Title: Something Grim This Way Comes
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, Maxwell Atoms, and various publishing houses, animation studios and the like. No money is being made (how I wish it were otherwise) and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: Harry is about to start his first year at Hogwarts. With him comes his cynical, somewhat unofficial (not to mention bent on world domination) girlfriend; Mandy. And they're also bringing their mutual best friend (i.e.: indentured servant) the Grim Reaper himself.
"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law..." - Mandy, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
September 1st, 1991
A trio of highly unusual characters stood silently at the entrance to the train station at King's Cross. They exuded an aura of... well, such oddness that the bustling crowds of commuters unconsciously gave them a wide berth, most making a point of going out of their way to avoid coming too close.
On the left was Harry Potter, otherwise known to most of the magical world as the Boy-Who-Lived. Harry was possibly one of the most famous wizards alive, a fact he had learned a little over a month ago when his Hogwarts acceptance letter had arrived with the morning post.
He was dressed in faded and somewhat ragged jeans and an equally faded and ragged button-up shirt. While the clothes were, at the very least third, perhaps even fourth generation hand-me-downs, they did at least fit his slender frame reasonably well. It had been several years since his Aunt and Uncle had forced him to wear Dudley's old cast-offs; though they still refused to spend any money on buying Harry new clothes.
Brushing several stray locks of his untameable black hair out of his eyes, briefly exposing the lightning shaped scar that adorned his forehead, Harry adjusted his glasses and cast a glance to the right.
Immediately next to him was Harry's closest and dearest friend, Mandy Maxwell. Her blonde hair was cropped short, framing the gentle oval of her face and swept back and up in a fashion that gave the impression of a pair of horns. Her sharp eyes, so dark a shade of blue as be almost black, scanned over the many boarding platforms arrayed before them.
She was wearing one of her favourite outfits; a pink sundress that ended just above her knees and fit snugly over her slender, almost boyish frame. Nestled between the slight swells of her prepubescent breasts was a large print of an overly bright yellow sunflower.
At first glance she appeared to be quite the cute, demure and innocent little girl. At first glance. But only at first glance. Those that knew her were well aware that Mandy was hardly demure and could never be described as innocent, though she might once have been (although that was only a rumour). Still, she was quite cute, at least when she was only wearing her perpetual scowl and not openly glaring at people.
"What was the platform number again?" she asked, her American accent still noticeable despite several years of living in England. Failing to receive a prompt answer, the slight scowl on Mandy's face deepened a fraction as she glanced to the third member of the trio and impatiently demanded, "Well?"
Standing behind the two eleven-year-olds, was a tall, quite thin, very dark and exceptionally ominous (at least to those that didn't know him) figure clad in a flowing black robe. A wicked looking scythe, its mirror finish gleaming and seeming to thrum with malevolent power, was clutched in a skeletal right hand. A bleached-white skull, with sharp cheeks and a very pronounced jaw, was visible within the blood-red shadows of the robe's hood.
This was none other that Death given form, the Grim Reaper himself, and Harry's second closest and dearest friend. Of course, if anyone asked Grim, he would launch into a loud and vehement denial of the possibility that he felt anything save utter loathing for both Harry and Mandy.
Grim's enforced friendship with the two mortal children had come about roughly three years earlier, shortly after Mandy's family had moved into number five Privet Drive, on the opposite side of the street from the Dursleys. Grim had ripped open a dimensional portal into the blonde girl's room when he had come to reap the soul of her dog; the perpetually drooling (but aptly named) Saliva.
Unwilling to give up her pet's life without a fight, Mandy had challenged Grim to decide the dog's fate. If she and Harry were to lose, then Grim would claim Saliva (and Harry as well, despite his protests over Mandy including his soul as part of the bargain). In a moment of prideful arrogance, Grim had sweetened the deal by promising that if the two were to win, then he would be their best friend forever.
After all, he was the Grim Reaper, and he did not lose.
Especially in a limbo contest.
Yet lose he did, as Mandy proved to be better at cheating than Grim could ever hope to be. After all, Saliva did so enjoy burying bones and Grim (being a skeleton) had been a most convenient source of quite a number of bones to bury.
"Nine and tree-quarters," replied Grim, in a deep baritone voice and an oddly appropriate Jamaican accent.
"And where exactly is that?" asked Mandy pointedly.
"Why, tree-quarters of de way between platforms nine and ten, of course."
"Well, that's helpful," muttered Mandy, returning her gaze to the boarding platforms.
"Let's find platforms nine and ten, like Grim said," suggested Harry. "Nine and three-quarters is a magic platform, after all, so it's probably hidden away from normal people."
"Got a point there, Harry," agreed Mandy. "Come on."
The trio made their way further into the station, the crowds parting for them like a proverbial Red Sea. Harry and Mandy walked along, looking up and counting the platform numbers as they went. Grin, however, seemed to glide smoothly behind them, grumbling under his breath as he pushed the trolley carrying their school trunks.
Ordinarily Harry would have handled his trunk by himself, but when Mandy told you to do something, not even Death could put up much of an argument. And Mandy had long since decided that Grim would be responsible for all the more onerous tasks that she would prefer not to do herself. Harry had likewise long since given up trying to talk her out of having Grim do their chores for the both of them.
Besides which, he never got tired of the looks on the Dursleys' faces whenever they were in the same room as Grim.
Even now, nearly three years later, his family were only just beginning to recover from their first encounter with Grim. Aunt Petunia still referred to the incident as her 'skeleton episode', wherein she had suffered from a nervous breakdown after walking in on Grin while the skeleton had been showering. She had spent several months convalescing at Aunt Marge's house, whereupon she returned only to find that Grim had moved in with them.
For that matter, the Dursleys were still recovering from meeting Mandy for the first time. She had introduced herself to the other children of Privet Drive during a game of Harry Hunting, wherein she reduced Dudley to tears with only a few well-chosen words. After that, for whatever reason, she decided Harry was the one person in the neighbourhood least likely to annoy her and thus spent most of her time with him.
She had been less than impressed with him at first, mostly because of the greatly oversized clothes he had been forced to wear. Upon learning that they were Dudley's cast-offs, and that he was actually related to the blubbering boy, she had been even less impressed. When it was revealed that Harry lived in the cupboard under the stairs, she decided to do something about it.
Harry never found out what she said, and she never told him, but that same day Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had moved him out of the cupboard and upstairs into the second bedroom. They also disposed of Dudley's old clothes and actually bought him some appropriately sized clothing, even if they were the cheapest to be found in the thrift shop.
"Platform nine," announced Mandy before looking at the next platform over, "and platform ten."
"Do you see anything?" asked Harry, looking around in hopes of finding the entrance to the elusive platform that was listed on the ticket that had been included in his Hogwarts letter.
"Nope," Mandy shook her head. "You?"
"Nothing," Harry glanced at Grim, who had stopped behind them. "Grim, what about you?"
"Give me a moment to catch my breath," replied the skeleton.
"You don't have lungs," observed Mandy.
"So, you don't have any breath to catch, Bonehead."
"True," mused Grim. "Let's have a look den."
Before Grim could do just that the trio were nearly bowled over by what, at first glance, appeared to be a small horde of stampeding redheads. There were four boys and a girl, being led by a plump matron that was mumbling under her breath about the profusion of 'Muggles' cluttering up the station.
Harry and Mandy exchanged a look before following after the red-haired family, Grim trailing behind them. They caught up with them just in time to hear the mother confirm their suspicions by asking, "Now, what's the platform number?
"Nine and three-quarters!" answered the girl, who seemed about a year or so younger than Harry and Mandy. "Mum, can't I go..."
"You're not old enough, Ginny, now be quiet," interrupted the plump woman. "All right, Percy, you go first."
Percy, the oldest looking of the four boys, marched towards the brick wall that separated platforms nine and ten. A sudden crowd of tourists hurried past and by the time they were gone, Percy had vanished from sight.
"Interesting," said Mandy blandly. She and Harry were both accustomed to displays of magic and other supernatural powers. Being best friends with Grim meant that such things were an almost daily occurrence. In such a situation a person either adapted, and got used to the idea very quickly, or they had a nervous breakdown.
Indeed, the two children were so inured to the idea of magic that the truth of Harry being a wizard barely fazed them. It had taken some doing, mostly thanks to Grim looming menacingly in the background, but eventually Aunt Petunia had given an abridged explanation of the deaths of Lily and James Potter and how Harry had come to be placed in the Dursley household.
Getting the rest of the story had been a tad more difficult, but Grim had managed to fill in the gaps. Being a veritable fountain of arcane knowledge, Grim had told them about the hidden world of magic. Hogwarts, the Ministry, Diagon Alley, Gringotts and all the rest.
Then he had gone into detail about the happenings of Halloween night, 1981.
A maniacal dark lord, who was apparently so scary that almost nobody could even manage to say his name, had been on a killing spree that had actually managed to leave Grim feeling overworked. To make things worse the lunatic had somehow managed to give Grim the slip when baby Harry had blown him up.
Upon learning these details, Mandy had ordered Grim to change her from a normal person into a witch. Her reasoning for making such a change was that her conquest of the world would be much easier to achieve with some magical powers backing her up.
Neither Harry, nor Grim, could tell if she was joking or not.
Unable to think up a good enough reason not to try, Grim delved into his chest of goodies and eventually found what they were looking for in an old recipe book of his grandmother's. Recalling several past disasters brought about by the use of various other items from the chest, Harry was sceptical about its chances of success, but Mandy had tried it anyways.
The next morning she gave an incautious Dudley a pig's tail, nose and ears.
"Fred, you're next," said the mother, directing her attention to her next child.
Fred graced his mother with an aggravated expression. "I'm not Fred, I'm George," he told her, sighing deeply in a put upon manner. "Honestly, woman, call yourself our mother? Can't you tell I'm George?"
"Sorry, George, dear," apologised the mother, waving for her son to proceed through the illusionary wall.
Fred manoeuvred himself into position, waiting till the coast was clear of spectators and then said, "Only joking, I am Fred," before pushing his trunk laden trolley into and through the wall. A moment after he disappeared from view he was followed by his twin brother, the aforementioned George.
"Excuse me... excuse me!" called Harry, wanting to catch the plump woman's attention before they all disappeared.
"Hullo, dears," she greeted as Harry and Mandy walked up to her. "First time at Hogwarts? Ron's new too." Ron, the last and youngest of her sons, gave them a nervous grin as his mother pointed him out.
"Yes," said Harry. "The thing is --"
"How do we get on to the platform?" asked Mandy, cutting straight to the point.
The woman gave a surprised blink at the blonde girl's directness, but quickly recovered and gave them a kindly smile as she began explain. "Not to worry," she said. "All you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Best do it at a bit of a run if you're nervous."
Harry and Mandy turned to stare at the wall dividing the platforms. It looked solid. They turned back to the plump woman, who continued to beam pleasantly at them. They then leaned in to each other to have a whispered conference.
"What d'you think?" asked Harry.
"I think these magical folk are touched in the head," replied Mandy.
"Well, she did send three of her children through, so it must be safe."
"Want me to go first?" Harry offered valiantly.
"No, better we use someone..." Mandy shifted her gaze towards Grim, "expendable."
The two children's companion was standing a short distance away, propped up against the trolley he had been pushing and wearing an expression that was both tired and bored.
"Oh, Grim," called Mandy.
"What?" asked Grim warily.
"You go first," Mandy commanded flatly.
"Oh, come now, dear," said the plump woman, who directed her attention to Grim. She had apparently failed to notice him before now. Her voice trailed off, however, as she registered exactly what she was looking at. "It's nothing to... get... excited..."
Grim turned to the red-haired woman, planning to thank her for the offer of assistance, even though he did not need such. This gave the plump witch a clear view of his bleached white skull, surrounded by a halo of blood-red shadow within the blackness of his hood. He then made the mistake of gracing her with a benevolent smile.
"Tank you, ma'am--"
"A DEATH EATER!" shrieked the woman, sweeping her arms out to grab her two remaining children and drag them behind her, so that she might shield them from Grim's presence with her own body. "RON, GINNY, STAY BEHIND ME!"
"Well, no, not really," rumbled Grim slowly, put out by her reactions but at the same time resigned to it. "Actually, ma'am, I am de Grim--"
"DEATH EATER!" the woman screamed again, this time drawing her wand from within the folds of her robe. "Stay back, or else," she threatened, holding her wand up and aiming directly between Grim's empty eye-sockets. "I'm warning you, stay back or I'll hex!"
"Madam," Grim put his hands on his hips indignantly, "I am not--"
With a flash of red light the curse slammed into Grim, impacting solidly against his brow and knocking his skull clean off of his neck. It clattered to the ground, several feet away from his body, rolling along a few times before settling.
"Here now!" protested Grim, "Dat was uncalled for!"
The plump woman looked in horror at Grim's disembodied skull and then at his body. The rest of Grim's skeleton had by now dropped onto its hands and knees as it fumbled blindly about, searching for its missing head.
"Gross," gagged the redheaded boy, Ron, who was peaking out from behind his mother.
"Ah, dere we are," said Grim as his hands found his skull and picked him up. With several deft, and well practiced twists, Grim refastened his skull to his neck. "Now, dat's better."
"An Inferi," breathed the woman. She shook herself out of her shock and stood straighter, taking aim once again with her wand, this time aiming for Grim's ribcage rather than his skull. "Undead monstrosity!" she snarled, looking and sounding remarkably reminiscent of a sabre-toothed tiger. "Stay away from my family! Incendio!"
The spell rocketed towards Grim as little more than a blur. Grim was prepared this time, or at least more so than he had been with the first spell, and managed to partially duck out of the way. The spell still managed to catch the trailing hem of his black robes, setting them ablaze with astonishing swiftness.
"Ah! I'm on fire! Help!"
"Beast! Incendio! Reducto!"
"Ow!" cried Grim as he ducked the first spell, only to be struck by the second. He was blown backwards through the air, his left arm and several ribs scattering about as he did so. His flight ended abruptly as he collided with a loud crash against the train currently waiting at platform nine. "Ma'am, please! Ouch!"
"Should we try to stop her?" Harry asked his companion.
"Why?" retorted Mandy, her eyes not leaving the one-side fight for a second. "I haven't seen anything this funny since General Skarr moved next door to you and tried to steal Grim's scythe."
"What about that time Dudley convinced Grim to help arrange a secret surprise birthday party for you, five months before your birthday?"
"That wasn't funny, that was pitiful."
"Dudley or Grim?"
At this point the plump woman had finally scored a direct hit against Grim, catching him dead centre and literally blowing the skeleton to pieces. Assorted bones rained about, like pins scattering before a bowling ball. By chance, Grim's skull rolled across the platform floor until it bumped into Mandy's shoe.
"Alas, poor Grim!" proclaimed Mandy, picking up Grim's skull and holding it in one hand.
