Here we go again. Voldemort is after the Staff of Merlin, Harry and his friends, or some of them, are after Voldemort, and Mordred is plotting murder. This chapter will take us through the end of the year, the traditional end of a HP book. Yes, I am going to be traditional in this story arc. Harry's second year will be a different story, titled Harry Potter and Bonds of Loyalty. Before you say something, all of the books in this arc are going to be Harry Potter and the Bonds of (Fill in the blank). Those of you worrying about ships, give me a break, they're eleven. They're not going to worry about kissing each other until at least third year, possibly fourth year, so just don't worry about it until then.

Disclaimer: Let's see. According to 's stats, I have written 900,000 words, with an average of 20,000 words per chapter. That makes at least 45 separate times I have already told you that I don't own Harry Potter, the rights to him, and that I do this for fun and don't make a dime from it. If you haven't gotten the idea by now, I just can't help you. Or, possibly, this is your first time to read anything I have done. If so, I think you should at least start at the beginning of the story. Go back to Chapter one, we'll wait for you. (Hums to herself.) See? Now you know what is going on.

Dedication: To all of you who have this story on favourite story lists, who have put it in C2s, who have it on alerts or keep track of it in some other way, this chapter is for you.

Harry Potter and the Bonds of Blood

Chapter Nine

The Staff of Merlin

OoOoOoO Harry, Hermione, Daphne, Blaise and Neville, Hogwarts, 09MAY91. OoOoOoO

Harry looked at the others as they reached the third floor. "Last chance to back out," he warned them.

Blaise and Daphne just shrugged. Neville grinned. "I've never done anything like this before. Grandmother is a bit overly protective. I'm in."

Hermione was studying the door in front of them. "Be serious, Harry, if the Staff of Merlin is in there somewhere, I want to see it and we can't let Voldemort get his hands on it."

Daphne nudged Blaise. "Voldemort isn't the problem. Who's going to rescue the Staff from Hermione?"

Hermione huffed as everyone smiled. "A little research never hurt anyone."

Harry crossed to the door. "Merlin," he swore, as he looked through the door. "Look at that thing."

Everyone else came and looked. On the floor was a huge dog with three heads, sleeping peacefully to the sounds of an enchanted harp. "Look," said Blaise, "there's a trap door. I bet that's where Hopkins went."

Harry looked at the dog, a very few metres from the trap door. "Stay quiet, and for Merlin's sake, if that dog wakes up, don't waste any time going for the closest escape route. If you're on this side and you get out of here, go find Professor Bones and get her to come up here."

Harry started across the room, watching the dog warily. He reached the trap door and looked down. He couldn't see anything in there and pulled his wand. He tried the 'Lumos' spell, but it wouldn't light anything up. He looked at Hermione. "You have your little bottle, for your flame spells?"

Hermione nodded and a few seconds later, she tossed a small bottle of blue flames down the hole. They all saw the vines about three metres down writhing out of the way as the bottle fell. The bottle fell about seven metres and broke on a stone floor.

Neville was the only one that recognized the plant in their brief glimpse. "That's a Devil's Snare," he said. "There are two ways to get around it, but we'll have to be careful."

Blaise, who was watching the dog, swore. "The music stopped."

Every turned to look as the huge beast began to wake up. Harry pushed Daphne in the hole. "Go, now."

Blaise and Hermione went after her as the dog woke up and saw them. Harry pushed Neville in, falling after him. Harry hit and started to try and move until the plant started tightening around him. He relaxed, having fallen prey to a prank or two of Sirius' that did the same thing. Neville was still as well, although the other three were still struggling. "Listen," said Neville urgently, "Relax, and you'll slip through it. The more you struggle the tighter it gets."

Daphne and Blaise stopped and Hermione did a second later. Neville was the first to fall though followed by Harry and the others a minute later.

Hermione looked at Neville. "What was the other method of dealing with it?"

Harry looked at her in disbelief. "Hermione, can we wait and deal with Hopkins first? We'll have time to talk about the traps later."

Daphne was standing next to a door and she looked around it, since it was already open. "Harry, I don't suppose we can go back and get Ron Weasley, can we?"

Harry frowned as he crossed to her. "Why would we want." His voice trailed off as he saw the giant chess board laid out on the other side of the door. He walked into the room and tried crossing the board, only to be stopped by two of the pieces. "Any ideas?"

Blaise looked at the pieces and thought about it for a minute. "Harry, how do the people that work down here get here every day without having to deal with all this? Someone is examining the Staff, I assume, so how do they get in?"

"I assume they Floo to the room the Staff is in, probably from the Headmistress' office. Why?"

"If you set this up as a prank, how would you fix it so you can get by it without setting it off?"

Harry stared at the set, frowning. "A password. Something simple, so I wouldn't forget it or make a mistake with it."

Daphne looked up. "Simple, having to do with chess and something you're not likely to forget." She smirked at Harry. "Fool's mate." she called out and took a step onto the board. The pieces didn't react and she grinned. She started across, looking back at the rest. "Are you coming?"

Blaise snickered at Harry as he started after her. "She's never going to let you forget that, Harry."

Harry sighed as he followed his friends. "I'm not a chess player, OK? No one is good at everything."

Blaise was smiling. "That's true, Harry, but she caught you in that three times."

Hermione looked at Harry. "You fell for fool's mate three times?"

The blazing blush on Harry's face was the only answer he gave her.

The next room was full of fluttering keys with wings. Harry looked at them as Hermione went to the next door. "Alomora" she cast, pointing her wand at the door. The unlocking spell didn't work and she frowned.

Harry was looking at the broom. "Like hell. This is too fishy. Hopkins isn't that good a flyer. How did he get by?"

Blaise looked at Daphne. "Do you have the gold bit?"

Daphne looked at him and then at Harry. She sighed and brought a key out. "No, Harry, you can't have it, no, you can't borrow it, and no, I'm not going to tell you how to get one."

Harry was obviously confused. "What are you talking about?"

Daphne put the key in the door and tapped it with her wand. The key glowed a soft gold colour for a minute and then the glow faded and Daphne turned the key. The door opened and Harry blinked. He looked at the key with interest as Daphne put it away. "Where."

Hermione interrupted him. "Harry, can we wait and deal with Hopkins first? We'll have time to talk about the traps later."

Everyone smiled as Hermione repeated Harry's words from the first room.

Harry and the others paused inside the next room. It was empty, with nothing standing between them and the next door. Harry frowned. "This worries me more than anything we've seen so far."

Blaise nodded. "This reminds me of Remus' 'empty' box."

Harry nodded. "It does, doesn't it?" He blinked twice, activating the charms built into his contacts. "Son of a-"

"Harry," snapped Daphne. "How many times do I have to tell you? That's not nice."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Daphne, use the extra sight you have."

Daphne and Blaise activated their charms and looked at the room. "Merlin," Blaise swore, and Daphne didn't say anything.

Neville looked at the room again. "Would you mind telling the rest of us what you see? All I see is an empty room."

Harry answered him. "Neville, about one metre in front of you is an invisible ward, surrounding a huge ball of fire. If you take a step forward, this entire room is going to be engulfed in an inferno."

Neville swallowed and took a step back. He sighed. "Who knows the flame freezing spell?" He wasn't really expecting an answer but he got one.

"I do," said Hermione. Everyone turned to look at her. That was a third year spell. She blushed. "I may have read ahead a bit, especially on the fire related spells, since I can get them to work so well."

Harry grinned. "This once, I'm not going to tease you about it."

Hermione cast the spell on them all and Harry made them stand back. "I trust your spell work, Hermione, but we don't know that the person that created this trap didn't do something to the fire."

Daphne was about to say something when Harry took a step forward. The room exploded, flames filling it in less than a second, sending a wave of heat around them, turned back by Hermione's spell.

Harry just stood there and Blaise grew nervous. He had Daphne hold him and Neville hold her arm and he stepped out and grabbed Harry, dragging him back.

Harry shook his head. "Thanks, Blaise. There's another spell inside the warded area. You can't see or hear anything, and you can't tell which direction is which. I was afraid to move, in case I went into a corner."

Blaise shook his head. "This trap is Moody's work, I bet. There were rumours that he did similar things to Death Eaters in their houses."

"That was never proven," said Harry automatically. He frowned. "There was an area, about four centimetres along the right wall, that the wards didn't cover. I bet if you walk into it and keep your hand on the wall, you can walk through it easily." He looked at the others. "I'll go first, and you all follow me, with your left hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you and your right on the wall. If you lose contact with the wall, stand still, hold your hands out and turn in place. You'll find the wall again."

They started off and Harry was right. As he walked, he couldn't see or feel anything except his right hand on the wall. It was eerie, walking without feeling the floor under him and seeing nothing but blackness, hearing and sensing nothing except the feel of the stone wall under his right hand, but he kept on until the feel of stone under his hand turned to wood and he stopped, feeling around on the wood. He found the door knob after a second and turned it.

The door opened and he stepped through, pulling the hand that had been on his shoulder with him. Neville came, pulling the next person until they were all in the room. They stared at the other door, on the far side of the room. Between them and the door was amass of strings hanging from the ceiling. Each string had a potion vial hanging from it. The strings were of various lengths, leaving potions hanging at all heights, from one centimetre to three metres from the floor.

Why do I think this is Professor Lovegood's work?" Harry commented. "I wonder how it works?"

Hermione was watching the strings thoughtfully. "They quiver when we talk, Harry. I think they are sonically sensitive."

The others looked at her blankly. She sighed, causing some of the closer potions to swing. "They react to sounds."

Blaise frowned. "I don't fancy trying to walk silently through a forest of potions. I like the way I look and have no desire to see if I could end up like Professor Lovegood."

Hermione was watching the potions. "I bet there is something you say, a password that allows you to pass it without setting it off."

The others looked at her. "Well, unless you have something to suggest, we'll go with plan A," Harry said. He pointed his wand at himself and said "Silencio." He grinned at them and started toward the potions forest.

Daphne had the fastest reactions and yanked Harry back as the first two potions swung toward him. They collided and a two metre circle of some sort of very sticky looking goo exploded over the area where Harry had been.

Harry dropped his silencing spell and considered the goo. "That would be embarrassing. I guess that won't work."

Hermione was still thinking. "They react to sound," she said absently, "so making sure that any absence of sound would set them off would be obvious."

Daphne suddenly smiled. "If this is Professor Lovegood's work, I know what her password is." She stepped up and said, "Uncontrolled potion interactions are very dangerous."

The potions swung aside to form a tunnel. Daphne smiled at their looks. "What else would she use? She only repeats that phrase about twenty times a week in class, and if the other teachers have to know her password, it would have to be easy to remember."

The group walked through the tunnel, watching the potions nervously. At the other end of the room another door was slightly ajar and Harry went and looked through it.

Wayne Hopkins was standing in front of a mirror. Harry looked around the rest of the room. Besides Wayne and the mirror, there were a few older looking desks and chairs, as if this had been a classroom once. At one side of the room was a fireplace, that had the marks of regular Floo use.

"I can feel you, Potter. Come on in, and bring your friends." Wayne continued to stare at the mirror.

Harry looked back at the people with him and made a small sign with one hand. Blaise and Daphne nodded and pulled their wands as they stepped back. "Hermione, you and Neville stay behind me."

