THE MASTER'S GAMBIT

BY THE_SCRIBBLER

Chapter 11 – "A dog, a wolf, and a dragon… "

The_scribbler (at) shadowgard (d*t) com

Pursuant to the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, amending U.S.C Title 17, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (Pub. L. 105-304, 112 STAT. 2860), this work is copyrighted 2007 with all rights expressly reserved by its author unless explicitly granted. No portion may be reproduced in any fashion without the express written and notarized permission of the author.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Harry Potter characters. All characters are creations of Joanne K Rowling, © 2007, to whom I am deeply indebted. I make no money from any of this.

Issue one: IN THIS ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE, Bonded couples CANNOT perform Legilimency. My argument for this is that it is precluded by the telepathy that they already share with each other. I know that I've already shown 'Dumbledore' as being bonded and having performed Legilimency, but he's NOT FULLY HUMAN (well, not even half human, actually) and "Minerva" is special for different reasons…so my argument still holds. PLEASE don't flame me on this point. This is MY AU and I'm sticking with my set-up. HOWEVER - this does NOT prevent others from 'knocking' politely (using Legilimency) and 'talking' to them. BUT – bonded couples could KEEP OUT anyone using Legilimency, indefinitely, because of the unique magic of their bonds.

Issue two: I have been chastised for having, in some of my earlier chapters, the strong implication that Harry, Hermione, Draco, Daphne, and Luna were all engaged in underage sexual relations. It was not my intention to have been read as such. The children are ALL virginal still, though they have done a good bit of touching and exploring – which I thought was a natural extension of their bonded status. They won't be ready for sexual relations for at least two more years, so that their minds can catch up with their bodies (those, like the 6 already mentioned, who have been potioned so that they are physically several [up to five] years older). I will try to make it clear in this chapter and the ones that follow that they are holding off on taking that final, though important, step. If you have a problem with the concept of young teens having sex or being sexual, consider that my ex-wife was sexually active when she was 13…and that wasn't too far ahead of many of the girls she knew. It's the reality in most western democracies now – whether we like it or not. Now, having said all that…on with the story.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

From Chapter 9B – "Beginnings of a Plan"

….By tomorrow night, it should be finished and I can summon it back by portkey. Once it's back here, it will fall apart; leaving behind one perfectly good, intact memory crystal. If all goes well, we'll know everything that dearest Amelia has been up to for the last two or three years."

Myrddin thought about that for a moment and then remembered the conversation that he and Amelia had shared during Sefford Hatton's 'trial'. He wondered whether there was any documentation or notes that they might gain from the surreptitious intrusion into her office; half hoping that he might be in a position to help her with whatever plans she might be trying to create. He liked Amelia; maybe more so than he had liked any other which that he had met in a very long time (save, of course, for his loving, beautiful, powerful wife). Amelia had a fire in her heart that Myrddin found to be tremendously energizing and a set of principals stronger than any he had encountered in anyone else except for his beloved. It was a hard combination not to like and admire.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Sunday evening, January 13, 1992 – the Great Hall – just after dinner

Sleepily, the bonded made their way towards their dorm while doing their level-best to keep warm. It was just after seven PM and the dark winter's winds seemed to find every nook and cranny into the castle. There was nowhere one could travel inside the buildings many corridors and rooms where the cold didn't seem to permeate every stone. The situation was exacerbated by the short days and long nights of the northern castle which had pushed every student towards a tremendous desire to go into hibernation.

When Harry, Hermione, Draco, Daphne, Cho Chang, Cedric Diggory, SaklaniSubramanian, and the rest of the bonded finally reached the entrance to their tower it seemed for a moment that there was going to be a mad push to get inside and that some might get hurt. The Weasley twins, Fred and George, forestalled anything bad from happening by using their 'improved' height and size to block off the entrance long enough for the rest of the bonded to form a sort-of orderly line. Grudgingly, everyone fell into the queue and within two minutes, everyone was safely inside and the entrance sealed behind them. They were, they had all decided, in for the night, so the portal was magically sealed behind them.

Since there were two hours left until lights-out (given that dinner was always served two hours early on Sunday nights), couples made their way to their own rooms or towards the common areas. Sunday night was a great time (if one could keep awake) to go over any assignments that hadn't been finished on Saturday morning, during the regularly-scheduled two-hour study block.

Like many of their house-mates from Ravenclaw, Harry and Hermione's homework was already done and the time could be used for their independent-study projects. Harry's project, unlike his wife's, was most especially not one that would have been approved of by the Ministry for Magic.

In one corner of the room, near the large black Basalt fireplace, Harry began pouring over the plans for Azkaban Prison that Harry had quietly acquired via the Gringotts Goblins and their security department. How they got the plans, he just knew that he really, really didn't want to know. After a quarter-hour's reading and re-reading it became apparent that there are several design flaws that could be exploited…if he could figure out how to get to the island. It was the one thing that was eluding him and it was driving him mad!

"Love?"

He could feel Hermione smiling at him, even if they weren't able to make eye contact. "Yes?"

"Could you take a look at these plans? I'm busting a hump trying to figure out how to get to the prison, so we can free Sirius."

Hermione turned so that she was no longer had her back to his front, but rather so that she was up, in his arms, with the rest of her body draped sideways across his lap. Taking the plans in hand, Hermione spent several long, silent minutes pouring over the plans before meeting his gaze again.

Pointing to a bit of the map parchment, Hermione traced a line with her fingertip and then said silently, "See? It's an island and I'm guessing by the depth markings that it's somewhere in the north Atlantic, off the western coast of Wales. If I remember from my geography class, the water is particularly deep there and it's what makes going after oil and gas so difficult."

"So all we have to do is find out where the depth markings for the ocean match up to the ones here and !EtVoila! We've found the island?"

Taking the opportunity to snuggle into Harry's hard, muscular chest, Hermione said "Yup. That's about it. Then we have to figure a way to get close enough to get him out. Probably a boat…and brooms? Going to be a cold approach, no matter when you do *that*."

The idea of going out on the cold, north Atlantic was not one that Harry relished. He had flown along the coast of Scotland during his broom flying training (along with the rest of the bonded) and it had looked supremely foreboding…and that had been in the relative warmth of September! He thought that going all the way to an island – especially one hidden by all sorts of magical enchantments by boat - was on the borderline of suicidal. There had to be another way!

While his mind went over the possibilities that he knew existed in the magical world (including 'elf-popping', which he and Hermione could do), Hermione curled up between his legs and let her back settle in against his chest. It was an ideal position for reading – for her – and it wasn't bad on him, either. Her whole body was so warm and soft and her hair smelled so good that the fires that they both worked so hard to suppress during the day began to surge within him and he could feel himself getting hard.

Unfortunately (depending on one's point of view), Hermione felt Harry's shift in mood across their bond and did everything she could to encourage the fire that she could feel building inside him.

It didn't take any time at all for Harry to realize that Hermione knew what was going on inside his head and to recognize the fact that she was stoking those same fires with every wiggle and touch. It also didn't help matters one bit that Harry also knew exactly what Hermione was wearing under her clothes. He had contributed to the sexual tension and desire that he was currently feeling by having earlier picked out the very sexy under-things that she was now wearing. "You're teasing me…." he said across their bond.