"Oh, ha ha, very funny," muttered Grim.
"I thought so."
Albus Dumbledore was feeling particularly apprehensive at the moment. In truth, he had been suffering from a particularly bad case of what he described as 'Encroaching Doom Syndrome' for the past three years. It was characterised by the feeling that something was terribly wrong and that vast quantities of death and destruction would be the end result.
That feeling had been growing more and more prominent with each passing day and was now at the point where the headmaster had contacted his solicitor earlier that morning and arranged to update his will.
He simply could not think of a reason for such feelings of apprehension.
Admittedly, yes, Gringotts had been broken into and the Philosopher's Stone nearly stolen - no doubt by Voldemort. Luckily Dumbledore had managed to arrange for Hagrid to collect the Stone and bring it to Hogwarts. Even then though, things were occurring that were decidedly... odd.
The school's newest Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Quentin Quirrell, was proving to be a stuttering, nervous wreck. The man practically jumped at his own shadow and had actually fainted from fright when he had first been introduced to Professor Snape.
Then there had been the matter of Harry Potter's acceptance letter. A note acknowledging receipt of his Hogwarts letter had been delivered to Professor McGonagall several days later by a beautiful snowy white owl.
While this in itself was not particularly odd, Dumbledore had expected Harry's guardians, the Dursleys, to put up at least a small bit of token resistance to the idea. He had even planned to send Hagrid to hand deliver a letter, if need be. Yet, there had been no trouble, no fuss, whatsoever.
And this had only been the beginning.
Since returning from his trip to Gringotts, Hagrid had reported that the Thestral herd, used to draw the carriages to and from Hogsmeade, had been acting increasingly restless. Indeed the massive groundsman had delivered that report nursing a plethora of minor injuries, as well as several cracked ribs - much to Madam Pomfrey's displeasure.
Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, had for some incomprehensible reason undergone five burning days in the past month and had been doing so more and more fiercely with each occurrence. The last time Fawkes had actually managed to melt his perch into a lump of misshapen metal, despite the stand having been specially charmed to withstand the intense heat of a phoenix's death and rebirth.
The ghosts were also acting in a restless manner, flitting about the castle in tight-knit groups and holding whispered conversations that immediately ended whenever one of the living passed by. Carefully worded and subtly made inquires had yielded nothing save the fact that the ghosts appeared to be afraid of something...
Dumbledore was brought out of his musings by what sounded like a series of explosions and frantic bellows.
"Come back here, you mother lode of supernatural terror!"
"No! No! Stay away! Somebody, anybody, help!"
"Stop running and face your end, foul creature!"
"No! Please! I'm not a demon! I'm not possessed!"
From the sound of it, Professor Quirrell was fleeing for his life from an uninvited lunatic of some sort, or he was having another panic attack for whatever reason. Or maybe even both, with the former being the cause for the latter.
Either way, Dumbledore decided to descend from his office and see what all the fuss was about.
"You kids will be de death of me!"
Harry and Mandy ignored Grim's whinging as they settled into the empty compartment they had located aboard the Hogwarts Express. It was not that they were insensitive to what he had to say, at least Harry wasn't, but the fact that Grim had made a similar proclamation at least once a day since meeting them somewhat dimmed their attention to his complaints.
"Never in my whole life, have I been treated in such a manner," continued Grim as he reattached his left shin bone to his left knee bone. This in turn was duly attached to his left thigh bone and so on and so forth. "At least not until I met de two of you!"
"Quit griping," commanded Mandy. "We did help pick up your pieces, didn't we?"
"Only after letting dat crazy woman blow me to bits," he grumbled back, now working on his right leg bones.
The train had only just left the station when the door to the group's compartment slid open without warning, and the youngest of the four red-haired boys that they had seen earlier, Ron, made his way inside.
"D'you mind if I sit here with you?" he asked, pointing at the open space next to Grim. "Everywhere else is full."
Harry silently gestured for Ron to take the seat and the boy sat down. He glanced uncertainly at both Mandy and Grim, taking several extra seconds inspecting the battered and still grumbling black-robed skeleton. Finally he turned back to Harry and blurted, "Are you really Harry Potter?"
"Yes," answered Harry.
"You mean Fred and George weren't putting me on?" asked Ron, sounding amazed by that fact. He pointed to Harry's forehead and asked, "And have you really got - you know..."
Harry obligingly brushed his hair aside, revealing his infamous lightning-shaped scar.
"Woah," Ron breathed in wide-eyed awe. After a few moments of gaping he managed to shake it off and gave a grin as he introduced himself. "I'm Ron, by the way. Ron Weasley."
Shaking Ron's hand, Harry introduced his companions. He began with the only other living person present in the compartment. "This is my friend Mandy Maxwell," he said, with a wave at the blonde-haired girl beside him.
"Pleased to meet you," said Ron, holding out a hand.
Mandy regarded Ron's outstretched hand and then levelled a frigid scowl in his direction. Ron almost literally withered under the glare. Finally she said, "Charmed," sounding anything but, and turned back to staring out the window at the passing landscape.
Ron looked uncertainly at Mandy and then leaned close to Harry.
"Er, is she usually like that?" he whispered.
"Not really," Harry readily admitted. "She's not usually so polite."
"That was polite?" asked Ron, incredulous.
"For Mandy," confirmed Harry. He then turned to Grim, who had been sitting quietly next to Ron and concentrating on the last few bones he had to reattach to himself. Harry began to introduce him to Ron, but hesitated as he couldn't quite think of how to go about it. "And this is, uh..."
"I believe your mom's already met Grim," observed Mandy dryly.
"Lunatic woman," grumbled Grim, rubbing a rueful hand over his battered skull.
"Uh, yeah," sputtered Ron. "Pleased to meet you."
Grim arched an incredulous eyebrow, something of an accomplishment considering his face was nothing more than bare bone, and observed, "Dat will a first."
Ron graced Grim with a look that was even more uncertain than the one he had give Mandy earlier. Once again he leaned in close to Harry, this time asking, "He's not going to steal my soul, is he?"
"No," Harry grinned.
"That's my job," said Mandy blandly.
"She's joking... right?" asked a suddenly very nervous Ron.
Harry knew that Mandy actually was joking and this was only an example of her rather peculiar sense of humour. Or at least an example of her mile-wide sadistic streak. In point of fact the two did tend to overlap. This time, for some reason, he decided to play along.
"Of course she is... maybe," he said.
"Well," commented Grim eagerly, "if she doesn't, den I get second dibs."
Ron was looking about ready to make a run for it. Indeed, beads of nervous sweat were already dotting his upper lip and forehead. He was also frequently casting anxious glances from Grim and Mandy towards the compartment door, clearing trying to gauge if he would be able to make it.
"Relax boy," suggested Grim, "or you'll do yourself an injury."
"Hee hee," Ron giggled with a slightly hysterical edge.
"Please excuse Grim," said Mandy. "He has an inferiority complex and likes to scare people in a futile attempt to make himself feel superior. It never works, because he really is inferior."
"We're just pulling your leg, Ron, don't worry about it," Harry assured him.
Ron began to settle down, but suddenly it seemed to dawn on him that he was actually sitting next to Grim. It was almost possible to see the light bulb pop into being above his head when this happened. Harry and Mandy simply sat back to watch and see how he handled the situation.
Mandy shifted closer to Harry and whispered, "I bet he starts panicking again."
Harry shook his head and replied, "Not if he's anything like his mother."
In the meanwhile, Ron had managed to gather his wits and now turned brightly towards Grim, who was also watching the redhead with some interest.
"So... you're the Grim Reaper, huh?"
"Are all your family wizards?" asked Harry, which directed the following conversation along the lines of family, of which Ron seemed to have an inordinate amount. Five brothers, all older than him, and one younger sister. Harry could scarcely imagine having a single sibling, let alone half a dozen.
Talk in the compartment centred around family for several minutes; Harry giving a general idea of his life with the Dursleys, something that had improved dramatically since Mandy and Grim's arrivals. Ron seemed unwilling to believe that the famous Boy-Who-Lived could ever be mistreated by anyone, but Harry persisted until the redhead was convinced.
Mandy and Grim likewise gave accounts of their families, though compared to Grim's Mama and Auntie, Mandy's parents seemed incredibly dull and where thus only mentioned in passing.
Pets became the next subject of discussion as Harry and Mandy related how Grim's attempt to reap Saliva had lead to his eventual entrapment (though that was not the word they used) as their friend. As dogs were not permitted at Hogwarts, the cause of Grim's relationship with the two children had remained at Privet Drive, being looked after by Mandy's folks.
Hedwig, the snowy owl which Mandy and Grim had given to Harry as a birthday present when the trio had visited Diagon Alley for the first time, was flying ahead to Hogwarts. Harry disliked the idea of locking such a magnificent bird in a cage for the duration of the trip, so preferred to allow her to make the journey north on her own.
Ron, much to his obvious embarrassment, was only able to produce a motley looking rat for a pet. Scabbers, who seemed to almost die of fright upon spotting Grim, had apparently been with the Weasley family for nearly a decade. Harry and Mandy thought it odd for a rat to live so long, but Grim confirmed that magical creatures did tend to have longer lifespans. Of course, the idea of a magical rodent was a bit odd, but they trusted Grim to know what he was talking about.
"I got the useless lump from Percy," said Ron, holding the sleeping rat up by his tail.
"Why's that?" asked Harry, wondering how any animal could sleep through that.
"He got an owl from my dad for being made a Prefect," explained Ron, though it sounded more like a complaint, "but they couldn't aff-- I mean, so they gave him to me now."
They were interrupted shortly after twelve by a smiling, dimpled women with a trolley stacked high with assorted sweets and wizarding snacks. Harry, who willingly admitted to having a sweet tooth, bought a little of everything. The only item he did not buy any samples of were the Liquorice Wands, which Mandy hinted as affecting male virility. Harry wasn't quite sure what that involved, but decided against risking.
There was a knock on the compartment door a short while later. A round-faced boy stuck his head in and asked, "Sorry, but have you seen a toad at all?" Receiving shakes of the head from all four occupants, the boy wailed, "I've lost him! He keeps getting away from me!"
"He'll turn up," said Harry, trying to cheer the boy up.
"Yes. Well, if you see him..." agreed the boy before he left.
"Don't know why he's so bothered," wondered Ron. "If I'd brought a toad, I'd want to lose it was quick as I could. Mind you, I brought Scabbers, so I can't talk."
Scabbers, having roused himself long enough to steal and dine upon a Chocolate Frog, was once again snoring on Ron's lap.
"He might have died and you wouldn't know the difference," said Ron in disgust.
"I would," said Grim.
Slightly unnerved by this comment, but hiding it relatively well, Ron continued, "I tried to turn him yellow yesterday, to make him more interesting, but the spell didn't work."
"A yellow rat," mused Mandy. "Now there's an idea."
"I'll show you," said Ron, "look..."
Ron set Scabbers down on the space next to him and then fumbled about in search of his wand. It was a battered looking thing and seemed ready to snap at the slightest jostle, but Ron held it up with a flourish as he prepared to cast the spell.
He was interrupted, however, before he could even begin the incantation. The compartment door swung open and a young witch with bushy brown hair, larger than usual front teeth and a bossy sort of voice leaned inside. "Has anyone seen a toad?" she asked, "Neville's lost one."
"No toads in here, I'm afraid," answered Harry.
"Oh, well, sorry for--" She broke off when she saw that Ron had his wand out. She stepped fully into their compartment and looked at the redhead, and the still slumbering Scabbers, with interest. "Oh, are you doing magic? Let's see it, then."
"Er..." was all Ron could manage, taken aback by her forwardness.
"I tink what de boy is saying--"
Grim was cut off by a loud squeak when the girl took proper notice of him. She jumped back, obviously trying to flee the compartment, but banged up against the door, which had slid shut after she had entered.
"Relax," Harry told her. "Don't worry," he said, trying to forestall the imminent panic attack that usually set in when most people encountered Grim for the first time. "Grim won't hurt you - he's perfectly harmless."
"Says you," grumbled Grim.
"Grim," supplied Mandy.
"The Grim Reaper," said the girl breathlessly. "The Grim Reaper's sitting right here..."
"Easy there," soothed Harry.
"Easy? Easy!" the girl repeated, looking at Harry incredulously. She stabbed a finger at Grim and asked, "That's DEATH sitting there opposite you and you want me to be easy!"
"Well, yeah," said Harry, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.
"How can you expect that?" demanded the girl.
"He's one of my best friends," explained Harry patiently. Deciding that a distraction might be in order, he introduced himself. "I'm Harry, by the way, Harry Potter."
The girl stared dumbly at Harry, not really comprehending what he was saying. She looked from him to Grim and back several times, the idea that the two were friends obviously not sinking in properly.
Uncertainly she asked, "You're friends with the Grim Reaper?"
"Pretty much," Harry confirmed.
"Dey forced me into it," protested Grim.
"I don't believe it," muttered the girl.
"Why not?" asked Mandy, arching a wry eyebrow. "It can't be any more unbelievable than magic."
"Well, yes, I suppose so," agreed the girl, starting to nod. She then began to talk at a rapid pace, apparently forgetting Grim's presence in the process. "Nobody in my family's magic at all, it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, Hogwarts is the very best school of witchcraft there is, I've heard - I've learnt all our set books off by heart, of course, I just hope it'll be enough - I'm Hermione Granger, by the way, who're you?"
Seeing that Mandy, Grim and Ron were all looking at Hermione in surprise, most likely because of her runaway speech which had been made without any pause for breath, Harry decided to make proper introductions.
"I'm Harry," he repeated "and this is my other best friend; Mandy," he wave a hand to indicate Mandy. He then motioned at the seats opposite him. "You obviously recognised Grim, or at least know of him, and this is Ron."
"Hi," waved Ron timidly, uncertain of what to make of the bushy-haired girl.
Hermione, however, had by now taken proper note of Harry's name and reacted accordingly.
"You're Harry Potter? Really?" she asked. "I know all about you, of course - I got a few extra books for background reading, and you're in at least three of them, mostly the historical ones, of course."
"I am?" asked Harry.
"He is?" asked Mandy.
"Goodness, didn't you know, I'd have found out everything I could if it were me--"
"Take a breath, girl," Grim interrupted, "or you'll suffocate and den we'll be on much more personal speaking terms."
"Eep!" squeaked Hermione, once again going pale and backing into the compartment door.
"Grim," chastised Harry. "Stop scaring everyone we come across."
"I can't help it," said the skeleton, "it in my nature."
Harry turned to Hermione, who was eyeing Grim uneasily, and reassured her. "Don't worry about Grim, he just likes scaring people for no reason. He won't hurt you."
Mandy gave a sharp nod and added, "Not if he knows what's good for him."