Harry led them into the room, staying near a desk for cover. "What are you doing here, Hopkins? We're missing a good match."

Wayne finally looked up. "Don't play stupid, Potter. It doesn't become you. I want the Staff." He turned back to the mirror. "This is the Mirror of Erised. I can feel the Staff, and getting it is tied to the mirror somehow."

Harry frowned. He stepped up a bit closer, staying as far from Wayne as he could while looking in the mirror. Neville followed him but Hermione stayed back staring at the mirror and the room thoughtfully.

Harry looked into the mirror and saw a gathering of people. He looked closer and felt his throat go dry. There were his parents, sitting on a couch with Harry between them and a younger girl, about nine or so, who looked very much like Lily. Lily was holding an infant, a boy Harry thought, from the blue blanket the child was wrapped in. He stared at the mirror for a minute and tore his eyes from the scene. He looked at the frame of the mirror and saw the writing on it.

It only took a minute to turn "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi." into "I show not your face but your heart's desire." Harry thought for a minute and turned back to the glass. He watched the happy family for a minute more and turned away. He blinked rapidly as he considered Wayne.

That scene, Harry realized, could have been possible if not for the monster standing next to him. He could have had a family of his own blood, brothers and sisters to play and grow up with, and parents. Harry forced down the swelling anger and fought the urge to look in the mirror again.

"What did you see, Potter? Could you get the Staff out?" Wayne was studying him closely and the face was not that of a child. It was twisted and the eyes held nothing of humanity or sanity in them.

Harry shook his head slowly, never taking his eyes off the thing in front of him. "I didn't see anything about the Staff of Merlin in the mirror," he said honestly, reminding himself that the boy looking at him had been judging people longer than Harry had been alive.

Wayne frowned as he studied Harry. "You don't want the Staff?" Harry's non-committal shrug made him stare. "It's power, Potter, power to make the world over in any image you want. Why don't you want that?"

Harry looked at him and back at the Mirror, watching the happy family that could have been his. That was true power, Family and the love they shared. "No, Voldemort, it's not. It can't turn back the clock, bring my parents back or give me anything I want. It's not really important."

Hermione choked slightly, as if coughing something down and Voldemort flicked a glance at her. "Not everyone agrees with you, it seems. Care to let her look in the mirror?"

Harry looked back, making sure to keep Voldemort in his view. He looked soberly at Hermione. "Read the inscription before you look in the mirror, Hermione."

Hermione frowned but looked at the frame as she walked closer. Harry saw that little crease appear between her eyes as she puzzled at it. It took her less time to translate it that it had taken Harry. She looked at the mirror for a minute and then at Harry. "No, I don't think I will, Harry."

Voldemort and Harry both stared at her. She shrugged. "I don't want to know what I desire. Not yet. Maybe in ten years, or fifty years. I know what I want now, and that's enough for me." She looked at the mirror, an oddly adult expression on her face. "I think that knowing the deepest desire of your soul could be bad for you, if you had no way to get that desire."

Across the room, Neville was watching them all. His parents had been Aurors for years and Neville had learned a lot from them. Right now, Harry was on the brink of cursing Wayne, and Wayne was just as ready for trouble. Hermione was watching Wayne, but she wasn't preparing to attack anything. Neville looked around scanning the room for the best place for him to go when the curses started flying. There, that desk would be perfect, tall and thick, it would deflect most curses and allow him enough room to dodge and fire curses back.

He started toward the desk, edging slowly in that direction while he watched the three in front of him.

His movement made Harry and Voldemort both look at him. "What about you, Longbottom? Will you look in the Mirror?" Harry and Wayne looked at him and Neville looked at Harry who merely shrugged.

Neville looked at the mirror in silence for a minute. "I'll go with Hermione on this one. I don't need to have a mirror show me my deepest desires." He stopped by the desk he'd chosen, thinking about what he would do if trouble started.

Harry and Voldemort stared at each other. "You've been troublesome, Potter. It took a long time to recover from whatever happened between us that night and I will have my revenge, sooner or later."

Harry tensed, but he didn't think Voldemort would start anything with the two of them this close together. There was no way either of them could block or dodge anything the other person cast. Wayne looked at Harry's allies and back at Harry. "What will you do, Potter? I may not have the power I had in my body, but I am still far more experienced than all three of you combined."

Before Harry could say anything, a twisting yellowish beam lanced by Harry, striking Wayne in the shoulder and throwing him to the ground. Seeing Voldemort's wand coming up, Harry pushed Hermione to the side and tried to disarm Wayne with a kick to his wrist. He threw off Voldemort's aim and the purple beam lanced into the ceiling, but Voldemort kept his wand and rolled away, jumping to his feet as Daphne's second spell barely missed him. Harry dove behind a desk as another purple beam came close enough to put a hole in his robes.

Voldemort snarled and did something to the door, a glowing reddish shield that kept Blaise out. Daphne had already charged into the room and was throwing stinging hexes at Voldemort.

Neville reached for the desk, intending on flipping it on its side for better cover. He grabbed it by one leg and froze as something invaded his mind, searching and looking at his entire life.

The others stopped and stared at Neville as he made a choking sound. Neville began glowing, a brilliant white light that made them all blink. When the light faded, Neville was gone.

Harry stared for a minute and turned on Voldemort. "What did you do? Bring him back."

Voldemort barely looked at him. "You're a fool, Potter. I didn't do that, I would have just killed him and been done with it."

As they argued, Hermione was laying on the floor where Harry had pushed her. She looked under the desk and saw Voldemort's feet. She smirked as she pointed her wand and cast her spell.

Daphne saw Hermione's wand sticking out from under the desk and waited. Voldemort would have to deal with whatever Hermione was going to do and then she'd have a good shot at him.

Harry and Voldemort saw Hermione's spell at the same time. Hermione had set Voldemort's feet on fire. Voldemort jumped and turned his wand on the flames.

Daphne cast "Petrificus Totalus" at Voldemort, but he dodged it as Harry raised his wand and cast a hex at him.

Voldemort was not any stronger than any of the people in the room with him, but he had decades more experience and he was using curses that could kill. Harry, Hermione and Daphne spent most of their time dodging and ducking, and those few curses and jinxes they got off were dodged or blocked easily.

Voldemort began pushing them into a corner, herding them with spells and setting the desks on fire.

"I think it's time for you to die, Potter. I can't cast a Killing curse at you, but you'll roast just like your friends." Voldemort used some sort of spell to push two of the burning desks towards the three of them as Hermione and Daphne tried to put out the fires.

Harry tried to use the Protego spell to protect them all. He was wracking his brain for something that would help when the wall next to the door exploded into the room, showering Voldemort with stones. He was knocked to the ground and his wand skittered across the floor, disappearing under a burning desk.

Professor McGonagall and Amelia Bones came in through the hole, pointing their wands at Voldemort.

He stood up and fury crossed his face as he looked at the two women. "This isn't over, Potter. I will kill you one day." Before anyone could move, Voldemort pulled a vial from his robes and drank it.

He fell to the floor convulsing as Professor McGonagall put out the fires and cleared the smoke from the air. "Mr. Potter, why am I not surprised to find you in a place that was put off-limits at the beginning of the school year?"

Harry scratched his head as he tried to think of a reason that the Headmistress would accept. Hermione came to his rescue. "Professor McGonagall, Neville disappeared."

Amelia and the Headmistress looked at each other and then back at the group, who had now been joined by Blaise. Amelia stepped up and looked at Hermione. "Would you give me the details, please?"

Hermione pointed at the desk that Neville had grabbed. "He touched that..."

Professor McGonagall hissed. "He touched it, with his bare hands?"

Hermione nodded, blinking at being interrupted by the Headmistress.

Professor McGonagall sighed and turned to Professor Bones. "One of the things we did to protect the Staff was put the Mirror of Erised in here. Anyone looking for the Staff would look in it and see the Staff. They couldn't get it out of there, because it was never in it." She pointed at the desk Neville had touched. "It was hidden under an illusion as the leg of that desk. Mr. Longbottom must have touched it."

Professor Bones nodded. "You weren't expecting an all out battle in here. What happened to Mr. Longbottom?"

The Headmistress sighed. "I don't know. We had barely begun to unravel the secrets of the Staff of Merlin, because one of the first things we found out is that is is a Portkey, activated by touch. We haven't yet figured out where it takes you. Not being able to touch it was hampering the research."

The four friends looked at each other. "Excuse me," Harry said, "but are you saying that Neville could be anywhere in the world?"

Professor McGonagall nodded. "That's right, Mr. Potter."

Hermione was looking at Voldemort. "Shouldn't we do something for him?"

The others looked at Voldemort. He was curled up in a tight ball, and his face was a dark shade of red. Blood was running from his nose and ears. Amelia shrugged. "He's dead," she said bluntly. "Once he drank that poison, nothing we could do here could have saved him, unless one of you has a Bezoar in your pocket?"

Hermione swallowed hard, staring wide eyed at the body. Harry, Blaise and Daphne looked at it, but they were more worried about Neville. Professor Bones shook her head. "Right. You lot are coming with me. Minerva, I can give you about an hour while I ask these four questions, but then I have to call the Ministry and report a possession."

Professor McGonagall nodded. "I'll Floo the Board right away and start working on what we're going to do. Do you want me to call the Longbottoms?"

Amelia nodded. "I think so. You have to Floo Augusta anyway, so you can talk to them all at once. I assume the Longbottoms will insist on being part of the investigation until we find out what happened to Neville anyway."

She looked at the four children. "Come on, you lot. Mr. Potter, why exactly did you follow Wayne, instead of letting a teacher know?" Harry began telling her the story as she led them out.

OoOoOoO Neville, Somewhere, Some when, OoOoOoO

Neville closed his eyes as something seemed to be trying to pull his stomach out thorough his navel. He opened them when the feeling stopped and looked around. He was surrounded by opalescent mists, shimmering and swirling around him. He looked around several times as he thought he saw shapes from the corner of his eye, but he couldn't see anything when he looked.

He looked down, aware he was still holding something and realized that the leg of the desk was in his hands. He was about to toss it down when he changed his mind. He didn't know where he was, but this desk leg was obviously a Portkey and he might need it to get back to Hogwarts.

He could feel the ground under his feet, but like the rest of what he could see, it was a swirling mass of nothingness.

"Thou are of the Blood. Thou hast taken up mine Staff. Now thou shalt be judged. Three tests will thou take. Should you pass them all, thou shall have the power thou crave. Should thou fail, thou shalt die."

The voice was in Neville's head and he stared at the desk leg with panic rising rapidly. "I don't want power, I want to go home." Neville looked around wildly, hoping to see anything that could help him.

"The Staff of Merlin is thy escape from this place. If thee let it go, it shall be lost forever and thou will be lost in the Mists of Magic forever and ever."

Neville looked at the stick he held and his eyes grew wider as it changed, becoming longer and slimmer, with a small carving of an Oak tree at the top.

"Bollocks." Somehow, Neville didn't think his parents would be happy about this.