"Oh? Am I now? And what, Mr. Potter, would you like to do about it?" she replied, in a sweet, girlish voice.

There was a strong color of lust and desire for her in the images that he pushed towards her. To her credit, she didn't react outwardly to receiving them, but instead took them in and let them warm and then tingle all of her private bits.

"If you don't take me to our bedroom right now and act on those images, Harry Potter, I am going to be most displeased with you!" she pushed back at him. "You've made me wet and randy and I'm not going to be able to get _any_ more studying done until you've done to me exactly what you've promised!"

Gathering up their bits of parchment, books, pens, quills, and other, assorted paraphernalia, Harry took his beloved wife in his arms (with one hand resting firmly on her delectable bum and fingers tracing the edge of her very pretty, lacy-cotton knickers, and the other cupping her left breast), and popped them away to their bedroom. They weren't seen again for the rest of the night.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Azkaban Island, Tuesday, January 15, 1992, Cell no. 831

The cold winds whistled and howled down from the stone-gray sky and around the corner of the building where Sirius Black's cell was located. What sunlight there was fell on the corner of the cell closest to the Dementors. But it didn't matter. None of it mattered. Sirius Black was snug, warm, dry, and comfortable…well, as comfortable as a 9'x 6' cell allows. He even had a full belly, thanks to the gifts that his Godson…his only child really, had sent him. How Harry and Hermione (for Harry had gone to great length to credit her in his letter) had figured out to shrink and send so many wonderful things, he didn't know. The two ever-warm blankets, along with matching StayFluff™ pillows were gifts practically befitting a king to Sirius' way of thinking. The fact that they had also sent an enchanted grooming set, a hand-mirror, a set of Marks & Spencer's very best face flannels, a wonderful, long bath towel, and a stuffed-to-the-gills, ever-fresh picnic-basket was completely beyond anything he could have ever expected (though, he admitted ruefully, he could have done without the mauve-colored leather collar and flea/tick powder that he also found among the gifts!). It made for the best Christmas since the year he had celebrated with James and Lily. Most importantly, they had packed in an entire album of magical photos, so that he could finally see the grown-up face of the boy to whom he was godfather…and the thing that he'd need most of all….his wand.

Leaning against the wall closest to the sea, Sirius took out the letter that had been sent along with the gifts and re-read it for the third time; completely unashamed that he was crying as he did so, because he could feel his heart swell with both love and hope. Hope that someday he would be out of this hell-hole and in a place where he could make good on the promises he had made to himself about protecting and loving the next generation of Potters, as a Godfather ought to do. Clutching the letter as if it was a priceless object, he let the words sink into him once more.

January 14, 1992

Dearest Padfood:

I'm sorry that I haven't written since Christmas. There was so much to do and I'm afraid that things got away from me a little bit. Hermione's parents were here for the holiday and while they were here, they made us promise to do a whole, big Muggle wedding in a couple of years, so that they can be a part of it. I'm glad that they did, because I think they were pretty unhappy about the way things happened between me and Hermione…or at least, they were upset that it happened the way it did and they had no say in the matter. A Muggle wedding will help to take some of the hurt out of it for them (at least, that's what Hermione told me).

Do you remember the mirrors you and my father used to use to communicate when you were in class? Once I found out about them, I couldn't resist trying to make a set. I ended up making two of them for Hermione's parents, so that they can communicate more easily when they're apart and then, just after Christmas, and then two more for Hermione so that she can talk to them while she's at school. It's better and faster than owl-post and Remus (that's what he wants us to call him, but Hermione always calls him Professor Lupin, 'cause she says it's just too weird to call him by his first name).

Anyway, he says that there is no way that he knows of to monitor them. Professor Flitwick helped me with at least half the charms, as they're really hard to do. Linking the two sets together was hard too, and I don't think I'd have ever gotten that right if he hadn't been willing to guide me and then do the last step himself. I can definitely see why he's a Charms-Master! I'm definitely excited though, because I'll be set to take my OWL's a year early, if I can do a full set by myself, without Professor Flitwick's help. All I have to do is write up the paper on the theories behind the magic and then demonstrate that the new set works and Professor Flitwick will graduate me to the next level early.

Anyway, Hermione and I worked for several weeks on the best way to send you all this stuff. The theory was easy, but it took the longest time to make it light enough that we could get it to you via Hedwig. Hermione figured out the practical bits, after Professor McGonagall told her about a certain kind of time-limited transfiguration. I don't know anything about it, really, but they both tell me that it's going to work. If I hadn't been able to get it all shrunk down, I would have had to send Amrita – and there's no way that she would have fit through the bars! But…. she has her own magic and it's not like anything anyone here (including the Headmaster) has seen before.

You see, Amrita is a Wyvern that I adopted the first day that Johan took me to Diagon Alley. It seems that because I can talk to snakes, I can also talk to dragons and any animals related to them. It's kind of cool, really. Amrita is beautiful and smart and she's big...like 14 ft long now and 900 lbs. (409 kilos…a unit of measure that, as Johan keeps telling me, I should be using, because the English measurement system makes no sense at all). I know that she would have made her own entrance into the prison and I'm pretty sure that the guards would not have appreciated that very much! If we can't do it any other way, we may have to use her to get you free….but we'd really like to it the legal way, so that we can clear your name.

There's lots of stuff going on here of course, but none of it really matters until you are out and safe. I've met with Professor Lupin and with Johan twice now about getting you out of there and we think we'll have a plan in place in a month or so. Until then, keep warm and safe and know that Hermione and I are as well.

Happy Christmas!

Love always,

Your godson, Harry.

PS – don't forget to hide everything once you're finished. Hermione and Professor McGonagall set it up so that if you tap the right-hand corner of the basket and put just a little bit of your blood on it, it will shrink down again for 24 hrs. DON'T FORGET THAT YOU HAVE TO DO THE CHARM AT LEAST ONCE A DAY OR IT WILL WEAR OFF!

PPS – Remus nicked your wand for you from the evidence locker at DMLE/London. Said they didn't need to have it and you did. Don't know how he did it. Don't want to know, either.

PPPS – don't forget to wear your collar! Remus says it needs breaking in….hehehehehehehehe.

Grinning despite his desire to get even with his other best friend for the garish-colored collar which read 'Paddy' in big silver letters along its width, Sirius folded the letter and put it back into the basket, along with the photo album. His wand – well, that he tucked into the stone crevasse that below the bench that served as his bed, as he knew that no one would think to look there. It was always in the shadow and none of the human guards ever bothered to do more than to take an occasional look into his cell, if they bothered to visit at all, during their twice-monthly rotation through the prison.

Mirthlessly, Sirius laughed. He hadn't ever considered that the presence of the Dementors might actually be beneficial to his cause. Shaking his head he took out the grooming kit that Harry and Hermione had sent and set to work. He had all day and night to clean himself up and he intended to do it right – even if he had to do it without magic.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Very early morning, Thursday, January 16, 1992 – Johan Severus Snape's private office – Hogwarts School

"I'm telling you, Albus, that there is something odd going on with the Bonded, and I am completely confounded in trying to discover the source, though I have my strong suspicions."