"He's our friend," repeated Harry.
"How did that happened?" Hermione finally asked.
"Have a seat," offered Harry, pointing out the empty space next to himself and Mandy. "It's a bit of a long story, so I think you'll want to sit down for it."
"I can't believe it," said Hermione incredulously an hour or so later, shaking her head at Harry. "You actually threw your own cousin into an inter-dimensional portal?"
"Couldn't be helped, he'd swallowed de book," said Grim with a shrug.
They were referring to an incident early in Grim's stay at number four, when Dudley had gotten his hands on one of Grim's older tomes; The Bad Book, the official illustrated handbook to the underworld, and managed to unleash all manner of trouble - namely a strange inter-dimensional being by the name of Yog Sothoth.
Nobody really understood why Dudley had done this. For that matter, none of them knew how or why Dudley got involved in any of their little adventures. He might have been imbecilic, but he was also positively terrified of Grim - who ranked only slightly lower than Mandy when it came to Dudley's list of people to avoid.
"Besides, it wasn't me who pushed him in," Harry defended himself. "It was Mandy."
"Hey, it worked," was all Mandy said.
"Pity it spat him back out," mused Grim.
"How can you say that?" asked Hermione, looking horrified at such callousness.
"If you ever meet Dudley, you'll understand," explained Harry dryly.
The group's reminiscing over some of Harry, Mandy and Grim's adventures was interrupted when the door to the compartment slid open once again.
"We're certainly popular today," commented Mandy.
Their latest visitor was a young wizard, about their age, with pale skin, a pointed face and platinum blonde hair. He was flanked on either side by what appeared to be a pair of troglodytes in human clothes.
"Is it true?" the blonde boy demanded a tad pompously. "They're saying all down the train that Harry Potter's in this compartment. So it's you, is it?"
"Yes," answered Harry absently. He was more interested in the two lunks than the pale-faced boy. He had never seen such throwbacks before. Even Dudley seemed civilised by comparison, albeit not by very much. Darwin, he concluded, would have been delighted to meet them, as being proof of the existence of a Missing Link.
"Oh, this is Crabbe and this is Goyle," introduced the boy, having noticed Harry's examination of his companions. He then assumed a lofty expression and continued, "And my name's Malfoy, Draco Malfoy."
The situation, already tenuous, promptly deteriorated from there on, mostly as Ron and the newly introduced Draco began a verbal confrontation. Apparently something of an unofficial feud existed between the Weasleys and the Malfoys, with Ron's dad trying to link Draco's dad to various dark activities. The elder Malfoy used his money and influence to deftly avoid the accusations, all the while making disdainful references to the Weasley's lack of material wealth.
Things did not improve when Draco discovered that both Mandy and Hermione were Muggleborn students and not, as he phrased it, proper pure-blooded witches. For some strange reason, Draco did not take much notice of Grim, who was quietly watching proceedings with interest.
"You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter," Draco assured him smugly. "You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there."
Draco held out his hand in offering. Harry regarded it in much the same manner he would a venomous serpent.
"I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks," he replied.
"I'd be careful if I were you, Potter," Draco hissed, his cheeks pink as he blushed with anger at Harry's rebuffal. He retracted his proffered hand, his expression turning ugly. "Unless you're a bit politer, you'll go the same way as your parents. They didn't know what was good for them either."
Harry really did not like it when people insulted his parents, even if he had never really known them.
"Grim," him said blandly, rising to his feet but not turning his glare away from Draco.
"Lend me your scythe for a minute..."
"Oh no," Grim raised a finger and wagged it back and forth in a negative manner. "Remember what happened de last time? Halloween wit Jack O' Lantern and all o' dem pumpkins?"
"Fine," grumbled Mandy impatiently as she finally stood up from her seat. She put a hand on Harry's shoulder and gently nudged him out of her way as she moved to confront Draco. As she stepped past, she told him, "I'll handle them, Harry."
Draco gave a derisive snort and asked, "Why am I not surprised Potter's hiding behind his little mudblood girlfriend?"
"Don't call her that!" snapped Harry. He did not know was a 'mudblood' was, but could tell that is was not a term to be mentioned in polite company.
"Defending her honour, are you?" asked Draco. He looked Mandy over and sneered, "I guess love truly is blind."
"Love is for the weak-minded," countered Mandy. She then took two quick steps forward and imbedded her shin into Draco's crotch. All of the males, even Grim, winced in sympathy as the blow landed.
Draco turned a shade of pale that was as white as Grim's bones, before turning a livid red and then a pale shade of green as he clutched his injured privates. With a pitiful whimper he collapsed into a foetal ball on the compartment floor, unassisted by Crabbe and Goyle, who could only watch dumbly.
Ron, hands protectively covering his own groin, swallowed convulsively. "Wow, she's... evil."
"You have no idea," muttered Grim.
Mandy calmly returned to her seat, giving no indication at all that Draco's current agony was the result of her actions. Harry joined her a moment later, resuming his place between her and Hermione.
"Thanks," he said.
"Don't you think that might have been a little excessive?" asked Hermione, eyeing the curled up Draco with worry.
"No," replied Mandy.
"But you could have seriously injured him!"
"That was the idea."
"Yeah," agreed Ron. "Quit complaining about it."
Hermione was cut off by a voice from behind Crabbe and Goyle, "Excuse me, but could you get out of my way?"
Crabbe and Goyle dutifully stepped aside, grabbing hold of a shivering Draco as they did so and dragging him out of the way as well. The blonde boy did seem to be starting on the road to recovery, but was still taking deep gulps of air between his sobs and was wearing an expression of pure suffering.
The latest visitor to the compartment, which was starting to get a little crowded, was revealed as he stepped fully inside. Initial impressions were that he bore a startling resemblance to Harry, although with sharper features, predominantly black clothes and an unnerving green glow illuminating his glasses from behind.
"Harry! Hell--" the newcomer greeted with a smile, one which suddenly became much less enthusiastic when he noticed Grim and Mandy, "--oh, you're here as well..."
"You... you know them?" Draco managed to gasp out.
"He's my cousin," Harry said by way of explanation.
"Nergal Junior," intoned Mandy.
Nergal was a powerful, yet lonely being from the fiery centre of the earth's core. Harry and Mandy had first encountered him when he decided to kidnap them to be his friend forever. Grim had initially been delighted, but had eventually come to their rescue, claiming that he was saving them only so that he could eat them later.
The group had encountered the shadowy Nergal on several other occasions that finally came to a conclusion, of sorts, on Valentine's Day, two years ago. Feeling exceptionally depressed by his perpetual lack of friends, Nergal had decided, for some incomprehensible reason, to woo none other than Marge Dursley. Oddly enough, they actually got along and a whirlwind romance followed, despite Vernon and Dudley's attempts to prevent it.
Shortly thereafter the blissfully happy newlyweds (everyone else still shuddered at the thought) somehow managed to have Junior. Taking into account the nature of his father, nobody bothered to question the shortness of the pregnancy, or why a boy who wasn't even two years old yet appeared much the same age his cousins and Mandy.
Oddly enough Junior got along fairly well with Harry, despite their not being actual blood relatives. This might have had something to do with the fact that Junior was properly disgusted by Dudley, his true blood cousin. That and Dudley had screamed like a newborn when he first Junior's natural form - which even Harry had to admit was enough to turn anybody's stomach.
While the pair might have been somewhat amiable, Junior's relationship with Grim and Mandy was slightly less than friendly, more than likely due to the fact that Mandy once decapitated Junior's teddy bear.
"Nergal?" repeated Malfoy snidely. He was still breathing heavily, but could now more-or-less stand on his own with only minimal support from Crabbe and Goyle. "What kind of name is Nergal?"
"It's my father's name," muttered Junior, eyes narrowing dangerously. Before Draco could retort, Junior lashed out with one hand and grabbed the blonde by the throat. As he hoisted the other boy into the air, a dozen thin, black tentacles emerged from his back, writhing about in agitation. "It's the name of someone a lot more dangerous than you."
Crabbe and Goyle tried to move to help Draco, but were each gripped in the hold of one of Junior's tentacles, which wrapped around their thick waists. Without any effort, Junior lifted them up and briefly electrocuted them. Green energy crackled over their bodies for several seconds before he tossed them, none too gently, out of the compartment.
With the immediate threat removed, Junior turned back to Draco, who was struggling weakly in his grip.
"Junior," cautioned Harry.
"You're not allowed to kill the other students."
"Because those are the rules."
"Well," Junior glared hatefully at Draco, his eyes glowing an unearthly green, "maybe I want to be a rule breaker."
"But that's not right!" exclaimed Hermione, more outraged by the fact that Junior had no qualms about breaking rules than by the fact that he was strangling Draco. Junior merely gave her an incredulous stare. So for that matter, did Ron. Feeling the need for help, she turned to Harry and Mandy. "Stop him!"
"Actually, I was kinda hoping he'd hurry up," replied Mandy.
"With pleasure," said Junior, grinning maliciously.
"Harry!" Hermione pressured.
"Spoilsport," Mandy muttered in a soft aside to Harry.
"Come on, Harry, he deserves it," pleaded Junior.
"Maybe," acquiesced Harry, "but it's not his time."
"How d'you know?"
Harry cocked a thumb at Grim, sitting on the other side of the compartment, and observed, "Grim isn't looking as excited as he usually does when someone's about to die."
Grim nodded in agreement. "True."
Reluctantly, Junior released his hold on Draco. Since he was holding the blonde boy six inches above the floor, Draco dropped in an undignified heap. As soon as he was free of Junior's grasp, Malfoy scrabbled backwards - trying to get as far from Junior as he could. Unfortunately for him, Draco accidentally found himself climbing onto Grim's lap.
"Dat better be sweat coming down your leg, boy," warned Grim after several moments, ignoring the fact that Draco was clinging to him like a nervous barnacle, "or I'm going to be getting medieval on you."
Draco finally took proper notice of Grim, turning to find himself nose to nasal cavity with the disgruntled Reaper's skull. For a brief fraction of a second, he blanched so pale that his skin was almost as white as bone.
With a piercing shriek that had all the blood-curdling qualities of a scythe blade scraping against stone, Draco released his hold on Grim and leaped from the skeleton's lap. He shoved Junior out of the way and fled the compartment as quickly as his legs could carry him, trampling over both Crabbe and Goyle in the process.
The occupants of the compartment stared blankly after Draco for several seconds, listening to his receding wails, before Harry leaned across Hermione and slid the compartment door shut.
"That went well, I think," he mused.
"Immeasurably," agreed Mandy wryly.
"I don't like him," announced Junior, retracting his many tentacles as he sat down opposite Harry, on Ron's free side. "I don't even know his name, but I don't like him."
"Draco Malfoy, and he seems to have that effect on people," replied Harry.
"What the bloody hell was that!" Ron suddenly exclaimed, gaping openly at Junior.
"Am I the only one who noticed the black tentacles that come out of his back?" asked Ron, pointing at Junior. He only then realized that Junior was actually sitting right next to him. "No offence," he quickly added, "but that's not normal."
"So everyone keeps reminding me," grumbled Junior.
"You're not human, are you," asked Hermione after some brief introductions were made.
"Not entirely," Junior admitted.
"I could've told you that," muttered Ron.
"My mother's human though," said Junior hopefully.
"Marge Dursley," put in Harry as an explanation. "She's my Aunt Petunia's sister-in-law."
"Nobody's really sure what Dad is, not even Dad," continued Junior.
"Some sort of ancient Babylonian god," said Mandy.
"Sumerian, not Babylonian," corrected Grim.
"I thought he was Mesopotamian?" asked Harry.
"Same ting," Grim shrugged.
"Not really," said Hermione. "As a matter of fact--"
"You're not going to give us a lecture on ancient civilizations and their gods, are you?" interrupted Ron.
Hermione responded with a huff before turning her nose up and away from Ron. Harry, in the meanwhile, looked curiously at Junior and said, "I didn't know you were a wizard."
"I'm not, even though I can do a bit of magic," Junior replied.
"So, why are you coming to Hogwarts?" asked Harry. "I would've thought your dad would teach you magic."
"Well, uh, it's embarrassing," said Junior. Seeing that everyone was watching him, obviously waiting for him to explain, he went on. "I was hungry, see, and, uh, well, Mother's dog..."
"Wait," Mandy held up a hand to forestall him. "You're saying you ate Ripper?"
"You ate Aunt Marge's prize-winning bulldog!" exclaimed Harry incredulously.
"I was hungry," was all Junior could say.
"He ate a dog? He actually ate a dog?" asked Hermione, her disbelief even greater than Harry's and tinged with a healthy dose of horror.
"Ew, gross," was Ron's summation of the news.
"Afterwards, Mother decided I was... 'lacking discipline'," Junior resumed.
"What did Nergal have to say about it?" asked Mandy.
"Actually, Dad increased my allowance," admitted Junior sheepishly.
"He never did like Ripper," mused Harry.
"Who did?" asked Grim rhetorically. He folded his long arms across his narrow chest and grumbled, "Horrid little beast - always nipping at my ankles."
"Would you rather he buried you, like Saliva does?"
Ron, who was by now beginning to warm to the strange boy sitting beside him, strange black tentacles notwithstanding, decided to ask, "So, why're they sending you to Hogwarts?"
Junior sighed and answered, "Mother thinks that boarding school will teach me 'proper etiquette'."
Ron nodded in commiseration and said, "Sounds like something my Mum would try as well."
Conversation halted as the compartment door opened yet again. This time, however, it was a return visit from one of their earlier visitors. The dark-haired, slightly plump boy, who Hermione introduced as Neville, appeared to still be in search of his missing toad; Trevor.
"Sorry to bother you again," he apologised weakly, "but I don't suppose you've seen Trevor since last time?"
"Trevor?" asked Junior, looking to the others for explanation.
"He's Neville's pet toad," said Hermione. "I was helping to look for him earlier."
"Oh... a toad," said Junior. He suddenly adopted an obviously fake expression of innocence as he turned to Neville and stated, "Sorry, haven't seen him."
"Oh, well, if you do..."
Before Neville could leave, Mandy shared a look with Harry. "Not so fast, Neville," she said, causing the boy to pause in the doorway. She directed a dark scowl towards a nervous looking Junior. "Junior..."
"Yes?" asked Junior brightly.
"What did you do to the toad?"
"What toad?" asked Junior. Mandy's dark scowl became a frigid one. "I didn't do anything."
"Then why are you trying to look innocent?" asked Mandy.
"I am innocent!" Junior protested.
"Ri-ight," drawled Mandy sarcastically.
"Er, what are you guys talking about?" asked Neville uncertainly.
"Junior," began Harry, his own suspicions now mirroring Mandy's unspoken ones. "You haven't done anything... inappropriate, have you?"
"No... maybe," confessed Junior.