OoOoOoO Headmistress McGonagall, her office, 09May91. OoOoOoO

Professor McGonagall threw a pinch of Floo powder in the fireplace and called the Longbottom estate. Augusta answered and she asked Augusta and Neville's parents to come to her office. She sat down behind her desk and thought while she waited.

The three Longbottoms stepped through the Floo a few minutes later, looking worried. "What's wrong?" asked Alice. "Is Neville OK?"

"I don't know. Let me explain." Professor McGonagall explained what had happened and what they knew about the Staff of Merlin. "I was hoping that you had some way to track Neville down. I know that some of the older families have Blood Trackers."

Frank nodded. "Of course we do. I'll go and get it." He stepped up to the Floo and was gone in an instant.

Augusta looked at the Headmistress. "While we're waiting for Frank, maybe you can explain what you were doing with such a dangerous thing in the school in the first place."

Professor McGonagall sighed. "It was not a choice. The Ministry insisted that we help in the investigations. With the position I am in, I didn't have a choice. I was also told not to tell anyone about having it here. Word got out somehow, but I'm not sure how. All of the Professors that knew it was here have been questioned under Veritaserum and none of us have said anything about it to anyone."

Augusta frowned. "Who was the person that insisted in the Ministry? I think we'll be dealing with them. This is not acceptable for a school. The Hall of Mysteries would have been a better place to hold such an object."

"I thought so as well, but apparently, the Unspeakables wouldn't let anyone that wasn't an Unspeakable in there to examine the Staff. The rest of the Ministry wouldn't accept that and a woman named Dolores Umbridge suggested having it here. I tried to fight it, but she had the backing of the Unspeakables, the Minister and a dozen others with a vested interest in the Staff."

Augusta nodded. "I see. If you'll pardon me, I'm going to go talk to the rest of the board. I think it's time we did something about the Ministry, if they're going to be endangering the students." She looked at Alice. "I'll be checking back regularly. I'm going to Arcturus Black first. He's going to be the biggest problem on the Board, so I'll start with him." She used the Floo and disappeared.

Alice was staring into space. "What do you think happened? I know you don't know much about it yet, but what do you think happened?"

Professor McGonagall stood up and took a thick book down from the shelf. "This is everything we know or think about the Staff, including old legends and myths." She leafed through the book until she found the section she was looking for. "This is the only thing that might account for what happened." She passed the book to Alice.

Alice read the section the Headmistress had shown her and then read it again. The language was archaic and it took her a few seconds to understand what it said. She looked up at Professor McGonagall. "But we're not of Merlin's blood."

"Are you sure about that? All of the old families are intermarried. If there is any of Merlin's blood left, you have as good a chance of having it as any other family."

Alice frowned. "He's eleven. He's not ready for this."

"I didn't want it here either, Alice. Between the Weasley twins poking their noses into everything, Harry Potter and the chances that he would take after his father, I must assuredly did not want that here this year."

Alice Longbottom smiled. "I hear that they might have pulled a prank or two this year."

The Headmistress looked at her. "Yes, and I think you know your Neville is right in the thick of things."

Alice smiled, her eyes far away for a minute before coming back. "Those were better times, weren't they? Nothing to worry about except waking up covered in fur or something."

Professor McGonagall shook her head. "He was still out there, but he was more circumspect then, only attacking the ones that couldn't fight back, that would disappear without a trace." She looked at the younger woman. "But I think you found that out in your seventh year, or was there some other reason you became an Auror?"

"No, Frank would have let me be anything I wanted, but Mary's death opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn't seen before that." She shook her head. "None of that is helping us find Neville though."

Professor McGonagall sighed. "If that legend is true, we're not going to find Neville until he is returned to us."

Alice was staring at the book they had been looking at. "That's what I'm afraid of," she said softly.

OoOoOoO Frank Longbottom, Longbottom Estate, 09May91 OoOoOoO

Frank frowned as he studied the instruments that guarded and warded the Longbottom heir. They had watched over Frank when he had been Neville's age as they had warded the Longbottom heirs for more than five hundred years.

Albus Dumbledore would have recognized them, he'd had a set just like them made for Harry Potter years ago and they had sat in his office until the night he'd fled after being revealed as Mordred.

They were simple things really, able to tell anyone that knew how to read them the location and physical condition of the person who's blood was the current focus. It would only tell you if the person was dead, alive or injured, but that was generally enough for the families. Few of the old blood families these days went for more than that.

Frank frowned at them again and waved his wand at the instruments. The spell showed him the same thing; Neville was alive and healthy, but could not be located. The detectors were working fine, which meant Neville was beyond the limits of what the devices could see.

Since they could use the simplest of magic, sympathetic magic, to find the rest of Neville's blood even in Unplottable areas and other protected places, that should be impossible. He sighed and started toward the Floo. Alice was not going to like this at all.

OoOoOoO Augusta Longbottom, Grimmauld Place , 09May91 OoOoOoO

Augusta stepped up to the door and tapped the door knocker with her wand. It opened almost instantly. "I happened to be looking out the window and saw you approaching," the man said to her obvious surprise. "Won't you come in?" Augusta followed him down the hallway, suppressing a shudder at the dark and cold décor. Now was not the time to complain that this house not suitable.

She accepted a seat and told Arcturus her tea preferences. He sent a House Elf after it and turned to look at her. "Pardon me for being blunt, but I'll feeling the years and I'm in pain all the time these days. You don't like me or my family, I don't like you or your family, so why are you here?"

Augusta almost smiled at the gambit he was playing. She'd been a fifth year Prefect with Arcturus, although in different Houses and she been on the Board of Governors for Hogwarts with him for thirty-eight years now and he had always had a way to disconcert anyone he was talking to for the entire time she'd known him.

She shrugged. "It's simple. The Ministry is interfering with Hogwarts and one of the students has disappeared. It's time we did something about it."

Arcturus frowned. "Who is missing?"

"My grandson, Neville."

The senior Black blinked and then frowned. "I am sorry to hear that. We are too few to have our futures disappear. Tell me what happened."

She gave him a brief synopsis of the morning and he frowned, both startled and hopeful. "Harry Potter fought the Dark Lord again, hmm? That means he does live still. I had hoped, but to have it confirmed is a relief. I was afraid that I would go to my grave without knowing." He saw her look. "Come now, Augusta. We've known each other too long for us to have lies between us. I want the Old families to remain at the top forever. This Dark Lord wants that as well. Of course I support him."

"We will have to agree to disagree on that. I think the people that belong at the top will rise there. Breeding and family will help, of course, but it is not the most important thing, or have you forgotten how the last of the Gaunt line went?" She shook her head. "I will come back another day to discuss that, however. I owe you that much for agreeing to see me. Right now, I have an urge to do some very bad things to the people responsible for my grandson's disappearance and I need your backing. Even a letter stating your support will be enough."

The old man smiled at her. "I understand how you feel, but I cannot help you." He raised one hand as she started to protest. "Not because I won't, because I can't. I have handed my seat to another." He smiled again. "I might have been wrong about Sirius. He came and asked, but when I insulted him, he had very Slytherin plans in place. I had no choice but to step down and let Sirius take my place as the Hogwarts Board of Director's Chairman. I doubt he'll keep the chair past the first meeting, but then I would have said he would never sit on the board in the first place."

Augusta frowned, thinking about the people on the board. "That gives the Windenmere group a simple majority at least. I wonder if any of the other seats have changed hands recently?"

Arcturus frowned. "I didn't think the Windenmeres had any seats, except the Greengrass one, how do they have a simple majority?"

Augusta ticked them off on her fingers. "The Greengrass and Black seats they hold outright now, the Malfoy seat is in trust for Draco and being voted by his guardian, Sirius Black. The Hopkirk and Robards seats are not theirs, but the Windenmere people control their votes by various means and the Ogden seat has never opposed them in any vote the Windenmeres wanted to go a certain way. I don't know why, but that's the way he's always voted."

Arcturus frowned. "Ogden. The elder Ogden is on the Wizengamot, isn't he? I think you'll find that his oldest daughter is married to one of the Windenmeres. I believe one of the Greengrasses."

Augusta nodded. "I see. I didn't know that. But in any case, that gives them six of the nine seats. They can pass any simple vote without a problem now. I wonder what they have up their sleeves."

Arcturus smiled. "Whatever it is, Sirius promised me that the Ministry was going to hate it. He swore it on his magic. Despite his liberal ideas, I will be watching this with some anticipation." He frowned at Augusta. "All of that aside, I hope your grandson returns safely."

Augusta rose. "So do I. I must go and set my plans in motion, but I will remember to return and argue with you about our opinions, if you're not in too much pain to have guests."

Arcturus snickered. "I know you know better, Augusta. Stop by any time."

OoOoOoO Sirius Black, the Windenmere compound, 09MAY91. OoOoOoO

Sirius pulled his head from the Floo and looked at Donnetta Greengrass. "You were right, I cannot vote both the Black seat and the Malfoy seat. I'll draw up a document giving you control of the Malfoy seat until Draco is of age, although I will reserve the right to remove you from the seat at any time."

Donnetta looked at him. "I've known you for a decade now, and I never knew that you were so good at political manoeuvrings. Why don't you use your skills more?"

Sirius sighed. "Because I learned to do it at the feet of my father, and when I left home and moved in with James, I swore I'd never be like him. Since all I've ever seen him do is politics, I refused to get involved with them. That doesn't mean I forgot all the things I saw him do, or the skills he was teaching and being around you lot has given me a few more lessons. Some of you Windenmeres plot as naturally as you breathe."

Donnetta smiled and kissed Sirius on the cheek. "Why thank you, Sirius. That may be one of the nicest things you've ever said to me."

Sirius shook his head as he headed to his room to draw up the proxy document for Donnetta. "Mental, that one is, absolutely mental."

OoOoOoO Harry and friends, Hogwarts, 09MAY91. OoOoOoO

Amelia Bones looked at the notes she had made while Harry and his friends told her how they'd gotten through the defences around the Staff of Merlin. "So, the dog was asleep, the Devil's Snare was sidestepped by Neville, and Harry caught the key in the next room?"

Harry shook his head. "No," he corrected, "The next room was the chess set, which Daphne bypassed by guessing the password. It was the room after that that had the broomstick and keys."

Amelia looked at him. This whole thing smelled to her, but something about the way Harry and his friends had told the story about that room didn't sit right with her. They were hiding something from her, she was sure of it, but she didn't know what questions to ask. She made a mental note to look into it later. "After that, you passed through a room with a fire trap and then a room full of some sort of sticky potions. Was that everything?"

Harry nodded. "The last room was the one you found us in."

Amelia nodded. "Mr. Potter, Mr. Zabini, Miss Greengrass, Miss Granger, this event is under investigation and is to be considered a Ministry secret until I tell you differently. Do you understand this charge?" Amelia spoke formally and the kids looked at each other and back at her before nodding soberly. "Good. Now, I believe it is nearly lunch and you had better go and get something to eat. I have to call the Ministry and I think once they get here, you may not get any peace for a few hours or possibly days."

Harry rose and led his friends out of the room. As they walked to the Great Hall, Harry looked around. "Hermione, you can't tell anyone about what we did this morning, not even your parents. There are some very severe penalties for breaking a Ministry secret, so before you say anything, even to one of us, make sure you have a silencing spell up."