"Albus" looked at the dark-haired, gray-eyed wizard and stroked his long, white beard. It was an affectation that Myrddin had developed when he first considered taking on the persona of Albus Dumbledore, and had thus far served him well. "What is it? Is there something wrong?"

Johan shook his head before taking a long pull on the still-steaming mug of tea on his desk. "No, not wrong, per se. It's just that….I can't get into the dorm at night! There is a magic at work that completely freezes me out. The last time it happened was three nights ago. I had intended to visit with the Potters and the Greengrasses, but I was unable to get in…or even feel the entrance to the dormitory at all."

Myrddin looked at him for a moment and then, almost casually, waved a finger. The small motion caused a steaming-hot mug of tea to appear in front of him as well (double-strength, with milk and a teaspoon of Honey). Johan said nothing when he saw the display of magic, though it caused him to wonder (and not for the first time, either) about just how strong the Headmaster truly was as a wizard. He knew for a fact that such a casual display of wordless, wandless magic was so far beyond the ability of most wizards that it wasn't even worth talking about and he wondered whether the Headmaster even recognized the fact.

"Have you asked the Bonded about this?" Myrddin said quietly, as he lifted the steaming mug to his lips.

Johan shook his head. It was something that he had honestly been afraid to bring up with the Bonded, in case it was something that had to do with the Castle's magic and not caused by the students. He didn't want to give them any ideas about things they could or should do. "No. I wanted to bring the matter to you first, in case it was something more that Hogwarts herself was doing to protect the Bonded. Have you felt any change in the school's wards?"

After a few tentative sips of his tea, Myrddin set the mug down and looked at his Potions professor. "No, I've not…but I confess that I have been distracted as of late with other matters…" He didn't want to give away the fact that he had been absorbed in his efforts (with Sybil's help) to suss out what Amelia Bones was up to and the ways he could potentially help her, without tipping his hand and letting her know that he was aware of her behind-the-scenes efforts. He also didn't want to mention, because the time was far from ripe, that he was keeping a close eye on the Volturi and watching for other signs that the Nazgûl were once again active.

Of all the creatures that roamed the Earth, the eight black riders were the ones he feared the most. Tom Riddle, terrible and cruel though he had been, seemed as nothing in comparison. 'There's always a bigger enemy somewhere' he thought sadly.

It took a moment for Myrddin to pull himself out of his train of thought and to focus on what he had missed that his colleague and friend had just said. Rubbing his eyes with one hand, he said softly, "Could you repeat what you just said. I confess that the years have caught up to me and I sometimes don't hear as well as I once did."

"I said that I had been afraid to approach the Bonded, in case they hadn't caught onto the fact that their dormitory was somehow sealing itself up at night, and not permitting me access. Young Mrs. Potter, in particular, because of that damn stave of hers, has the power and the cleverness to ensure that, if she found my presence objectionable, that I never again set foot in their dormitory. I didn't want to let her or any of them know that it was even a possibility. I've made in-roads with most all of them and while not many of them are going to be Potions-masters or mistresses when they are graduated, there is at least some spark of talent in each of them and they are all working hard to earn their marks, which is more than I can say for most of the Unbonded right now. You asked me to watch over them and that is what I am trying to do."

Nodding his agreement, Myrddin looked at him for a moment. "Do you think we're doing the right thing, Johan?"

The question caught the Potions-Master very much off guard and it took him a solid minute to answer. When he did, his answer was direct but thoughtful. "Yes. It was all that we could do. Wizarding numbers are declining throughout the continent. Even Binns saw it. If we're going to re-build, now is the time. My old master cost us dearly in the last war. If this generation doesn't at least start to make up for those losses, magic will die out in Europe. "

"Pomona, Filius, Minerva, and I think so too, so we are all in agreement. So….we shall see wither the Potters, Greengrasses, and Longbottoms lead." Rising to his feet, Myrddin picked up his conjured mug and without another word, quietly made his way out of the room.

Several slow minutes passed, allowing the sun to rise further into the morning sky, before Johan Snape knew what he was going to do next. Rising to his feet and clutching the mug of warm tea in his hand in the very same way as his Headmaster had done, he made his way out of the school's lower levels, past the thick, wide, iron-wood and dragon-hide reinforced double-doors to the main lab, and up to the Bonded's dorm. If his hunch was right, a goodly number of the Bonded would be making their way towards the Great Hall or towards the library and he'd have a chance to corner them and, circumspectly, try to discover what was keeping him out at night.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Azkaban Island, later that same morning, cell no. 4

Two rats were copulating in one corner of the filthy, dank cell as the Island's most feared prisoner sat in the one spot where sunlight made it into the cell. She was smiling cruelly…but that was a marked difference from her countenance from the previous day, week, and month. Looking down at her left forearm, she could feel slight burn of the black skull-and-dagger tattoo and she savored it, filthy and foul though it was. It hadn't burned in over a year and she knew that it meant that her dark master's spirit was once again active and on the move. She didn't know where or how, but she knew…and that made her happy. Not sane. Never that… but happy none-the-less.

Far to the northeast, high on a cliff overlooking Sognefjord, a tall, grim-looking bearded wizard with dark, flashing eyes looked out from the parapet on top of the tower to the north of the Castle's central keep. Far below the black and gold ship, with it's black, polished woods, black steel anchor, and flying the school's Teutonic eagle sigil, rested easy at anchor as it bobbed up and down in the peaceful waves. Gripping his left forearm, he feels the pangs of terror that are the unique possession of those who, in their cowardice, have betrayed their once-professed masters. At the same moment, in a castle far to the south, an often-sad and repentant potions-master feels the burn too…and it chills him down to the bone.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Three days later, in the Slytherin 7th year common room; just after dinner

"This is going to be interesting" Remus Lupin thought to himself as he sat back in the wing-back chair nearest the fire. He was waiting for the Slytherin 7th-year students to file in for the meeting he had called, as the new Head-of-house. There had been twenty-three of them altogether, which had made it the largest of the four houses, until Sefford Hatton and seven of his cronies had used the Imperius Curse on Alythia Black; forced her to perform oral sex on all of them, and found themselves expelled from Hogwarts and arrested. In one fell swoop, the 7th-year Slytherin class had gone from being the largest of the four houses to the smallest. Adding in Alexander Montague (dead because of his own stupidity) and the class was down to twelve: three boys and nine girls, with Alythia Black in firm control of the house. It made for a very, very interesting dynamic.

Once the nine girls had filed in, Remus bade them sit so that he could see each of them. The thing that he noticed immediately was that they were all dressed similarly, in close-to-matching long (but very well-fitted) dresses, done in Slytherin colors, that did nothing to hide the girls' figures and highlighted the fact that the girls were wearing under their dresses, both to his surprise and amusement, very flattering bikini knickers that hugged their curves and accented their firm, toned bodies. Only one of them was anything more than a (UK) size 4/6 and even she, a girl whose name escaped him at the moment, but who had to be close to six feet tall, was fit and well-proportioned. The boys, too, were in well-pressed and well-fitting school uniforms that accented their broad shoulders and almost-adult bodies.