"You know where Trevor is?" asked Neville hopefully.
"What happened to the toad?" asked Harry.
"It's not my fault," insisted Junior.
"You do know where Trevor is!" exclaimed Neville, a relieved smile breaking out on his face. "Oh, thank you!"
"I wouldn't thank him just yet, Neville," Mandy cautioned, before turning back to Junior. "I have a sneaky suspicion about what happened."
"What happened to the toad, Junior?" Harry asked a second time.
"I, um, I was feeling a bit... peckish..."
"Oh... my... God..." breathed Hermione in understanding.
"What?" asked Ron, not getting it.
"He ate it," Hermione started to babble. "He ate the toad," she said, voice rising in pitch, "He ate Trevor!"
"WHAT!" Ron looked at Junior with a mixture of horror and disgust.
"Trevor?" Neville quavered with horror.
"You ate him? Why on earth did you do that?" asked Harry.
"I told you; I was hungry," reiterated Junior unhappily.
"De boy takes after his father, dat's for sure," noted Grim, not sounding the least bit surprised. "Unpleasant to be around - especially for people's pets."
"Okay," Mandy pointed from Junior to the floor. "Cough up the toad."
"No excuses. Cough it up," commanded Mandy. Her dark blue eyes narrowed dangerously as she threatened, "Unless you want your teddy to have another... accident."
"You wouldn't," said Junior, clearly alarmed by the thought.
"Oh yes, she would," Harry confirmed.
"You better believe dat," agreed Grim.
"Fine, I'll try," Junior relented. He began taking deep, sucking breathes.
"What's he doing?" asked Ron, edging away from Junior and closer to Grim.
"Coughing up the toad," said Mandy.
By now Junior had stopped sucking in air and was currently wracked with hacking convulsions that were beginning to alarm the various occupants of the compartment, save for Harry, Mandy and Grim. It took a lot to alarm those three, especially when it involved Nergal and his family.
"What's wrong with him?" asked Ron.
"It sounds like he's choking," observed Hermione.
"Trevor?" asked Neville, still in shock after learning what happened to his pet.
Finally Junior gave a wet cough, not unlike a cat spitting out a hairball, and promptly deposited a sizeable blob of... something slimy, on the compartment floor.
Mandy grimaced in distasted and said, "Ew."
"There you go," announced Junior, wiping off his lips and chin. "One toad."
A clearly traumatised Trevor, coated in saliva, mucous and some foul-smelling black ichor, was barely able to manage a wheezing croak of acknowledgement.
Unsurprisingly, Neville finally passed out.
It was dark by the time the Hogwarts Express pulled into the station at Hogsmeade and the air held a chill, causing most of the children to draw their robes close as they disembarked.
Harry, Mandy and Grim stood like an isolated island of calm amidst the crowds of students. Nobody really knew why they made a point to avoid these three, but it probably had something to do with either Mandy or Grim. Hermione, Ron and Junior stood nearby, but remained slightly apart from the trio.
"So," asked Mandy, "Where to now?"
"Haven't a clue," replied Grim.
"I guess we just follow the older students," suggested Harry, spotting the twins and their friend Lee Jordan further down the platform. "They can lead us to the school."
"Right," agreed Mandy with curt nod. "Let's go."
The trio moved to collect their friends, those being Ron and Hermione. They weren't sure if Junior could be classified as such, but included him as well. Their school trunks had already been unloaded and set aside with all the others, to be taken to the school by some unnamed means.
They had barely taken a dozen steps to join Fred and George, when an oddly familiar voice called out to them. It was a tad higher-pitched than they were used to, but they recognised it nonetheless.
"My, look who we have here."
Turning in that direction, they found themselves under the scrutiny of an equally familiar face, albeit looking a good many years younger than they were used to.
"Oh crud," chimed Harry and Mandy together.
"Dere goes de neighbourhood," agreed Grim.
By rights she should have been a woman in the full of her youth, mid-to-late twenties. Instead she had somehow regressed her apparent age to that of an eleven-year old. Her thick mane of blonde hair remained unchanged, as did the slight glint of madness that seemed to burn within her large, bright eyes. She grinned with devious mischief as she sauntered towards them, exposing a slight gap between her upper front teeth.
She was wearing a standard set of Hogwarts school robes, but had not changed her usual Greek garb other than to have them resized to fit her decidedly less voluptuous figure. The contrast between the brilliant white of her bodice and wrap, under the black of her robes, was eye-catching. It would have been indecent, had she still been an adult.
"Eris," acknowledged Grim when she reached them. He set his hands on his hips and scowled with disapproval, asking, "What are you doing here? Does your daddy know what you're up to?"
"Of course Daddy knows," said Eris with an idle wave. "Who d'you think signed my acceptance papers?"
"So you're coming to Hogwarts as well?" asked Harry, dreading the answer.
"Harry, dearie," Eris purred, as she strutted up to him, which fortunately was not as effective now that she was only an eleven-year old. "You look so cute in those robes."
"You know her?" Hermione asked Mandy.
"Unfortunately," growled Mandy through clenched teeth.
"Who is she?" asked Ron.
"Eris," Mandy answered, watching as Eris draped herself over Harry. Ron and Hermione could have sworn that they saw flames blazing in her midnight blue eyes.
"Who?" asked Ron again.
"The goddess of chaos and discord?" asked Hermione, having recognised the name.
"Ah, I see my reputation precedes me, as always," drawled Eris happily.
"You make dat sound as if it were a good ting, girl," countered Grim.
"Of course it is!"
"Why are you here?" demanded Mandy.
"I was bored," explained Eris, propped up against Harry and tracing circle's over his chest, much to his embarrassment. Then she grinned and added, "At least I was, until I saw you and your friends on your way here."
Harry twisted his head to look at her and asked, "So you decided to come with because...?"
Eris gave him and incredulous look and asked in return, "You're kidding, right?" Seeing that he was not, she decided to elaborate, the glint of madness in her eyes growing into a fiery glow as she spoke. "An entire school, filled with witches and wizards. Magic running through every corridor, filling every room and permeating every stone block... can you think of a better opportunity for pure, unadulterated CHAOS!"
Oddly enough, this explanation actually made sense to those that knew her. They were all well aware of the fact that when Eris Kallisti Discordia, Goddess of Chaos and Discord (as the name implied), was bored out of her pretty blonde-haired head, then she was bound to do something completely off the wall. For that matter Eris would likely have done so even if she weren't bored.
"Great," muttered Grim dourly. "Dis is going to be a terrible year."
"Oh, don't be so grim, Grim," Eris told him.
"You and dose golden apples are nuttin' but trouble."
"CHAOS!" exclaimed Eris, the fire burning even brighter.
"Same ting," said Grim.
"We get de idea."
"Perhaps," said Eris, suddenly calm. "Just remember--"
"Everyone's a target," stated Mandy, the only rule that Eris ever played by.
"Why, yes, Mandy," Eris agreed. "EVERYONE! Ah-hahahaha!"
"Eris, calm down," suggested Harry, subtly trying to wiggle his way out of her grip.
"Oh," Eris stopped cackling and actually blushed slightly as she apologised. "Sorry about that, Harry. Wicked laughter is rather like peanuts, don't you think?"
"Peanuts?" asked Ron.
Eris finally took proper notice of the rest of Harry's companions; namely Ron, Hermione and Junior. It was Ron, somehow, that managed to capture her attention. She discarded Harry in a thrice, much to both Harry and Mandy's relief, and slinked over to the now sweating Weasley.
"Ooooh, such fiery red hair, such sparkling blue eyes, such a noble nose, such cute freckles!" extolled Eris as she grabbed hold of Ron in a grip reminiscent of an octopus. "What's your name, dearie?"
"Clingy tramp," Mandy grumbled quietly.
"She's just... affectionate," said Harry, but without much conviction.
"She's trying to make me jealous," declared Mandy staunchly.
"Apparently she succeeded," observed Grim. Mandy replied by giving Grim a murderous glare for suggesting any such thing. Grim wisely shut up and settled back to watch as Eris molested Ron.
"Ooooh, such big hands!" she crowed, holding up one of Ron's arms and examining it closely. She gave the poor boy a salacious grin, entirely out of place on her childish face, and said, "You know what they say about that... you're going to be gifted when you grow up, aren't you?"
"Er... I suppose?"
Watching this with a mixture of bemusement, bafflement and confusion, Junior leaned over to Harry and asked, "Is she flirting with him?"
"Look's like it," confirmed Harry, happy that it was Ron suffering such a fate and not himself.
"Slut," grumbled Mandy, still displeased by Eris' earlier actions. "Hasn't left my Harry for even a minute and she's already trying to get in another boy's pants." Harry gave Mandy a slightly surprised look at her possessive attitude regarding him.
"Ack! What are you doing?" demanded Ron, his voice rising to a squeak.
"Please, Ronnie-poo? I wanna see!" pleaded Eris.
Everyone turned back to Ron and Eris to see that the goddess had unbuttoned Ron's school robes and was now trying to pull Ron's trousers out so that she could peer into them. Ron, who hadn't known her for even five minutes, was naturally trying to resist the attempt.
"Ron! Eris!" exclaimed Hermione. "Stop that! It's indecent!"
Some minutes later the various first-year students had been gathered up by Hogwarts' Groundsman and Keeper of the Keys, a veritable giant of a man who introduced himself as Hagrid. After leading them to a dock and following a short boat ride across the lake, Harry, Mandy, Grim and their schoolmates (which would apparently include both Eris and Junior) finally arrived at the castle.
"The firs'-years, Professor McGonagall," Hagrid presented.
"Thank you, Hagrid. I will take them from here," acknowledged Professor McGonagall. The deputy-headmistress was in the process of pulling the massive front doors to the school open when she spotted Grim. He was not hard to miss, not when taking into account the fact that he was a couple of feet taller than all of the surrounding children.
"Who are you?" she asked sternly, "and what are you doing with the children?"
"He's with us," said Mandy, before Grim could reply.
Professor McGonagall turned her attention away from Grim's lanky form and regarded Mandy, taking note of the pink sundress beneath her school robes, the horn-like appearance of her short blonde hair, the piercing cobalt eyes that were narrowed in a slight frown and the down turned scowl of her lips.
"He's a student?"
"Yes," confirmed Mandy, just as Grim forcibly stated, "No!"
"Yes," reiterated Mandy firmly, giving Grim a glare.
"No, I'm not!" insisted Grim unhappily
"Yes, you are," said Mandy with utter finality.
Grim turned to the impatiently waiting professor and gave a resigned sigh before nodding, "I am."
McGonagall regarded Grim sceptically, but eventually decided to accept his presence amongst the first-years, if only for the moment. She then turned to Mandy, who was standing next to skinny young boy with a rat's nest of black hair and bright emerald green eyes that she immediately recognised as Harry Potter.
The professor's attention, however, remained on Mandy, as she could not help but notice how similar the girl's expression was to that of the school's potions master.
"Excuse me, dear," McGonagall asked, "but you don't happen to be related to Professor Snape, are you?"
"No," replied Mandy curtly. "Why?"
"Oh, no reason," McGonagall dismissed the thought. She then gazed out over the rest of the waiting students and said, "Follow me, all of you." She then led the students, and Grim, out of the Entrance Hall at a brisk clip.
"This place is giving me the creeps," muttered Neville, looking around at the bare stone walls and the flickering torches lining them.
"I kind of like it," said Mandy.
Trailing behind Professor McGonagall, the first-years soon found themselves filing into a small chamber off to one side of the Entrance Hall.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," announced McGonagall. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses."
Everyone listened attentatively as McGonagall explained about the four houses and the points system. All except for Eris, who was ho-humming from boredom. The professor was not pleased by this and seemed even more offended when she took note of the rather... revealing garments Eris was wearing beneath her school robes.
"I shall return when we are ready for you," she said, giving Eris one final look of annoyance before departing. "Please wait quietly."
"How exactly do they sort us into houses?" Harry asked Ron, once McGonagall closed the door behind her.
"Some sort of test, I think," said Ron uncertainly. "Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was joking."
"They're obviously not going to hurt us, Ron," interject Hermione. She rolled her eyes and asked, "Honestly, what kind of school would this be if they did?"
"Can it, dork," ordered Mandy.
"Huh?" Ron looked at her blankly.
"She means; shut up," explained Grim.
"Oh, well, why didn't she say so?"
The entire group turned as the students behind them gasped, and in one or two cases shrieked, in alarm. What they saw was a dozen or so silvery figures emerging from one of the sides walls and into the room with them.
Harry stared and asked, "What the - ?"
"Ghosts," supplied Mandy, eyes widening slightly. "Lots of ghosts."
"I wonder if I know any of dem?" asked Grim.
"I'm sure they all know you," said Mandy.
The ghosts, however, were as yet oblivious to Grim's presence. For that matter, they seemed utterly oblivious to the watching students as well. They appeared to be in the midst of an argument of some sort.
"I'm telling you, it's a sign," insisted a rather fat ghost that appeared to be wearing the robes of a monk, or possibly a friar. "Can't you feel it?"
"Of course I can," said a stuffy looking ghost, dressed in centuries old clothing that was resplendent with ruffles. "But it doesn't mean he is coming here. It could just be a matter of some catastrophe taking place nearby, or a similar occurrence - oh, I say, what are you children doing here?"
The ghosts had finally noticed the students and paused to look them over.
"Hey," Grim suddenly spoke, pointing at the ghost in ruffles, "I remember you."
Every single ghost present stared at Grim and, if possible, grew even paler than they already were.
"I was right! I knew it!" exclaimed the fat friar, looking at once both vindicated in the proof of his assertions, yet also positively terrified by them as well. "He's here!"
"It's the Reaper!" screamed the ruffled ghost, backing away.
"He's come to finish the job!"
"Run for your afterlives!"
"Mommy!" cried another ghost, whose baronial clothes were stained with silvery blood.
Chaos ensued, much to Eris' delight, as the ghosts panicked enmasse and fled in terror from a grinning Grim. The ruffled ghost startled a great many students when his head flopped loose from his neck, remaining attached by only a thin sliver of flesh, as he made a run for it, straight through Draco, Crabbe and Goyle. Once everything settled down the students, save Harry and Mandy, turned baffled gazes towards a smug-looking Grim.
"Heh heh," Grim chuckled. "I've still got it!"
"CHAOS!" shrieked Eris in satisfaction.
"Boneheads," groaned Mandy.
"Er, why did they do that?" asked a pretty Indian girl, clearly one of a pair of twins. "They're ghosts, it's not like anything can hurt them."
"Dat's what you tink," rejoined Grim, popping his scythe into being and brandishing it above his head as he burst into a deep and bellowing bout of laughter. "Bwahahahaha! Muahahahaha!"
"Hey," Harry elbowed Grim in the ribs. "No evil laughter, you'll scare them."