Hermione nodded. "Why is it such a big deal? We didn't do anything wrong, did we?"

Daphne coughed at Harry's look. "Not much, Hermione. But, the Staff of Merlin is always a Ministry Secret. By knowing where it was last, we've joined the people that cannot talk about it."

Hermione nodded as she thought about it, but her quick mind had also caught that first part of that sentence. "I can understand that, but what did you mean by 'not much'"?

Daphne sighed. "We may have broken one or two rules this morning. The Headmistress did place the third floor corridor off limits."

Blaise shrugged. "Since we kept Voldemort from getting the object, I'm not that worried about it."

As they reached the great hall, they stopped talking about the events of the mornings, splitting up to go to their respective tables. Harry was soon listening to a replay of the Quidditch match. Ravenclaw's young Seeker had Marked the Slytherin Seeker well and out flown him to get the Snitch, giving Ravenclaw the victory. Harry considered the Quidditch standings thoughtfully. Cedric Diggory was a good Seeker and it looked as if the Slytherin team might be defeated in all three matches this year. He frowned as he worried about the Chang girl. None of Harry's regular opponents had ever been happy just Marking and he hadn't dealt with that particular strategy before.

Daphne and Blaise were sitting next to Susan Bones. She looked at them. "Half a dozen people have told me that my mother was here and that you and your friends were seen talking to her. What have you done this time?"

Daphne considered her. The Bones' were good light side people, but they had been Aurors forever and held the rule of the law in very high regard. That simple fact kept the Windenmeres and Bones apart. The Windenmeres were less concerned with laws. "I have been told that I may not speak of it until Watch Commander Bones allows me to."

Susan nodded. She put a few rumours, some overheard comments from home and Harry's questions from earlier together. She looked around and lowered her voice. "Hopkins was working for You-Know-Who, wasn't he? That's why the Aurors were asking him so many questions after Professor Moody died and why Harry was asking about him this morning, just before you all disappeared."

Daphne shrugged, racing to find something to say that would not bend the Ministry secret rules. "I swear that Wayne was not working for Voldemort." She considered Susan. This could be a way to gain an ally. "In fact, I swear that I have not seen Wayne himself since we left for the Holidays."

Susan blinked. That was a foolish oath, Wayne had been here all year. Harry.... Her thoughts changed track abruptly. Daphne had sworn that she had not seen Wayne since the holidays. Wayne's family had died over the holidays, the Aurors had been asking about him, and now he seemed to have disappeared after a fight of some sort with Harry Potter. Susan was not stupid and her family had been investigators for nearly eight hundred years. It did not take her long to put the pieces together.

She grinned at Daphne. "I think, that when I get into the Ministry and read some of the old reports, I'm going to find some fascinating stories in there."

Blaise frowned at her. "You already know you're going to be an Auror?"

Susan stared at him, puzzled. "Of course. There has been a Bones in the Aurors office for seven hundred and sixty four years. What else would I do?"

Blaise shook his head. "Never mind, Susan. I should have known better." Blaise had been told he could be anything he wanted to be and could accomplish for as long as he could remember. The old family attitudes that kept a family doing the same thing for generation after generation was as foreign to his nature as violence.

Susan frowned at him but went back to thinking about what she knew and thought. "Rumour had something powerful on the third floor, although no one knew what exactly," she mused, watching Daphne and Blaise. "Some say it was the Staff of Merlin. If You-Know-Who somehow replaced Wayne, that would be nearly as interesting to him as the Boy-Who-Lived."

Daphne shrugged. "I can't talk about it."

"I'm glad to see you take that seriously, Miss Greengrass." The three jumped as Jane Bones' voice came from behind them. "Susan, drop it. I will tell you as much as you are allowed to know later." She looked at the other two. "The Minister would like to see the four of you. I have told him that you will go directly to the Headmistress' office after you are done eating."

Daphne and Blaise looked at each other and then at Harry, who was talking to Amelia Bones. He looked at them and shrugged, rubbing his eyes with his left hand. Blaise and Daphne looked at each other. Harry wanted to do all the talking? What did he have up his sleeve?

Harry held out his arm and Hedwig landed a minute later. Harry had a parchment ready for her and an owl treat. "I need a favour, Hedwig," he said quietly. "I need you to get this to Sirius as fast as you can, girl. It's very important."

Hedwig bobbed her head, staring at Harry for a second and then launched herself off his arm. She was out of sight in a flash, gone through the owl entrance. Harry relaxed. He looked at Blaise and tapped his elbow, telling him to take his time. Harry didn't know or understand how Hedwig could move so fast, but he was betting that with something this important, she'd break all sorts of speed records.

Harry was sometimes rash, but even he knew his limits and playing any type of word games with a political master like Minister Fudge was well beyond them. Sirius, on the other hand, could invoke his authority as Harry's guardian and protect him. That Sirius would warn Daphne and Blaise's folks was a bonus. Harry checked his watch. He had to waste about forty minutes.

He grinned as he began quizzing Ron Weasley about the match this morning. Weasley was a Quidditch fanatic, more than willing to discuss the nuances of any match for hours, debating what happened with other strategies that they could have used. This would be an easy forty minutes.

OoOoOoO Sirius and Augusta Longbottom, The Windenmere Estate. 09MAY91. OoOoOoO

"Are we agreed, Madame Longbottom?"

"I believe we are, Wizard Black. I will have your backing in taking the Chair of the Board and you will have my backing in keeping the Ministry out of Hogwarts."

Sirius nodded. 'I will not allow this Umbridge woman to do anything else that puts Harry in danger. She has earned the enmity of the House of Black by doing so and I plan to show people that we have not lost our touch for creative retribution." Augusta blinked. For just a few seconds, Sirius reminded her of his father, with that cold implacable look that meant someone was soon going to be regretting whatever they had done to anger Arcturus. It faded quickly and the cheerful smirk that so many people had seen in Hogwarts returned. "Of course, since my current allies are more principled than I am, it won't be dark... merely bad."

Augusta sighed. "What happened to blue fur, Wizard Black? I seem to recall my son complaining about that once."

Sirius smiled at the memory. "It was a good prank, but this is not a prank. Despite what people think of me, I do know when not to joke. Harry's safety is not a matter for joking."

Augusta looked at Sirius for a long minute. "Wizard Black, I do believe that you may be growing up."

Sirius grinned. "Please don't tell anyone. I do have a reputation to maintain after all." Sirius looked at her. "Plus people tend to underestimate jokers."

Augusta nodded slowly. "How much of your reputation have you created, just to make people do that very thing?"

Sirius shrugged. "About half of it." He grinned again, the familiar look of a thousand pictures over the last ten years. "Of course, my reputation makes it possible to do things to people that no one else could get away with and I do tend to take advantage of that."

Augusta looked at Sirius and made a mental note not to underestimate him. He may have a strange sense of humour, but he had still been raised by one of the most Slytherin families around and he was living with an entire clan of people that embodied everything Slytherin had wanted in his house.

Sirius Black would bear watching.

OoOoOoO Maire and Remus, their bedroom, 09MAY1991. OoOoOoO

"No, Maire, you cannot simply poison Umbridge," Remus said for the fifth time.

"Why not? No one would know, it would look like natural causes and Delores Umbridge would not endanger Harry Potter again." Maire was simply being herself, Remus knew, and every time she reminded him about the danger Harry had been in facing Voldemort, he twitched as his wolf snarled.

He sighed and continued to soap her back. "We are the good people, Maire and that means we have certain standards, like not poisoning people that annoy us."

"Foolishness, Remus Love. A dead enemy is a good enemy. Harry Potter is too much the Marauder not to find trouble all on his own. Removing this source of trouble would be the safest thing for him and all of us."

Remus winced. She was being logical and she made sense. If it wasn't for the moral side of poisoning someone, she would be correct. Maire didn't have morals as far as Remus knew, though, relying on his input to keep her out of trouble in polite society. "Maire, I am aware that Madame Morgana taught you enough about poisons that you could possibly get away with it, but what if you're wrong? What will happen to us, to Harry, if you are caught?"

Maire sighed. "I am hurt, Remus Lupin, that you think I would be caught by any of the fools in the Aurors. They have not even found Madame Morgana, despite five hundred years of looking." She twisted around in the bathtub to look at Remus. "Do you think me so much less than she is?"

"I said nothing of the sort," Remus said hastily. "I was not even implying it. But if something happens to a high Ministry official, it's not the Aurors I worry about, but the Unspeakables. They may have some things or magic beyond the Aurors."

Maire considered his words. "You may be correct. I must research these people before acting in any way that might bring us into interaction." She finished her turn and sat in Remus' lap. "Thank you for warning me, Remus Love." Maire kisses him with that serious feel that meant she had urges to go further and all discussion of poison and Unspeakables fled Remus' mind.

It was tabled for later thought, but Maire did not forget their conversation.

OoOoOoO Umbridge and Fudge, The Ministry, mid morning, 09MAY1991. OoOoOoO

"You will have to do something, Delores, or it will be your head on the block. Augusta Longbottom is moving swiftly to extract retribution for the danger to her grandson and Sirius Black has woken up and moved into politics. He is now on the Board of Governors for Hogwarts. Between them and their friends, someone's head will roll for this event and I will promise you, it will not be mine."

Delores Umbridge stared at her boss and part time lover. "You would throw me to the wolves?"

Minister Fudge snorted. "Of course I would, you know that. Did you think that I would be all Gryffindor nobility just because we have had sex a few times? I thought you knew better." He considered her thoughtfully. "If you are that naïve, maybe it's better that you be taken down now. That's too large of a liability right now."

Delores snarled silently. "Don't worry about it. I merely thought you were going to help them get me. I can deal with those people, as long as you do nothing to help them."

Fudge nodded. "I need good allies. I will not help them, unless it looks as if they are going to win. Then you know I will be on the winning side."

Umbridge nodded slowly. "I know that. You always end up on the winning side, no matter what side that may be."

Fudge shrugged. "Of course I do. Staying in office is the only true measure of a successful politician and I will be remembered as one of the best." He looked up at the clock. "Right now, you owe me a "personal" favour."

Delores nodded. "What do you want this time?"

Fudge smiled. "The Wizengamot is out for the day, and I have always wanted to bend someone over the Speaker's podium. We have just enough time before we go to Hogwarts."

He stood up and held out his hand. Delores took it, and a small smile crossed her lips as Fudge led her away. Men were fools, led by their hormones. One day, it would be Fudge being bent over that podium, as long as she could keep him blind to some of her dealings just a bit longer.

That thought made her performance as Fudge used her much better than normal. That and the thought of how she would use her assistant to deflect the heat from her. She was a foolish girl and not very good in bed either. It was time to find someone better.

OoOoOoO Harry and his friends, The Headmistress' office, 09MAY91. OoOoOoO

Harry looked at Minister Fudge blankly. "I don't understand. Could you rephrase the question?"

Minister Fudge frowned at Harry. "It's a simple question, Mr. Potter. What did you want with the Staff of Merlin?"

Harry shrugged and answered the question. "I don't want anything to do with it. I was following Hopkins. Professor Moody had some suspicions about him and we were keeping an eye on him. When he left in the middle of the match, we followed him."