"Welcome, all of you. For those of you who don't know my full title, I am Doctor-Professor Remus Lupin. I was a student here in the late 1970's, along with Professors Snape, Sinistra, and Vector. Now, as you probably know, I have been asked to take over the Head-of-house duties from Professor Snape, so that he can better attend to the needs of the Bonded."

There were some dirty looks from the boys but none, interestingly enough, from any of the girls. Remus met the gaze of two of the boys and he knew, because his werewolf senses told him so, that the boys would not be a problem, despite their expressions. Whether that was because they knew he was a werewolf or because they had been told of his Defense Mastery and his senior rank within the Dark Forces Defense League, he didn't know. He didn't really care, either. What he required, they would soon learn, was their obedience and their tolerance. There were things that a professor could do, within the confines of the House Dormitory, that would not be tolerated in the rest of the castle. That included transfiguration as a punishment. Two or three days spent as a slug was something that one had to experience only once to be willing to 'toe the line'.

"There are a number of things that we should talk about. I'll start with the easiest and we'll work from there." Looking at the girls who were seated opposite from the boys, Remus said, "I've been told that the twelve of you are doing fairly well in your classes and that not one of you should have a problem with your NEWT's. Part of my job, between now and June, is to make sure that that is the case. I will, therefore, be tutoring any here who need it, on a first-come, first-serve basis, to make sure that your practical exam scores are as high as your theory exams. The other dorms, including the Bonded, are all doing the same thing for their appropriate exams, so there's no reason that I can't or shouldn't do the same for all of you." Sweeping the room with a look he said, in a more serious tone, "Now, one thing that I will say is that while we are working together, if I see so much as one illegal curse come from your wands, you will be expelled from the school. I know that at least some of your families believe in teaching…well, let's call them the less savory aspects of defense. I will have NONE of that here. I remind you all that I'm not just a teacher, but an MLE Forensics expert. In blunt terms, I'm an Auror. Are we clear?"

This caused some grumbling from both the boys and girls. The pure-blood agenda included, Remus knew, the use of many 'border-line' curses as well as several of the out-and-out dark curses – the uses of which he had spent his entire professional life (so far) trying to stamp out.

Remus didn't bother with the grumbling though, as it didn't seem all that serious or deeply felt. Pressing on, he said "I know that all of you are anxious about what the spring will bring for each of you and what you're going to do once you've passed your NEWT's. I'm also pretty sure that at least some of you are re-thinking your career choices. I'd like to help with that. There are a great many paths to follow, at least some of which you are all unaware of. There is a vast array of opportunities on the Continent that are not available here in the UK. My first piece of advice is…don't think small. You're all here for a reason: you're ambitious and some of you are even a bit cunning. Those are traits that can be put to good use. We will start serious conversations about careers in early March. Until then, be creative. Think about all the ways you can use your talents to get where you want to go."

Moving forward to the edge of the chair, so that his hands were free to go for his wand, but not in an obvious way, he pushed on. "Ok…so we've talked about the pleasant and the not-so-pleasant stuff. We've arrived at the unfun stuff: the treatment – by members of this house – of the Bonded. We are now half-way through the school year and I know that some animosity has grown up within the school regarding the differential, and some might say preferential, treatment of the Bonded students. I will acknowledge that they are, in fact, receiving a fair measure of attention, but the way they are being treated and cared for does NOT give any of you leave to attack them. I remind you that everyone - including the Headmaster, parents of the students involved, and all of the teachers, as well as the Board of Governors, has made the success of this project the number one priority. Because of that, and because there are several emancipated couples among the bonded, any attack on them will be grounds for expulsion and maybe even arrest. Are we clear on that?"

There were nods of agreement. "Good. Now, you should also know that if you attack any of the Bonded, the most likely outcome is that you wind up in the Infirmary, either wounded or dead. One of your number learned that the hard way already. Another might not be released from the school infirmary before the end-of-year. It seems that Hogwarts herself has taken an interest in protecting the Bonded. We don't know why or how that is, but it seems to be so. Beyond that, several of the Bonded, including Lord and Lady Potter, the Greengrasses, Lord-presumptive Neville Longbottom and his wives, and Lady-presumptive Susan Bones, are emancipated and therefore able to use deadly force in order to protect themselves. They aren't nearly as trained as any of you, but they stick together and they can and will hurt you badly, so do yourselves a favor and stay away from them. You were all sorted into this house because you have a fair measure of cunning and ambition. Those are not bad traits – in fact, as I've already said, they are good traits…. But I hope for your sakes though, that stupidity isn't one of the traits as well. Lastly, if I or any of the other teachers catch you harassing, intimidating, or otherwise causing a problem for one of the Bonded, the punishment will be severe The Bonded are to be left alone. I will not repeat myself."

Looking around at the nine, Remus tried to assess the collective mood. They seemed, in his estimation, to be fairly pensive. That wasn't a bad thing. As he stood to leave, Remus said, "I want you to know that I never thought that I, a Gryffindor through and through, would be standing in the Slytherin common room as Head-of-house. I find myself hopeful that we can have a productive rest of the year and put the recent unpleasantness behind us. If things turn out the way I hope, we might even learn a thing or two from each other. On that note, I take my leave. If you need to find me, you know where my office is located. My office hours are posted on the door. If there is an emergency, send one of the ghosts to find me or fire-call me. Goodnight."

After Lupin left, there was silence for several long minutes and no one moved. It was a sobering message. Slytherin students, as a rule, were not used to being told to avoid confrontation or that they were no longer the top of the food-chain. Why else, they thought, was one magical, if not to rule? Being a pure-blood was supposed to mean that one got his or her way in most everything. Half-bloods, so-called 'Mudbloods' or Muggle-borns and squibs just didn't count for anything, according to the pure-blood code. Remus Lupin had just told them, in effect, that that world-view was no longer going to be accepted within Hogwarts' walls.

The one person who was secretly cheering the change was, of course, Alythia Black. It safe-guarded her background, after a fashion, and gave her ammunition against the pure-bloods' completely warped, erroneous, and unjustified sense of superiority.

"Well?" one girl to Alythia's right said. "What do we think?"

Another girl, one of Alythia's long-time friends, Bernadette Peters said "Better do what he says, I think. If there is that much attention on the Bonded and they're being protected by the school itself, we don't have much hope of changing things. At least not right now. Besides, do we really want to be picking fights with third-years? Even if a lot of them look like fifth- or sixth-years, they don't have our experience. It's not exactly sporting, is it?"

Sitting across from Alythia was a quiet but quite stunning-looking blonde, Lyza Lovegood-Black, the grand-daughter of Elladora Black and second cousin to Luna Lovegood. The girl seemed to be lost in thought until Bernadette tossed a stray Butterbeer cork into her lap and said "Knock, knock"

Lyza looked up to see that there were at least six pairs of eyes on her. Embarrassed that she had let her mind wander so, she looked down again. "I'm sorry, did I miss something?"

There were a few quiet laughs at that – which there wouldn't have been, if they had known that under the quiet façade was a girl of steely determination and perseverance, who masked her private actions with a public face of gentle quietness. It was, she thought, the quintessential expression of Slytherin-ness. Her father had taught her that the only way to survive was to do what you had to do in order to succeed, but mask it until it's too late for anyone to do anything about it.

