Ranma Saotome...for self-less sacrifice in defense of a friend, and for compassion shown to a defeated enemy, I award Gryffindor house fifty points."
Ranma wasn't shocked or embarrassed or even overwhelmed. When the thunderous applause and cheering erupted from his table and around the Great Hall, he felt vindicated. Around him, people who had, not five minutes ago, uttered insults about him, where now clapping him on the back and applauding him. He basked in the praise and recognition of what he'd done, raising his arms in victory and smiling like the stereotypical Cheshire cat.
The applause gradually died down, but there was an air of anticipation at the table. They were now up one hundred and sixty points, only a hundred points from a tie with Slytherin. Ranma could feel, like the other Gryffindors, that Dumbledore wasn't done, that Harry and Neville, too, would get their turn.
"Fourth – to Mr. Harry Potter...for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor house sixty points.
More applause, this time even more deafening and longer than it had been before. For a brief moment, Ranma irritatedly wondered why, when he, not Harry, had ultimately defeated Quirrell, but he ruefully remembered that not only was his friend famous, but the prevailing story around the castle was that Harry had defeated Voldemort alone.
At this point, the Gryffindors were positively hoarse with their cheering. Forty points was all that separated them and the Slytherins
"Finally, friendship, true friendship, requires that we not only stand by our friends when they are right, but also stand up to them when they are wrong. For a true display of friendship, I award fifty points to Mr. Neville Longbottom."
A cannon could have fired nearby and no one in the hall would have heard it for all the shouting and cheering. Neville had barely registered what Dumbledore had said before he literally disappeared under a pile of Gryffindors. Ron and Harry were clapping one another on the back and being congratulated by people nearby. Hermione, meanwhile, had jumped from her seat, a huge smile on her tear-streaked face, and threw her arms around Ranma, shouting over and over, "We did it! We won!"
Ranma awkwardly returned the hug, silently agreeing with her. They had won. The five of them had single-handedly taken the house championship right out of the Slytherins' hands. That hadn't been their goal, but it was enough to know that he was the cause of all the angry and sour looks at the far table. He smirked sardonically at them.
"I believe a change of decoration is in order." Dumbledore said when the cheering had died down to merely a cacophony. He waved his wand and, in a flash, the Great Hall was decked out in Gryffindor colors. Up at the head table, Snape reluctantly shook McGonagall's hand, a strained smile on his face. Laughing at the man, Ranma settled down at the table to enjoy the best feast yet with his four friends, reveling in the knowledge of their victory. It was a night he wouldn't soon forget.
When the euphoria from the Gryffindor victory in the house championship finally died down, Harry, Ranma, and Neville found that their standing in the house had improved considerably. It wasn't exactly surprising to Ranma, considering how quickly the other Gryffindors went from hating to not actively insulting him after he'd helped the Quidditch team win a share of the house Quidditch cup. His pride at being recognized for facing Quirrell and Voldemort, as well as the infectious happiness of his friends and others, had pushed all thoughts of the previous two months from his head.
A couple days on, though, it all came rushing back when rumors began circulating about Ranma and the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and he was forced to tell everyone that he had, indeed, played his last game for Gryffindor, at least for several years. Of course, he had told Wood the very same thing right after the game because the thick-headed fifth year had the audacity to blame Harry for them not winning the cup outright. It was all Ranma could do to keep himself from punching Wood in the face. Right then, he'd vowed never to play for Gryffindor as long as Wood remained on the team.
To Ranma's great annoyance, instead of being angry with him, his house mates were instead jumping to his defense and lambasting Wood for his callousness. They seemed quite surprised that he didn't appreciate their effort at all, instead telling them off quite brusquely. As far as he was concerned, things hadn't changed just because everyone had stopped being terrible to him.
His two friends, on the other hand, were quite pleased at the turn of events, particularly Harry. Ranma, it seemed, was the only person who wanted to remember how badly the rest of the house behaved towards them. Neville and Harry both tried to convince him to forgive them, but he adamantly refused, especially since no one had actually apologized. As far as he could tell, the other Gryffindors thought that earning enough points to win the house cup had redeemed the three first-years. But, Ranma bitterly noted, none of these same people were doing anything to make up for months of treating them horribly.
"Sod off." said a surly Ranma to a Gryffindor fourth-year who'd greeted him in the common room one afternoon, several days after the leaving feast. This was quickly becoming his favorite expression, at least when talking to nearly everyone in the house. It really seemed to irritate them, especially since they were being friendly to Ranma, and this was a good enough reason for him to keep saying it.
