Dozens of pureblood manors burned that night. The survivors, any innocent of wrongdoing in the last war, had been left alive as horrified witnesses to Dumbledore's crimes, and were left running this way and that clutching what few possessions they could rescue, whilst aurors scrambled to try and intercept Dumbledore's murders - as always, one step behind and minutes too late, just like they'd done during both wars versus Voldemort.
Azalea had to admit that it was exhausting, doing a reign of terror wearing Dumbledore's face all in one night. So, as she left the latest burning home of the newly departed and noticed dawn had broken over the horizon, the avenging valkyrie admitted her fatigue and decided to call it a night.
Getting a safe distance away and reverting to her normal form, one that she was satisfied to say looked remarkably like her mother, Azalea brushed her long red hair back out of her face. She had to admit to a certain vanity in that department - her looks were one of the few things that she'd gotten from her parents that hadn't been stolen from her by her guardians.
The one change she'd allowed that ritual to make to her appearance had been to give her her mother's eyes instead of her father's. Creamy brown, while nice on some people, was just not the best look paired with her mother's shade of red hair. Shocking emerald was far better for her looks.
Turning to mount her steed, as riding flying horses was one of the few forms of magical transport that could not be traced by magical means, Azalea patted her mount's neck and told it in tired tones, "Home, Jeeves."
Having never been much of an equestrian before, frankly never having been on anything even vaguely horse-shaped until that Care of Magical Creatures lesson with Hagrid, the girl then cast a sticking charm between her and the saddle, then shrank herself so she could curl up on it like a leather bed. The first few hours of riding a magical horse had left her hips and thighs screaming bloody murder, so she'd taken to riding pixie sized and reclined instead. Azalea ruefully reflected that if not for a virginity protection charm she would've been bleeding over the saddle.
It wasn't exactly elegant, not what she'd envisioned for herself when getting a flying steed, but the young girl admitted that for now sitting astride her mount still hurt too much.
Jeeves waited for her to be secure, having spilled his mistress more than once that night, then leaped up into the air, powerful wings beating out long strokes, clawing for altitude and rising into the sunrise. As he did so, Azalea directed a tired eye to the ground rapidly falling away below them and marveled at him leaving not a hoof print behind. She understood it was part of the magic of being a valkyrie, that Choosers Of The Slain had to be untraceable even by magic or else they couldn't do their jobs, but it was still new enough to her that she felt amazement every time she caught those powers working.
Right now Azalea groaned, feeling tired despite sleeping for what had probably been months on that boat ride between worlds. Going to sleep in late July and waking up on the last day of October when the Tournament started was not what she'd been expecting.
Still, if it was going to be this year it almost had to be that day, didn't it?
As the wind of her mount's passage blew past her, Azalea gave leave to herself for a little good-natured grumbling. Never mind the year, she had never had a good Halloween, and the day she was picked as a champion in the Tri-Wizard was arguably the second worst of the lot. Prize for worst of all had to go to that dreadful day when her parents died, as all misery in her life seemed to have flowed out of that one, horrible moment. But second place had to be the Tri-Wizard, as most of the rest started with that one.
But no use grumbling over spilled milk, as fate had already begun to change.
She'd been up all night working on various projects, and wasn't even half done killing off all of the Death Eaters who had to die. One thing about that operation to steal all of their gold and property via inheritance was that it could not be done too fast, because if there was any confusion about if Person X died before Person Y then the whole cascading accumulation of fortunes could be diverted to the wrong targets.
She would have to slow down from here on out to keep things clear.
Plus there was so much else to do!
Her strategy so far had been simple: kill a raft of Voldemort's supporters, then go off and do something else for an hour or so, before going and killing off another wave of traitors and murderers so the records would be clear about who died in what order.
Still, she was exhausted, and had done enough for tonight.
The Potter estate near Hogsmead was built into the side of a mountain and was partly subterranean, although the insides had their own lush greenery, lakes and waterfalls. Many ceilings had the same enchantments as the roof of the Great Hall (in fact a distant Potter ancestor was the one to do both enchantments).
It was, indeed, quite lovely.