"We were discussing what we all feel about what Professor Lupin had to say."

"Oh" Lyza replied. "Well, it wouldn't be very Slytherin to go off attacking the Bonded, only to get ourselves killed, would it? Kind of hard to be cunning and ambitious from six feet under."

There was a murmur of agreement. "What else?" Bernadette asked.

Surprised that she was being so included in the conversation, Lyza smiled and then said, "Well, I don't dislike any of the Bonded really, and I don't see where I should waste time even thinking about them. Besides, my second-cousin is one of them. She's a little spacey, but I don't dislike her… and anyway, I'm not one for skulking around the Castle at night, looking for Firsties to bother. Too cold. You all heard what Professor Lupin said: If any of us are caught harassing, intimidating, or otherwise causing a problem for one of the Bonded, we'll be severely punished. I know my father would take a belt to me if I were to be expelled or if he even receives a warning letter about me. Better to avoid that, I think."

Several of the other girls in the circle were surprised to hear that Lyza's father would even consider such a brutal, even Muggle-ish punishment, but they agreed with her that it wouldn't be something they'd want to face either.

Alythia took the measure of the room and then said, "We're agreed then? We leave the Bonded alone and enforce that among the younger students?" Heads nodded in agreement. "Good. I'm going to head downstairs to my room. If any of you need me, message me – otherwise, I'll see you in the morning."

"Goodnights" passed around the room and soon it was empty, save for the two invisible house-elves who had been stationed there earlier in the evening. Once the room emptied out, they faded into nothingness. There was much to report.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Monday morning, January 20th, 1992 – Office of the Headmaster

Staff meetings tend to be raucous, or at least loud affairs, if the staff that is meeting has even the smallest bit of rapport. The Hogwarts staff had it by the bucketful, so the staff meetings were often times for laughter and stress-relief.

"….and so the bear says to the hunter….You're not in this for the hunting, are you?"

There was an explosion of laughter from the assembled teachers, which left Filius Flitwick grinning from ear to ear. He loved telling jokes and to a certain extent, the dirtier, the better. The "Bear and the Hunter" joke was an old Muggle one that had been told and re-told for many years in its various forms, but one that his colleagues had not, apparently, heard before. He had worked on the time and delivery of the joke so that more often than not, the punch line was delivered in a way that ensured the spewing of drinks. This time the count was three.

Once Minerva McGonagall had recovered sufficiently, she scowled at her colleague. "FILIUS! YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE!"

He grinned. "You can count on it, Minnie. Serves you right for telling the one about the Ventriloquist and the Cowboy the other day."

Johan looked on and smiled. It was good to see his friends so relaxed that they could tell jokes and be at ease with each other. Even Remus, his long-time friend, seemed at peace. The modified Wolfsbane potion seemed to be helping him immensely. Remus caught his eye and said, after putting his tea down, "I met with the 7th-year Slytherins on Thursday night. They seemed to accept the restrictions that we've placed on them. I met with those two elves, Dobby and Sisi, who stayed after to listen to the conversation, and found it interesting that Alythia Black seems to have completely taken over control of the house."

"Makes one wonder if she hadn't planned it that way from the get-go. She's one to watch, I think."

Remus nodded. "Aye. I have to think that recruiting her for the Order might be a master-stroke, if we can pull it off. I did some checking into her background and found out that she's not the pure-blood that she claims to be. She's actually Muggle-born and Muggle-raised but none of her friends have any idea. She's also Sirius' second-cousin."

Johan's jaw dropped open and he looked at his friend with something close to total shock. "Yea, that was my first reaction, too" Remus said. "I almost couldn't believe it, but the birth records do not lie. I did some digging over the weekend with my colleagues at PE-MLE (Pan European Magical Law Enforcement) she's as Muggle-raised as Lady Potter is and in fact, their two families live within twenty minutes of each other in Nonington-in-Kent. I'm really surprised that they never, ever crossed paths. Magicals tend to be drawn towards each other, especially as children."

It took the potions-master several long moments to consider what the possible ramifications were of the entire thing. On the one hand, it freed him up from having to wear quite as solid a 'mask' around the students, since a viable student leader – in this case, Alythia Black – had come forward to supplant him as the de-facto leader of Slytherin House and seemed to be taking it in an altogether better direction. On the other hand, it complicated things, because it meant that he might have to show off different parts of his nature to multiple people simultaneously and, as he knew well, that could become very tricky. His 'angry, nasty, brooding Slytherin' persona was one that was wearing less and less well over the years, and increasingly he was growing unhappy about even having to associate in any way with people like Lucius Malfoy, Walden McNair and his equally repugnant cousin, Josef. Being a Death Eater was something that he had renounced publically (to the Headmaster and to those at the Ministry) and deep in his heart, in the same place where his love for Lily Potter still lived. Not sure of what to say on the matter of recruiting Alythia to the Order of the Phoenix, Johan looked at his almost life-long friend and said, "Speaking of Padfood, what news?"

Remus put down his tea mug, which he had been holding with both hands; for the warmth of it as well as just out of habit, and said "I've set a meeting for next week with Harry's solicitor, Nicholas Sharpstar. Harry wants the two of us to be there with him, along with Hermione. Since Siri didn't get a trial and since he's already served almost ten years for something he didn't do, there's at least 50-50 odds that we can get him released immediately. If not, we'll have to petition the Minister for Magic directly. Fudge doesn't have any reason to not to do what Harry's asking, since all he's really requesting is that Sirius actually receive the trial that he deserves."

Johan was skeptical. "What if that comes to naught? You, of all people, know what the Ministry's like."

Remus was all set to launch into his next thought when the Headmaster walked in and motioned for all of them to take seats, so the meeting could begin.

A hush fell over the group as the Headmaster took his place at the far end of the table and everyone sat after he settled himself. A small smile and the slight movement of a single finger was enough of a signal, apparently, to Minerva to get her to stand and open the meeting.

She nodded to the group and then began the meeting. Remus smiled inwardly as he watched; fascinated by what he was sure were choreographed moves; subtle gives and takes, between two people who had been working together a very long time. He idly wondered just how long…because no one he knew was sure precisely how long the pair had known each other.

The meeting went through its normal gyrations before the really important matters came up. The first was raised by the Headmaster himself. "Good morning. I know that all of you have been working diligently with your respective houses and within your classes and I want you all to know that I am grateful for that hard work. We are now at the half-way point in the school-year and I wanted to bring several things to your attention. The first is that the School's Governors wish to inspect the school. As you are aware, there are some individuals on the Board who, for reasons of their own, are less than 100% pleased with how things have been administrated this year. I know that some of you have been the recipients of rather unpleasant missives as of late from these same-said individuals and I am grateful that those missives were addressed so adroitly. It will be our challenge to handle the inspection in a similar manner."

He looked around and Remus would later swear that he saw Minerva move her left hand just so on the large conference table, causing the Headmaster to stop what he was about to say, before he carried on. It made him think that there was an entirely different conversation; one going on at a wholly different level, between the two of them. The Bonded were said to be able to do something similar and he wondered, even more strongly, if there was a relationship between the Headmaster and his deputy of which no one was aware.