"Dat was de idea," said Grim before putting his trademark tool away.
He did so just in time, as Professor McGonagall returned a moment later. "Move along now," she ordered, beckoning them through the door she had entered from. "The Sorting Ceremony's about to start."
The first-years followed Professor McGonagall into the Great Hall with varying degrees of nervousness. Those who weren't half sick with worry, looked around them and took in their first sight of the Great Hall.
Four great tables were arrayed next to each other, crowded with black-robed students, while a fifth table had been set perpendicular to them, at the front of the hall, where the school's teachers sat. Banners, resplendent in the colours of the four houses, hung from the walls. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of candles floated above their heads, their flames soft and flickering as they drifted back and forth.
It was the ceiling, however, that caught everyone's eyes. It seemed to simply fade away as it arched up from the walls, solid grey stone giving way to an inky black night sky, dotted with twinkling stars.
"It's bewitched to look like the sky outside," Hermione whispered, correctly guessing that Harry and Mandy were wondering how the effect was accomplished. "I read about it in Hogwarts: A History."
"It's like a giant skylight," replied Harry in a hushed voice. A crick was beginning to form in his neck as he craned his head back to take in the ceiling's splendour.
"Quaint," was Mandy's sole comment.
"You have no appreciation for beauty, do you?" muttered Grim.
"Function over form, Grim," Mandy rejoined.
"What's with the hat?" asked Junior, forestalling the age-old debate and turning everyone's attention to the front of the hall, where McGonagall was leading them. Resting placidly on a stool in front of the staff table, was a weather-beaten and time-frayed wizard's hat.
Harry eyed the hat and then asked, "You don't suppose we have to pull something out of it, do you?"
"I could pull a werewolf out of it, if you like," offered Grim.
"Not again," said Mandy, having seen that trick too many times over the years.
"How about a sabre-toothed, man-eating bunny rabbit?" suggested Eris, none to innocently.
"Oh no," said Grim. "No chaos for you until after you're sorted!"
By now all the first-years had gathered before the staff table and the hat, Professor McGonagall gazing sternly back at them. They stood and shuffled about anxiously, waiting for whatever was to happen next. To everyone's surprise, not to mention consternation, the frayed rim of the hat suddenly split open and began to move in song.
It took several seconds, and most of the first verse, before they properly understood that the hat was actually singing a song that detailed the sorting they were about to partake in. Harry, Mandy and several others exchanged incredulous looks, the gimmick of a singing hat a bit too unreal to give credence to.
"So we've just got to try on the hat!" breathed Ron in relief once the Sorting Hat had finished its song and the students and staff applauded. "Merlin, that's a relief."
"Let me guess," said Hermione, "your brothers said you'd have to wrestle a troll or something."
"Bloody prats," said Ron by way of confirmation.
Harry leaned against Mandy's shoulder and whispered in her ear, "What d'you think?"
"I stand by my earlier statement," Mandy muttered back. "These magical folk are touched in the head."
"But you have to admit," commented Grim, "de tune was catchy."
"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," announced McGonagall, taking the Sorting Hat in hand and holding it up. In her other hand she held a piece of parchment that appeared to be a list of all the first-year students. Consulting the list, she called out, "Abbott, Hannah!"
A pink-faced girl with blonde pigtails reluctantly moved forward and took her seat on the stool. Professor McGonagall set the Sorting Hat down on her head, most of which disappeared beneath the hat's wide brim. Several moments passed, Hannah fidgeting nervously, before the Hat bellowed, "HUFFLEPUFF!"
Hannah quickly removed the hat from her head, whereupon it was snatched up by Professor McGonagall before it could fall to the floor, and scurried over to the Hufflepuff table. There she was greeted by a welcoming applause, before finding a seat near the front of her table to watch as the Sorting continued.
"Bones, Susan!" called McGonagall, reading off the next name on her list.
"Seems a rather odd way to sort people," commented Harry as 'Boot, Terry' was sorted into, "RAVENCLAW!"
"I bet that hat can read people's minds," said Mandy. "Remember what it said about not being able to hide any secrets in our heads from it?"
"I'm not sure I want my mind read by some strange hat," said Harry after taking that in.
"Especially such a decrepit one," agreed Eris, looking disdainfully as the hat was removed from 'Goyle, Gregory'.
"Granger, Hermione!" called McGonagall.
"Wish me luck," muttered Hermione before she hurried up and eagerly sat on the stool.
"GRYFFINDOR!" yelled the hat after some consideration.
"Gryffindor?" repeated Ron in obvious surprise, watching as Hermione handed the Sorting Hat back to Professor McGonagall and then hurried over to the Gryffindor table. Ron looked to Harry and said, "The way she prattles on, I'd have sworn she would be a Ravenclaw."
"Dork," muttered Mandy with a roll of her eyes.
The group watched as the Sorting progressed, only ever taking particular interest when someone they knew was called up, such as Neville Longbottom, who was sorted into Gryffindor after a long minute's wait. This was a bit of a surprise when you considered his dismal reaction to when Junior regurgitated his toad.
Then another name was called that they recognised.
This time the Sorting Hat had barely touched the boy's head when it yelled, "SLYTHERIN!"
"No surprises dere," observed Grim as Draco wore an incredibly smug smirk when he hopped off the stool and strutted to where Crabbe and Goyle were waiting at the Slytherin table.
"Great," grumbled Mandy.
"Problem?" asked Harry.
"I'm planning on being in Slytherin," she revealed, earning an alarmed look from Ron.
"You certainly have all de right traits," acknowledged Grim.
"I don't want to put up with Malfoy all year," Mandy continued, her penetrating stare tracking to where the blonde wizard was now sitting. Her scowl deepened. "At the rate he's going, I'll have to kill him before Halloween."
"Hmm," Harry hummed thoughtfully.
Soon it was Harry's turn to be sorted, following two pretty Indian witches, who were identified as the Patil twins, and a dark-haired girl by the name of Sally-Anne Perks. Professor McGonagall did not react in the slightest as she called his name out from the list.
Unfortunately the rest of the hall more than made up for the professor's lack of reaction by breaking out in a stream of frantic whispers and murmurs.
"Did she just say Potter?"
"It's the Boy-Who-Lived!"
"The Harry Potter?"
Mandy gave him a look that was almost sympathetic and commented, "Well, somebody's popular."
Harry ducked his head and muttered, "Yay."
"Oh, don't be such a worrywart," said Grim.
"Who's worried?" asked Harry sarcastically. "A raggedy old hat's about to decide my future at Hogwarts."
"If you would, Mister Potter?" prompted McGonagall. "We don't have all night."
"Right, sorry," Harry quickly apologised, blushing slightly with embarrassment. Reluctantly leaving his friends with the remaining first-years, he scurried over to McGonagall and took his place on the stool. He felt some relief as the stern witch set the Sorting Hat on his head, which sank down until it covered his eyes and cut off his view of the Great Hall, as this gave him at least some shelter against the many curious stares being directed his way.
"Oh my," said a little voice in his ear. "Oh my!"
"Oh my, what?" thought Harry, somewhat worried that he now seemed to be hearing voices in his head.
"You are a difficult one. Very difficult," said the voice, which Harry began to suspect as belonging to the Sorting Hat. "Courage a plenty, that's for certain. Almost a fool's worth. A good mind, sharp and quick, if a trifle under-used. And what's this? Oh ho! Now this is unexpected... incredible... impossible even..."
"What?" asked Harry, though careful not to speak the actual question out loud. None of the other students that had been sorted had spoken and he would feel a right fool if he were the only one to do so.
"Friends with the Grim Reaper, or more accurately something of a master-slave relationship," said the Hat, its voice rich with lazy amusement.
"Well, not really," Harry protested weakly.
"Ah, yes, I see," the Hat agreed after a short pause. Its amusement seemed more pronounced. "It's actually the girl that holds death under her heel. Remarkable."
"That's a good way to describe her," agreed Harry, his thoughts turning to Mandy.
"You feel quite strongly for her, don't you?" asked the Hat.
"She's my best friend," said Harry simply.
"As clueless as your father was at this age, I see," sighed the Hat. "How reassuring."
Sensing where that particular vein of conversation might lead, and not wanting to go there, Harry decided to ask something he had been considering for the past few minutes.
"Can you put her in the same house as me?" he asked.
"And why should I do that?" the Hat asked in return, still sounding bemused. Harry had the feeling the Hat thought he was asking out of some sort of misguided romantic notions - as implied by its earlier statements regarding Mandy.
"She expects you to put her in Slytherin," Harry tried to explain, "but you've already put Malfoy there..."
"Young Draco? Don't like him, eh?" asked the Hat, not having any difficulty in picking up Harry's feelings of distaste for the pale wizard. "Afraid he might do something to your friend?"
"Actually, it's the other way around," confessed Harry, relaxing somewhat as he felt he was now on more familiar ground. Discussing Mandy's stated dislike of Malfoy, and the possible consequences thereof, was something he could do more readily than talking about some hat-imagined romantic relationship with her. "If he annoys her too much, Mandy might kill him - and I don't want her getting expelled for it."
"Come now, Potter," chided the Hat. "I doubt she would do Mister Malfoy any lasting harm."
"Trust me, she would," insisted Harry.
"Really? Let's take a look then..." The Sorting Hat grew quiet for what felt like a long time, obviously looking through Harry's memories of Mandy. His thoughts drifted to her once again during this, brief images of moments past flashing in front of his mind's eye. This quiet, and rather enjoyable drifting down memory lane came to an abrupt halt as the Sorting Hat's voice suddenly bellowed within his mind, "GOOD GOD BOY! ARE YOU INSANE?"
"Huh?" asked Harry intelligently.
"HOW COULD YOU HONESTLY WANT A - A MONSTER LIKE HER IN THE SAME HOUSE AS YOURSELF!" demanded the Hat, its voice losing none of its volume. "FORGET ABOUT DRACO'S SAFETY AND WORRY MORE ABOUT YOUR OWN!"
"Don't say things like that about Mandy!" protested Harry unhappily.
"THE GIRL'S EVIL INCARNATE!" insisted the Hat.
"I don't care! She's my friend!" Harry obstinately declared, doing the mental equivalent of crossing his arms over his chest and glaring defiantly a the Hat.
"SHE WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD!"
The Sorting Hat was momentarily dumbfounded by Harry's easy acceptance of Mandy's goals in life, and spent several seconds spluttering incoherently. Finally it recovered and attempted to reason with the boy whose mind it was currently perusing, this time trying a more oblique approach.
"That ambition is the same one that drove the man who murdered your parents," it said.
Harry perked up slightly and asked, "Voldemort?"
"Yes," confirmed the Hat sagely. "I have sorted every student to come through this school's gates since the Founders. I remember them all - even the ones that others fear to speak the name of."
"He was a Slytherin, right?" asked Harry.
"...Yes," the Hat answered after a reluctant pause.
"Then put Mandy in another house," said Harry, calmly arguing his case. "It doesn't have to be the same house as I'm in, just not Slytherin."
"Not Slytherin, eh?" asked the Hat, thoughtfully. It could scarcely believe that it was actually contemplating what the boy was suggesting. "And what makes you think that will make any difference?"
"Mandy won't try anything too bad if I'm there to talk her out of it," Harry assured it. That he had never actually succeeded in talking Mandy out of any of her wilder schemes was something he felt he would do well not to bring up.
"You're the one that's worried about what she might do when she gets older," pointed out Harry.
"Worried isn't quite the word I'd use to describe my feelings about that little monster you call a friend," muttered the Hat in undertone.
"Stop saying things like that about her!" snapped Harry.
"You certainly have loyalty in your heart. Enough for a dozen Hufflepuffs, and more to spare," mused the Hat, a tinge of amusement returning to its voice. "You'd do well in all the houses. You have their traits. The bravery of Gryffindor. The intelligence of Ravenclaw. The loyalty of Hufflepuff. And a thirst to prove yourself that would serve you well in Slytherin."
"Er... I thought we'd agreed against Slytherin," said Harry nervously.
"That was with regards your lady friend," corrected the Hat, its amusement growing. It was having some fun making Harry sweat while it made its decision. "You on the other hand..."
"Not Slytherin, anywhere but Slytherin," begged Harry.
"Are you sure?" the Hat asked, playing the devil's advocate. "You could be great, you know, and Slytherin would help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that."
"Mandy can be great," said Harry in earnest. "I'd rather just stay out of it."
"Well, if you're sure, better be GRYFFINDOR!"
A loud roar of approval sounded from the Gryffindors, though Harry scarcely noticed. He was too busy being relieved at having avoided Slytherin. He walked shakily to the Gryffindor table, where he was greeted by a smug looking Percy Weasley, who pumped his hand firmly, while the twins yelled, "We got Potter! We got Potter!"
The remainder of the Sorting went quickly, as there were only a few first-years left unchosen. 'Turpin, Lisa' was duly sorted into Ravenclaw, before Professor McGonagall called out Ron's name. The young Weasley was looking decidedly green as he stepped up, but was dispatched to Gryffindor almost as quickly as Malfoy had been sent to Slytherin.
"Well done, mate," said Harry once his new friend has joined him at the Gryffindor table.
"Bloody hell," mumbled Ron, collapsing into the seat next to Harry. He was still several shades paler than normal. "I've never been so nervous in my life. I was scared I'd throw up."
"Well, you didn't," said Hermione from her seat next to Percy, "so don't worry about it."
The Sorting Ceremony was over.
The only problem was that not everyone had been sorted.
The occupants of the Great Hall stared curiously at the four figures in the centre-aisle that remained unsorted, though Professor McGonagall had finished her list. The four, consisting of Mandy, Grim, Junior and Eris, stared back. This state of affairs lasted for nearly a minute before Mandy became impatient.
"Well?" she asked.
Professor McGonagall glanced down at the parchment still in her hands and made to read it over again, just in case she had somehow missed any names. Her perusal complete she looked up and peered over the rims of her glasses at the four and said, sounding affronted by the fact, "You are not on the list."
"Of course we're not," replied Mandy.
"Then what are you doing here?" demanded one of the professors at the staff table, a pallid-faced man with greasy black hair that hung almost to his shoulders in limp tangles.
"Professor Snape, I see no need to be confrontational," said Professor Dumbledore, holding up a hand. Once Snape gave a curt nod of concession, the headmaster turned his attention to Mandy. "Please, dear girl, could you explain?"
"I don't know about these two," Mandy indicated Junior and Eris, "but I'm not on your list because, until a month ago, I wasn't a witch and couldn't do magic of any kind."
"You mean you... you were a Muggle?" asked McGonagall in pure disbelief.
"Yeah, that's what you call them," confirmed Mandy.