Azalea broke into the place using her abilities as a valkyrie, then once inside the wards found herself a good, soft bed and crashed, staying awake only just long enough to use an aspect of Chi Sorcery to enhance the value of rest she was to receive, speeding up her recovery so she'd get double the normal value for sleep.
She could have used Native American Shamanism to go without the need for rest entirely for the day, but didn't have an iguana on hand to sacrifice. Besides, that was kind of icky. A last resort, more than a favored option, and she wasn't that desperate now.
October 31st in 1994 was a Monday. Still, what with having kept all of the students up with the excitement of the champions having been chosen, Azalea was not the only one to get a late start, having a quick lunch before heading up to the castle.
No, but if her memories were anything to go by, she *was* probably alone in hunting for Harry Potter, who was being outcast and isolated by rumors that day.
She found him, not in any of her favorite spots to cry, but flying about the quidditch pitch. It would not have been her first choice, but flying chaser drills had always relaxed her and helped her to think, so she summoned her broom and stopped by the broom shed to pick up a quaffle and pads, and flew up to meet him.
He missed her first pass so badly she almost didn't catch it before it hit the ground. Then she thought to just fly in synch with him for a while so they got a better feel for each other's movements, only the kid had no concept of flying in formation at all!
It was almost like he was *trying* to shake her off! No Chaser would... Then it struck her that he might not have made the quidditch team at all. The circumstances that led to her being on it were pretty unique, after all, what with half the class (the male half) of her first flying lesson determined to fly under her to get a glimpse of her panties.
Why did they never warn the girls not to wear the official uniform skirt to flying lessons?
Anyway, what with dodging a dozen pre-teen boys crowding in from all sides trying to get boasting rights of having seen her panties, she'd impressed McGonagall enough to get an introduction to Oliver Wood, who took her out to test her abilities and made her a Chaser on the spot, beating out Katie Bell, the reserve from last year, for the spot and forcing the other girl to play Seeker instead.
Being quick and agile, with good hands and a better eye, Azalea had been the highest scoring Chaser in centuries, not to mention the youngest in four. But they'd been weak enough on the Seeker side the Gryffindor team hadn't won many games. Those hundred and fifty points were an insult to the skills of every other player. Gryffindor had the best team overall, with the best players in every position sans one, but won very few games.
Azalea now felt a little sorry for the lad. Even though they hadn't won very often, Quidditch had been one of the few genuine reliefs during her life - when professors or house elves or dementors were not trying to kill her during games, that was.
But it was obvious now in retrospect that nobody would have been flying around this boy in clouds trying to stare up at his underwear. He'd had trousers to protect his modesty. So without that odd sequence of events, he'd probably never been on the team, seeing as how no first years were allowed to try out, and by second Ron, her chief detractor, would've had a whole year to tease and belittle any hint of confidence out of him.
Heck, Harry couldn't even do as she'd done to escape Ron's teasing by fleeing up the stairs to the female side of the dormitory!
Now feeling genuinely sorry for the lad, Azalea determined that she could do him one more favor at least before getting to that overdue introduction.
Shamans on little places like Easter Island often had a strictly oral tradition for passing on their history and important legends and such. Apparently lazy apprentices were a problem all the world over because dozens of those isolated lorekeepers had independently come up with the same spell - one for ramming a large block of information into an otherwise blank spot in someone else's mind.
She signaled to him to land, and thankfully he knew that much. They pulled up together outside of the Quidditch equipment shed and before he could open his mouth to ruin things and convince her not to (Azalea had, it must be admitted, little enough trust in people) she went ahead and cast the spell to give him her skill and knowledge of Quidditch.
It did not go quite the way she had intended.
Azalea found herself reliving those games as a Seeker, winning victory after victory, even as her own countless losses after intensive practice and brilliant plays played side by side, in synch with each other, viewing what were mostly the same practice sessions and games from completely different angles.
"Ouch! I'm never going to do *that* again!" Azalea promised herself, rubbing her temples.
The spell was supposed to hurt, but only the recipient! But, then again, she'd forgotten that a killing curse had once bounced off of this boy's forehead if his story was anything like her own. Maybe this was related to that? Then again, the spell was also supposed to transfer knowledge onto a blank slate, and now she knew for a fact he wasn't that.