Before he could tune all of his wolf-enhanced senses towards the riddle, the Headmaster resumed speaking. "On a separate, but related topic, I need to address the issue of the Bonded and the sudden, accelerated development of several of the students. Many of you came to me in beginning of October and said that the first-years whom you had been teaching had suddenly changed – that they seemed to have suddenly matured by several years. I put you all off at that time, telling each of you that it must be the effect of the bonding process. I want you all to know that I lied to you at that point. I ask your forgiveness for that lie." He let the statement hang in the air for a moment, waiting for any immediate reactions. Hearing none, he continued, "Johan, Minerva, and I had jointly agreed that it shouldn't be known that Harry and / or Hermione Potter had liberated the rest of a nutrition / growth potion from Johan's private lab that Johan had been feeding to Harry, to help him compensate for the malnutrition that he had suffered at the hands of his Muggle relatives. Harry and Hermione, for we are sure that it was they, must have fed the rest of the potion to a large number of the Bonded, allowing them to add a number of years to their development."

There were murmurs all around the room as the staff considered this information. A raised hand was enough to cause the staff to still itself once more. "I expect that there will be a number of parents, not to mention the School's Governors, who are going to be very upset by the fact that their children have gained, suddenly, a number of years of growth. They will accuse us – me – of hiding things, playing fast and loose with the school's rules, and failing to keep them informed of what their children have done. Given what's happened, a good bit of what they will feel will be legitimate. They will be right to be angry with me about the fact that they've missed out on being a part of their children's natural development. I must determine how best to handle those complaints and I welcome your thoughts on the matter."

There was a murmur of tentative approval to the way he was approaching the matter and it seemed that the staff wasn't upset by what had happened. 'Albus' looked around before resuming speaking, and saw some small smiles, as well as some pensive expressions. "The last thing that I need to address is Harry's wyvern, Amrita. If you have been anywhere near Harry and Hermione recently, you'll have no doubt noticed that Amrita has been nearby. We - Minerva, Rubeus, and I - believe, though we can't be sure, that she is in the middle of a growth spurt and has to be near then while it's happening. Rubeus" he said, looking down the length of the table, right at the newest permanent Hogwarts professor "correct me if I'm wrong on this - thinks that there is a more mundane reason as well. You'll notice that it has grown very cold recently and that there has been a pervasive fog in many parts of Hogsmeade valley. That may or may not be natural. In any case, Amrita has reason to be inside." He looked around and saw…well…if not bland expressions, at least ones that were relatively passive. He wondered if any of them really understood what the presence of a wyvern inside the school's walls really meant. Johan did, he thought, and Lupin did as well. Rubeus…well, he wasn't so certain about him. The half-giant had a peculiar take on such creatures.

What most others called 'terrifying', he usually called 'misunderstood'. There wasn't really any other choice but to address the matter head-on. Spreading his hands out on the table, as if he were supporting himself, he said "I need to make sure that it is made clear to all of your charges that Amrita is to be left alone, if neither Harry nor Hermione is present. She is quite capable of defending herself and it wouldn't do to have one of our students turn up in the Infirmary with a bite or a spike-wound or spell-damage. Please reiterate this to everyone. Questions?"

After a moment, seeing that there were none, his crooked smile and 'grandfatherly-ness' returned in full measure as he rose. "Well then, we will convene at this time next week. Until then, you know where to find me if any of you feel the need to talk."

Quietly, 'Albus' left the room and Minerva, Remus noticed, rose from her chair and moved with him out of the room, almost like a shadow. His every move was copied almost exactly, just a moment later, by her. The more he watched it, the more curious he became. It didn't take him long to realize that there was something very odd going on between the two and that he should have seen it long before this. He made a note to visit both the School's library (including the restricted section) and Hermione's own immense, private library. He also made a note to send a note to Sirius, the next time Harry sent Hedwig to see him. He hoped, as he too stood and made his way out of the staff-room, that there would be developments on the legal front to report to Sirius.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Saturday, January 25, 1992 – Stringfellows Gentleman's Club – 16 Upper Saint Martin's Lane, Covent Garden, UK

Lucius Malfoy sat against the deep red sofa and let the willowy blonde above him grind her arse into his crotch, half-wishing for what seemed the millionth time that Narcissa Malfoy wasn't his wife and that he was free to play the field and take advantage of the charms of women like the one who was, at the moment, desperately trying to separate him from his cash. Muggle women were so easy. A simple compunction charm and they were out of their clothes and spread-eagle on your bed in less than a heart-beat. Narcissa, for all of her external beauty, was deeply disappointing in bed and often made him wish that her sister, Bellatrix, had been sane. She was the real beauty in that family anyway and had been reported to be tigress in bed. However, she wasn't sane - not by any measure available, Muggle or magical – and so it was at best a spurious thought.

When the song ended and the blonde climbed off him, he took one of his twenty-pound notes and slid it up the inside of her thigh, until his fingers grazed her wet sex and he felt the thin string around her waist that held up the small pouch that all the girls wore. She smiled at him and he felt her fingers meet his and take the note out of his hand. Her lilting 'thank you' was genuine and he felt another pang of frustration that he couldn't take one of these girls off to a quite location and work out some of his sexual frustrations the way he wanted. However, he knew that the meeting he was about to have was much more important than one night's play.

At a quarter of Ten, after watching pretty much the entire line-up of girls on offer that night, Lucius felt a strong hand on his shoulder and he turned to look up. It was Thornton Avery, the only other one of the Dark Lord's followers who was at equal ease in both the Muggle and magical worlds. "You're late" Lucius said. "We have much to discuss."

Avery, who was dressed in dark fine-wool dress-slacks, a button-down white shirt that was undone at the collar, and a rich-looking black, Dragon-hide jacket, looked at him with undisguised contempt as he made his way around the sofa and sat down. "You're not my master, Lucius" he said with a bite in his tone. "I don't run on your schedule. Since our master's fall, I've made my own way."

Malfoy glared at him but held his tongue. There was a striking brunette approaching them, the one he had picked as the prettiest one of the girls present (which was saying something, as they were all model-quality), and he thought that he should at least get her number. Signaling to her, she willingly made her way onto his lap. From a deep pocket, he surreptitiously drew his wand with his left hand, pointed it her back, so that she couldn't see it, and cast a charm; the exact type, Avery couldn't tell. A moment after the charm was cast; the beautiful brunette leaned in close to him. After he whispered something in her ear, she rose from his lap and sauntered away, an odd smile playing at her mouth. Avery watched her go; certain that he had just seen Lucius planning some kind of late-night tryst with the beautiful Muggle girl.

Once she was out of his sight, Lucius turned his attention back to his 'guest' and said, "You felt it, didn't you? The mark…it burned. Our lord is on the move. He will return to us soon. We must be ready. You must tell the others that I expect them to prepare themselves for what must be done."

'He hasn't changed', Avery thought to himself as he took in the man's demeanor. However, his words held an uncomfortable truth and one that Avery, for all of his bluster about being devoted to the Dark Lord, truly did not wish to acknowledge. He had built a comfortable life for himself, using a combination of extortion, bribery, and various criminal enterprises to create sufficient wealth that he wasn't at all anxious for the Dark Lord to return and demand it all in tribute. Lucius had no such worries. His wealth, Avery knew, was vast and a fortune, if rumors could be believed, that was incredibly diversified. Not wanting to tip his hand or reveal his true feelings, Avery said "I am ready to do what I can and what I must, Lucius. Our master will not find my services wanting or wavering, unlike some I know."