"You know," Hermione said diplomatically, "you're going to have to let this go eventually. I mean, you can't stay angry at everyone forever, and they are trying."
"Yeah, trying to pretend they weren't complete gits to us for two months." said Ranma with a roll of his eyes.
"What I don't get is why this is such a big deal to you." Harry said truthfully. "Everyone's being nice to us and they think we're cool for winning the house cup for Gryffindor. They're trying to be our friends."
"Right, and what'll happen next time we don't do what they want us to do? I bet they're not so friendly then." Ranma replied sharply. "I don't need those kind of friends."
"Well, you don't need enemies either. That's what you'll get if you keep this up." Hermione pointed out.
Ranma opened his mouth to protest, but couldn't think of anything to say that made sense and, for a change, actually opted not to argue. "Bollocks." he cursed, jumping to his feet. He pointedly ignored Hermione's disapproving look. "I'm going to go do some training before they all drive me mad."
The Sunday before the end of term, Ranma had sequestered himself in the dueling classroom. He knew he should be out spending time with his friends, but he was, to put it mildly, tired of being antagonistic with the other Gryffindors. Avoiding the common room seemed to be the best thing to do. At least then he wouldn't be bothered by the surprisingly large number of his house mates that were too thick to realize he wanted nothing to do with them. Ranma was belatedly realizing that being well known and well regarded had their downsides.
For the moment, Ranma tried to occupy his mind by practicing his wandless spell casting over a distance. This had become somewhat easier since fighting Boss Troll and Voldemort, when he'd so thoroughly exhausted his magical energy. Like a muscle, his magic had recovered larger and stronger than before, thus he was able to cast minor spells within ten feet of himself without feeling too drained.
He felt a small surge of magical energy nearby and looked up expectantly at Freya's portrait. As if on cue, she stepped into the frame, absently twirling her wand between her fingers. She glanced out into the room and, spotting him, her eyes lit up briefly before she schooled her face into a neutral expression. "You're rather early today, aren't you?" she asked nonchalantly.
"Wanted to get away from people." Ranma grunted.
"Oh? Still railing against the unfairness of your house mates, eh?" she said, the corners of her mouth twitching slightly.
"Oh, shut up." Ranma said grumpily, causing her to openly laugh. "You know, I wouldn't care if the gits would just apologize instead of acting like everything's fine."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Maybe some would if you gave them half a chance before telling them off." she threw back. "Oh, and speak of the devil. Come in already, you've stood outside the door long enough."
Ranma wondered what on earth she was talking about, but the door to the room opened and it immediately became clear. Fred, George, and Lee crossed the threshold, looking quite embarrassed. "What are they doing here?" Ranma asked, not bothering to hide his displeasure.
Freya frowned. "I'd say they want to talk, though why they'd want to when you're being such a surly little berk is beyond me." she said frostily. "You wanted people to apologize, so stop acting all put upon and just listen."
Ranma folded his arms and scowled, grumbling something that sounded like "kuh-why cooh-nay", which, by the way he said it, didn't seem to be very polite. Freya narrowed her eyes, her nostrils flaring with anger, and had drawn her wand, but, with a slight twitch of her wand hand, managed to restrain herself. This gave Ranma pause, as he had fully expected her to try to curse him, even without really knowing what he'd said. Feeling slightly embarrassed for having been rude to her (and realizing she must have been quite serious about the situation if she'd passed up an opportunity to curse him), he relented. It wouldn't do to alienate someone he actually counted as a friend.
"Oh, all right." Ranma gave a resigned sigh. He looked at his former friends, trying to maintain a neutral expression. "Let's hear it then." This time, Freya really did try to curse him. When he hopped aside, a small patch of floor where the bolt of magic struck suddenly grew hairy tentacles. "Hey! What was that for?" he yelled indignantly.
"Be nice." she said, smirking at him as he fumed. The other three boys couldn't help but laugh.
"Oh yeah, laugh it up. She's ruddy mental." Ranma grumbled
"Sorry, mate, but that's a brilliant curse. We've got to learn it, there's a few Slytherins who could use some improving." Fred chortled. Ranma grinned despite himself. He couldn't possibly maintain his sour demeanor while picturing Crabbe, Goyle, and Malfoy as hairy tentacle monsters. Soon, though, the joke had run its course and they were back to where they'd started. They stood in awkward silence for a minute before Freya's impatient cough moved Lee to speak.
"Err, right. Um...we know you've been mad at us all, even though we're all nice to you again." he began awkwardly. Ranma narrowed his eyes at him. "Not that that makes anything better, of course." Lee added quickly. "But, I mean, you did lose loads of points, and you wouldn't explain yourself-"
Ranma laughed derisively. "That's your apology? You were supposed to trust me, remember? But that was too hard, I guess."
