Honor among Thieves.
Herb was... perhaps not in the best of moods upon disembarking the small fishing dinghy that had been commandeered to bear him across the sea. After all, the journey had been long, the quarters inadequate, and the company infantile. Add that to the necessity of avoiding direct contact with the cold seawater, one could almost call Herb grumpy. Ill tempered perhaps, or annoyed.
Deep breath Herb... in... out... in... out. Yes, that's better. They are your retainers, and perfectly capable at their job. And remember, it was you who specified they be of lackluster intelligence, because they only needed to be imposing, not scholarly.
Lime and Mint took the lead, thankfully keeping their inane prattle and foolish behavior to themselves, as they had not the intelligence nor the grace to do on their... vessel.
He had not intended to return, truly. He had what he'd come for in Japan, that was the only reason to be here. Certainly there was the little matter of a life-debt to the Saotome... but should he wish to collect he could contact Herb on his own. However...
For the past week, Herb had had a growing... unsettlement. Similar to his danger sense, but not identical. Simply a vague feeling of... unease. Wrongness. The growing sense that something wasn't right.
He didn't know how, but he knew that it was connected to the Saotome in some way. How... that was still uncertain.
They were plotting something. He knew it.
Simple. It was quiet... far too quiet.
For days now, nothing had happened. Day in, day out he would get up, spar with his father, go to school, come home, spar again, and go to bed. Nothing else.
That alone... it wasn't conclusive. It could simply be that everyone had decided to take a breather all at once. It had happened before, they just took a break until they next saw him. But all of them? For this long? No.
Besides... they'd seen him frequently, and pretended not to. That was what had unnerved him. He had never known them to not start something, with any given chance.
Ryoga... Ranma had been walking home from school and spied him asking people directions. Ryoga's eyes had fallen on him. He'd tensed, and Ranma knew perfectly well that Ryoga had recognized him, despite his current gender, but Ryoga had simply turned away, forced himself to relax, and continued asking passersby directions. Ranma had waited a few minutes and eventually Ryoga had simply walked off, still pretending he hadn't seen her.
Then there was Mousse. That was... unnerving, to say the least. Mousse had done one of his typical glomps for Shampoo and gotten Ranma-chan instead. His glasses had then fallen down, giving him a good look at his catch. Rather than screaming and attacking, as he usually would have, he'd simply frowned, apologized, and left calmly. Freaky.
Kuno had been avoiding him, rather than hunting him down the way he usually did. That in and of itself had been enough to spark suspicion, but Nabiki had noted, for a price, that Kuno had also been unusually quiet in class, not one 'fierce tiger' or 'osage no onna' rant to be heard.
The old lech was off to some swimsuit convention. Nothing unusual there, but the timing was odd. Cologne had also gone back to China to investigate something... apparently her villaged had been robbed of something she considered the retrieval of far more important than subtly 'convincing' Ranma to elope with her great-granddaughter. Probably not important, unless whoever stole it had a grudge against him somehow.
The fiancees had also settled down, though that wasn't so unusual. At times it was weeks between one of Ukyo or Shampoo's crazy schemes to get him either into the sack or in front of the altar. What was odd was that Akane also was just leaving him alone, no mallet, no incandescent rage, not even professing a desire to cook for him. Naturally, the fathers were ecstatic, deciding that they were getting along better, and tried to hold another wedding. Emphasis on tried... they'd caught him exhausted last time, there was no way they would manage it again.
Ranma shivered as he headed for the edge of Nerima, large pack over his shoulder. The fathers hadn't been pleased with his decision to go on a short training trip, no not pleased at all, but all he had to do was mention that he thought his power reserves were growing too fast and he was worried he might not be able to keep all his power contained and Soun was all too happy to send him off until he was sure it was safe. Idiot.
Ranma shrugged his pack off and began setting things up for a camp stew. He'd been walking for a while, and found himself well into a small forested area outside of the city. After around half an hour of peeling and slicing various vegetables and slicing a length of dried meat into the bubbling pot he stood, stretched, and stepped off into the woods to find a place to relieve himself.
As he left, several shadowy figures slipped into the campsite.
"He... He really never noticed we were here."