Kid was a Seeker. What's more, she even knew how that happened, and what games he'd played and how those had turned out. It seems he'd had the same murder attempts after him, teachers cursing his broom, dementors, rogue bludgers and all, but he'd still won most of those games. Blasted hundred and fifty points!
Still, she felt some of her anti-Seeker prejudice depart, seeing things from his perspective.
"Wow! What was that?" Azalea's attention got drawn back to Harry, who was still rubbing his forehead after making that comment.
"A spell from Easter Island. It wasn't supposed to do that." Azalea answered. "I saw you didn't know Chaser drills or formation flying and just assumed you didn't know Quidditch at all. My mistake. I'm sorry."
Harry stopped rubbing and looked up at her suspiciously. He'd had few enough people apologize to him during his life, and coming right on the heels of his best friend betraying him after being entered into this tournament... well, not a lot of good things had been happening to him today. That's why he'd been trying to relax on the pitch.
And now he had a headache to deal with on top of everything else. But what really got to him was the confusion. He cocked his head at this stranger. "How did you get me to relive all of my games as a Chaser? You even had the two I'd missed in there, back from when I was staying in the Hospital Wing."
Yeah. She'd noticed he'd been absent for those. Now she knew where he was, but not why. Then again, he wouldn't have researched anti-rape charms during first year after the looks Snape had been giving her. So Quirrel might've done more than touch him and get blasted across the chamber for his troubles. And if he'd been injured during that whole philosopher stone fiasco that could easily explain missing a game.
She'd learned not to trust authority figures early on in her life. The Dursleys had been good teachers on that point.
But you couldn't cast anti-rape charms out of Hogwarts. Oh, of course not. Who could be silly enough to want to do that? And once it got bandied about that she used them (by Ron getting blasted across a hall after he tried to steal a grope almost as soon as she'd entered her teens), other students began to learn the counters for them.
The only spells without counters were the Unforgivables. And at Malfoy's request Snape had taught him private lessons on counters for the anti-rape charms, which had turned into classes in the Slytherin dormitories where virtually every male attended. So by the time her fourth year had started those charms were no longer any protection of her virtue at all.
Naturally nothing had been done to stop or reprimand the disgusting teacher as he made every girl in the wizarding world more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. A reprimand for the Headmaster's pet? No. Of course not. Out of the question! If Dumbledore were given a clear choice between the future of every student at his school, the life of every Light wizard, and the virtue of every witch in the world all piled up on one side, and Snape's comfort on the other, he'd choose Snape's comfort every time.
Every. Stinking. Time!
And she ought to know, seeing as she'd witnessed him do it on countless occasions. But while she'd been stewing over her thoughts this world's Harry had gotten a good look at her, and frozen in shock. "M... mum?"
Azalea brought herself back to the present and shook her head, red hair flying. "No, sorry. I've never done anything that could lead to me being a mother, not even close. And, besides, I'm not old enough to have a child your age in any case."
But the native Harry's gaze didn't waver. His eyes narrowed, and he pressed on, asking her, "What year is this?"
"Ninety four. What year were you expecting? Azalea had checked dates while she was out.
"Oh," Harry tossed out his half-formed concept of some time accident bringing his mother to his side when he needed some advice and consolation. Azalea had to smirk as she saw his thoughts. She had to give him points, though. After the time-turner incident he'd had last year, the idea wasn't too far-fetched.
Actually, barring the fact that she wasn't his mother, it even had a grain of truth to it, in that she, a female relative, had been moved through time to visit him just now - and he really could use her support. Just leave out the across dimensions bit and he had guessed pretty close.
Good to see him using his brain.
Only now he was getting confused again.
She rubbed her temples. She really didn't want to do this, but had sort of trapped herself with that game sharing. So he'd figure it out eventually, if she didn't tell him, and it was better to try and make him an ally first. "Alright Harry, this may be a little hard to accept, but I'm you from a different universe. Everyone I knew either betrayed me or died, so I moved on, and found myself here just as you were getting chosen by that goblet. So I tried to help you out in the way that I'd always wished someone had helped me."