George held up his hand to cut off Lee's retort. "No, he's right. We should've trusted you, Ranma. Last time we didn't, look what happened. We shouldn't've jumped to conclusions before we talked to you."
"About bloody time you lot figured it out." said Ranma.
"Yeah, but we didn't deserve to be yelled at just because everyone else treated you badly." Fred added. "And you didn't even trust us enough to be honest about what happened."
"We didn't come up here that day to argue, we just wanted to know what happened. We'd have stood by you if you'd given us a chance." Lee insisted.
Ranma opened his mouth, ready to respond scathingly, but his voice died before it left his mouth. He knew, in his heart, that they weren't wrong. He'd been so angry that day, convinced they were going to turn on him too. He'd attacked them first, before they could lay any blame on him. He turned away from them, feeling the heat of shame in his cheeks. "I...I shouldn't have said those things." he admitted
"Hmph. It's about time you all said that." said Freya approvingly. "You boys and your little squabbles – you've been angry at each other for months, for completely different reasons that you don't remember properly anyway. That's not how Marauders act. Marauders trust each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt. And they certainly don't let differences linger for so long, not while there's mischief to be made."
"She's right, you know." George said with chagrin. "All this time wasted on a misunderstanding. We haven't done any trips into the forest since the gang broke up."
"Look, Ranma, we're all really sorry about what happened. We're not gonna doubt you again." added Lee. "We trusted you with our lives out in the forest, and we'll trust you now."
"Yeah, mate, we need you back. The Marauders have only just started. We've got plenty of mayhem left to cause at hoggy, warty Hogwarts." Fred said with a hopeful grin.
Ranma looked at them, the last traces of his resentment vanishing. They were right; it was time to get over stupid little fights. He flashed a crooked smile. "Yeah, all right. Sorry I was a prat and all. I just...you know..."
But he didn't need to explain any more. Now that they'd gotten over it, it didn't seem to matter that much anyway. What did matter was that the new Marauders were back in business, and Hogwarts had had nearly two months of peace. They all silently thought that they would make sure it wasn't peaceful much longer.
"Well done, boys." Freya said fondly. "Now, group hug!" The looks they gave her portrait were rather chilly. "Oh, fine, I guess you're still at that age."
They settled on friendly handshakes. "Now that you're back, hopefully the Map will calm down. It's been in a right state, it has, since you quit."
"Well of course it has." Freya said with a know-it-all voice to rival Hermione's. "You four took a blood oath to try for the challenges, then one of you quits. The Marauders never thought much of quitters. Mischief making was serious to business to them."
Ranma raised an eyebrow at her. Something was niggling the back of his mind, a clue that he couldn't quite see. Lee, however, seemed to put it together more completely. "Say," he said slowly, "you sound really familiar with the Marauders. How do you know so much about them? Were you classmates?"
Freya looked shocked and flustered. "Well – I mean – of course not, don't be ridiculous, I was quite before their time. I was hanging here well before they came along."
George looked thoughtful, then his eyes suddenly lit up. "You've met them!"
"And you know who they really are!" chimed in Fred enthusiastically. "You couldn't have read the Map, and I doubt they made it well known that they were the infamous Marauders. You had to have talked to them!"
Freya now looked quite out of sorts, but it was obvious that she was not only worried, but was also hiding something. Ranma could feel that she was close to admitting something important. "Which means that they've been in here, just like us. I'd bet ten galleons they used to meet in here all the time. That's why Freya knows them so well."
The defeated look on Freya's face said everything. She moved from her customary place in the center of the portrait and sat heavily in a nearby seat. "Yes, I knew them." she admitted. "They were clever, funny young men. Rather cheeky too, if I recall. They were the first people up here in nearly fifty years, and since the room was very private, they returned often. I taught them many things, and they kept me company." She sighed wistfully. "Imagine my surprise when four more clever, cheeky, funny boys began frequenting my classroom, calling themselves Marauders. I wanted to tell you all about them, but I've always kept their secrets, just as I shall keep yours."
The boys were all speechless. The Marauders had spent lots of time in this room and made friends with the same Freya they'd seen in the room for months. Simultaneously, they all looked at each other and said "A clue!" And within moments, they were off, poking and prodding everything in the room.
"I just realized something." Ranma said suddenly, glancing back and forth at Freya's portrait and the adjoining wall. "But it can't be that easy. It's so obvious..."
"What? What's obvious?" asked Lee, looking at the picture.