"What did I tell you? These amulets are perfect. Saotome relies on his danger sense, or locating a particular persons energy signature to find them. These block almost everything off... to him, we were a few squirrels, or rabbits, that just happened not to have noticed him and left yet. Now hurry, he'll be back soon."
The third figure silently withdrew a knife and used it to slice something quickly into the pot. Nodding, they withdrew to the cover of bushes and shadow, settling themselves in to wait. It wasn't long, as withing minutes the pigtailed youth had returned to camp and was now carefully stirring the pot of vegetable stew, not suspecting for a second the malevolent surprise inside.
Roughly an hour ago, Herb had grown weary of walking and was now flying at a decent clip, his vassals loping just slightly ahead of them. In the distance they could see a small fire burning. A pinprick of flame, slowly growing as they approached. Why Saotome would be away from his woman was uncertain, but Mint assured him he'd smelled no others walking with him. Some people had gone ahead, some people had gone after, the scent trails were all very confusing. The fact that his nose put most four legged beasts, as well as several of the lycanthropic species they'd come across to shame actually made things worse.
For instance, he could stand on the other side of the room, sniff the air once, and know that you woke up this morning by rolling out of bed, sitting up, and running your left hand through your hair. Then you stood up, stretched, and scratched yourself as you yawned. He would also know that you stumbled on the stairs on your way to eat breakfast, consisting of two eggs, lightly poached, a slice of toast with butter, and a slice of cold spinach pizza with half a cup of tea. So forgive him if he sounds slightly uppity, but if he says Saotome was walking this way, alone, then SAOTOME WAS DAMN WELL WALKING THIS WAY! ALONE!
Lime and Mints pauses were far less graceful than Herb, who simply floated down to land before the bemused Saotome. He was bemused, in fact, because of their manner of ceasing movement. They tried to stop, but their momentum proved to much for them and they skidded, rather clumsily and shocked looking, directly into trees. Lime's tree cracked slightly, but remained firm as he toppled backwards, leaving a large imprintation of himself in the bark. He lay unmoving, out cold.
Mint never stood a chance against his immobile opponent.
Herb sighed at his retainers bufoonery, but nodded to the boy he'd come to... to what? He wasn't sure, but couldn't come out and say that. A reason.
"Saotome. I'm here for a rematch."
He nearly cursed at the stupidity of it... he had lost in a fair battle, who would contest that? By custom it would be years yet before a rematch could be considered. Surprisingly though, Saotome simply nodded as though it were a perfectly acceptable reason and went back to stirring the stew. It was at this point that Herb recalled that he hadn't eaten since making landfall that morning, and the scent of whatever was in that pot was making him ravenous.
"Can it wait for morning, Herb? 'Cept it's kinda dark right now. Or can dragons see in the dark?"
Herb made a note to make sure a few stray blasts 'accidentally' headed Saotome's way the next time he began training.
"What the hell is he doing here? Doesn't he live in China?"
"Yeah... I think he wants a rematch or something."
"Of all the... frankly his timing is terrible. What happens if he..."
"Probably more a question of when than if. Look at how he's drooling at that stew."
"Yeah. I know what's in it, and I'm still tempted to have a taste. I hate to admit it, but Saotome can cook."
"It doesn't matter. His little buddies have kindly removed themselves from the picture. Just treat him as another target."
"Yeah... no witnessess..."
The stew had been bubbling for some time now, and the aroma of the simple fare was... intoxicating. Maddening. Herb found himself ravenous, despite the humbleness of the fare offered. Ranma thankfully noticed the protestations of his stomach before he had to bring attention to his ravenous hunger and he removed a second bowl from his pack.
"I kinda knew that someone was going to show up and interrupt me. Wouldn't have thought it'd be you. Still, I've only got the two bowls, will, uh, they be alright?"
Herb blinked and glanced at his two retainers who by now were slumbering in the dirt.
"... They will be fine. Also, they eat like ravening beasts... there would be naught left for we two."
Ranma blinked and then sheepishly scratched his head.
"... I think you put too many big words in there... could you say that in smaller words? Please?"
Herb controlled the urge to slap himself in the forehead at Saotome's ignorance. Still, Saotome had defeated him in combat. That earned him a certain measure of respect.
"They have gone without meals before, they will be fine. And besides, they eat like the creatures they are descended from, with little of the manners of their human ancestry. So if they ate, there would be nothing left of your food for the two of us."