Not knowing how to perform Legilimency, Lucius had no choice but to accept his colleague's words, though it pained him to have to let the suggested insult slide by. Lucius neither liked nor trusted the younger man as far as he could throw him, but it wouldn't be up to him to judge the man's faithfulness to the Dark Lord. The mark that had burned so recently on his left forearm told him that his master was going to return and that sooner or later, Avery would feel his master's wrath, if he was at all unfaithful. Idly, he wondered if Avery and the few others who had managed to avoid Azkaban were still truly committed. It didn't occur to him to think about the hypocrisy of sitting in a Muggle bar, enjoying Muggle entertainments and the 'company' of Muggle women.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Ten AM., Wednesday, January 29, 1992 – Offices of Sharpstar, Sharpstar, and Rosnick, LLP., 12 Newport Court, 3rd Floor.

Harry Potter looked around the large, well-appointed conference room that Nicolas Sharpstar, his son, and his partner Stuart Rosnick, used to meet with clients. The chairs that surrounded the oval Mahogany table were done in deep, rich red leather and looked very inviting. Certainly more inviting than any chair in which he had sat at school. Sharpstar, who was the last person to enter the room, smiled as Remus Lupin motioned to Harry, Hermione, and Johan Snape to make themselves comfortable.

"Thank you for seeing us today, Nicolas. I know that you're exceptionally busy these days, with all that is going on."

Nicolas Sharpstar looked across the table at Remus and said, with animosity, "No problem, Remus. I'm honored that you would choose me and this firm for what you're undertaking."

Lupin studied the man for a moment and then said, "You come well recommended. The Parkinson's and the Greengrasses both trust you and that was good enough for me."

"I know Gruoch and Malcom well. Their daughter, Pansy, is a sweetheart. It's funny, really, that you should mention them. James and Lily Potter were some of their best friends. Did you know that, Harry?"

Harry looked at him, suddenly awash in a feeling of loss that seemed to come out of nowhere. "No sir, I didn't."

"Your parents were very loving, good people, Harry. I knew them only indirectly, of course, but Malcom and Gruoch still talk about them from time to time. I think you ought to speak to them when you get the chance. I am sure that they would be happy to tell you all about their experiences with James and Lily."

Remus, for his part, seemed to be taken somewhat aback. Finally, he leaned to his right and said quietly, "I am so sorry, Harry! I should have remembered how well your parents and the Parkinson's got along. I promise you, I will contact them today. I am sure that they would come to Hogwarts to speak with you. They'd have the excuse to see Pansy, of course, but I know that they'd do that for you."

Hermione reached out her left hand and pulled Harry closer to her. The moment she did so, Harry's whole body seemed to relax, as if Hermione had the ability to magically drain away all of his stress. "It will be alright, Harry. I know it will!"

Harry didn't respond across their bond, at least not with words, but Hermione felt the wash of love and gratitude that he felt for her support. "I love you too, Harry, and I always will."

If Nicolas was aware of the fact that there was something decidedly different or odd about the young couple sitting across from him, he didn't let on; a fact for which Remus was grateful.

The quiet one in the room was Johan Snape, who had yet to say anything. However, that quietness was broken by the question that he decided to voice in the momentary silence that had filled the room. His voice was low and sibilant. "Barrister Sharpstar, it has come to my attention that you have no love for the current Minister for Magic and further, that you have strong feelings about the travesty which passes for justice these days. Harry needs his Godfather and his Godfather needs Harry, for reasons that are both personal and important. I will not lie to you. My patience is very close to end as it regards Sirius Black's incarceration and I know, because of what I have seen, that Lily and James would be tearing the Ministry itself apart in order to see Sirius released. What can you do that Harry, Hermione, and the magic that we can assemble, cannot?"

A small thrill of fear ran through Nicolas Sharpstar as he regarded the tall, dark-eyed, black-haired potions-master. Everything that he was as a man and as a wizard told him that Johan Snape was someone to fear, and so he chose his words carefully. "Professor..." He paused, thinking about how he was going to phrase things. "What you have heard…is mostly correct. I do not have great love for the current Minister and I am sure that he returns the sentiment wholeheartedly. As for the judiciary…well, let us say that I am unimpressed with certain judges and the overall outcomes. Like much of the Muggle world, those who obtain justice are largely those who can afford to seek it. Those who cannot…" he let the thought trickle away, but the point was made, anyway.

Continuing, he said more forcefully, "Regarding Sirius Black, my thoughts are as follows: First, Sirius Black was never given a trial. That much I learned as I went through the records.

"We knew that already" Harry said, somewhat sharply; interrupting the man's thoughts for a moment and causing Hermione to squeeze his hand – not in affection, but in warning. Even Remus, who was always inclined to give Harry the benefit of the doubt, threw him a reproachful look.

"Second, the Minister for Magic at the time was very keen to be seen 'doing something' and played fast and loose with the rules – which included, unfortunately, the use of the Unforgivables by the forces of the DMLE. Third, Sirius Black did not act like someone who was guilty of the murder of 13 people. His wand was tested, twice, right after the incident, and no trace of any curse, legal or otherwise, was discovered. That didn't seem to matter though and Sirius Black was locked away and forgotten about until you brought the matter to me. I can tell you that it raised a considerable number of eyebrows at the Records Office when I stopped in to see them right after your floo-call, Remus, late last week."

Sharpstar paused and reached over to pick up a phone. He punched three numbers and soon a very, very striking young blonde woman – the same one who had greeted them when they had first entered the office – came in, carrying a Sterling silver tea-tray. The only thing that wasn't silver was a ceramic mug, which the young woman set in front of Remus, who smiled at her with appreciation and relief, causing her to look at him thoughtfully. He noticed, belatedly, that she was wearing very fine-mesh gloves and was going to some effort to not touch the silver with any exposed skin. She caught his eye and said softly, "I don't like silver, either, Mr. Lupin."

"How did you know?" he asked.

"Your colleague floo'ed us this morning, to make sure we were prepared" she said, smiling at Johan.

"How long?" he asked, just as softly, looking down at her gloves for a moment and then back at her beautiful face.

"Fourteen years. I was bitten when I was seven."

"Let me guess" he said sadly. "Fenris Greyback?"

She nodded. "It's been very hard on my parents and my younger sister. Mr. Sharpstar was willing to help me out when no one else would." She smiled when she looked across the table and saw that he, Nicolas, was watching her intently.

"Melody has been with us for the last two years, ever since she was graduated from the Salem Witches' Institute. I could not ask for a person more loyal or harder-working. She has been a joy to have here."

Remus smiled at him and then back at Melody. "Our kind has it hard, Barrister Sharpstar. I am surprised, however, to find someone who's infected acting in such a position. One might be tempted to think that you're making a statement."

Sharpstar laughed. "Well, yes, I suppose one might tempted to think that."