"There, behind where she usually stands." Ranma pointed, but he looked to Freya to see her reaction. A broad smile slowly spread over her face and she nodded at him.
George looked quizzically at where he pointed. "Yeah, okay, there's a red door, what about.."
It took a split second for them to realize what this meant: there was no red door in the room. Ranma, being the least stunned, looked to Freya. "Is there a door behind your portrait, Freya?
She nodded, still smiling. "There is."
"Can you open it for us?"
"Only if you have the password. Do you have the password?" She cast a significant look at all of them.
The new Marauders looked at one another, knowing they were all thinking the same. The password could only be one thing, and they all said it in unison: "I solemnly swear I am up to no good!"
Freya beamed at them proudly as her portrait swung to the side, revealing a short red door. It opened into a small room, little more than a glorified coat room. Everything in the room was covered with a thick layer of dust, cobwebs clung to the corners, and a stale, musty odor hung in the air. At its center were four chairs surrounding a small round table, on top of which sat a very worn parchment that Ranma thought looked very familiar.
"Bloody hell..." Fred said softly, picking it up. He spread it across the table for them all to see. "The Marauders' Map...but it's supposed to be in our dormitory."
The Map was already active, but it didn't show the map of Hogwarts, as usual. Instead, the same ornate script they'd seen before began dancing across it.
- Well done, new Marauders, on finding this room. -
- I told you they'd do it. -
- No, no, you said -
- Shut it, you two, we're supposed to be sounding all important and official, remember?
- Oh, right, sorry mate, do carry on then. -
- Right, where was I... -
- Finding the room? -
"You know, whenever you blokes're ready." Lee said exasperatedly. "Take your time, it's not like we've got anything better to do."
- All right, all right, keep you knickers on, Mr. Silvertongue. -
The parchment cleared itself while the four new Marauders grinned at its antics. The words began filling in again.
- As I was saying, congratulations on finding this room, which you ought to have guessed is the famed Marauders' secret meeting room. -
"Looks like a ruddy broom closet to me." Ranma muttered. Lee and the twins sniggered quietly.
- It is not a ruddy broom closet. Well, okay, it was a ruddy broom closet before we found it behind Freya's portrait. It is now, thanks to our efforts, most definitely a secret meeting room, thank you very much. -
"Yeah, okay, we get it." Fred replied impatiently. "So what now?"
- Now... – the writing paused for dramatic effect – this room, and everything in it, is yours. We think you'll find it useful in the future. -
But first, a quick tidying is in order. Just tap the the broken broom in the corner with your wand and say "Cleansweep"
George, who was closest, shrugged and followed the instructions. It looked, to Ranma, as if the entire room was washing away, revealing a spotless and slightly different place. The most noticeable difference was that the room was now much more spacious. Along the walls, shelves suddenly appeared, filled with books, parchment, and various jars of what were probably potion ingredients. There were several cauldrons of different size, and by the scorch marks beneath them, they'd seen quite a bit of use. Along one wall, wizard pictures hung, each with a caption beneath, highlighting various pranks. Back by the far wall, a long table held various bits of junk and other odds and ends. Finally, a portrait sat on the wall, now occupied by Freya, who looked on proudly.
"Blimey..." Fred breathed slowly. "That was brilliant."
"Yeah, but what was it?" Ranma asked, his mind trying to digest what he'd just seen. The Map answered in what seemed like a gloating fashion.
- It's called a "glamour", a type of concealment charm. Of course, this one's quite a bit more advanced than your average glamour, almost like a disillusionment, actually. -
The boys all looked at one another with confused expressions.
- Don't worry, there should be books around here about what we're talking about. You four will figure it out soon enough. It's enough to know that the magic is powerful enough to fool almost anyone. -
Ranma nodded, though he didn't totally understand what they were getting at. This did, at least, explain why he'd completely missed any traces of magic in the room. It also raised his opinion of the Marauders substantially; whoever they were, they were likely wizards of substantial skill and power.
- Marauders-in-training, you have now completed Mr. Wormtail's challenge. Three tasks remain in the Marauders' Challenge, and you have...oh, I'd say, a little less than eighteen months left. -
"WHAT?" they exclaimed in unison.
"There wasn't a time limit before!" argued Lee.
"Yeah, what gives? We're only third years! We've got plenty of time!" added George.
- No, you haven't. We take our challenge very seriously and expect you to do so as well. The four of you agreed to try for it as a team, yet your team dissolved over something petty. So consider this a warning. We can abide failure, but we won't abide quitting. -
The four boys looked slightly shamed, each wondering how a piece of parchment was managing to tell them off so effectively.