"You see? I understood every word of that! Was that so hard?"
"Takes one to know one."
"I refuse to be drawn into such childish bickering. My retainers are more than enough."
"Oh? What do you want to talk about then?"
There was a pause as Herb considered.
"What of our curses?"
"Eh... You mean something like how humiliating it is to randomly change genders, how much you hate the curse in general, and how you would do almost anything to be rid of it?"
"... I was thinking more about our busts."
"Our busts Saotome. They're large, and admittedly nice to look at, but what are they for?"
"As far as I can tell, they're just there. They bounce ocassionally, and jiggle every so often, but what are they there for?"
"Uh... can we... change the subject please?"
"... Very well. I have also noticed that our buttocks are rounder and our hips tend to sway more when we walk."
"They do not!"
"Yes they do. Well... not at first, but after a while I discovered that it was more comfortable to walk that way in the female form."
"It is? I mean... can we talk about something else."
"... All right. I have noticed that our thighs..."
"ALL RIGHT OK! Lets just eat..."
Herb shrugged but wasted no time in filling his bowl with the excellent stew. For a moment, there was only the sound of the two, eating.
"Whats wrong... why isn't it working."
"Be patient. They were not intended to be cooked. Trust me... They'll kick in soon enough."
"The problem is the dragon. We can't use the moxibustion on him... his body is put together slightly differently from normal humans."
"Doesn't matter. Once Saotome's out of the way, we're more than enough to overpower a..."
"Ten? I thought it would be more like six or seven."
"Forgot and left them growing too long. Ten was the shortest one there."
"Huh. Well we can still overpower a ten year old. Dragon blood or not."
"He won't be used to the body. He'll have a lot of power to throw around, but in a child-state he shouldn't be able to use it effectively. Remember Saffron?"
"Shush... I think the dragon's catching on that somethings wrong. Keep quiet, or he'll hear you! These amulets aren't quite perfected."
Herb savored the rustic, yet pleasing flavor, trying to discern just where that odd aftertaste was coming from. Ranma simply scarfed down as much as he could, using the bowl to hide the light flush he'd gained from their previous conversation.
"So, uh... I gather you don't hate your curse nearly as much as I do."
"What would be the point, Saotome? I'll never be rid of it."
"Wh...? Never? What about the Nanniichuan?"
"Drowned man spring? You can't use a curse to cure a curse. They'll combine."
Ranma turned slightly green, even while looking like his dreams had been shattered. Several unnoticed shadowy figures also turned green when they recalled the way they'd been fighting over what they'd thought was a cure.
"You didn't know?"
Ranma barely supressed his stomach as Herb shrugged and took another bowlful of stew.
"This is rather plain fare, but quite good. An odd aftertaste, but the mushrooms are a nice touch."
Ranma paused and suddenly paled as he tried to remember what he'd put in the stew. Mushrooms weren't on the list.
"Indeed. They're very tasty, my compliments."
"No, you don't get it. I didn't put any mushrooms in the stew!"
Herb's eyes widened as the feeling of wrongness reached a crescendo and he knew he'd made a terrible mistake.
"Saotome, what... You're shrinking!"
"So are you!"
Only then did the shadowy figures outside the reach of the firelight remove their amulets, broadcasting their hatred and malevolence to all that knew what to look for.
Ranma tried to fight them off, but while he had regressed, the size of his clothes had remained the same, hindering his mobility quite a bit. It was only a matter of time before they managed to pin him down and the shortest one pressed a spot on his back that seemed to burn. Suddenly his frantic attempts to escape seemed much more feeble. Herb fought valiantly, holding his own for a time, but once Ranma went down he was swamped.
"What... what the hell are you..."
One of the disguised figures kicked Ranma gently in the jaw. He flew through the air and slammed into a tree.
"Surprised Saotome? Maybe not. You knew something was up, you've known for days. It's just that you're so foolishly naive that you decided that it didn't matter, isn't it?"
The short figure stepped forward, tossing the injured boy back next to the draconic child, who'd been wrapped with a length of chain.
"How ironic that you would be here... princess Herb."
Herb growled, trying not to think of exactly how irony fit into this scenario.
"Heh. I see you don't understand. The water."