The interplay between the young woman and Remus Lupin did not go unnoticed by Johan, nor did Hermione and Harry fail to notice that Remus seemed unusually attracted to the girl.

Seeing an opportunity to get a word in, Harry spoke up. "Sir, I have been writing to Sirius for the last month – since Christmas, really. I have found a way to send him things, so that he won't give up hope." This caused the well-respected Barrister to raise an eyebrow in surprise. Harry went on. "He can't write back, but I want someone to go out there and actually check on him. More, I want him out of there and I don't care how much it costs to make that happen. Money is the one thing I have in almost endless supply, actually. What I don't have is patience. If I have to break him out, that's what I will do…but I would prefer to do it the legal way. Remus, Johan, Hermione, and I have talked about some ways we could do this, but I need you, too."

For about a minute after Harry stopped speaking, Sharpstar continued to make notes to himself. When he was done, he looked at the group. "I can help you. There are lots of precedents for this sort of thing, of course, and I know that I can move the lower court to order a trial for him. The question is whether the Chief Warlock will stand in the way of my doing so. Albus Dumbledore, for all of his magical prowess, seems unwilling to help out in these sorts of cases. I've never known why, but there it is. However, the Potters are one of the three 'first families'. I don't know if you know this, Harry, but the Potters go back to about 500 B.C. It's a very, very old family. The only families that I know of that can trace their roots back even further are the Patil's and the Changs. They can trace their families back three thousand or more years. Anyway, we can use that standing to our advantage. The one thing that the Ministry hates is to be shown doing something against the interests of the 'founding families' or not doing something that it ought to be doing. Sirius Black, as far as I'm concerned is innocent, until it's proven otherwise, and we can – that is, if we have to – use the papers to help push things in the right direction."

He thought things through for a moment and made several more notes on his long, yellow legal pad before speaking again. "This is going to cost, though. I'll need a retainer fee of five thousand galleons and a separate expense account for filing fees and the like for that same amount."

Harry smiled. "I'll give you ten times that amount and you can draw from it as you need."

Hermione jumped in, "Provided that you give us a running tally of your expenses and let us know what you are doing on Harry's behalf. We don't want to be surprised by something that you are undertaking in Harry's name."

Sharpstar nodded his agreement with that requirement, even as he tried to hide his shock at how casually Harry considered spending what was considered a small fortune to most all wizards and witches. "There's one more thing, Harry, which you need to know. Sirius Black named you as his heir, in the event that anything happens to him. I don't know if James and Lily knew that he had done so, but it puts you in a unique position. While you would benefit hugely from Sirius' demise, you have an affirmative obligation – that is to say a legal obligation as his heir to protect him. Getting him safely out of Azkaban fulfills that obligation."

Harry and Hermione both looked at him, astounded by the news. Even Remus and Johan were flabbergasted by the revelation.

"Do what you have to do, Nicolas. Johan, Harry, Hermione, and I will confer when we return to Hogwarts about just how long we can tolerate having Sirius trapped in Azkaban, before we move to a more aggressive plan. It might cost me my job, but Sirius must be set free, one way or the other."

"Very good then. I will have Melody owl you as soon as I have something written and ready to file with the court."

Remus smiled at this and then blushed furiously when he saw the rest of them looking at him with their own, amused smiles.

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

Saturday, February 8, 1992 - The "Three Witches" Gentleman's Club, east of Budapest, in the town of Tápiószecs, Hungary

There were times when the idea of killing all the Muggles he could find appealed particularly to Lucius Malfoy. Young Muggle girls were a special case, as he liked fucking them, but the music that they liked….yuck. Whoever was selecting the music for the strippers this night needed to be killed slowly, Malfoy thought, as he made his way towards his favorite seat.

The last time he had been here, things had been very different. He had been, quite literally, forced to run for his life…and then cower and pray that he wasn't discovered. Those were not acts that he was at all used to performing. He much preferred being the one from whom others ran in abject fear.

Sitting down, with his back to the wall, so that he could face both the main stage and the doorway, Lucius ordered a drink and then waited. If the others were prompt, he would soon be joined by his lord's other followers; the ones, at least, who had escaped Azkaban. They were few in number now, he knew, but that would change when his lord returned. He was out there, somewhere, and the only decision that they had to make was which one of them would go to search for him. The one who found the Dark Lord and helped him return to power would be rewarded, they were all quite certain, and so it was a unique opportunity to come into the Dark Lord's favor.

At a quarter till Nine, Lucius saw eight partially-hooded individuals enter the Club. As they spotted him across the room, each gave a small hand-sign which identified them as followers of the Dark Lord. Malfoy smiled inwardly as he saw that he would be the only one among them who had been a part of their lord's inner-circle, because it meant that he would most likely be the one who would go and seek their lord.

When the seven finally sat down, Lucius' smile widened, as he saw who had come for this meeting. Thornton Avery was one of the seven, of course. With him were Amycus and Alecto Carrow – sister and brother – as well as Thufir Gibbon, Walden McNair, Theodore Edward Nott, Sr., and Thorfinn Rowle. The eighth cloaked figure finally dropped his hood, just before he sat down. Lucius looked at him with both suspicion and shock. It was Severus Snape.

"What are you doing here?" he said, his tone low and angry.

"I think it should be obvious, but maybe you aren't up to your son's level. Pity."

The dig about his son got to him and Lucius had to be restrained from going for his wand, even as he started to rise up from the sofa.

Malfoy's eyes were hard and cold with barely repressed rage. "He's no son of mine. Blood traitor that he is."

A cruel, but satisfied smile playing across his face, Johan leaned forward and said, "You'll be delighted to know then that he says the same of you. Too bad your bite isn't nearly like your bark though, or we'd have actually won the last time the Dark Lord led us. By the way, how's your library these days?"

The insults were just enough to push the platinum-haired death-eater over the edge, and he started to lunge off the seat; his hand going for a knife that he had kept hidden up his sleeve when Avery interceded. "This isn't getting us anywhere, Lucius. Put your anger away. You too, Snape. We've got planning to do and we can't be fighting amongst ourselves if we expect to be prepared for when our Lord returns."

The others: Avery, Gibbon, McNair, Nott, Rowle, and the Carrows, watched the interplay with interest. Snape was a known to be smart, dangerous, unforgiving at the best of times while Lucius Malfoy was known for his vindictiveness, pettiness, and cruelty.

Johan looked at Avery and then at the rest of the group to gauge reactions; his exceptional skills at Occlumency hiding the incredible loathing and disgust at being anywhere near the foul, evil, dark-lord wanna-be's, while Lucius simply sneered and then sat back; his hand never moving very far from the cane where Snape knew he kept his wand hidden. It was a volatile group, Johan knew, and he was going to have to play his cards very, very carefully…

{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}{}

January 20, 2011

As usual, I would ask you to please leave a review. Reader-reviews are the life-blood of this kind of writing and I need/want them no less than the next person. Plus, it gives me a sense of what's working and what isn't.

I will be moving back to working on "Vox Corporis:Rebirth" in the next two weeks and I hope that I will have the next chapter in that story done by the end of the month. As it's currently laid out, there are only five more chapters that need to be written in that story before it's concluded.

Regards,

the_scribbler