Minister Fudge stared at Harry suspiciously. He didn't believe for an instant that Potter didn't want the power offered by the Staff of Merlin. Power was the only true reward for work and everyone wanted more power.

Before he could ask the boy any more questions there was a knock at the door. Headmistress McGonagall waved her hand at the door and it opened to reveal a small crowd of people. Sirius led Mrs. Greengrass, Mrs. Longbottom, Mr. Zabini and another wizard through the door. Sirius looked around and offered the two women that had come in with him seats while ignoring Minister Fudge and Umbridge. When they were seated he turned to look at the Headmistress.

Professor McGonagall looked at Sirius and blinked. She'd seen that look a thousand times or more. Sirius and James had worn it almost continuously in their fifth and sixth years. Sirius was up to something. She'd seen that look far too many times to mistake it.

Fudge and Umbridge exchanged a look. This was going to be interesting. Sirius looked at Professor McGonagall. "Pardon our intrusion, Headmistress, but we thought we would find out what happened and why."

Minister Fudge cleared his throat. "There was an item being kept in the school for research purposes. The children came across it and in the process, Neville Longbottom disappeared."

Sirius nodded. "I see. And what was this item?" Sirius knew what had been there of course, but he wanted to see what the official position was. The Board of Governors was meeting in a little over two hours and Sirius wanted to have something to take to them.

Minister Fudge shrugged. "I can't speak of it. It's a secret."

Sirius smirked. "Good secret, Minister. Everyone in Hogwarts knew that the Staff of Merlin was being kept here."

Minister Fudge coughed. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Sirius stared at him. "Really? So are you claiming that you didn't know what was here?"

Minister Fudge shook his head. "Of course not. I knew, but I cannot speak of it. It is still a secret and I am bound by my oaths."

Sirius nodded thoughtfully. "I see. Speaking as a member of the Board, I must insist that you tell us what the Staff of Merlin was doing here."

Minister Fudge looked stubborn. "I cannot talk about it," he insisted.

Madame Longbottom frowned at him. "You will talk to us about it, Minister. You have endangered the students of Hogwarts." She looked around. "I believe we will dismiss these students." She pinned Minister Fudge to his chair with a stern look as he opened his mouth. "You are going to talk, Minister. Or the Board of Governors will be forced to tell the entire community that the Ministry has done something to endanger the students."

Minister Fudge looked around and saw no support in any of the faces around him. "Mr. Potter, take your friends away. There may be some questions later."

Harry wasted no time in standing up and heading for the door with the others right behind him.

The five of them went down the stairway and passed the gargoyle. Harry frowned as he walked and thought. "Sirius is up to something."

Blaise snorted derisively. "You think? I would like to know what Solicitor Underhill was doing here."

Daphne rolled her eyes. "That should be obvious. He's representing Hermione's parents. Sirius had all our folks there but Hermione's parents can't enter Hogwarts, even if they could be reached this quickly. I assume that Sirius or my mum arranged to have him available if needed." She thought about it for a minute. "I would bet on my mum, Sirius wouldn't think of your parents. He's a bit oblivious to anything non magical."

Hermione was frowning. "That means someone is going to tell my parents about today."

The others looked at her. "Yes," Harry said, "So what? It's not like you are going to be in that much trouble."

Hermione shook her head as they passed another corner and headed towards the main doors. "My parents were not happy about me going off to school in a magical place they couldn't visit. Muggle legends and stories are full of things that sound very disturbing to people that can't do magic and they didn't want me coming here at all. If they get the idea that I might be in danger in school, they won't let me come back."

The other three were silent as they walked outside and started toward the lake. Daphne was the first to break the silence. "But, if they pull you out of Hogwarts, where would you go?"

Hermione shrugged. "I can go almost anywhere. My scholastic scores are high enough that most schools will take me."

"But if you don't finish your magical education, you won't be allowed to do magic." Blaise and Daphne looked at each other. Raised in a magical home, with a magical heritage that went back centuries, they couldn't imagine not having magic. Harry didn't like the idea either, but he'd met enough people in the Muggle world to know that it was possible.

Hermione sighed, thinking about the arguments she'd had with her parents. "My parents wouldn't mind that at all."

OoOoOoO Neville, The Mists of Magic, 09May91. OoOoOoO

Neville lay on his back, gasping for air. He pulled his arm in, wincing at the pain of his burns, looking at the wand in his hand. It had started as the Staff of Merlin when the 'tests' began and had changed only after he had shattered his wand in one of the trials.

Neville had lost track of the times he had been dropped into a situation and forced to make decisions. The first few had been simple, but they had quickly become more complex and demanding.

Then the tests had gotten harder, becoming dangerous. They had come faster as well, pushing Neville to his limits and in a couple of cases, beyond them. Neville was certain that he would have died at least twice if this had been real.

"You have died. Three times so far. In any place but this one, you would be dead. Here, reality is based on the strength of the user's magical and will and my will is stronger than yours. I control this place and it does not suit my will that you die yet."

Neville blinked and looked at the wand he held. He'd forgotten how many times it had spoken to him, giving him the information he needed for each test and answering his questions. "So, what happens now? Are there going to be more tests?"

"No. You are done with tests for now. Later, we shall return here and you will have more tests, but you are too young, too innocent to set those tests before you now. You would only die. Shortly, you will go back. You are of my blood and you have the strength and courage I require. Time shall tell me if you will be the man I am waiting for."

"What are you waiting for?" Neville frowned as he thought. Most of the tests had not tested strength or courage that he could tell.

"Physical courage is the least of all strengths, lad. Moral courage means far more than the ability not to scream in the face of a dragon. Physical strength is for people without the mental strength to do what needs to be done, without the intelligence to find the correct way. I couldn't care less about your physical appearance. That can be changed with a potion, a skill, a spell. Who you are deep inside, that is far more important than the body you wear now."

Neville coughed as he sat up. "You'll understand if I disagree. You might have been able to heal any injury, change your shape or remake the world, but I'm hurting and it is of some concern to me."

He looked down, taking stock of his injuries. His left arm was tucked into his belt, hanging limp and twisted after he'd wrenched his arm out of its socket. Painful, but not important. It would be fixed quickly when he got home. The sleeve covering his right arm was burned away and painful blisters had risen on his forearm. It felt worse than the time his experiment had gone wrong and burnt him, so he took the time to wrap his forearm with a bit of his shirt. Tying the bandage was difficult and he took a minute to rest after he was done. He thought that was the worst of it, since nothing else hurt that much.

"Why are you bothering with that? Just heal it."

Neville rolled his eyes and then stared at the wand. "I'm not you. You might be able to make a motion and create raw magical effects from the air, but I need a spell and a wand, along with some practice first."

"Are you being deliberately obtuse or are you truly that foolish? Why do you need a wand?"

"Because uncontrolled magic is impossible to control. The wand acts as a focus to enforce my will on the magic, allowing me to cast a spell and get the effect that I want." Neville said automatically, having been told that a dozen times or more while he was growing up. Everyone knew that only babies and mentally defective people did uncontrolled magic.

"Lad, you had the ability to do magic before you had a wand, correct?"


"And you did things without knowing spells, correct?"


"Then why do you need the wand now? Magic is a force, nothing more. Your will makes it do what you want. Using a wand makes it easier to do things, true. Using a spell that you have practised a thousand times helps as well. That's not the end of magic though. Magic can be used in a thousand ways. Some Mages use blood to power their magic, some use other things. None of those things will work though, if you don't have the ability to do magic in the first place."

Neville frowned, thinking about all the things he'd been told about magic. "Look, lad. If it helps any, doing magic using only your will is very hard on the earth as you know it. Here, the very fabric of reality is magic. You can do things here that you'll never match at Hogwarts."

Neville nodded, looking at his arm. The burns were throbbing badly and he shrugged. It wouldn't hurt to try at least. "What do I do?"

"Close your eyes and picture your arm as it should be. Imagine the flex and play of the muscles under the skin, the way it feels, everything about it." Neville was trying but the pains from various parts of his body was distracting him. "Fine. This once, lad, I will show you. From now on, you'll do it."

Neville was shunted aside, able to see and hear, but not in control of his body. The pain went away and he watched as his right arm healed, the blisters and redness of the burn fading away in less than a minute. His head turned and he watched as his right hand pulled his left hand out of his belt.

He winced mentally at the wet popping sound that was his arm sliding back into its socket. That was going to be sore. He watched in awe as his body stood up and his injuries disappeared, fading away to nothing. He nearly fell over as the voice in the wand released control of his body back to him.

"Neville, you will be sent back to Hogwarts. I am satisfied that you could be worthy. I am afraid that you are still too young to wield the Staff yet. I will also be watching you, Neville Longbottom. You have shown great promise and if you reach manhood without significant change, we will stand here once more."

Neville sighed. "Do you mind if I ask a question?" The wand assented. "Why has your voice changed so much? When I arrived, you were 'Thy' and 'thou', and now you sound like any Wizard."

"Because I keep the speech pattern of the last wizard to visit. It has been four hundred years since someone has been brave enough to touch the Staff of Merlin and had my blood." The wand's voice changed then, becoming amused. "Besides, that speech is great for scaring the shit out of people."

Neville shook his head. "I get taken away by a mysterious artefact and it's got the same sense of humour as my friends."

The voice was still amused. "Did you think I was just this All Powerful Mage, worried only about the Fate of the World, Righting Great Wrongs and Rescuing the Helpless?" Neville winced at the sarcastic tone and the capital letters he could almost hear. He tried not to think that that was exactly what he'd thought of Merlin. "Lad, even the most serious Mage must have a hobby or something to do that isn't magic. Those that spend too much time with their magic soon go insane or evil. Magic is a tool to use, not a passion to get lost in."

"Right now lad, it's time for you to go. You have spent as much time in the Mists as anyone human can. If you stay any longer, you won't be able to leave." The voice sighed. "One day soon, we shall speak again, but for now, I want you to forget everything that happened here. You'll understand when you remember."

Before Neville could say anything he felt himself falling asleep. His vision faded to black before his hands hit the ground.

The wand rose slowly from the ground and a large shelf of books appeared before it. The shelf disappeared and other things took its place, only to disappear.

"Are you certain you want to do this, my friend?"

A figure came out of the mists, looking at the wand and Neville. "No, but I have no choice. Without contact with the mortal world, I'll remain here forever. I tire of living as a voice. I want to walk in the world again, to feel and -"

"You mean you want to find a way to die, so that you can move on to the next world." The wand pointed at the figure, examining the tall human that stood there. She was close to two meters tall and dressed in chain mail made of bronze. She carried a bronze sword at her side and had blue designs painted on her face. Her eyes were a brilliant blue and her hair was a reddish gold colour, hanging past her shoulders and blowing freely around her shoulders, touched by some breeze that swirled around her.

"Yes, that too. We have watched over this world for centuries. You still feel something for this world, but my ties were never as strong and I no longer care. That's not a good thing for someone in my position, as you know well."

The woman nodded. "Only too well. I will not hinder you. Goddess bless you and watch over you." She looked at the wand for a minute longer and then was simply gone.