One of the masked figures stepped behind a tree, coming back out with a bucket of water that he was very careful not to spill, or even splash around too much. Herb was horrorstruck. He had made a few deals with the amazon Matriarch, one of them including the gift of several gallons of Permamence Water.
"Oh yes little dragonling... Hmm. Saotome seems a bit out of it. You know what the only way to make him wake up is?"
The figure took the bowl Ranma had been using, scrupulously licked clean, and scooped out some water from the bucket, carefully avoiding contact with the liquid, before pouring it over the boy... no, girl now. Herb cursed under his breath. He had destroyed the ladle to make permamence water himself, but the kettle... He had set it in a treasury. The treasury had collapsed inward. They'd cleared it back out but the kettle had been shattered, its magic gone.
He began thrashing wildly as the figure dipped another bowl out of the bucket and Saotome began to moan weakly, her jaw obviously broken. Somehow he could tell the man under the mask was smirking as he poured the water over his.. her head.
She snarled viciously at them.
"D-damn you... bastards..."
"It's your fault... Your own poor timing brought this upon you."
He turned to look at Lime and Mint, who were still unmoving.
"They didn't see anything... but now that I think about it their other senses could prove most vexing. But we have ways around these things."
Herb was confused when he reached into his baggy, concealing clothes, only to withdraw a packet of powder. After she realized what it was though, and it was mixed into the magic water, she was horrorstruck.
"One-use magic curse powder. Some sort of rodent. Very useful for spying on someone if you have a partner to cancel the curse. With permamence water it becomes irrevocable."
He chuckled darkly as he carefully hurled the water at the two unconsious retainers. Herb trembled with barely contained rage as people he'd known since children shrank down into into their clothes until the folds of the cloth hid them.
"I do hope they manage to wake soon... it would be such a shame for an owl or serpent to happen across them in their sleep."
Herb ground her teeth together, glancing down at Saotome and grimacing. Her eyes were open, but she obviously had a concussion. One pupil had shrunk to the size of a pinprick, and the other had dilated further than she believed it was capable of.
"Bastard... You better make sure I'm dead then, because if I live through whatever you're plotting I'll hunt you down like the dog you are. Your death will be painful, of that I assure you."
"Heh... Like to talk, don't you? Don't worry, we won't be killing you. Or Saotome, much as he may deserve it. Look at this... this gemstone. Beautiful, isn't it? And one of a kind, heavily enchanted. Cursed. The Amazons use this to make people dangerous to them, but too powerful, politically or otherwise, for there to be the chance of a body turning up... disappear. How ironic that it will be used not only on one they want so badly, but one of their enemies. Don't look so shocked. You have a peace treaty with them for now, but you still qualify as an enemy. Before you leave... someone has something they want to say to you Saotome."
One of the shadowy figures stepped forward, removing her mask. Herb was momentarily shocked out of her rage. Saotome's woman? The sneer on her face and the swift kick to the ribs was sufficient to return her rage, however.
"That was for being an idiot Ranma. All this time... and you could never tell how much I hated you. Did you really think my food was that terrible? I was trying to kill you, idiot. If your stomach wasn't so tough, or your neck was just a little more brittle, then you'd be long dead. Do you know just how many times that I've cracked your vertebrae and had to act like a scared, shocked, innocent little waif because you wouldn't do the favor of simply dying like you were supposed to?"
"... Humph. I'd kill you now if it weren't that this way leaves no tracks."
Ranma slumped, eyes... broken, for lack of a better term. Herb grimaced as she wondered how this betrayal would affect her... if they lived through it.
"Ah well... You've said your goodbyes, now it's time for us to remove the eternal thorn in our sides that you present. Goodbye, Saotome."
The genmstone seemed to glow with an eerie light.
Harry stumbled slightly, but got up and continued running. His tenth birthday had been today, and his dear cousin Dudley had decided to resurrect an old tradition, just for him.
Well, with this being his tenth birthday, that makes ten licks. Oh and of course Piers, Dudley's best friend, simply couldn't be left out of the celebration. Then of course there were a couple of Piers' friends, and a couple of their friends...
In short, he was fleeing a mob of angry teenagers.
When two people suddenly shimmered into view, he couldn't help but dart for them in the vain hope that they would help, despite the fact that one looked ill, and, as he drew closer, that they were girls. Still, hope springs eternal, and he was about to fall over from exhaustion anyway.