She met his eyes, slightly scared to until this point.
The boy barreled into her in a hug, sobbing about family.
Azalea found herself both pleased and disturbed by how quickly and effortlessly this world's Harry trusted her. ~Was I ever that naive?~
What's worse, she found herself responding to it, accepting the flood of happy emotion he was giving off over having someone he could trust right when he needed them most. The kid was experiencing something she'd have given anything for in her youth, to have a family member you could trust show up and make things better - and now she really couldn't let him down on that without feeling it was an unforgivable breach of trust.
She would have felt terrible if someone had offered her younger self this chance, only for it to be snatched away.
So that's why she found herself dragging him into the Room of Requirement. "Okay, Harry," and she felt a private thrill of glee over knowing that the hated nickname of 'Harri' was never going to get applied to her again, what with an actual Harry about to claim it. "We've to get you ready for this tournament. First we'll cover the first year material..."
"But I already know that!" Harry protested.
The redhaired girl turned toward him, calmly and without saying anything, just looking at him, and he had a feeling like he'd just claimed to be an Olympic class weight lifter or something else truly outrageous. But that wasn't right. He DID know the first year material, right? They had covered that years ago!
"Tell me, Potter," Azalea asked calmly. "Do you know the Alohamora charm?"
Harry opened his mouth to say of course he knew of it, but then saw her eyes.
"I wasn't asking if you've seen it. I know you were about to say Hermione uses it all of the time. I am asking if *you* know how to cast that spell."
Harry shrugged. It couldn't be *that* hard, could it?
"So you've never cast it before, but don't want to admit it," Azalea told him his private thoughts aloud. "How about that spell to repair your glasses? Have you ever *cast* that, or just seen it cast?"
Harry squirmed uncomfortably, not looking in her direction.
"Uh huh," she nodded, convincing Harry that she knew full well that he hadn't. "How about the clothes-mending charm? Ever cast that?" This time she didn't wait for an answer. "You know, that is one of the things that convinces everyone you know in the magical world that you WANT to look like a ragamuffin or street beggar, wearing trainers that are held together by tape. The spells to fix them and make your clothes fit are first year material. You could have made those rags into decent things to wear when you were a firsty if you'd wanted to. So everyone, even Hermione and Ron, are convinced you don't really want to."
Harry opened his mouth to protest that of *course* he wanted to wear something other than Dudley's hand-me-down rags, but it died in his throat when he met her eyes.
She knew that. She also knew that he didn't know how to, or had never thought to, change that himself. He'd been waiting for some adult to make things better. And with her standing there telling him how he could've changed that situation himself, he felt pretty dumb.
"How about bruise-healing paste? That would have made your summers with the Dursleys a much more bearable experience, wouldn't it? Just fix yourself up after all of those bruises you seem to collect over there, as good as Madam Pomfrey, no need to wait through the misery of letting them heal naturally. That would've been great, huh?"
Harry's face flushed. Yes, that *would've* been great! Too bad he'd never thought of it.
Azalea smacked her lips. "So, Potter. Why don't you know this stuff? Everything I just named is first year material. So if you know everything from first year then you know this and have been using it all along, right?"
She looked rather pointedly downward, to where the tip of one of his held-together-by-tape trainers was poking out from under the hem of his robe.
The boy flushed with embarrassment, without anything to say.
Azalea sighed, and rolled her eyes, backing off on the pressure she'd put on him. "I'll tell you what happened. The Dursleys beat you so often for 'being a freak' that deep down in your insides they convinced you that if only you were normal, someone would love you. So you show up to Hogwarts and what do you do? You latch onto the first person who shows you the least affection and try to be just like them, and that person was Ron. And guess what? He is one of the poorest students Hogwarts has ever seen. So you matched your study habits to his, trying to win approval, and what happened is that you learned practically nothing, only barely enough to get by. And guess what? That's not enough."