Merlin changed the shape of his new form, matching the wand Neville had brought with him perfectly. He used the power of the magical world he was in to hide several things in Neville's memory and then hid even the memory of the tests from Neville. He checked his work, making sure everything was just as he wanted it and hesitated. Once out of this land, he would have almost no power, only the ability to speak, and that only in areas was magic was concentrated.

Merlin shook his head mentally. There was nothing else he could do. Long ago he'd been trapped in this land and now only a physical body in the mortal world could keep him there. He took a deep breath and leaped into the void.

OoOoOoO Harry and friends, Hogwarts, 15May91. OoOoOoO

It had been six days since Neville disappeared, six long days. The Ministry had questioned everyone and then the Unspeakables had come and questioned them all again. Then the Board of Governors had questioned the students that had been involved again.

Rumours and speculation were running rampant. Neville had been killed, Neville was the Heir of Merlin and was being trained by him, Harry and his friends had killed Neville, every variation of anything people could dream up was being whispered in hallways and common rooms.

Harry, Blaise, Hermione, Daphne and Draco were questioned endlessly by the other students as well, and only Daphne's threats kept Draco and Harry from spreading even worse rumours. Harry was becoming sullen. He had led Neville and the others into the room and he felt responsible for Neville.

The five of them were sitting in the study room when there was a flare of white light.

When they could see again, Neville was lying on the floor, pale and with his clothes in tatters.

OoOoOoO Harry and Friends, Hogwarts Infirmary, 15MAY91 OoOoOoO

"And then I sent Daphne to find you, Professor, while the rest of us brought Neville here." Harry finished telling Professor McGonagall about Neville's reappearance and looked over at the bed where Madame Pomfrey was examining Neville. "Is he going to be OK?"

The Headmistress looked at the Healer. "We will find out as soon as Madame Pomfrey knows, I am sure, Mr. Potter. Why don't you and your friends go back to your study room? I will let you know what happens."

Harry frowned but nodded. He gathered his friends and they started slowly toward the door. Professor McGonagall stood next to Madame Pomfrey as the healer finished her examination of the sleeping boy.

"I don't understand any of this, Minerva," Madame Pomfrey said quietly. "Neville shows signs of serious injuries, broken bones, burns, cuts and more, all inflicted over the last two months."

The Headmistress frowned. "He's only been gone six days. Are you saying that he was being hurt before he disappeared?"

Madame Pomfrey shook her head. "Not at all. I do not know where Mr. Longbottom has been, but he was there for at least two months. You can see where early injuries have healed and other injuries have happened over them. Since most of these wounds would have required him to be brought here, I can safely say none of them happened before he disappeared." She frowned as she waved her wand over Neville again. "I just wish I could figure out how he was healed. If I didn't know it was impossible, I'd say he was healed by accidental magic."

Minerva McGonagall frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You know that spells leave traces, things that will tell a person what spell was used, if they know how to look for them." The Headmistress nodded. "Neville's injuries were healed, but there are no spell traces at all. It's as if someone just willed them healed, using magic without any spells."

Professor McGonagall sighed. "Given where we think he's been, that may not be as far off as you might think."

Madame Pomfrey glanced dubiously at the taller witch. "You don't really believe that Merlin took him away, do you?"

The other woman looked at her for a minute. "What else can we think? He wasn't anywhere he could be found, not even with a Blood Tracker. No spell, ritual or device could find him. He's spent two months there in just six days and not even the strongest Wizard or the best Time Turner can do that. Do you have any other explanation?"

Madame Pomfrey shook her head slowly. Before she could say anything, they heard footsteps outside the door and they turned toward the door. The Longbottoms stopped just in side the door, their eyes searching for Neville. Alice was the first to see him and she rushed to his side. Madame Pomfrey was reassuring her that Neville was fine as Frank Longbottom stopped by the Headmistress. He listened to what Madame Pomfrey was saying for a minute and then looked at Professor McGonagall. "Where has he been?"

"We don't know yet. He was unconscious when he appeared in the room Mr. Potter and his friends have been using to study and hasn't woken yet." She sighed, watching Alice brush Neville's hair with one hand. She told him about the conversation she'd been having with the healer. "The only thing wrong with him now is exhaustion and Madame Pomfrey says he should wake tomorrow, probably around noon." She gave him a small smile. "Madame Pomfrey says that as soon as his hunger is greater than his exhaustion, he'll wake up normally."

Frank nodded, his eyes on his only son. "Do you mind if we stay until he wakes up?" Despite his phrasing, it wasn't a question and Minerva McGonagall raised one eyebrow as she glanced at Alice.

"Do I have a choice?" she asked wryly as Frank went to sit next to Neville's bed.

"No, not really."

OoOoOoO Hermione's parents, At home, 15MAY91. OoOoOoO

"Then we're agreed?"

"Of course we are. Hermione could have been killed. There is no way I'm allowing her to return to that death trap next year."

Dan and Emma Granger were sitting on the porch overlooking the garden behind their house. Solicitor Underhill had been by the day before to explain what had happened to Hermione nearly a week prior and they had been discussing it since they had come back from work.

Dan and Emma had known that there was something different about Hermione for years, ever since a colouring book she wanted had floated across the room to her when she was four. There had been other incidents since then, mostly when Hermione was upset or deep in her books.

They had been at once relieved and worried to find out what it was when the owl had delivered the Hogwarts letter. Relieved that she would be able to control it and yet, the fairy tales had hundreds of examples of magic gone wrong.

Most people only see the modern versions of fairy tales, where good always lives happily ever after. Fewer people have read the original versions of those tales and fewer still know about the other tales, that aren't so nice.

Emma had studied dentistry in university but her minor had been mythology and she did know those stories.

They had let Hermione go to Hogwarts so that she could learn to control this talent she had, but they had not been happy about sending their daughter to a school that they couldn't find and where the only way to contact the school was by sending a note with a nocturnal bird.

This incident was all their fears needed. Hermione would not be returning to that school next year.

OoOoOoO Neville, Hogwarts Infirmary, 16MAY91. OoOoOoO

Neville woke up slowly and stared at the ceiling in bemusement. It was not the ceiling in Gryffindor, nor was it his ceiling at home. He thought about it for a second and then started to sit up. He didn't make it halfway before a guided mum missile hit him.

Neville was beginning to wonder exactly what was going on. The last thing he remembered was watching the Ravenclaw Hufflepuff Quidditch match and then waking up here. Why or how he'd gotten here was a complete blank. He listened to his mum sniffle for a minute, trying to remember and then stiffened. "We went after Hopkins. What happened to him?"

The next few minutes were a tumult, as Neville tried to find out what had happened, Frank tried to tell him and Alice was torn between scolding Neville for his recklessness and telling him how happy she was that he was back.

Madame Pomfrey watched from the door of her office. She would check on Neville in a minute, but right now, loving parents would do more for him than all of her potions.

OoOoOoO Hogwarts Board of Governors, Hogwarts, 16MAY91. OoOoOoO

"It is agreed then. Augusta Longbottom will be the Director of the Board."

Augusta nodded regally and looked around. She had many reservations about the number of Windenmeres on the board and in this position she'd be able to keep track of their actions.

Sirius Black looked up. "I am sorry to rush this along, but I have an appointment to keep and there are a couple of things I have to say before leaving." Sirius stood as Augusta Longbottom nodded again. "First, I am voting the Black seat. Since I cannot vote both the Black seat and the Malfoy seat, I am assigning the Malfoy seat to Donnetta Greengrass until Draco Malfoy is of age, Madame Greengrass' death or I revoke that authority."

Sirius looked around the table. "I believe that the Malfoy seat has some matters to bring up. I have discussed those matters with both the Malfoy seat and with Madame Longbottom. Assuming that you accept her ideas as they are laid out, Madame Longbottom will be counting my vote with hers for this session only."

Sirius looked at the other members of the Board again. Reginald Greengrass, as the head of the Greengrass family, held their seat. With Donnetta Greengrass voting the Malfoy seat, Sirius in the Black seat and Tiberius Ogden's oldest daughter married to a Windenmere, they outright controlled four seats openly.

Matthew Hopkirk voted the way Reginald did because Reginald could prove that his sister, Mafalda Hopkirk had long been using her position in the Improper Use of Magic Office to sell information and protection to anyone with the gold.

Egan Robards was a mostly honest man, but he was a member of a failing family. Once, the Robards had been one of the wealthiest families in Britain. Now, they were down to one house with a leaky roof and Egan had been quite open to a bit of bribery. Every time he voted in favour of a Windenmere proposal, one hundred Galleons would be deposited in his vault.

Augusta Longbottom was far too honest and proud to be controlled and the Windenmeres had never tried. Archie Alderton, brother of Arkie Alderton was another one that the Windenmeres had not been able to gain control of, as was Olivia Zeller, mother of Rose and Raymond Zeller. Her children were not in Hogwarts yet, but the Zellers had been on the Board longer than anyone else and Olivia maintained her neutrality with a nearly religious obsession. She only cared about the continuation of the school and its reputation.

Not that any of that mattered now. There were just nine people on the Board and the Windenmeres controlled six of the votes. They could pass any simple vote easily. Only three votes required eight consenting votes.

Removing a Seated member of the Board, closing Hogwarts down and removing the Headmaster of the school. Sirius didn't think any of that was going to be happening any time soon, so he wasn't worried about the three votes that they didn't control. They had time to find some sort of leverage on them all. He shook his head. "That is all I have to say right now. I am due at the Ministry however, so if you will excuse me, I have to go."

Sirius bowed slightly as Augusta Longbottom gave him permission to leave and walked out of the long room. He stopped at the doorway, taking a minute to smile at the portraits on the walls. This room was reserved for the Board of Governors of Hogwarts and the staff of Hogwarts to use and all of the portraits were of staff and Governors.

Some were still only paintings, waiting the death of the person portrayed in them before becoming active, but enough of them had recognized him when he had entered the room to spread the word and Sirius was egotistical enough to enjoy listening to them mutter about having a person of his reputation on the Board.

He grinned as he left. Life was good.

Donnetta watched him leave before turning to the rest of the board. She'd known him long enough o know what he was thinking. She pushed those thoughts out of her head. "We all know what has happened in the last few weeks here at Hogwarts. The Ministry has endangered our children and is threatening the reputation of the school." She frowned severely. "It was bad enough that they allowed that thing to come into the school, but to send it here and not provide adequate protection for it was unforgivable. I propose that we take steps to limit further intrusions on the proper operation of the school."

She took a deep breath. "I also think we need to take a long look at some of the current policies. Hogwarts was set up to be a school, not a Ministry propaganda indoctrination camp and recent events are allowing the Ministry to do things that are not in the best interest of our children."

Olivia Zeller looked at her. "Why don't we discuss what we're going to do about this event before we start revamping the entire system? I think this needs an immediate response or the Ministry will continue to believe they can do whatever they please."

Donnetta smiled slowly. "I think I have a very good idea for" she paused, looking for the right term, "creative retribution." The rest of the board watched her as she laid out the plans Reginald, Donnetta and Sirius had worked out over the last week.

"And last, we need a control on this High Inquisitor position the Ministry has created. Back in the days of Goblin rebellions, it was necessary to make sure that the curriculum taught the correct magics to defend the Wizard community, but now they wish to simply control Hogwarts and that is our responsibility."