"Please... help me..."
The girl with multi-colored hair arched an eyebrow, as the sick... No, he suddenly realized, she was hurt, the hurt red-head just wobbled in place and glanced around dazedly.
"Oh? What's in it for me?"
Harry blinked. He'd actually expected her to just take one look at the mob currently hurtling down the street towards them and leave him to their tender mercies.
"Anything, I'll do anything! Just don't let them get me."
A light smirk crossed her features.
"Anything? Little fool. I could make your life quite difficult with such a promise were I inclined. Fortunately for you, I am not interested in making your life miserable."
She sneered at the mob, who had stopped several feet away, muttering.
Dudley slowly sauntered out of the crowd, smirking.
"I don't think so. We still have to give him his little birthday gift."
She blurred, and suddenly she was standing next to Dudley, easily lifting him into the air with a single hand before tossing him easily into the thickest of the crowd.
"Perhaps you didn't hear me, vermin. Leave. NOW!"
The crowd rapidly scattered, leaving Dudley to fend for himself. His significant girth made it more difficult for him to rise to his feet and waddle away as fast as he could. She smirked after his retreating form, before turning and looking speculatively at the boy, who had collapsed, gasping for breath. She waited for his breath to slow and become regular before speaking again.
"Get up boy... Give Saotome a hand and follow me."
Herb nodded as Harry got up and propped himself under Ranma's shoulder, as she sagged with evident relief at someone to lean on. Poor bastard. Herb wasn't sure what the effects of that pressure point had been, but from the way they were suddenly kicking her around she could guess. She mentally noted that she was adjusting easily to thinking of herself in the feminine before dismissing the thought. To a dragon, such things as that mattered only in mating season.
The problem was, with not only the pressure point to deal with, but the locking of her curse and the betrayal of the Tendo wench to deal with, Herb was uncertain if he wouldn't look away and turn back to find Saotome'd slit her wrists.
She grimaced as she headed for what appeared to be an apartment complex nearby. She hoped that she could recall how to sneak in and out of buildings, because she knew for a fact that she didn't have anywhere near enough money to pay for an apartment. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but with Saotome muddled and dazed, and the dead weight the boy represented...
She wondered instead, just where they were. Everyone they'd met had spoken and understood English... thank god for the foreign language tutors that a certain princeling had so despised once... and that pointed for somewhere in Europe or the Americas. But... it couldn't be that simple. The Amazons used that thing to get rid of people... that meant that not once, in its entire history, had anyone ever come back after having that thing used on them. No matter appearances, that thing was packing far more power than it should, if it had only sent them to the other side of the earth.
She paused and idly scanned the building before her. One entrance in the front, an alley going around the side and to the back, where presumably there was another, more difficult to pass door. An old, rusty fire escape sprialing down the side, out of easy view of passerby. There we go.
Herb paced into the alleyway, followed hesitantly by the confused boy.
"Hey... aren't you going to check in?"
Herb ignored him as she considered how to do this. No flying, obviously. Way too much chance of being seen and then being put in some tabloid. So... wall jumping then, if he threw them, the boy might be fine, but Saotome would definitely be injured. The boy seemed about to scream from shock and surprise when Herb snatched him and Ranma under her arms, but gaped from shock as she jumped at the wall, rebounding off of it to land quietly on the lowest section of the fire escape stairwell.
"What... what are you?"
Herb arched an eyebrow at the impressionable, naive little boy and smirked. Turning, she calmly paced up the metal stairs, keeping her footfalls quiet, the boy helping Ranma hobble up the stairs right behind her. After a minute they were at the top and Herb was inspecting the door from the roof. Snorting she stepped back. Locked. Of course it was locked. Perhaps she could break it down from the outside, but it would be noisy enough for anyone on the top few floors to hear. Of course...
"Saotome... you have a habit of pulling useful tricks out of your sleeves at the most opportune of times. Do you know how to get through a locked door without destroying it?"
Ranma's eyes still seemed a little lifeless, but a spark came back into their depths when she was asked to do something. That could be a good or a bad thing.
"Gimme... a pin. Needle... something long... thin... sturdy..."