Something of a calamitous roar broke out at this revelation, the staff and already sorted students blurting out questions or declamations. Mandy did not so much as bat an eyelid. Instead she waited impassively, as she was wont to, for the commotion to settle down. It was Professor Dumbledore who restored some order, using his wand to shoot red sparks into the air, accompanied by a loud bang that sounded like a cannon being fired.
"Silence, please! Silence!" the headmaster commanded in a tone of voice that brooked no dissension. Once some measure of peace had settled over the students and his faculty, Dumbledore returned his gaze to the blonde girl that had so easily stirred up the hornet's nest. Silently he motioned for her to go on.
"I was a Muggle," explained Mandy simply, as if to a child. "Now I'm a witch."
"You can do magic?"
"She tried to turn my cousin Dudley into a pig," called out Harry, corroborating Mandy's tale. A smile formed on his lips when he recalled the incident. "Gave him a matching tail, nose and ears."
"I would've succeeded too," said Mandy, "if he weren't already so much like one that there's next to no different."
"I see..." mumbled Dumbledore, though it was obvious that he was currently at just as much of a loss to explain such a miraculous transformation as everyone else present. His recently mounting 'Encroaching Doom Syndrome' was now close to reaching what he felt to be its peak. Clearing his throat and gathering his scattered wits, he asked, "How did you accomplish this?"
"Turning Dudley into a pig, or becoming a witch?" asked Mandy. "Be specific."
"Becoming a witch," Dumbledore clarified.
"Oh, that was easy," said Mandy dismissively. "I had Grim do it."
"Enough of this boring dawdling!" interrupted Eris, pushing past Mandy and stepping forward. She strode confidently past a still dumbfounded Professor McGonagall and settled herself down on the stool. "I am Eris Kallisti Discordia," she announced pompously, "and if anyone's going to be sorted first, out of us four, it's going to be me!"
Dumbledore, his attention temporarily diverted from Mandy, focused on the other unsorted blonde witch. It was a measure of how unsettled he was that the headmaster did not recognise the name she had given. "This is highly irregular," he said. "If you're not on the list of first-years then I very much doubt that you have the appropriate papers and parental permissions to attend..."
Eris casually waved a hand in Dumbledore's direction and the headmaster trailed off as a short stack of papers appeared before him. "All there, dearie," she told him smugly with a toothy grin. "A bit short notice, I admit, but I think you'll find everything in order. In fact, I even included all you need for Harry's cousin and dear little Mandy as well."
"What's your hurry?" asked Grim suspiciously.
"You're the one who said it, Grim," Eris explained. "No chaos until after I'm sorted. Therefore, the sooner I get sorted, the sooner I can get started with some CHAOS!"
"Everybody needs a hobby, I suppose," Grim reluctantly admitted.
"Well," said Dumbledore, paging through the forms, "Everything seems to be in order..."
"Yes," agreed Eris. "You have no idea how much that pains me."
Not finding anything wrong with any of her paperwork, including documented proof that all necessary fees had been paid as well, Dumbledore could not refuse Eris' entrance into Hogwarts, so he motioned for Professor McGonagall to proceed with the sorting.
McGonagall, who had by now fully recovered from her earlier surprise, quickly gathered her wits and moved over to where Eris was sitting. "Ahem, very well then," she said, holding up the Sorting Hat. Though Eris was already in place and did not need to be called up, McGonagall announced her name anyway. "Discordia, Eris."
"Well now, this is unexpected," proclaimed the Sorting Hat after it had settled in place on Eris' head. "I've never been asked to sort a goddess before."
"Goddess?" repeated an astonished McGonagall.
"Of Chaos and Discord, dearie," confirmed Eris from beneath the hat.
"I did not think the children of Zeus visited this world any longer," commented the hat with audible curiosity. "You have not done so since the years of Merlin, before the Founders were born and I myself was made."
"Oh, we do," Eris assured, "It's just that we don't make such big entrances as we used to."
"Yes, so I see," agreed the hat. "Very well, let's begin..." The Sorting Hat fell silent, contemplating the goddess now wearing it. It sat on Eris' head for what seemed like a very long time, occasionally humming or hawing or making some other thoughtful sound.
Finally, it spoke up once again, "It would be beneficial for all if someone were to remind Salazar's chosen that they are not as superior as they wish to believe. In order to change that, best I send you to SLYTHERIN!"
Slytherin welcomed the newest addition to their house with a surprised and stony silence. Eris, seeming not to notice the lack of enthusiasm that greeted her, skipped over to the Slytherin table. Not finding a suitable place to sit, she gave a puggish looking girl a hard shove, knocking her out of her seat, and settled down opposite Draco Malfoy.
"Oh, you're a wicked looking one," she noted, looking Draco over. She reached into her school robes, which had somehow contrived to drape themselves artistically around her when she sat, and promptly withdrew a gleaming gold apple which she then offered to him. "Care for an apple, dearie?"
Draco was too distracted by the somewhat revealing nature of Eris' clothing, despite the fact that she appeared no more than eleven, that he completely failed to notice the maniacal gleam in her eyes as he reached for the apple.
"Should we stop him?" Grim asked Mandy as they watched.
"Why?" asked Mandy in return.
Just as Draco's fingertips brushed against the apple, Eris flicked her wrist and tossed the apple into the air. Draco was not fast enough and it dropped into his lap. There was a sudden explosion of light and noise, accompanied by a fair bit of smoke, which eventually cleared to reveal that Draco was nowhere in sight.
"Draco!" cried the girl whose seat Eris had claimed.
A moment later the question of what happened to Draco was answered when a silver-furred ferret thumped down onto the Slytherin table from above. It did not move from where it had landed and remained perfectly still, frozen in what could only be shock.
"Whoops?" asked Eris with insincere innocence. Seeing the stunned expression on Draco's face, or what currently passed for it, she began cackling with demented glee. "Ah-hahahaha! CHAOS! Ah-hahahaha! EVERYONE!"
Across the hall, at the Gryffindor table, the Weasley twins observed these happenings with envious eyes.
"Girl's got talent," acknowledged George.
"Yeah," agreed Fred. "Pity she's in Slytherin."
"A ferret," whispered Ron in awe. "She turned Malfoy into a ferret."
"That's Eris for you," said Harry.
"I think I'm in love."
The greasy-haired professor, who Dumbledore had referred to as Snape, had by now leapt to his feet, hurried around the staff table and stormed, in an impressive display of billowing black robes, across to the Slytherin table, where Eris was continuing to cackle over Draco's misfortune.
"WHAT THE DEVIL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING GIRL!" demanded Snape, grabbing Eris by the shoulder and viciously pulling her out of her seat and around to face him. "HOW DARE YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS TO ONE OF MY STUDENTS!"
"Oh, don't get your knickers in a twist, dearie," Eris told him calmly. "It's just in good fun."
"GOOD FUN!" roared Snape in disbelief. He waved a furious hand at the still shell-shocked ferret. "YOU'VE TRANSFIGURED MISTER MALFOY INTO A FERRET! THERE IS NOTHING 'FUN' ABOUT THAT!"
"Oh yes, there is," maintained Eris, not even blinking against the professor's rage.
"Professor Snape," Dumbledore said, trying to calm Snape.
"Turn him back!" demanded Snape. "Now!"
"Um... no," chirped Eris happily, turning her back to Snape and admiring Draco. "That's some of my best work, right there," she said. "Why would I ever want to undo it?"
With a muttered hiss, Snape drew his wand from within his robes. He forcibly shoved Eris out of his way, knocking her to her knees, and began waving his wand in Draco's direction.
"Finite Incantatem!" snarled Snape, trying again.
"Won't work, dearie," said Eris, climbing to her feet. "I didn't transfigure him, after all."
"What did you do?" asked Snape, whirling about and looming dangerously over her.
"I turned him into a ferret," said Eris simply, as though it were obvious. She gave a disinterested shrug and explained, "No magic involved, just CHAOS!"
"Professor Snape," called Dumbledore from his place at the staff table, "Might I suggest--"
"The you change him back!" ordered Snape, now grabbing Eris and pushing her towards the twitching Draco. Eris, now possessing the skinny and ill powered body of an eleven-year old, was unable to resist the force with which he propelled her and subsequently crashed into the Slytherin table, crying out in pain as she did so.
"Here now!" cried Grim, gliding forward. "We'll be having none of dat!"
While he and Mandy had been content to simply stand back and watch events unfold, having Snape physically manhandle Eris was something the reaper would not stand for.
"Stay out of this!" snapped Snape, glaring over his shoulder as Grim approached.
"I don't tink so," Grim told him, interposing himself between the potions master and Eris. "She might be a handful of trouble, most of de time," he said, absently helping Eris up, "but she's a girl - and no man treats a lady like dis."
"She turned one of my students into a ferret," growled Snape.
"So?" asked Grim. "Have you forgotten that she's one of your students as well? She was sorted into Slytherin, after all."
Snape glared at Grim, unwilling to admit that the Reaper was right. "That's even worse! She attacked one of her housemates and changed him into an animal, using some form of Dark Arts, I don't doubt."
Grim arched an eyebrow. "Dark Arts? What Dark Arts?"
"I can't change him back," spat Snape. "Only the Dark Arts are that powerful."
"Phft," scoffed Grim. "Dat was just one of her golden apples. Dey're not Dark Arts, just chaos."
"How would you know?" demanded Snape.
"I am an expert in de Dark Arts," Grim proudly declared.
Snape whipped his wand towards Grim and fired the spell off at point-blank range. Grim stood no chance to dodge and caught the blast of red magic directly in his ribcage. The impact blew him off his feet and knocked him back several yards, where he collapsed in a heap.
"Really now, Professor Snape," said Dumbledore, rising to his feet. "There was no need for that."
"The man claimed to be experienced in the Dark Arts, headmaster," said Snape, explaining his seemingly unprovoked attack. "Do you really want an unknown Dark Arts practitioner running about the school unhindered?"
"You're such a wimp."
Everyone turned to see Mandy, who was standing next to the robe encased pile of bones that was Grim. She was looking down at the battered skeleton and shaking her head at him. To everyone else's surprise Grim began to rise up from his position on the floor, clearly not as disabled by the spell as one would expect.
"Oh-kay," Grim declared ominously, slowly rising to his full height in a manner which belied the fact that he had a body. He moved as if composed of the same liquid shadow that his robes sometimes appeared to be woven from. "Somebody's gonna get hurt real ba-ad!"
"Better be careful," cautioned Mandy, unconcerned. "He might knock you around some more."
"He can knock me about all he likes," said Grim. "Sooner or later though, I will get him. Nobody beats me."
"What about Mrs Doolan?" asked Mandy, referring to the woman that had once lived in an old house out on the edges of Little Whinging. She had beaten Grim in many sports, from tennis to boxing, until her death. Even then, though, she had survived as a ghost, clinging to this earth and refusing all of Grim's attempts to send her to the netherworld. Of course, it went without saying that Mandy had also beaten Grim at his own game, perhaps even more successfully than Mrs Doolan had.
"Insufferable woman dat one," grumbled Grim. "But I got her in de end."
"She seemed rather spry when I saw her," noted Mandy.
"Maybe," admitted Grim, before smiling with satisfaction, "but she was still dead."
Snape's second spell, cast while Grim was distracted by Mandy, hit in the exact same spot as the first and with just as much force. Grim was tossed back once more, this time crashing up against the Ravenclaw table and forcing several of the closest students there to evacuate their seats.
Gasps, yells and screams sounded as the hood to Grim's robes was knocked back during his impact with the table, for the first time fully revealing his bare skull to the hall's occupants.
"I was right!" cried Snape in vindication, clearly pleased that Grim had been revealed for what he was.
"Foolish mortal!" bellowed Grim, rising up once again, faster this time. "I don't tink you know who I am..."
"Maybe not," admitted Snape, "but I know what you are. Some foolish Death Eater impersonator, trying to make a name for himself by sneaking into Hogwarts, using the new students to mask your presence before you strike." Snape's wand remained fixed on Grim, even as the rest of the school's staff rose to their feet behind the high table.
"I am hardly looking to make a name for myself - I already have one!" rejoined Grim, holding his right hand out to one side, away from his body. "Let me give you a hint to what it is..."
Shadow coalesced around Grim's outstretched hand, swirling around with purple lightning that danced around its edges. This was more for effect that anything else, a flashy trick to intimidate the ignorant. Right now it was doing its job pretty damn well. The pulsing mass began to take form, elongating into a straight staff with a wicked, curving blade emerging from one end. As the shadows and dark energies melted away, it became obvious what was now held in Grim's hand.
Grim's skeletal hand gripped the weapon tightly and held it up above him, the gleaming arc of the blade shining as it reflected the torch and firelight. It was an impressive pose, enhanced by the scythe's thrum of barely restrained power, which reached a climax as Grim seemed to swell up and loom over the suddenly uncertain Professor Snape.
"I am de GRIM REAPER!" intoned Grim, his voice deeper than any chasm and reverberating ominously.
Billowing black clouds swirled into being and filled the night sky while a cold wind blew, lightning cracked and thunder rumbled, all this reflected through the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall. The air throughout the room suddenly grew cold, turning breaths to vapour and leaving fine layers of frost on any exposed metal surface.
The black pools of Grim's empty eye sockets bore down on Snape as he slowly glided forward, his black robes flowing like water across the stone floor. Snape actually took a step back, almost tripping over a reclining Eris. At some point during this confrontation she had conjured up a small mountain of plush cushions to recline on and was now sipping some tea as she watched things play out.
"Sectumsempra!" yelled Snape, brandishing his wand.
A bolt of energy flashed towards Grim, but this time the Reaper was prepared for the professor's attack. Deftly twirling the scythe with the ease that came of millennia of practice, Grim deflected the curse up into the air, where it exploded harmlessly against the ceiling.
"Ask not for whom de bell tolls," Grim announced, leaning in close and hefting the scythe so that Snape's pale face was reflected in the mirrored finish of the carefully polished blade. "It tolls for thee!"
"Okay, Grim, that's enough," declared Mandy.
"I'm not done yet," replied Grim, lifting the scythe up in preparation to take a swing with it.
"I said that's enough," repeated Mandy, striding up to Grim, amazing most of the hall's occupants with her blatant lack of fear as she did so, and gave the menacing figure a swift kick to the shin.
"Ouch!" exclaimed Grim, dropping his scythe and clutching the offending shin.
"You're such a wimp," repeated Mandy as Grim hopped about on one leg.
"What did you do dat for?" demanded the unhappy Reaper.
"Ahem," Professor Dumbledore announced his presence, having left his seat to intercede before events escalated beyond what they already had. He put a hand on Snape's arm and forced the younger wizard's wand down to the floor. "I think it best, Professor Snape," he said, "if you would return to your seat."
"Headmaster," Snape began, but was cut off by Dumbledore's raised hand.
"We can discuss this, as well as your use of such a dangerous Dark Arts curse in front of the students, in my office, once the Sorting is over," said Dumbledore patiently.