Alderton looked up. "The Inquisitor is appointed by the Ministry, outside of our control and answers only to the Minister of Magic, whoever that may be. How do you plan to counteract that?"

"I'm not, Madame Longbottom is."

Augusta looked up. "How do you expect me to do that? I have some influence in the Ministry, but not that much."

Donnetta smiled again. "You don't have to have any influence there. You are the Director of the Board and you have the final authority over the Wards and House elves of Hogwarts." Donnetta smiled again as she began to explain what the Board would have to do. "First, we have to pass a rule that all teachers must be proven experts in their fields."

Three hours later, The Board had voted eight to zero to accept all of the plans that had been laid out. After the voting was over, Olivia Zeller looked at Reginald. "You know that the Ministry will not accept this easily."

Reginald nodded slowly. "I know. But for the sake of our children and all the children at the school, we have to do this." He smiled. "We already have the Blacks and Longbottoms working together on this and the Windenmeres will back them. Together, I think we can match anything the Ministry can do."

Olivia watched him for a minute. "As long as you continue to act in the best interests of Hogwarts, I will help you." She looked at Reginald steadily for a minute. "Just remember that the Zeller line has watched over Hogwarts for eight hundred years. I will not tolerate anything that hurts this school, no matter what plans you may have."

OoOoOoO Sirius Black, The Parkinson Estate, 16MAY91. OoOoOoO

Sirius watched the groups as he sipped his Firewhiskey. Years of experience and training kept his face still as he mentally sneered at the posturing fools in the large ballroom. He sighed, remembering the days of his childhood when gathering such as this had seemed so dashing and mysterious.

Now he could see the posturing for what it was, the self absorbed foolishness of people too blind to reality to realize that the world was passing them by. Purebloods caught in the dreams of a past that could never be brought back.

He smiled slightly. Not that he had any intentions of telling them that he thought they were stupid or that their dreams were sillier than the creatures in the Quibbler. No, that wouldn't do well at all.

"I am surprised that you are here, Wizard Black. I would have thought you would be less than enthusiastic about our desires."

Sirius turned, looking at Genevieve Parkinson. "I am not here to join your clique at this time," he said evenly. "Not unless you have something better to show than a few old families with little in the way of prospects or funding."

Mrs. Parkinson smiled slyly. "An honest answer, Wizard Black? Isn't there some sort of rule against that at these gatherings?"

Sirius looked at her for a minute. "I think so, but I've always been a bit of a rebel." He smiled slightly. He still remembered watching Genevieve absolutely destroying the collective egos of most of the boys in her year. She'd been one of the four most beautiful women in Hogwarts, right up there with Lily Potter, Bertha Jorkins, and Alice Shingleton. (who had married Frank Longbottom.) She had been a year behind the Marauders and Lily, in the same class with Bertha. Sirius had dated her a couple of times, but Genevieve was far too ambitious for him and they hadn't gotten very far.

She was watching him. "Somehow, I don't think you're the type to change that much, Sirius." Genevieve had lowered her voice as she moved closer to him. "You were all the talk of the old families for a long time you know. Your mother was very upset about you leaving the house and family to follow Potter."

Sirius shrugged. "I didn't like the company you had to keep with Mother's affiliations. They were not in our class."

Genevieve watched him closely. "I think you could mean that several ways, not all of which are good for us."

Sirius smiled openly for the first time. "You can," he said, as he set his drink down. "And since I meant it to be taken that way, I'll be leaving now. You are pleasant company, Witch Parkinson, but this group is useless, for the most part. If this is all you have, I will maintain the pose of neutrality that I have held since I became Harry's guardian. Unless you're hiding something big, you don't have the numbers, the power or the money to seriously affect anything in the Ministry. Please don't waste my time with displays of nothing." He bent over her hand and kissed it. As he came back up he kissed her swiftly on the cheek. "If you wish to talk privately, I an at the Black manor every Thursday afternoon, or someone there will know how to get in touch with me." He looked at her and smiled slightly. "I know you better than this, Genevieve. You are far too skilled to have this as your only group. Show me something stronger than the Windenmeres if you want my backing."

Genevieve Parkinson watched Sirius Black leave with a smile. This was going to make the game so much more fun. Sirius knew how to play the Game of Houses well. She turned to the rest of the group, plastering a smile on her face as she acted as the gracious hostess.

Two hours later the last of the group was gone and she went upstairs to her office. She sat down and began recording her impressions and dealings with every person that had been at the party. She looked up as Harold came into the room but didn't stop until she was done.

"So, what does Black want?" Genevieve hid her wince. Harold had money and a great deal of power as the owner of the Daily Prophet, but he was crass and far too crude to be an asset in her games. She left him to the paper, using his money to consolidate her positions when she needed to and supplying him with enough bits for the paper that he left her alone.

"Power, what else?" She thought about what Sirius had said. "He has opened the door for me to meet with him, but he also implied that If I can't show a power base the size and depth of the Windenmeres, to just stay home."

Harold Parkinson frowned. "Can you muster it?"

Genevieve shrugged, thinking. "Maybe, if I called in a few favours. The real question is if Sirius Black's help is worth it." She stared at the wall, evaluating the possibilities. "I think I'll have to go and talk to him at least, feel him out some more. He's up to something, I know it. I just don't know what yet."

Harold frowned. "Do you think it has anything to do with Hogwarts? Arcturus Black stepped down, allowing Sirius to take his place and Sirius stepped down to allow Augusta Longbottom to run the Board."

Genevieve looked up, evaluating this bit of news. "If Sirius is voting the Black seat, who's voting the Malfoy seat?"

"Donnetta Greengrass."

Genevieve frowned. "Why do the Windenmeres want control of Hogwarts? What are they going to do with it?"

She added the news to her thoughts of the party and stared at the notes. "I really need to know more." She looked up at Harold and smiled softly. "I'm going to be very busy over the next week or so. Shall we go to dinner while we're both here?"

Harold smiled and rose, offering her his arm. He'd never turn down anything Genevieve wanted to do.

OoOoOoO Voldemort, Scotland, 16MAY91. OoOoOoO

Voldemort savoured the small energy the death of the rabbit gave him and swept on, searching for another creature to kill. It wasn't as bad as the first time he'd been rendered bodiless, but it was going to be at least a year or two before he could try to regain a body again.

He paused for a minute, thinking to himself. Harry Potter was a threat, but only a minor one, properly played. Voldemort has lost this round because he was too impatient, too arrogant. He'd have to remember that next time. As long as his Horcruxes were intact, he couldn't die. He had time to plan.

He looked up as something moved and moved toward the lamb cavorting in the field. He would be back and Harry Potter would die the next time they met.

OoOoOoO Mordred, Hogwarts, 16MAY91. OoOoOoO

"Check." He smiled at his opponent.

Harry frowned, searching for a way out of this mess. The boy sitting across from him still had both his castles, his queen and his knights while Harry had his king and one pawn.

He looked up and sighed as he knocked his king over. "You're nearly as bad as Ron."

Mordred grinned. "I am a Ravenclaw. It would reflect badly on me if I wasn't at an acceptable level." He gestured at the board. "Would you care to try again?"

Harry shook his head with a smile. "No, thanks. I can only handle so much humiliation a day and that game gave me more than enough for today."

The two boys packed the game away, chatting casually. Mordred looked at Harry when they were done. "Harry, are you doing anything right now?"

Harry shrugged. "Not for a bit, why?"

"There's a rumour that you know a blocking spell that stops curses and physical attacks both. Is that true?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, you want to learn it?"

Mordred grinned at Harry as he led the way to the room the study group used for spell casting. "What house am I, Harry?"

Harry shook his head, smiling at the other boy as they closed the door. "That was a stupid question, wasn't it?"

Later that night, Mordred sat on his bed and thought. Harry was very good for his age and worse yet, he was more than willing to teach what he knew to anyone that wanted to know.

Mordred's personal plans to turn all of England into his personal fiefdom would be made immeasurably harder if the place was full of well trained and intelligent wizards and witches. He sighed and began giving serious thought to just killing Harry Potter.

In the end, he decided to wait. His other plans were just getting started and it was far too early for him to give up on them already.

After all, after the summer holidays, he'd know exactly where Harry was and could kill him at any time. There was no rush.

OoOoOoO Harry and crew, Hogwarts, 16MAY-18JUNE91. OoOoOoO

Neville had been held by the Unspeakables for two days and questioned intently and repeatedly. As far as the Unspeakables could tell, no time at all had passed for Neville between chasing after Hopkins and waking up in the Infirmary. He had no memory of anything in between, no signs of having been Obliviated, nothing. Mentally, it was as if he'd gone from disappearing to waking up in an instant.

Physically, it was very clear he'd been though multiple fights, violent ones during the time he was gone and from the conditions of the healed injuries, they had taken place over some two months of time, far longer than he'd been gone.

In short, the entire thing was impossible and the Unspeakables regretfully let Neville go back to school.

His reunion with the rest of the crew was loud, happy and nearly killed Neville again as the entire group tried to hug him all at once. When he could breathe again, he told them everything that had happened from his point of view, which took all of four minutes or so.

Hermione stared at him and then looked around, lowering her voice. "What about the Staff of Merlin?"

Neville shrugged. "From my point of view, I never even saw the bloody thing. I grabbed a desk, blacked out and woke up in the Infirmary. As far as I know, it's still wherever they had it hidden."

Harry rolled his eyes. "It's not there, Neville, trust us on that. They've searched that room a million times and asked us a billion questions about the Staff, to the point where I wish you'd brought it back, just to get them off our backs."

Later that night, several shapes ghosted silently through the halls. They had decided to celebrate Neville's return with a small prank.

The next morning, the group was at breakfast early, sitting with their back to the wall where they could easily get out of the way. Everything seemed normal until the owl post had come and gone.

Harry's sharp eyes were the first to see the dot growing larger in the enchanted ceiling. He nudged Hermione and pointed it out. The others soon saw it. Soon, several people saw it as it became larger and larger.

Within a few minutes, it was clear that a dragon was flying in the illusion that covered the ceiling. By now, everyone was watching the dragon, a large Welsh Green, according to one of the seventh year students. The Dragon appeared to fly around and then look down. It settled, extending its claws as if to settle to the ground and that was when things went very much sideways.

The dragon dropped out of the ceiling and settled on the Slytherin table. The creature looked around slowly. The students were dumbfounded, staring at the dragon as it looked around. Then it seemed to cough a little and clear its throat.

Its head went up and it seemed to smile. "I hope you don't mind my dropping in for breakfast," it said in an upper class British accent, "but I've heard so many good things about the food."

The students stared at the dragon, stupefied by a talking dragon.

It was a first year Hufflepuff that broke the dead silence. Kevin McCormick, a Muggleborn Wizard, turned and looked at his sponsor, the older Hufflepuff that had helped him get settled in during his first few months in the Wizard world and at Hogwarts. "I thought you said dragons were dangerous," he said, "but this one seems quite polite."

The hall erupted in laughter, since Kevin and the "dragon" had exactly the same accent.

The dragon disappeared a second later as Harry dispelled it. They hadn't been counting on Kevin saying anything and the dragon was supposed to do a couple of other things, but this was even better. He turned his head to say something to Hermione and caught sight of Professor McGonagall staring at him. He smiled innocently and waved at her.