Herb glanced around... there. A scrap of metal... probably from a broken pipe or something... that nobody had bothered to pick up. She did, and with a few pinches and twists the thin metal had been modified into an ugly, but long, pin. Ranma took it without question, muttering to herself as she began fiddling around with the lock.
"Anything goes... invented by a pervert... improved upon by a thief... the higher techniques actually based on styles of burglary... honor... whatever... just don't care anymore. Screw you pops... 'Kane..."
The lock clicked, loudly, and the door swung open.
Ranma floated through the darkness of dreaming. Betrayed. His closest friends, people who he saw every day, had betrayed him. Granted, he saw most of them every day because they were each, in their own inept and pathetic way, trying to kill or otherwise eliminate him, but still it was a blow that they had actually managed to band together and do it.
How had they done it? He didn't really know... he grimaced and looked down at his body. Now hers. Locked. The bastards hadn't even had the decency to let him die male. Die... No, they hadn't even had the guts to kill him when they had the chance. He'd make them pay for that.
For a moment he managed to hold on to that thought, but even in dreams reality was swift in crushing him. They hadn't had to kill him because nobody had ever come back from whereever they'd sent him. And even if he could get back, what could a ten year old girl with the weakness moxibustion do to a group of powerful, trained martial artists. If he ever showed his face in Nerima again, if he could even get back to Nerima, they'd kill him for good. He...
He. That was a problem right there. He was still thinking of himself as a he. Why? He was a girl now, and he really doubted that there was any way to turn back. Adaptation was a key precept of the Anything Goes school. Even with all of his... her strength locked away, he... she would adapt. She would persevere.
She would find a way. There had to be a way. Her mind began thrashing weakly through the darkness as words began to filter into her mind.
"You two... you're thieves aren't you."
Herb arched a brow at the boy before her. Rather than the fear implied in that statement, his voice was full of curiosity.
"Oh? What brought you to that conclusion, boy?"
Hah, that did it. Look at his face turn red...
"I have a name. Use it."
Herb waited a moment, then smirked into his glare.
"How would I do that? After all, you haven't introduced yourself yet."
And the flush of anger immediately transformed into the flush of embareassment.
"Er... right. I'm Harry Potter."
Herb arched an eyebrow at him again, as if to say 'why do I care?' before answering.
"So... Harry. What makes you think we're thieves?"
"You didn't even consider paying, just went to the side and... you know. And then, at the top, what did it take her... ten seconds maybe, to pick the lock? What else could you be?"
Herb considered correcting the Potter boy before pausing. They had no money, no food, no real home as someone would soon notice the occupants of this apartment hadn't gone past the front door, and they had no real job skills. Why not. Why not indeed.
"An astute observation. But unimportant. I believe you promised us something, in exchange for our services. If I remember correctly, you promised anything I wanted, did you not?"
Harry gulped, suddenly nervous, trying to think of why. What could he have, that a thief would want.
Harry's eyes widened.
"In exchange for rescuing you, I will have reimbursement. You belong to me now. You will do what I tell you to do, learn what I teach you, and then... well. We'll see, won't we."
They were interupted by Ranma's pained moans as she sat up from the bed, eyes thankfully almost normal.
"Huuh... Herb. Where?"
Eyes snapped away from her and to the door as a soft knocking rapped on the apartment door. Someone had noticed. Shit. Herb glanced at Ranma, who nodded at an open window. There was a drainpipe next to it. Perfect.
"Lesson one, Harry. Get down that pipe."
"What!" he hissed back. "We're on the fifteenth story... we'll fall off and die!"
Herb sneered as Ranma maneuvered out the window and began sliding down.
"Scared are we? That's good. Bravery has its place, but only a fool rushes into danger. However, if we are caught red-handed, there will be far more to worry about than injury."
While she was talking, Herb had been subtly maneuvering Harry towards the window. Now he found himself suddenly clinging desperately to a pipe on the side of a building, trying not to look down. Herb, several feet above him, glanced around as she carefully shut the window they'd climbed out of.
"Now Harry... The pipe is far enough out from the wall that I can show you a little trick, you'll see that it's much faster than using brute strength to clamber down. Grip the pipe tightly between your knees and feet. Hold your hands carefully, so that they surround the pipe but just barely touch it. Now, release slightly and slide down... not too fast, or you'll have friction burns. Easy does it, patience is the key."