He waited for the potions master to depart and then turned to Mandy and Grim, the latter of which had stopped hopping and was now glaring balefully at Mandy. Unsure of what to make of the blonde girl, who now held Grim's scythe slung over her shoulder and returning his gaze with a penetrating stare even he found unnerving, Dumbledore turned to Grim.
"You truly are the Grim Reaper?" he enquired cautiously.
"I am," confirmed Grim.
"Might I ask what you are doing here, at Hogwarts?" asked Dumbledore, beginning to feel that Death's arrival was most probably the cause of his 'Encroaching Doom Syndrome'.
"De kids brought me wit dem," explained Grim.
It was Harry Potter, however, speaking up from across the hall at the Gryffindor table, that tried to explain the Reaper's somewhat ambiguous statement. "Grim's our... uh..." He trailed off, unsure of how exactly to explain Grim's relationship with Mandy and himself.
"Friend slave," supplied Mandy. "He lost a bet and promised to stay with us forever."
"Yeah, that's about right," concurred Harry happily.
"I hate you both," pouted Grim, wrestling his scythe away from Mandy.
"Think of him as our butler," suggested Harry to the headmaster.
"Butler, maid, chef, chauffer," Mandy listed, ticking off her fingers. She gave Grim a pointed glare and said, "He's whatever we want him to be. And does whatever we tell him to do - or else."
"Rasafrasaring girl," grumbled Grim unintelligibly.
"I see," managed Dumbledore, doing a reasonable job of hiding his absolute consternation at this turn of events.
"Don't worry," Mandy assured the headmaster. "He's perfectly harmless."
"I am not harmless!" protested Grim, affronted by the idea. "I am de Grim Reaper, death itself give form, feared by all, wielder of de scythe, de only true constant of dis universe and one of de oldest and most powerful beings in all of creation!"
Mandy listened to Grim's proclamation before turning back to Dumbledore and blandly repeating, "He's harmless."
Clearing his throat, Dumbledore peered at Grim and asked, "You aren't planning on reaping any students, are you?"
"Not unless it's their time," replied Grim.
"And if it is their time?"
"If dey gotta go, dey gotta go."
"I see," repeated Dumbledore, just as confused as before.
"I'm only here because Harry and Mandy wanted me wit dem," explained a resigned Grim. "I wouldn't even be a student, if I could help it. After all, dere's nuttin' you mortals could teach me about magic dat I don't already know."
"Well, in that case... Grim, if you really don't want to be a student, and as I suspect forcing you to leave will not be within my abilities," considered Dumbledore thoughtfully, "then I suppose we'll simply have to treat you as one of the children's pets."
Dumbledore nodded, as if this peculiar conclusion were perfectly logical, and began to make his way back to his place at the staff table. "Yes," he concluded, "you can move into the first-year Gryffindor boys dormitory as Mister Potter's pet, or I suppose we should call you his familiar."
Grim stared after the headmaster in amazement, "But... but... but..."
"Carry on, Professor McGonagall," Dumbledore ordered as he resumed his seat. Seeing that Grim had not moved from his spot, indeed the Reaper seemed to be frozen in place in a manner not unlike Draco the ferret, he clapped his hands together in an effort to spur the skeleton on. "Chop chop, Grim, no time to dawdle, as Miss Discordia would say."
"Quite right, dearie," agreed Eris, finishing her tea and tossing the empty cup over her shoulder. The resulting explosion left both Crabbe and Goyle covered in soot and looking somewhat char-grilled. "CHAOS! I love it!"
Grumbling despondently, Grim glided across the hall and settled down next to Harry at the Gryffindor table. The only ones there to greet his arrive with any reaction beyond horrified silence, was Harry himself, Ron, Hermione and the twins, Fred and George Weasley, who seemed to think the whole thing to be some sort of giant practical joke.
Masking her shock at recent events, most notably the revelation of Grim's identity, Professor McGonagall turned to the closest of the remaining two children. She looked him over, taking note of the sharply defined features, the black hair styled into a quiff and the black eyes set in glasses that seemed tinged with a green light. He stood perfectly still, perfectly, like a monk in meditation, and regarded her intently.
This was apparently Potter's cousin, at least according to Eris. Though she could see some resemblance between him and the Boy-Who-Lived, there was hardly any similarity between this boy and the overweight blonde bundle called Dudley that Petunia Dursley had been carrying about ten years earlier. Perhaps he was from another side of the family, she concluded.
"So, child, you're a wizard, I trust?"
"I can do magic," Junior obfuscated, unwilling to reveal that he was not, in fact, a wizard. Indeed, he was not even fully human, but still managed to remain strictly truthful while answering McGonagall's inquiry.
"What's your name then?" she asked.
"Junior," replied Junior.
Professor McGonagall closed her eyes, realizing that she had come full circle. Taking a quiet, but deep breath, she tried again. "What is your family name?"
"Nergal," answered Junior promptly.
"And your name?" asked McGonagall.
"Junior," repeated Junior, starting to look a bit annoyed at the repetition.
"All right," accepted McGonagall with a resigned sigh, deciding that surrender was the better part of valour in this particular instance. She held up the Sorting Hat and called, "Nergal, Junior."
Junior quickly stepped up and took his seat on the stool, letting McGonagall settle the Sorting Hat over his head. There was a long moment of silence, then the rim of the hat twisted oddly.
"Another one?" asked the Sorting Hat incredulously. It shimmied about on Nergal's head, until it appeared to be facing where Harry sat. "Death himself, a goddess and now this? You certainly rub elbows with those in high places, m'boy."
"Low places, actually," corrected Junior from beneath the hat's rim.
"Hm? Yes, I suppose so," agreed the hat. "Now, young godling, let us see where to put you..." Several long moments passed before the hat opened its brim wide and shouted, "HUFFLEPUFF!"
"Hmph," snorted Grim as Junior returned the Sorting Hat to Professor McGonagall. "I would've thought the boy would be in Slytherin wit Eris."
Harry cast his friend a knowing glance and asked, "You're never going to forgive Nergal for electrocuting you with his tentacles, are you?"
Junior was greeted by two other first-year boys when he arrived at the Hufflepuff table. The two smiled at him in welcome as he prepared to take a seat.
"Hi, I'm Ernie," greeted the one boy, sticking out a hand.
"And I'm Justin," said the other.
"I'm Junior," said Junior with a broad smile, which proved to be a bad idea, as it revealed a mouthful of teeth that would make a Great White shark envious.
Suffice to say the timid Hufflepuffs went into a state of near shock. When they tried to move as far from Junior as they could, his feelings were understandably hurt and he responded by extruding his tentacles and using them to grab hold of Ernie and Justin before they could flee.
"Where d'you think you're going?" Junior demanded petulantly. The evil green glow behind his glasses intensified as he drew them back, much like a fisherman reeling in a catch. "We're housemates now, remember?" Ernie and Justin could only manage several mindless whimpers by way of reply. "Housemates stick together, like family."
"F-f-f-fah-fah-family," stuttered Ernie in terror.
"Yes, Ernie, family," confirmed Junior with a thin smile. He set Ernie down next to him on one side and Justin on the other, both boys clearly petrified with fear. "I think this is going to be the start of a beautiful friendship. Full on friendship."
The Great Hall was dead quiet as the assembled students and professors watched this play out. Those watching, who were not in Hufflepuff, did not know whether to find it amusing or horrifying. After Eris and the Grim Reaper, they had not thought the remaining two children could be any stranger. Being proved wrong so quickly was worrisome.
It was Professor McGonagall that finally broke the silence by turning to her house's table. "Potter," she asked, a hint of exasperation tingeing her voice, "are any of your friends normal?"
"Well," Harry glanced from McGonagall to Grim, to Junior, to Eris and finally to Mandy. He pointed towards his impatiently waiting friend and said, "Mandy's just an ordinary girl."
Mandy arched an eyebrow, appearing to be slightly insulted at the idea of being an ordinary anything.
"Well, thank goodness," said McGonagall. She turned to Mandy and asked, "What's your full name, dear?"
"Mandy Maxwell," she replied calmly.
"Let's get you sorted then," announced McGonagall, holding up the Sorting Hat. Mandy stepped up and took her seat on the stool. "Maxwell, Mandy."
It was at about this point that the Sorting Hat realized exactly who the deputy-headmistress was about to settle it down on. For a simple piece of frayed cloth and fabric, it panicked very well.
"AAH! GRYFFINDOR! GRYFFINDOR! PUT HER IN GRYFFINDOR, LIKE POTTER WANTED!" the hat screamed at the top of its non-existent lungs, it's voice filled with unbridled terror. "PUT HER ANYWHERE, ANY HOUSE, JUST DON'T PUT ME ON HER HEAD!"
Nobody could help but stare in amazement as the Sorting Hat made a good attempt at climbing its way up McGonagall's arm in a bid to put as much distance as it could between itself and Mandy. The only ones who did not react overtly to this display were those who had some prior experience with Mandy, which led them to expect something like this.
The Sorting Hat continued to shriek and gibber until Professor McGonagall pulled it away from Mandy, eventually setting it down on the staff table, where it quivered shakily for several more minutes before calming down.
"Um..." McGonagall turned a flustered gaze to Dumbledore and then to Mandy, clearly unsure how to proceed. The Sorting Hat had never before refused to sort a student, let alone absolutely refused to even sit upon a student's head.
"I think, Professor McGonagall," said Dumbledore with a hint of amusement, "that we simply follow the Sorting Hat's suggestion regarding Miss Maxwell's placement."
"What suggestion?" asked McGonagall, a lead weight settling in her stomach at what Dumbledore was proposing.
"I believe it said, quite forcefully too, that she should be placed in Gryffindor."
"Ah, yes, of course," she managed, trying unsuccessfully not to let her own disquiet show. If the girl could terrify the hat, without even wearing it, what would she end up doing to Minerva's poor students?
"Gryffindor, huh?" said Mandy, rising from the stool.
"A fine house," observed Dumbledore, his eyes sparkling with mirth.
"Right," agreed McGonagall, regaining her composure. "Go join your housemates, Miss Maxwell, so that we can start the feast without any more delay."
Mandy nodded simply and then strode down towards the Gryffindor table. Her new housemates were absolutely silent, all, save Harry and Grim, wondering what to make of the petite blonde witch with the pink dress beneath her school robes.
"Dammit, Harry, what did you tell that rag?" demanded Mandy as she took her place at the seat next to Harry, which he had saved for her. "I wanted to be in Slytherin." She held up a clenched fist. "Prestige, influence... power, it would have all been mine!"
"Yeah, but at least now you don't have to worry about killing Malfoy," replied Harry.
"I was never worried about killing him," dismissed Mandy.
"That's a relief," said Hermione.
"I was worried about how I was going to get rid of the body."
While Hermione, Ron and the others (save Harry and Grim) gawked at Mandy's response, Dumbledore finally stood to give his start-of-term speech. The assembled students grew quiet and settled back to listen intently.
"Welcome!" Dumbledore proclaimed happily. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few word. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!" He clapped his hands with a flourish and the house tables were suddenly overflowing with trays and bowls and platters of food. "Thank you!"
"Is he - a bit mad?" asked Harry of anyone who might answer.
"More dan a bit, I'd say," opined Grim.
"Mad?" asked Percy, who was sitting nearby. "He's a genius! Best wizard in the world!"
"I'm sensing a but here," commented Mandy.
"But he is a bit mad, yes," nodded Percy. He held out a bowl. "Potatoes?"
Dean Thomas, a black boy who had been sorted into Gryffindor with them and was currently sitting between Seamus Finnegan and Neville, directly opposite Mandy, leaned across the table to talk with her. This action annoyed Harry for some reason, despite the fact that Mandy was not officially his girlfriend. Or unofficially for that matter. But the two of them did have an unspoken understanding that they were together.
"Hullo there, Angel Face," Dean purred. "I'm Dean, Dean Tho..."
"What did you just call me?" asked Mandy in a soft, yet dangerous tone.
"Uh..." Dean hesitated, sensing that he had made a mistake. "Angel Face?"
"Now listen to me... Dean?" Mandy paused until Dean nodded in confirmation. "I have a question for you."
"Do you want to live to see tomorrow?"
"Uh... yes?" managed Dean, now sweating slightly.
"Then don't call me that. Ever," said Mandy.
"Okay, I'll never call you that again," agreed Dean, nodding his head furiously. "Never, ever, ever, ever--"
"Don't push it."
"Right," Dean stopped and composed himself. "Sorry sweetheart."
Mandy's eyebrow slowly arched all the way to her hair band as she repeated incredulously, "Sweetheart?"
Grim, who had been watching Dean's attempt to woo Mandy with amusement, was the first to comment on this latest faux pas. "De boy has a death wish..." He wiped away an imaginary tear of joy. "How beautiful..."
Harry sat back and made a show of visibly saying a prayer, asking in a loud murmur for any deity that happened to be listening (other than Eris) to watch over Dean's soul in the afterlife. Ron and Hermione only watched with trepidation, having witnessed some of what Mandy was capable of when she took down Malfoy on the Hogwarts Express.
Mandy, however, appeared perfectly calm as she spoke. "Dean..."
"Yeah?" asked Dean, so smitten that he failed to realise the mortal danger he was in.
Mandy reached across the table and grabbed him by the back of his head. "I think you should know..." Abruptly and without warning she slammed Dean's head down, smacking his face against the top of the Gryffindor table. "I'm not sweet," she said, before repeating the action, slamming Dean into the tabletop twice in quick succession, "and I don't have a heart."
Dean, with a bloodied nose, split lip and two rapidly forming black eyes, slipped out of his seat and onto the floor of the Great Hall, no longer fully conscious. The room was perfectly silent. Nobody was saying or doing anything, save stare at an unconcerned Mandy.
Unsurprisingly, not even the teachers seemed willing to censure Mandy for her actions. The girl was, after all, apparently a friend of the Boy-Who-Lived, the self-proclaimed goddess of chaos, some strange boy with tentacles that sprouted out of his back, the Grim Reaper himself and had also managed to scare the Sorting Hat out of its wits.
Finally, Grim leaned over the table to examine Dean's insensate form.
"I do believe you're going soft girl," he announced upon completing his inspection. "You didn't even give de poor fool a concussion."
"It was only his first offence, so I went easy on him," explained Mandy, returning to her steak.
"But, when Malfoy..." Hermione trailed off.
"Dean's an idiot, Malfoy's obnoxious. There's a difference," said Mandy.
Having managed to lift Dean back into his seat, with Neville's help, and prop him against the table so that he would not topple over, Seamus Finnegan turned an awed gaze to Mandy. He proved his new-found Gryffindor status by asking the question most of those in the hall were silently wondering. "What are you?"