The headmistress stared at him for a minute and then her eyebrow went up a fraction. Harry froze, watching her as she almost smiled, and mouthed seven words at him.

"You will pay for that, Mr. Potter."

The entire scene had gone by so quickly no one but Harry had seen it. Harry stared at Professor McGonagall as he considered all the ways the Headmistress of the school could make him pay. He stood up and nodded to the Headmistress as he left the dining hall.

Once out the doors, he walked rather quickly to the study hall and sat in the corner, where he could see the door. He sighed as he thought about it. His first impulse had been to get it over with quickly, to get it over with.

Sirius would never let him hear the end of it though. It was Sirius' boast that no one but another Marauder had ever managed to prank a Marauder. He had to at least try to escape whatever Professor McGonagall had planned.

Harry kept his eyes open for the next three days, growing more and more nervous as nothing happened. He thought that the Headmistress was taking a page from his book, showing him what Theo Nott had been going through, but when he broached that idea to her, she looked at him calmly and turned to leave, murmuring, "Patience is a virtue I am well acquainted with, Mr. Potter."

Saturday, the weekend before the end of year exams were to start, Harry woke up and knew something was wrong. The room was too chilly, Ron Weasley wasn't snoring and it was far too bright.

He sat up and blinked. His bed was floating on the lake. Harry reached for his wand but it wasn't under his pillow. He looked up as a Hogwarts owl swooped down.

Mr. Potter,

Your books and notes are at the foot of your bed. Since the bed will not move until 1200, and you cannot leave the bed, I suggest you do some studies for the exams. They do start next week.

Professor McGonagall

Harry sighed and tried to slip off the bed a couple of times, just to see. When he couldn't leave the mattress he sighed. He reached for his History of Magic notes.

By noon, Harry was quite certain that every single student in Hogwarts had been out to watch him floating in the lake and that most of them had taken pictures. Even, he was annoyed to see, his friends. The people standing around the shore began clapping and laughing as his bed sailed majestically toward the shore.

They laughed even harder when the bed suddenly vanished, dumping Harry in the very cold lake just a few feet from shore.

OoOoOoO Rhian, Number 14, Knockturn Alley, 12JUN91. OoOoOoO

Rhian watched her last customer leave, pulling his hood up and making sure that no one was obviously watching before exiting the small shop.

She pulled her wand and closed the door, locking it and pulling the blinds over the small dingy windows before turning towards the back of the store. She smirked as she counted the money she'd made today. The British wizards were foolish, but her clientèle had enough money to make her over look their idiocy. She'd been open for barely a month now and word was slowly spreading among the Purebloods that Rhian had access to things that you couldn't buy openly in Diagon Alley and that she didn't care what your name was.

She looked up as the door to the back room opened and a man came out. He was a tall dark man, with black hair and a decidedly evil cast to his face. The flame bladed dagger he wore on his hip didn't make him appear any better.

He checked the door and came up behind her. "Mr. Nott wanted some interesting things, didn't he?"

"He did. I think Madame Morgana might be interested in this list." The woman stretched and spoke softly. A second later, Maire stood where Rhian had been. Remus smiled at her and said his name before kissing her gently. After they pulled away, he looked at the list of potion ingredients and other things that the head of the Nott family had requested. Maire anticipated his question. "Some of the things that Madame Morgana taught I may not share with anyone and some of these things are for at least one of those potions. If the Nott is asking for them, the old Madame Morgana has been telling tales out of school. Madame Morgana will have to do something about it."

Remus nodded. "We'll have to talk to her. We don't want to blow your cover yet."

"I know this, Remus Lupin. The old money families are just beginning to trust me and we need to know which of them are truly dark by the standards of today." She pocketed the list and turned to smile at him as he caressed her belly, rubbing the mound that their child was making of her belly. "Right now, I have been on my feet for hours and I want to sit down and let you rub them."

Remus smiled. "As you wish." A few seconds later, the shop was empty.

OoOoOoO The Windenmeres, The Greengrass home, 20JUN91. OoOoOoO

Reginald looked around. The library in the Greengrass house was one of the nicer rooms in the house, long and well lit, with a dozen large windows showing the gardens in the back of the house. It was lined with shelves built into the walls and had seven tables for serious study and research as well as a number of comfortable chairs for more casual reading.

He looked up as a motion caught his eye and the last two people he was waiting for came in and joined the group. "Maire, Remus," he greeted them. "Any problems?"

Maire shook her head. "Not at all."

Reginald nodded. "Then let's get down to work. This is the last time we'll be able to meet and talk about everything we're doing before the children come back from Hogwarts without having to make sure they're not listening."

Sirius looked up. "Just out of curiosity, why are we keeping things from them? Nothing we're doing is that bad and it's not like they're not going to know we have to be involved in some of the things that are happening around them."

Reginald shrugged. "Of course they will. First, it's simply common sense. What they don't know they can't tell anyone, by accident or coercion. Second, it's a good way to train them in the Game of Houses. If they can figure out what we're doing and more importantly, who is involved, it will be a better lesson. Third, and at this time more important, we must not allow the people watching us to think we're teaching Harry anything questionable."

Sirius blinked. "We're not teaching him anything dark."

Donnetta stared at him and sighed. "Sirius, to you and the family you came from, the Game of Houses may not be dark, but it is a game of spying, lying and intrigue for profit and information. It involves blackmail, bribery, the occasional assault and general untrustworthy behaviours. To most wizards, that is very questionable, bordering on dark."

Sirius frowned and looked at Remus for confirmation. Remus nodded. "Sirius, the average wizard looks at the games the old money families play the same way you think of politicians."

Sirius winced. "Right. We don't want people knowing that Harry is learning to play the game then." He thought about it. "Not that I'm going to say anything, but won't people assume that you are teaching him things he shouldn't know, just because of your reputation?"

Reginald nodded. "Of course they will. As long as there is no evidence, they won't do anything though. Most people will turn a blind eye to anything that doesn't directly affect them. As long as we don't go parading his training in front of them, they'll assume it's not happening."

He pulled a pad to him and looked at his notes. "Right. Maire, how's your work going?"

Maire shrugged. The dark families are sneaky, wilful and totally oblivious to the possibility that I want anything except money. Remus and I have already gotten invited to a small gathering. It's in a week and we'll let you know what happens."

Sirius frowned. "Do you know who's going to be there?" At Maire's negative response he frowned again. "You need to watch out for the Cuffe family. They have a fear of werewolves and most of them carry a charm that detects werewolves."

The rest of them looked at Sirius. "Where did you learn that little bit?" asked Madame Morgana. "I never knew that."

Sirius shrugged. "A few years ago, one of my ancestors might have threatened to end their line by having a pack of werewolves eat them. He made a couple of tries, but they were too well protected then and he dropped it. But he never told them that so they're still waiting for his revenge."

Remus frowned. "You never mentioned that before."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "It was three hundred years ago. If I tried to tell you everything my ancestors had done for the last three hundred years, we'd be talking for a year."

Reginald made another note and looked at Madame Morgana. "Will your spell protect Remus from that charm?"

She shook her head. "No. Nothing can truly disguise a man's nature. You can mislead the senses, change the outer shell of a man, but not change his inner nature. Being a werewolf is as much a part of Remus Lupin as being the moral man he is." She frowned as she thought about it. "That's the reason the Curse is so effective. It's the only thing I have ever found that alters the fundamental nature of a being."

Reginald frowned. "We'll have to work something out then. If nothing else, we'll make some sort of an excuse for him and Maire can go alone."

Remus looked up, snarling. "Like hell she's going into that nest of vipers alone."

Maire looked at him. "Remus Lupin, I understand that you have feelings about this, but I can defend myself." Maire's voice had a cold undercurrent in it.

Remus looked at her. "We will discuss this later," he said. "Right now, we have other business to talk about." Remus smiled at her put his hand over hers. "It's more fun to fight when we're alone anyway." Maire looked at him and nodded once.

Remus frowned as the group discussed the political games going on in the Board of Governors for Hogwarts. He hadn't liked this plan in the first place and it was only his ability to watch over Maire while she pretended to be a Dark Witch that had persuaded him to allow it.

Maire was getting into places even Sirius couldn't go though. Most wizards never knew there was an undercurrent of truly evil beings hiding in the shadows of the Wizard world and no one got into that society without being evil. Voldemort was Dark, no question, but he was just another Dark Lord, trying to rule the Wizard world in his image. The truly dangerous ones, the madmen that only waned to destroy and burn things, the ones that tried to delve into magics so disturbing that they often drove the practitioners mad, those people would no more serve Voldemort than Voldemort would serve Fudge. Not even Sirius could open those doors, get information from those people or even name most of them. Madame Morgana knew many of them, by name or reputation at least, but she would not betray her clients.

Enter "Rhian", a well trained witch who was less than concerned about what shade of magic you practised, as long as you paid your bills on time. He sighed and pushed that aside. Remus loved Maire and she was carrying his child. He would walk in to hell to keep her safe.

Three hours later Reginald examined his notes. "Maire and Remus have Knockturn Alley covered, we've got Diagon Alley covered and Sirius is talking to the old money families. Donnetta has Hogwarts under control and Andromeda Tonks and her husband are going to pass us information from their friends in the twilight zone."

Sirius looked up "The what?"

Reginald shrugged. "Don't ask me. It's a term that Ted Tonks uses for those wizards and witches that live on the border of the wizard world, half in our world and half in the Muggle world." Sirius shrugged and Reginald continued. "We seem to have everything covered except the Ministry and that's my responsibility. Lemos and I will be meeting tomorrow to discuss what kind of a group I want to build in the Ministry." He looked at his notes and looked up at the group. "Is there anything else?"

Maire nodded. "I want to know what is being done about the Delores Umbridge woman. She has endangered Harry Potter and that cannot be allowed."

Sirius looked up. "Don't worry about it," he said bluntly. "I have that matter well in hand."

Maire looked at him. "May I ask what you're going to do?"

Sirius looked at her and then at the others. "No. You'll figure it out when it happens, but if anyone asks you, you can say you didn't know anything about it. And people will be asking questions after it happens, trust me on that." Sirius looked at the group and his eyes were cold.

"Delores Umbridge will pay a Black family price for trying to hurt a member of my family."

OoOoOoO Harry and crew, Hogwarts Express, 21JUN91. OoOoOoO

Harry sighed as he sat back in the train compartment, already planning things to do over the summer. Neville and his parents were going to some event in Germany, so he'd be gone most of the summer, Hermione had already told him that she was planning on trying to get her parents to let her come spend a week or so with them after their holiday trip and Draco was going to spend a couple of weeks with Madame Morgana. Most of this summer would be just the four of them again, Blaise, Daphne, Draco and himself, running wild over the compound again.

Harry sat back and smiled. All of his friends were happy, he was happy and Voldemort was disembodied again. Last time, it had taken him nearly ten years to come back.

Harry would be happy if it took him another ten years to return. He was looking forward to a glorious summer.

OoOoOoO The Author, Here and Now. OoOoOoO

Raise your hand, if you truly believe Harry's summer is going to be all Fun and Games.

If you do, I've got some seashore property in Montana to sell you.