- If you will truly be our successors, you must prove it, not just with your skill or knowledge, but with your trust and loyalty to one another. Otherwise, you will not succeed. -
Without further ado, the Map cleared itself. They stared at in silence for several moments. "Well, that's just lovely." George said dejectedly. "A year and a half, mates."
"Less four months, unless you know how we'll get back to Hogwarts during the summer." added Lee.
"Gentlemen, I do believe we've bollocksed this up rather well." said Fred with a grimace.
"Yeah. So let's fix it, yeah?" Ranma said with a crooked grin. "I've got some ideas of what we can do over the summer..."
Reuniting with the Marauders seemed to do the trick for Ranma's attitude. Granted, he still resented most of his house mates for their terrible treatment, but at least now he gave the benefit of the doubt to people who were actually trying to make it up to him. Many did eventually come around, starting with the other first years. He, Neville, and Harry were quite surprised to be pulled aside by their classmates and hear heartfelt apologies from them, as well as an invitation to hang out that afternoon at the Quidditch pitch. The first year Gryffindors ended up having quite a time playing a spirited game of football, though Ranma was obliged to sit out after five minutes, having kicked the ball so hard that it very nearly flew into the Forbidden Forest. Dean Thomas seemed very impressed.
The rest of the week flew by without too much excitement. Among other things, Rama patched up his strained relationship with Professor McGonagall, who pulled him aside briefly to apologize for not believing their warning about the Philosopher's Stone. He, in turn, asked about the points she'd taken all those months ago, which made him resent her enough to not want to speak to her.
"Yes, Mr. Saotome, I am more strict with Gryffindors, but it is because I expect only the best from you all." she said in an uncharacteristically warm tone. "The other heads of house may favor their own students, but I've always believed that, no matter how high I set the bar, Gryffindors will always rise to meet it. And I guarantee you, I shall always set it very high."
Her explanation put everything in perspective. Ranma felt very much the same way about himself when it came to the martial arts. Knowing that she was challenging them to make them all better people gave him newfound respect for his head of house.
Ranma also managed to earn two detentions with Snape when he refused to call the man either "sir" or "Professor". This culminated in a somewhat ugly scene down in the dungeons, where the apoplectic potions master was on the verge of trying to curse him, and Ranma told Snape exactly what he thought of him. He wasn't too worried about it; since the house championship had already been awarded, there were no points to take anyway. He did, however, have to endure another little conference with McGonagall, Dumbledore, and Snape, where he informed them that he wasn't going to show any respect to someone who wouldn't show any in return. In all, he got off lightly and solidified his place as a thorn in Snape's side, which could never be a bad thing in Ranma's mind.
Beyond these things, Ranma just spent time with his friends (a daunting task, considering how many he now had) and made plans for the summer, which was shaping up to be quite busy. So far, he was set to visit the Burrow (where the Weasley family lived) nearly everyday to work on Marauders business. He'd also agreed to continue training with Neville every morning. Ranma saw a lot of potential in his friend and figured that, between him and Genma, Neville would make good progress over the next two months.
Like they had earlier in the year, Hermione, Ron, and Harry declined his offer to include them in the training. Ranma wasn't surprised by the first two, but he couldn't understand why Harry didn't want defense lessons, especially knowing that Voldemort was still out there, waiting to return and kill him. Harry didn't seem all that worried, convinced that others would continue to oppose and block the Dark Lord's return. Ranma wouldn't accept this answer.
"You saw what he did to himself to come back. He looked me right in the eyes and told me he'd come back and kill me, and I believe him. He's going to come back, I can feel it, and I'm going to be ready for him. And I'm telling you, you'd better be ready too, or he's going to kill you." Ranma told him. Harry seemed a bit shaken by this, but only agreed to think about it. To Ranma, this was certainly an improvement on his aloof attitude, and it was the best he could ask for.
Before everyone knew it, it was time to depart on the Hogwarts Express. The castle was alive with students bustling about, making sure they'd packed everything away and that Peeves hadn't stolen anything. The first years left the school the same way they arrived, riding the small boats over the placid lake and getting one last, long look at the school. Ranma didn't say as much, but he knew he'd miss the place. He'd had one of the most exciting years of his life there and, all things considered, that was saying something.
At the train station, Harry stayed back to talk with Hagrid, so the others bid the gamekeeper farewell and climbed on the train to find a compartment. Ranma was just following Hermione into one near the end of the train when he heard someone whistle down the corridor and call out to him.
"Oy, Redtail!" Lee said through cupped hands. "C'mon and join us, we've got a compartment already."
"What for?" Ranma asked, avoiding the slightly disappointed looks from his friends.