Mandy graced him with, what was for her, an innocent look. "Just a pretty little girl."
"Spawn of Satan is my opinion," was Grim's comment.
Peeves was busy planning how to ambush the students once they left the Great Hall, as he hadn't able to get to them before they entered for the Sorting ceremony. He was drifting aimlessly, upside down of course, and looking for something that he could use to bombard them with as they exited the hall.
"Well, what have we here?" rumbled a deep, gravelly voice, from out of the shadows. "Something that needs exterminating, from the look of it."
"Who's there?" asked Peeves, startled out of his thoughts of mischief. He spun around, looking for whomever it was that managed to sneak up on him, righting himself in the process. He quickly spotted the shadowy figure lurking in one of the corridor's alcoves, between two tarnished suits of armour.
"Your worst nightmare, foul creature from beyond!" spat the man, not moving from his place.
"Eh?" asked a completely befuddled Peeves, something which seldom happened. "What did you call Peeves? Foul? And from where?"
The figure stepped out of the shadows, revealing himself to the confused poltergeist.
"Ooooh," gasped Peeves in delight, thinking that he now had a chance to start some mischief earlier than planned. He then clapped his hands in anticipation and cheered, "It's the newsie professor!"
"Now, there's something I want you to do for me," said the professor.
"What's that?" asked Peeves, perking upright, "A professor actually wants Peeves to do something?"
"Yes," confirmed the man, now taking careful aim. "Please remain perfectly still..."
"Ahem - just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you," announced Dumbledore cheerfully, having just caused Ron great distress by clearing the house tables of the many puddings and desserts which the redhead had yet to sample.
The students slouched back in their seats, most of them feeling barely able to move, they had eaten so much. Even Mandy, for whom a compliment was as rare as birds teeth, had found the feast to be more than satisfactory - though she had commented on the odd inclusion of mint humbugs.
Seeing that he had everyone's attention, rapt or not, Dumbledore began. "First-years should note that the forest in the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well." The headmaster flashed a bemused glance in the twins' direction as he said this. The twins, irascible as ever, rejoined by waving merrily back at him.
Chuckling at their antics, Dumbledore continued, "I have also been asked by Mr Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors."
The first-years looked to where Dumbledore had indicated and found themselves, almost as one, vowing to stay as far away from Filch as they could manage. The man looked positively belligerent. His cat, a scrawny creature that did little to no justice to the feline breed's reputation for fine grooming, seemed much the same.
Now Dumbledore's expression turned slightly more serious, though the twinkling of his eyes did not abate. "It is my sad duty to inform you that Professor Quirrell, who was slated to be Hogwarts' Defence Against the Dark Arts professor this year, will in fact not be taking the position."
Soft murmurs arose from the older students at this news. Even the staff turned surprised eyes towards Dumbledore, this being the first they had heard of Quirrell's inability to take up his position. Mandy, never one to appreciate being left in the dark about something, asked, "What's the big deal about that?"
"The Defence job--" started Fred.
"--has a curse on it," finished George.
"Nonsense," scoffed Percy, adjusting his glasses.
"It does," insisted Fred.
"Everyone knows it," said George.
"Cursed? In what way?" asked Hermione, sounding almost as sceptical about the idea as Percy was.
It was the twins' friend, Lee Jordan, a likeable boy with a full head of dreadlocks, who answered. "None of the Defence teachers have ever lasted more than a full term," he said. "We've had a different one each year."
George nodded in agreement. "Been that way for ages."
"Bill and Charlie told us about it," added Fred.
"Quick turnover of staff that," observed Mandy.
"Well... yes, I suppose so," Percy reluctantly admitted.
"If dey need someone for de job, I could do it," offered Grim sincerely.
"You?" asked Percy, growing pale at the prospect.
"Of course," confirmed Grim, failing to notice the alarmed expressions of several of the nearby Gryffindors. "I'm de Grim Reaper, after all. Who better to teach you about de Dark Arts?"
"What happened to the professor, sir?" one of the older Ravenclaw boys asked of Dumbledore.
Everyone promptly turned back to the staff table, eager to put the idea of Grim holding classes out of their minds. Dumbledore had been listening to the students' whispered discussions and now maintained a carefully schooled expression of mild bemusement as he resumed talking.
"Sadly," he said, "Professor Quirrell had the misfortune of being possessed by the formless spirit of Voldemort..." There were gasps and cries of alarm from most of those present at the mere utterance of the Dark Lord's name. "...who managed to attach himself to the back of the poor man's head, hidden away beneath the layers of his turban."
"Damn!" cursed Grim. "Missed him again!"
"Better luck next time," offered Mandy.
"Yeah," Harry quickly agreed, his expression growing dark as he thought of his parents' murderer. That Voldemort had managed to give Grim the slip, once again, caused him to clench his jaw so tightly that his teeth groaned in protest.
"Don't worry," Grim assured him, understanding the cause of Harry's anger. "Next time, I'll get him. I always do."
"Luckily, however," continued Dumbledore once the latest bout of whispers ended, "I have managed to secure an immediate replacement; the very same man that unmasked and then foiled Voldemort's--" gasps once again filled the air "--attempt to penetrate the security of Hogwarts. I had planned to introduce him to you tonight, but he is currently making a sweep of Hogwarts in an attempt to flush out any further... I believe the words he used were, 'Mother lodes of supernatural terror and spawn of demonic evil'."
The students, and other members of staff, only stared at Dumbledore in disbelief. Not because he had managed to obtain a replacement so quickly, but rather because of the last sentence he had repeated. There was something disturbing about the idea of a professor that would say such a thing.
During this short period of silence, Mandy spoke up. "Sounds familiar."
"You don't suppose..." Harry trailed off.
"With both Junior and Eris here, I wouldn't be surprised if it was," she replied.
Murmurs once again began to fill the Great Hall as the students began discussing the new professor, making wild guesses as to his identity. Silence fell a few minutes later when Dumbledore raised his hands and called for their attention again.
The headmaster gazed out at the students, confirming that he had their full attention, and then proceeded to give the one announcement he considered most important of all. "Finally, and most importantly, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right--"
Whatever Dumbledore had planned to say, it was lost before the words could be spoken as the doors leading into the Great Hall burst open with terrific force. They swung wild and slammed into the walls before rebounding, retaining much of their initial impetus and almost catching the terrified creature that zoomed into the room.
"Headmaster! Help!" Peeves screamed in desperation. "Save me from the crazy man!"
A writhing beam of supernatural energy lanced through the air and clipped Peeves' hat, setting it afire and toppling it from the poltergeist's bulbous head. A moment later a tall, muscular figure dived through the narrow gap between the still swinging doors, slipping past at the last instant as he chased after his fleeing prey.
He was built like a professional bodybuilder, muscles layered upon muscles until he seemed to fairly bulge with them. His hair was a thick mane of unkempt red that fell to his shoulders. A black patch covered his left eye and his right hand had had long ago been replaced by a cybernetic replacement.
A grey, sweat-stained muscle-shirt strained to contain his barrel of a chest and tight, black leather pants creaked with each movement of his legs. Massive combat boots adorned his feet, looking as if they could be used to crush solid rock, utilizing nothing but their own considerable weight.
"It's Hoss Delgado," identified Mandy, not a hint of her surprise in evidence.
"Hoss Delgado?" asked Grim, leaning back in alarm.
"Hoss Delgado?" asked Ron and Hermione in confusion.
"Hoss Delgado," confirmed Harry.
It was Neville that asked the question on everyone's lips. "Er... who's he?"
Harry gave a nonchalant shrug. "The world's craziest Spectral Exterminator,"
"And apparently our new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor," added Mandy, watching proceedings with interest.
Hoss was now standing in the centre of the Great Hall, yelling a battle cry and firing more energy streams from the hi-tech attachment protruding in place of the prosthetic right hand he usually used. He was shooting wildly in an attempt to hit the terrified Peeves, who was desperately trying to escape - crackling orange and blue protonic energy following just behind him.
"AAAAHH!" screeched Peeves, ducking and weaving through the air. He was trying to make for the staff table, but Hoss was constantly cutting him off. "Headmaster! Headmaster! Please protect poor pitiful Peeves!"
"Stop running and return to the hell that spawned you, demon!" shouted Hoss, shaking his fist.
"I'm not a demon," Peeves yelled desperately over his shoulder. "I'm just a poltergeist!"
"I knew it!" Hoss exclaimed as he fired a short burst from his proton-stream cannon, which hit close enough to vaporise Peeves' bowtie. "Obviously the work of a malevolent inter-dimensional being, probably Yog Sothoth again!" It was then that Hoss skidded to a halt, noticing Grim for the first time. "YOU!"
"Oh, brudda!" moaned Grin, covering his eye sockets with a hand.
"Who?" Peeves stopped fleeing from Hoss long enough to look over at whoever it was that had unluckily caught the insane Defence professor's attention. He stared at Grim in incomprehension for several seconds before recognition sank it and he once again began to panic. "THE REAPER! AAAAHH! Headmaster! Save me!"
"Now I have you!" yelled Hoss. The proton blaster Hoss had been using to take pot-shots at Peeves abruptly retracted into his wrist and was replaced by his robotic right hand, which he smacked into the palm of his real hand. "Let's disco!" he snarled, suddenly breaking into a run, charging straight for the Gryffindor table and Grim. He body slammed into Grim, smashing him up against the table's edge.
"Wait!" protested Grim.
Hoss grabbed Grim in a fierce bear hug, crushing him in his thick and muscled arms, as he heaved the skeleton up and then tossed him over his shoulders and into the floor. Grim crashed with a resounding thud and barely had time to realise he was no longer flying when Hoss jumped on him once again.
"What foul scheme are you playing at this time, eh?" demanded Hoss, straddling Grim's back. He took hold of the Reaper's skull and slammed it into the floor. "Talk!" He raised Grim's skull and slammed it down again. "Talk!" And again. "Talk, damn you! Talk!"
"But I'm not doing anyting!" Grim managed to say between blows.
"Hmm..." Hoss paused to consider this possibility. After a second to think it over, he came to a conclusion and slammed Grim's head into the floor again. "LIAR!"
Everyone watched incredulously as Hoss continued to pummel Grim's skull into the floor for some imagined evil activity, not really able to believe that anyone could attack Death himself like that. It was only Harry and Mandy that seemed to be more amused by this than anything else, though neither of them made any move to intervene.
"He's our new--" began Fred.
"-- Defence professor?" finished George.
"Yep," confirmed Mandy.
"Wicked!" the twins chorused.
By now Hoss had decided that he would not be getting a confession, and so slammed Grim's skull into the floor one final time before leaping off, incidentally using the battered skeleton's back as a springboard. He waited until Grim managed to stagger to his feet, the Reaper looking very displeased and now gripping his scythe firmly in hand.
"And now... the piece of resistance!" Hoss announced, butchering his French, as the cybernetic hand retracted into his wrist. A moment later a chainsaw, of all things, emerged to take its place. Hoss cranked it up, using his teeth for some reason, and then charged. "YAAAAARRRR!"
Grim ducked at the last second, the chainsaw slicing through the air above his skull. Without anything to stop it, it sliced into the haft of his scythe. With a torturous grinding sound it cut through the wood and neatly severed the blade from the scythe's haft.
Grim looked at his ruined tool in dismay and cried, "My scythe!"
"Yield!" ordered Hoss, waving his chainsaw in a threatening manner.
"Fool!" boomed Grim, rising to his full, intimidating height. He raised up what was left of his scythe, mostly the shaft, which suddenly flared to life as it was engulfed in a glowing field of blood-red energy. "Your primitive toys cannot match the power of the dark scythe!"
"No!" exclaimed Hoss, his single eye widening in shock as Grim brandished his light-scythe. "It's impossible!"
Grim swung his light-scythe at Hoss, who tried to block with his chainsaw. The scythe, however, sliced through the metal with supernatural ease. Lengths of chain and various other bits and pieces scattered with a clang as the chainsaw abruptly cut off, now neatly bisected.
"Ha!" barked Grim after making this decisive blow. He stepped in close for the follow up and made a downward strike which severed the remaining section of the chainsaw from Hoss's arm, cutting just about the wrist mounting. His blows dealt successfully, Grim backed off several feet, giving them both some breathing room.
"AAAARR!" cried Hoss, clamping his hand over the sparking wrist. "My hand!"
"Bwahahahaha!" laughed Grim victoriously. He lowered his light-scythe to a guard position and mockingly asked, "Now what are you going to do, you muscle-bound oaf?"
"Grr..." Hoss growled, hefting his wrist, and exclaimed, "Laser sword!"
"What?" Grim's sockets grew wide in surprise.
The shattered ruin of the chainsaw's mounting retracted back into Hoss' wrist, immediately replaced as a new attachment emerged. A second later it thrummed to life and formed a metre-long blade of blue energy.
"YAAAAARRRR!" bellowed Hoss as he leapt forward.
"AAAAHH!" screamed Grim, raising his light-scythe to repel the attack.
"CHAOS!" cackled Eris, watching the scuffle with delight.
"Go Grim! Go Hoss!" cheered Harry, unwilling to pick sides as he considered both fighters his friends.
"Full on friendship!" announced Junior, tentacles drawing a comatose Ernie and Justin in for a group hug.
"Oh yeah," said Mandy, summing up the situation succinctly, "school here is gonna be good."
Author's Note: The world's first Harry Potter/Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy crossover. Inspired, as a matter of course, by the hilariously unsubtle episode involving Toadblatt's Summer School of Sorcery and the exceptionally wimpy Nigel Planter.
As Mandy's surname is never mentioned (nor for that matter is Billy's) I decided to enact my powers as the almighty writer (BOW DOWN AND WORSHIP ME!) and used my poetic license to give her a last name of Maxwell, as a tip of the hat to series creator Maxwell Atoms.
With regards to Billy, who isn't featured in this story, I decided to do a split wherein everything Billy ever did that wasn't completely stupid ended by being done by Harry, while all the rest was transferred to Dudley. This left Dudley as the equivalent of the village idiot, as Billy hardly ever did anything intelligent.
No geeky Irwin, either, I'm afraid, but I think Dean Thomas filled that role reasonably well.
A Little Extra
Two unlikely companions sat before the fireplace, reclining in plush armchairs and warming their feet by the crackling magical fire. The one pair of feet were ensconced in some thick wool socks (bright orange with electric purple horizontal stripes), while the other pair were clad in a set of bunny slippers (of the fuzzy neon-pink variety).
"Actually, Grim," Dumbledore admitted, "there's a question I'd like you to answer for me."
Grim gave the headmaster a cautious look and asked, "What?"
"How is Elvis... and have you seen him lately?"
"Well now," said Grim as he clapped his skeletal hands together and rubbed them in anticipation. He so seldom had the chance to regale someone with morbid tales of his reaping days. "Dat's a long story..."