Albus Dumbledore was slowly and steadily slipping into a panic attack. The wards and tracking spells on one Harry James Potter were all suddenly going haywire. He had been outside his house for more than a day. Why? Those muggles certainly weren't going to drag him along if they went somewhere for that long. He'd checked on them several times, just to make sure his plans were progressing properly. A few beatings, another year or so of torment, and then the owl from Hogwarts would seem to be a gift from the gods themselves.
But Harry had disappeared.
He had taken the liberty of placing some rather powerful spells on the infant boy that prevented him from being scryed or sought out by magic in any way until his first year at Hogwarts. Can't be too careful, Voldemort still had followers that wouldn't think twice about murdering a helpless infant. Now he was cursing that decision, as the ungrateful whelp had apparently decided to flee from his family.
He was still alive, several artifacts keyed into his personal magic signature assured him of that. The problem was, they were also saying he wasn't where Albus had decided he should be. The boy was a weapon, and had to be properly tempered and forged before he would be useful. How could he do that if he couldn't even find the boy? He'd searched through the records of scrying stones he'd set up all throughout Little Whinging. Who would notice a few pebbles?
He couldn't see Harry on them, as he was immune, for the moment, from all forms of scrying, but he could see when his cousin formed up a small mob and started chasing someone. Who else would it be, but Harry. They chased him, and then things started becoming a little confusing.
Rather than catching the boy and beating him, as he had expected, the mob had slowly pulled to a stop and gathered in a semi-circle around someone. He'd simply assumed, as Harry's fat cousin swaggered forward, that they intended to taunt the boy before beating him.
"I don't think so. We still have to give him his birthday gift."
That statement was when he realized something was wrong. Dudley's sudden rising several inches into the air, clawing desperately at his throat confirmed it. But genius that he was, he had placed anti-apparition wards around the small town. It would take at least a week to take them all down and by that time the trail would be cold. He sighed as the overweight boy was hurled into a crowd of his friends, who swiftly scattered and fled. Now... how to find the boy again... After a moment of thought, the only possibility that came to mind was the owls that carried Hogwarts acceptance letters. He quickly glanced at the list of people who would be owled next year to ensure Harry was still on the list, as he had been for nearly a decade.
After an hour or so of commanding, demanding, requesting, cajoling, convincing, arguing, and near the end begging and pleading, he eventually gave up. The owls would not seek Harry out until he recieved his acceptance letter. It seemed that every one of his carefully laid plans had decided to turn against him. Now what...
He sighed as he turned back to the list for a moment, only giving the slightest glance at the two newest names on the list... rather unusual names at that, but he'd met people with odder. Probably just moved into Britain recently, removing them from the list of whatever school they'd been listed to attend. They didn't matter, the crisis with the Potter boy was more important.
Carefully, Dumbledore made plans. He would let it be known through both Muggle and Wizarding means that Harry Potter had been abducted from his guardians and couldn't be located by scrying, or other means. He grimaced, as he wasn't even completely sure what he looked like... the only defining characteristics of the Potter boy were his scar and the unnaturally green shade of his eyes. If his abductor was intelligent, both could be easily disguised by magical or mundane means.
He sighed once more in resignation. The instruments were still reading him as alive and well, so at the least whoever had taken the boy had no intentions of killing him... unless they intended to use him as a blood magic sacrifice. Some of those were extremely specific about the date and time. He grimaced and hoped that the boy would live to attend the school next year... and that he hopefully would not have wavered too far from the path Albus had intended for him.
Herb didn't know where Ranma had gotten the thing, and frankly she wasn't sure she wanted to know... some sort of mannequin by the look of it, dressed in street clothes with a wallet in its pocket, jewelry on, and a purse. As well as a great many bells, which would ring if the mannequin was jostled even slightly.
Apparently, martial arts was not the only thing Ranma's scum of a father knew how to teach. She probably shoud have known. A bell jingled, followed by a yelp as Ranma smacked the boy lightly in the back with a switch.
"Wrong, Potter. Try something like that on the streets, you find yourself in jail if lucky, beaten and left for dead if not. Try again."
Harry grimaced and went for the wallet in the mannequin's back pocket again, what he'd been told was the easiest target. This time, his frustration made his hand waver and several bells jingled.