"You know, 'business'." Lee said casually, though Ranma knew it wasn't just any old business.
"Yeah, all right." Ranma set down his book bag in the compartment. He smiled apologetically at his friends. "Uh, I'll be right back."
"Don't worry about it, mate. We'll understand if you want to sit with them." Ron replied, not quite truthfully. "I mean, they are older, and people think they're cool..."
"Are we talking about your brothers? Because I'm pretty sure they're prats." Ranma quipped with a grin. "Seriously, I'll be back. I want to sit with my friends."
Twenty minutes later, after the train had pulled out of the station, Ranma returned to the corridor, followed by the twins and Lee. It was rather loud, as students were milling about and running around. As they approached the compartment that Neville, Hermione, and Ron had entered earlier, it became quieter but much more crowded.
"What's all this?" he asked Fred, who was somewhat taller than him and could see better.
"Dunno, everyone's crowding around...looks like a bunch of Slytherins." Fred replied.
Ranma furrowed his brow, a creeping suspicion in his head. "They'd better not – I mean, they can't be that stupid, can they?"
"What're you on about?" asked Lee as they pushed forward.
Ranma shrugged. "Knowing my luck, trouble." he said grimly.
It didn't take long to confirm his suspicion. Being both strong and well-known, it didn't take much effort to get people to move out of his way. He found the a group of Slytherins surrounding the door to his friends' compartment, looking menacingly at everyone and conspicuously brandishing their wands. They seemed very confident, at least until they caught sight of Ranma. To their credit, they didn't back away or flinch at his glare. Behind him, Ranma could tell that Lee, Fred, and George were nervously laying hold of their own wands.
"Don't bother, they won't be doing anything." he assured them confidently.
"Yeah, Saotome?" said a big, swarthy boy. "What makes you think we won't hex you to hell right now?"
Ranma smiled predatorially. "Because, if you do, I'll break those stupid twigs you're pointing at me. And the hands that are holding them."
"You-you can't touch us, Saotome!" another stammered, not sounding very confident. "You'll be expelled."
"Not if you attack first, idiot. Now get out of my way, before I show you how hard I hit that troll." he snarled, cracking his knuckles loudly.
They all paled visibly at the threat. Whatever bravado had carried them thus far failed them completely, and they stepped aside hastily. "Red, you're scary when you do that." George said under his breath as Ranma pulled open the compartment door. The scene inside made them all growl with anger.
Ron, Harry, and Hermione were being physically restrained by two big Slytherins that had to be at least fifth or sixth years. Neville, meanwhile, had his arms trapped behind him by Marcus Flint. In front of him, Malfoy stood, brandishing his wand. From Flint and Neville's disheveled looks, there had been a struggle, and Malfoy had clearly already started using his wand. When the Marauders stepped into the compartment, neither Flint nor Malfoy looked up.
"We're not done yet!" Malfoy yelled. "Go back out-"
"No, you're done." Ranma hissed, roughly shoving the boy down onto a seat. "And I'd let go now, if I were you, Flint."
"Why, because you four are gonna jump on me, eh?" Flint replied much more bravely than he looked.
Ranma shook his head and smirked. "No, because Neville's about to break your nose."
Sure enough, Flint yelped with surprise and pain as Neville ducked quickly and jumped, driving his head into the boy's face. With practiced ease, he delivered a hard elbow to the his assailant's stomach before heaving him over his shoulder with a quick hip toss that sent Flint tumbling. Ranma was completely oblivious to this, instead glaring angrily at the other two Slytherins.
"Get your bloody hands off of them." George said to them warningly. He, Fred, and Lee already had their wands out and pointed at them. "Get out. Now."
"And if you ever lay a finger on our brother again, we'll curse you so bad you won't know your head from your arse." Fred added coldly.
The two older boys needed no convincing; they fled as fast as their feet would carry them, even treading on the fallen Flint in their haste. If he weren't so angry, Ranma might've found it all rather funny.
"Do I even need to ask what these two idiots are doing here?"
"They were looking for you." Neville said, stretching his arms. "And me too, I guess. Malfoy said he wanted 'payback'."
The other Marauders raised their eyebrows at this, but Ranma didn't answer their quizzical looks. "Did they do anything to you three?" he asked.
"No, just kept us from getting involved." Hermione said. "They just grabbed Neville and – look out!"
Ranma appreciated the warning, but he had detected Malfoy's attack before it had really begun. He bent lazily to the side, letting the bolt of red light pass by, and easily plucked the wand from Malfoy's hand. His friends all seemed ready to jump on Malfoy, but Ranma stopped them. "No, this is between me and Draco." he said
Malfoy, who had been cringing, found a bit of courage (or bravado) and jumped to his feet. "Give that back!" he demanded.