Azalea took him by the chin and lifted his head to look him in the eye. "Because, Harry, you have not one but several dark wizards out to kill you. So far you've survived by luck, but I can tell you from personal experience that this year your luck has run out. Always before you have skated through, but never again will luck deliver you a pure victory. From now on, if you rely on luck to pull you out of crises, then someone on your side will die pulling you out of the danger you keep stumbling into. And they'll die each time you need rescuing."
The boy's look was wide-eyed and horrified.
She continued to look him directly in the eye. "So this is it, Potter. You want someone to love you. But unless you learn how to take care of yourself, that someone, even if you get them, will be killed by the danger you have been too lazy to learn how to pull yourself out of. What will it be? Are you going to learn how to handle things yourself, or are you going to let your loved ones die doing what you should have done for yourself?"
After that, the results on Harry's study habits were predictable. He would throw himself into the work with the energy of a man possessed.
Good for him.
Seeing that devotion form, Azalea beamed at him. "Lucky thing is, so far you are only three years behind on your studies. That's something we can catch you up on fairly quickly, especially with this place." She waved to indicate the room around them.
"What is this place?" Harry looked around, curious at last.
"The Room of Requirements, one of the greatest treasures of this castle," Azalea answered, "and all but forgotten by all and sundry, used as a broom closet to stash things in to hide them as much as anything, an embarrassing waste of its true potential."
Seeing he was about to ask, she answered for him, "One of the many things this room can do is speed up your perception of time. Not time itself, that's advanced magic that was not invented when this room was made, but almost as good if not better to do it this way. Oh, come on, haven't you ever had a class that seemed to last a thousand years, or a day that was just wonderful be over in what seemed like an instant? That isn't all in your head, you know. Even muggles have noticed that time may well not be a constant, that it may in truth pass at different rates for different people, even in the same room. To them it is just a theory, one very hard to prove at that, but with magic we can actually measure the flow of time somewhat, and it really is different for different folks, who can be in the same place, and can vary quite widely for the same person at different times."
She bounced perkily on her toes, spinning in place, arms wide, to indicate the room they were in. "That's part of what makes this place so wonderful! Some people in this castle are, right at this moment, experiencing a very slow rate of time. This room can collect that, so their day gets over faster, and we get the benefit of having hours that seem to go on for days, in a room that is tuned to help us take full advantage of every moment!"
Coming to a stop after her spin, she leaned forward and told Harry, "Basically, in this place we get to use about ten times as much time as passes outside, if we want to. That's good! In one week out there, we'll have enjoyed ten weeks to study in here. That's enough to go back and cover your first year material thoroughly and in detail. Two more weeks out there and we'll have caught you up on everything you might have known if you'd really buckled down and studied hard during your second year. It'll take three more weeks for third, as they cover more material each year, so that will overflow a bit until after the first task, but we'll get you up to speed fast using this method, until by the end of this year you ought to be much more equal with the other school's champions. And this whole thing is geared toward their theoretical level of ability, if not higher, so reaching parity with them is not only good for this contest, you'll have a much better chance against those dark wizards trying to kill you."
Harry, while confused, was willing, so he cocked his head in confusion and asked. "How are we going to do that? I don't have my books with me, and I'm sure not everything that was taught was in my class notes."
Azalea's grin was both mischievous and triumphant. "Simple, actually. This room is an integral part of this castle, and the wards of the castle monitor very carefully what goes on inside it. What most *don't* know is that Hogwarts is at least slightly alive, so it has a memory. Just like the Weasley car, which was able to recognize you and Ron after not seeing either of you for most of a year; although the school is a great deal smarter than that, and KNOWS it is a school, so records most of the good lectures and stuff. So, here..."
All of a sudden they were standing in a classroom full of students, with a teacher at the front, everything except them frozen in place like a muggle photograph. Harry didn't recognize anyone, but they all looked to be first years. Azalea pointed out one. "That little boy is going to grow up to become Transfiguration Professor, then Headmaster. His name is Albus Dumbledore. But he was never as good a teacher as the man who taught him, and his student Minerva was never quite as good as Albus was. So, for the record, the best Transfiguration teacher this school has had in a very long while is the man at the head of this classroom right now, and the wards and thus the castle and thus this room has recorded all of his lectures. Let's listen to one now, do the work, then go on to see who the best Charms teacher was, shall we?"