"Idiot! The only way you could explain that would be if you pretended you were trying to fondle him. At this rate, it'll be years before you move on to the next stage. Maybe we should try burglary instead."
Harry snapped. He hadn't really wanted to learn this in the first place, butbeing ordered to learn something and then being berated and informed he would never be any good at it... he was used to it, sure, but this was just too much.
"Why don't you show me how it's done then?"
Ranma blinked, then smirked. She stuck her hands in her pockets and walked casually past the mannequinn. Not a single bell chimed, but when Ranma turned back to Harry, she had a new purse and necklace, and when she removed her hands from her pockets there were several different rings on her fingers and each hand contained a wallet. Harry gaped in astonishment.
"Th-that... That's not possible..."
"I assure you, it is completely possible... though I doubt you will progress that far in your practice. Any fool can steal a purse or two... it takes a master to take something without anyone realizing. At any time, in any place... to have dozens of people surrounding you and never realize that their ring, their purse, their wallet have all gone missing. Most lack the drive and ambition to learn, whether by choice or necessity. You are fortunate that it is I, and not my father who is teaching you this. I use a switch to correct your mistakes... he used a lead pipe."
Harry winced at the thought of it, while Herb arched an eyebrow. Yet another thing she hadn't known about Saotome... that was racking up to be quite a list, most of it contrary to her first impressions. The tutoring continued long into the night, inside the tiny hovel they'd slipped into, and eventually Harry managed to get the wallet without setting off any of the bells. Ranma congratulated him and promptly informed him that next time he would have to do it faster and smoother before adding another bell.
Nearly a year later, Harry was slipping out of the window of a wealthy, typically corrupt politician who had had the poor fortune to live in a town he and his tutors were passing through. Living on the streets for a year had pounded some lessons into his head far better than even the girls could. Every so often they would have the opportunity for a haul like this one, but it would be years yet before they had enough saved to buy a house to use as a base of operations. Surprisingly, thieves had to spend lots of money as well as steal it. They had to know who to bribe if they wanted to stay out of jail and they had to know who to avoid if they wanted to stay alive.
He dropped soundlessly down to the ground, smirking at the thought of all the cash stuffed in the pouch at his side, but blinked as a mass of feathers flitted in front of his face. He glanced up at the moving form and blinked again. An owl. No, he corrected himself as two more swooped down to join it. Three owls. He noted the letters as almost an afterthought, stunned.
"Girls..." he hissed. "It's time to go."
"But this man has so many pretty things... how can I decide what to take?"
"Herb, I'm serious! Something odd is going on out here."
"Have we been spotted?"
"No Ranma, but you want to see this."
The owls glanced back and forth through the hissed conversation, hooting and seeming to mutter softly to themselved before one's eyes widened and began hooting more fiercely as Ranma and Herb slipped out of the same window Harry had used. The three of them looked up and stared at the owls.
"It almost looks like they're talking to each other..."
"Of course they are Potter... The Pheonix people near Jusenkyo would speak with owls and ask them for favors at times."
The hooting continued for a moment, then they swooped down and dropped the letters, each near one of the group's feet, and flew off. They all reached down and lifted a letter from the ground, but were interrupted by a sudden flurry of barking from the other side of the house. Apparently the drugs they'd seasoned the meat that they'd thrown over the fence to quiet the hungry dogs with had worn off. Immediately, the three of them stuffed the envelopes into their shirts and, as one headed for the wall surrounding the house.
This is my first effort at a Harry Potter fic, and I eventually just gave up and made it a cross with Ranma 1/2. I know that there have been several such crosses before, but anyone who's read anything I write knows how much I prize originality. I do believe that this will turn out far better even than I'd planned. Also... erm... to be blunt, I wouldn't expect the next chapter to be nearly as long as this one is. I kinda went overboard with this chapter, just couldn't stop typing for some reason.
Anyway, anyone who's read Ranma knows who the redheaded girl is, and even though Herb was more of a one-shot character in the manga, he/she is one of my favorite characters and I've been toying with the idea of matching the two gender-benders for some time.
Also, I'm considering another plotline besides this one. I've seen a couple Vampire-Harry stories, but has anyone made Harry a Werewolf? I know there's a fic with Luna becoming a werewolf out there somewhere, but I have so far not seen any with Harry sprouting fur and fangs.