Malfoy's pale face became splotchy with anger. "Give it here! If you don't I'll tell-"
"Go ahead. When you get back, your little twig will be somewhere out there." Ranma jerked his thumb at the countryside flying by outside the window. The color drained from Malfoy's face. "You want this back? All you gotta do is hit me hard enough to make me drop it."
Malfoy considered him a moment, but shook his head and looked indignant. "Absolutely not. Muggle dueling is beneath me."
Ranma shrugged. "Oh, well I guess I have a new wand. But, you know what, I like my other wand just fine, so maybe I'll just snap this one-"
"You wouldn't dare!" Malfoy gasped.
The others, too, felt this was too harsh. "Ranma, you can't just snap someone's wand!" Hermione admonished.
"But I can snap my own. And unless Draco tries to make me drop it, it's mine." Ranma replied. "I'll even make it easy for you. All you have to do is hit me as hard as you can, and I'll give it to you."
Malfoy (and everyone else) was silent for a minute. Then, suddenly, Malfoy swung his right fist as hard as he could at Ranma's face. Ranma only smiled and nodded just a fraction. The blow landed with a loud smack, followed by a scarcely audible snaps and a very loud scream of pain. Everyone winced sympathetically. Malfoy fell back onto the seat, clutching his right hand and gasping in pain.
"That's the best you can do? You hit like a girl (no offense, Hermione)." Ranma said as he rubbed his chin. "You're to weak to fight me, Draco, and too stupid to figure it out on your own. Every time you try something stupid like this, you're going to get hurt, until you do understand. Now get out, and take this idiot with you."
The two struggled to their feet and staggered to the door before Malfoy looked back. "My-my w-wand." he said weakly between sniffles.
"Oh, right, almost forgot. Neville?" Ranma handed the wand to his friend and winked. Neville nodded and grinned.
"Here you are." Neville said, slapping it into Malfoy's hand. "Oh right, and I owe you this one."
Crack! Neville's fist collided with Malfoy's chin in a most spectacular fashion, sending the boy flying out into the corridor to hit the wall with a loud thud. Smack! Neville's left hook sent Flint tumbling after him. He slammed the door shut with great satisfaction.
"Not bad, Nev." Ranma said appreciatively. "I'm surprised you let them grab you though."
"I had to, they were threatening everyone else." Neville said with a shrug.
"Well, now that's sorted out – what?" Ranma looked at his friends, who were all staring at him and Neville.
"Pol was right; you are scary when you do that." Lee said.
"Yeah, we barely recognized you." Harry added uncertainly.
"I don't like bullies, and I don't like people threatening my friends." Ranma said, dropping heavily into a seat. "Besides, I was bluffing; I don't want to be expelled from Hogwarts for fighting."
"Yeah, tell that to the git who just broke his hand on your face." Ron said with a grin.
"And what on earth got into you, Neville?" Hermione demanded.
"I really don't like Malfoy. Or Flint." he said sheepishly, rubbing his hands. "And I wanted to try some stuff that Ranma showed me."
"Whatever it is you showed him, Red, it's brilliant. You two are the only people I've seen who can actually send someone flying with just a punch." Lee said appreciatively.
"Yeah, not too shabby, Neville." Fred added, clapping the boy on the shoulder. "Beaten by a first year. Flint's never going to live it down!"
"Yeah, he's had it coming for ages." agreed George.
"And Malfoy." Ron added. "I don't think it could've happened to a nicer person."
"Hmph." Hermione frowned at them. "I just hope you two don't get into trouble. Malfoy won't forget this. He's going to make trouble."
The boys wouldn't hear anything of her warning, though; they were too excited about what had happened. Ranma didn't tell her as much, but he felt that Hermione was probably right. He'd made enough enemies in his life, and this felt the same way. Malfoy was going to be stubborn, just like Ryoga, and Ranma could only guess what he'd be forced to do to get the boy to back off. But now, he couldn't get too worked up about it. There was nothing that Malfoy could do to hurt him, and he could still claim self-defense if Malfoy complained.
The rest of the train ride wasn't nearly as exciting, and Ranma could hardly complain about that. Ron broke out his wizard chess set and the twins started a rousing game of exploding snap. Neither of the games were able to get very far, because they were constantly interrupted by people, mostly Gryffindors, who wanted to congratulate Neville on dispatching Flint and Malfoy so effectively. No adult came by to confront them about the incident, though, so it was hard to worry about whether Malfoy and Flint had complained to someone.