"Is this real?" Harry blurted, not quite understanding.
"No," Azalea corrected. "More like a tape recording. But professors don't normally interact with each and every student. You wanted to be normal? This is it. The experience we'll get is pretty much identical to what two ordinary students who don't ask any questions or cause a fuss would get out of this class."
"But what if we do have questions?" Harry frowned.
Azalea snickered. "Harry, do you think that we are the only students to ever get confused over an issue? If it was something we missed in the lecture, the Room can just replay that part for us. But if it is something else, I can pretty much guarantee you some other student has gotten confused by the same thing over the past thousand years or so this castle has been a school. So anything we might ask, someone else already did, and the wards were there to detect and record the question and its answer. It'll just play that for us!"
Taking two empty seats next to each in the middle of the class (the back was already filled with rowdy students, and the front by eager beavers, so the mostly anonymous sections in the middle had some clear space), Azalea produced two quills and stacks of parchment from out of her bookbag, which she'd had with her before entering the Room. "Here. An auto-notes quill. When you try and split your attention between taking notes and listening to the lecture most people tend not to do very well at either. So pay your full attention to the teacher, and let your quill handle taking notes for you. It will record everything that is said, so you don't have to worry about it not doing a good enough job."
Harry's mind was spinning. But he sighed, then drew himself up and gave his companion a lopsided grin. "Well," he said, trying to be cheerful, "At least we don't have to do homework."
"No," Azalea corrected sternly. "We will *do* the homework." Her voice left no question of this, as she went on to explain, "Part of the learning process is to study it out for yourself, to fix what we heard in the lecture into our minds, and that is what homework is for. So we will do all of it. Hogwarts knows what the assignments are to be, and can compare our work against enough other students, and what they did right or wrong. It will be as if the teacher is grading our work. Besides," here she flashed her companion a grin, "the school also knows all of the best parts of the best books to read over to do the assignments, and can make those available for us. So you don't have to worry, everything will be arranged to give us the best possible learning experience for us."
At that statement a cloud passed over Harry's face, and his eyes grew downcast. "I..." He licked his lips, raising his eyes despite being plainly unhappy. "Hearing you say that I thought of how happy that would make Hermione. I just wish... she..."
He swallowed hard, unable to continue.
Azalea patted his arm comfortingly. "I know, Harry. I know."
Inwardly, she was plotting how to make him happy. And if there wasn't a way to make certain of his friends reliable before they went too far astray into Dumbledore's camp.
"You stay right there, Harry. I'll go see if I can fetch them," Azalea told the boy. Brought up short by a new thought, she quickly scribbled on some paper and gave it to him to sign, "Here, if you'll just affix your signature to that, I'm certain I'll have no trouble bringing them back to study with you."
Trusting, the boy did so.
The girl didn't even bother concealing her smirk as she bounced out of the Room.
"Ah, Albus," Professor McGonagall greeted her Headmaster, or so she supposed (word of his resignation last night not having yet reached the school this morning), "I see you are starting another head of hair. Poppy was able to reverse the charms, then?"
"Alas, no," the Headmaster greeted his Deputy, showing a fine white fuzz all over his head, chin and neck. "She reports that never before had she been asked to, and as she was dealing with the aftermath of a fight in the halls, I did not press the issue. I was forced to look up the counters myself. Fortunately, everything but the Unforgivables has a counter." He made a slight grimace. "Although, I admit, it was an unexpectedly difficult spell to reverse."
McGonagall fought down an amused smirk with the ease of long practice. "Well, it is meant to be permanent, Albus."
"Indeed," the man came up and put an arm on her shoulders, turning the woman about so they could head into the Great Hall together. "Now about..."
"THERE HE IS!" Heads snapped up as several aurors shouted, pointing at Albus.
Spells were flying before either school administrator had figured out what was going on.
Azalea really is more harsh than my standard cast of characters, so I've pretty much resolved that this Harry will mellow her out substantially by the time they are done adjusting to each other.
Not, of course, that there won't be fireworks going off in the meantime!