Before long, the Hogwarts Express pulled into King's Cross. A witch's voice echoed through the train, reminding them not to do magic over the summer. Ranma grinned at the Marauders, thinking of what exactly they were going to do about that particular restriction. He helped Hermione retrieve her trunk and followed her off the train, followed by the others.
Around them, people were saying their good-byes. A few nodded at them, and some even said "All right, Potter." or "See ya, Potter."
"Still famous, eh?" Ron joked.
"Not where I'm going." Harry replied. "It's okay, though. I've got magic, after all."
"Yes, but you can't use it." Hermione pointed out.
"Well, they don't know that, do they." Harry said with a mischievous grin. "I'm going to have some real fun with Dudley this summer."
They laughed. "Well, there's our mum and dad." Ron said. "Later then? Send an owl 'round, you lot."
Ranma waved as the Weasleys trooped away with Lee Jordan in tow.
"There's my gran." said Neville. "We're still on, right Ranma?"
"Yeah. Get some rest, it's gonna be harder than you're used to." Ranma said, shaking Neville's hand. As the boy walked away, he turned to Harry and Hermione. "And there's my mum. I want to try to visit you guys this summer, so owl me your addresses. We've got a phone too, so call me if you want, all right?"
Harry nodded and shook his hand firmly. Hermione seemed to hesitate for a moment before pushing his hand aside and giving him a quick hug. Ranma didn't feel quite so stunned or awkward this time. "See you soon. And do try to stay out of trouble." she said, smiling.
"No promises there, but, believe me, I'm going to try." he responded with a chuckle. She and Harry turned away and he waved at them as they crossed into King's Cross Station.
Nodoka nearly smothered him in her embrace when he reached his parents. Genma, as usual, grunted his disapproval, but Ranma ignored him. Even though they'd seen each other two weeks prior, it was good to see his mother again. And his father as well, though there was no way Ranma would ever tell him that.
"How are you, dear? Any more excitement?" Nodoka asked, looking fondly at her son.
"No, I think I've had enough excitement this year." Ranma said with a grin. "I think this summer is going to be as normal and excitement free as possible."
Nodoka and Genma (surprisingly) laughed at this as they led him off the platform. Following his mother and father through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, Ranma had no idea just how wrong his prediction would be.
At long last, I deliver to you the final chapter of Book 1. Congratulations on lasting this long and surviving the marathon of a last chapter. And it only took two months! I had quite an ordeal writing this last one; trying to plow through writers block, laziness, and unexpected drains on my time. I'm pretty proud of finishing, since it's technically the first "book" I've written. Please let me know how you feel about this chapter and the story over all.
I'm going to go ahead and get this out of the way now: as of today, M&M officially takes a back seat to another project or two I have going on. This story is a real drain on my creative "juices" and takes a lot of time from some original fiction I've been meaning to work on. It's my goal to actually write for a living one day and, as fun as this story is, it's never going to happen if all my time is spent on fan fiction. This doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing on the story, only that it may be several months before you see anything new. I will also be marking this book as complete and creating a new story for Book 2, so it might be a good idea if you put me on author alert so you'll know when something's been updated.
Now that the first book is done, the logical question to ask is "Where do we go from here?" As I've said before, I've worked on the plan for all the books, and while it's a loose plan, I've got a good idea of where I want to go. It may surprise you to learn that the next step is not to start Book 2. In fact, Book 2 is months from getting under way. Instead, I'm going to start on the first of what I call the M&M Summer Novellas. As you can imagine, there will be six, each detailing Ranma's activities during the summer. Ranma's always got something going on and I'd feel like he's really OOC if his summers are as mundane as Harry's. If you've been lamenting about how sedate (relatively) his life's been so far, you ought to enjoy these, as they're a nod towards the Ranma canon. The first novella is called "Summer Madness" and it's separated into three parts, each with two chapters. I can't guarantee any release schedule on the novella In addition to that, I'm writing some final notes, extras, and deleted scenes that I'll post before completing this book. If there is a scene or situation you thought I should've included in the story that I didn't, and you'd like to see it written, go into the forum and post your suggestion. I'll pick a couple and write them up and include them with a couple scenes I discarded.
I'm sure there is more that I'd like to say, but I honestly just want to get this thing posted for you guys to read, so I'll just say that I'll answer any questions in the forum, as usual. If you have any questions at all, please post them in the forum. Thanks everyone for reading, commenting, and generally sticking with me through this. HUGE thanks to Kim (you know why). Stay on the look out for the next installment of Might and Magic: Tales of Ranma Saotome, Boy Wizard!